WordPress is an incredible versatile open-source blogging and website creation tool, that also serves as a content management system (CMS). There are two ways to build a site or blog with WordPress:
- The self-hosting option (available at http://www.wordpress.org) involves the user downloading the files and installing the site on their own web-hosting space, requiring them to set up a MySQL database (or using a service provided by their host that automates this procedure)
- WordPress also offers a free WordPress domain (available at http://www.wordpress.com) to house your blog or website, so all you do is pick out a domain name (YourNameHere.wordpress.com), and go.
WordPress is one of the most-used blogging systems in the world according to Wikipedia, being used by 18.9% of the top 10 million websites. It’s ease of use and set up (for both WordPress.com-hosted sites, and self-hosted sites) puts the power of blogging, and building attractive, professional-looking, and incredibly functional websites in the hands of pretty much anybody with a computer. WordPress is highly customizable, with the real power coming from the many themes, plugins, and widgets available. These add a great deal of very specialized functionality to each website, allowing the developer to create a very uniquely designed product.
Advantages and disadvantages inclue:
- Everything is built from within your web browser; multiple sites can bemanaged with a single login profile.
- Self-hosted sites have tons of free themes and plugins to choose from; WordPress-hosted sites cannot add plugins
- Self-hosted are completely free; WordPress-hosted sites are free, with limited functionality. For a nominal fee, you can upgrade the WP-hosted site to choose your own unique domain name (and drop “wordpress” from the URL).
- Both versions are very interactive and able to integrate social networking tools (i.e. sharing Facebook “share” buttons, adding RSS feeds, auto-posting features, etc.)
- A “follow this blog” feature allows other WP bloggers to connect with your blog (much like you would “follow” someone onTwitter).
- The Dashboard (which is the main control panel) isn’t quite as intuitive as it could be. It takes some getting used to, but is otherwise pretty functional.
- Self-hostedsites have the most functionality, due to the ability to install other plugins. The plugin marketplace is pretty assive, and allows you to add everything from custom hit counters, portfolio pages, to media players and fancy social networking buttons. One plugin in particular, Jetpack, allows you to add stats, notifications, subscriptions, “carousels” (image galleries), custom CSS, mobile themes, and much more.
- WordPress allows embedding of feature-rich content (such as YouTube videos and media players).
I’ve personally put WordPress to use by developing three of my own blogs, each one serving a unique need. My homepage, www.strawsermusicstudio.com, serves as a headquarters for my home business, and is the home site for my Song of the Week project. Every post on my blog is automatically shared on a variety of other services, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and my LinkedIn.
The Keyboardist Blog, which started out as an IDD project for fall semester 2013, lives on as a magazine-style blog which features trending articles and videos, as well as original content in the form of interviews and (hopefully) tutorials. The other blog is my IDD Blog, which I am using to store all of my coursework for my Master’s program in Instructional Design.
SoundCloud is a music-based social network, in much the same way that YouTube is a social network for video. SoundCloud is used widely my musicians for showcasing their original work, but can be used by anyone who simply wants to share sound recordings of any kind.
SoundCloud offers three of subscription plans. A free entry-level account gives the user space for 120 minutes of material, and very general stats on how many plays each song (or sound) has been played. A $6/month plan provides 240 minutes, while a $15/month plan is unlimited upload capacity. These other options also provide more information on who is listening to your songs, where they are, etc.
Much like many other social networking sites, it’s not uncommon to run across celebrity users (or at least accounts bearing their likeness, as well as their material). Presumably, this puts musicians within arms length of other high-profile artists, which is a very attractive feature. A music stream plays in your browser from other users that you’ve followed, allowing you to constantly be exposed to their most recent uploads. You are also given the option “like” songs from other users, as well as to make comments at specific points with a song. Another nice feature is the ability to create custom playlists from your own collection of uploaded material. Songs (individual as well as playlists) can be easily shared to a variety of social networking services (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress), and code is provided for embedding the player directly onto your blog or network page. You can also tag your songs, much like you would a blog post orYouTube video.
I’ve found SoundCloud to be a very easy-to-use tool for housing my original material. All of the songs for my Song of the Week project are stored in SoundCloud, and then the code is pasted directly into my WordPress blog.
Google Docs is a web-based suite of online office tools, comparable to Microsoft Office. The centerpiece is Google Drive, which is Google’s online cloud storage service (similar to Dropbox, Skydrive, and Box). Anyone with a Google account (i.e. a Gmail address or a YouTube account) already has access to Google Drive, and thus to Google Docs.
Within Google Drive, users have the ability to create a variety of different types of documents (text documents, presentations, spreadsheets, drawings, and forms). Google Docs is compatible with a variety of common file formats, includes .DOC, .RTF, .PPT, .XLS, and others. This is handy for anybody that doesn’t own (and doesn’t care to purchase) the Microsoft Office suite, but still needs to have access to word processor. With the integration of these application into Google Drive, files are automatically saved right into your online drive. Drive accounts start at 15 GB, and go up from there with a subscription.
Like other cloud services, Google Docs allows you to share documents with other users. If you give them permission, they can also edit these documents in real time. This can eliminate the hassle of passing innumerable iterations of the same file, avoiding a lot of confusion and “digital clutter”. And since the documents are stored in the cloud, they are also accessible through other devices. I’ve used Google Docs to great effect when creating a document at home that I knew I would need to access when I was out somewhere. I frequently need to access information when I don’t wifi access, so I’ll browse documents on my iPhone. I can also use it as a storage devices, say for PDFs of magazines that I’d like to view on my iPad.
My main apprehension about Google Docs and other cloud storage services is security. Our willingness to so readily put any kind of information in the hands of a 3rd party doesn’t seem very safe, as there’s ample evidence to suggest that these service providers are mining our data for all kinds of things. Also, it’s more than just a little disconcerting to see Google steadily wrap it’s far-reaching arms over more and more of – not just our information – but just about everything we do, from mapping our backyards, to knowing what we’re about to type in a text field. Granted, we’ve given them all of this information by signing up for free Gmail accounts, but still.
Dropbox is another cloud-based file management system, much like Google Drive. Unlike Google Drive, Dropbox does not offer a host of word processors, though it does have add-on applications. Introductory accounts start at around 5 GB of space, and can be upgraded by inviting friends to join (giving you an additional 1 GB per invitation acceptance).
Significant features of Dropbox include security and application integration. While certainly not completely fool-proof, Dropbox offers two-step verification security, meaning that – in addition to providing a password to access the account – you must also have a special code that is sent via text message or an authenticator app. You can also monitor what devices have accessed your account, and what time it was accessed. Dropbox can also “link” to certain apps on mobile devices, such as the photo stream on your mobile phone’s camera, so that photos are automatically uploaded to a directory in your account. When linked to an app like VLC for iOS (a music and media player for iPhone/iPad), you are even able to download music files stored on Dropbox directly onto your device, enabling you to bypass iTunes.
I prefer Dropbox for file management, perhaps just out of habit. It does seem faster than Google Drive (though I’ve not yet stacked it up against Microsoft Skydrive or Box.com), and I like knowing that it’s not a Google product. Dropbox’s integration into my digital workflow has become essential to how I do things. While I don’t use it for everything, I’ve come to rely on it for school work or for moving sheet music or setlists around while doing music jobs. Dropbox for iPad is also able to open and read PDF files directly from within the app.
Evernote is a virtual notepad on steroids. It has the characteristics of cloud-drive file management (i.e. Dropbox) with the utility of an office suite. It is similar to Google Docs/Drive in that it is centered around syncing documents, such as notes and text files, audio, and photos across a variety of devices.
The workflow of Evernote is based on Notebooks, which is another way of saying “folder” or “directory”. It many ways it seems no different from Google Docs in this respect. The big distinction, at least for my application, is in how I use it. I’ve found that Evernote works very well for syncing very small-scope items, or in my case, text documents for taking notes. I categorize these with the Notebooks within Evernote, named according to category. Evernote is available on iOS and MacOS, so you can sync files across your entire digital environment if need be.
Within Evernote is a text composer for writing notes from directly within the app. This is handy, especially this is not always available in other apps (i.e. Dropbox). Google Docs/Drive I’ve found to be a bit stodgy with composition, as I usually have to use Safari to logon in order to compose a text file. If I’m on my iPhone, this is not ideal. Evernote also has a Camera function for taking photos within the app itself, as well as a Reminder function. You can also create Lists from a shortcut button, automatically formatting the note with a bulleted list. One particularly neat feature is the Business Card Scanning
feature, that converts photos of business cards into a digital contact, allowing you to directly connect to them via LinkedIn (of course, this is a premium feature….the free account gets five business card slots).
The drawbacks to this tool are really no different that any other cloud-based content manager:
security. I’m not sure how comfortable I am in using this app (along with half-dozen or more others) to “sync” all of my stuff. Additionally, there are other text composers out there that make Evernote seem a little light-weight. In the end, the light-weight though is what I really like it for. It’s quite simple.
PocketCloud may be the most powerful tool I own. It is a type of VNC (virtual network computer), allowing you to connect to another computer from your mobile device. It’s available for iPhone, iPad, and other platforms.
PocketCloud requires a small applet to run on the host computer, so that it can communicate with another mobile “monitoring” device that can connect to it. The mobile device must have the password to the host machine, at which point it can control the host from anywhere that has a wifi or mobile network connection.
This has become invaluable to me in cases where I had files on my home computer that needed to be moved, emailed, or manipulated in some way. I can also check on the status of my computer, again, provided it’s online and connected to a network. I use home computer as a music server as well, so this app allows me to monitor that as well.