Hands-on: WordPress 3.0 adds better customization and multisite networks

The new version of WordPress includes useful new features for both single-site bloggers and organizational admins.

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Once your network is enabled, a new menu of "Super Admin" options becomes available. Here, some general configuration of each site in the network is possible: name, URL, users, etc. Which themes and plug-ins are available for these other sites' admins can also be selected on a global scale. Using these simple but powerful options, it's easy to create multiple blogs -- or to create a gateway through which users can register their own blogs, thus creating a dynamic network that grows as your audience does.

WordPress 3.0
A multisite network allows a theme to be made available to all the blogs in the network.

A blog network is best suited for multiple sites run by multiple users. For a single person or entity who wants to oversee multiple blogs without delegation, it does not work so well. There is no global dashboard where themes and plug-ins can be configured for each site; instead, the network's super admin decides which options to make available to the individual sites. The ability to enable and configure the sites is done from each site's own dashboard. A super admin can log into each blog and individually configure it, but the larger the network, the more cumbersome this becomes.

Plug-ins and themes

If you're just getting started with WordPress, Version 3.0 makes it easy to bring your old blog with you from another platform. Although it might look like the number of formats WordPress' importer supports has diminished, that's because the importer has been spun out into a modular system that allows the installation of just the formats needed for your situation. Compatibility with the most common blogging services, including Blogger and LiveJournal, come preinstalled; others, such as Posterous and Vox.com, are just a click away.

WordPress 3.0
WordPress 3.0 supports importing from an expandable set of other blog formats.

WordPress' plug-in repository offers almost 10,000 ways to modify how your blog works and looks. If you're a WordPress user, you've probably installed several dozen such plug-ins already -- and if you're upgrading an existing blog, expect several of those plug-ins to break. Although any core update can introduce a change that an outdated plug-in doesn't expect, this is especially true for an upgrade as significant as WordPress 3.0. (That said, every plug-in I tried proved compatible with the default installation.)

Bulk updating of plug-ins was introduced in a previous version of WordPress but was squirreled away under the misleading "Upgrade WordPress" menu item. Now plug-ins can be updated en masse from both the plug-ins page and the renamed "WordPress Updates" page, which lists available theme upgrades as well.

Theme upgrades are tricky, since power users have often edited their templates to add, remove or modify features; a single upgrade can wipe out all those customizations. That's why WordPress 3.0 also introduces improved support for child themes, which are a way to override a theme's default files without overwriting them. When the default files are upgraded, the child theme's modifications are preserved.

Historically, WordPress came with a boring default theme, and many users never customized their blog with a different look. The new default theme, "Twenty Ten," is similarly Spartan but includes the ability to easily add a new banner image and border color. These simple options should let even unimaginative webmasters imbue their sites with more personality without the trouble of finding or designing a new theme.

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