Critical Review of a Digital Humanities Platform or Tool

WordPress Analysis:

Introduction:

A tool that is uniquely suited for research in the digital humanities that I am intrigued by, and also use quite frequently in my course work is WordPress. It is a tool I am interested in due to its worldwide presence and recognition by many. I believe it is suitable for research in the digital humanities as it reduces the difficulty in creating one’s space on the internet. If every person has an easy method to create a website, it causes a shift in online commerce and the internet in general with many users speaking their mind in online blogs and personal websites.

I encountered the tool a few years back in transition year computer class, in which a quick overview of the tool was given showing its capabilities. Years later, upon entering college, the digital humanities students including myself immediately began tutorials in WordPress, creating our own sites and uploading our assignments to it along with personal customization. Searching through Alan Liu’s DH site linked below, I spotted the tool on the list and decided to pursue it. It is a tool which has intrigued me over the past number of months of usage and one which I was curious to evaluate against other similar tools as well as researching it. I will discuss and evaluate WordPress alongside WIX and SQUARESPACE, two similar tools, in relation to the following: Gathering Information, Mature/Stability of the tool, Sustainability of the tool, Sustainability of research and Usage.

Gathering Information:

Upon researching the tool, I immediately visited their website, wordpress.org which is simplistic and provides some information as well as a download. The website presents you with a greeting and an outline of the software. “Beautiful designs, powerful features, and the freedom to build anything you want. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time” (WordPress, 2020.)

I collected information on the WordPress site which was relatively easy considering its simple layout. WordPress even lists their greatest features in a visually pleasing manner which I have shown below (WordPress, 2020.)

In looking for research articles on the topic of WordPress I discovered the vast amount of books available for tutorials and tips providing new users and “dummies” the opportunity to learn the basics of designing their site through Wordpress. This was interesting to me as one could argue that a tool like Wordpress should be straightforward and almost effortless to use. In this new age of technology, one would not expect to have to read an entire book to figure out how to use a tool such as WordPress. The fact that these books were predominantly the only research articles available should not have been surprising. After all I did receive tutorials in how to use the software and was not simply told to delve right into the world of WordPress.

I used WordPress on my own personal computer using both my own site for the Digital Humanities course (https://evanscanlan.org/ ) and I also made a new site to recall the setup and customization of a new user. The process of setting up is quite simple and easy to use, the new site was up and running in a matter of minutes.

 I decided to evaluate WordPress against two other similar tools, WIX and SQUARESPACE, due to the fact they are all quite similar and provide the same service.

When deciding on a tool to use, the main factor in your decision relates to just one thing, cost. In WordPress, your account is free as well as the download and usage. You may also use their “free domains”(WordPress, 2020) which will be a “.wordpress.com” domain. However you can also pay for web hosting through reclaim hosting or another hosting provider. Through this you would be able to use your own domain such as mine “evanscanlan.org.” Understandably, this is not free, but it can be quite affordable all things considered. In relation to one of my sites, through reclaim hosting the price was $30 yearly, roughly 27.5 euro. This was an interesting find in relation to research as prices to build one’s own website is not complete extortion. Any user can build a new website without even having to open their wallet.

In terms of WIX, it appears to work very similarly in terms of using their own “free domains” (WIX, 2020) but also allowing for the use of custom domains using hosting providers. WIX also provides a free download, account and gives free usage much alike WordPress.

Unlike Wordpress or WIX, SQUARESPACE provides only a free trial before you are made pay for usage. The pricing varies vastly leading to some confusion on which is best ranging from $11 a month up to $40. In this regard I believe WordPress to have the advantage along with WIX due to their free usage and download.

WordPress is relatively simple to use, in terms of setup it can take a small bit more time than others but is still very intuitive. A tutorial/guide is optional for beginners and can provide useful information on using the interface. However, it can lack in some parts. Without assistance in a tutorial form or help from a more experienced user, one could argue it could be trouble navigating from page to page. For example, as shown below in the dashboard section of your site, many of the menu items can be extremely similar and sometimes vague. In this regard I class this as a weakness with both WIX and SQUARESPACE providing cleaner alternatives including a live editor.

As you can see in the screenshot above, one could argue the side menu is cluttered, with many useful features hidden beneath the rubble. Without help from an experienced user, many could potentially find WordPress more difficult to use than others.

Shown above, WIX provides a pleasing visual editor which can be changed in real time offering a better alternative to WordPress.

Although Wordpress lacks in this regard, one could argue that the sheer amount of customization available is superior to that of its competitors. This combined with the fact WordPress rarely crashes or even lags is certainly a huge strength classing it above other competitors.

Maturity/Stability of the tool:

I succeeded in finding a roadmap for the tool. WordPress has a page dedicated to their own roadmap located at: https://wordpress.org/about/roadmap/.

The current tool is not too far from WordPress’ roadmap and they have steady plans for the near future all the way up to December 2021. Their plans range from updating small menus like the widget editor to broadening access to web presence (WordPress, 2020.) This is extremely useful for research as future plans can be seen and the overall aim of the company moving forward is open for everyone to see.

I visited various forums to determine if it is stable or not and one could argue that it is. WordPress proves to be a stable tool with few bugs and a community passionate about helping others and constantly improving the tool. Below I have included a screenshot from reddit showing members of the community interacting and helping each other.

In terms of licencing, WordPress is protected under the GNU General Public licence which is an open source licence. As a DH student myself, this is quite pleasing to see as open source material is still an ongoing battle in this day and age. This means you are free to use, alter or modify the source code and distribute it under certain conditions. It is also useful in terms of research in the area.

Sustainability of the tool:

The first release of WordPress was on May 27th, 2003 making it 17 years old as of now. This is quite remarkable as it has been around since the beginning of the internets take-off and is still improving to this day. It says a lot for the tools durability and community keeping it running to this very day and making it more popular than ever.

WordPress’ community is extremely popular and many community plugins have been introduced and are used worldwide, an example is Youzer: https://codecanyon.net/item/youzer-new-wordpress-user-profiles-era/19716647?irgwc=1&clickid=QsMxu23%3A8xyORJPwUx0Mo3EWUki03B0FC2YNwA0&iradid=275988&irpid=1958837&iradtype=ONLINE_TRACKING_LINK&irmptype=mediapartner&mp_value1=&utm_campaign=af_impact_radius_1958837&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=impact_radius.

Sustainability of research:

After using the tool for a number of months previous and now looking deeper into it, I believe I have quite a good understanding of the tool and how it operates. I plan to use it in the near future as I believe it to be extremely useful for those on a tight budget looking for a simple site either for college work, businesses or simply for personal use.

Usage:

From my experience of using WordPress I would highly recommend it to others. Firstly, it is free in relation to accounts, usage and even domains if you wish to use their own. It is rare nowadays to have such a useful tool for no cost. For example, compare it to one of its competitors mentioned above. SQUARESPACE provides virtually the exact same service while charging up to $40 monthly, a tremendous difference (SQUARESPACE, 2020.)

Regardless of the issues raised above in relation to usability, I would still recommend the tool to anyone looking to build a website. Once you are familiar with the layout, it becomes a brilliant tool to use in terms of customization and personalization.

I would improve WordPress by including a live editor much alike WIX have done. This could be implemented as an option or simply replacing the side menu which is currently in place. I believe this would increase the number of users actively making and building websites due to its increased simplicity. In this way I believe WordPress could be even better.

 Conclusion:

Above, I discussed and evaluated WordPress alongside WIX and SQUARESPACE, two similar tools, in relation to the following: Gathering Information, Mature/Stability of the tool, Sustainability of the tool, Sustainability of research and Usage. As mentioned above I would highly recommend the tool to anyone wishing to set up their own personal space on the internet. I will link this review to the existing page on Alan Liu’s DH site.

Bibliography:

CodeCanyon. 2020. Youzer – Buddypress Community & WordPress User Profile Plugin. [online] Available at: <https://codecanyon.net/item/youzer-new-wordpress-user-profiles-era/19716647> [Accessed 21 March 2020].

Dhresourcesforprojectbuilding.pbworks.com. 2020. Dhresourcesforprojectbuilding [Licensed For Non-Commercial Use Only] / Digital Humanities Tools. [online] Available at: <http://dhresourcesforprojectbuilding.pbworks.com/w/page/69244319/Digital%20Humanities%20Tools> [Accessed 19 March 2020].

Scanlan, E., 2020. Portfolio. [online] Evanscanlan.org. Available at: <https://evanscanlan.org/> [Accessed 19 March 2020].

Squarespace. 2020. Build A Website – Website Builder – Squarespace. [online] Available at: <https://www.squarespace.com/> [Accessed 20 March 2020].

Wix.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.wix.com/> [Accessed 20 March 2020].

WordPress. 2020. Blog Tool, Publishing Platform, And CMS – WordPress. [online] Available at: <https://wordpress.com/> [Accessed 19 March 2020].

WordPress. 2020. Blog Tool, Publishing Platform, And CMS – WordPress. [online] Available at: <https://wordpress.org/> [Accessed 19 March 2020].

WordPress.org. 2020. WordPress Development Roadmap. [online] Available at: <https://wordpress.org/about/roadmap/> [Accessed 20 March 2020].