As a web site developer, I make a habit of trying out different CMS and ecommerce platforms so I can counsel clients on the best option for their business.  But my favorite standby’s are Joomla and WordPress.

Many people are familiar with the standard self-hosted version of WordPress (available for download at WordPress.org) and the hosted version at WordPress.com. However, not as many people are familiar with WordPress Multi User (commonly referred to as WordPress MU or WPMU,) which is a shame because it blasts the possibilities open for publishing multiple and collaborative sites.

What is WordPress MU

Again and again on various forums I read common misconceptions about the WordPress MU platform.  Many people believe that it can only be used for sites that provide users blogs on a subdomain such as WordPress.com does (username.wordpress.com.)

It can do that, but that is not the only way it can be used.  It can also be used to run separate sites on their own domain.  For example, let’s say you have a thing about scrapbooking and you want to create several sites for the different forms of scrapbooking.  So you buy the domains creative-scrapbooking.com, digital-scrapbooking.com, and wedding-scrapbooks.com.

(This is just an example and I’m just throwing them out there.  I have no idea if they are available or how competitive or how good the keywords are.)

Next, you go to your hosting account and install WordPress MU using one of the domains for the base install.  You then go to the WPMU administration panel to add the second and third sites.  You now have three separate sites with unique domain names on one installation of WPMU.

  • http://creative-scrapbooking.com
  • http://digital-scrapbooking.com
  • http://wedding-scrapbooks.com

Each site will have it’s own administration area that can be accessed by going to http://domain.com/wp-admin/.  Each site can have it’s own unique theme, different plugins can be used on each, and additional users can be added to one or all of the sites.

Now let’s say your friend Mary is a wedding photographer and wants to blog about wedding photos and creating a photo list for shots that will work well in scrapbooks.  You can create a subdomain on the wedding-scrapbooks.com site, photos.wedding-scrapbook.com, and add her as a user to that blog.  Mary will have access to her own admin panel for photos.wedding-scrapbooks.com but not to the main site, wedding-scrapbooks.com or either of the other two domains that are on that WordPress MU platform.  Pretty cool isn’t it?

So now you have three sites with a total of four “blogs.”

  • http://creative-scrapbooking.com
  • http://digital-scrapbook.com
  • http://wedding-scrapbooks.com
  • http://photos.wedding-scrapbooks.com

WordPress MU can be used for multiple sites and multiple subdomains with blogs at the same time.

Why Use WordPress MU?

So why use WPMU rather than multiple installations of the standard version of WordPress?

The main reason is that it makes updates extremely easy.  If you have three, thirty or three hundred sites on individual WordPress installs, even though WordPress is very easy to keep updated, it still takes time to go through all the installations to update the platform and the plugins.  With WPMU, you only have one platform and one set of plugins to update.

It also saves a huge amount of time when setting up your site.   There are a number of programs out there that automate WordPress installations, but with WordPress MU, after redirecting your new domain, it is a three minute process to add a new site.   Also, you don’t have to install plugins again.  They are already installed and just have to be activated for that particular site.

The same is true of themes.  Multiple themes can be available on the WPMU installation and you can specify which themes are available to each blog.  When installing themes on a WPMU installation, remember that one theme may be used on a number of different sites.  So it is better to go with themes that have a theme administration panel for features that need to be unique to a particular site rather than having them hard coded in the theme itself.

Is WPMU for Me?

If you are planning on having more than one web site on WordPress MU, I think that it makes sense.  However, in the next major update of the WordPress platform, 3.0, the WordPress and WPMU projects will be merged and every installation of WordPress will have multi site and multi user capabilities.

If you are just now starting out with online publishing, I would frame your site and content strategy based on a multi site portal.

WordPress MU is Now WordPress Multisite

As of WordPress 3.0, WordPress Multi User and the single version edition of WordPress have merged into one platform offering.  Each install of WordPress is now capable of operating in multisite mode.  If you have an existing WPMU site that needs to be migrated or would like to launch WordPress using the multisite platform, please contact us.

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