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Considerations in Choosing to Use a Single WordPress Site VS WordPress Multisite

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This member is creating a large website for an organization with 100 chapters, each needing their own presence on the site. He wonders what the best way to approach this is and if Thesis is a good choice for a theme in this context. We discuss two options – the first is to have a single site using the WordPress user role system for granting and controlling access to “chapter” content. The second is to use WordPress Multisite and create individual sites for each chapter.

Video Transcript

Rick: Anyway, we’re going to dive right in here and I think at the beginning, I’m going to… let’s see, I was going to dive in with Peter but it looks like he’s lost his connection there. So I’m going to go ahead and start… there he is again. Peter, I’m going to unmute your microphone. Peter, are you with us? Kind of hoping you have a microphone to chat with me about your question. I can’t hear anything yet.

But let’s see, if you have a microphone or you don’t have a microphone, would you mind indicating that on the chatbox or in the question box? That would be good.

Peter: Hi, can you hear me?

Rick: Oh yeah, I can hear you great. Perfect.

Peter: Yeah, sorry about that. I was messing around with a microphone and right at this time, I cut out your audio. So I got to cut back in and I missed the introduction there so if you don’t mind repeating what you just said.

Rick: Oh what I said as an introduction was that you know, I have 2 interesting questions tonight. Yours and somebody and someone else’s that I started this morning but those are the only questions I have. So I can fill all the time with those 2 questions but I was inviting people if they had other questions to write them in the question box so I’d have a chance to address them.

Peter: Gotcha.

Rick: But let’s go ahead and jump in on your question first. You said that you’re on the board of directors of a national non-profit with 100 individual chapters and you wanted to talk about the pros and cons of utilizing Thesis to invite individual chapters with a branded website. So tell me more about that. Are you considering using the WordPress multisite? Is that the plan?

Peter: Well to tell you the truth, a little knowledge can be dangerous and I’m really looking to take advantage of your experiences. What my thoughts were, we have an national organization, the American Alliance Society and we have various chapters throughout the United States. And it would be great if we could work on a branded corporate site for each of our member individual state sites. And work with the individuals at the chapter level so that they can post a calendar or at least do some basic updating you know, contact their local members. But what I don’t want to do is create a really big problem. Through some readings, I’ve noticed that you can sort of like push controls from… I don’t know if this is the correct terminologies but like the main site so that when for example, you update Thesis when you update WordPress… if you had a plugin you know, that you were using across platform, you’d be able to update that for all of the other sites. Am I getting that right or am I sort of kind of…

Rick: Well, yeah. You’re getting sort of the idea of it although Thesis won’t work that way in multisite.

Peter: Okay.

Rick: You know, you have a couple of options. One of your options is just to incorporate everything into a single site and each chapter would have its own page and you would make the chapter editor or author the author of that page. And then they could log in and change content on that page and update that page or pages, for that matter, without being able to affect the rest of the site. So if it’s you know, a simple matter of a calendar and some content then you know, you might consider just doing that as a single site and giving various chapters, their own pages or group of pages that they themselves can edit and that nobody else can edit. And that’s a built-in feature of the author and editor roles in WordPress. WordPress imagines that a blog may have a blog owner but a bunch of bloggers that blog on it. And so, there are a couple of built-in roles for essentially authors and editors that allow them to post their own content or post their own content moderated or you know, change their own content or delete it or not and without say, being able to change plugins or without affecting the theme at all. They just have some level of authorship responsibility and opportunity. And the way they gain it is simply by logging in and you’ll make them the author of their pages.

You know, WordPress was designed to do that imagining 5 or 6 authors or 15 or 20 authors you know, on a single site. The alternative is to do multisite where you’ll have a master site that controls everything and then everybody else has their own individual sites. And they can do anything on their own individual sites. I mean, you have some control over you know, you can block some kinds of plugins and you can you know, you can block all plugins and just give them a choice of you know, some plugins that are in your directory. You can give them a choice of themes and they can pick from your selected choice of themes. You have a fair bit of control that way except that it’s a whole site. And so, if you don’t have a strong… if you don’t have a motivated user base who really wants to operate and maintain their own site in this association then you have… a few enthusiasts who have really great sites and all kinds of cool stuff and then you have the people who you know, got roped into it because their husband is the treasurer and you know, there wasn’t anybody else.

And so, if you have a reasonable expectation that you’ve got a whole bunch of people who really want to do their own site then multisite’s a great idea. But if you suspect that each chapter would like its own presence on a national site but the chances are, there’s not going to be a lot of energy put into developing and maintaining the site then you may just want to keep it as one great big site which would be very easy for you to manage. I beg your pardon. I missed that.

Peter: No, I said that makes a lot of sense. Possibly go out and poll the user base and say, “Look, you know, this may become a reality and if so, do you envision yourself you know, doing ABC or would you just like the ability of a simple page, just update folks of what’s going on and you know, take it from there.”

Rick: Well, if you imagine…

Peter: Go ahead.

Rick: If you imagine like a newspaper and each chapter you know, has… I mean, in a single site, you could still fairly easily you know, allow each chapter to have more than 1 page and to have more or less functionality, right? Each chapter could maintain its own calendar, could you know, have a list of upcoming events and one chapter may have it and one chapter may not. All inside the confines of a single site and you can give them you know, that kind of control. So it doesn’t have to be just a page. It can be you know, a mini-site inside of the site. It’s just that it only gets administered by one person and in one set of tasks. It only gets backed up once. It only gets updated once. That kind of thing which I think has some…

See the problem with Thesis in multisite is that… I mean, you can use Thesis in multisite a couple of different ways but it’s not designed for multisite. And so, often, you will have customization that will say you know, if it’s this page or if it’s that page, do this. And that’s more difficult in multisite and the way most people solve that problem is to have a separate installation of Thesis for each real site. But there’s really one guy who wants to maintain the thing then that’s not going to work because Thesis will have to be updated 100 times, one on each site. Whereas, themes that are built for multisite you know, it can be a single theme file that everybody you know, has their own expression of. And then it’s only one theme that gets updated no matter how many people use it.

And you can do that too with Thesis just that you have to be you know, the programming is going to be more difficult because you aren’t going to be able to say, “If it’s page such and such then do this.” And the reason you’re not going to be able to say that is because you have a difficult time anticipating you know, what those page id’s are going to be and that kind of stuff because you just never know what the next person is going to do when they create something and then they really wanted their site to look you know, like XY and Z. But the only way to make it that way is for you to whip out the programming and change the custom functions file at that point, you know.

And so, it’s quite a bit less…well, it’s just not really intended to do that. So its flexibility in a regular is a handicap in multisite. And so, while I don’t have a suggestion for you and maybe, I do have a suggestion. Maybe what I would suggest is that you… if you are committed to multisite and you wanted Thesis like programming and experience, Thematic has a multisite version and Thematic has borrowed a lot of the concepts that exists in Thesis.

And so, programming Thematic except for custom templates, is very similar to programming in Thesis.

Peter: Yeah, I would probably want to stick with you know, the basics. You know, I’ve been spending some time learning Thesis here. It’s a fantastic item and I probably want to steer clear of trying to do too many different things. I think I see it mushrooming out over the coming months and years to… just a lot to keep up with.

Rick: Well you know, if you’re tasked with the responsibility for doing that then it would certainly be the… I mean, unless there is a strong desire for people to have their own specific sites where they are you know, in almost complete control, then just doing it on a single site is probably the simplest. Yeah, you’re going to have a ton of pages you know, obviously, with 100 chapters you know, you’re going to have lots and lots of pages. But you know, having said that, it still doesn’t need to be that difficult. And you can actually make it so that the people, when an author logs on, he only sees his own pages. He doesn’t see anybody else’s. So he doesn’t have to wade through 200 pages to get to his page.

Peter: Okay, that sounds good. At least you gave me some stuff to think on here and I appreciate your thoroughness.

Rick: Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s not hard to manage 200 pages, really. Way back when, I thought 200 pages sounded like a lot but now you know, I’ve got more than that and more than that in posts and you know, I probably have something close to 8 or 900 pages in posts together. Or at least, 500 pages and posts together. And you know, it’s surprisingly not that difficult to kind of keep track of it all.

Peter: Yeah, we were really just looking to do some member benefits. You know, a lot of our chapters now go out and they create their own stuff. You know, something’s on a Yahoo Group, something’s on a Facebook Fan Page, something’s all over the place. So we just figured, it might be a good benefit to drive traffic you know, to one site or at least a more cohesive kind of branded site that you know, have the national logo and some other things. Sort of like to help some of the chapters get started you know, with their online presence.

Rick: Sure. It makes total sense to me. I know I’m active in the mountaineers here in Seattle, Washington and the mountaineers have, for the last several years, been using a you know, what has become increasingly dated technology for its website and you know, it is comprised of 28 different groups who all want their own control and who currently now often have their own websites you know, completely apart from the main body. And the big challenge has been to you know, sort of sort through how do you provide all of these things in a single place while still providing all the benefits of all of these other pieces of software whether it’s Yahoo Groups or you know, Google Docs or brown big tickets or you know, whatever those things are. So it’s a… I think WordPress is well-suited for either of those 2 scenarios that you’re looking at.

Peter: Well, perfect. I thank you, again.

Rick: Well, you’re welcome Peter. You have a great evening.

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