It’s not just blog – extending WordPress from #acenetc

While at the ACE-NETC 2013 conference, I had the pleasure to sit in on Scott McCollum and Mike Vysocka’s presentation. They are both from NCSU Cooperative Extension. In this presentation, they explained how they run 160+ Websites from a single instance of WordPress, no plug-ins, and a single sign-on. It was a wicked cool presentation. If you are interested in seeing their presentation, you can go to http://go.ncsu.edu/wordpress.

They began their presentation by talking about the history of their Website.

  • In 2004, they added content, news, and events all by hand.
  • In 2005, more content was being added, they started using a homegrown CMS, and incorporated news feeds. With the CMS, they could build additional websites.
  • From 20o7-2010, they added social media capability.
  • In 2011, they abandoned all previous efforts and went to WordPress. 

Instead of relying on the communications department, content providers could now enter content. After 3-4 training sessions, anyone could easily use WordPress.

When they decided to go with WordPress, they made their own modifications. They did not use plug-ins. For them, WordPress provided these essential features:

  • Content management system
  • Blogging features
  • Updates

However, out of the box did not do following; therefore, the team made the necessary modifications:

  • Single sign on
  • Extension database
  • Multiple sites
  • Topical sites
  • Integrate Google calendar
  • Post multiple content from one site
  • Analytics

With their modifications, they are able to manage 160+ domains with a single instance of WordPress. To make this happen, they added four core types: county, state, portal, and topic. Each domain uses one of these core types and picks up the theme associated with the core type. As a results, the site scales. They are using fourth level domains, but indicates it will work with third level domains. This is also accomplished with only 1,800 lines of code of which most are comments.

On their sites, they have manipulated the WordPress dashboard and created spotlight posts, pulled events from Google Calendar, and show broken links. Here are some examples of site being generated from their modifications:

Other modifications they have made have helped keep the site clean and active. Broken links are automatically checked and email goes out once per month to the owners. Counties can subscribe to categories from the portal site. When new content is posted, the site will be updated from higher level sites.

They have also created a powerful dashboard that lets them see can see who has access to site, they can see when something was last posted, and they can see feedback provided to the site. Their feedback mechanism has replaced post comments.

Perhaps the most important benefit of making all these modifications is that all the data is being poured into one Google analytic site. They can do substantial drilldown into data which is useful for making modifications into the site.

This was an inspirational hack of WordPress. I can’t wait to see what they do next, or where we go with our sites.