wordpress_logo_2009.jpgWordPress 3.0 (news, site) is just around the corner and, as per usual for the popular blogging and content management system, a very rough beta version was kicked out earlier this month. Let's take a look at what team WordPress are -- and are not -- working on this time 'round.

WordPress 3.0's Good Side

The Merging of WordPress MU

The most talked about bit, by far, is the merging of the WordPress and WordPress Multi-User (MU) products. WordPress MU is a fork of WordPress which enables a single installation of the platform to power multiple sites (also known as a multi-tenant install).

As of 3.0 WordPress MU will be merged with WordPress core. This is exciting for anyone who manages multiple WordPress-powered websites, as admin life is about to get much simpler. And this is particularly interesting for corporations or other organizations wanting to blog-enable their employees.

Note that the merging of these technologies does not mean you can start adding blogs from within your regular WordPress dashboard. Rather you'll need to follow a manual step or two and meet certain criteria before you can create your very own blogosphere-dominating WordPress network.

Custom Content Types

In the past, WordPress supported two very broad types of content types: Posts and Pages. In the 3.0 version, a new feature called "Custom Post Types" allows users to create any kind of content type and define its attributes. For instance, if you post a lot of videos, you can now create a new content type tailored specifically to deliver video content.

This feature will come in handy for organizations with users unfamiliar with WordPress -- in that a content type closely tailored to a specific purpose is easier to understand than a swiss-army style do-it-all interface.

You’ll also be able to create custom templates for each author -- including such modern doodads as their signature or picture:

Moreover, management of content types is such that you won’t have to sort different post types into different categories, then use the Edit Posts screen and set filters to a specific category to see them. Custom Post Types live in their own admin section and won't get mixed up with your normal blogging brilliance. Additionally, users can customize columns in the editing screen according to their personal preferences (scroll down for an example).

A New Default Theme

Move over Kubrick, papa's got a brand new bag. WordPress' new default theme is more than just aptly named. Inspired by Thematic's Ian Stewart, Twenty Ten theme is designed for SEO, and features include a horizontal drop-down menu, clean typography, microformats, post thumbnails for custom headers and WYSIWYG.

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You can also see the theme in action on the WordPress Foundation page

Other Bits and Pieces

Some less talked about -- but still very cool -- features on the list include a custom menus option in which you can drag and drop posts, pages and categories in a widget-management fashion: 

Plugin and theme bulk updates have been made, custom backgrounds added, and a new Super Admin role is now on the roster. While Administrator is still available for assigning, the Super Admin position has control over both individual and multi-site blog features (side note: Admin is no longer the required user name -- hallelujah!).

Finally, custom taxonomy is now in the mix, which will come in handy if you're, say, putting together a list of  items that need to be differentiated by price, weight,  location, etc. 

Here's a nice video review of most of the new features in the first beta from Devin Price of WordPress Theming:

3.0's Bad Side

Everyone's got issues. Word 'round the 'net is that WordPress 3.0's are shaped like an auto-save and revision problems that can expand your database to unpleasant sizes, as well as a WP database class bug that can occur during the re-installment of a WP database. 

As a reminder, Jane Wells of WordPress made the following announcement on the official WordPress blog when 3.0 beta 1 was released:

This is an early beta. This means there are a few things we’re still finishing. We wanted to get people testing it this weekend, so we’re releasing it now rather than waiting another week until everything is finalized and polished. There’s a ton of stuff going on in 3.0, so this time we’re giving you a list of things to check out, so that we can make sure people are testing all the things that need it.

But is WordPress a CMS?

Of course, in our neck of the woods one of the recurring questions remains: Is this thing really a CMS? (That was the sound of a can of worms opening.) This particular debate has seen a lot of heat over the last few weeks -- mostly from the Hell No! side of the camp -- so we thought we'd include some insights from Ian Truscott writing on the Persuasive Content blog:

Folks suggest that WordPress is not a CMS because you can’t create content types, that it doesn’t have a multi role approval process or whatever – but if I only require a single content type (or a page based CMS) and I only have a couple of excellent trusted authors – maybe it fits the requirements?

It also doesn’t have in-context editing or multi-site functionality, but then neither do plenty of commercial and open source established CMS products – so where do we draw the line?

It seems that WordPress 3.0 has touched on a couple of these issues specifically, indicating what looks like the intention to be popular with more than just the self-hosted blogging folk. The platform still has a long way to go, of course, but it's an undeniable change of course. 

"I think perhaps our industry needs to take a look at why people are reaching for these tools instead of 'traditional' CMS products," continued Truscott. "It’s not just because they are free, plenty of open source alternatives are around -- it’s about the ease of adoption, perhaps the very lack of governance, the basic ease at which you can just get publishing? Maybe these are requirements we need to be listening to as an industry – rather than try to exclude them from the club."

Meanwhile, WCM strategist and president of CM Pros, Scott Liewehr, begs to differ:

"I’m happy to call it a blog publishing application, or even a web publishing system, but having worked in the content management industry for over ten years as a practitioner, consultant and analyst, I have a pretty clear understanding of what a WCMS is…at least in my own mind. Maybe I’m a purist. Maybe I’ve been playing the role of subject matter expert for too long and I’m no longer seeing clearly. Either way, for me, WP just doesn’t pass the WCMS sniff test."

We (and by "we" I mean "I") don't want to get virtually stoned to death, so a solid "yes" is not today's answer to said burning question, but as our needs become more specific and our solutions more specialized, perhaps a small, wimpy and unstable "maybe" is OK.

If you're brave, try the beta and let us know what you think.