Introduction to Web Publishing

This chapter includes information on:

  • How web publishing differs from print publishing
  • The purpose of content management systems
  • WordPress as a web publishing platform

Imagine that you’ve taken photos of national importance, and you know that many people will want to see them right away. When Mathew Brady faced this problem in 1862, he didn’t have many options for reaching the public. He and his assistants had lugged heavy equipment through battlefields to photograph the Civil War, including the first photos to show war casualties.

But photography was a relatively new medium, and newspapers did not yet have the technology to publish them. (A photograph was first published in a newspaper in 1880, and photographs did not become common in newspapers until the 1920s.) Later, news reels from World War II would be shown in movie theaters and color magazines, and footage from the Vietnam War reached Americans through their television sets.

But in 1862? Brady displayed photographs from the Battle of Antietam a month after it happened, and curious visitors poured into his New York City gallery to view them.

War casualties on the battlefield of Antietam, photographed by Alexander Gardner for the Mathew Brady studio (via Library of Congress)
War casualties on the battlefield of Antietam, photographed by Alexander Gardner for the Mathew Brady studio (via Library of Congress)

Web Publishing

Today, as we know, Brady would have many options for bringing his photographs to the public — likely with just a few clicks on his computer, or a few taps on his smartphone. The internet has transformed the way we share and receive information.

Web publishing is the practice of posting text and multimedia content on the internet for a public audience. Compared to traditional publishing using a print medium, web publishing has several important advantages:

  • Fast: Information can be shared immediately, with minimal delay for printing and distribution.
  • Inexpensive: No specialized equipment is needed, and there are no costs for paper, ink and other materials.

These advantages have the effect of making it possible for anyone to be a publisher. Initially, web publishing meant creating and uploading individual web pages, but it is now frequently done with an existing platform that requires less technical knowledge.

Content Management Systems

Most large organizations use a CMS — content management system — to store content in a database so that individual web pages are created automatically. Websites that use a CMS demonstrate the web design principle of Separation of Presentation and Content, meaning the way data is entered (content) is independent from how it appears to the public (presentation). The website the public sees is called the front end. The separate system used to enter content and formatting rules is the back end.

On the left, what this page looks like on the back end. On the right, what it looks like on the front end — which should be exactly what you're seeing here.
On the left, what this page looks like on the back end. On the right, what it looks like on the front end — which should be exactly what you’re seeing here.

WordPress

wordpress-logo-notext-rgb-200WordPress, which is used in COM210, is a highly customizable content management system that is used for personal blogs as well as news publishing, company websites and online portfolios. WordPress is used for more than 25% of all websites, and more than half of websites that use a CMS.

View a showcase of sites that use WordPress here.

There are two types of WordPress: WordPress.com is a place to sign up for a free account and begin publishing immediately, though it has some restrictions. WordPress.org is where you can get the software to set up an installation somewhere else. This is why there are many sites built with WordPress that don’t have “wordpress.com” in the URL. The difference is kind of like renting an apartment (.com) compared to owning a house (.org) – apartment living means you might not be able to paint the walls, but you also don’t have to worry about yard maintenance or the furnace breaking down.

Professional organizations and individuals with advanced web skills often prefer the freedom, in this analogy, of owning the house with a WordPress.org installation. For this course and many other purposes, a free account on WordPress.com has more than enough features and functions.