There are thousands and thousands of WordPress themes out there: blog themes, magazine themes, typographical themes, CMS themes, photography themes, video themes, two-column themes, three-column themes, black themes, white themes, purple themes, pretty much any type of theme you can think of is out there. Some of them are beautiful, some of them are great, some of them are okay, and some of them are pretty awful.
But there are some themes that are more than just themes. They demonstrate how, with a talented and imaginative developer, WordPress can be so much more than a blogging platform, and so much more than an out-of-the-box CMS. WordPress 3.0, BuddyPress, WordPress MU, all of these things have seen WordPress websites going off in all sorts of different directions. Creating blog networks, getting funky with custom taxonomies and post types, creating your own social network are just some of the amazing things that you can do with this once-humble-blogging platform now-king-of-Open-Source-CMS. I’m going to take a look at some innovative uses of WordPress that show off some its best aspects. Some of these are from older versions of WordPress (though still compatible with 3.0) so we can expect to see even greater things once WordPress 3.0 properly filters down. Don’t expect to see anything that looks like a standalone blog.
As the title of Spencer Finnell’s blog post when he launched Quality Control “WordPress: Not just for blogging.” Quality Control is a ticketing system – it was designed to allow the creation and tracking of tickets. This allows developers to have a ready-made system for tracking any bugs on their software. Once you’ve got it installed you’ll notice that posts are no more – instead you have a section called “Tickets.” This uses custom post types so make sure that you have WordPress 3.0 installed or you may end up with some sort of cosmic paradoxical event taking place. And seriously, no one wants that.
Quality Control uses custom taxonomies to let you both set the status of the ticket, and set milestones. This gives you a great way to keep track of all of those bug tickets. You can also use a template to allow users to create tickets from the front end, keeping all of those pesky users out of your shiny WordPress admin area. Not bad for an Open Source CMS!
P2 is a theme from Automattic. It’s been around for a while, so if you haven’t heard of it, you should! The website touts it as being “Like Twitter, in a box.” It was developed to aid with the inner workings of Automattic and was released into the WordPress Theme Directory. P2 lets your users post from the front end, using threaded comments and real-time updating. Just install P2, watch the screen and you’ll see all of the updates popping up. It’s remarkably like Twitter, but lets you post more and you can keep track of conversations as they progress. It’s a fantastic tool for facilitating communication across a large team. Here’s a video all about it!
Obviously at WPMU we have a soft spot for the Edublogs Homepage Theme. The theme is based on one of the biggest WordPress Multisite Networks in the world – Edublogs! It works with BuddyPress 1.2 and above, with WordPress 2.8+ and is the perfect platform for setting up your own blogging network. There are so many options that it would take the rest of this post to list them all but it includes the ability to show different screens to logged in and out users, parent and child themes, theme styles and control over social tools and author avatars. Perfect for a WordPress Multisite Installation.
Love Wikipedia? I do! Although it often leads to hours of hopping from article to article, procrastinating while I should be writing about WordPress. The WordPress Wiki Theme lets you have your own Wiki or Knowledge Base. Not bad! If you have a company or business that is knowledge-based this is a great way to show off all of your knowledge to the world.
Another popular site out there on the internet is Yahoo Answers. You know, people post questions, other people answer them – often the answers are kind’ve rubbish but the site seems to be hugely popular anyway. Well, yes, you can go ahead and create just that using the Answers WordPress Theme from Templatic. Okay, so why would you want to be like Yahoo Answers when Yahoo does it oh-so-well? Maybe you’re an IT company and you want to raise your profile by using your expertise to provide a Q&A platform, or you could be a local website that lets tourists ask questions that will be answered by locals before visiting your town. There’s plenty of things – find your niche and focus on it. You could find yourself becoming THE place to go to for answers about your thing.
eStore is an impressive eCommerce theme from Elegant Themes. I’ve been using a pretty rubbish looking Google checkout widget for eCommerce on a website that I support and this theme makes me drool all over the keyboard at just how beautiful a WordPress eCommerce site can be. It looks just like a real shop! Well, I guess that it is a real shop. With integration with eShop and PayPal it does pretty much everything that a major retail site should do. It has a collection of shortcodes to allow you to create complex layouts on your website, complete localization and a load of options for tweaking your website. This site is so far from a blog that there’ll be some people out there who’ll be 100% baffled when you tell them that it’s built using WordPress.
JobRoller is a premium WordPress theme from AppThemes. It’s another one that makes fantastic use of WordPress 3.0’s custom post types. It lets you keep all of the job postings separate from your blog posts. Just set it up and you can start selling job advertising space straight away. Yes, I know that there are tonnes of job boards out there, but this is another case of you finding your niche and becoming the best job board that you can be in that area. Customers can manage their own jobs with their own personalized dashboard. You can have featured jobs. There is a job submission wizard so that people can easily post their jobs, and there’s that all important integration with PayPal so you can make some monies.
When I was a student (not too long ago!) I used to love coupons (I secretly still do but sssshhhhh). When you’re flat broke there’s nothing like getting a cheap dinner for two, or getting two-for-one at the cinema. CouponPress is a Premium WordPress Theme from PremiumPress which transforms your WordPress installation into a coupon site. It’s simple to set up and for your users to navigate. Once you’ve got it installed you can start giving away coupons and then attract revenue through advertising.
ReviewIt by GhostPool is another WordPress theme that makes great use of custom posts. Users can easily log in, post videos, images and other media along with reviews. It uses a ratings system to allow users to rate uploaded media. It’s fully integrated with BuddyPress so you can create a community around your WordPress review site. As I sit here thinking about it I’m already concocting schemes to set up some sort book review website for writers. No doubt there are loads of other uses that you could put it to.
CityGuide is a premium theme from Woo Themes which transforms your WordPress website into a City Directory. The theme is all set up for blogging on the go, including geotagging posts with locations. You can easily show off a Google Map on your front page with little pins to show off all of your locations. You can style to your heart’s content using custom shortcodes, it includes different styles and comes with all of the standard Woo Themes features such as localization and custom page templates.
As I’ve been writing this I keep coming up with different things that I could put together using WordPress. These are the themes that make you think like that. They push WordPress and, in pushing WordPress, push us as users to think about different things that we can do on the internet. Just a few things you can do with WordPress:
- Bug Tracking System
- Real time group blogging
- Run a huge blogging network
- Set up your own wiki
- Create an answers site
- Open a shop
- Set up a job board
- Give away coupons
- Have an interactive review site
- Provide a tourist guide
That’s not bad for an Open Source CMS.
A final thought: Most of these themes are premium which might put a lot of people off. I hate paying for things and I <3 free stuff. I’m never happier than when I’m munching on a free lunch (hint hint :D ). But I think it’s difficult for anyone to develop themes of such complexity for free. Everyone’s gotta earn some money and many free themes are developed as pet projects or are basic versions of “pro” themes. Even the two free themes on my list – Quality Control and P2 – were developed to solve problems for money-making organizations. No doubt that as WordPress 3.0+ becomes further and further embedded we’ll see more themes like this out there for free. However, with some of the themes above only costing around $30, you can’t really begrudge a developer for trying to make some money for his or her time.
Writing this post has inspired me to look at plugins that that transform WordPress into something a blog shouldn’t be. Expect that soon!
If you can think of any themes that I’ve left out, or that you’d like to recommend, let us know in the comments below. Same goes for plugins!