Using Wikis and Blogs to Ease Administration
There are a lot of blog software packages out there today, but here we cover WordPress. WordPress is fast and has a nice plugin and skin interface to allow you to customize it to your heart's content. The only requirements for running WordPress are Apache, MySQL and PHP. I don't go into how to install WordPress, because the on-line documentation is very clear and easy to follow. Instead, I start where the installation leaves off and introduce some useful plugins. I suggest starting with WordPress v1.5.2 even though v2.0 is currently out. There have been some problems with the initial 2.0 release that warrant waiting for v2.0.1. Also, many of the plugins have not had a chance to update to the new system.
The first thing you should do after installing WordPress is log in as the admin user. Once logged in, you are presented with the Dashboard. At the top of the page is a menu of options named Write, Manage, Links and so on. You should first create an account for yourself by clicking on the Users option. Once that has loaded, two tabs labeled Your Profile and Authors & Users are available under the main menu. Click on Authors & Users, and scroll down to the Add New User section and fill in the text fields. Once your user has been added, it appears in the Registered Users section above. There are several columns of data, and one is Promote, which you should click on. Promoting a user makes that user an author and also allows that user to have more privileges based on its level. Once your user has been promoted, it will have a level of one. There are plus and minus signs on either side of the level to use to increase your user's level. Increase it to nine, which is the highest level a non-admin user can be. Should you ever need to delete users that have been promoted to authors, all you need to do is decrease their level below one and then delete them. I have included a link to a more in-depth description of the privileges of each user level in the on-line Resources.
There are a few other options you might consider changing. In General Options, there are check boxes to allow anyone to register to become a blog user and to require users to be logged in to add comments. You may or may not want these options enabled, depending on your security concerns and the openness of your blog. At our site, users cannot register themselves, though anyone can post comments without being logged in. You should explore all the menus and all their options to tweak them for your site.
WordPress has a very modular plugin system, and a lot of people have written many plugins. WordPress also has a notion of categories. Categories can have many uses, but one might be to create mini-blogs for different communities of users or to group posts about a specific aspect of the infrastructure. But, you might not want all users to be able to see every category. The Userextra plugin, in conjunction with the Usermeta plugin, allows you to control exactly this sort of thing. Once you have followed these plugins' installation instructions, two more menus are available under Options and one more under Manage that allow you to refine access.
Another plugin you may find useful is the HTTP Authentication plugin. This plugin lets you use an external authentication mechanism, such as Apache's BasicAuth, as a means to authenticate to WordPress. This is great if you already have an LDAP directory or Kerberos realm that you use for authentication and you have mod_auth_ldap or mod_auth_kerb up and running.
Many more plugins are available for WordPress from the WordPress Codex and the WordPress Plugin DB. If you feel some functionality is missing, there are plenty of examples and documentation available from the WordPress Web site, and these plugin repositories can help you write your own plugin.
I hope that after this whirlwind tour of wikis and blogs you have come to see how they can be beneficial to help your shop run a smoother ship and provide your users with all the information they might want. Just as there are many different sails to keep your ship sailing, there are many different wiki and blog software packages out there. The right package for you is the one that keeps your users happy and you productive.
Resources for this article: /article/8832.
Ti Leggett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a full-time system administrator. When he's not working, he might be found playing his Gibson B-25 or doing some home improvements or wood working.