WordPress to the rescue

13Sep07

One of my current roles is the lead of a team responsible for implementing cool tech solutions for traditional organizational issues, which gives me the freedom and opportunity to try new ways of solving those business issues. This latest adventure involved building a quick-hit prototype to assist with improving our customer service via blogs. I leave the details below intentionally vague, since we’re still fine tuning the prototype as we go along, but that won’t stop me from blogging about our positive experience with using the open source tool, WordPress, to deliver the solution.

As the brain-child of JP (see his blog post from July that eluded to a great customer experience with VodPod), my team was challenged with pulling together a prototype largely based on how blogs work, directed at improving customer service, and a goal of being operationalized into the consumer customer care team and to do so within a couple of weeks. A challenge indeed.

Rather than beginning with a basic web user interface and building the prototype functionality around it, like I would normally do, JP seeded us with a head start and said why not use an actual bloging software as a foundation to build this prototype around. Thinking back, this sounds fairly obvious now, but at the time I had to think twice about the logic. Thank goodness we have JP :).

After quickly cycling through a couple of false-start prototypes, we had a lightly modified WordPress instance up and running, mashed up with Technorati and Yahoo Pipes to do some extras that was brainstormed during our development. The result was a seamless melding of straightforward blogging functionality intermixed with some aggregation functionality, and all overlaid with the easy-to-use interface of WordPress. The delivery team consisted of a couple part time leads that have day-jobs (including myself) and a developer or two, and none us of us had previous experience with WordPress. Not bad at all.

I want to give a special thanks to Curtis, Micheal, and the rest of the Dalian Team for their excellent turn-around on designing and coding features that were not built into WordPress, but necessary for our prototype’s intended goals. The Dalian team worked closely with us and stayed calm despite our ambiguous and constantly changing requirements to create a product that could be released live today if pushed for. We will be working closely with the Dalian team for many projects to come. Also, props go to Tee Banwait for managing much of the work while not dropping off any of his full-time responsibilities. Nice work Tee!

I’d always been pro open source, with my first exposure back in 1994 with Slackware Linux and progressing to a job while I was finishing my Master’s degree in 2001-2 developing on the LAMP stack, but I am truly impressed with the ease and speed of extending and customizing WordPress to meet our business need. I look forward to taking this prototype through the usual approval and funding steps, releasing it to its intended users and blogging more details of what we’ve actually done. I cringe at what might have been if we hadn’t gone down the route we did and had to build much of the basic functionality from scratch. Actually, let’s just not think about that possibility and be happy we didn’t go down that route;-).

As a side thought, I wonder if any of our new code/functionality (automated post creations, special filters/fields for customer sensitive data, additional admin controls, etc.) can be submitted back into the WordPress community so that others can reuse what we’ve done…

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