When is a website not a website?  ishe answer is when it’s two websites, or three, or more.  There are occasions when an organization may want multiple sites; not autonomous from one another, yet independent.  For those of us in the WordPress community, we’re familiar with WPMU, or WordPress Multi-User networks.  A single WordPress installation that is used for a whole network of sites.  While WPMU isn’t right for everyone, it does offer some distinct advantages which we can discuss

Advantages of WPMU

 

Server resources

If we want to run 10 websites, we can create 10 different WordPress installations, and run them as 10 autonomous sites.  Each instance will have it’s own installation of the WordPress core, along with it’s own installation of any themes and plugins that are being used on the sites.  This creates a lot of redundancy.  By using a single WordPress installation, and sharing resources like these and plugins we save space on our servers, which should lower hosting costs and improve performance.

Security

Depending on the level of trust we have for the people running the various network sites, this can be an advantage or disadvantage, but with WPMU only the super admin (the admin of the principal site) can install or manage themes and plugins.  This also means that all updates of those files, along with the WordPress core can be carried out from one single location.  There’s no need to worry that one site admin hasn’t run a critical update, leaving the whole network vulnerable to a security exploit.

Structure

While technically we can arrange independent WordPress installations in subdirectories, the typical structure of a WPMU network is www.domain.com/subdomain.  This type of structure makes things very clear in certain applications.  Let’s say a city has a website, and each department of the admin needs it’s own website.  This would allow for a very intuitive structure

Some Typical Uses for WPMU

A Wide Range of Products/Serviecs or Target Audience

Let’s say for the purposes of this example that I have a company that makes motorcycles for hard-core bikers, and also makes scooters for sandal-wearing hipsters.  While one company can make both products, there is little crossover between the two target markets.  The bikers might like a site that is dark with lots of chrome text effects, flames, and eagles, while the aforementioned hipsters would like a site that uses light colours, and looks like it was printed on post-consumer, unbleached paper.  The two sites could be completely separate, or could be setup as a multi-site network.  The multi-site install offers a greater efficiency in administration and system resources.

An Organization with Multiple chapters

So the bikers who are a fan of the products in our previous example decide to set up a biker’s club.  They come from a wide geographical area, and as such decide to organize into local chapters.  The organization as a whole uses a website to share news and events that apply to everyone, but each local expression has information that is specific to their own local area and people.  The bikers could set up a MPMU installation to handle their macro expression, along with each local expression.  The local expressions would locate their page in a subdirectory like www.flamingeagles.com/desmoins or www.flamingeagles.com/toronto, etc.

A Membership Site

A website may sell a service which is part of their website.  A real world example of something like this would be MailChimp.  The main site is a sales based site, but there also needs to be a membership side of the site, where logged in users can do the various tasks associated with their account.  The public side of the site could be one site, while the parts that you need to sign into are a different site on the same network.  In this way we actually jump from one site to another without even realizing it, but then remember that the navigation that I see when I am logged in is very different from the navigation that I see when I am not logged in.

Conclusion

While WPMU isn’t right for every application, it is something to keep in mind when you are designing sites for large or complicated organizations or for membership sites.  It is very scalable, from 2 to literally millions of sites in a network (provided your host server can handle the load).  Keep it in mind for your next web design project, and ask yourself if it is right for you.

As always, if you need a hand with making your web design idea a reality, please feel free to contact us at www.missionbell.net for some help.