FightUnstructured Content? inside WordPress with these two tools

If you?re a web designer or developer tasked with deploying custom WordPress solutions for your clients, you may often run into problems dealing with unstructured content entering the system by users brought up using high-level editors, such as Microsoft Word.

They may attempt to copy the entire gambit of formatting that exists on the Word document into the WordPress editor, blissfully unaware of the damage or chaos that will ensue upon hitting the publish button. This can completely mess up the front-end and lead to a painful backlash from your customers.

To be fair to the user, a content management system (CMS) or blogging platform shouldjust work?.? There really should be no need for endless training or strict parameters on how to enter the data. Unfortunately, until WordPress makes its Copy-From-Word button bulletproof this remains a dream and currently exists as a nightmare.

There are, however, some solutions (none of them are perfect) that have some solid credentials and do help you level the playing field a bit.

The first solution was brought to our attention at WordCamp 2012 Miami by developer, Kevin Zurawel, who has a day job at the University of Miami as a Django developer and by night runs a WordPress development shop. The second, has been around since the first Star Wars movie (well, more or less) and has built up a quite a loyal following amongst database and WordPress aficionados.

Magic Fields

This elegant plug-in built by Mexican developers allows the WordPress admin to deploy custom post fields and record types inside a WordPress instance, within minutes. This may include a range of product fields including radio buttons, text fields and image placeholders. The fields are automatically inserted into the WordPress admin presentation layer for the user in largely a painless exercise.

It appears the Magic Field plug-in was largely built as a result of dissatisfaction with the development direction of another well known templatizing plug-in called Flutter, which has been around for a while.

But, even though the plug-in does take some pain out of the back-end, you still need to gently insert orEcho? out some basic PHP statements in order for the front-end presentation layers to consume your new fields.? Having said that, it is relatively straightforward and your code will simply be minor amendments to your current free or premium theme.? It’s definitely a product worth taking a look at.

Just a cautionary note: It appears that the developers who created the plug-in are taking a break from extending it further. There are indications that the plug-in may eventually become a premium version, following the same route as Gravity Forms, which these days nobody seems to mind coughing up the dollars for.

Markdown

A second option to stimulate structured content from your clients who enter data into WordPress is to use a markup cousin to html, called Markdown. It’s considered a lightweight markup language (and editor tool) which shares a similar goal with xml in trying to separate content from presentation — but without the programming overhead.

Basically, you use a few very simple, recognizable tags to generate actual html.? The best way to see this in action is to compare these two pages.

Exhibit A: Introduction to Markdown

Exhibit B: The tags used to style the above

?The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions,? said John Gruber, co-creator of the Markup.

By the way, besides the Markup editor, you can also deploy a Markup text-to-conversion plug-in on WordPress, built by Michael Yoshitaka Erlwine, which gives you more cards to play with.

If you decide to use Markup for your clients, make sure you immediately expose it to them when you go live with their site, to help them acclimatize quickly and avoid blow-back.

Both options above give you some measure of control and allow you to minimize the damage caused by unstructured content entering your WP install.

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