WordPress Mu is now installed on our school’s shared server space. It appears to be functioning as I’d like it–now that I hacked together a nice .htaccess redirect making it easier to access individual blogs. Before we actually let the students loose on their blogs, I need to think through security and make sure I can deliver on the promises made at our last tech meeting.
First, can it be set up so that individual students can submit content that will only be published upon administrative approval? The answer is yes–although there are limitations. Let’s explore the roles/permissions system:
- Subscriber: can view site (only relevant if blog is set to be visible only by subscribers).
- Contributor: Can write and edit posts, but they are not published until and administrator approves the content.
- Author: Can write, edit, publish, and delete own posts
- Editor: in addition to author permissions, can moderate comments, manage categories, edit pages, and other people’s posts.
- Administrator: Has control over any option or setting in the blog, including moderating posts and comments.
Clearly, in terms of security, students would be best set at the Contributor level. I worked through a post as a contributor–indeed it worked as expected. Just to be sure, I went back to my test post to see if I could edit it as a contributor after is was published/approved by the admin. I couldn’t–that is a good thing from a security point of view. With Joomla, an administrator must change a post’s ownership to ensure that it is not edited after.
Unfortunately, the Contributor setting does not allow a student to customize their website/blog. There really isn’t another setting that would allow adults to moderate posts by students, so there is no other choice. Perhaps a teacher could log in and change their template.
Comment is another area of concern. At first glance, it appears that comment settings must be done on a blog-by-blog basis. Comments can be disabled, held for moderation, or allowed to appear when created. These options may be over-ridden on a post by post basis. At first glance, it looks like we can satisfy the tech committees needs, by moderating comments, although I will be testing this further examining all aspects of the commenting and notification of comments via email.
Registration can be disabled allowing only an administrator to create new accounts. Unfortunately, this requires a unique email for each user. This can be a hassle as you need a working email account to receive WPMU generated password. Not good news for elementary teachers whose students often don’t have email addresses. I will be looking for a hack to change this.
Finally, you have a few means of controlling who can view the site. First of all, each blog post can be password protected–effective in keeping non users out (which I have mixed feelings about). That’s about it if it weren’t for a plugin called private blog. Normally the privacy tab only allows you to keep out search engines. With private blog, you can set each blog be visible to only members of the individual blog, the blog community (by all users of the school’s WPMU installation), or only to administrators. While I feel that blocking the general public from a blog defeats its purpose to some degree, there may be times and circumstances where a “walled garden” is appropriate or the only acceptable option in accordance with policies.
Overall, WPMU appears to provide the security options needed to proceed. In some cases, implementation could be less awkward. I would like to see more of this controlled globally rather than at the blog level. I will be testing it more closely with dummy accounts to more closely examine any potential security problems, and to work through a workflow to administer the site. If anyone would like to help out, let me know!