WordPress 3.0, you had me at Custom Menus

So while playing around with WordPress 3.0, beta 2 tonight, I tried out the new Custom Menu feature within the Appearance section, and I have to say I’ve been waiting a long time for this kind  of functionality. Finally you not only can have pages in a navigation menu, but also links and categories. What’s more you can control their order drag and drop, not unlike widgets. Very cool. here is what it looks like:

And to give you an idea of how useful this would have been for me last semester while teaching the Digital Storytelling class, I’ll do a quick rundown of the links in the navigation menu of that site, to show you how this new menu feature saves me hacking the theme and installing a plugin to do what can now be done out of the box.

1) Blue Arrow: One of the recurring issues when turning a blog into a website with a static frontpage in WordPress, depending on the theme, was the double Home tab in the navigation menu. You would have the default home link built into the header of the theme, and the new home link for the new homepage you created as the static frontpage. The custom menu feature solves that by allowing you to add a custom home link –bam! Major issues for creating sites and portfolio spaces on UMW Blogs made easy.

2) Green Arrow: In my Digital Storytelling class I had a separate category for all posts that were assignments, announcements, and student posts as a way to separate them out.  However, for each of them to have their own tab on the navigation menu, I had to use a plugin I got from Luke Waltzer called Blog-in-Blog, which basically pulled posts only from a particular category into a page you decided. But, this meant creating a page for each category, and then including the short code from the plugin. Those steps are no longer necessary now, you simply add the category of your choosing to the custom menu in the order you want. DISCO, once again, this is huge.

3) Yellow Arrow: no surprise here, this is a regular old page that had tyrrany over the navigation menu up and until now, unless you were ready and willing to hack the theme or go plugin crazy.

4) Pink Arrow: A custom link to another site. A simple addition, and I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I could have used this, especially when trying to hack in a link to the course MediaWiki site, forum, etc.

All in all, this gets me fired up because finally this allows anyone with no hacking chops to simply create a more dynamic navigation of the site the are creating, whether it be a course blog, portfolio site, straight-up website, etc. This was a long time in coming, as I said, but a subtle change that in many ways profoundly redefines the architectural possibilities of WordPress at UMW for faculty and students alike. Of all the changes thus far, this is by far the one I am must excited about in several versions

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