Document Management within WordPress

WordPress is an excellent content management system.  I’ve used it for much more than simple blogging but recently was challenged to find a way to upload and organize documents and media for easy remote access.  I found two good solutions, both of which enable you to use WordPress as your access point.

The problems we were trying to solve included:

  1. The current upload plugin (custom) only allowed two levels of foldering (top and second level).  We want to have at least 3 levels.
  2. The users already had WordPress accounts.  We wanted to stay inside WordPress so as to not widen the account and password management work to 2 services.

Blighty Explorer: Embed Dropbox

We discussed using a file storage service like Dropbox.  While I’m a big fan of cloud file storage, this raised a couple of issues.  Most importantly, it meant that each person (about 20) involved in this project needed their own Dropbox account.  That is in addition to the WordPress account they currently have.

The next best thing appears to be something like Blighty Explorer.  It’s a simple plugin that you connect to your Dropbox account as an app (authenticate it through your dashboard).  Once active, you drop a shortcode into whatever page you want to show the Dropbox folders on.

This is nice for a couple of reasons.  It is very easy to set up and make active.  The Dropbox authentication is the only mandatory function, but you can also set up the folder name.  I was able to make multiple folder levels-deep navigation and it worked without a hitch.  Dropbox is a much simpler interface for uploading files and managing them than anything I’ve found as a WordPress plugin, so it’s a much better option for the person administering the files.

The Blighty Explorer displays a folder in your Dropbox account containing the files and subfolders you want to share.
The Blighty Explorer displays a folder in your Dropbox account containing the files and subfolders you want to share.

The only quibble I have with Blighty Explorer – and it’s a small one – is the look of the resulting folders.  When you pop open a folder, the contents aren’t nestled under the containing folder.  This is a typical interface when using folders and I’m planning to fix it with a bit of CSS.  Unfortunately, the plugin doesn’t have classes or IDs for the documents, so I may have to tweak the plugin code a bit to enable easy retheming.

This free plugin is a simple way to create a folderish navigation to large numbers of files.

Smarty Pants Project and Document Manager

A totally native option is the SP Project and Document Manager.  It is a freemium plugin.  You can run the basic plugin for free but it only supports 2 levels of folders.  To enable more levels, you need to buy the premium version (starts at $75) and then you need to purchase a license for the sub project add-on ($45).

I found the setup a bit trickier although it’s the same as Blighty Explorer.  You place your shortcode into a page and it displays the contents of your uploaded documents and folders.  However, the first time I attempted it (manually placing the shortcode), I saw spinning wheel.  The second time (I used the automatic creation feature in the administration page), nothing appeared even though I could see the shortcode under the edit screen.

A folder and three uploaded files in Smarty Pants Project and Document Manager WordPress plugin.  I named the page "Document Manager" but you can call it anything.
A folder and three uploaded files in Smarty Pants Project and Document Manager WordPress plugin. I named the page “Document Manager” but you can call it anything.

Since the third time was a charm (uploaded files then created the shortcode manually), I expect it has more to do with my install than anything else.

The interface is neater than Blighty Explorer and, although I didn’t include a screenshot, there’s a nice administrative interface within WordPress.  When you go down one level in the folder structure, you no longer see the structure.  You see Go Back and the contents of the current folder.

It’s worth the money to buy the full package, as far as I can tell (I haven’t yet).  For about US$130, you get a nicely developed plugin and support.  I found about the pricing using their online chat function and was helped immediately.

Final Decision:  Not Sure

I don’t frankly have a decision yet.  I like both of them for different reasons.  Blighty Explorer seems the simplest to me.  It was developed just to enable file access to a Dropbox folder and it does that exceptionally well.

SP’s Project and Document Manager is far more – it is meant to be used to work on projects, share documents via e-mail and sort by vendor, and contains numerous features I don’t need.  However, it’s a rich plugin with a reasonable price tag.

At this point, I’m leaning towards Blighty Explorer for the simplicity of it and to essentially use it as next step iteration in this group’s use of online document sharing.  However, depending on how it’s received, I could see us moving along to the Smarty Pants plugin for a more nuanced – and 100% within WordPress – experience.