iThemes, the company behind products such as BackupBuddy and the Builder theme are reporting that their headquarters as well as all of their staff are ok following the Tornadoes that ripped Moore, Oklahoma apart on May 20th. Not only has their company donated $2,000.00 to the Red Cross for relief efforts, but they are asking everyone to consider texting REDCROSS to 90999 which will donate $10.00 to the Red Cross to help support tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma.
By Jeffro on May 21, 2013
By Jeffro on May 21, 2013
One of the best things about WordPress is its third-party ecosystem of themes and plugins. If WordPress doesn’t have the feature set you need out of the box, chances are very good that with just a few plugins, you can make the WordPress of your dreams. However, to new and veteran users alike, choosing which plugins to install is not always an easy task. Using this guide as a checklist ought to remove some of the challenges associated with choosing plugins. I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll be able to pick the right plugins 100% of the time but by taking these factors into account before making a decision, your chances of success will substantially increase.
Factors To Consider:
Starting Point – On the left hand side of the Plugin repository are a series of links for extending WordPress. I highly suggest starting off with browsing through the Most Popular and Highest Rated plugins first, then move on to other options. The plugins within those two categories have stood the test of time and generally, have earned those positions.
Requirements – The minimum requirements information is supplied directly from the plugin author and is generally used as the first factor in determining whether or not a plugin will work with a specific site. The number of downloads can be used to determine the age of a plugin as well as it’s popularity.
Ratings – Ratings are based on 5 stars where the average rating is shown at the top. Plugins can only be rated by logged in users. One of the recent changes to the plugin repository are plugin reviews. If you click on each star link, you can read all the reviews that go with that rating, very similar to Amazon.com. When choosing a plugin, don’t just read the 5 star reviews, also read the 1 and 2 star reviews to get a balanced perspective.
Plugin Author – Sometimes, the plugin authors name will show up as a link. This link will take you to their WordPress.org profile that displays an overview of their earlier works in the plugin repository as well as a stream of their recent activity. This information can be used as an indicator on their recent development activity around their plugins.
Plugin Support – This area of the page shows you how many support questions have been asked in the forum specifically for that plugin. When viewing the plugin support forum, look for the number of threads that have [resolved] in the title, the plugin authors name as being the last poster and threads that have answers by someone other than the plugin author which is a sign of a healthy community surrounding the plugin.
Compatibility – This area of a plugin page describes whether or not a specific version of a plugin works with the current, or earlier versions of WordPress. Using the drop down boxes, you can select an earlier version of WordPress as well as an earlier version of the plugin to see if enough people in the community have reported on whether they work together or not. This information is based on community feedback, not by the plugin author.
Trustworthiness – Although this is not a consideration you can search for, downloading a plugin from the WordPress plugin repository does have its benefits. Before each plugin is allowed to be hosted on the repository, it must go through a manual screening process that checks things like obfuscated code, malware, spam links, and security. This is also the same process a plugin update must go through before it’s also published to the repository to make sure nothing malicious is added after the first screening. For these reasons, I can’t stress enough how important it is to download from the official repository versus somewhere else. That’s not to say that plugins hosted elsewhere are not equally or more thoroughly screened, but with WordPress.org, you know what you’re getting.
The Big Picture:
With over 25,000 plugins in the repository, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to wade through them all to find the one that perfectly matches functionality with security, support, and reliability. For example, if you were to do a search for Backup or SEO, you’ll be greeted with a ton of different options. Using the factors I’ve listed is this guide can substantially increase the odds that a plugin will work out of the box with little hassle. WPTavern.com uses about 25-29 plugins and most of them have been in use for over 4 years, with little to no trouble.
Advice From Other WordPress Faithful:
I reached out to a couple of people in the WordPress community that deal with the plugin repository on a routine basis either for their own interest or because they are in the business of working with clients. Here is their advice.
Al Davis of WPTeach.com – Check what version the plugin is compatible to, as this is a great indicator as to whether the plugin is still being actively developed. If you are unsure how the plugin is going to work on your site, browse through the support forums, see what kinds of issues others may be having and see if those issues are being addressed. Finally, have a look at the screenshots and FAQ if they are available and make sure the plugin actually does what you are looking for.
Angie Meeker, Organizer Of WordCamp Columbus and WordPress Consultant – My first piece of advice is to ask yourself (and your trusted WordPress adviser or the WP Support Forums), “Do I really need a plugin for this?” Many new users to WP are unfamiliar with some of its simplest built-in functions (ones you don’t even need to know how to code to use). They go searching for a simple gallery plugin, not knowing there’s one built into the Media Uploader. They search for a plugin to schedule posts, to password protect pages, or to post by email.
On finding what you want in the first place:
1. Search with as specific of terms as you can think of. “Rotating Image Galleries” is a better search than just “Image Galleries.” Of course, this is true with all search.
2. Google “what you want to do + plugin + wordpress“, and look only at search results in the repository (those with wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ in the url). I find that sometimes searching the repository from within is limiting.
Once you’ve found one:
1. Read the entire description, Installation, FAQ, and Other Notes (ALL of them). If there are Screenshots, look at them to get a hint of what the plugin does. Not all plugins have all of these areas completed, though.
2. Look at the “Requires Version X.X” and Compatible to X.X” If your installation is WordPress 3.1, and the plugin requires 3.5, then it’s NOT the plugin author’s fault when you install it and it doesn’t work. Either upgrade your WP install, or don’t use the plugin. If you’re using 3.5 but the plugin says it’s only compatible to 3.1, then there’s no guarantee it will work with that forward version. It MIGHT, but there’s no guarantee.
Sometimes, a plugin author knows for CERTAIN a plugin DOESN’T work with a newer version, and they’ll make a note of it in the description. Remember, the authors of these plugins are not paid to create and update these, so if a plugin is not up-to-date, don’t go berserk on the plugin author. Be polite and ask if/when there might be an update.
3. Perhaps one of the most useful things you can check out: the Support Forums for a plugin. Plugin authors don’t HAVE to give support for plugins in the repository, but many do. Look at the support threads submitted. How many people submitted the same questions? Does it seem like those questions are simply user error (like maybe they didn’t read the instructions?) or are they asking about a bug or a problem with the plugin? If there are bugs, is the author responsive to correcting them or providing hints at how users can make corrections? Does the author respond to questions? In my opinion, these point to a plugin author who is vested in the success of his/her plugin, and that usually equals success for you when using it.
4. The user rating system: Take it or leave it. Users can leave ratings without having to explain to the plugin author why they left that rating… which holds the rating system hostage to the individual user’s ability to properly use the plugin. I’ve seen too many users on the support forums clearly not read a plugin’s instructions and submit support threads simply saying, “This plugin doesn’t work.” That same user can give a plugin a poor rating.
5. Reviews: These are a recent addition to the WP Plugin Repository, so don’t be surprised if many plugins don’t have many or any.
6. Lastly, clicking on the plugin author’s name will take you to a list of all the plugins that author has submitted to the repo. It stands to reason that a plugin author whose overall portfolio has quality ratings, good reviews, maintains the support forums for his/her plugins and keeps the plugins up-to-date probably creates plugins the community can trust.
Marcus Couch co-host of the WordPress Plugins A-Z Podcast also has some bullet points worth checking
1) How long has the plugin been around? What is the update cycle?
Nothing is worse than committing to a particular plugin and having the developer drop support after just a few version revisions. An active developer assures you that the plugin will receive update attention throughout the various WordPress Core updates that come along several times a year. A developer that frequently updates along with WordPress versions is a quality to look for when choosing between plugins to install on your live sites.
2) Does this plugin play well with the rest of my plugins?
If you’ve ever owned an aquarium, you know that some fish don’t play well with others, often leading to complete breakdown of the natural order and balance of the tank. Plugins are the same way! Make sure that the plugin you are going to install does not “overlap” functionality and cause issues in the performance of others.
3) Plugin vs Plugin Race
If two plugins exist that perform essentially the same function, install them both but activate only one. Run a site load comparison with sites like Pingdom.com and other data load measurement tools. Find out which plugin is more efficient with loading time and use the results to make a determination if one of the plugins takes too long to load or drains too much system memory.
4) Shortcode Dependency
When deciding to use a plugin that relies on shortcodes, understand that somewhere down the line you might want to remove that plugin. This means that there could potentially be thousands of instances of [shortcode] throughout your page and post content.
Is there a great community behind the plugin? There are so few plugins with thriving, rabid communities, but it’s always a huge bonus when a large base of plugin fans can gather with the developer and help to improve a plugin and it’s core functionality. Once you start using a plugin on a regular basis and find that there is an active community associated with it, PARTICIPATE! I’ve had many plugins programmed with exactly the functions that I needed simply because I asked the developer to include them in future revisions.
I realize that some of the information in this post is redundant but Angie provides real-world expectations and views. Scott Reilly clearly sums everything up into one paragraph.
When choosing an appropriate plugin from the Plugins Directory it’s often best to take various factors into consideration rather than just any single factor. The plugin author, the number of support threads replied to in the past two months, the nature of the types of support threads being created (and the nature of the author’s responses, if any), the number and nature of the reviews being given (or lack thereof), the last update date, and the rating can all play a factor in making a decision.
If you can contribute anything else to this guide for choosing which plugins to install, please do so in the comments.
By Jeffro on May 21, 2013
In an effort to figure out where resources should be applied to improve the documentation efforts of the WordPress project, there is an open survey that will be ongoing for the next few weeks. The survey is composed of 12, easy to answer questions which shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes to answer. Along with this survey, there have been renewed efforts by a handful of people to get the various documentation projects up to date. To keep tabs on everything going on documentation wise for the WordPress project, you should subscribe to the Make WordPress Documentation website.
Speaking of documentation, how many of you have actually changed something on the Codex whether it be a typo, a bad link, or corrected information? I’ve made at least a few changes, such as typos and fixed a couple of broken links but nothing major. Just like many other aspects of the project, documentation is one of those thankless jobs. You can log into the Codex, make some changes and unless you brag about them, no one will ever know. However, documentation is one aspect of the project that impacts users for generations. While correcting a link or adding a paragraph of information is not critical to the Codex, it does provide a warm fuzzy feeling when you think about how many people may come across a page that you fixed so that instead of loading a 404 page which doesn’t help anyone, they get the information they were looking for.
Just for fun, I asked my twitter followers to tell me in 140 characters or less, why documentation is important to WordPress. This was one of their responses.
@wptavern Same reason documentation is important to anything: so people will know how to use it.
— Sallie Goetsch (@salliegoetsch) May 20, 2013
By Jeffro on May 20, 2013
I have a suggestion for WordPress 3.7 that I believe is a UI element to the media library. I have a number of images within the media library. When I do a search for a specific image e.g. Codex which I know is the exact file name, the search is performed with no sign that anything is actually happening. Sometimes, it takes so long for any images to show up that I start running scenarios through my mind such as I broke the site or it can’t find any images. Then, suddenly, the search results pop up. So I’m requesting that a spinning circle or other visual cue be displayed when a media search is taking place. It’s better to know that something is happening versus looking at a blank page that gives the user no clue as to what’s going on.
I was pointed in the direction of Ticket 22754 as being related but I don’t think so. If anyone comes across a ticket where this is already being addressed, please share it in the comments. I searched through Trac myself and came up empty.
By Jeffro on May 20, 2013
If you live in the Northern Ohio area, make plans to stop by Water Street Tavern in Kent, OH Saturday, May 25th from 7PM-10PM to help us celebrate the 10th anniversary of WordPress. There will be a cash bar, good food and from what I’ve read, there might actually be some WordPress swag. This event is an excellent opportunity to wear the special 10th anniversary t-shirt.
If you don’t live in Northern Ohio, check out the following list of WordPress parties taking place this weekend to see if one is happening near you.
By Jeffro on May 17, 2013
In late 2012, VaultPress announced that they had acquired security company Code Garage. At the time, the acquisition seemed like a talent grab more than anything else. Even though VaultPress stated that they would continue to work on the Code Garage product, it didn’t make much sense to have both services. When I initially reported on the acquisition, I told Code Garage customers to watch the situation closely because at some point, Code Garage was going to close up shop in favor of VaultPress.
VaultPress has now confirmed that they will be shutting down Code Garage after July 1st.
Today we’re happy to announce a migration plan that provides Code Garage users with the protection they’re used to — while letting us improve security and backup services for everyone by focusing our resources on VaultPress. Through July 1, all Code Garage customers are invited to migrate to VaultPress. To sweeten the deal, your first two months are on us — you won’t see a charge from Code Garage or VaultPress for two months after the migration. After those 2 months, your Code Garage bill will remain unchanged – you’ll keep paying what you’ve been paying as a Code Garage customer.
If you’re not interested in migrating, we’ll maintain your service at Code Garage through July 1, and give you your last month free.
Any Code Garage customer that migrates to VaultPress will automatically be placed on the VaultPress Lite plan with the addition of daily security scans. For a detailed look at how Code Garage was founded and how Timthumb played a role in the company’s success, read this blog post by founder Peter Butler.
By Jeffro on May 17, 2013
As long as I’ve been involved, I’ve seen countless numbers of companies misspelling WordPress. Despite the fact that WordPress added a filter to automatically correct the word, it still happens and when it does, the results are not pretty. Members of the community point out their mistake and while generally it’s enough to get a good laugh, it’s usually followed up with “can’t trust or work with a company that can’t even spell the name of the software correctly“. So after you vote in the poll, let me know in the comments if the spelling of WordPress is an indicator as to whether a company is worth doing business with or not.
By Jeffro on May 16, 2013
BuddyPress 1.7.2 was released a little while ago. It contains some bug fixes but the most notable items include several MySQL Injection possibilities that have been patched. 1.7.2 is being classified as a recommended upgrade for anyone using BuddyPress 1.5 or above.
I’m keeping tabs on BuddyPress because at some point in the future, this site will be utilizing it combination with bbPress.
By Jeffro on May 16, 2013
WordPress.com users now have a feature available to them that should have been in the core of WordPress a long time ago. They call it, Widget Visibility. Users can either hide or show widgets based on category, author, tag, date, or page. This covers the most common use cases without having a need to use conditional tags.
The interface is surprisingly simple. In fact, I prefer what WordPress.com is using versus Widget Logic which requires me to know conditional tags. I’m wondering how did WordPress.com get this feature before stand-alone WordPress? When I asked this question on Twitter, Ian Stewart responded with:
@wptavern I’d look for it here http://jetpack.me/ :)
This makes sense and in fact would allow the Jetpack team to get valuable feedback before ever considering putting it into core. If you can’t wait that long, try out the Widget Context plugin. Widget Context provides a similar interface with a few more bells and whistles that the WordPress.com variety doesn’t have.
By Jeffro on May 16, 2013
While WordPress 3.6 is almost ready for release, one of the features that is already generating a love/hate relationship is the new Post Formats UI. This new UI exposes the Post Format functionality that is now relegated to a radio button post meta box. While researching this feature, I came across a discussion on the Make.WordPress.org site where it almost didn’t make it. If you use Post Formats now, the new UI is actually much nicer to use than the simple radio selection box. With each Post Format, the Post Screen changes to accommodate specific items. For example, when the Quote format is chosen, a quote source and quote link area is displayed above the post title. However, if you don’t use Post Formats, this new UI becomes yet another distraction into your publishing routine. Thankfully, the standard format is selected by default which is just a normal post.
If you would like to hide the new UI from showing up, there is an option within the screen options drop down tab where you can un-check the Post Formats box.
This only hides the UI from an individual. For multi-author sites, you’ll need to install a plugin such as the one Justin Tadlock created. If you’re curious to see an idea of a post format UI before WordPress 3.6, read Alex Kings post on a plugin he released called Post Formats Admin UI.
Where Did Post Formats Come From And What Are They?
Post formats is a feature introduced in WordPress 3.1 as a way for themes to visually differentiate between types of content. Before the addition of post formats, users had to rely on CSS tricks to create specific styles for different kinds of content. A great example, is this post written by Lorelle Van Fossen from 2007 that explains how to use WordPress Categories combined with assigned CSS classes to style posts. Coincidentally, Tumblr launched in February 2007 and introduced a beautiful new way to publish content. This review by LifeHacker shows the layout for creating different types of content. I was part of the mob that hopped onto the Tumblr bandwagon coming away from that experience very impressed with how easy it was to publish content. I didn’t have to worry about tags, categories or any of that meta stuff. It was simply pick a type of content, provide content, publish. What a joy that was. The best feature of Tumblr was their bookmarklet. This bookmarklet I feel is one of the biggest reasons for Tumblrs success.
WordPress on the other hand has this bookmarklet called PressThis. It works in a similar fashion to the Tumblr bookmarklet but because of the publishing process on WordPress, it was never as elegant or convenient to use. Using PressThis, you have to select a category for the post, usually have to edit the title and most of the time had to edit the link text not to mention the addition of tags. In May of 2010, Mashable conducted an interview with Matt where one of the topics discussed was the PressThis bookmarklet. Around the 2:06 mark in that interview, Matt says that Tumblr did a beautiful job of removing that little bit of friction to publishing content which he hoped would be similarly achieved with PressThis.
Once post formats reached the masses with WordPress 3.1, the general community had the task of explaining what post formats were and to this day, it’s still a struggle without being able to visually show someone. People were so confused with the terminology, Mark Jaquith and Otto both published posts with explanations. At the time, I thought post formats would be awesome because of the Tumblr like inspiration but as users, we had to rely on Themes for how the formats were used and displayed.
My Thoughts On Post Formats
I used post formats for a few months on WPTavern.com and I’ve made a few conclusions. The first is that post formats encourage short form content. Not only is short form content easy to do, it also promotes creating a fire hose of content. The second, the majority of people were reading WPTavern.com via their favorite feedreader. Feedreaders don’t display content the same as a website. Third, some of the formats I selected displayed on the home page without a post title or an ability to comment. I think this had more to do with how my theme was displaying the formats more than anything else. Last but not least, I started treating post formats as categories.
Some of my frustrations with post formats came at the cost of not fully understanding the when and why of the feature. I’ve also discovered that depending upon how the formats are displayed, it’s very difficult to determine what’s content and what’s something else. I’m so used to seeing the Post Title, content, post meta layout on websites that when I see a posts that are quotes with little text, it sometimes becomes difficult to navigate. A good example of this is the 2013 Theme.
I no longer use post formats. Instead, I just write a normal (standard) blog post containing a quote, video, image or anything else I want. Creating different styles for different types of content was cool but now, it’s not a big deal anymore. I’d rather see a consistent style for the content I consume and create versus wildly different layouts, colors, and expectations.
I want to hear from developers and consultants on how they teach post formats to clients. How do you make the distinction between the different kinds of posts that can be created? What do you think of the revamped UI for post formats in WordPress 3.6, will it get more people to use this feature?