Categories
Facebook plugins

Facebook for WordPress – plugin brings integration on a whole new level

Facebook just released a new plugin for WordPress that makes Facebook integration, publishing and a lot of other cool stuff easier than ever. Like you would expect, the plugin ships with new widgets and lots of cool toys, but what is more important is it lets you mention Facebook pages and friends right in the post for further integration. And what’s more, when you do, your post automatically appears on that person’s timeline! The marketing (and spamming) potential is enormous.

Setting up Facebook for WordPress is a bit of a pain: After installing the plugin you have to create a Facebook App and hook the two together. If you want to allow the plugin to push content directly to Facebook you also have to create an Open Graph action within your app. It’s all explained in documentation, but even so it’s not as easy as it should be. Considering this is a Facebook app that’s hardly news.

I just hooked the plugin up to my own Facebook account and pages and will be running some experiments throughout the next few weeks. If you have any experiences yourself and would like to share, please do so in the comments below. I’m always looking for information about real life usage of stuff like this.

Categories
plugins WordPress

Jetpack – New must-have WordPress Plugin

UPDATE: As of around 3pm Thursday the WordPress.com Stats plugin seems to be back up and running although it is producing some very strange stats that don’t correspond with what the stats in Jetpack produces. Weird stuff, and as far as I can tell still no explanation from the powers that be.

Last night (March 16th) Twitter and WordPress forums exploded with people receiving error messages when trying to access their WordPress stats through the WordPress.com stats plugin. This happened to me too: When trying to access my stats I got this nice uninformative error message:

Your WordPress.com account, xxxxx is not authorized to view the stats of this blog.

I did a little digging and found out that the WordPress.com Stats plugin has been replaced by the Jetpack plugin (or rather, the WordPress.com Stats functionality has been baked into the Jetpack plugin) and a simple way of getting the stats up and running again was to simply install the plugin, activate it and link it up to my WordPress.com account.

WordPress.com goodies come to self-hosted WordPress.org sites

Before I start ranting let me just say that the new Jetpack plugin is what I would consider a must-have for self-hosted WordPress sites. Not only does it have the WordPress.com Stats built in but it also comes with a whole menagerie of other features that come standard with WordPress.com sites but previously had to be installed separately in self-hosted sites. These are:

  • WordPress.com Stats
  • Twitter Widget
  • Gravatar Hovercards
  • WP.me Shortlinks
  • Sharedaddy
  • LaTeX
  • After the Deadline
  • Shortcode Embeds

Some of these features including Stats and Sharedaddy are plugins I’ve already recommended, and the others are pretty useful too (especially After the Deadline which is an integrated spell- and grammar check tool). To learn more about the features and what they do go to Jetpack.me and check them out.

The great thing about the Jetpack plugin is that it consolidates a bunch of features that previously required separate plugins and installs to work. And judging by the open “Coming Soon” boxes at the bottom of the plugin page I’m guessing more stuff will be added shortly. The Jetpack plugin runs off cloud services which means some of the functionality lives in the cloud and not on your computer, in other words the plugin can be updated externally to add more functionality to your site without you having to run the manual update. Which is great. Well, sort of at least.

Cloud computing is what we are moving towards, and for integrated services like WordPress.com Stats it makes a lot of sense. The question here is what the underlying reasoning is and where this will take us. That’s where my rant comes in.

How about a little warning, eh?

There are two things that irk me about this whole situation: First off, no warning or information was issued about the disabling of WordPress.com Stats which lead to (and is still leading to) a lot of panicked posts and confused people. This could easily habe been remedied with a simple post or warning saying “Oh, btw we are disabling WordPress.com Stats and supplanting it for the Jetpack plugin so if you want your stats you have to install it” and they have done this, at least in part, by adding a “We’re working on it” message to the error displayed in the old Stats window. But it still leaves me wondering what actually happened here. Well, not actually wondering. More like speculating.

You see, I think this is actually part of a larger plan (WARNING: The following is pure speculation on my part and may very well be complete rubbish):

Logging into your WordPress.com account right now you’ll notice your API key doesn’t exist any more. The only API key available is the one you can purchase from Akismet. Yes, I said purchase. If you’ve been running Akismet on your WordPress site for a long time you may not know this but as of some time early last year Akismet went from being a free service to being a paid service. However, for those who had activated the plugin before the switch using the general WordPress.com API key Akismet still worked for free. And and even after the change you could circumvent the payment option by using your WordPress.com Stats API key as your Akismet API key and still get the same services for free. I think you see where I’m going with this.

From what I can tell the WordPress.com Stats plugin stopped working because the WordPress.com API key was disabled. I’m venturing a guess that this was done to force people to finally buy a proper Akismet key. Unfortunately WordPress.com Stats was an unexpected victim, which is why we haven’t heard any official word on what’s going on here yet.

Like I said before, this is all speculation on my part and I hope we hear some official explanation sooner rather than later, but at least it makes all the pieces fit. I have no problem with WordPress.com Stats being replaced with Jetpack nor do I have a problem with Akismet being a paid service (though I think it’s way too expensive), but the way this has unfolded is not very open nor transparent and needs some polishing. You can’t just kille a hugely popular plugin without telling people first.

My second issue with the move is that not everyone wants everything in the Jetpack. A lot of people like to keep everything separated and firewalled. I’m guessing that Automattic wants to move towards more integrated solutions like Jetpack to serve up lots of functionality in small packages. Which is great as long as it doesn’t push away the individual pieces. Right now, unless something is changed and WordPress.com Stats goes live again, you have to install Jetpack to get your stats, and that means you’ll now have multiple pluings running the same function if you have any of the other things like Sharedaddy installed. It’s a hassle because you’ll have to disable these doubles. Granted Jetpack picks up the settings from the old plugin, but it’s still not as clean as it should be.

Let us in on what’s going on!

The bottom line here is pretty clear: To Automattic, let us know what’s going on. If you want us to ditch WordPress.com Stats for Jetpack, just tell us. If WordPress.com Stats is coming back online, tell us that. And please explain what happened in the interim. Also, if you are disabling WordPress.com stats (and other plugins?) to be replaced by Jetpack, put a nice big warning in the plugin pages for those plugins so people know what’s going on and don’t start posting panicked messages in the forum. Transparency is key.

Categories
plugins WordPress

10 WordPress plugins I use all the time

A frequent question that keeps coming up when I tell people I work with WordPress is “What plugins do you use?” At the present rate I set up a new WordPress site every two weeks and over time I’ve compiled a list of 10 plugins I install on pretty much every one of those sites.

This list is by no means complete – there are other plugins I install in addition to these, and there are also sites that don’t have all of them – but overall I’d say these are plugins you should seriously consider installing on your site or blog because they will make it safer, easier to use, easier to find and more functional. All the plugins featured here are available directly from the WordPress Plugin Directory and thus can be installed from within WordPress.

WordPress Database Backup

Quite possibly the most important plugin you will ever install on your site. The WP DB Backup plugin by Austin Matzko lets you run complete backups of your WordPress database including plugin tables and other external content. You can even choose what tables you want to backup and what tables to ignore.

Using WP DB Backup you can either do instant backups that are saved to your computer, schedule hourly, daily, weekly or monthly backups to be stored on your server or schedule backups to be sent to an email address. I set up scheduled backups on all the sites I work on and send them to a dedicated GMail address I’ve set up for just this purpose. That way if a site goes down, a database is corrupted or hacked I have backups to revert to.

Get the WP DB Backup plugin now.

Akismet – vital comment spam moderation

WordPress comes with two plugins installed out of the box: Akismet and Hello. I activate Akismet right away and delete Hello. So should you.

Akismet serves one very important function and does it exceedingly well: Saving your WordPress site from being overrun by spam comments. For reference Akismet catches close to 3000 spam comments each day on DesignIsPhilosophy.com. Yes, that’s right. THREE THOUSAND spam comments every day. Needless to say without that plugin my site would be unreadable.

Get the Akismet plugin now.

All In One SEO Pack – Pump up your site findability

What’s the point of a site if noone can find it? The key to SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is to give your site, pages and posts a descriptive title, a short description and the right keywords.

By default whatever title you give your pages or posts in WordPress becomes the title attribute for that page or post (the text you see at the top of your browser window or tab). The problem is this title is prefixed with the name of your site, so the title attribute for this post would be “Design Is Philosophy – 10 WordPress Plugins I Use All The Time”. This is not good for search engines as people are unlikely to search for the name of my site when they want info on WordPress plugins.

Likewise the description attribute for the page or post remains empty by default leaving the search engine to index the first part of your article. If that part happens to be an image then the description will be an image. Again not very good for people wanting to find your article.

The All in One SEO Pack plugin adds a new field to your post and page edit areas inside WordPress where you can set separate title, description and keyword attributes for your articles. That means you can give your article a normal title and then set the title attribute to something more descriptive. And you can set a short description for your article that is more likely to grab the attention of people trying to find content on a particular topic.

With the introduction of the new WordPress 3.0 custom menus the All in One SEO Pack plugin added two more fields for pages to set a ScreenTip and the menu label for individual pages featured in menus. That means you can change these from within the page itself rather than having to go muck around in the menu settings. Very useful.

Get the All in One SEO Pack plugin.

WPTouch – one-click mobile theme for your site

With the introduction of smartphones and other mobile devices web developers have a whole new problem to deal with: Sites that look great on regular computers usually look terrible on mobile devices, especially if they have a lot of sidebars and other wide content. What you need is a mobile theme for your site. Fortunately if that site runs WordPress all you need to do is install a mobile theme plugin. And of those, the WPTouch plugin from Brave New Code is by far the sleekest and easiest to manage.

If you don’t care about customization WPTouch can be a set-it-and-forget-it type thing. That said you can do a lot of customization if you want to and there is also a premium version available with even more options if you so desire. Bottom line is if you think anyone is going to visit your site with a mobile device, install WPTouch.

Get the WPTouch plugin.

WP Typography – proper typography for the web

Although WordPress outputs clean text just fine, if you want to be nitpicky about it there’s a lot left to be desired. “Proper” typography means you use custom “pretty” ampersand symbols, em-dashes, elevated fractions and a whole range of other typographic elements. And let’s not even mention all the code standards like properly class-wrapped abbreviations and definitions. I’ll be frank with you: Writing proper typographic markup for the web is a total pain and it’s something very few people do. And now you don’t have to: There’s a plugin that does it for you.

The WP Typography plugin takes all your content and marks it up with proper typographic settings. Out of the box it’s a bit overzealous so I urge you to play around with the settings until you find something you’re happy with, but the end result is quite impressive. The plugin has more options than you can figure out what to do with and is very easy to understand, so my best advice is install it and start experimenting.

Get the WP Typography plugin.

WordPress.com Stats – local stats for your site

The WordPress.com Stats plugin brings the same kinds of visitor stats you’d get on a WordPress.com site to your self-hosted WordPress site. For the plugin to work you need to have a WordPress.com API (which requires a free account) and you can run stats for multiple sites under that one API.

The stats are fairly basic but give you a clear picture of how many people visit your site, where they come from and what they read. It also lists out sites that link to you but I find that list to be quite wonky and hard to trust. Nevertheless WordPress.com Stats gives you a quick and easy overview of what’s going on with your site.

Be advised that WordPress.com Stats adds an annoying little smiley face to the bottom of your site. The easiest way to get rid of it is to install the WordPress.com Stats Smiley Remover plugin. Stupid and unneccesary, but that’s the way it is.

Get the WordPress.com Stats plugin.

Contact forms: Two options for two scenarios

If you are running a WordPress site and you intend to have people contact you through the site, you need a contact form. Under no circumstances should you ever leave your email addres in plain text on a site – it’ll get you on all sorts of spam lists and your inbox will be flooded with crap. There are tons of contact forms out there, all with pros and cons, and these are the ones I’ve landed on due to their relative ease of use:

If you need one form: Clean-Contact

If you need just one contact form, go with Clean-Contact. This form is by far the easiest to manage and the style code makes sense and is easy to customize (ie you can make the contact form look like pretty much anything). In general the style code for contact forms is unneccesarily convoluted and hard to work with but Clean-Contact is very clean and logical just like the name implies.

Get the Clean-Contact plugin.

If you need several forms: Contact Form 7

Although not as easy to style and manage as Clean-Contact, Contact Form 7 lets you set up multiple contact forms on your site and style them the way you want. If you need more than one contact form this is the option you should go with, pure and simple.

Get the Contact Form 7 plugin.

Fancybox for WordPress – Showcase your photos in style

If you have photos on your site and you want to give visitors the option of seeing them in a bigger size you should display them in a modal box or lightbox. These are basically small JavaScript applications that open the larger version of the image in a box that hovers over your main content. Not only do they look cool, but they can be very useful.

Of all the lightboxes I’ve tried, Fancybox is by far the best one, both in terms of visual appeal and functionality. Up until about a year ago there were no Fancybox plugins, but now there are several. The one that works the best, and has the most options and functionality is Fancybox for WordPress.

To get it to work all you have to do is install it, and it comes with customization options and the ability to scroll from photo to photo built in. Very sleek and very easy to use. We use it both right here on Design is Philosophy and on the 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon site if you want to check it out.

Get the Fancybox for WordPress plugin.

ShareDaddy – interactive social network sharing buttons

Getting your content featured on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is becoming more and more important, and the easiest way to make this happen is to add social sharing buttons to your posts and pages. There are a myriad of otions available here as well, but my current favourite is the new ShareDaddy plugin straight from Automattic – the creators of WordPress.

ShareDaddy comes equipped with all the standard social networks and sharing buttons (Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon email, RSS and so on) and also has the option to add new buttons. What’s cool about this plugin though is that you can choose to use the fancy interactive buttons the different services offer rather than the dull standard inactive buttons. That means you can add Twitter and Facebook buttons that actually count how many times your article has been Tweeted or Liked. Very cool if you want to show people how popular you are.

Get the ShareDaddy plugin.

WP PageNavi – paginated navigation for all

This last plugin is one I don’t install everywhere and that doesn’t work everywhere. Nevertheless it is a great plugin you should consider.

WP PageNavi adds pagination to your index and archive pages. In simple terms this means rather than just having the standard “newer posts” and “older posts” buttons at the bottom of your pages you get an actual paginated list so people can jump from page 1 to page 8 without having to click 8 times.

This functionality makes a lot of sense for sites that are updated frequently and feature a lot of the same type of content, but may be a little weird for other sites. You’ll have to make up your own mind if it’s right for you. That said it works better than most other options and is easy to install.

Get the WP PageNavi plugin.

Want more? Check out WordPress 3.0 Essential training on Lynda.com

Categories
plugins WordPress

Cool Author Box: Free WordPress Plugin

After designing and building the Fancy Profile Box for the Pink & Yellow Media site I published an article on how to recreate it as a cool author box in your WordPress blog. This tutorial spurred a lot of interest and I got several emails and tweets asking me to convert it to a plugin. So I did.

As of right now the virst version (0.0.1) of the Cool Author Box plugin is available for download from the WordPress plugin directory. It is pre-beta and comes without any warranty or guarantees, but I’ve tested it on 4 very different blogs and it works fine on all of those.

The Cool Author Box WordPress plugin has been submitted to the WordPress Plugin Directory and I’ll announce it once it is accepted.

Click here to download the Cool Author Box WordPress plugin

Here’s the full rundown

The Cool Author Box plugin adds a stylish author box after the content in posts and/or pages. The box displays author name, author bio, author gravatar and a link to other articles by the author.

The Cool Author Box plugin adds information about the author to the bottom of the content of posts and/or pages. The information is gathered from the profile info set inside WordPress.

Items displayed are:

  • Display name of the author of the post or page
  • Gravatar of the author (set at www.gravatar.com)
  • Link to other posts by the same author
  • Link to author’s website

To make the author box appear you need to activa the plugin and go to the Cool Author Box settings under Settings and select if the box should appear under posts, pages or both.