“There is no such thing as a killer feature in software anymore. There are a thousand killer features, and everyone has a different 20. The biggest challenge facing software architects today is how to balance the increasing diversity of user needs with a clean user experience.
The answer is to become a platform. Raise your hand if you use Firefox without any extensions, an iPhone without any apps, or WordPress without any plug-ins. The most successful products of the past five years have evolved, led by open source, to open up their innermost functioning to the world of external developers.
The collective intelligence of people outside your organization will always be greater than that inside of it, and no matter how clairvoyant you feel you will never anticipate all of the possible uses of you product.
The average WordPress blog has about five plug-ins and what’s remarkable is that there’s a ‘long tail’ power law distribution curve. If you’re in a room with 200 other WordPress.org users, for example at a WordCamp, it’s unlikely that any two of you are running the same WordPress (even if you all used the same theme).
If you haven’t explored the 7,000-plus plug-ins available for WordPress you’re missing the best part of our community.”
Matt Mullenweg – WordPress Founding Developer
Twitter is the micro blogging social networking tool that millions of us cannot resist. It offers information quickly and succinctly making it a must-have everyday online commodity.
Tweet Blender is an absolute cornucopia of features that ultimately ensures that WordPress social butterflies can get their tweets displayed smartly in a blog. The plug-in can also show tweets for multiple authors and multiple keywords and multiple hashtags, which are all then blended together into a single stream.
Other features include the option to switch on/off a user’s photo saving screen space, but allowing photos to be switched on in the Archive page, this full list of tweets. There is the option to show a maximum of ten tweets and a minimum of one tweet in the initial display.
All a user really needs to do is supply the plug-in with a host of currently active Twitter sources. Users can simply add keywords, @screen_names or #hashtags separated with commas and the job is done.
The plug-in is a darling to control. The widget can be controlled via Settings –>Widget or alternatively its Appearance –> Widgets to take quick control.
The finished on-screen widget in action is simply but beautifully crafted and great to look at, what more could you want?
Facebook Dashboard Widget
The Facebook Dashboard Widget plug-in provides the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, being something of a time saver and easily accessible from anywhere. This nifty little plug-in integrates itself into the WordPress admin area allowing WordPress users a quick fix of Facebook.
The plug-in processes the Friends status updates RSS feed, posted items feeds and /or Facebook notifications feed, and adds a widget for each to the WordPress admin dashboard.
Managing the widget is pretty simple, each section Friend’s Status Updates, Notifications and Posted Items – simply asks if users want to display the related widget, the number of updates to show and the widget height.
To make each of the widgets active the Feed URL needs to be posted and if you have no clue there is a handy set of instructions on how to find each of the required URLs. Make sure you read these as it will definitely help. Once set up each feed can be posted into the sidebar individually via Appearance –> Widgets.
If you love Facebook and need a regular fix this plug-in is just the answer.
UQuery iPhone App Widget
The omnipresent iPhone is a mobile gadget that is hard to ignore, but what has it got to do with WordPress? Well, in this case this simple lightweight plug-in is all about telling users where they can get a specific iPhone app.
With developers constantly expanding the already burgeoning iPhone apps library, desirable apps can be hard to find. The purpose of this extension is to paste in the app ID or the iTunes URL and it will automatically link to and format the relevant details. This in part is to promote its own website www.uquery.com, an App Store search engine.
The uQuery iPhone App Widget is a little bit different in that it doesn’t go down the typical route as used by most other plug-ins. It installs a button that appears in the Add New Post window alongside all the other formatting tools.
The plug-in can be configured and it really couldn’t be any simpler as there is only one option. There is a checkbox that offers the option to include uQuery search box in the widget. This means introducing a search field which will allow users to search the entire uQuery website.
WordPress Mobile Pack
The mobile web revolution is set to hit the big time soon and WordPress users need to be ready. The dotMobi WordPress Mobile Pack is a comprehensive toolkit that looks to assist with getting a WordPress site ready for the mobile screen.
The pack includes four mobile themes allowing users to switch from the default buff and black to a more engaging green, red or blue. These are activated directly from the themes windows, the standard desktop themes. All mark-up is valid XHTML-MP and the site score five on mobiReady, the dotMobi compliance and mobileOK test tool.
The Mobile Switcher feature automatically suggests desktop or mobile, but lets users switch to the alternative option and remember the decision made. This option is disabled by default, enabling users to choose the switcher mode, i.e. Browser detection, a mobile-theme desired desktop domain.
Mobile Widgets offers the option to select currently active widgets to appear in the theme. There is a mobile admin panel where bloggers can access the admin interface and edit posts.
Finally, the plug-in also has basic recognition of mobile devices and is capable of rescaling images, splitting articles and posts into multiple pages, simplifying style and removing media.
Google Analytics for WordPress
The Google Analytics for WordPress plug-in automatically tracks and segments links and downloads. It also allows users to track AdSense clicks, add extra search engines and track image search queries.
To use the plug-in users need an active Google Analytics account and their Analytics Account ID. In its basic form the Google Analytics Settings module is nothing more than three options and one is the account ID.
To get to the more meaty workings of the plug-in it’s over to the advanced settings. This activates the features domain tracking, tracking AdSense and track extra search engines with a single click.
Smart YouTube is a WordPress YouTube plug-in that allows users to easily embed video and playlists into a post, comments and an RSS feed. The author states that the “main purpose of the plug-in is to correctly embed YouTube videos into your blog post”.
The plug-in effectively mimics the customize options found accompanying YouTube videos with a few neat extras. To add a post or page a user simply needs to copy the video URL and change the http:// prefix to httpv://
There is support for high quality, HD video (720p) and YouTube playlists, again all a user needs to do is change the http:// prefix accordingly. There is support for the standard YouTube customization features including adding coloured borders and displaying related videos.
In addition, users can display a search box, remove annotations and titles and ratings. For those where code counts there is an XHTML validation option, though this can negate the plug-in working via iPhone or iPod.
Better Tag Cloud
The tag cloud was popularized in the web 2.0 revolution and found its way into WordPress a few versions back.
The standard WordPress tag cloud is at best limited. It performs its intended task but offers little for the more discerning designers. To get creative with tag clouds the intervention of a plug-in is required and Better Tag Cloud provides some simple but undoubtedly effective solutions.
As you might expect, Better Tag Cloud comes accompanied with a widget which simply needs to be dropped into the sidebar.
The Settings module does all the hard work, the widget just displays the results. The settings page is simple and intuitive, users get to choose a title, decide on the smallest and largest font size, determine the number of displayed tags and how they should be ordered. Categories can be added to the tag cloud along with the option to display the post counts.
By default the plug-in is assigned CSS, if you don’t like the style simply remove it with a single click. Plus, users can include/exclude tags to create customized tag clouds. The widget isn’t the only option for getting the customized tag cloud seen. Users can put the [nktagcloud] short code into any post or pageant voila, the tag cloud appears.
Ratings are a simple way for bloggers to find out which posts are proving popular. Conversely, they are perfect for readers to express an opinion quickly. The WP-PostRatings plug-in allows users to add an Ajax-based rating system to a WordPress post or page.
The plug-in is more comprehensive than a user might imagine. It is assigned its own menu module which gives access to Manage Ratings, Rating Options and Rating Templates. The initial option Manage Ratings allows users to take control of ratings while Rating Options is a more aesthetic offering. Finally, Ratings Templates defines exactly how the rating will look in a post or a page.
Flickr + Highslide
There is a very good chance that everyone reading this will know exactly what Flickr has to offer. If not, it is effectively an online photo sharing site.
For those who don’t know, Highslide is an open source image and gallery viewer. Combining the two makes sense, your Flickr images are already uploaded and Highslide displays them in a pleasing and pretty fashion.
The set up is about as simple as it gets, the Flickr + Highslide plug-in puts itself into the Settings module and offers a very simple set up. Users need to locate their Flickr user ID and add to get the ball rolling. Then it is simply a matter of deciding the number of images (100 max), with the option to select a specific Photoset.
The only reference to Highslide is the style of pop-up image viewer. The drop-down list describes each option, but a visit to www.highslide.com will provide some better examples of styles. Then it’s time to choose image and thumbnail size, order and whether or not to display titles. To display the gallery it’s simply a matter of adding the [flickr_highslide] tag into a post.
Yet Another Related Posts Plug-in
As a site grows it will contain more and more content which will undoubtedly become harder to find.
A post that was written three months back may have been a masterpiece, but it will never get a second glance once it’s consigned to older entries. A simple solution is to make sure that each time a new post makes the grade it has a host of related posts or pages. This gives the user the option to read more, which in turn keeps visitors at the site.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin or YARPP, does exactly this. Key features of the plug-in include a customizable algorithm which takes into consideration post titles, content, tags, and categories.
YARPP then calculates a match score to help find relevant posts. Existing categories can be disallowed as can tags and there is the option to select a time frame, i.e. day, week, month to include only posts from this period.
MP3 Player Plug-in
The title of this plug-in pretty much says it all, it’s an MP3 Player plug-in. This is not an audio player, it is exclusively an MP3 player, and it does not support other audio formats.
The plug-in is incredibly easy to operate and set up, effectively all a user needs to do is upload a bunch of MP3 files to the default folder and it’s ready to go. All the action takes place in the settings module where users can create a new folder to store the MP3s, define the height and width of the player, pick a color, choose a style and select several miscellaneous options.
‘Which MP3 play do you want?’ offers users three styles of player: Baby Player Single Song, Medium Player and Large Player. All include the embed code needed to add the player to a post or page.
For more variety and choice users need to visit www.thomasnorberg.com/plugins-used/test-mp3-player/ where there is an extended collection of players all with the appropriate embed code. In action load times are almost non-existent, simply select the song you wish, hit the Play button and let the fun begin. There is also code and easy to follow tips on how you can embed the player into a template to make it a permanent addition.
Backing up data is vital, and this applies to all WordPress users because at the very core of every blog is its database. Admittedly, this is not the most exciting of plug-ins but it is one that is essential for any WordPress site owner.
The WP-DBManager plug-in allows users to optimize, repair, backup and restore a database, delete a backup database, drop/empty tables and run selected queries. Plus, it supports the automatic scheduling of backing up and optimizing of a database. This means users can set it and go knowing that their information is safe and sound.
The plug-in gets its very own menu module (Database) with the default view giving a quick rundown of database and tables information. The plug-in checks the current status of various functions and folders, click and the job is done. Managing the database allows the user to email the backup file, delete when a newer version is in place and download the SQL file.
SEO Friendly Images
Search engine friendly is an attribute that is easily forgotten when working with WordPress.
However, it is just as important to make a WordPress site as visible as possible. The SEO Friendly Images plug-in concentrates on dealing with the image side of SEO. It automatically adds Alt and Title attributes to all your images.
Browsers render the Alt tag differently, for example, Internet Explorer displays the title of an image using the Alt description. Firefox does not and uses the Title tag to display an image title, this is considered the correct use of the tag.
Using this plug-in will help negate browser issues, improve traffic and make images W3C/XHTML valid.
SEO Friendly Images use three tags (%name %title %category) to produce the desired image titles and Alt descriptions. For example, if a post title is ‘iPhone apps we love’ and an image called ‘myPantone’, adding %name %title will produce myPantone iPhone apps we love. To work properly the Edit Image Title field (under Edit Image) in WordPress needs to be empty.
Google XML Sitemap
Site maps are effective communicators for search engines and help raise a site’s profile in the rankings.
And if there is one site where you want a good ranking it has to be Google. In its most basic form the Google XML Sitemap plug-in is extremely easy to use, using the default options the user can build a sitemap with just a single click.
You can limit the number of posts in the sitemap, include an XLST style sheet (this is used to style XML), add additional pages, customize the location of the sitemap file, decide which sitemap content to include and prioritize posts, categories and pages.
A blog is a goldmine of information, but the very premise of a blog can restrict the content that is on show. Not every snippet of information is worthy of a place in a post but it might need to make an appearance elsewhere.
Sidenotes provides the perfect solution. This is a plug-in that allows users to add short side notes to a WordPress site in just about any position the user decides.
There are effectively footnotes that can appear beyond the foot of a page, for example the sidebar would be a good choice. The side notes consist of a title description, the date of publication and links to the URL defined when creating a side note.
The plug-in itself is a two-tier operation with the tools menu providing the basic platform to add the side notes posts. This simply consists of three fields: the title, URL and description. Users simply populate the fields and then click Add Side note to populate All Side notes. Then it is simply a matter of repeating the process for all side notes needed. Side notes can be edited directly from within this screen.
Under Settings –> Side notes is where the creative action is. Here users can decide on how many notes to show, the date format and more importantly how many notes to show, the date format and more importantly how the side notes will be displayed.
The template can be modified to suit any WordPress theme, all a user needs to remember is to insert the right tags. Finally, it’s simply a matter of adding <?php get_sidenotes();?> into the WordPress template to see in action.
Themes are effectively the currency of a great-looking WordPress site and there are thousands out there ready to use.
However, even the best looking and perfectly formed ones rarely fulfil all a user’s needs. Modifying a current theme to suit can be a stressful and painful experience.
The Theme Switcher plug-in allows users to preview a theme without the hassle of having to activate a theme and then preview in a different tab or window. It can be set up so that only an administrator can have access to the widget and be able to switch between themes.
The widget will list all the themes currently available in the theme directory in a drop-down list. A single click allows the administrator to switch to an alternative theme to preview while all users of the site continue to view the original theme.
Images in a blog post can be confined to the dimensions of the post container.
There is little point adding an image that is 1,000 pixels wide when the post div tag has a defined width of 600 pixels. The image will simply spread across the page spoiling the blog.
A solution is to crop or resize the image before uploading or resize inside the post. Both options involve the user taking control. However, there is a third solution in the shape of the Resize-on-Upload plug-in.
This simple plug-in allows users to set the maximum width and height that an uploaded image can be.
If an image goes beyond this it is scaled to the maximum value. Great if you need to upload a lot of images in one instance that need to be a uniform dimension.
Social networking sites have become the way to communicate for a generation and any good bloggers is almost certain to have a range of accounts. It’s not unusual for prolific bloggers to have profiles or accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, etc.
Cute Profiles allows users to bring together all of their social profiles and display them in a neat, attractive, functional and floating sidebar.
The plug-in offers two sets with Set 1 offering all the popular choices, Twitter, Facebook, Stumble Upon, Digg, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, Friend Feed, Myspace and Flickr. Users simply need to add the profile URL to which the related icon will link.
Set 2 is as comprehensive but does not offer the big names of Set 1. Here users will find Last.fm, Vimeo, Viddlr, Dopplr, MobileMe, Virb and XING among others. The remaining options offer the option to customize the look of the links and icons.
Users can left or right align, decide on distance from the top of the browser window, choose on an icon size, debate an icon theme and decide upon automatic or manual insertion.
Contact Form 7
The beauty of this plug-in lies its flexibility and ability to create multiple contact forms.
The default form is a simple name, email, subject, message and submit. However, the number of permutations are almost endless. There is the option to generate tags for text files, email fields, drop-down menus, checkboxes, radio buttons, file upload, acceptance, CAPTCHA and a submit button. Select tag, fill out the various options and copy and paste the code into the form window.
The second stage is to modify the mail receiver details, there is an option to send a second email address details, there is an option to send to a second email address. The form layout can be customized using standard HTML tags. With the forms complete, custom messages can be added. For example, the default message for a successful delivery is Your message was sent successfully. Thanks.
Finally, to complete the contact creation users simply copy and paste the code into a post, or elsewhere, to view the form within a site.
Site statistics are a simple way to find out what’s happening.
Discover who is visiting, when they are visiting and discover what they are visiting. StatPress Reloaded shows real-time statistics about a blog, collecting information about visitors, spiders, search keywords, feeds, browsers, OS and more.
The plug-in starts collecting information the moment it is activated and has a host of options for displaying the collected information.
The StatPress plug-in gets its own dedicated menu module which is split into a number of sections. There is an overview of the site action, plus further modules for last hits, last search terms, last referrers, last agents, last pages and last spiders.