Recently I wrote a little bit about my experiences so far with WordPress version 2.6 and a few of the new plugins I’ve been able to use since upgrading from version 2.0.2. One of the first things I noticed about the upgrade — owing partly, I imagine, to the fact that I upgraded across several releases at once — was that the WordPress dashboard and everything I do there is much, much faster than it was with the earlier version. Aside from performance, though, the dashboard has a clean and well-organized new look, along with a lot of new and improved functionality. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that I’ve made use of so far; for a complete description of the new features in each version, check the Release Category on the WordPress development blog.
- Pages can be assigned a page order. I think this capability existed in the earlier version, but I noticed that those template elements that display links to pages actually respect that order now … so if you want pages that are displayed in a drop down menu or in the template (depending on your template capabilities) to appear in a certain order, you can control that.
- Categories are much easier to manage. Better yet, you can create new categories (and even assign a parent relationship) on the fly as you’re writing a new post. If you use Windows Live Writer, WL allows you to do the same thing, and updates the categories on your site accordingly.
- I know tags have been added, though I think in a previous version. I haven’t explored their usage yet, but I do see you can have WordPress convert your categories to tags, so I may try that soon.
- I also haven’t explored the new Media Library, since I upload any images via Windows Live Writer and I don’t know how, or even if, the two work together. However, there’s a nice video tutorial on the Media Library here: Managing the WordPress Media Library
- The way plugins can now be managed may be my favorite new feature. When you first go you’re WordPress dashboard, you may see a bright red number above the "Plugins" link on the right side of the Admin panel — to let you know that one or more of your plugins has a new release available. On the plugins page itself, you can choose to download the update or install it automatically — both of which I’ve done several times, and it works well. You can also now delete a plugin from this page, rather than go to your web host to delete it. Recently active (but currently inactive) and inactive plugins are separated from the active plugins list, making the plugin page much better organized.
- A few other miscellaneous features I like:
- You can now see post word counts when writing posts (helps keep me from writing too much (yeah, right!!)).
- You can drag the "Press this" bookmarklet to your browser toolbar, then use it to create a post from any web page.
- Links to related dashboard pages are available from many more of the individual screens.
- WordPress creates post revisions that you can see, use, and compare to the current version of an article.
- WordPress now handles e-mail notifications that WP 2.0.2 couldn’t handle without additional plugins.
Now to the really fun stuff….
I’m using quite a few plugins now, many more than I was using on this site when it was at the previous WordPress version, so for this article I’ve separated them into three groups. Content Management Plugins are those I’m using to control what content is displayed on various pages, and how much. Comments Plugins include those that improve visitors’ experiences with respect to leaving, reading, or following comments. Miscellaneous Plugins include those that make site administration and management a little easier.
In the following, I’ve linked to the developer’s plugin home page, as provided on the WordPress plugins section of the Dashboard. I thought that you might find that more useful, as there is typically more information about the plugin, the developer, and reactions and other commentary from many users there that’s more detailed than in the WordPress Plugin Directory. You can download plugins from either place, though occasionally you may see a beta version or brand new release on the developer’s page that’s not yet released to the Directory.
Content Management Plugins
These are all new to me, and I found most of them while trying to decide how I wanted my photoblog to look. Advanced Category Excluder, for example, lets you decide what categories you want to hide from certain site sections or functions. You can selectively exclude categories from the archive pages (that is, the pages displayed when your visitor selects a single category or date), from the home page, from RSS feed posts or comments, or from searches. On this site, I’m only using this plugin (right now, anyway) to exclude the category internet clippings from the home page. I use this category solely for bookmarks I’ve saved on delicious that are posted back to this site by the delicious daily blog posting function. I felt like the delicious posts created here distracted from the flow of the main page articles, but I still wanted to include them and provided a separate link to those articles under "Navigation" in the sidebar.
Custom Query String Reloaded provides a way to control the amount of content that’s displayed in several sections of the blog. By default, the WordPress setting (on the Admin panel’s Reading tab) for "Blog pages show at most" defines the number of posts that appear on the main page and all category or archive pages. Custom Query String Reloaded lets you override that based on different criteria: archives, authors, categories, search pages, RSS feeds, pages, and tags. On this site, I am overriding my setting of five posts on the main page with 20 posts for the category and monthly archive pages, and 40 posts for the category internet clippings. On afewgoodlenses, I have set the home page to display only two posts to draw attention to specific recent photographs, but set the various archive pages to show 20 posts, making the site function more like a gallery or a content management system. With Custom Query String Reloaded, you can also set the post order to ascending or descending date, whichever you prefer.
Last night I added the Last.fm RPS plugin to this site; you can see the results directly under "Listen to My Music" in the sidebar. The Last.fm RPS plugin displays album covers for music I’ve recently listened to on that site (or when using Windows Media Player on my computer). The Last.fm radio widget and the moving album cover images below that are available using scripts you can get from Last.fm.
Microkid’s Related Posts is one of my favorite plugins, and I will gradually deploy it all throughout the site, including archive articles. This plugin adds related post functionality to the WordPress Write pages, letting you search through your posts by keyword and include a list of related posts. I like this particular plugin because connecting posts is partly automated and partly manual, giving me control over the relationships I want to create. And, for more fun, if you are writing Post A and create a related entry to Post B, the plugin automatically updates Post B to contain the related post link back to Post A. Grrreeeaaatttt You can see an example of this plugin in action at the end of this article.
Snazzy Archives lets you create an image-based representation of your posts on any page you want. The plugin is very simple and straightforward to use and works great. Click here for Snazzy Archives on this site; or click here for Snazzy Archives on my photoblog — where it’s even more visually compelling (or will be, once I get more posts with photos out there).
The last of the content management plugins — WP-Print — reformats the post for printing. I originally installed it because I wanted to be able to print previous posts when I was working on a series of articles like this one. I hope my readers occasionally benefit from it too.
Yay! I was finally able to deploy some decent plugins for comments on this site. So, you know, leave some comments — and tell all your friends to do the same!
Better Comments Manager adds excellent functionality to the WordPress Admin panel from which you can manage comments much more effectively. Among other improvements over the standard WordPress comments functions, you can reply to comments directly from the Admin panel rather than visiting your site. You can also edit, delete, approve or unapprove, view all comments on a post, and mark comments as spam.
Brian’s Threaded Comments lets visitors post comments by replying to others, and displays the relationships by indenting each comment after the first. I also just like the way it makes comments look on the site, much cleaner and easier to read. Better Comments Manager also integrates well with this plugin, allowing you to reply as a threaded comment when using the Better Comments Manager Admin panel enhancement.
Comment E-mail Responder is the only comments plugin I used on the old version of the site. I always liked the fact that it would allow me to reply to a specific comment (from the article itself) and it would shoot an e-mail to the respondent. I may use it less now, because I also installed Subscribe to Comments — which does exactly what it’s name says, lets visitors subscribe to e-mail notifications containing new comments. I figure if readers want the responses, they’ll subscribe, so will use Comment E-mail Responder judiciously.
These four comments plugins should help improve any visitor’s experience, and help kick start conversations and keep them going. I always liked sites that I saw that employed Brian’s Threaded Comments and Subscribe to Comments in particular, and I’m glad to now be able to include them here on mine.
I am of course using one of the standard WordPress plugins for managing spam — Akismet — on both of my sites. I’ve always been impressed with Akismet, and it seems that if the spam-catching capabilities in Microsoft Outlook or in my ISP’s spam filters were even half as good as Akismet, junk e-mail would be a thing of the past. I often check what Akismet marks as spam just to see how it’s doing, and in the nearly 15,000 spam-catches Akismet has made, I only noticed one legitimate comment show up. You can’t get much better than that….
WordPress 2.6 introduced revisioning and autosave functionality. A revision was created every time a post was saved, and autosave had some timer in it that automatically saved a post (and maybe saved it as a revision) at specified intervals. Since I use Windows Live Writer for almost all of my blog writing, the revision and autosave feature didn’t interest me that much. And, oddly, the revisions were not displayed on the Write page on this site (though they were on my other site), even though I could see them in my database. If you don’t like these features, you can install and activate Disable Revisions and Autosave as I have.
The No Self Pings plugin eliminates something about writing articles in WordPress that has always annoyed me — the creation of a pingback (which would appear as a comment on a post) whenever I linked to my own site from inside an article. So, in effect, it makes it unnecessary to go back and clean up after your newly posted article pings your site.
Broken Link Checker scans all your articles and their internal links to verify that none of them are broken. I haven’t kept this plugin continuously active, though did check my entire site after upgrading and changing many of my categories, and, happily, there were no broken links.
I described Theme Test Drive in the previous article in this series. It’s a useful and excellent tool, allowing you to make and check out theme changes before committing them for your visitors to see.
Finally, and as I also mentioned in the previous article, WordPress Automatic Upgrade is nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned. I almost look forward to the next version of WordPress, just so I can run it again.
That’s it for the plugin list. I know this has turned out to be a very long article, but I thought some folks might benefit from my experiences with them and from the reasons I’m using some of them. I’m looking into a few others, but haven’t installed them yet, including:
All-in-One SEO Pack, which I’ll activating and setting up soon;
Google XML Sitemaps, which I’ll install as soon as I understand why I need a sitemap; and
Tubepress, which will bring my selected YouTube content to the sidebars.
… so will have more to say about those after a while….
Thanks for reading!