with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

WordPress Tips and Tricks – WordPress Plugins

There are a lot of WordPress Plugins I can’t live without. And I love talking about them, because the more I talk about them, the more people will learn about how awesome WordPress plugins are, and maybe, just maybe, the WordPress developers will see how useful they are and put them into the core code. Maybe.

For those unfamiliar with plugins, they are files that are written for free by anyone with an idea and willing to learn how to write a plugin. Or they come already equipped with the skills and expertise to write fantastic code that increases the flexibility and capabilities of WordPress.

While they are all free, some plugin authors ask for donations if you feel their plugin really helps you out. So consider donating if you really like what you try.

Now, for a list of some of my favorite, here they are. And for a look at all of the WordPress plugins used on my site, check out our List of WordPress Plugins.

Customizable Post Listings

Coffee2Code’s WordPress Plugins are extraordinary and they run the gamut from simple to simple AND complex. Some of them do the things that WordPress probably should do. Digging through WordPress Template files, I found only one template that allowed the listing of posts, the wp_get_archives(), which can be set to list the most recent number of posts. Well, on my front page, the most recent posts are listed already. As they are on the category pages. I wanted a way to create not only most recent but also highlights, random selections of posts to help people find more about the variety of what we have on our site. Coffee2Code’s Customizable Post Listings does the job.

example of sidebar use of Customizable Post Listings and Witty Text WordPress PluginsThere are a lot of different options with this plugin, so read through the documentation very carefully. There are some good examples. And experiment. When I needed to create a random list of highlights on our category pages, I came back to use this plugin again. It is so versatile. I love it.

Adding Randomness

Example of the random image used in our sidebarOn my old site, I had one of our photographs highlighted in the sidebar with a quote that randomly changed with every page view. I wanted to recreate a similar thing. But the photograph seemed to be lost low on the page so I decided I would separate the two elements and add the random photograph to the top of the sidebar and the random quote at the bottom. This added two elements of eye candy to every post page to add a little spice.

The images are randomly generated using the Image Rotator PHP script from Hiveware and Automatic Labs. Just put the image rotator PHP script in the same folder as the images you want rotated through, make sure the images are of a consistent size and shape (horizontal images don’t work well in our sidebar), and add the link to the script like you would any other image link:

<img class="headerimage centered" src="http://cameraontheroad.com/photos/rotatorpics/rotator.php" alt="random images, photography by Lorelle and Brent VanFossen - copyrighted" title="random images, photography by Lorelle and Brent VanFossen - copyrighted" />

Notice we used both an alt and title to compensate for the different uses of these attributes in different browsers.

For the quotes, we found the Witty Text WordPress Plugin. Again, it is very simple to use. It’s so simple, it dumbfounds.

It calls a text file, which gives the illusion that you can only have “text” in it. The example provided reinforces that illusion. Not true. You can put any HTML and CSS reference in the “text” file called witty.txt and place the file in your wp-content folder (not in wp-content/plugins as it might conflict with other text files, the author warns).

Set the file path in the plugin to the witty.txt:

$witty_file = (ABSPATH . "wp-content/" . $file_path);

Then you can have any layout you want with this little plugin. Here is an example of our text file:

Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles. What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other?<br /><i>George Eliot </i>
Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with the experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we have believed to be the right and only way. <br /><i>-- RalphCrawshaw </i>
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.<br /><i>Marie Curie </>
Information's pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.<br /><i>Clarence Day </i>

We used the following to put the plugin tag in our sidebar, matching the nested tag look:

<ul>
<li><?php _e('Thoughts'); ?>
<ul><li id="witty"><?php witty (); ?></li></ul></li>
</ul>

Related Posts

Example of sidebar using Related Posts WordPress PluginLike Customizable Post Listings, I also needed a way to connect the dots for users to find related information. Wasabi’s WordPress Related Entries Plugin provides a list of posts that are related to the article on the screen. It searches through the database and puts together keywords and finds connections to them. I’m not sure how all it works, but it does. When visiting a page on our site, in the sidebar will be a list of Related Articles. This is the plugin at work. It provides links to articles with similar keywords.

It isn’t perfect, and sometimes the articles don’t seem to relate, but more often than not, if I look closely, I will see the “words” are duplicated. Teaches me to be more careful with the words I’m using as a write, too.

With so many categories and subjects covered on our site, it’s important to us to connect the dots between subjects and related issues when possible, and this plugin helps us do that.

Enhanced Post View Plugin

While I wish it had a better name, the name for this incredibly powerful and useful plugin is slowly growing on me. Of all the plugins I have, this one is the one I talk about the most and honestly believe made my life using WordPress MUCH easier. And I mean MUCH easier.

Example of the WordPress Manage Posts panel without Enhanced Post View plugin

ColdForged Enhanced Post View WordPress Plugin turns the Manage Posts panel into a DREAMY, powerful page. Without this plugin, posts are only sorted by month. Since I don’t use chronological sorting on my articles, this is totally and completely useless to me. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast, so how could I remember WHEN I published the article on digital cameras? I can’t remember. So pawing through posts to find them and fix a problem, edit, or add information became a nightmare. I’d scroll through, search, and just waste time.

Example of the WordPress Manage Posts panel with the Enhanced Post View plugin

The Enhanced Post View Plugin adds sorting drop-down boxes that allow you to sort by category, author, and date. Since we only have two authors on our site, that’s useless, and I never use the month sort, but I’m CONSTANTLY using the sort by category. You can also control how many posts are visible on the screen. The default for WordPress is 15, highly unacceptable for my verbosity, so I changed it within the core files to 50, but with the Enhanced Post View Plugin, I can change the number to whatever I need, from 2 to 500 if I wanted.

My ability to sort through the content on my site through the Administration Panels is amazing and I save a LOT of time with this plugin. Thanks, ColdForged.

Acronym Replacer

One of the really useful WordPress plugins I forget about is Acronym Replacer Plugin. It puts an underlined “link” on a wide variety of acronyms like HTML, XML, MSIE, and AOL. When the user moves their mouse over the acronym, a small balloon pops up explaining what these abbreviations mean. You can easily add your own following the format provided by the author.

Why do I forget about it? I upload the plugin, activate it, and honestly, stopped thinking about it. It just does what it is supposed to do. And it does it so well, it requires no fuss. Except when I was writing about washing tons and tons of dishes when we returned back from Israel to our trailer that had been in storage for five years and I used the word “soap”. Then I started thinking about it again.

Acronyms like POP and SOAP are words I use all the time that are NOT acronyms but normal every day words like “pop it into the microwave” and “couldn’t find the soap to wash the dishes.” Instead of being used like nouns in a sentence, they would be automatically capitalized with the acronym link on them. Since I don’t write much about “POP”, which is short for POP3, the Post Office Protocol for email, or “SOAP” which is Simple Object Access Protocol, I didn’t need them.

I opened the acronym.php plugin file in a text editor and commented out the phrases that I didn’t need.

// "POP" => "Short for POP3, the Post Office Protocol for email", 
// "SOAP" => "Simple Object Access Protocol",

I also added some that did apply to the acronyms that I use in photography:

"ISO" => "International Standards Organization aka Film Speed",
"SLR" => "Single Lens Reflex camera",
"DOF" => "Depth of Field",

Protecting Your Plugins List

The lastest versions of WordPress do not require you to deactivate your plugins before you upgrade. That’s nice, but sometimes things happen along the road that might cause you to begin a process of unplugging your plugins to find out what is going wrong.

Before you upgrade or start turning off plugins to begin troubleshooting your site, print out the Plugins Panel in your WordPress Administration Panels. Any plugin that is activated will be bold on the print out and say “activated” in its table row. This will help you remember which ones were turned on and turned off as you go through the deactivating and activating process.

When backing up your site, take time to make sure you backup all those plugins and EVERYTHING on your site, not just the database.

Also, take time to upgrade your plugins occasionally. There was a brilliant plugin called “WordPress Plugin Manager” but it broke and we’re all waiting for it to be rebuilt. This allowed for checking for new versions and upgrades as well as checking for all the plugins in the WordPress Plugins Database aka wp-plugins.net. Until that is fixed, you have to manually check for new versions. In your Administration Panels for Plugins, note the version number you have on the plugin, then click the link supplied by the plugin author to go to their site and check to see if there is a new version. Download and install it per directions and you have the latest version.

Dealing with Comment Spam

The latest versions of WordPress do a tremendous job dealing with comment spam. For that I’m thankful. But occasionally some slip through. I use two plugins to help me deal with them, and one little tool to track what is going on.

ColdForged Paged Comment Plugin at workColdforged’s Paged Comment Editing Plugin allows you to see comment spam that WordPress decided was comment spam, and to get rid of it by deleting it from the database. In WordPress, even though it is marked as comment spam, the spam collects in the database. I like keeping my database stuffed with great content, not space wasting spam, so I can click on the option to “include spam” in the Manage > Comments panel and they will appear highlighted in pink. I can delete them, or if they are not spam, I can restore them back as a comment. This gives me precision control over what is and is not comment spam.

Bad Behavior is a WordPress plugin that stops spammers before they get in. It is amazingly powerful and works with little or no effort other than to activate it. I had such an amazing drop in comment spam, I started to wonder how successful it was and what it was doing. So I downloaded a little utility plugin called Bad Behavior Stats WordPress Plugin and added it’s tag to my Administration Dashboard, and it keeps a running score of how many nasties Bad Behavior catches every 7 days. The first week it was over 4,000 and it keeps hovering around that number, though it bounces all over the place. Amazing.

No Right Click on Images

Example of right click message using Right Click Disable JavascriptWhile not a plugin, this Javascript has been a wonderful tool which I have used for years. Called No right click on Images from Dynamic Drive, I added it to the head of my header.php template file. When a user right clicks over any image, it pops up with a warning that the image is copy protected. It isn’t foolproof but it does act as a reminder to not steal.

Behind The Scenes Power and Control

Two plugins help us to produce the “look” of our site behind the scenes. In other words, the physical look or “style” of our site is not changed with these two plugins, but our ability to present the information in the way we want, controlled by us, is helped by these two plugins.

TextControl and RunPHP are two powerful plugins which help us to control the code behind the scenes.

Example of using TextControl WordPress PluginTextControl allows us to control how WordPress generates our “posts” or articles. By default, WordPress pulls the information from the database and runs it through a kind of filter or process that applies XHTML to the content. If there is XHMTL in the post, it will usually ignore it if it is common, but if it isn’t a common usage, it may convert the XHTML tags into character codes, defeating the purpose. With TextControl, we can control the “output” of our content’s code on a global or per post basis. Now, why is that important?

Our site was a static HTML website for over ten years. When it came time to import our HTML site into WordPress we kept our HTML structure, just converting it to XHTML. When WordPress tried to convert some of our tags into character codes, we needed a way to override WordPress’ automatic formatting feature. And now that we are using WordPress all the time, we don’t want to be bothered by entering in all the XHTML codes for paragraphs and such, unless we need to, so we can turn off all formatting for articles containing XHTML tags and turn back on the formatting for articles which need WordPress’ help for formatting with the tags.

RunPHP allows us to run PHP command from within a post, again on a per post basis. For example, on our page listing all the great WordPress Plugins we use, in order for that list to appear, a PHP statement was used. Therefore, we needed to instruct WordPress to permit the PHP commands to work inside of that Page.

These two plugin tools allow us to control what you see, how you see it, and yet their work remains invisible. Now that’s power and control.

Star Trek Stardates

Okay, so it isn’t a big secret. I’m a serious Star Trek fan. I was thrilled to discover that someone had created a WordPress plugin for creating the Star Trek Stardate and I just had to use it. I slapped it quickly in my footer, down at the bottom of the page, hoping it will just slip in there, a secret part of my life exposed on my web page.

4 Comments

  • Posted August 20, 2005 at 23:13 | Permalink

    NICE Site!
    I found it while searching for a way to protect images from right click in wordpress 1.5. Tested out the dynamic drive link…
    I am using Mac OS X latest with firefox1.6 and IE… right clicks just like any other photo… hmmm

    Anyway, just thought I would provide a little feedback on a very good and informational article!
    tGriff

  • Posted August 21, 2005 at 7:43 | Permalink

    I wonder if the fact that it isn’t working for you is either 1) the code just didn’t copy right, or 2) It’s a Mac thing. It works on IE and Firefox on Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP, the machines I’ve tested it on. Odd.

    Thanks for the note.

  • Posted November 25, 2005 at 17:51 | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    Just wanted to let you know that your links to Bad Behavior don’t work. I searched your other site, though, and found it here:
    http://lorelle.wordpress.com/wp-inst/index.php?s=bad+behavior

    Once again I’ve enjoyed visiting both sites. They are such a Tresure Trove of goodies. I always hate to have to go, there is so much here to see!

    Lois

  • Posted January 12, 2007 at 15:40 | Permalink

    Stardate?! Cool!!
    I read your blog since I begun to use WordPress (almost two years ago). I’ve got many important tips here, and I learn always something new about WP with your posts. And… I’m a big fan of ST too (especially TOS). Just loved this stardate plugin, and probably will include the plugin in my next template.
    Tks for the tips and congratulations for your excellent texts! :)

One Trackback

  • [...] The Manage Posts screen sucks. On my full version WordPress site, I have installed ColdForged’s Enhanced Views of the WordPress Manage Posts Panel. This WordPress plugin adds drop down menus to sort the posts by category and author, and, best of all, it allows you to select how many posts you want to view on the screen. By default, you are limited to 15. Imagine seeing 50 posts all on one screen! [...]

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