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An Unsung Hero – The WordPress Plugin

WordPress. Where would we be without it?

When Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little partnered to create this offshoot, I wonder if they envisioned the current breadth of their conception. WordPress is currently the most popular CMS in use on the Internet by far. Statistically speaking, it continues to grow: Estimates have 20 to 25 percent of all new websites being built on the WordPress platform.

WordPress allows us to get online quickly, nearly instantly, to share our thoughts, news, creations, etc. The core of WordPress (php and mysql) is designed to be lean and efficient, to maximize flexibility and minimize code and size. A big part of its appeal is its simplicity. In steps the unsung hero – The Plugin.

The WordPress architecture allows users and developers, via plugins, to extend its abilities beyond the features that are part of the base installation. Plugins empower WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine, from social sharing, to SEO and to eCommerce.

Before we go any further, an advisory word about plugins and WordPress is necessary. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t air a minor warning. Besides, being a dad, how could I pass up a chance for a well-warranted lecture?

One of the best things (and one of the worst, ironic right?) about plugins is that most are free (though some paid ones are well worth their usually minimal cost), readily available and quickly deployed. Three clicks and a new one is found, installed and activated. Awesome, huh? Most of the time. The problem is that with so many plugins and so many WordPress themes created by so many authors, the likelihood of incompatibility issues is not unlikely.

With the combination of thousands of themes, plugins, versions of themes and plugins and multiple versions of WordPress (you should always try to make sure you’re running the latest stable version, currently 3.4.1), it nearly impossible for each plugin to be tested with each theme to ensure proper functionality and compatibility.

Another issue is that it is not uncommon for plugin authors to “abandon their baby.” Due to boredom, employment and many other reasons, plugins can get stuck at a certain version. Perhaps Awesome Plugin version 2.1 worked fine with WordPress version 3.2 and your theme version 1.7, but has some issues once you upgraded to WordPress version 3.4.1 and the author of the plugin you depend on is nowhere to be found.

I’ve seen it first hand and it is not always pretty. End lecture/warning.

Now onto the list of Plugins that I have used, trust, and recommend:

1. WP-DBManager – This plugin manages your WordPress database and allows you to optimize database, repair database, backup database, restore database, delete backup database , drop/empty tables and run selected queries. It also supports automatic scheduling of backing up, optimizing and repairing of database. (By Lester ‘GaMerZ’ Chan) First plugin I install on a new site, without fail.

2. Login LockDown – This adds some extra security to WordPress by restricting the rate at which failed logins can be re-attempted from a given IP range. (By Michael VanDeMar. Distributed through Bad Neighborhood.) An ounce of prevention.

3. Search and Replace – This plugin is a simple search for find strings in your database and replace the string. You can search in ID, post-content, GUID, titel, excerpt, meta-data, comments, comment-author, comment-e-mail, comment-url, tags/categories and categories-description. (By Frank Bültge.) Very handy and time saving, but be careful – replaces are exact and results can be unanticipated.

4. Absolute Privacy – Password protect website/blog with this plugin to give the blog security from strangers but still be easily accessible to family and friends. (By John Kolbert, Eric Mann.) Privacy and security, simply done.

5. Revision Control – This allows finer control over the number of revisions stored on a global and per-type/page basis. (By Dion Hulse) Brings a little order to the sometimes chaotic update frequency of things (plugins).

6. WordPress SEO – This is first true all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress, including on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and much more. (By Joost de Valk) Tremendous. Lot of bang for your non-buck.

7. Dagon Design Sitemap Generator – Generate a fully customizable sitemap with this plugin. (By Dagon Design) Quickly adds the friendly feature of a readable and functioning sitemap.

8. ShareThis – Let your visitors share a post/page with others. This plugin supports e-mail and posting to social bookmarking sites. (By ShareThis, Manu Mukerji) Makes social sharing easy and stylish.

9. Contact Form 7 – Just another contact form plugin and it’s simple but flexible. (By Takayuki Miyoshi) As the author says – simple but flexible. Up and running quickly.

10. Calendar – This plugin allows you to display a calendar of all your events and appointments as a page on your site. (By Kieran O’Shea) Very nice calendar that allows descriptions, links, and recurring events to be easily managed and displayed.

Don’t let the potential compatibility issues discourage you from using plugins. Use them prudently. Research potential issues. Test them. Keep them to a reasonable minimum. Most heroes have a flaw or two, right? Green Lantern has the color yellow, Super Man has kryptonite, Under Dog has Sweet Polly Purebred and needs his super energy pills. Plugins have a few flaws, but overall, they’re created to enhance your site and allow you to easily take it to the next level.

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Shawn Hoagland

Shawn Hoagland is the Web Development Manager for PCG.

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