My WordPress plug-ins

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Periodically I do a post about which Firefox extensions I’m currently using and I just noted two that I’m trying out. (Colorful Tabs will stay, not so sure about Performancing.) I thought today I would mention which WordPress plug-ins I’m using for this blog.

First of all, there are hundreds of WordPress plug-ins, though many are a variation on one theme or another. Therefore, if you find one that more or less does what you want, keep looking because you might find one that is even closer. You can also contact the author and ask for features. They often show up in subsequent versions.

Though WordPress ships as a big collection of PHP files with some images and some JavaScript, there are two main ways to customize a blog. One is through themes and there are hundreds of ready made ones out there, many of them quite attractive. Themes control the look of a blog but they also very much control the raw behavior of how the blog gets presented and what is displayed in the sidebar. Themes incorporate both PHP and CSS and you can tweak each to your heart’s content.

My blog has a heavily customized theme. I first got ownership of in 1996 and the site was pretty absysmal for a long time. At some point I switched providers (I’m now with 1&1) and decided that I would start evolving the site into something that both my family and I would find useful. When I started blogging beyond what I put on IBM developerWorks, I used BlogSpot. That was fine for a while, but I soon hit a wall where I just couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to do. I also didn’t like the idea that the whole thing was managed so remotely even though I did have the blog files deposited on my site via ftp.

Ultimately I decided that I wanted to use PHP to do the customizations I wanted. This led to a decision to use WordPress, though the look and feel of the site does go back to some of the original BlogSpot implementation. I adapted the theme to suit the rest of my site, rather than the other way around. Even though I did this, it is still easy to update WordPress when new versions come out because I use the underlying template tags and control model. Because of all this customization, I can’t just swap in some new and beautiful theme, but I continue to update the one I have.

The other way to customize WordPress without mucking with the core implementation is through plug-ins. These are enabled via certain hooks in WordPress. Generally you upload a new plug-in to a special directory, go to the WordPress administrative panel and activate the plug-in, and then use the new admin options that appear to control the behavior of the plug-in. Some plug-ins require more extensive and manual intervention, though I haven’t used those too much. I’m not looking to use tens of plug-ins, I just want a few that augment the site in a useful way and maybe save me some coding.

With no more delay, here are the ones I use:

  • Akismet
    This is a comment spam blocker. It seems to work quite well. I moderate all comments, but I’m not seeing a lot of junk trying to sneak in. This ships with WordPress though is not active by default.
  • WordPress Database Backup
    It does what the title implies. Obviously you should back up your blog databases frequently. WordPress uses MySQL and this plug-in makes it very easy to create the backup and then either download it or email it to you. I have both of my blogs in the same database and I can back both up with one invocation of this plug-in. This ships with WordPress though is not active by default.
  • Subscribe me
    This allows you to insert buttons that make it easier for your readers to add your blog feed to the popular aggregating services like BlogLines and My Yahoo. It tends to prefer to deal with RSS but if you fiddle with the code you can make it use ATOM.
  • Better Feed
    This plug-in will add some information to the end of each entry in your RSS and ATOM feeds. It is heavily customizable and I did change the default output quite a bit. The instructions for doing this are quite clear.
  • WP-SlimStat
    I just added this last night as well as putting in the markup for Google Analytics. This will give you nearly a realtime view of who is accessing your blog and how, including feeds, pages, and entries. The information is pretty good, but some graphs would make it even better. If you are backing up your database you might want to skip the tables for WP-SlimStat since they are pretty large.

So that’s it. Not too many, but they get the job done. I’ll post occasionally on how the list changes and what I’ve learned by using them.

Update: See “One more WordPress plugin.”

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