The cool guys over at Automattic have been working hard to bring a really impressive plugin to the masses — Jetpack.
It comes with 24 free modules to beef up your WordPress experience. But are they really all necessary?
Now that’s a lot. And the first thing I thought when I heard about Jetpack back in 2011 was, “Great, a whole bunch of new fluff to load my site up with.” As it has grown though, some really cool features have been added to it that whilst not necessary, definitely make managing a WordPress site easier.
Out of the 24 free modules, there are seven that stand out to me as things you really need.
- WordPress Stats
- Contact Form
- Shortcode Embeds
- Extra Sidebar Widgets
- Enhanced Distribution
In my experience from creating custom websites for clients, these all come in handy at some stage. You always need a sharing plugin, a plugin to sync your social services, easy ways to add content to the sidebar and so on. Jetpack tackles all these with what you know is going to be air-tight code. It has, after all, been written by the people who wrote WordPress!
There are also a few that I find very handy and cool to have. Not necessities, but they will definitely augment your WordPress blog.
- Jetpack Comments
- Mobile Theme
- Infinite Scroll
And my favourite of them all is the JSON API.
I’m going to give you a quick run down on why I love these thirteen modules, why they stand out above the rest, and how they can help you with your blog.
Featured Plugin - WordPress Facebook Plugin
Below are the plugins I’d absolutely recommend from Jetpack and a little bit about them.
Publicize is a sweet module that will automatically ping your social services (such as Facebook and Twitter) and post your new content on your behalf. In my opinion, this is invaluable, as I’ve never not been asked to sync accounts in such a way.
There is only one true competitor out there when it comes to social connections, that being Social by MailChimp. Now that there is a “native” alternative that supports more services, I doubt I’ll ever use Social again.
The thing that I love most is the care Automattic has taken to make the UI as easy as possible to understand. That goes for all plugins in this list. They take special care to every UI detail to ensure the usability of the plugins is as good as it can be.
Publicize at current supports Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Yahoo connections, which I think is more than enough. It covers social, to business, to leisure networks.
Yes, we do have Google Analytics for this. But if you visit the dashboard regularly like I do or have clients that lack the knowledge of how to access analytics, this plugin is great. It’s a life and time saver for everybody.
At a glance, you get to see page views for today. Which is nice for clients because it tends to make them feel like their website is growing.
The cool thing too is that it has a surprisingly good amount of stats for you. Geo stats, pageviews, content count and much more. It even gives you details on comments, users, custom post types, etc. Since it’s obviously a competitor to Google Analytics, they do their best to make it worth your while.
Google Analytics is for power users, WordPress.com Stats are for those who want a nice overview of their traffic.
We all love some beautiful custom sharing buttons. But for the stock standard and solid, Jetpack provides a sharing module that allows readers to share your posts to a large number of popular networks.
Whilst it doesn’t have blanket coverage of a plugin such as AddThis (300+ services to share to!), it covers all the important ones. Enough for me, and enough for the general user I think. AddThis would be a solution for the hardcore networker.
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Contact forms have been the bane of a developers existence since the early days of web development. Whether to roll your own or use a plugin, dealing with human verification and validation–all a pain.
There are loads of plugins out there that let you create custom web forms through a (generally horrible) UI. If all you’re after is a simple email contact form, then this is the plugin for you. I daresay you could even create a solid article submission form using Jetpack’s Contact Forms.
The UI is nice (thickbox), and it uses shortcodes which us developers love. +1 for Jetpack Contact Forms over any other basic solution.
The only limitation is that it is an email form. If you’re after forms that interact with WordPress, it’s best to roll your own.
Whilst not a complete necessity, I find shortcode embeds a valuable utility. I’ve been asked to embed YouTube videos into websites more times than I care to count, especially when a client or manager cannot figure it out. Definitely handy to have.
Not only easy to use, it supports a huge number of services. Not just popular video sites (Youtube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, etc), but also Google Maps, Slideshow services, images and documents, and even polls.
Extra Sidebar Widgets
The highlight of this plugin for me is the ability to add a Twitter feed. Seriously, that’s probably all I’d use it for. I would occasionally use image widgets for promotional reasons, but that’s usually handled by some sort of ad manager service (i.e. Google’s DFP).
Once again, when building client websites I’ve always been asked to embed a Twitter feed. This takes the pain out of doing so, and is totally customisable via CSS.
The key to ad sales online and selling your content or product is by far coverage. You want to make sure your stuff is searchable in all the major search engines.
Whilst SEO plugins are good for this (Infinity SEO is an excellent solution), pinging search engines to let them know you have new content is important to get these well optimised pages and posts to the masses.
Simply, Enhanced Distribution automatically pings Google, Bing, and other third party services to let them know you have content ready to be indexed. You can sit back and relax, and watch your content show up in Google. Brilliant.
Featured Plugin - WordPress Infinite SEO Plugin
The cool things
Whilst not 100% necessary, the following modules have a special place in my heart for being cool additions to great websites.
I used to work for SitePoint, and an ongoing discussion we had was whether to stick to default WordPress comments, use a custom solution we built ourselves called Podling, or go with the already established Disqus.
Jetpack comments are what we should have gone with. We would have gotten social connection (via commenters logged in through Twitter or Facebook), kept ownership of our comments through the admin panel, and had a sexy form.
I don’t often design blogs (usually custom portfolios or websites), but if I were to I would absolutely use Jetpack Comments to handle that issue.
My favourite thing about the Carousel module is that it’s mobile ready. It’s responsive, looks beautiful, and just works. You have options on what data to display (title, caption, even EXIF data from the photos themselves)
It uses built in WordPress galleries to make these excellent swipeable image carousels, which makes building them in your posts and pages even easier.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all about responsive design. I love it. I think watching a page collapse as you make the browser smaller is one of the finer things of the modern web.
But. It does take a lot of work and planning, and can sometimes be too time consuming to be worth it.
For those people who want an instant yet simple and beautiful mobile theme, this module is for you. It looks great, and gives you just enough customization options to make it look like yours. In conjunction with the Custom CSS Jetpack module, you have a mobile theme ready to go at your fingertips.
The only lame thing is that it has a small advertisement at the bottom prompting you to download WordPress for iOS.
Do I really need to convince you? It’s a big novelty, but I’m a massive fan of infinite scroll for a number of reasons. People are lazy as all hell, and will read less of your site if they have to click next page over and over to reach more content. This in turn, means you’ll end up displaying more ads to the reader (if you’re in that business).
The only downside of infinite scrolling is that your pageviews will drop a little- people are no longer visiting 5 pages to see 50 articles, just one.
Last but not least, Photon is great for speeding up your blog. All your images get uploaded to a content delivery network hosted by WordPress. This means the browser can download more images at once resulting in a faster page load, and happier readers. Combine this with some sort of lazy-load plugin, and your pages will load blazing fast.
A special place in my heart
I’m a huge fan of data. Raw data. WordPress is great, because it makes it really easy for designers to create good looking websites easily.
For the developer though, one would understand that rendering content on the server is lazy and gives you lack of control.
Cue the JSON API
Yes. Ah. I love it. If you’re building something totally custom, whether it be a backbone powered site, or even a native iOS or Android app, a JSON API is the most invaluable tool you will come across.
Having a JSON API at your fingertips enables you to create data-driven websites, and have totally custom solutions. It’s even extendable via PHP, so you can get anything in your WordPress database with ease in JSON format.
Okay… So Should I Use Jetpack or Not?
My vote is yes. It provides so many functions and tools that you’ll search for otherwise in one tight package. It’s written by the guys that wrote WordPress, so you know it will be solid and tested. All the modules have a good UI, which makes using it a pleasantry.
And quite frankly, I’m sick of wrestling with 3rd party plugins to get what I want. Jetpack just works.
For the full list of modules available, check out the Jetpack website.