3 Plugins that Improved My Workflow in 2012 – WP Daily

I’ve guest authored a post on wpdaily.co: 3 Plugins that Improved My Workflow in 2012.

The post describes the 3 plugins that I used during the past year which transformed my workflow (in good ways). They are BackupBuddy, Gravity Forms and Advanced Custom Fields.

Have any comments? Favorite Plugins? Please, jump over to the post on wpdaily.co and add to the discussion!

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3 Plugins that Improved My Workflow in 2012

True developers strive to be DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) in code as well as workflow and process. Previously, I somehow ended up doing in many of my projects things that plugins could also do.

It’s great to code your own sometimes and if you have specific needs that aren’t addressed by something out there already then sometimes it’s required. I think there is a lot to be said for the state of the plugin community lately. There are plugins to offer solutions many needs beyond what WP core was built to handle.

I’ve found that many times plugins are better then rolling my own solution. Not because I’m a horrible developer (I hope not at least), but because there is real power in numbers.

First off, plugins benefit form the community or users and developers involved in making them work and making them popular. Choose plugins that have a good base of users so when the author or WordPress ships updates, there are many people reporting/testing compatibility issues.

There is a community of people thinking about how to solve recurring needs and many minds working together on something are smarter than one. This is how I’ve come to terms with paying for plugins for an open source and free platform.

It’s worth the expense in the time I save on projects. (Disclaimer: However, I don’t think we should be using a screwdriver as a hammer simply because we can make it work. If you end up hacking plugins to get what you need out of it, then you may be better off building your own.)

This past year, I resorted to using plugins for a lot of the basic functionality I found myself using over and over again on many sites. I’ve been pleasantly impressed. Here are my top 3 plugins of the year:

1. BackupBuddy

BackupBuddy by iThemes. Backuping up a site is pretty much essential for anyone who does web work professionally. Not only for security but also for moving sites.

As a developer I’m constantly moving a site from a dev environment to a production environment and vice versa. It was the bain of existence at times, because with WP, moving the site is more than just copying files via ftp. It includes the database and config files and settings in the database too.

BackupBuddy, has helped this become a fairly simple process that lets me export the whole site (database and all) into a zip file and then I can easily place the site on a new domain or environment.

backupbuddy screenshot

Screenshot of starting the migration/import process with backupbuddy. You do a complete backup, load this php file onto your new site and follow the prompts. They’ve made it surprisingly painless.

The huge win for me is that I’m spending less time managing databases and more time building websites. Although I generally tend towards open solutions, this one has been worth the money spent many times over. (Even when they had an update that broke my database, it still saved me time in the end).

I mainly use this tool to schedule and automate my backups and save them remote locations either weekly or daily and to move my site between dev and production environments for testing and deploying.

2. GravityForms

Gravity Forms by RocketGenius. Forms are a part of every website I’ve built lately. I used to use CF7 and still am a big fan, but I ended up trying this form plugin out once and have been very impressed with the UX and UI. It has many features and is tastefully integrated into WordPress.

Some of my favorite features are that it saves the form submissions into my database and I can send complex notifications about the submission. It also has many field types built in. so if I need to capture someones email and shipping address, there are fields that will validate as such automatically!

True, I could write my own script to do this, but why spend unneeded hours to reinvent the wheel, and test the wheel and maintain the wheel.

gravityforms screenshots

Here is the back end of gravity forms. This is where you set up or edit your form. Notice the fields you can select from the right to add to any form as fast as you can drag and drop.

There are many many plugins offered to enhance the gravity form as well, you can integrate easily with MailChimp, Paypal and WordPress itself (for creating user accounts or even content).

I’ve used gravity forms as a simple contact form, as a job application form, as a donate form, newsletter signup form and more. It’s nice to be able to rely on one plugin for all this. The support forum has always been helpful as well.

3. Advanced Custom Fields

Best for last in my list is Advanced Custom Fields by Australian, Elliot Codon. The plugin site lists many add-on plugins that extend the functionality. Hopefully you’ve heard of custom fields in WordPress already, and if not, they are extra data about the post (or whatever type of content you create with custom post types).

You can add an external link, a price, an address or anything you can think of. This isn’t too hard to do in a theme or plugin on your own and has been documented and tutorial-ized many times explaining how to create fields and saving them to the database and grabbing them from the databse… but it does get tedious.

And then there are all the different types of data you may want to store that you end up having to reprogram every time. Text and numeric values are simple enough, but what about a date, an address, an image or a relationship.

ACF screenshot

Here’s the interface when adding custom fields. You can easily choose the type of data you need and there are multiple options to configure to your situation.

This plugin makes it not only easy, but fun to create custom fields. It adds easy functions for php to grab the data you need at the template level and the UI is entirely seamless with WP. There are many options for conditionally including or requiring the custom fields in the post edit screen etc.

I think this plugin truly transforms WordPress into an open minded CMS with style. Mad props for it not being added to the list of premium plugins (although some add-ons are for sale). I’d vote for this being added to WP Core and won’t likely work on another custom field project without it.

Progress

In all, it’s been a great year to be working with WordPress and it’s only getting better! I’m excited for the number of plugins that are getting better all the time geared towards easing the process of building sites. Equally exciting is the plugin repository at wordpress.org and the recent updates of being able to write reviews for plugins, I think this is a huge step towards letting the cream of the crop rise to the top allowing users and developers alike to find (and support) the best plugins out there.

What plugins have you found that don’t just save you an hour or add a bit of functionality, but that transform your workflow and help you live the DRY mantra?

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A Practical Guide to HTML & CSS – Learn How to Build Websites

I came across Shay Howe’s website today for the first time and am very impressed with his learn section. He’s created the content for a course (or 2) to learn HTML and CSS. There is a beginner’s guide and then an advanced one is scheduled too. This is great content or curriculum and would be a great boost to anyone interested on the subject. It is very thorough and teaches good practice with bad vs good examples throughout.

learn-html-css
A Practical Guide to HTML & CSS – Learn How to Build Websites
.

http://learn.shayhowe.com/html-css/
http://learn.shayhowe.com/advanced-html-css/

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Mobile Strategy and the Case Against Apps

Great points about apps and the web in this article.

Apps compete with the web for dominance over where people get their content. Apps as games and tools are perfect, but apps for content are not. Content is best on the web, because the web is built for sharing content. The web is open! The web is consolidated and instant and accessible (meaning that any device/browser/screen size/location/etc can already access the web and you can update it anytime and all users see the update instantaneously). The web is also accessible via the defining url. Meaning that it’s a required standard that all assets and bits of content have an address. You can take this address and share it and return to it easily, apps – not so much. You want to share an experience or idea from an app with a friend (sure, some have a process built in), you first check to see if their device has this app available, they want to go through the steps of finding the app and then installing it (likely having to pay money) and then you send them a link have to explain how to get to where the magic happened.

Newfangled, a web agency I respect for being very smart has a great article about this. It was then moved into the basis for a chapter in their ‘The Strategic Web Designer’ Book. I highly recommend them both!

Planning a Mobile Strategy.

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SoFresh! – It makes your CSS yummy.

SOFresh-ssRecently, I stumbled on this tool that has really helped my development process. It keeps my css file(s) current in the browser as I edit and save them. Before this I’d make an edit, save/upload (which I’ve combined into one step with SublimeText) then switch to the browser and refresh the page and/or clear cache to make sure the latest edits are loaded. Then rinse and repeat. But now with this tool I’m able to save my edit and glance at my browser as it auto refreshes the stylesheet once it notices the new file (usually about 1 second) and I see my edit, and continue with my edits. It may seem small but after doing this dozens and perhaps hundreds of times each day you can understand the simplicity of this!

[Before I used a javascript based tool called CSSRefresh which would just automatically reload the css file every second. Which had the same effect, but was a heavy consuming load on the browser as well as on the server. It ended up making the browser go much slower (especially when scrolling) and it crashed it often. Sadly, I was forced to accept the tool as a flop for my workflow.]

SoFresh is a bookmarklet based tool though. It allows you to specify a css file or more to ‘watch’ and then when the file changes on the server it smartly reloads it, saving me the trouble to switch apps reload page and wait and potentially reload while clearing my cache. My refresh and cache shortcut keys are much happier now and I take a breath every time I save an edit.

SoFresh! – It makes your CSS yummy..

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HTML5 Is Ready – Rebuttal to Facebook’s native app

Here’s a great “HTML5 Love Story” about the team at Sencha, who is passionate about using proper technologies for the one open web, who knew better than to trust that the failure of Facebook to create a reliable HTML5 app for users was because HTML5 wasn’t ready (as Facebook claimed). They built this demo to prove that HTML5 can do all that the now gone native FB app does and faster. The trick is you have to know what you are doing. Something it seems, FB doesn’t. Ready the full story and watch the comparison video: The Making of Fastbook: An HTML5 Love Story | Blog | Sencha. Or go try it yourself. Visit http://fb.html5isready.com on your favorite mobile browser.

When we started what became Sencha, we made a bet on the web: a bet that modern application development didn’t need anything except the browser, a great set of frameworks and a great set of tools. With those three weapons in hand, we knew developers could build applications that would delight users. The advent of HTML5 upped the game and it gave developers even more tools to let them treat the browser as an application development platform and not a page rendering engine. Developers sprang at the opportunity and unleashed a torrent of apps — on both desktop and mobile — that leveraged the new HTML5 capabilities to build amazing applications using web standards.

So, when Mark Zuckerberg said HTML5 wasn’t ready, we took a little offense to the comment.

We thought to ourselves: HTML5 can’t really be the reason that Facebook’s mobile application was slow. We knew what the browser on modern smart phones was capable of and what kind of rich capabilities HTML5 offered. We saw the latest generation of mobile devices — running at least iOS 5 or Android 4.1 — push ever increasing performance and HTML5 implementation scores. But perhaps most importantly, we’d seen what our customers were building and the amazing things they were creating using HTML5.

I totally agree with this sentiment and believe that native apps are the new flash to the web. They are fun and seem to be the way, but give it a few years and these native apps will quickly give way to web based apps that are browser based and offer speed and flexibility and consistence to the web experience. Sure, flash can do things that html still can’t. But I’m pretty sure no one would want to build their whole site in flash today. They would put the parts that need to be or the parts that belong in flash in flash and let the rest be standards compliant open web. Facebook has essentially built a flash based website for phones to access their website content. They will have to maintain and update this separate from their “real” version.

Our smart phones are helping us converge our devices, as in we no longer need a phone a camera a gps a notepad a … But it is not helping us converge our internet or content. We currently need to use a website in one way at our desk and another way on the go. Websites and the internet should have the same capabilities and the same uses no matter where we decide to use it. Sencha is showing us that, built correctly, HTML5 truly is ready to handle many things that belong in the browser rather than in a native app. We should never need to download a native app to access website data that we normally would just login at our desk. That’s inefficient, divergent and complicated. It’s against the openness and standards everyone preached and pined for and indeed “won” when flash-haters succeeded in ousting flash from mobile browsers. I actually respect Adobe for finally pulling the plug there because they too, believe in the web (and at the time, I was a full-time flash developer). I believe in the web too and that’s why I call it the one open web.

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Randomness and Unicorns for Programming

book

Programming seems to have a gulf dividing the playful and the useful. The random and scripted. The fun and the business. KrazyDad writes the book review and calls for a concerted effort to close this gap. The pleasurable and “recreational programming” mindset seems to be giving way to OOP and other acronyms that do little to inspire new programmers to experiment. While I agree I also think that the web of today makes a lot of old boring aspects – now playful. There are things like the 1K competitions, and all the magic that is now coming our with these new CSS3 properties. Although it’s not enough, I think there is at least a spark of it, and agreed it could be better in that it could be easier for newbies to jump in and experiment without understanding so much first. Thanks for the book recommendation Jim, I’ll add it to my list and hopefully get an into to BASIC.

For a long time, the amount of joy I derived from writing software was proportional to the amount that the features depended on randomness. There is a relationship between the RND() function and the perception of utility. To me, programs that are useful, and that do not require randomness, are useful, but boring — they fill out your tax return and monitor patients in hospitals. The RND() function is like a firehose from God, and the programs that use it are useless, but fun — they are games, and simulations, and art.

KrazyDad » Blog Archive » The mark of the unicorn.

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Web vs Mobile – For The User

I agree with this idea from Ryan that the web has big advantages. I am constantly hearing stats and projections that Mobile is taking over. And sure, I agree that I use my phone to browse more sites, but when it comes down to it I’m just casually browsing – not working. I love the post he’s links in the first line: Vibhu Norby has a detailed post on why his startup is pivoting from mobile first to web first.

Vibhu details that he’s done the mobile startup thing and has learned from the complications. He explains that most of these have been solved in the desktop browser already and a lot of it relates to usability.

Another big point is that mobile apps must be installed (actually they must be found, installed, opened and setup), whereas a web app can be as simple as a link- click, and then the user is already using it. Adoption is much easier on the web.

And even another point is updates and testing and whatnot. YOu can do various tests and even update the whole app relatively fast on the web. There is the one version to support – the live one. While with apps, you can’t do much in the arena of testing and updating is sluggish plus it relies on the user to update (some don’t know how to update and even less care).

I think a web app that is mobile friendly wins. You can give mobile users access, but they aren’t stuck on mobile. They can use it anywhere. While so many are talking about responsive design and produce sites that are device agnostic mobile apps are very device centric.

I’m a fan/advocate of future friendly at least, and strive for future proof (although I understand that’s near impossible). I also hold that there is ONE web and mobile myths.

Web versus Native Economics and User Adoption | Ryan Stewart – Mountaineer Coding.

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Stats on a Windows 8 Game

The Falling balls app seems to be Keith Peter's "Hello World" in exploring new development arenas. Here he walks us through how his first app is trending on Windows 8.

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Falling Balls Update | BIT-101
At the end of October this year, Falling Balls was released into the Windows 8 Store. After just over a month, I thought it would be interesting to discuss how it is doing, and to answer the question,…

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Inverse Kinematics + Javascript = Cool Squid

Really nice animated movement. I can't get over how much life this little guy has. The pulse, and the trailing tentacles which don't always move the same way and just enough random thrown in for fun. This should be a game, but I can't decide if I'd rather be the squid or run from it. Nice work Justin!

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Muscular Hydrostats | CreativeJS
About Tim Holman. Tim (@twholman) is an Australian developer with a healthy addiction to all things web. Tim loves seeing how people interact with technology, and is even more interested in how techno…

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