WP Features: Theme or Plugin

Reading my wpdaily.co updates today and saw this post talking about WordPress theme features. Eric explains the debate:

Generally-speaking, the conversations have always circled around features: There are those that believe every feature you could ever imagine should be included like text color, font selector, and more. On the flip-side, there are those that feel WordPress themes should be finite and extra features should only be added when it’s niche specific.

He says the the main problem is theme bloat, but I think it’s more about the lock-in effect some themes have on users. If they customize it or add content via functionality provided by the theme, then if they switch they no longer have access to it (although the content does persist in the database, there’s just no longer an interface to accessing it).


If users are stuck in your theme because it’s the only way they know how to show their content then it becomes problematic. I’m curious as to how often users are going around changing themes though. Are they changing themes for more/different functionality or for a new look? I find myself changing a theme every couple years or so to update the site, but that’s usually in a whole redesign phase and not just switching around for fun. Should theme switching be more frequent?

I also see it from the user perspective. They just want to purchase/install a theme and be running, they may not have the patience or expertise to 1) find the right plugin 2) install it and set it up, so they’d prefer it be in the theme as a package deal.

Partly, I don’t see it a problem including CPT info in a theme, because that’s where you have to style it anyways, right? Users want their post types, but they also want the templates and styles and functionality/integration with the site that go along with them, and I think a theme is the easiest place to keep all that for the developers as well as the users. Plugin shouldn’t have all the styles for the CPT content and can’t have the template files because then if they switch the theme the styles conflict with the new theme. They may end up having to learn CSS to switch the theme anyways. The users are going to want their data displayed properly as well as it be accessible on their site. So if a new theme would not properly display or integrate the CPT data, then why have it included at all.

Eric does offer some alternative solutions:

Offer a Support License purchase option that allows users to follow tutorials for their own customization.
Offer free downloadable plugins that work exclusively with your premium theme that adds easy functionality.
Offer tiered theme versions–beginner, advanced and developer.

I like the idea of including a plugin to add functionality, but I’d suggest that rather than making it exclusive, make it work with any theme, just make sure your theme supports it (along with other popular plugins).

There is talk about making extra theme functionality ‘opt-out’ for those experienced enough to do so. Set a variable in the functions.php file or even comment out a block of code to remove some customization options to it can be done via a plugin. This, although more work, seems like a good option. Providing the features by plugin makes sense, but asking beginner users to do that extra work seems like unnecessary friction.

Also, it’d be nice if WP had a built in UI for custom post types and custom taxonomies and even custom fields and meta boxes in core. Lay users could then easily create content types and manage data. WordPress would be a tool to create your own custom CMS. Theme developers could create post types as well and then WP would be smart enough to detect data in a CPT table and include the needed UI. Then the users could create/manage content types so if they installed a theme that created a custom post type, since it was now in the database, it would stay even if the theme changed. There are many rabbit holes here, but I feel like I’m onto something and would be excited to see WordPress go this direction.


Adding Viewport Meta Tag via WordPress Theme Functions

Add the viewport meta tag with a WordPress hook via your theme’s functions file to allow responsive web design and mobile-friendly themes

meta-viewport-thumbWith all the responsive web design activity over the past few years, I hope that any theme or site we work on we’re able to make responsive to some extent. An important part of making a web site responsive is adding a viewport meta tag to your html. Without explicitly stating our viewport, the mobile browsers will scale down the website to fit into their ‘viewport’. This is a good thing, since if it was a full website and the browser didn’t scale it down, you’d only see the top left corner, or some small section of the site. This viewport was introduced by apple for iOS and has spread to most mobile devices since. There are viewport properties or parameters we can set with this meta tag such as width and scale and can even use some device aware variables (like ‘device-width’) to set these values.

A WordPress Meta Viewport Hook

I usually end up using the following hook to add a viewport meta tag to my head in wordpress. I set the viewport width to match the width of the device. Then I set the initial scale to 1. Some go and set the maximum-scale to 1 as well. This would prevent users from zooming in on your site. I advocate that we should allow users to zoom if they wish since it is a gesture they may be used to and may still need (no matter how nice your RWD is, they may need/want to see it bigger). RWD is about giving the user a better layout for whatever device they are on, not restricting how they view it.

[cc lang=”php”]
// Add viewport meta tag to head
function viewport_meta() {

A More Interactive Portfolio

I think a portfolio is something that should be very interactive and intuitive. Check out what that has led to: circlecube’s interactive pog portfolio. I’ve been toying with trying to get something that was fun to look at, but also showed some work. Here is a first look at my Interactive portfolio of work which includes physics simulations and many options to play with the presentation of the body of work. Showing it to a friend he said it made him think of pogs (since the thumbnails are round and moving everywhere).

Well, enough, I’ll let you see what you see… Interactive POG Portfolio

The details

Well, if you’re interested, this is the same portfolio that is listed statically on my website. That’s because I’m using amfphp to read my wordpress database and get the custom post type of portfolio and access all the tags, images and details of each portfolio item. I’m using TweenNano from greensock for some of the motion but all the physics is coded in as3. I’m using the slider and switch from Nick Jonas.

Enjoy playing with the settings!

Now I’m thinking of other ways to implement it: specifically hooking into API services like last.fm, dribbble or twitter. Or rebuild it with jQuery and html5!

Video Player 4 introduces interactive playlists, social sharing and more

video player 4 hero shotI’ve been busy hardening and improving my video player lately and had so many updates for it I decided to upload it to activeden as a new file altogether. After some final bug fixes and testing it’s been approved for sale. I think it’s a huge improvement over the last video player. The video playing part is mainly the same (with a few small adjustments for better usability), but I’ve added tons to this update. It’s online at activeden for live preview and purchase.

An extensively customizable yet simple video player. Create and manage play lists for you video delivery as well as allow viewers to share and socially bookmark the video. Integrate the video into your user experience with javascript integration as well as Google Analytics tracking on the video interaction! Control functionality, layout and colors of the player easily! Plus don’t sweat the embed codes – an embed code generator included!

Check out the legend graphic for some views of the player and the different panes. There is the full video view, the playlist, share and detail panes. You can also view them all in fullscreen mode.

circlecube video player 4 legend

This new player has the following updates:

  • Includes an embed script generator built specifically for this video player! Embed script generator with a Live Preview!
  • Use an external xml playlist or set playlist values in flashvars settings. (No need for xml if you don’t want it)
  • Social Bookmarking with facebook, twitter, delicious, google buzz & linkedin
  • Send emails through the player to share the video with friends
  • Google Analytics Integration (event tracking) – Uses your analytics account on a per video setting in flashvars.
  • All colors fully customizable in flashvars or xml
  • Display video title and description – html content (may contain links) in the detail pane.
  • Video controls also in context menu (right-click menu)
  • Loop the video once, twice however many times you wish and even infinitely!
  • Disable tooltips completely if you wish
  • Keyboard shortcut integration! Press the space bar to pause/play the video just like in most video playback programs.
  • Volume setting cached across sessions for a better user experience
  • Double click video for fullscreen

As well as all that made version 3 video player great as well:

  • Supports flv, f4v and any container format using H.264: mp4, m4a, mov, mp4v, 3GP, 3G2.
  • All images and video loaded externally
  • Run this player without additional files, just pass in the flv path.
  • Supports most image file types: jpg, gif, png.
  • Google Analytics Integration (event tracking) – Uses your analytics account on a per video setting in flashvars.
  • Load any dimension video. Completely resizable
  • Set player width and height
  • Set video width and height
  • Full screen capabilities
  • All colors fully customizable
  • Use a preview/thumbnail image.
  • Auto play option
  • Auto load option – in case you had a bunch of video on one page you wouldn’t want them all to auto load.
  • Video scale/stretching options: none, exact, uniform, fill.
  • Javascript callback functions for loading video and finishing video playback.
  • Show/hide a big play button over the video option
  • Show/hide “vcr” video player controls or have them auto-hide
  • Advanced volume controls, click to mute or drag to desired volume. Volume fades rather than cuts.
  • Support for a logo
  • Controls auto-hide
  • Time code display in current time or elapsed time. click to toggle
  • Tooltips for controls
  • Send video files to player dynamically with javascript integration (with an html link on a page send a video to play)
  • Replay video after complete
  • Progressive play and load displays. Watch as the video loads and see the scrub bar update as you watch.
  • Scrub bar is interactive click and drag. Tooltip to display hovered time.
  • Animated play controls.
  • Buttons states & tooltips.
  • All player graphics are vector shapes and very small in size.
  • Fully rearrange player controls
  • Option to disable fullscreen
  • Display video title and description – html content (may contain links)

Here’s a screenshot of the embed code generator:

embed generator preview

Actionscript (as3) Javascript Communication | Call Flash to and from javascript

Often we need to have different parts of a website talk to each other. This can get tricky when we are using multiple technologies and need the communication in real-time. Going from flash to html is done through javascript on the browser side and in actionscript we use something called ExternalInterface. The ExternalInterface class is an application programming interface that enables straightforward communication between ActionScript and the SWF container– for example, an HTML page with JavaScript or a desktop application that uses Flash Player to display a SWF file. We can send things form actionscript to javascript as well as from the html and javascript into flash and actionscript.

I’ve written about this before. It got old though and I had reports that it was having issues in certain browsers, so I had a minute to look at it and decided it needed a rebuild. This version uses as3 and swfobject. I was tempted to throw jQuery in there as well, but didn’t want to confuse anyone. This is simple javascript. I did have to throw some css3 on it for style though. I did use swfobject because it makes life easier, but it’s not required.

So, just like in as2, communication between actionscript and javascript still requires our friend ExternalInterface to link them but the setup/syntax changed a bit with as3. From the docs here are a few pointers of what we can accomplish with External Interface:

From ActionScript, you can do the following on the HTML page:

  • Call any JavaScript function.
  • Pass any number of arguments, with any names.
  • Pass various data types (Boolean, Number, String, and so on).
  • Receive a return value from the JavaScript function.

From JavaScript on the HTML page, you can:

  • Call an ActionScript function.
  • Pass arguments using standard function call notation.
  • Return a value to the JavaScript function.

It’s really cool that we can pass various data types. Here I’ve got an example that simply sends a string back and forth. We have the actionscript to javascript lane as well as the javascript to actionscript lane. So to set it up we need to know the names of our functions. Here I’ve tried to name them exactly what they are. There is a function in my javascript to both send and receive text to actionscript. Also, there are corresponding functions in my actionscript code: one to send and one to receive. These functions pass the data back and forth.

The magic is set up with the call and addCallback methods of ExternalInterface.

To call a javascript function from actionscript we use the call method. The first argument is the name of the javascript function as a String and any following (optional) arguments are the parameters that are passed to said function. So we need a function in the javascript on that page which is set up to accept some data or at least set up to do something (we don’t actually have to pass data, it could be just a trigger for something on the page). Then in our actionscript we call:
ExternalInterface.call("name_of_js_function", "data passed to js");

Then to go back from javascript to actionscript there is a little bit more set-up involved. We will use the addCallback method here and this sets the actionscript function to be able to accept a call from javascript. The first argument is the function name in javascript (again as a String), and the second argument is the function name in actionscript that you want to be called:
ExternalInterface.addCallback("name_of_js_function", name_of_as3_function);
Then you write your actionscript function to do what you want:
function name_of_as3_function():String {
//do something
return something;


View the actionscrip javascript communication DEMO
If that doesn’t make sense try the demo to see it in action. I’ve got the source code listed on the demo page as well as the working example.

Source Code


[cc lang=”javascript”]
function receiveTextFromAS3(Txt) {
document.getElementById(‘htmlText’).value = Txt;
function sendTextToAS3(){
var Txt = document.getElementById(‘htmlText’).value;
var flash = document.getElementById(“as3_js”);
document.getElementById(‘htmlText’).value = “”;

var flashvars = {};
var params = {};
var attributes = {};
attributes.id = “as3_js”;
//attributes.name = “as3_js”;
swfobject.embedSWF(“AS3_Javascript.swf”, “alt”, “450”, “450”, “9.0.0”, false, flashvars, params, attributes);


[cc lang=”html”]


Actionscript – AS3

[cc lang=”actionscript”]
import flash.external.ExternalInterface;

//Set up Javascript to Actioscript
ExternalInterface.addCallback(“sendTextFromJS”, receiveTextFromJS);
function receiveTextFromJS(t:String):void {
theText.text = t;

//Actionscript to Javascript
function sendTextFromAS3(e:MouseEvent):void {
ExternalInterface.call(“receiveTextFromAS3”, theText.text);
theText.text = “”;
button.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, sendTextFromAS3);
button.buttonMode = true;

Source Files

Download the source files here:

Style vs Design

So what’s the difference between design and style?

I’ve had to explain that to quite a few clients that think all they need is a good looking website and they will make millions. It has to work and the design has to (subconsciously) show users how it works and it’s a perk if it looks good (style).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and about what a web designer should focus on. Is it all about functionality of a site and making everything “work” or is it all about making it look “pretty” and fresh. Facetious I know, obviously it sits happily in between the two somewhere. But where is the question. I love reading articles and stumbled on this (apparently 2005) gem for the first time recently: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Style vs Design. Don’t ask me how I haven’t come across it before, but it’s awesome and it hit the nail on the head for me so I thought I’d share.

dilbert usability comic

Web designers need to not only make a site work, but make it appealing to the intended audience. What looks good on a website for one audience won’t necessarily apply to another.

The web used to look like a phone book. Now much of it looks like a design portfolio. In fact, it looks like the design portfolio of 20 well-known designers, whose style gets copied again and again by young designers who consider themselves disciples.

I worry because young designers who confuse style with design are learning to copy their heroes’ technical tricks and stylistic flourishes, but not necessarily learning to communicate in this medium.

It is cool to make a new effects and transitions with css3 and the like, but let’s not add these styles to a design that doesn’t call for them. We should ask each client/project what their needs and audience is and work on solving that problem aesthetically for that situation.

More to read:

The Magic Reset Button

This magic button is almost always forgotten, but 90% of the time when you don’t see what you think you should be seeing on a webpage, the culprit is the same: cache.

Imagine: a few hours after discussing some edits to your site with your trusted designer. Your designer says he just updated the graphics or layout of your website and you’re excited to see it. You go to your favorite browser (which I hope is not IE), and type in your url. “Hm, that’s funny, I thought they said it was updated, do they think every day is April Fools or something?!” Then after an email and a phone call they confirm that they did update the page, you go back to it once again and still don’t see anything different! By this time you are wishing you could reach through the phone and smack somebody. You look on a different computer and see the update, and are beyond confused when you go to your computer and still don’t see the update.

Eventually, the designer tells you to try refreshing or clearing your cache. That sounds like a good plan, but what the heck is he talking about? Cache is one way smart guys have determined the internet can work better and faster. Essentially when your browser (for example Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer) views a webpage it copies it from the internet to your computer. Then if you view that page again your browser remembers that it’s seen it recently, so it displays your local copy rather than connect with the server and download a new copy every single time. Especially with linked images and files such as style sheets and scripts. This helps you see the internet and websites faster. This is a good thing except when you want to see the most updated version in your browser.

refreshThere are however a couple ways you may tell the browser to forget the cached version of the page and load it all fresh from the server. The standard shortcuts are (windows) ‘ctrl + F5’ and (mac) ‘cmd + R’. You can also go to your browser options and delete browser history, but that will clear all your cache and not just the page you are on. This is almost always the case when you’re not seeing what you should be seeing on a site. So next time it happens, take a moment and hit F5 to save a headache.

Design Matters

People are amazed at how well Apple is doing, they are doing better now than Microsoft! I think Apple understands the power of design and this has helped get them where they are now. Apple hardware/software (since they are almost the same thing) focus very heavily on appearance and design.

Alex of Airtight Interactive points out:

Apple understands that laptops and phones are the new watches and jewelry. We are using them majority of our waking life. They define us to the people around us. They need to be both functional and beautiful. Apple products have plenty of hardware and software issues, but people are willing to forgive them since the products are so nice to look at.

He also points to the design by Andrew Kim that I love. I hope other companies get into their heads the fact that design really IS that important!

Tutorial to Create a Responsive Image Scroller in ActionScript 3.0


I’ve written a tutorial which is published over at flash.tutsplus. This tutorial demonstrates how to create a horizontally scrolling image viewer and covers xml parsing, loading and resizing external images, and creating intuitive and responsive scrolling!

[kml_flashembed publishmethod=”dynamic” fversion=”9.0.0″ movie=”https://circlecube.com/circlecube/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2009/07/image-scroller-example.swf” width=”550″ height=”137″ targetclass=”flashmovie”]

Get Adobe Flash player


So check out the Tutorial to Create a Responsive Image Scroller in ActionScript 3.0 over at flash.tutsplus.com!


You’ll find full source code available for download as well as the demo files and step by step milestones all throughout the tutorial.