We all have our own set of must have plugins we use on every single site. You can find my own personal list of super useful plugins here. Recently I gave Jetpack by WordPress.com a go and was super impressed. A great collection of super useful plugins, widgets and cloud services essential to any site. This is my new plugin toolbox!
Let's have a look through some of its core features and how it can help give your site wings!
What Is Jetpack?
Jetpack is a collection of plugins, widgets and services from WordPress.com. It brings a set of features previously only available to users of the hosted WordPress.com to self-hosted blogs and sites. It adds some of the most commonly used features to your site with a simple to use and familar interface. Jetpack was first added just under 2 years ago and with over 3 million downloads, and the recent release of version 2, Jetpack is really making some noise among WordPress users.
The requirements are fairly standard for WordPress:
- The latest version of WordPress. Any version after 2.7 will get a prompt in the WordPress Dashboard asking you to upgrade.
- PHP 5. Most web hosts should already support PHP 5 and if you are already using the latest version of WordPress then chances are you are already running PHP 5.
- A WordPress.com account. (More on this in a moment).
- XML-RPC enabled and publicly accessible.
- Legacy WordPress.com / Automattic plugins should be disabled before installing Jetpack (eg. WordPress.com Stats, After the Deadline, Custom CSS).
As I mentioned above you do need a WordPress.com account to use Jetpack. This is one of the major annoyances for me, whilst there are some features that you can clearly see why they would need to "connect" to WordPress.com (i.e. for Stats, Photon, Jetpack comments etc.) things like the extra widgets and sharing options don't really need to be connected to WordPress.com. Regardless of my feelings it is quick and easy to create a WordPress.com account and is free.
So getting into the Jetpack features we first turn to WordPress.com stats. Previously available as a standalone plugin the stats included in Jetpack provide a simple way of getting the most popular metrics in an easy to understand interface. Whilst it doesn't give the granular detail you get with something like Google Analytics it does give you a great overview and a quick heads up of your site stats. It also allows you to view these from your WordPress Dashboard. If you are running multiple sites you can also access and view the stats for all your sites from your WordPress.com account dashboard.
As you would expect with any visitor tracking solution you can see how many views your site has received, the views by country and who has been referring traffic to your site. You can also see your top posts and pages for the given period. Search engine terms allows you to see the phrases and words people used in various search engines to find their way to your site. A really nice feature with stats (which you don't actually have out of the box with something like Google Analytics) is link tracking. Any clicks on external links on your site will be counted, I particularly like this one as it allows me to see where my traffic is going!
Whilst WordPress.com stats is not going to replace Google Analytics for me or most people serious about their site metrics it does add an interesting comparitive method of tracking and is nice to see on the WordPress Dashboard.
When it comes to blog or community sites comments can be a crucial way of interacting with your audience. WordPress does a pretty good job of handling comments and there are loads of plugins to make this better for you and your users. For me you only really need 2 things: Akismet (for a very small fee or free depending on your site) to handle the spam, and Jetpack comments. Jetpack comments doesn't completely hijack your site comments like Disqus does it simply improves them, mainly for your users. It allows users to post comments by logging into their Twitter, Facebook or WordPress.com accounts. Also if you have guest comments enabled on your site they can of course still post as a guest. This is ultimately about saving time for your users, they don't need to create yet another account and profile just to get involved in a single article.
You can also use Jetpack subscriptions to get more involved with your commenters. When enabled in the Jetpack admin it will simply add to subscription options below the comment input form. Any future updates to the post or any new post will then be sent to the user via email (depending on their preferences). Now for the time being Jetpack subscriptions isn't without its problems. You can't customise the emails sent to your subscribers, also whilst your subscribers can be moved from one site to another by the admins over at WordPress.com (if both sites are using Jetpack) you can't export them yourself, in fact you can't even see them, this in my opinion is a major fail. Until I can manage and export my own subscribers I certainly won't be using this little bit seriously.
Carousel is simple and beautiful. It adds a lovely looking lightbox style effect to images in any standard WordPress gallery. It allows comments on images and has the option to show EXIF metadata if enabled. With simply a choice of black or white as the background colour setup takes seconds and really does look great. I've created a little demo on my own site to show you how great it can look. There only appears to be one issue at the moment, you can't use the effect on single images. This is a slight annoyance as you may need to use another plugin to achieve this, hopefully this feature will get added in a future release!
Adding a form to your website is something we all usually need to do. From something as simple as a contact form to complex pricing and variable, multi-page forms. The WordPress.org plugin repository has litterally thousands of "Form" plugins, however the two most popular by far are the free Contact Form 7 and the paid for Gravity Forms. Both are great and can do lots but there is another much simpler way of adding forms to your site. Jetpack has its own very basic, but nice, form builder built in.
On any post or page you can simply click the 'Insert Form' button (located next to the 'Upload/Insert Media' button when activated) and you get presented with a very simple form builder. Simplicity is the word here. You have a number of field types but this is very much designed to gather information from your users. There is no conditional logic, paging or any kind of fancyness. What you do get is a quick and simple interface to add forms to any post or page. If you have Akismet enabled (which I highly recommend) then your forms will also be spam proof, and the plugin takes care of emailing you notifications when a form has been completed. You can customise the individual email address each form is sent to or simply leave it blank and it will send to the site admin email address. You can also view any entries from your WordPress Dashboard under Feedbacks similar to the other previously mentioned form plugins.
If you want a simple form then this is perfect, it's all bundled in one plugin so no need for additional plugins. I would definitely recommend you take a look!
Jetpack has a lot of features, some more obvious than others. We've already talked about some of the bigger features but there are some that can make just as much difference and are a little more passive. Jetpack currently has 27 seperate features / plugins bundled in with it, let's have a quick look at some of the more passive, yet awesome features.
Almost every site and blog these days has some method of sharing the content with a wide range of social media services. Social media has become massive and sharing buttons are just as popular. Jetpack gives you a great way of easily adding sharing buttons to your posts, pages or custom post types with a simple to use settings page. You can easily customise which services you want to enable and how you want to display the buttons. You can also add your own services if there is one that you don't see on the pretty comprehensive list! I personally go for the official buttons but there a couple of other options you can choose.
Spelling & Grammar (After the Deadline)
Formerly 'After the Deadline for WordPress' this is a spelling plugin for the TinyMCE editor taken to the next level. It uses the 'After the Deadline' service from Automattic to check your content. It uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to find spelling and grammar errors and offer smart suggestions. You can customise it in your profile to fit your own needs and tell it which rules to follow, you also have the option to enable live checking whenever you update or save a post. Personally I set it to check when I ask it to, which speeds up saving and updating posts, rather than waiting for it to scan and check each time.
Chances are that if you are using WordPress you know what Gravatar is. For the uninitiated Gravatar is another service from Automattic (they love peddling their products to the WordPress community!) that acts as a profile image hosting service. You create an account and link profile images with your email addresses and then supported services (like WordPress) will automatically insert your profile image. It means that you have one place to update your profile image and it will update all the sites you have your profile on (assuming they use Gravatar!). One little extra that a lot of people don't neccassarily use is the Gravatar Profile. You can add a biography and links to your other social media sites and display them on your public Gravatar Profile.
Jetpack adds a nice feature call Gravatar Hovercards. When enabled instead of just showing the profile image of anybody on your site (like in comments) when you hover over the image it will show a window and display information pulled from your Gravatar Profile. I have had some issues with positioning of the image with some complex comments templates but generally it works really well and allows your users to quickly see information about other commentors.
This is a simple little time saver. The "Get Shortlink" button when editing or adding posts / pages now hooks into the WP.me URL shortening service giving you short URLs for sharing on Twitter or other services. Some nice extra features include:
- Every blog and post on WordPress.com and Jetpack-powered blogs has a WP.me URL.
- These are all exposed in the head using
- It doesn’t work for any URL in the world, just WordPress-hosted ones.
- The links are permanent, they will work as long as WordPress.com is around.
- WP.me is spam-free, because spam is constantly being monitored and removed from WordPress.com.
This isn't something I personally have used in favour of responsive design, however the premise is simple. Activate the feature and you get a basic mobile friendly theme. The design is based on the core WordPress theme, Twenty Eleven. It respects the same theme options as its big brother Twenty Eleven allowing you to set custom header image, background image and colour. To get you going with a mobile friendly version of your site quickly and cheaply this is great!
Jetpack also includes some great Widgets to help customise your site.
The RSS Links Widget allows you to add links to your blog’s post and comment RSS feeds in your sidebar. This makes it easy for your readers to stay updated when you post new content or receive new comments.
The Twitter Widget (Formally Wickett Twitter Widget) shows your latest tweets within a sidebar on your theme. It’s an easy way to add more activity to your site. There are also a number of customisation options. This is the widget I personally use on all my sites, it just seems to work. Unfortunately if you do use the older standalone version you do need to upgrade to Jetpack as there have been some major improvements to actually make this one work properly!
The Image Widget allows you to easily add images to widget areas in your theme. It’s an easy way to add more visual interest to your site. No more hard coding HTML into your widgets!
The Gravatar Profile widget allows you to easily show your Gravatar Profile (as talked about earlier in this article) in a widget. It gives you options on what you want to show or hide with the actual content being pulled from your Gravatar Profile. You can see it in action on my own site in the sidebar.
How to Avoid Bloat
When you first activate Jetpack and connect it to your WordPress.com account it activates a whole bunch of stuff by default. However you can disable everything if you want to! I find it best to disable everything I know I am not going to be using. On the Jetpack configuration page simply click "Learn More" under each of the features and a "Disable" button will magically appear. It would be nice if this wasn't hidden, but hey at least it's there! Speed up your own site by making sure only the features you really need are activated.
Version 2.0 was recently released and added some great new features that really start to set Jetpack apart. Barış Ünver has another article coming up soon here on Wptuts+ that looks at some of the great new features of Jetpack 2.0. You can get a head start by reading the official Jetpack 2.0 Release announcement.
So there we have it, whilst Jetpack certainly isn't without fault it certainly ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people. I have only covered a small number of the features available, but think these are probably the features of most use to the majority of people. It has bugs and annoyances which hopefully can be ironed out, for instance customising the CSS can be a little tricky, however it does provide a really useful set of tools that should compliment almost every site. Is Jetpack the only WordPress plugin you will ever need? Probably not, but it does go along way to enhancing the core functionality of WordPress. I was certainly sceptical at first but have rolled out Jetpack across my own personal site and have started deploying on client sites as well.
Install it for yourself and make your own mind up, I'm certain you will end up keeping at least 1 or 2 of the features!
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