Creative Uses for WordPress

WordPress is most known as the world’s most influential and popular blogging framework.  However, it can be used in some really creative ways.  Ways that stretch conventional uses and, at times, push the WordPress core to it’s limits.  So why use WordPress to create something really creative?  It’s a blogging engine, not a blank slate for your wildest dreams.  I’ve found, it actually IS a blank slate.  Although it comes pre-packaged with lots of features as a powerful blogging tool, it is quite simple and versatile out of the box.

I have started multiple web projects that had very little need for a blogging feature, but I’ve chosen to build the application on WordPress because it makes creating and managing dynamic content very easy.  The following are examples of some creative and innovative uses for WordPress.  Have an example I missed?  Leave a comment below.

WordPress as a Wiki

Wikis were made famous by sites like Wikipedia, the community-managed encyclopedia.  They are essentially user-moderated content pages that can be used for any collaborative project.

Popular URL Aggregator

Some of the famous examples include PopURL and AllTop.  These are just RSS feeds essentially, aggregated and moderated for quality content.

alltop

WordPress as an Image Sharing site

A popular example of this includes ffffound, an open image sharing site that no longer accepts new registrations.

WordPress as a Contact Manager

There are lots of reasons to manage contacts with a WordPress site.  It can also act as a CRM.  I once built a contact manager for an agency with about 100 employees that wanted help keeping track of them.

contact manager

As a membership Directory

Similar to a contact manager, a membership directory offers some features designed to interact with members.  Such as signing up and managing one’s own profile.  This opens up a world of pay-for-membership opportunities.

WordPress as a Twitter clone

I don’t quite see the utility of creating a twitter clone.  But I suppose this could be useful for busy tech support departments or other situations in which contacts must be made quickly and publicly.

twitter clone

WordPress as a Forum

One of the most ubiquitous features of a web site is a forum.  A forum provides an organized way to discuss or ask questions while allowing others to see the content.  Forums were made popular with support services because they reduced call/email volume by allowing people to see the solution to their problems immediately.

As a News Aggregator

Be careful with news aggregators.  Some sites just compile content from other people’s sites and it makes for lame, useless content.  When done well, and tastefully, people can compile interesting news from their niche of interest.

news

WordPress as an Invoicing System

Run a freelancing business from your WordPress site?  Why not integrate your billing as well?  There are plugins that allow you to bill customers, accept payment and track outstanding invoices easily within WordPress.

WordPress as a Job Board

WordPress can do one thing exceptionally well: build community.  With that community you can disseminate information, gather information, or even publish job listings.  This works best if your website already has authority related to an issue.

wpjobboard

As a social bookmarking service

WordPress can be used like Digg, Reddit, or other similar social bookmarking services through which people can share interesting content and vote it up or down.  Again, hard to break into this service unless your site already has authority and ranking.

WordPress as an Auction Site

Yea, it can do that.  Some plugins let you turn WordPress into an eBay clone, or at least the major features.  Find your niche and become the vertical market auction site of your choice.

wpauctions

What did I miss?  I’d like to hear about other wild and crazy ways people are using WordPress to break the mold.

 

 

WordPress as a Public Relations Tool

Almost every business has (or should have) a public relationships strategy.  Closely integrated with marketing, a public relations strategy addresses how the public perceives the company.  This scales with the business market.  For example, a local pizza shop needs to address how it interacts with the local community while a national corporation needs to be concerned with local communities where it operates as well as the overall public opinion in the marketplace.

What some companies still struggle with, and many have learned the hard way, is that social media and new media are an vital to a good public relations strategy.  For example, I do not go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a website.  Period.  This is not because I want to punish the for being stubborn, but because I only eat out occasionally, and I’m not about to spend my limited restaurant budget on a place who’s menu I have not vetted as appealing.

Any good public relations strategy includes multiple platforms for user interaction.  Gone are the days when a business disseminated information on their product and brand while the consumer blindly accepted it.  Here are the days of the 24-hour news cycle, interactive communications strategy, and here-today-gone-tomorrow businesses that failed to recognize the changing tide.

These examples are perhaps the most poignant example of a business’s public relations strategy dying at the hands of a fool that was given too much authority over the brand through their social media accounts.

Part of a good communications strategy is a steady, professional, interactive blog.  Blogs are no longer plain corporate web-drones, spewing press releases.  They can now be fun, engaging and huge marketing tools.  Some well-executed corporate blogs include:

Zappos

Zappos, the web’s most popular shoe store, blasts mostly deals and promotions but also funny quips and behind the scenes looks.

zappos

Starbucks

Starbucks seems to use their blog platform for social and community messages.  But let’s be real, their widely publicized “responsibility” philosophy is as much a marketing strategy as it is a corporate philanthropy move.

starbucks

Whole Foods

Whole Foods uses their blog to help consumers use (and buy more of) their products.  A nice double-feature.

wholefoods

The most successful corporate WordPress blogs have the look and feel of a personal weblog, similar to the rants and raves that some CEO’s post.  At the end of the day, the web visitor wants to feel like they got something out of their visit, similar to a visit to a bricks and mortar store.

Good WordPress PR strategy

WordPress can be a powerful tool, used for good or evil.  A solid PR strategy can catapult a business into success, or topple it from the top.  The following tips make up a solid, but not comprehensive, PR strategy when using WordPress.

  1. Respond to consumers.  Comments are worthless unless people respond.  Nothing irks me more than writing to a business and receiving no response.
  2. Be cordial, kind and humble.  In this world, the customer IS always right.  This counts extra in the web world.  I tell my parents that email and social media communications need extra courtesy, more than normal discourse.  What could be a perfectly innocent comment in real life could easily be perceived as angry or rude online.
  3. Be honest.  Applebee‘s took major social media heat after a real life problem moved into the virtual realm.  And the ding-dong running their social media strategy lied, copied/pasted and backtracked in an attempt to get control of the disaster.
  4. Offer value.  As I previously mentioned, corporate blogs that simply distribute boring news and announcements and press releases are worthless.  Blogs should be dynamic platforms for engaging with consumers.  And they should demonstrate a businesses nimble nature, writing about topical issues that relate to their brand.

What is YOUR PR strategy with WordPress?

Time Saving WordPress Shortcode Tricks

One of my favorite features of WordPress is the shortcode trick.  The name says it all, but for those not familiar yet with the magic of shortcodes, they allow you to insert a particular function automatically into a WordPress page or post.  This function can be virtually anything.  From inserting recent posts to displaying a widget to affecting formatting, shortcodes can do it all.  Most premium themes are coming bundled with some shortcodes and it is quickly becoming the hallmark of a quality theme, at least those that are sold in marketplaces like ThemeForest.

From a functional standpoint, shortcodes are located in the theme files or plugin files.  When a particular shortcode is used in the post or page content, it references a longer snippet of code that creates the desired function.  So rather than trying to insert raw PHP into post content, I could write [myshortcode] and it would insert whatever longer snippet is referenced by that shortcode.  Nifty huh?

shortcodesIf you don’t have shortcodes but would like to play around with them, consider the Elegant Shortcodes plugin from Elegant Themes.  It is a standard WordPress plugin that adds the functionality of shortcodes that come with all of Elegant Themes premium themes.  They include buttons, info boxes, toggle boxes, tabs, a slideshow, an image slider, password protected content, columns, social media buttons, tooltips, tables, dropcaps, quotes and more.  Really anything you could need to spice up your site.

But enough about that one plugin.  Because I’ve found shortcodes so useful since they were introduced in version 2.5 that I thought I would push the limits of what they can do and look for some tips, tricks and hacks that extend their usefulness even further.  Disclaimer: I haven’t tried all of these in a live WordPress installation.  As always, backup your site before messing with it.

 1. Add shortcodes to theme files

Shortcodes are so easy to insert in posts and pages.  But what if you want to modify your theme and add a shortcode to it?  I’ve wanted to do this when I’ve wanted shortcode results to be displayed in a sidebar or somewhere else outside of the content area.  Adding a shortcode to the theme is simple.  Just insert this code, obviously replacing [shortcode] with your shortcode name.

<?php echo do_shortcode("[shortcode]"); ?>

Want to use a shortcode within the loop?  Try this:

echo do_shortcode('[shortcode]');

2. The “bloginfo” shortcode

The bloginfo function can display all sorts of handy information about your site which could save you time.  In order to use this function, you can built a very quick shortcode by inserting the following code into your functions.php file.  Thanks to CSS-Tricks for this one.

function digwp_bloginfo_shortcode( $atts ) {
   extract(shortcode_atts(array(
       'key' => '',
   ), $atts));
   return get_bloginfo($key);
}
add_shortcode('bloginfo', 'digwp_bloginfo_shortcode');

Then you use a shortcode with a parameter to tell the function which data you are looking to display.  Like this:

[bloginfo key='name']

You can also use a shortcode in HTML which can prevent you from having to write long URL’s over and over.  Like this:

<img src="[bloginfo key='template_url']/images/logo.png" alt="[bloginfo key='name'] logo" />

See the full list of info you can grab here, but you can choose from some of these beauties: name, description, wpurl, admin_emai and rss_url.

Note: make sure to switch to the HTML editor when adding a shortcode.  The WordPress WYSIWYG will strip the brackets from your shortcode if you enter them in the visual editor.

3. Allow shortcodes to be used in widget text

If you’re not into coding shortcodes directly into your theme files, but want them in your widget text, you can use this code to add a filter to the widget_text() function which overrides WordPress’ tendency to disallow shortcodes in widget text.

add_filter('widget_text', 'do_shortcode');

What is your favorite technique, trick or tip when working with shortcodes?  How have you used them to make your life easier?  Let us know in the comments below.

WordPress Design Trends for June 2013

WordPress evolves at a steady and predictable pace.  This is a nice feature of the core WordPress.org project.  Since version 1.5, the theme system has allowed designers and WordPress admins to create cutting edge designs that are portable across almost any WordPress site.  With a virtually instantly available design, administrators can change the overall look in a heartbeat.  As WordPress evolved, the theme engine allowed people to install a framework and customize it quickly and easily without affecting the core code.

Even though modifications became easy to do, the theme system created enormous competition for designs.  With the ability to download a theme that is ready to go out of the box, designers were forced to get creative.  Now it seems as though there is a WordPress theme shop next to every Starbucks (that is to say, on every corner, ubiquitous).

With a vibrant theme community, designers have to adapt quickly to changing trends.  And boy do they change quickly.  Here are some of my favorite design trends that have emerged in this first half of 2013.  If the first have is any indication, the second half of 2013 will be incredible.

Responsive Designs (vs. mobile)

responsive

When mobile devices were first starting to be built with enough oomph to handle modern web applications, designers had to think quickly and incorporate mobile designs in good WordPress themes.  Initially, each standard theme came packaged with a corresponding mobile theme.  This mobile theme was compatible with the ipad and blackberry devices.  Then the iPad came out and changed everything.  Designs were faced with a decision to add a third layout to their themes (some chose this path) or develop a new way to handle different screen resolutions elegantly.  In 2013, responsive designs really came into their own.

Responsive designs (in case you’ve been living under a rock, trying to get Joomla to work for the last year) is concept that allows a design to scale in all sizes.  Although scaling and moving elements may change how the site looks, it won’t distort, squeez, squish or otherwise befuddle your design.

Specialized mobile navigation

mobile nav

In concert with the advent of responsive designs, WordPress custom menus allow designers to create a menu that is only to be used for mobile browsers.  This doesn’t matter if you only have 3 menu items.  But scrolling through 10 menu items and their 50 sub-items can be frustrating on a mobile device.  So frustrating you can easily lose visitors.  Developing a mobile menu can resolve this frustration.  A restaurant I recently worked with has a full menu for standard browsing, but the mobile menu only offers information on their story, location and menu.  The three critical pieces of information for the mobile user.

Media-centric designs

media-centric design

With more households having high speed internet, and mobile device load time improving for that matter, design limitations have decreased.  I remember using AOL as my browser, with a 14.4kpbs modem to browse the web.  When I came across a website with lots of images, I had to either go run an errand, or look elsewhere.  Not anymore.  2013 designs are riddled with high-resolution images.  Not just as content, but as design elements.  New media-centric designs focus on the media, not the structure.  Examples include sites with entire backgrounds taken up by high-res images.  Without the featured images, there wouldn’t be much to the design, in fact.

Single-page designs

single page design

Single-page designs have really taken off this year.  A couple of things make this possible.  First, the web design community as a whole is moving back toward simplicity.  Simple sites mean more focus on content.  Second, the evolution of infinite scrolling technology has made single-page designs more realistic since all of your content can eventually be displayed without navigating.  This is most effective with two types of websites: 1) those with minimal content (business or splash type pages) and 2) those with socially generated content or a steady flow of content (read: Facebook, Pinterest, traditional blogs).  A cool design element that I’m keeping my eye on is called Parallax Scrolling, see an example.  Parallax connects the scrolling action to other design elements.  Scroll in the example and watch the navigation menu.  Check out OnePageLove.com, a gallery dedicated to single page designs.

Custom fonts

custom fonts

Custom fonts are not new in 2013, but they are quickly becoming the standard.  It used to be there was one choice for font, then a few, then limited to your browser’s capabilities.  Now, due to evolving browsers and the beauty of CSS3, virtually any font can be packaged with a WordPress theme.  This has opened the floodgates for designers that were previously limited to Times New Roman and -GASP- Comic Sans.  I personally never realized how much of an impact a font could have on the overall design feel.  Then Google Fonts muscled into web design and my eyes opened in a totally different way.  Thanks to Theme.fm for the above image.

What is your favorite WordPress design trend for 2013?

 

 

10 Years of WordPress

I feel like WordPress has been a part of my life for more than 10 years.  But this past May, WordPress reached a 10 year milestone.  What began with a conversation between Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little about forking their favorite blogging software evolved into the most powerful, ubiquitous website platform in the world.  Currently powering 18% of all websites, WordPress has risen beyond fame and into legend.

This original post by Matt was the marker of inception of what would become WordPress.  As futurist as he may be, I would speculate even Matt couldn’t predict what that project would become.  But oh, are we thankful for what happened in the subsequent months.

Mike Little, the co-creator of WordPress recently wrote about the 10 years that have passed since the first release.  He highlighted some of the huge websites that run WordPress, near 70 million websites now.  Around half of the top 100 websites are using WordPress.  The underlying theme here is one of appreciation.  People across the globe have sent words of grattitude to Matt and others at Automattic for providing such a tool, for free.  What is perhaps more important here, is the community they have developed.  This has been possible, in part, because of a dedication to open source software.

WordPress started because Matt and Mike wanted a better “logging software” and the best at the time, TextPattern, was not GPL.  Because of Matt’s dedication to an open and free web, (specifically: open source software with a General Public License), WordPress was born out of necessity.

Because WordPress is open source and freely available, it was adopted by millions.  But a community is more than just an active forum.  A community surrounding a piece of software is about shared ownership and investment.  We all contribute to the vibrancy of the WordPress community and that’s what makes it unstoppable.  If you are skeptical of the global impact of WordPress, head on over to http://en.wordpress.com/stats/ to see a live look at the geographical spread of action on the WordPress.com servers.

live wordpress

If that’s not convincing, take a look at the growth in WordPress.com pageviews.  At press time, over 380 million people view 4.1 billion pages per month via WordPress.com.  Now that’s impressive.

wordpress pageviews

As I’ve already mentioned, the functionality, ease of use, simplicity and professionalism found with WordPress as a blogging tool was half the reason for it’s success.  But the other half is due to the commitment to freely available software under a GPL.  In honor of the 10th anniversary of WordPress, the in-process WordPress book “Freedom, Community and the Business of Open Source” added chapter 3 “On forking WordPress, Forks in General, Early WordPress and the Community”.  In this chapter the genesis of WordPress is outlined, including the prophetic blog post from 2003.

In WordPress Matt’s succinct outline of the major impacts of each version from the beginning, he highlights one key factor that is not unique to the WordPress community, but so critical to it’s success:

In WordPress 1.2 the new Plugin API made it easy for developers to extend WordPress. In the same release gettext() internationalization opened WordPress up to every language (hat tip: Ryan Boren for spending hours wrapping strings with gettext). In WordPress 1.5 our Theme system made it possible for WordPress users to quickly change their site’s design: there was huge resistance to the theme system from the wider community at the time, but can you imagine WordPress without it? Versions 2.7, 2.8, and 2.9 saw improvements that let users install and update their plugins and themes with one click. WordPress has seen a redesign by happycog (2.3) and gone under extensive user testing and redesign (Crazyhorse, Liz Danzico and Jen Mylo, WordPress 2.5). In WordPress 3.0 we merged WordPress MU with WordPress — a huge job but 100% worth it. And in WordPress 3.5 we revamped the media uploader to make it easier for people to get their images, video, and media online.

What Matt pointed out here is so very important.  A vibrant developer community is the key to software success.  Although at the time there was resistance, the healthy discussion made WordPress stronger.

If one thing is clear through this, it is the strength of the WordPress community over the last 10 years has grown at a steady clip.  Without the community, there would be no WordPress.  Without the vision of a couple pretty bright guys, there would be no WordPress.  To all of you that have contributed to WordPress over the  years, from Matt to Moe to Mary, THANK YOU.

Review: Manage WP

review of manage wp

If you’re like me, you are running multiple WordPress websites with different goals, content and readership.  In my experience, dedicated WordPress administrators keep coming back to WordPress as the foundation of most any type of website.  This leads to many different WordPress installations.

Although WordPress is so easy to use, so managing multiple sites is not a monumental task, it can be helpful to consolidate wherever possible.  I was recently looking for a way to manage several of my WordPress sites from one location.  I found Manage WP and gave it a good trial run.  I’m now sharing what I learned with the Pingable community.

It is important to note that with the deprecation of WordPress MU (woven into the standard WordPress.org), a stronger need for multi-site management became evident.  Manage WP seems to fit the bill and solve most of the multi-site management features that were appreciated in WordPress MU.

Note: This is an objective review.  Although Manage WP has an affiliate program, we do not participate so you can trust the opinions in this review are impartial.

The key benefits outlined by the company are pretty nice:

  1. One-click updates.  You can update the WordPress core as well as plugins on all of your websites with a single click.
  2. Completely secure.  I haven’t personally tested this claim, check out our WordPress security infographic for more on this.
  3. 24/7 Support with a 35 minute response time.  A nice feature, but you shouldn’t need emergency support with a premium solution, right?
  4. Automated backup and restoring capabilities.  A very nice feature.

Other benefits to note include:

  1. One-click access.  After everything has been set up, you have access to all of your WordPress dashboards without having to remember multiple passwords.
  2. Manage WP partners with Sucuri to ensure your WordPress site is as secure as possible.  Nothing is a guarantee, but Sucuri is very very good.
  3. Lots of backup/restore control.  You can choose to keep your backup files on Amazon S3, Dropbox, FTP or email.  Fancy.
  4. Uptime monitoring made easy.  Keep track of when your site goes down and be notified.
  5. Traffic monitoring.  Be notified when you receive a traffic bump.  Super helpful for those paying for cloud or scalable hosting.
  6. Integration with Google Analytics and SEO tools.  Extra helpful for admins that put the time into managing their SEO.  Monitoring all traffic from one location can be very fun and rewarding too.

The downsides:

  1. If your Manage WP service is hacked or password stolen, the jerk would have access to all of your sites.
  2. A bit pricey.  If your WordPress sites are paying for themselves, or even better, paying your bills, Manage WP is worth it.  If you are a part-time blogger that is only in it for fun, this may not be the tool for you.  The free plan offers the security feature, plus some of the optimization and monitoring features, but not all of them.  The cheapest fully-featured plan at press time is $4.00 month for up to 5 websites, that’s .80 cents per website per month.
  3. They have a self-hosted solution but it is not for the small operation.  The prices for self-hosted solutions are not listed and you’re asked to contact a sales representative which is not a sign of a small investment.

The summary

If you are a professional blogger or WordPress administrator, Manage WP has the potential to save you serious time and consequently, money.  If you are a weekend blogger, this solution is overkill.  Even if you’re just running a couple websites, I would stick to the standard dashboard.

The features are impressive, and the interface is smooth and functional.  I am impressed with the user-interface design and the thought that went into the flow.  As a professional WordPress administrator, I find Manage WP worth the money.

How to build a community with WordPress

WordPress is a blog platform.  But much more important than the blogging feature is the community that comes with WordPress.  From a vibrant developer community to an active support community, WordPress is buzzing.  From a bustling designer community to a dynamic content producing community, WordPress is alive.

In a recent post, I wrote about building a social network with WordPress as a foundation.  In this post, I describe what it takes to build a strong community of readers, stakeholders and contributors.  To build a strong community, it takes more than just an invitation to participate.  Big websites have people dedicated to cultivating and managing a community.  But your small WordPress site can have an equally impressive community if you grow it from the ground up.  Here’s how.

Set the stage

Many bloggers are timid about promoting social media or networking sites in order to promote their own.  Can you blame them?  At first glance, telling all of your readers to head over to your Facebook page is like saying “hey! ignore what you’re into on my website and go visit someone else’s”.  But the truth is establishing the right social networking and bookmarking accounts will compliment, not contrast your own efforts.

This post is not about leveraging social media so I won’t digress by describing what this entails.  But give full consideration to establishing a Facebook page, Linkedin group and Youtube Channel.  Not every option is for everyone so consider the type of media and content you are producing and how it would be best disseminated.

Get the right plugins

Comments

In order to create a vibrant community through comment discussions, you should consider building on the WordPress core commenting feature.  Disqus is the leader for premium and quasi-premium comment systems.  Disqus adds a great deal of functionality including common sign-in, better moderation control, social sharing options, subscription capability and the coolest part: the ability for users to track all of their comments on other websites from your website.  This is great because people don’t have to leave to be engaged elsewhere.

disqus comments

Login

If you’re like me, you don’t like managing multiple usernames and passwords.  When given the opportunity to log into a website with my Facebook account, I will do so.  As long as I can trust the website won’t abuse that privilege.  There is a free plugin available called Social Login that will allow your visitors to log in using Facebook, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, OpenID or some others.  Building a community on your WordPress site is as much about eliminating barriers to participation as it is about the content.

building community with wordpress

Related Content

Social marketing people have long suggested a “related content” plugin that displays similar content below or next to each post.  This is meant to keep people traveling through your site instead of leaving.  But I recommend this feature because it is inherently community-focused.  These plugins look at keywords within each post and recommend posts with similar content.  If I ever click through someone’s site, it is often through this feature.  Keeping people engaged is part of building a community.

Be human

Interactive Posts

Posts can be informational, they can be link bait, they can be junk.  But good posts are high quality, original and informative.  But one thing is missing: interactive.  Posts should include an engagement component in order to build a community.  You can do this by:

  • Asking your readers questions in your posts
  • Including surveys or polls
  • Asking them to continue the discussion in the comments
  • Creating an opportunity to expand on the post

One of the key parts of this strategy is the follow through.  When people email or comment that I missed a resource or should have included something else in my post, I usually include it.  Then I follow up with a comment or return email to thank them for the contribution.

Engage with commentators

When people comment on your content, engage with them.  It’s as simple as that.  If I think nobody is listening, I won’t comment.  An active discussion after a post is not only free, original content but it is interesting.  Half the time I Google something, I’m fed results from a comment discussion or forum.

Also important: be polite and respectful.  Nothing says amateur like a spiraling comment fight.  Keep it civil and thank people repeatedly for their discussion.  Do not engage with haters.

Be generous

Giveaways and contests

People like free things.  By organizing a giveaway or contest, you not only gain new readers but you reinforce the relationships with the ones you already have.  A content shows that the person behind the curtain is there and is attentive.  Organize an event that give your readers something they will really be interested in, related to your content focus.  Often this can be free as I described in this post about ways to promote your WordPress site.  Pingable recently organized a giveaway that was successful not just because we gained new readers and Facebook friends, but people realized we really care about our readers.

giveaways to build community with wordpress

Be consistent

Readers will come back if they have a positive experience, but also if they can expect that same quality experience every time they visit.  In order to be consistent, establish editorial guidelines and delegate someone to keep your site alive any time you have to step away.  Keep the discussion going, don’t respond one day and ignore everything the next.

Conclusion

Conclusion may not be the right word.  How about “next steps”. I would really like to hear from you, this post is just the beginning.  How have you built a community with your WordPress site?  How do you plan on engaging with your readers?

What’s new in WordPress 3.6

With an active development community, you can always count on regular releases as WordPress evolves.  WordPress 3.6 is currently in beta 3 with the option to download and test it.  There is also a plugin called WordPress Beta Tester you can use to test out the new stuff.  Even with this plugin, I would highly recommend setting up a dummy WordPress site to play with 3.6.  Do not use your production site.  So far, 150 contributors have made over 100 changes to WordPress.

Mark Jaquith, lead developer for the 3.6 release was quoted back in December regarding his intentions for the release:

I’d personally like the focus of the release to be about content editing (revisions, autosave, workflow, editing modes, etc)

Here are some of the nice new features you can expect:

Nicer post revision comparison

The current version of WordPress is difficult to use because the contrast between colors is weak.  Users are stuck trying to discern red on red and green on green which is not ideal.  WP 3.6 includes better contrast and an overall polished look.  Users now have access to Previous and Next buttons that allow for easy browsing of revisions.  This can be really helpful with multiple authors.

Also helpful for multiple authors, WordPress 3.6 improves on the feature of post locking.  With 3.6, blogs with multiple authors will be able to work on a post together without losing their modifications.  This is accomplished by locking posts during editing.  When a second author attempts to open a post that is being edited, they will receive a warning that it is locked.  The second author will have the ability to take control of the post, or abandon their attempt to edit.

Nicer Post Format Interface

Post formats were released in version 3.1, and have relied on some hand-coding to implement.  They are useful for changing how post content is displayed without changing the content itself.  The new post format interface will look something like this:

new post formats WP 3.6

Improved post auto-save

The underlying goal of this enhancement is to prevent authors from ever losing a post.  Historically, the WordPress auto-save feature was subject to an unbroken internet connection and server availability.  With WP 3.6, the auto-save will occur every 15 seconds with the remote server, or locally if that connection is unavailable.  The local copy will then be synced with the server.  This is made possible in part by modern browsers.

Bundled Theme Improvements

Personally, I have never used the TwentyThirteen or any of it’s predecessor themes on a production site.  But it is a handy foundation on which to build a the functionality of a WordPress site before looking at a design.  In WordPress 3.6, the bundled theme comes with some significant improvements.  Demo it here.  The developers have been pretty bold with the changes this go around.

twentythirteen

Custom Menus

Also a relatively new feature to the WordPress core, custom menus are being improved upon further.  The new menu UI will include a more polished checkbox select system, an accordion menu feature (wahoo!) and enhanced help text.

The new UI has a more defined workflow, forcing the user the select the necessary options such as adding menu items.  They do this by blocking all other options that are out of sequence.  The UI is further improved with a big “create new menu” button at the beginning.

Summary

WordPress 3.6 was set to release April 23rd of this year.  Mid-way through May, it seems like the developers have made a wise choice to not compromise quality and attention to detail in order to make a deadline.  I agree and wish them the best of luck.  Thanks for working tirelessly on this release.

Although nothing groundbreaking is found in this release, it addresses some significant bugs and polishes the overall functionality.  It’s better not to roll out a drastic change too often anyway.

See the full list of changes here.

We have 5 Copies of The Shock Bundle to Giveaway

The kind folks over at Themeshock have given us 5 copies of their “Shock Bundle” to give away to our readers. The Shock Bundle is a huge bundle that contains a lot of quality designs, this bundle includes all kind of resources with sources that any web designer would want for their next project, such as PSD and WordPress themes, multiple GUI elements, fantastic pixel perfect and realistic icons, handy photoshop actions, handwritten fonts, hundreds of logos, and many many others that can be seen at the product’s homepage. ThemeShock is a team behind some stunning projects like Jquery Slider Shock, one of the most flexible sliders on the web.

WP_theme_gen

resp

bokeh

pattern

vector

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Building a powerful social network with WordPress

WordPress is many things.  A blogging tool, a business tool, a constituent relationship manager (CRM), a community gathering place, even a social networking platform.  With the right plugins and powerful theme, WordPress can be given the tools to create a social networking platform that rivals the big boys.

Why build a social networking platform on WordPress?  There are lots of good answers to this question.  Not the least of which is the WordPress platform is one of the simplest, fastest and most secure platforms on which to build.  Additionally, WordPress comes to you lean and clean, without unnecessary add-ons.  (This is why I switched away from Joomla! years ago).  With WordPress, you can pick and choose the features you need, and leave the rest.  But I’m preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?

When building a social network on WordPress, you have several choices.

The all-in-one solution: BuddyPress

buddypress

BuddyPress is a ready made collection of plugins that were built to work together.  The BuddyPress core enables the individual plugins and thus, is required.  Every other option is up to you.  The latest version is 1.7, released April 8th, 2013.  Known as “Totonno”, BuddyPress 1.7 brings some cool new features to the old BuddyPress.  The full feature list is available on the official Codex, but here are some of my favorite new and old features:

  • BuddyPress can now work seamlessly with almost any WordPress theme.  Previously, a WordPress admin would have to find a BuddyPress compatible theme, that problem is no more.
  • Rich group administration makes it easier to manage subgroups within your WordPress social network.
  • Installation is now much easier.  Previous versions of BuddyPress required quite a few steps for the admin, now the whole thing is automatic.  Suh-weet.

The options

BuddyPress has the capability to offer the following features for a social networking site:

  • Rich user registration
  • Customizable user profiles
  • Messages between users
  • Connectability between users (think Facebook friend function)
  • Full integration with bbPress, the forum designed by the creators of WordPress
  • User blogs, each user can write their own blog
  • And lots more with plugins for BuddyPress

Themes

BuddyPress also comes with a small collection of theme designers that are striving to make WordPress themes specifically for BuddyPress sites.  I’ve found the free stuff to not be worth it, but the premium BuddyPress themes at ThemeForest are really nice.  With Totonno, you can also use any other WordPress theme you love.

The analysis

BuddyPress seems to be the oldest project that adds social networking functionality to WordPress.  Age doesn’t guarantee the top choice, but it does lend itself to a more comprehensive solution.  But there are others you should consider before making a choice.

The minimalist solution: WP Mingle

wpmingle

The options

Mingle is newer and smaller, but has real promise.  It offers many of the core features of BuddyPress, with a vibrant community as well.  Features include:

  • User profiles
  • Friending between users
  • Profile posting and commenting
  • Member directory
  • Email notifications

WPMingle is very simple with a smaller but vibrant community of developers building plugins to support it.  It seems to be mainly supported by the primary developer, Blair Williams.  Blair is the genious behind Pretty Link, a heavily used WordPress link redirect and cloaking plugin.

Plugins developed for WPMingle include integration with AWeber, a forum, donation button and friend request widget.

Themes

Blair recommends Thesis Theme, because WPMingle has not been tested or developed to work with everything.  A serious drawback, but the theme shouldn’t be your only parameter when choosing a WordPress social networking option.

The Analysis

WP Mingle would be better if you just need the features listed above.  If you are looking to build a truly powerful social network, consider going with BuddyPress.  With any larger, more comprehensive plugin, you may loose some flexibility with customizations.

What did I miss?  Please comment below to make this article even better!