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5 WordPress Plugins That I Simply Can’t Live Without (and Why)

WordPRess TattooI’m an enormous WordPress evangelist. I use it for all of my class websites, project websites, and personal websites (and have been doing so for a while). Profhacker is certainly no stranger to WordPress (WP). We’ve written on all manner of WP topics, including (but certainly not limited to) David Perry’s WordPress a Better LMS, Jeff’s Hacking an Alternative Department Site with WordPress, and Julie’s Thinking about WordPress Plugins? I’m going to go right along with this trend, and continue my “5 Things I Can’t Live WIthout” series with look at the five plugins that I always install when rolling a new WordPress site.

A couple of caveats (as is customary): first, these are plugins that I can’t live without. As Julie said in her Thinking about WordPress Plugins? post (which I would consider to be an awesome prerequisite for this post), “the ‘must-have’ plugins for academic blogs are as diverse as the uses of those blogs.” Second, this list is specific to self-installed and self-served versions of WP, as opposed to blogs hosted on wordpress.com (for a primer on the differences between wordpress.org and wordpress.com, check out this information). So, with the caveats out of the way, let’s make with the list!

Akismet

Akismet is the ultimate spam filter. It’s frighteningly efficient and dead simple to setup. It comes with WP, so all you really need to do is activate it, sit back, and relax. Seriously, it just works. In all my years using Akismet as my spam filter, I can’t remember a single piece of comment or trackback spam getting through. The only think you need to do when activating Akismet is enter your WP API Key. Where do you get an API key? Well, its pretty simple. To obtain a WP API key, you simply need to register for a WordPress.com account. For more detailed instructions as to where you can find your WP API Key, check out this information. The good thing is that Akismet is free for personal/educational use. If you want to use Akismet in a commercial setting, you’ll need to buy a commercial license. For pro-bloggers, this means ponying up $5/month for a license. Larger companies will need to pay $50/month for an enterprise license. It is worth mentioning that Akismet isn’t just for WP. Akismet is actually an API that can be applied to almost any system with submitted content. These platforms and systems have adapted the Akismet API for their spam filtering needs.

WP-DB-Backup

For many of us, losing our blog’s content could be devastating. Years of writing (both personal and professional) gone because of one database failure—the thought is truly chilling. The solution to this catastrophic scenario is relatively easy. Back up your site and your databse. Kathleen has already gone into great detail about how you do this in her Backing Up Your WordPress Blog post. I cannot agree enough with her recommendation of the WP-DB-Backup plugin. It’s a simple way to backup your site’s entire database (and either download the file manually or have it emailed to you). You can also get WP-DB-Backup to back up your database up on a regular schedule (and have the file automatically emailed to you). If your site implodes catastrophically, all you need to do is restore your database with one of the backups using phpMyAdmin (here is a handy tutorial on how to do this).

CryptX

As I’ve already discussed in my Developping a Personal Open Courseware Strategy post, all of my courses are open access. The problem with this is that my contact information (namely my email) is accessible to anyone who wanders into the course website. And since anyone can wander into the website, I run the risk of having my email harvested by bots and exploited by spammers. The thing is, I could provide my email directly to students, thereby removing it from the prying eyes of spammers. However, I also want my contact info to be available for people who aren’t in the class, so removing the email entirely is out. Email encryption is the next best thing. And for that, I use the CryptX plugin. Essentially, CryptX lets you use a wide variety of methods (JavaScript or UNICODE) to encrypt email addressed on a website so that they aren’t harvested by bots.

WP-Sticky

All of my classes require that students blog on the course website (usually on a weekly basis). The result is that the front page of the site is often a flurry of new content (with older content being pushed inexorably to the bottom, and eventually off the front page). The problem with this is that if I post something important (an announcement or reminder) it will often get pushed off the front page pretty quickly without being noticed by many of the students. WP-Sticky to the rescue! Basically, WP-Sticky is a little plugin that lets me make posts “sticky,” thereby forcing them to stay at the top of the page. When I no longer want that post stuck at the top of the page, I just “un-stick” it, and it drops into its regular place in the post history.

Smart YouTube

While I’m not a dedicated YouTube user, I do find that I occasionally need to insert YouTube videos into posts or pages. Under normal circumstances, I would need to go into the post or page’s HTML editor, and manually enter the <object> element (with all necessary associated attributes and values). While this isn’t incredible difficult, it can get tiresome after adding a few videos. The Smart YouTube plugin lets you cut corners a little bit. All you need to do is copy the video’s URL into the post (as opposed to the whole <object> element), and you are good to go. The plugin lets you set the default dimensions of all inserted videos as well as the color scheme of the player itself. While Smart YouTube isn’t a “one click” solution, it certainly helps the process of adding YouTube videos to your posts and pages.

Ok, now its sharing time. What are your essential WP plugins?

[Image by Flickr user takamorry / Creative Commons licensed]

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