Simple:Press Forum – Is The Best Good Enough?

Q2A Update

I no longer support or recommend Simple:Press. Please search here for Question2Answer if you want a forum for your hosted WordPress website.


Simple:Press Forum is definitely [edit: no longer] the best forum software I’ve used for WordPress.

There is no WordPress plugin to touch it, and the alternatives are simply too cumbersome to integrate.

For most needs, Simple:Press forum provides all that you need, but I’ve also mentioned before that it is not as simple to administer as some – but only because it has a wealth of options. And under the lid, tweaking the code is not particularly easy – again because there is so much included that it can be hard to find exactly what you want to change.

Mechanics aside, I have been trying for months to develop a simpler alternative built on posts and comments. This is not the most difficult coding challenge, but it is time-consuming, and there always seems something more important to do. Whilst doing the more important things, I noticed that Pods CMS has recently changed there forum for a completely different, simpler interface.

Looking deeper, I saw that it was based on Stack Overflow. Similar, in some ways, to Yahoo Answers, this approach means that we can focus on answering questions. This is a bit of an eye-opener for me, and I realize that promoting a forum to answer questions and share experiences and opinions is asking too much for one application.

I’ve decided to split my forum into a Question And Answer Section and a Discussion Forum. In an ideal world, these would be linked, and it would be absolutely possible to build such a beast with Pods CMS. But the time to build this from scratch means I’d rather look for something usable now, and seek better integration later.

The key here is to find something usable that is easily integrated into WordPress.

Step forward Question2Answer.

I’ve installed it on own of my sites, and I’ll report back on the details later. I’ve no intention to import questions from Simple:Press Forum, as I believe the two applications can work side by side. There will probably be a few more integration issues, but installation of Question2Answer using the WordPress user records was surprisingly easy.

Rather than repeat it here, I’ll refer you to my Question2Answer WordPress installation notes on the author’s support site.

WordPress 3.0 Beta

WordPress 3.0 Beta is now available, so I used it today on a new website.

I wouldn’t normally use a beta version on a production website, but the full release will be available before that site is fully live, giving me a chance to test some new features.

Site installation continues to be simple, and I took the simplest option of using the automatic script provided by my server host. This has the nice option of changing the default admin username to something less guessable – always a good idea for improved security.

WordPress Settings

Settings are the same as version 2, so I made the usual adjustments: Continue reading

WordPress Plugin: Promotion Tool

Many of you looking for a WordPress plugin promotion tool have stumbled across my Happiness Today plugin.

You seem disappointed that the next version is where the real promotion potential lies, but the good news is that you do not need to wait.

If you have downloaded and activated Happiness Today, then you already have a tool for displaying random (or selected) promotion messages in your WordPress posts, pages or sidebar.

The main appeal of Pods is the way it makes extending the WordPress database so easy. But stored data is of little use if you cannot present it to your visitors. My first release of Happiness Today was just to prove that, like Hello Dolly does for standard WordPress, it is very easy to build a basic plugin. That basic plugin instantly demonstrates how Pods stores and displays data. In keeping with the Hello Dolly tradition, I displayed random lyrics in the Admin area – but the real life potential was always to be able to produce something simple yet useful, that can display random promotion messages to visitors.

Those promotional features are included in the current release, just not obvious. Here’s how to use Pods inbuilt features to get more from the Happiness Today plugin. Start your marketing campaign now. Continue reading

WordPress Pods: Food For Thought

The data-presentation link is vital. To get the best out of WordPress Pods, it pays to study the sample that is packaged with the Pods CMS plugin, and the more advanced examples in the Pods Packages directory.

It is also vital to have a clear plan of the presentation outcomes that you need.

When describing the data aspect of my first plugin, I wrote of the importance of thoroughly analyzing the relationship between the presentation of content required, and the structure of data needed to support it. Recently, I saw a question on the Pods Support Forum that seemed to relate to this area. I was particularly interested in it because the issues seemed to be similar to matters I had encountered with my shrewdBar WordPress menu bar plugin.

The difficulty with forum discussions is fully understanding what the issues are. If one is sat with a client, or even on a video link, it is easy to mock up a quick display and discuss what the presentation should actually look like. Difficulties are compounded with cultural and time-zone differences. But, “All is one in their own way,” and the power of the Internet allows the following attempt at understanding the problem and suggesting a solution.

I hope it solves the problem it tries to address, but even if it doesn’t, I’ve learned a neat CSS trick that I’ll be using again.

Basic Pods Data Display

First, create the Pod (Pods – Setup – Pods – Add new pod) using the data supplied.WordPress Pods Table
Second, Continue reading

Pods WordPress Plugins Double Overnight

Today, the number of WordPress Pods plugins in the plugin database doubled.

My Happiness Today plugin release joins the Pods UI plugin to double the number of examples of Pods CMS use.

Though this is released as a teaching tool, you should not assume it is perfect. Though it works perfectly, there are a few rough edges in the implementation. But that is the point of Open Source tools – we can improve all aspects of Happiness Today, collectively.

I like the idea of the Hello Dolly plugin as a teaching tool. Though it is criticized for it’s limited usefulness, the WordPress developers have defended it, by rightly explaining:

I think Hello Dolly is a good little example plugin. Users can turn it on, see that it does something, turn it off, see that it doesn’t do it anymore. Plugin functionality exemplified.

This is perfectly true, and useful for novice WordPress users who want to understand what a plugin is, without being intimidated by reams of PHP code. But Pods developers are a different breed. We have varying PHP & HTML skills, but we are bound by a common desire to learn and extend WordPress functionality.

So Happiness Today goes beyond the remit of Hello Dolly, and achieves useful outcomes. Using the simple Pods data edit screens, you can transform Hello Dolly into a client support tool, or promotion tool for any campaign where short messages to WordPress website builders are going to win you a click or three.

Simple Pods WordPress Plugin Output

Simple Pods WordPress Plugin Output

Though I have used plain text in the distributed plugin, the data is stored as rich text, so you can easily include images and hyperlinks in the message display. This is in addition to the included customizable link buttons. After editing the data files with whatever text you need, you can easily import it as a Pods Package for your client sites.

I prepared the plugin in minutes using the Pods Plugin Builder that is the real goal of this project. In fact, most of the time is spent writing the readme.txt file that is generated as part of the plugin distribution package. That tool is still under development, but when available, it will make distribution of your own version of Happiness Today, or any other Pods Package, a very simple process.

Happiness Today Next Steps

Please contribute ideas to the wishlist. Also, if you are a superb PHP programmer, I would love to here your thoughts on code improvement.

I would also like to you to rate the Happiness Today Pods WordPress plugin, but if you cannot give it a 5 star, at least give me the opportunity to fix any problems you have before you vote.

WordPress Database With Pods Wings

I start my detailed look at the anatomy of our WordPress Pods plugins by showing you how Pods CMS makes the WordPress database fly.

Though we are all working with data at the heart of the WordPress database, we often take it for granted.

But data drives our content, our navigation, our presentation, our whole website.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we managed it properly?

I must confess, I love data. Actually, that’s as perverted as loving money – I actually love what can be done with data, rather than data itself. Structured and handled properly, application development, from the most basic WordPress plugin to a full blown web application becomes much more scalable and easier to manage if we get the data right.

WordPress Database With Pods

WordPress Database With Pods (click image for full size)

Our sample project Happiness Today, relies on data, just as it’s inspiration, Hello Dolly does. Whereas Hello Dolly data, the song lyrics, are hard-coded in the plugin, Happiness Today data is put where it belongs – in the WordPress database.

Each Pods project starts with data. This is the basic building block, known simply as a Pod. In complex applications, the hard part is learning how to structure data, especially if it needs to be split into different Pods.

Our example is very simple – every record in the Pod is just a lyric from the song. Experience tells me that I need keys to data in databases. In this case I use a simple line number identifier, which allows me to sort the records should I wish to output the whole song.

It is a good habit to always think of record keys when designing a Pod, or any other database. Pods helps us here by always creating a field called name, which will always uniquely identify records. With the Pod created, we simply need to add the text to each record, which we do with the standard Pods CMS record editing screens.

Job done, except that we need to get the data out. Continue reading

WordPress Pods Projects Going For A Song

When I introduced my WordPress Pods Plugin Builder yesterday, I hinted at an example project to test the builder with.

I can reveal that this will be an homage to the ubiquitous Hello Dolly plugin – with some extras, and some Pods magic.

Just to remind you. I love Pods as it is intended to be used – a Content Management System that extends WordPress Pages and Posts to allow developers to provide new content styles. This is extremely important to me as I develop new tools for webmasters, and new web applications to extend my health sites.

But for the moment, I’m hooked (pun intended) on using Pods to hook rapidly developed packages into WordPress as plugins. This series of articles explains the Pods features used to create WordPress plugin files complete with readme.txt. WordPress explains what a plugin is by way of the Hello Dolly example. In a similar way, I needed a very simple plugin application to test and demonstrate my WordPress Pods Plugin Builder.

Enter Soft Charisma, the music company run by Scott Kingsley Clark, one of Pods lead developers. Scott has written the perfect song to complement Hello Dolly – Think Of Happiness Today.

Happiness Today Plugin

Happiness Today Plugin - click for large size

My plugin, Happiness Today, displays random lyrics from the song on the admin pages. So far, so Hello Dolly, but there are extras: Continue reading

WordPress Pods Plugin Builder Taking Shape

WordPress Pods CMS plugin is fantastic for adding new content to websites that do not easily fit the standard Page or Post styles.

With it’s easy to use interface, it is good for novice writers, but it also stands on a very powerful data management platform.

This makes it a real candidate for Rapid Application Development, but how to package and distribute those applications?

Before I present my latest project for building structured WordPress plugins, packaged with properly formatted readme file, straight from the Pods interface let me explain what Pods is.
Continue reading

Make Microformats Work For You – Ignore Them

Microformats are the latest topic to confuse budding webmasters.

But are they relevant to WordPress website owners, and will they help or hinder your marketing efforts.

More to the point – what are they?

The buzz for webmasters is that microformats help you on Google. But there are one or two fairly large points missing from that.

Before we look into those, let me explain what microformats are. They are tags in your web page, similar in operation to HTML tags. Whereas HTML tags change the appearance of text, microformats tell search engines and other robots what your text means. More specifically they describe the context of your text as structured data.

Whoopi-f-ing-doo you cry, or at least “so what.”

But wait, this is important.

If a search engine can interpret the type of information you are presenting, it can list you better. It puts your information into the right context. You can explicitly distinguish the author of a work from a work about an author.

Your words, with these descriptive tags, are known as rich snippets. If you currently earn money by providing content that includes reviews, people, businesses, organizations, events or video, then you need these snippets to help you get richer.

Why Microformats?

A search engine that might have sent you a little traffic from time to time has more information on rich snippets (including a validation tool), but before you investigate that, consider what is missing from the “Google & Microformats: Drive More Traffic” article. Continue reading

WordPress WYSIWYG Made Easy

What you see is not always what you get with WordPress.

WordPress WYSIWYG

  • Easily add site-wide WYSIWYG textareas
  • Beware the Internet Explorer trap
  • Download to avoid losing service
  • Configure options for best results

By default, the standard WordPress WYSIWYG editor is TinyMCE – but it is a non-standard implementation, and it is only used in new posts, not comments.

There are many plugins that extend both the functionality and application of TinyMCE. Life can get very complicated checking all the options, but I stopped looking when I road tested Front-end Editor. This uses the NicEdit WYSIWYG editor, which is very easy to implement.

I looked at the WP NicEdit plugin, but it is no longer supported. Anyway, I checked out the NicEdit site, and it only needs a couple of lines of code, so I just added them to my footer. Being short of time, I took the lazy option of linking direct to the NicEdit site, using the two lines of code on the NicEdit homepage, instead of installing on my own server. I regretted that, but it was easily fixed, with some interesting options, which I will explain soon.

First let me mention a terrible problem (with a praise-winning fix) I found when I tested in Internet Explorer instead of my faithful Firefox. Continue reading