Boost your WordPress blog with Jetpack

jetpacklogoIf you self-host a WordPress blog, one of the most useful plug-ins you can install is Jetpack, created by WordPress publisher Automattic originally for blogs built on the hosted WordPress.com service

The Jetpack plug-in has recently been updated to version 2, which now makes it an indispensible part of your blog presence on the social web.

Jetpack offers a huge range of features, services and functionality that enhances your WordPress experience – both yours as the content publisher and those who interact with your content.

With version 2, Jetpack currently brings nearly two dozen modules that you activate to use in your WordPress site.

jetpackdashboard

Once you install the plugin, it created a dashboard in your WordPress admin through which you manage all aspects of it.

You will need an account at WordPress.com even if you don’t have or plan to have a blog there, as the plugin connects with data and services in the WordPress cloud. Opening an account is free of charge.

You use the Jetpack modules you want, which may not be all of them. I have some activated, not all; the ones I find very useful are these:

  • Comments: enables your visitors to use WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook accounts when commenting on your site.
  • Subscriptions: Allow users to subscribe to your posts and comments to receive a notification via email.
  • Contact Form: Easily insert a contact form any where on your site.
  • Sharing: The most super duper sharing tool on the interwebs. Share content with Facebook, Twitter, and many more.
  • Shortcode Embeds: Easily embed videos and more from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
  • WP.me Shortlinks: Enable WP.me-powered shortlinks for all of your Posts and Pages for easier sharing.
  • Mobile Theme: Automatically optimize your site for mobile devices.
  • Enhanced Distribution: Share your public posts and comments to search engines and other services in real-time.
  • Custom CSS: Customize the appearance of your site using CSS but without modifying your theme.

I’ve dispensed with other plugins where Jetpack offers similar or better functionality. It’s definitely a core plugin that will give any self-hosted WordPress blog a boost.

Moving on from Feedburner to Feedblitz

feedburner2feedblitz

After seven years, it’s time to say goodbye to Feedburner and say hello to Feedblitz.

A week ago, I wrote about my worries that RSS feeds delivered via Feedburner might not work after October 20, after a note on the Google Developers’ Feedburner website said that the Feedburner APIs would shut down on that date.

I noted at the time:

RSS is the “delivery backbone” for creating and delivering much of the content that people use the internet for. You would have thought that turning off the flow of content that’s used by so many people and businesses is a pretty big deal, one that would warrant some communication from Google. I can find none.

There’s been some big confusion over what Google actually intends, with many people simply wondering as I did if it meant no RSS feeds – or email subscriptions – any more. There’s been no clarity from Google, so I think it hardly surprising that Twitter has been awash with tweets from people wondering about their subscriptions that Feedburner delivers, both RSS and email.

While some knowledgeable voices have expressed doubt that the Feedburner API closure means no more RSS, it hasn’t diminished concerns.

So I reached out directly to Google to ask for clarification – and never had a reply.

It was after reading a post a few days ago on Jay Baer‘s website on why he moved from Feedburner to Feedblitz that I decided to make the same move.

So I followed Feedblitz’ excellent migration guide and I’m now set up to serve content to subscribers to this blog via RSS and email using Feedblitz’ services.

quickfeedinfo

I’m especially impressed with the seamless way in which Feedblitz carried out its migration, puling in all the RSS and email details it needed from Feedburner to replicate everything at Feedblitz in a way that’s transparent to current subscribers – you should not experience any interruption in your subscription.

The one thing in the migration process that did give me pause for thought was the need to disable Google’s 2-step verification process in order for Feedblitz’ migration wizard to work. But I did, let Feedblitz do its work and then re-enabled 2-step verification. The downside is that some of the apps on my smartphone and computers that access my Google accounts via APIs needed re-verification, something to be aware of if you use 2-step verification.

Feedblitz is a paid service compared to Feedburner which is free, and its pricing structure is based on how many email subscribers you have, not how many RSS subscribers. If, like me, you have many RSS and few email, it’s a low-cost and viable option. Vice-versa, be prepared to pay more.

Note, too, that Feedblitz isn’t the only game in town if you’re looking for an alternative to Feedburner. For instance, read what Jim Connolly chose to do as he migrated his email subscriptions away from Feedburner.

I haven’t yet learned all about the depth and breadth of what Feedblitz offers me as a web publisher compared to Feedburner. For now, I’m pleased that I have enabled a service in which I have much greater confidence will be around for a long time.

So why not take a look at Feedblitz, which offers a 30-day free trial.

Related post:

Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012

feedburnerapideprecated

[Update September 15: Moving on from Feedburner to Feedblitz. I decided to move away from Feedburner. The post you’re reading, and it’s update at the end, tries to throw some light on a murky picture, with limited success. I’ve made my decision to go to Feedblitz, explained in the new post.]

Did you know that Google intends to shut down access to Feedburner’s APIs on October 20? A banner note on the Google Developers Feedburner API page makes that intent clear:

Important: The Google Feedburner APIs have been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011 will be shut down on October 20, 2012.

It is the case that Google signalled a limited future for Feedburner with its deprecation post in May last year:

[…] Following the standard deprecation period – often, as long as three years – some of the deprecated APIs will be shut down. The rest have no scheduled date for shutdown, but won’t get any new features. The policy for each deprecated API is specified in its documentation.

The post then listed a number of deprecated APIs that have no scheduled shutdown date, including Feedburner.

Well, we now do have that date – October 20, 2012.

What this means is that if you use Feedburner as a service that enables readers of your blog to receive your content via RSS or email every time you update the blog – and that includes audio and video (eg, podcasts), not only text content – that will cease working on October 20.

I’ve been using Feedburner since 2004. Over 3,200 RSS subscribers get posts every time I publish one, as do email subscribers. My content is widely syndicated via services like Newstex, Demand Media, CIPR Conversation and Web Pro News – all of which get that content from its RSS feed… via Feedburner. Shel and I use Feedburner for the FIR podcast.

I’ve looked hard and can find no mention anywhere of this Feedburner API shut-down on any Google website other than the banner text on the website I mentioned earlier. There’s no mention of the closure at all, anywhere, in my account at Feedburner. And if I click the link on "Feedburner blog" in my account, I get the Google Adsense for Feeds blog – which itself closed down in July.

Feedburner is the means by which over a million RSS feeds on websites deliver content to people according to the Wikipedia entry on Feedburner (and that was the figure in  2007: it must have grown even a little since then). Those websites include big media properties, mainstream and social, alongside individual bloggers like me.

RSS is the "delivery backbone" for creating and delivering much of the content that people use the internet for. You would have thought that turning off the flow of content that’s used by so many people and businesses is a pretty big deal, one that would warrant some communication from Google. I can find none.

It seems to me that Google isn’t taking any of this seriously at all.

I first heard about this when Rebecca Caroe emailed me a few weeks ago, and which was a discussion topic on FIR episode 666 on August 27. Yet at that time, no one had any clear information on a closure date.

Rebecca pointed me to a prescient post by Dan Thornton on August 3 which asked "Is Feedburner about to be closed by Google?" Dan linked to a migration guide by FeedBlitz – a Feedburner competitor with a paid service offering – and an interesting discussion thread on Dave Winer’s blog entitled "What if Feedburner closes?" on two technically-oriented ways to deal with the shutdown and keep your RSS continuity:

1. Google can use the redirection facilities built into the web to send traffic to the Feedburner version of your feed back to its original location. That way people can keep publishing their feed contents and the subscribers will continue to receive updates. It’s crucial that the connection between publishers and subscribers be preserved.

2. You can use the facility that Google provides to map a CNAME to your feed, so that if Google shuts down Feedburner, you can point that name at your main server, and your feed could continue to be accessed even if Google does not provide a redirect.

Without some signal from Google, I wouldn’t assume on the former happening at all. The latter approach looks more feasible.

If you use WordPress, you can simply revert back to your blog’s native RSS feed (which will be the underlying source for the Feedburner feed). You can also continue to serve your email subscribers with WordPress’ email subscription service. Other blogging platforms and services may have similar procedures.

Whatever you decide to do, you should take action right now.

feedburnerapishut

(Hat tip to Jim Connolly for the heads up on the Feedburner shut-down date.)

[Update Sept 10, 11:45am:] As some of the comments on this post indicate, there is strong doubt that Google’s planned shutdown of the Feedburner APIs next month means that RSS feeds will no longer work.

Similar opinions have been shared in the discussion about this post on Google+.

Such opinions have validity, especially when they’re expressed by people I know and whose opinions I do respect. Adam Tinworth, for instance on Google+:

[…] Closing an API is not the same thing as closing the service. The Feedburner APIs did very little other than give you a way of pulling your Feedburner subscription stats into other metrics systems. The death of the API will kill a few WordPress plugins and some app, but not much else. The core business of serving feeds and providing metrics on them is not dependent on the APIs, and those services are unlikely to go away as long as Google sees value in serving ads through feeds. Given where Google makes the majority of its money, I suspect that day will be a long time coming.

A more positive read of this would be that they’re sweeping away the deprecated (and, I suspect, ill-used) APIs prior to the final integration of Feedburner into the rest of Google.

However, positive or negative, their communication has been terrible.

[…] RSS feeds should work absolutely fine after the API is shut down. They do not require or use the API.

David Kutcher, too. I don’t know David but his comments make sense:

[…]  unfortunately I can see what happened here: a development manager posted that update on the FeedBurner Developer site intended for developers that understood what they were talking about. When that post was picked up by non-developers it of course became confused.  I doubt any Google employee is going to post anything, mainly because to them (the development manager) they probably think they’re being crystal clear. The API is being shut down with no mention of the service.?

I’ve reached out directly to Google for clarity; if I get a response, I’ll add a further update.

Live blogging comes to WordPress

[UPDATE: Venturebeat reports that a serious bug exists in this plugin. It seems that the developers created the plugin and tested it on a pre-release version of the next version of the WordPress software. My recommendation: don’t use the plugin until you have installed an updated version that has been verified that it corrects the deadly issue(s). Hat tip for the news to Julio Romo.]

If you use the self-hosted WordPress open-source blogging tool and content management system, a new feature has just been launched by its developer, Automattic, that let’s you live-blog an event in real time, using only your blog.

This short video succinctly explains how the new WordPress plugin works:

(If you don’t see the video embedded here, watch it at WordPress.)

Key features:

  • Post updates right from the front-end of your site (no need to use the /wp-admin dashboard).
  • Viewers of your Liveblog get new entries served to them instantly and automatically, without needing to refresh their browser.
  • Your authors can drag-and-drop photos right into the Liveblog area, without needing to navigate to separate browser tabs or windows.
  • There’s no need for a separate site dedicated to liveblogging: every post can be a liveblog, even existing ones.

Automattic says the plugin was developed primarily with its paying WordPress VIP hosted customers in mind, typically large organizations including media companies who pay for enterprise-class hosting services, and who need different guarantees of service and levels or support than, say, a small business or individual blogger.

The plugin is also available to anyone with a self-hosted WordPress blog, as a free plugin you just install. As it’s been open-sourced, it’s also available on Github, the collaborative software development resource and code-hosting service.

I remember when live blogging service CoverItLive launched in 2008. Wow, I thought, a terrific way to to live blog an event, in real time as it happened, using a full range of rich media content: text, audio, video, images, etc, that you can include into each additional text you write. You’d also have a ‘recording’ of your content for access by anyone after your event.

A plugin that let you tweet to your WordPress blog came in 2009. I tried it, thought it was terrific, but it was unreliable and the developer didn’t continue to support it.

A lot more has happened since then, with the advent of many other tools to enable anyone to live blog an event. It’s a role that free tools like Twitter, Tumblr and Storify have fulfilled in many instances, often complementing live-writing and -updating traditional blog posts on the fly – effective, though rather cumbersome and clumsy.

In addition, CoverItLive changed its business model that saw it move to being a wholly-paid service.

I think such an add-on to enhance the functionality and use of WordPress will be warmly welcomed by bloggers, journalists and other writers who like to cover events or do so professionally (thinking of you, Adam Tinworth, especially). Those events don’t necessarily mean big product launches or media happenings: they can just as easily be seminars, workshops and conferences – anywhere that something’s happening that you’d like to get the word out to a wider audience as it happens.

Automattic just disrupted the market.

(Via TNW Apps)

[Later:] Following Andrew Spong’s observation, I’ve edited this post to clarify an important point that the plugin is not for hosted WordPress.com blogs except the paid WordPress VIP service, and for self-hosted WordPress.org blogs. (I get confused with the different WordPress naming sometimes.)

I also came across GigaOM Liveblog, a free plugin “to produce a fully functional, scalable solution that could be used for future events that should be live-blogged.” It doesn’t look comparable to Automattic’s offering, but it might be worth a look as well.

Related posts:

Giving you a choice about cookies

cookiemonsterA year ago a law – known as Directive 2009/136/EC – came into effect throughout the European Union on the use of cookies on websites, requiring a website owner to seek visitors’ consent to cookies being saved to their computers when they visit a website (more on cookies).

Implementing the law in the UK was delayed for a year to give businesses time to become compliant. The Information Commissioner’s Office – responsible for policing the implementation of the UK-specific version of the EU law – has detailed information about the so called ‘cookie law’ and related topics.

The year of grace in the UK expires today, May 26, from which moment websites in the UK are supposed to be telling visitors about how their sites are using cookies, and giving visitors a means to indicate their agreement or not.

While I do believe this law was set up with all the best intentions, its implementation seems to have lacked a clear plan of execution. So many EU members states, so many different needs.  In the UK, there’s fear, uncertainty and doubt out there about cookies generally and this law in particular. Indeed, some estimate that few UK websites have yet to even start thinking about the cookie law and becoming compliant, something the ICO say they’re addressing through communication and awareness-raising.

Add to this a last-minute change in the UK requirements made by the ICO just a few days ago, and its no wonder the FUD looms large for many people.

Here, concisely, is what you need to know about the UK cookie law:

  1. If you’re in the UK and have a website that sets a cookie on a visitor’s computer – which will include a mobile device like a smartphone – you must comply with the law to let people know about cookies. That means a method to communicate that when visitors arrive on your site.
  2. Given the ICO’s last-minute change where communicating information about your website’s cookie use no longer requires an explicit approval by a visitor – the ICO is happy with what it’s calling ‘implied consent’ – communicating your site’s cookie use is sufficient to comply with the law. However, the ICO qualifies its advice in the latest version of its guidance document in some detail, thus:
    • Implied consent is a valid form of consent and can be used in the context of compliance with the revised rules on cookies.
    • If you are relying on implied consent you need to be satisfied that your users understand that their actions will result in cookies being set. Without this understanding you do not have their informed consent.
    • You should not rely on the fact that users might have read a privacy policy that is perhaps hard to find or difficult to understand.
    • In some circumstances, for example where you are collecting sensitive personal data such as health information, you might feel that explicit consent is more appropriate.

So, in essence, the very least you must do is tell your visitors about your cookies, how they’re being used and what that means for the visitor.

Logical questions now for many people – I had them myself – is how do you do this? What would you say? Are there examples of wording you can use? What happens if someone objects to cookies on your website? And what about blogs – do they need to comply with the cookie law?

There are many good sources offering answers or help to most of these questions, especially:

As for blogs, think about it – blogs are websites. So if your blog sets cookies – and it’s almost certain that it will do, eg, if you use Google Analytics, if you enable visitors to log in to comment, or if you have buttons to tweet, like or +1 – then you, too, need to be compliant.

If you have a WordPress blog, as I do, there are a number of plugins that automates the process to present the visitor with a message about cookies on your blog.

One I discovered a few weeks ago is the EU Cookie Muncher plugin by Scott Evans that can help you make your blog compliant. Here’s how it works:

[…] First off we check the IP address of the visitor. If they appear to be outside of the EU then the plugin is not loaded. Next we scan your sites HTML for scripts and tools that do not comply with the directive, such as Google Analytics, twitter and Facebook social buttons. These scripts are removed from the page and a customisable notification is shown to the user inviting them to “accept cookies”. Once they accept cookies the preference is remembered for one year and your cookie setting scripts jump back to life.

I think it’s a nice solution, especially if it shows the popup only to those who need to see it, ie, people within the EU. So if you’re in the US, for instance, you shouldn’t see it at all. Unlike most WordPress plugin, it’s not free (you pay $12 for a single license). I plan to implement it on my blog as I believe it’s a good and simple way to be compliant with the cookie law. (I would have done that already except the version I have throws up a 500 server error every time I activate it. Hope to have that situation resolved before the end of the weekend.)

Given the last-minute changes in the law, as I mentioned earlier, developer Scott Evans says he’ll be updating the plugin this weekend to reflect those changes.

There are other such solutions, too, which are worth checking out.

My site uses few cookies as this screenshot via the View Cookies Firefox extension shows:

nhcomcookies26apr12

Here’s what those cookies are:

  • The ones with filenames starting with an underscore are Google Analytics cookies, relating to tech info about how many visitors, what they look at, etc.
  • Those with ‘wp’ in the filename are related to WordPress and, specifically in this case, my own use of my site related to my logging in as the administrator. You shouldn’t get those on your computer ;)
  • The one with ‘wptouch’ in the name is for the WP Touch plugin for WordPress that is set for visitors on mobile devices so they get a mobile version of the site on their device rather than a desktop version. (That’s a terrific example of a valuable cookie that helps you get the best experience here by ‘remembering’ your preference.)

I don’t have any paid advertising on my site so there are no ad tracking cookies whatsoever.

Does all this make you feel more confident about what happens with cookies when you visit this site? Please share your thoughts – I’d love to know. Also, tell me about your experiences in making your own site compliant. Thanks.

EU Cookie Law: The conundrum in numbers [Infographic]

Share on Pinterest if you have the right

pinterestscreenshot

One online property that’s been getting huge attention over the past few weeks is Pinterest, the join-by-invitation content-sharing and social networking service.

Not only huge attention but also huge take-up by its users – TechCrunch reported earlier this month with data from comScore showing Pinterest reached 11.7 million unique monthly US visitors, crossing the 10 million mark “faster than any other standalone website in history.”

Like many other people, I’ve been experimenting with Pinterest although I’ve yet to really get going and ‘pin’ much content that I gather from my travels around the web that I’d want to share with a community at Pinterest. Clearly I’m not the right gender demographic anyway as 97 percent of Pinterest users are female, says PC Magazine.

Be that as it may! If you use Pinterest, I’m making it simple for you to share content you find on this blog as Twitter Facebook Google Plus One Social Share, the WordPress plugin I use that creates the social sharing buttons you see at the end of each post, now includes a Pinterest sharing button.

pinitsharebutton

Any of my content you share from NevilleHobson.com – whether it’s text, an image, video or audio – is covered by a Creative Commons license. Whatever service you use to share it, you don’t need to ask my permission beforehand. As long as you abide by the terms of that license, or agree a change in those terms with me first, you’re ok from a copyright perspective.

That may not be true elsewhere on the web, though.

According to Business Insider, Pinterest might be enabling massive copyright theft through the way in which its service makes it easy for anyone to simply post anything they see on the web to their account on Pinterest. A couple of clicks (or taps on the mobile app), and you’re done.

What about copyright?

Pinterest themselves make it clear in their terms of use that you shouldn’t post anything on which you don’t have the rights or if you don’t have permission to do so, as the Business Insider report notes:

[…] In its terms of use, Pinterest actually specifies that users shouldn’t pin photos they don’t own the rights to, a request that is being ignored to an absurd degree. Even if you link and attribute, that does NOT absolve you of the fact that you took someone else’s work and re-appropriated it.

Those terms of use include this clause:

You agree not to do any of the following:

  • Post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any Content that: (i) infringes, misappropriates or violates a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy; […]

Business Insider’s report also goes into a detailed discussion in an FAQ format that explores the many and complex issues related to copyright, fair use (fair dealing in the UK), transformative works, and more:

[…] But the big problem is that it grabs entire copyrighted works to re-post. This could be hard to overcome, especially as Pinterest starts growing and becomes more of a destination for a greater audience. The more time users spend on Pinterest, one assumes, the less likely they are to click out to other sites. And why click out when you can see the whole picture right there?

It’s an interesting situation, one that may well result in someone mounting some kind of legal challenge in one jurisdiction or another to test the copyright water, especially if Pinterest starts to make money from their service (which they say they aren’t yet). Once that happens, someone is sure to sue when they find their content on or linked to at Pinterest, the act of which infringes their rights to an extent that it just can’t be ignored.

I think it’s another example of digital technology and the internet enabling people to do things that copyright laws never imagined when they were drafted (and amended over time), and now looking woefully out-dated if not out of touch with contemporary society. The web moves faster than the law.

Unless or until any legal challenge happens, I’d be careful to acknowledge other people’s intellectual property rights first and foremost.

[Update Feb 21] Pinterest has taken a step to address the copyright issue with the release of code that website owners can place on their web pages that prevents anyone ‘pinning’ images from their site.

An additional text in their help section includes this:

What if I don’t want images from my site to be pinned?

We have a small piece of code you can add to the head of any page on your site:

<meta name="pinterest" content="nopin" />

When a user tries to pin from your site, they will see this message:

“This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”

It’s a good start but I wonder if it will be enough to satisfy critics as well as actually combat what some see as content theft and others as just linking. This only addresses images not text or other content. Still, Pinterest has also set a limit of 500 characters to text content which will address the people who scrape whole blog posts and other text content.

Yet I wonder if many websites will add the code at all. And would it not be best if the code was more about opting in rather than opting out? But that would be a wholly different scenario for Pinterest and its users as that would mean websites having to enable a code to permit pinning rather than it being the ‘default by inaction’ as now.

All part of the figuring-it-out process.

(Via LLSocial.com via Mashable)