Two tools to add value to your WordPress blog

One of the features that make self-hosted WordPress such an excellent content management system or blogging platform (take your pick of description) is the easy way you can extend functionality through adding third-party plug-ins.

I use a lot of plug-ins – currently 35 active ones on this blog – that provide both you (the visitor or subscriber and, perhaps, conversationalist) and me (the content publisher) with new or additional functionality that make our interaction and overall experience with the blog and all its content that much better.

With recent versions of WordPress, plug-in management has become a more seamless activity where, as a blogger, you can now install or upgrade plug-ins from within your admin dashboard with just a couple of mouse clicks. The trend is clearly towards no more manually downloading zip files, unpacking them, uploading separately by FTP to your server, etc.

All that geeky stuff puts normal people off. ;)

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The easier is it to set up a plug-in, the more likely it is that you will try something.

For plug-in developers, the centralized Plugin Directory at WordPress.org makes it easier for them to more easily raise awareness of and distribute their creations as well as plug them in, as it were, to the overall WordPress community of developers and users.

All of this is really a preamble to talking about two specific plug-ins that are new to me and which I think really do add something worthwhile:

1. Chat Catcher by Shannon Whitley.

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I first saw Chat Catcher mentioned in a post by Dave Fleet last month. What it does is quite simple and very useful:

Chat Catcher scans services like Twitter and FriendFeed for references to your blog posts. When someone links to your blog, their post will be published to your blog’s comments. […] Twitter post history is provided by Search.Twitter.com. FriendFeed data is pulled from the FriendFeed API.

In other words, when someone tweets and includes a reference (a link) to a post of yours, that tweet will go into your post as a comment.

It’s another way of closing the loop on conversations out there so that references are connected. I find that very useful.

It works on most blog platforms and, if you use WordPress as I do, there is a plug-in.

How tweets appear on your blog seem to depend greatly on the WordPress theme you use. In my case, I use Thesis which resulted in Chat Catcher inbounds being included in posts only as trackbacks and not as actual comments. Luckily, developer Shannon Whitley has a simple but effective solution via Brad Grier, another Thesis user.

Incidentally, Shannon has been terrifically responsive to the many questions I’ve been throwing at him via Twitter. Thanks again, Shannon.

2. PingPressFM by Sold Out Activist

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The headline in Dominic Jones’ post this morning caught my attention: “UPDATE: My real-time personal newswire.”

That’s how I heard about PingPressFM, a WordPress plugin that will automatically notify up to 30 of the services you might use about your new blog posts, via Ping.FM.

I’m not an active user of Ping.FM, the service that lets you send your tweets to multiple social networks and other sites where you have presences. I prefer using TweetDeck and interacting directly with Twitter and limiting the re-broadcasting of tweets to Friendfeed and Facebook so as not to appear as a serial Twitter spammer.

But notifying people I’m connected with in different places about new blog posts is a far different matter than blasting out the type of chit-chat that’s common on Twitter.

It’s quite a complex plug-in, one that takes a bit to fully understand it’s capabilities:

The best way to configure your Ping.fm Dashboard triggers is to activate only the best suited trigger for the particular social network. Twitter, Brightkite are micro-blogs. Facebook, LinkedIn are good for Status Updates. And Blogger, LiveJournal are obviously blogs. MySpace can have both Status Updates and Blog as they are different parts of your profile and don’t overlap.

So I’ve installed the plug-in and I’m giving it a shot. Until now, I have been using the Twitpress plug-in for tweeting new blog posts. It does its job quite well but has a serious problem with ampersands and some other characters in the titles of blog posts that cause a tweet to fail. Plus developer Thomas Purnell seems to be taking it in a new direction although I’ve seen no further news for the past three months.

I’m really not sure how PingPressFM will work out nor whether you will find what it does useful or not. I’m hoping you and others will tell me what you think.

So, two new plug-ins that I’ve started using and which you might want to try out as well.


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