2013 in Review

2013 in Blogging by WordPress.com

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have been busy putting together a personalized report detailing how everyone’s blog did in 2013. Here is an excerpt from my report:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Check out my full year in review! And if you have a WordPress.com or Jetpack enabled blog, keep your eyes peeled for your own report!

WordPress Functionality Plugins

WordPress Functionality Plugin Presentation

I recently gave a talk at the Pasadena WordPress Meet Up on Functionality Plugins. The presentation was short – more of an intro than anything else – but I hope someone found it helpful. For more information, you can check out the resources slide at the end of the presentation.

If you have any questions, or want to share some of your thoughts, leave a comment below. Now, enough rambling, here are the slides:

References:

Web Developers and the Impostor Syndrome

Last September, I had lunch with another WordPress Developer while at WCLA. During our discussion, we touched on an interesting subject. The Impostor Syndrome. I wasn’t aware of the actual term at the time, but the definition seems to fit our discussion.

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

How does this apply to web developers? What the hell am I talking about?

Let me explain…

During our talk we both acknowledged that when we first started working with other developers, we were apprehensive about it. Not because we were against collaboration. Not because we were against working with other people. But simply because it was very intimidating.

I know for myself, it wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence. I have always taken pride in my work, and I am confident in my craft. I know that I know my stuff! Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling of vulnerability when you expose the code behind your work to other people.

The “I Can Do It Myself” Stage

Prior to working with other developers, I tried to do everything myself. I worked at small agencies and was usually the only full-time developer on staff. This forced me to learn a lot, and to learn it quickly. But the projects continued to get more and more complex. And the workload kept increasing. I had to work with other people. I was terrified. What if they find errors in my code? What if I’ve been doing something incorrectly? What if I’m a fraud?!

At this point in time, I had plenty of accomplishments under my belt. I had an extensive portfolio, a long list of happy clients, and plenty of my own personal projects. But for some reason, that fear was still there.

Getting over the fear

Eventually, I had a project come up in my freelance world that I knew I couldn’t handle myself. The agency I was working with at the time had another developer that I was going to work with. Logically, I knew it would be okay. But, panic still set in. And I had to face it straight on. And guess what. The project went great.

Come to find out, this developer was far more advanced with JavaScript than myself. But I wasn’t exposed as a fraud or banished from the web development community. Instead, he offered some advice about parts of my code – which lead me to become a better developer. And on top of that, I was able to give him some advice about working WordPress.

Who would have thought… I was able to teach him something. To this day we still exchange emails and offer each other advice. When I have a JavaScript question he’s usually the first guy I ask. And when he has a WordPress question, he doesn’t hesitate to ask me for help.

Looking Back

Now, a couple of years later, I look at that first project as a significant turning point in my career. That’s when I started to collaborate. It wasn’t until I started working with other developers that I really began to pinpoint my strengths and weaknesses. And I have found out that it’s extremely valuable to know both of those.

I will admit that I still get jitters every once in a while when I publicly share my code. But it’s usually followed by positive feedback. On top of the thank you’s, I’ve also received valuable feedback that has helped me learn new things.

So… What’s my point?

I am a firm believer that everyone can learn something from everyone. And everyone can teach something to everyone. I’ve heard other people talk about the Impostor Syndrome (or similar feelings), so it doesn’t only apply to developers. And I don’t think that it is uncommon.

I wanted to share my story, and urge other people to take a step out of their comfort zone. Whether you are a seasoned developer, or you’re just getting the hang of HTML and CSS, you can learn by sharing and collaborating. So put yourself out there!

Search the WordPress Codex from Alfred

Search WordPress Codex from Alfred

Awhile back, Brian Krogsgard mentioned the productivity app for OS X called Alfred. Since then, I’ve found myself using it on a daily basis. A quick Google search will return a lot of great articles about Alfred, so I won’t go into depth here. But I did want to share one custom search that I find myself using fairly regularly.

Create a Custom Search in Alfred for the WordPress Codex

Throughout my day-to-day work I often reference the WordPress Codex. No matter how much I learn, I still find myself looking up function references. One of the great things about Alfred is that it allows you to create custom searches. That means that you can create a custom search to look up functions in the WordPress Codex. Just enter the following:

Alternatively, you can create it manually by following these steps:

  1. Open Preferences > Features > Web Search in Alfred.
  2. Click Add Custom Search in the bottom right.
  3. For Search URL enter: http://codex.wordpress.org/Function_Reference/{query}
  4. For Title enter: WordPress Functions (or whatever name you’d like).
  5. For Keyword enter: wp (or whatever shortcut you would like).
  6. You can drag an icon to display with the search. I used the official WordPress logo.
  7. Click Save
  8. Call Alfred and try a search using your Keyword followed by a WordPress function name.

Again, this is only one of many things that you can do with Alfred. It’s a great app, and I highly recommend it. What do you think?

Why I Use and Recommend WP Engine for WordPress Hosting

WP Engine Homepage

The team over at WP Engine recently asked me if I’d be interested in doing a Q&A for their blog. I was more than happy to do so, and it got me thinking about their company and what they do. I’ve worked with a lot of different web hosts over the years and all of them have their pro’s and cons – whether it be pricing, support, server configurations, or just the overall experience.

I’ve had good experiences and bad, but WP Engine stands out as one of the best hosting providers that I’ve worked with. While I’ve had good experiences with other hosts, it’s rare to find a host that provides great service and holds each customer relationship to such a high regard. Here are just a few reasons why I host my WordPress sites with them, and why I recommend them when people ask.

Speed and reliability

The technology that WP Engine uses is designed specifically for WordPress, and their server stacks can handle any amount of traffic. I’ve seen some large traffic spikes in my analytics, but would have never known based upon the performance – which was still snappy and quick. They use top quality hardware, and spread web requests and database queries across multiple servers.

On top of that, you don’t have to worry about configuring any caching plugins. WP Engine uses technology that was created by their team called “EverCache”. They claim that this technology outperforms just about any caching plugin (including WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache) and based upon the performance that I have seen, I believe it. And it’s all configured automatically – both server side and client side. You’ll still have to minify your scripts and stylesheets, but that’s a piece of cake.

If you’re looking for an example of these fast loading times, just check out the page load times on my site.

They offer a CDN

I haven’t seen any other host that offers a solid CDN right out of the box. WP Engine does. They work with NetDNA to provide a fast, reliable CDN. You don’t even have to get your hands dirty setting it up, as it is all configured automatically. This point could be bundled with the one above, because it also contributes to better speed and reliability, but I figured it was worth its own section.

Support is knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly

To me, support and communication is just as important as the technology. And again, WP Engine does a great job with it. Although they are not available 24/7 (except for emergencies), I have never had an issue waiting for someone to help me out.

Not only are they prompt, but they are also extremely knowledgeable. Their entire support staff is made up of WordPress experts. They’ve helped me tackle some issues and offered suggestions for problems that were caused on my end – not a lot of hosts will go above and beyond like that.

And to top it all off, they have always been patient and friendly whether it be via their Support Dashboard, Twitter, email or phone. I guess you could say I like those guys and gals.

One Click Staging Site

This is one of my favorites. WP Engine offers the ability to create an exact copy of your live site, at any time, with one click of a button inside your WordPress Dashboard. You can push your changes to this staging site, test things, break things… All without affecting your production site. When you are running a public facing site, this feature is priceless. You don’t have to be nervous updating themes or plugins, or making changes to your site. Try them on your staging site first, make sure they work, and then push to your live site. And you can reset your staging site at any time with one click. It’s awesome.

Git Integration

I use Git for version control, so I was happy when WP Engine fully integrated Git-Push-To-Deploy into their hosting platform. You can push changes to your staging site or your production site… or both. All you have to do is open a ticket with your SSH public key and which install you’d like to associate them with and then you can start utilizing all the Git goodness. Pretty rad.

Peace of mind

WP Engine secures every site they host. They constantly scan their servers and make sure no malware or security holes are present. They also fix your site if it’s hacked – for free. Backups and restore points are automatically created daily, and you can manually create one at any time with a couple of clicks. And this is included with any plan.

It saves time

With all of these features (and more) I find myself spending a lot less time with server issues and maintenance. WP Engine will even update your sites when a newer version of WordPress is available. For example, when 3.5 was released, I received word from WP Engine that they would be testing the latest version of WordPress, and then pushing the updates to all installs. They notified me beforehand so I was able to test 3.5 on my staging sites. After making sure everything was in working order, I easily updated to 3.5 on my production sites. It was the most seamless update I’ve ever completed. And for minor releases (3.5 to 3.5.1 for example) WP Engine handled it automatically without a hitch.

I don’t have to worry about taking manual backups, or regular server maintenance. They take care of it. Pretty rad.

They are active in the WordPress community

Another thing that I like is the fact that I often see WP Engine active in the WordPress community. Whether it be on Twitter, at WordCamps, or just exchanging ideas with other WordPress enthusiasts. Hell, I don’t even think Austin sleeps.

Affiliate Program

They also offer a very generous affiliate program. If you sign up for the WP Engine affiliate program you’ll receive a minimum of $150 per referral. It doesn’t matter which plan, the payout is at least $150+. I would recommend them either way, but it’s nice that they offer the affiliate program, too.

Note: The links to WP Engine in this article are affiliate links. It will cost you nothing extra, but I will make a commission if you buy hosting through them. Affiliate links or not, I stand by everything written here and would feel the same either way.

WP Engine – Conclusion

Suffice to say, I like the team and the service over at WP Engine. They offer solid WordPress hosting, awesome support, and they are easy to work with. Go check them out. And if you’re looking for hosting now, they’re offering two months free when you prepay for a year. They don’t lock you in to any contract, and they also offer a 60-day money back guarantee. So if you’re unhappy, you can get a full refund.

Have you worked with them before? Or do you have a question? Whether positive or negative, let me know in the comments below.

Set WordPress Featured Image as Facebook Thumbnail

If you have a WordPress blog, odds are that you are sharing your posts on Facebook and other social media websites. Some of these sites allow you to include a thumbnail image and description when you or your visitors share posts. For example, when you paste in a URL on Facebook or LinkedIn they will pull an image (if available) and description from the page. At first glance, it may appear that you don’t have much control over this.

However, both Facebook and LinkedIn utilize the Open Graph Meta tags (For more info about the Open Graph API in general, check out David Walsh’s Facebook Open Graph META Tags article.). If you take advantage of this, you can control which image and description is pulled by default.

How can I use Open Graph Meta Tags with WordPress?

It is a pretty straightforward process to add the required meta tags. First, we need to allow for Facebook markup in our opening HTML tags. In this example we are going to add a few filters in our functions.php  file to accomplish this (Note: you could also add the appropriate code to your header.php):

Now we can add the Open Graph meta tags just like regular meta tags and use WordPress’ Template Tags to fill them in. Here’s an example:

Most of the tags are pretty self explanatory, but feel free to ask questions if anything is unclear.  If you wanted to avoid touching your theme files, I’ve packaged this into a simple plugin that you can use as a starting point.  You can see the full code for the plugin here (the zip also contains a screenshot and a readme):

And you can download it from the WordPress Plugin Repo: Facebook Featured Image and Open Graph Meta Tags

Things to consider:

A lot of plugins and themes already include some or all of this functionality. For example, WordPress SEO by Yoast takes care of this for you. A lot of themes will also do this by default. To avoid redundancy you should check to see if the Open Graph tags already exist on your site. All code contained in this post is to be used on an “As-is” basis, and may contain errors. If you notice any, let me know!

References

Facebook Featured Image and Open Graph Meta Tags
by Ryan S. Cowles

This plugin will add the necessary Open Graph Meta tags to automatically set the posts’ Featured Image as the thumbnail for sharing on Facebook and LinkedIn. It will also set Open Graph Meta tags for title, description, URL, type, and site name.

Stats:

  • Current version: 1.0.1
  • Rating: 87.6(8 ratings)
  • Downloaded 13,718 times