10 Fantastic Free WordPress Plugins for 2017 (That You May Not Have Heard Of) by John Hughes (Torque)
There are so many plugins out there it can be hard to find really good ones. These ten free WordPress plugins add interesting capabilities.

When it comes to WordPress plugins, some big names get all the glory (we’re looking at you, Yoast SEO), while others languish in semi-obscurity. Considering there are thousands of plugins available for the platform, you could be missing out on some amazing tools by limiting yourself to the most popular options. Continue reading

Jetpack 4.5: Monetize your site, brand new VideoPress, and many new shortcodes and widgets by Richard Muscat (Jetpack for WordPress)
New Jetpack release including site monetization tools, ad-free video hosting, new shortcodes and sidebar widgets.

How 1995! JetPack v4.5 now has a widget for “blog stats: a simple stat counter to display page views on the front end of your site.”


Welcome to Jetpack 4.5, available now for upgrade or installation. We’re starting the year in style with some very exciting additions and improvements that we can’t wait for you to try. This release includes:

  • Jetpack Ads (WordAds)
  • Brand new VideoPress
  • New shortcode support
  • More sidebar widgets
  • An update to our Terms of Service

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rssCloud WordPress Plugin Update – 0.4.1 – by Joseph Scott (blog.josephscott.org)

rssCloud WordPress Plugin Update – 0.4.1

Update – 5 Nov 2009:
These features are now available on WordPress.com as well – http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/rsscloud-update/

Version 0.4.1 of the rssCloud WordPress plugin is now available. The biggest change is adding support for the domain parameter in notification requests. This means that rssCloud updates processed by the plugin are no longer limited to being sent to the IP address that the request came from. Support for the domain parameter is live on WordPress.com as well.

When a domain parameter is included with a notification request the verification process does the following:

  • Sends an HTTP GET request to the {domain}:{port}{path} URL
  • That HTTP GET includes to pieces of data: url and challenge. The url field contains the URL of the feed that we’ll been sending pings about. The challenge field contains a random string of characters
  • The response back must have a status code of 2xx and the body must contain EXACTLY the contents of the challenge field. If both of those conditions are not met then the verification process will consider this a failure

For notification requests that have no domain parameter the verification process is unchanged from before.

Another item that some may find helpful is a new constant – RSSCLOUD_FEED_URL – if that is defined they it will be used as the feed URL of the blog instead of determining it via get_bloginfo( 'rss2_url' );. For plugin authors that provide options for an alternative feed URL note that can override the default in WordPress via the feed_link filter. That filter can be used instead of the RSSCLOUD_FEED_URL constant and will bubble up through the get_bloginfo( 'rss2_url' ); call.

Source: rssCloud WordPress Plugin Update – 0.4.1 | Joseph Scott

Getting data out of Medium by Kris Shaffer (pushpullfork.com)
Controlling my data is important to me. It’s also important that my students (and the faculty that I support) have the ability to control their own...

A prescient article written last fall before the news that Medium was downsizing significantly this week.


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Manton Reece by Manton Reece (manton.org)
This morning I launched the Kickstarter project for Micro.blog. Really happy with the response. Thank you, everyone!

Manton, I’ve been following your blog and your indieweb efforts for creating a microblogging platform for a while. I’m excited to see your Kickstarter effort doing so well this afternoon!

As a fellow IndieWeb proponent, and since I know how much work such an undertaking can be, I’m happy to help you with the e-book and physical book portions of your project on a voluntary basis if you’d like. I’ve got a small publishing company set up to handle the machinery of such an effort as well as being able to provide services that go above and beyond the usual low-level services most self-publishing services might provide. Let me know if/how I can help.

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As many know, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been slowly improving some of the IndieWeb tools and workflow I use to own what I’m reading both online and in physical print as well as status updates indicating those things. [1][2][3]

Since just before IndieWebCamp LA, I’ve been working on better ways to own the articles I’ve been reading and syndicate/share them out to other social platforms. The concept initially started out as a simple linkblog idea and has continually been growing, particularly with influence from my attendance of the Dodging the Memory Hole 2016: Saving Online News conference at UCLA in October. Around that same time, it was announced that Pinterest was purchasing Instapaper and they were shutting down some of Instapaper’s development and functionality. I’ve been primarily using Pocket for several years now and have desperately wanted to bring that functionality into my own site. I had also been looking at the self-hostable Wallabag alternative which is under heavy active development, but since most of my site is built on WordPress, I really preferred having a solution that integrated better into that as a workflow.

Enter PressForward

I’ve been looking closely at PressForward for the past week and change as a self-contained replacement for third party services like Pocket and Instapaper. I’ve been looking around for this type of self-hosted functionality for a while.

PressForward was originally intended for journalists and news organizations to aggregate new content, add it to their newsroom workflow, and then use it to publish new content. From what I can see it’s also got a nice following in academia as a tool for aggregating content for researchers focused on a particular area.

It only took a minute or two of looking at PressForward to realize that it had another off-label use case: as a spectacular replacement for read-later type apps!

In an IndieWeb fashion, this fantastic WordPress plugin allows me to easily own private bookmarks of things I’d like to read (PressForward calles these “Nominations” in keeping with its original use case). I can then later read them on my own website (with Mercury f.k.a Readability functionality built in), add commentary, and publish them as a read post. [Note: To my knowledge the creators of PressForward are unaware of the IndieWeb concept or philosophies.]

After some playing around for a bit and contemplating several variations, configurations, and options, I thought I’d share some thoughts about it for others considering using it in such an off-label manner. Hopefully these may also spur the developers to open up their initial concept to a broader audience as it seems very well designed and logically laid out.

Examples

The developers obviously know the value of dogfooding as at least two of them are using it in a Pocket-like fashion (as they many not have other direct use-cases).

Pros

PressForward includes a beautiful, full built-in RSS Feed Reader!

This feature alone is enough to recommend using it even without any other feature. I’ve tried Orbit Reader and WhisperFollow (among others) which are both interesting in their own rights but are somewhat limited and have relatively clunky interfaces. The best part of WhisperFollow’s premise is that it has webactions built in, but I suspect these could easily be added onto PressForward.

In fact, not just hours before I’d discovered PressFoward, I’d made this comment on the WordPress Reader Refresh post announcing the refresh of WordPress.com’s own (separate) reader:

Some nice visual changes in this iteration. Makes it one of the most visually pretty feed readers out there now while still maintaining a relatively light weight.

I still wish there were more functionality pieces built into it like the indie-reader Woodwind.xyz or even Feedly. While WordPress in some sense is more creator oriented than consumption oriented, I still think that not having a more closely integrated reader built into it is still a drawback to the overall WordPress platform.

Additionally,

  • It’s IndieWeb and POSSE friendly
  • It does automatic link forwarding in a flexible/responsible manner with canonical URLs
  • Allows for proper attributions for the original author and content source/news outlet
  • Keeps lots of metadata for analyzing reading behavior
  • Taggable and categorizable
  • Allows for comments/commenting
  • Could be used for creating a linkblog on steroids
  • Archives the original article on the day it was read.
  • Is searchable
  • Could be used for collaboration and curation
  • Has Mercury (formerly known as Readability) integrated for a cleaner reading interface
  • Has a pre-configured browser bookmarklet
  • Is open source and incredibly well documented
  • One can count clicks to ones’ own site as the referer while still pushing the reader to the original
  • Along with other plugins like JetPack’s Publicize or Social Networks Auto-Poster, one can automatically share their reads to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media silos. In this case, you own the link, but the original publisher also gets the traffic.

Cons

No clear path for nominating articles on mobile.

This can be a dealbreaker for some, so I’ve outlined a pretty quick and simple solution below.

No direct statistics

Statistics for gauging ones’ reading aren’t built in directly (yet?), but some scripts are available. [4][5][6]

No larger data aggregation

Services like Pocket are able to aggregate the data of thousands of users to recommend and reveal articles I might also like. Sadly this self-hosted concept makes it difficult (or impossible) do have this type of functionality. However, I usually have far too much good stuff to read anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a loss.

Suggested Improvements

Adding the ability to do webactions directly from the “Nominated” screen would be fantastic, particularly for the RSS reader portion.

Default to an unread view of the current “All Content” page. I find that I have to filter the view every time I visit the page to make it usable. I suspect this would be a better default for most newsrooms too.

It would be nice to have a pre-configured archive template page in a simple linkblog format that filters posts that were nominated/drafted/published via the Plugin. This will prevent users from needing to create one that’s compatible with their current theme. Something with a date read, Title linked to the original, Author, and Source attribution could be useful for many users.

A PressForward Nomination “Bookmarklet” for Mobile

One of the big issues I came up against immediately with PressForward is ease of use on mobile. A lot of the content I read is on mobile, so being able to bookmark (nominate) articles via mobile or apps like Nuzzel or Twitter is very important. I suspect this may also be the case for many of their current user base.

Earlier this year I came across a great little Android mobile app called URL Forwarder which can be used to share things with the ubiquitous mobile sharing icons. Essentially one can use it to share the URL of the mobile page one is on to a mobile Nomination form within PressForward.

I’d suspect that there’s also a similar app for iOS, but I haven’t checked. If not available, URL Forwarder is open source on Github and could potentially be ported. There’s also a similar Android app called Bookmarklet Free which could be used instead of URL Forwarder.

PressForward’s built in bookmarklet kindly has a pre-configured URL for creating nominations, so it’s a simple case of configuring it. These details follow below for those interested.

Configuring URL Forwarder for PressForward

  1. Open URL Forwarder
  2. Click the “+” icon to create a filter.
  3. Give the filter a name, “Nominate This” is a reasonable suggestion. (See photo below.)
  4. Use the following entry for the “Filter URL” replacing example.com with your site’s domain name: http://example.com/wp-content/plugins/pressforward/includes/nomthis/nominate-this.php?u=@url
  5. Leave the “Replaceable text” as “@url”
  6. Finish by clicking on the checkmark in the top right corner.

Simple right?

Nominating a post via mobile

With the configuration above set up, do the following:

  1. On the mobile page one wants to nominate, click the ubiquitous “share this” mobile icon (or share via a pull down menu, depending on your mobile browser or other app.)
  2. Choose to share through URL Forwarder
  3. Click on the “Nominate” option just created above.
  4. Change/modify any data within your website administrative interface and either nominate or post as a draft. (This part is the same as one would experience using the desktop bookmarklet.)

What’s next?

Given the data intensity of both the feed reader and what portends to be years of article data, I’m left with the question of hosting it within my primary site or putting it on a subdomain?

I desperately want to keep it on the main site, but perhaps hosting it on a subdomain, similar to how both Aram Zucker-Scharff and James Digioia do it may be better advised?

I’ve also run across an issue with the automatic redirect which needs some troubleshooting as well. Hopefully this will be cleared up quickly and we’ll be off to the races.

References

[1]
C. Aldrich, “A New Reading Post-type for Bookmarking and Reading Workflow,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 22-Aug-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/08/22/a-new-reading-post-type-for-bookmarking-and-reading-workflow/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[2]
C. Aldrich, “Owning my Online Reading Status Updates,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 20-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/11/20/owning-my-online-reading-status-updates/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[3]
C. Aldrich, “Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia from E-books to Online,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 24-Oct-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/10/24/notes-highlights-and-marginalia/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[4]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Personal Statistics from 3 Months of Internet Reading,” Medium, 05-Sep-2015. [Online]. Available: https://medium.com/@aramzs/3-month-internet-reading-stats-f41fa15d63f0#.dez80up7y. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[5]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Test functions based on PF stats for collecting data,” Gist. [Online]. Available: https://gist.github.com/AramZS/d10fe64dc33fc9ffc2d8. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[6]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “PressForward/pf_stats,” GitHub. [Online]. Available: https://github.com/PressForward/pf_stats. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
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Why we don't support old WordPress versions by Joost de Valk (Yoast)(2016 years 11 months 11 days 8 hours 29 minutes 42 seconds)
For all sorts of reasons, some people have a problem with updating WordPress installs properly. I will state now that for both our free and premium plugins we do not support anything but the latest and the prior to last version. At the time of writing that’s WordPress 4.5 and WordPress 4.6 . If you’re running anything …

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Using WordPress RSS Feeds (Elegant Themes)
RSS is a standard web feed format that was released in 1999. It was quickly adopted by all major publishing platforms. The word RSS stems from the phrase “Rich Site Summary”, though the term “Really Simple Syndication” has become more synonymous with the standard over the years. It...

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Over the past two years I’ve been owning more and more of the data that I used to sharecrop into various social media silos. Instead of posting it to those sites which I don’t own, don’t control, and can’t rely on them staying up forever, I’m posting on my own site first and when it seems worthwhile, I’m syndicating my content back out to them to take advantage of their network effects.

A Crowded Stream

As a result of owning all this data, my blog/site has become MUCH more active than it had been before. (It’s also been interesting to see just how much data I’d been giving to social media sites.) This extra activity has caused a few to tip me off that they’re seeing a lot of email notifications and additional material in their RSS feeds that they’re not used to seeing (and may not necessarily care about). So rather than risk them unsubscribing from everything and allow them to receive what they’re used to seeing, I’ve spent some time in the last couple of days to work on my IndieWeb Commitment 2017 which was to:

Fix my site’s subscription/mail functionality so that I can better control what current subscribers get and allow for more options for future subscribers.

Because a lot of the recent additions to my site have been things like owning all my Instagram posts, my bookmarks, what I’m watching, updates about books I’m reading, and links to everything I’ve been reading online, I’ve been using a category on the site called “Social Stream” with each of these posts as sub-categories. In most cases, social stream could be synonymous with microblog to some extent though it covers a broader range of content than just simply Twitter-like status updates.

Filtering Social Stream Posts out of My Email Subscriptions

I added a filter in my functions.php file for the JetPack-based plugin that prevents my site from emailing those who have used the JetPack subscription service from receiving emails for each and every post in those categories.

I had previously been preventing some of these emails from firing on a manual basis, but with their increased frequency, it was becoming unsustainable.

For those interested, the code and some useful tips can be found at the JetPack site. A copy of the specific code I’m currently using in my functions.php file appears below:

add_filter( 'jetpack_subscriptions_exclude_these_categories', 'exclude_these' );
function exclude_these( $categories ) {
$categories = array( 'social-stream');
return $categories;
}

More Flexible RSS Feeds and Discovery

For future subscribers, I wanted to allow some easier subscription options, particularly when it comes to RSS. Fortunately WordPress does a pretty good job of not only providing RSS feeds but makes them relatively configurable and customizeable with good documentation. [1] [2]

Custom URLs for RSS Syndication and .htcacess Modifications

I wanted to create a few human-readable RSS feed names and feeds including:

With somewhat canonical feed URLs, I can always change where they point to in the future. To do this and have them map over into the actual feeds for these things, I did a bit of remapping in my .htaccess file based on some thoughts I’d run across recently.  The code I used appears below:

# BEGIN rss
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^rss\.xml$ "/feed?cat=-484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^microblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^articles\.xml$ "/feed?kind=article"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^instagram\.xml$ "/feed?cat=936"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^linkblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=964,945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^read\.xml$ "/feed?cat=945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^math\.xml$ "/feed?cat=10"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^informationtheory\.xml$ "/feed?cat=687"[L,R]
RewriteCond %{Query_STRING} ^$
RewriteRule ^feed$ "/rss.xml" [L,R]
</IfModule>
# END rss

Each of the cat=### are the numbers for the particular category numbers I’m mapping within WordPress for the associated category names.

RSS Feed Pattern for IndieWeb Post Kinds Plugin

I also spent a few minutes to figure out the RSS feed patterns to allow for the additional feeds provided by the Post Kinds plugin to work. While Post Kinds is similar to the native WordPress post formats, it’s designed particularly with IndieWeb posts in mind and uses a custom taxonomy which also wraps particular post kinds in the appropriate microformats automatically. The general form for these RSS feeds would be:

Other feeds could be constructed similarly by replacing “article” with the other kinds including:  bookmark, favorite, jam, like, listen, note, photo, read, recipe, reply, repost, watch, and wish. I suspect that most will only want the articles while those who are really interested in the others can either “build” them themselves for subscribing, or given the sporadic nature of some, they would more likely be interested in the “social stream” feed noted above.

Discoverability

Finally there’s the most important question of what feed readers like Feedly or Woodwind can actually discover when someone searches for an RSS feed on my domain. It’s one thing to have customized feeds, but if feed readers can’t easily find them, the subscriber is never likely to see them or know they exist to want to consume them. Most advanced feed readers will parse the headers of my site for discover-able feeds and present them to the user for possible subscription.

Out of the box WordPress provides two RSS feeds as standard: one for posts (essentially everything) and one for comments.  I added several additional ones (like those mentioned above), which I thought might be most requested/useful, into my page header to provide a slightly broader range of subscription options. I even included a few feeds for alternate sites I run, like my WithKnown-based site. I suppose if I wanted I could advertise feeds for my favorite sites anywhere.

To add these additional feeds, I added several additional lines into my page header similar to the following example which makes my posts categorized or tagged as mathematics discoverable:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="Chris Aldrich » Mathematics Feed" href="http://boffosocko.com/math.xml" />

Wrap up

Hopefully with these few simple changes, those who wish to subscribe to my blog by email won’t be inundated with a lot of the social details. Those who want all or even smaller portions of my feed can consume them more easily, and there’s a way to be able to consume almost anything you’d like by category, tag, or post format/post kind.

Now on to my stretch goal:

Finish my monthly email newsletter

Comments/Questions?

Is there a particular type of content I’m creating here that you’d like to subscribe to? Let me know in the comments below if there’s a feed of a post format/kind, category, or tag you’d like to have that isn’t mentioned above.

References

[1]
“WordPress Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
[2]
“Customizing Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/Customizing_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
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I’ve discovered a spectacular tool for owning my own bookmarks and replacing Pocket and InstaPaper!

  • It’s IndieWeb and POSSE friendly
  • Does link forwarding in a flexible/responsible manner
  • Allows for proper attributions
  • Keeps tons of metadata for analyzing reading behavior
  • Taggable
  • Allows for comments/commenting
  • Could be used easily as a linkblog
  • Archives the original article
  • Is searchable
  • Could be used for collaboration and curation
  • Has Readability integrated
  • Has a pre-configured browser bookmarklet
  • Is open source and well documented

Who could want more?! I want to experiment a bit with it, play with multiple configurations, and then document parts before rolling out–particularly as it wasn’t necessarily intended for this use case, but I’ll have some more details shortly.

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