WordPress Jetpack has powerful features


Jetpack is a free plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs from WordPress.com that adds a plethora of new features and functionality. Stats and Shortcodes are among the most popular of its thirty modules. I’ve just added three powerful new Jetpack features to my blogs and to client blogs. They are Publicize, Photon, and Enhanced Distribution.

Publicize. Autopost to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Crossposting from blogs to social media is important, as focus inexorably shifts from blogs to social media. A blog is great for branding and as a home base. However, there is increasingly engagement on social media than on blogs. Jetpack Sharing appears on the Edit Post page directly under Publish. You can choose which sites to crosspost to. Best of all, it does a superb job of formatting the posts. It doesn’t schedule autoposts in the future, maybe a future version will.  If you need to autopost in the future, use Hootsuite.

Photon. Content Distribution Network for images.

CDNs host blog data and images on their servers across the country and planet, which cuts load on the blog itself and speeds delivery to users. The original images remain on your blog. The CDN copies them to its servers and that’s what users see. Some CDNs practically require a PhD to configure (Hi W3TC!) and while they offer much more, Photon will put all your images on WordPress servers with one click. Highly recommended.

Enhanced Distribution gets your content out there faster.

The plugin in author explains:

Turning off Enhanced Distribution will prevent your published posts and comments being sent to the companies that consume the WordPress.com firehose. This doesn’t mean they can’t get the data; it’s all available on your site feed. It just means they get it faster and they don’t have to poll your site.

The benefits might not be immediately apparent but they are there. Every company that receives firehose updates has the opportunity to show your content to more people.

Performance used to be an issue with Jetpack as it bogged down the site. These issues appear to be resolved. However, you should disable all JetPack modules you aren’t using.

Woot! I fixed a cranky WordPress plugins conflict

Coders and bloggers can do the victory dance too…

Geek alert: this will be highly technical, convoluted, and no doubt indecipherable to many. A WordPress plugins conflict on this blog made it seemingly impossible to create a sitemap, no matter what I did. The problem appeared to be a problem deep with the innards of W3 Total Cache. If I deactivated W3TC, sitemaps were created. But I couldn’t stop using W3TC because it also publishes to my Amazon CDN.

A disk cache like W3TC speeds up a website by offering static HTML pages to visitors rather than re-creating the page each time with dozens of database operations, etc. The home page of this blog is written in PHP and accesses the database. W3TC makes a HTML copy of the home page and gives that to readers. It knows when a post is added or updated and automatically updates the cache.

W3TC also publishes all the images and much of the code on the blog to a content distribution network on Amazon, who puts it on servers across the planet. So, if someone in Japan looking at polizeros, they will be viewing a header image stored on Amazon servers in Asia rather than in Texas, where the blog is hosted at Rackspace. This allows much faster access to the blog and cuts way down on server usage. My bill last month from Amazon was about $2. This clearly shows the power and advantages of cloud computing. You only pay for what you use, with no monthly minimum charges.

A sitemap is a special text file that lists all the pages and posts on the blog. Search engines use them to quickly find and index what is on the website. But whenever I tried to create a sitemap with W3TC activated, a page not found error would occur when trying to view it. After trying several sitemap plugins, I settled on the BWP Google XML Sitemap plugin, got the error again, and emailed the developer.

Folks, when you email a developer, be nice! A grumpy inquiry may get ignored. My inquiry was friendly and he had the answer. Go to the 404 error section of the W3TC Browser Cache tab and change sitemap\.xml(\.gz)? to (sitemapindex|[a-z0-9_-]+)\.xml. I did so and the sitemap then created itself instantly. See, wasn’t that simple. 🙂

This took me about a month to figure out! And I of course sent a quick Thank You to the developer.

WordPress. Jetpack bloated, slow.

This blog was acting sluggish. My webhost said something was eating up compute cycles because of large numbers of database hits. I deactivated plugins one by one and looked at the results after a couple of days but there was no difference. I installed a CDN via the excellent W3TC cache plugin and while the CDN is great, it didn’t solve the problem.

I then deactivated Jetpack, the one plugin that I hadn’t deactivated before because it was from wordpress.com and I assumed it couldn’t be the problem.

Jetpack was the problem. It apparently is a total resource hog. Once I deactivated it, the blog immediately became much more responsive. The stats now clearly show the difference.

More on Jetpack bloat.

There is an unofficial JetPack fork, Jetpack Lite, that only contains Stats and wp.me.

Geeking out with WordPress, CDNs, and Amazon CloudFront

It is truly amazing how powerful and sophisticated WordPress is becoming. Even better, much of this functionality is available from free plugins and themes. (The developers of such products can make money by doing support, custom work, etc., after giving away the main product and building a user base.)

Here’s an example, using the disk cache program and theme that Polizeros uses. This blog was hitting compute cycle limits at Laughing Squid, where it is hosted. They said it was due to excessive database hits on the server while loading pages. I deactivated various plugins. monitored the results, but that didn’t help much.

Then, I discovered that the theme I use, the highly configurable Atahualpa, has an option to put CSS and JavaScript inline rather than external, plus you can compress CSS. I turned these options on. Google Page Speed went to 94 from 90. Okay, now we’re starting to get somewhere.

Home of W3 Total Cache

I then contacted W3 Total Cache and paid them to examine my cache settings. I had also just implemented Amazon S3 for storing data and images. They tweaked a few settings then advised me to use Amazon CloudFront on top of S3. W3TC has full support for both.

This is where it gets really powerful. Amazon S3 stands for Simple Storage Service. W3TC uploads all the images, CSS, JavaScript, and theme files from Laughing Squid to Amazon S3 where they are hosted, thus dropping load on Laughing Squid. CloudFront is a layer on top of S3 which takes the files from S3 and distributes them to servers across the planet. So, if someone in Scotland views Polizeros, much of it will be coming to them from the Amazon CloudFront site in London and not coming from the US. This obviously speeds things up for them.

S3 and Cloudfront are part of Amazon Web Services

Best of all, Amazon Web Services are pay as you go with no minimum fees. Everything I’ve just described might cost me 20 cents a day. Blogging has come a long way.

The Atahaulpa theme is amazing. It has 28 pages of configuration items. You can make hundreds of changes to the theme from the Dashboard. There’s no need to go mucking around in code. The entire look and feel of a blog can be changed in three minutes without touching code. But, and this is crucial, you do need to know what you are doing! You may not have to change code but understanding what it does and how a WordPress theme works is crucial.

W3TC has nine pages filled with complex configuration choices. It was written by Frederick Townes originally as the cache for giant tech site Mashable and then turned into a WordPress plugin.

Both of these fine products are free. That’s what makes open source so powerful and vibrant, large communities building software for the betterment of all.

As for those compute cycles, they dropped sharply after I went to S3 and CloudFront.

Contextly. Relevant links for WordPress

Contextly takes a new approach to having relevant links at the bottom of a blog post. Rather than attempting to find links based on the title of the post and the content, it lets you choose them. You can have internal links from the blog and external links as well. The interface is easy to use and the data is stored on their servers.

It only works on single post pages, so click the title of this post then scroll to the bottom to see what it does. I’m impressed, and they tell me many more neat features are coming soon.