So as I said, hello! I wanted to make an entrance, since it has been 7 weeks since I wrote an article!
I also wanted to show off how brilliant WordPress 4.0 is, by adding a YouTube video. I literally just added the URL to the post and voilà, the video appears then and there in WordPress as I am writing this article. No need to preview the post or wait for it to go live, I add the URL and the video is there straight away!
Why that video though? Well I am back, and WordPress has just been given a bit of rejig with the release of 4.0 – named Benny.
Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that lets you access many of the features which come inbuilt with a WordPress.com site, on a WordPress.org installation. Historically plugins have just one function, however Jetpack is a combination of plugins which can perform a huge range of actions.
Plugins on Steroids
One way of describing Jetpack is plugins on steroids. Jetpack makes it really easy to access loads of the great features available through WordPress, all in one simple package.
Jetpack creates its own area in WordPress Admin (wp-admin) where you can learn about, configure and activate/deactivate different elements of the plugin.
You don’t have to activate all of Jetpacks elements, you can use as many or few elements as you choose. Like with every plugin, every extra function of Jetpack you activate will have a small affect on your blog’s speed, so only use the ones that work for you.
The Future of Plugins
The way Jetpack sets out all the different plugins and makes it so easy for users to configure them is a great leap forward for WordPress. Currently the wp-admin plugins page is quite boring, and it can be hard to find the plugin you want fast. I feel that a Jetpack style interface could significantly improve usability, and generally make plugins more fun.
A screenshot of the different plugins and settings Jetpack includes.
Could a future version of the CMS use a Jetpack like style to display plugins? Maybe.
Here are some of the many features that Jetpack includes:
WordPress.com Stats – On-site analytics for your site. Personally I feel server side analytics and more detailed external statistic managers (like Google Analytics) are better than Jetpack’s version, however nonetheless many people find it is an easier, free alternative.
Publicise – This enables you to post your articles to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tubmlr. The great thing about Publicise is that it only publishes when your articles go live – so it works on scheduled posts too 🙂
Spelling and Grammar – Simple yet advanced spell checking for content. I use Firefox’s default spell checking software, and Jetpacks version is slightly annoying, so this is disabled on Technology Bloggers!
WP.me Shortlinks – An easy inbuilt URL shortener. Using the WP.me URL shortener helps to keep short URLs tidy, as having too many from too many different sites can look messy.
Infinite Scroll – This is a feature that I personally dislike – a lot! It enables you to have a bottomless page, so once uses get to the bottom, it loads more articles. This can effectively put your entire blog on one page. I don’t like bottomless pages, they drive me mad, so if you want me to visit your site, keep this option off 😉
Sharing – Technology Bloggers uses the Sharing feature to power the share buttons at the bottom of each article. I have removed the standard buttons and replaced them with more minimal, stylish buttons. The sharing feature is truly great, and is a lightweight way of combining many network sharing plugins.
Omnisearch – A fantastic and really simple way to search wp-admin.
Technology Bloggers new share buttons – found at the bottom of every article.
Give It A Go
I didn’t think I would like Jetpack, and at first I didn’t. After reading a bit about its features and how good it can be, I thought I would give it a go. I now love it!
I love the flexibility that it offers, in that you can have as many or few elements active as you choose. Technology Bloggers only uses 4 of the 27 functions, and that works fine for us. On my personal philosophy blog, I also use Jetpack and have 8 of the 27 elements active; it is a different blog which benefits from different plugins.
Speed matters. Once upon a time, if a business had a website, it was revolutionary. Now in many cases if a business doesn’t have a website, it will usually suffer as a result.
When the internet was in its infancy, speed wasn’t really on the agenda. If your site loaded super fast (remember we are still in the days of 56kbps/dial-up internet access here) great. If it didn’t, people would be prepared to wait.
Nowadays there are so many different websites offering such similar information, if your site is slow, your traffic (or as I prefer to call it visitor numbers, or even better: people) will suffer as a result. There are countless studies into this, almost all of which conclude that the slower a site is, the fewer visitors it has.
Furthermore, speed is starting to become an evermore important search engine ranking factor – if your site is slow, you are less likely to rank at the top.
Okay, you get the point: today speed matters.
This all takes time, and every extra byte and file that is requested will slow down the page load time.
One way to reduce the size of the page is to reduce the amount of files – and the size of those files – that are fetched. We make every effort to ensure that our locally loaded scripts are as condensed as possible, so your browser doesn’t have to request dozens of files, just one or two.
We have also combined several images into one file (a CSS sprite), again, so your browser has to fetch fewer files. Take a look at the image below for an example.
Technology Bloggers social icons CSS sprite.
The trouble is, we only have control over internal files. I can’t go and reduce the Tweet button script and add it to one of our existing files, as it is controlled by Twitter, and served via their servers.
Lazy Loading Images
Sometimes slimming down isn’t enough, so one way to prevent the initial load becoming verbose is to delay the loading of images not in view. We use a WordPress plugin called Lazy Load, which only loads images just before they come into view. So if the page has five megabytes of images to load, and four are below the fold, then when the page loads, you will only have to wait for one megabytes worth of images to load; if you don’t scroll down, the other four never get loaded.
Lazy loading images can significantly help improve page load time, as images are usually the biggest files that a website loads, so only loading the vital ones really speeds things up!
Lazy Loading Social Buttons
As I mentioned above, one of the biggest strains on loading is external code, specifically social buttons and sharing buttons.
For a long time now, the ability to offer you the potential to share content and follow us via social media has come at a high price – in terms of loading time. However after a lot of coding and hours of tweaking, our social buttons are now just a tiny (in size) image.
If you take a look at our sidebar, the social buttons sill look very similar to before – Facebook like, Twitter follow and Google Plus recommend all still there – however they now only load the external scripts if you mouse over them. This removes a huge delay when you first load a page, and means we can provide these buttons on every page of the site, with a much smaller speed loss.
At the top of articles, the social buttons there now also load lazily, and only fetch code from the networks when you mouse over the button images.
Technology Bloggers delayed loading social buttons.
Lazy loading social media buttons has dramatically improved the speed of Technology Bloggers, and still enables you to share content when and how you choose.