WordPress.org is a wonderland of amazing resources, for beginners and advanced users alike. Last night I presented at the Fort Worth meetup on how to use WordPress.org as a resource and troubleshooting tool and wanted to share it with you, too.
I’ll start with a tour of what’s available at WordPress.org and then wrap up with a few bonus tips.
A WordPress.org Tour
If you’ve ever thought “all WordPress sites look alike,” do yourself a favor a take a stroll through the showcase. You can browse by genre (i.e. business, education) and type of site (i.e. BuddyPress, MultiSites), vote for your favorites, or just see how others are using WordPress.
It’s a great place to pick up a little inspiration if you’re feeling bored with your usual design and development routine. If you’re feeling sassy, you can submit your site to the showcase.
Themes (and plugins, which we’ll talk about next) are what make WordPress an endlessly extendable environment (say that 10x fast). The theme directory, or theme repository, is home to nearly 2500 free themes and links to some select commercial themes. It’s actually a little overwhelming.
You can hunt for themes from within your WordPress admin dashboard, or from the theme directory at WordPress.org. Tip: Use the tag filter to help narrow your search!
After searching for themes, you’ll want to further narrow the selections down based on a couple of factors such as the “last updated” date and reviews. Later on in this article, I’ll get into more on the topic.
If the number of available themes is daunting, wait until you get to the plugin directory! There are over 30K and that number’s always growing.
Side note: You’ll hear folks refer to the plugin repository, simply as “the repo.” That’s because we’re too busy writing awesome code to waste spoken syllables. 😉
Back in 2010 Apple trademarked the phrase “There’s an app for that.” When it comes to things you want to do with WordPress, the same principle applies. Whatever it is you want to do, chances are high there’s a plugin for that. Just head on over to the repo and start searching.
Now, I don’t want to get too complain-y, because just about everything that happens over at WordPress.org is the labor of some under-appreciated volunteer, but the plugin search feature at WordPress.org is a little weak. You might have better luck Googling (here’s a quick Google search tip demo) or using a site like Tidy Repo, a curated list of plugin recommendations. Hopefully in the future we’ll get the ability to filter the search.
Just like themes, there are some important criteria to use when selecting a good plugin. More on that shortly.
Mobile apps are available iOS, Android, and Blackberry to help you manage your WordPress site. An app primarily comes in handy for posting new content and managing comments – it’s not a full-featured admin dashboard.
If you write short-form content or like to share media on the go, the mobile app could come in handy. Personally, I’m too long-winded to try to post from a phone.
Ideas & Kvetch!
Now this is a really fun item to peek in on. If you’ve ever thought, “I sure wish WordPress could do XYZ!,” then head over and submit your idea. You can see ideas submitted by other community members and vote on them. The top ideas are rolled into future versions of WordPress, which is pretty freaking cool if you ask me.
If you’re not thinking of cool ideas, but rather all the ways WordPress has irritated you lately, you are also welcome to submit (and read others’ submissions) of kvetchs. For example:
“The WYSIWYG editor needs to fall off the face of WordPress.”
Part of the beauty of working with open source software is the ability to give feedback, for better or worse. 🙂
This section probably deserves a post of its own. Support comes in two basic flavors at WordPress.org – there’s specific support forums for each plugin and theme, and there’s general support which I’ll get into now. Right now.
Ok, so the general support section of WordPress.org is a many-faceted gem! It has support forums for all sorts of topics, helpful articles for folks just getting started, and the official WordPress documentation, a.k.a. the Codex.
The Codex is for folks doing development with WordPress, even if it’s as basic as theme tweaks. I treat it like a user manual or a dictionary, looking up functions, seeing what parameters a function takes and what the expected return value is.
If you’re new to development with WordPress, this won’t be your favorite part of WordPress.org. On the other hand, if you’re doing any sort of development with WordPress or coming over from another programming or CMS background and want to dive into the code, bookmark codex.wordpress.org.
Anyone can read through the search forum threads, but you’ll need a user account to post a question.
So who are these volunteers that keep the documentation up to date? Who’s reviewing code, fixing bugs, and enhancing the UI on the WordPress dashboard? Who’s planning your local meetup or WordCamp.
These are the volunteers of WordPress. They are legion and, God bless them, without them WordPress wouldn’t happen. The cool part is, you (YOU!) can dive in and start contributing, too. Here are the basic ways to get involved:
- Core – write code, fix bugs, debate decisions, and help with development
- UI – mockups, design, and user testing
- Mobile – develop mobile apps for WP
- Accessibility – make sure that core and all WordPress resources are accessible
- Polyglots – translate WordPress into your language
- Support – easiest way to start contributing, answer questions
- Documentation – improve docs and write helpful resources
- Themes – review/approve submitted themes for the repo
- Plugins – review/approve submitted plugins for the rep
- Community – support local events and outreach
Regardless of where you are in your WordPress journey, you know more than somebody else. If you have a desire to get involved, this is the section of WordPress.org for you to explore.
The about section is a fount of interesting information about WordPress. Get answers to questions like:
- What’s the history of WordPress?
- What is appropriate WordPress logo usage?
- Where is WordPress headed in the future and what’s the philosophy behind it?
- How can I get a sweet WordPress hoodie?
In addition to these burning questions, About is where you find out who the Grand Poobah’s are leading the charge for WordPress development, design, etc. You can even check out WordPress fan art. This is a fun place, people.
Self-explanatory, right? The WordPress blog is where you can stay up to date on new releases. If you enjoy the minutiae involved in each WordPress release (both major and minor), then you’ll love the blog.
Tips for Using WordPress.org
Now that we’ve covered what type of content is available at WordPress.org and the stuff you can do there, I’d like to offer a couple of tips to get you going.
Your WordPress.org User Account
To get the most out of WordPress.org, you’ll want to grab a user account. It’s totally free and enables you to post questions in the forums, answer questions, rate and review stuff, and more. You can include as much or as little info as you like on your profile. If you make your money with WordPress, I’d recommend stating what you do in your bio and including a link to your website.
Here’s what my profile looks like, just as an example:
It’s fun to check out other people’s profiles, too. For instance, if you’re a Bill Erickson fan, you can check out his profile to see all the plugins he’s authored in the repo. It’s not stalkerish at all.
Theme & Plugin Support
- Last updated
- Rating (and number of reviews)
- Number of support threads resolved recently
Updates: My general rule of thumb is not to use anything that hasn’t been updated in the past year. I occasionally make an exception to the rule if I know the plugin author and trust the code quality.
Rating/Reviews: I typically throw out the extreme reviews on both ends. Somebody’s friend is always going to throw a 5 star IT’S AWESOME review in there and it will be balanced out by some goofy 1 star review that just says DOESN’T WORK, never mind they probably didn’t read the setup instructions. All that said, take reviews with a grain of salt, but do look for a strong 4+ rating.
Support Threads: First, keep in mind that you get what you pay for and expectations around support for a free product should be kept low. That said, if you see that a lot of support threads are going unresolved, click over to the theme or plugin’s support tab and see what’s going on. It could be that the author asks for support requests to be funneled through a different site and folks don’t pay attention and post to the support forum on WordPress.org anyway, or it could be that the author has abandoned the product. Either way, getting a snapshot of the level of support is a good indicator of whether you want to use the product.
Adding Your Theme or Plugin
Wondering how all those themes and plugins made it onto WordPress.org? Anyone is welcome to submit their theme or plugin for inclusion. There’s a review process that’s not super-scary – it mainly just ensures you’re in compliance with the “rules.”
There are loads of great resources available for anyone interested in developing themes or plugins for WordPress.org:
One thing to keep in mind, if you do have code in the WordPress repo, you’ll be subject to the scrutiny I mentioned above. People will look at how well your theme/plugin is rated and the support you give. Have fun, but beware. 🙂
Get Involved… in Reading about Getting Involved
If you’re not quite ready to start contributing, but you’re curious about getting involved, I’d suggest subscribing to the blog feed for a particular area or lurking in IRC chats just to get a feel for what that group does.
To do this, go to the Get Involved page, click on the area you’re interested in and then check the sidebar to subscribe to that feed or learn when that group meets.
That’s a Wrap
I’d like to end by thanking the hundreds of volunteers (heck, maybe thousands?) who make WordPress.org a daily destination for me. There’s a ton of great info there, so head over and start exploring!