Shiny New Toys: A Weekly Report of New WordPress PluginsThis week we’ll highlight some new plugins that provide new features for mobile contact buttons, system info, and login/registration forms.

I wanted to open with some insight as to why I highlight the plugins I highlight in this series. Each week there’s roughly 50-75 new plugins on the Plugin Directory and I only highlight around 4-5. What I’m looking for is very subjective of course, but generally a new plugin stands out to me because of one or more of these things:

  1. It’s a really good idea, or it’s a specific functionality that is either unique, or I think that functionality needs more (and higher quality) competition than the current offerings.
  2. The readme is totally filled out and tells me exactly what to expect from the plugin. This includes the header image, screenshots, links to relevant docs or websites.
  3. The plugin already has significant downloads or installs
  4. It does something old in a new way
  5. Or it’s something super-niche that I happened to personally be interested in, in one way or another.

If you have a new plugin you’re about to launch on the Plugin Directory, feel free to ping me and I can give you my feedback of your readme in advance and consider it for the following Shiny New Toys edition.

If you’re new to this series, you can catch up on Week 1, and Week 2 here. Also just a quick nod to Social Pug. Of all the plugins I’ve highlighted over the past couple weeks, Social Pug is really taking off with already over 100+ active installs.

Alright. Let’s jump first into an interesting mobile plugin.

With the advent of the WordPress REST API, WordPress will become more and more an engine for serving up content in new and unique ways. Obviously, this has significance in the mobile/tablet realm in particular. I think we’ll see a spike in plugins targeted at mobile users this year.

Mobile Call Now Map Buttons isn’t related to the REST API, but it is an interesting feature for people viewing your site on mobile devices. This plugin allows you to put in your phone number and physical address, then designate a screen width which will trigger two buttons to appear fixed at the bottom of the screen for your users. One button lets your visitors call that phone number directly from their phone, the other opens up Google Maps so they can get directions.

I can see this as being very relevant for local businesses who see a lot of mobile traffic to their sites. Anyone who is looking for a local bookstore, deli, mechanic or the like could get in touch with you with one thumb.

Here’s a few things I’d like to see improved though:

  • The screen width setting is done with a horizontal scroller. Aren’t these universally hated for pixel settings? You can never get it to stay on “450”, it’s always 452 or 448. Ditch the scroller for a simple number field.
  • The markup is not sematic at all. The buttons are currently h2 tags. I think making them actual <button> elements would be far more appropriate.
  • The CSS out of the box isn’t great. The buttons should be next to each other, but everywhere I tested it, they stacked, which is much less appealing.
  • It’d be great to have the ability to configure this per page. If you have multiple locations in your business you might want to have different numbers or addresses depending on the business page your visitor is on.

As a support guy I love having system info. Plugins like this really make me happy to see. But I already have a favorite. “Send System Info” is an excellent plugin which allows users to email me their system info, or even post a static link to their system info for me to view, and they can disable that link once the support issue is closed.

So, this plugin caught my eye because I’m always looking for better ways to help users get this information. This one is not as versatile as Send System Info, but it does show some important info that Send System Info doesn’t. That being the whole output of phpinfo();. Most of the time the minimum PHP information that Send System Info has is plenty, but I’m glad to know I can also direct users to install this plugin to check whether a certain PHP module is enabled in their environment or not (for example).

Bottom line, it works, and has additional important information. Another useful tool to add to the Support Guru’s toolbox.

Tables are a necessary evil. Necessary because sometimes your data really needs to be presented that way; evil because they’re the opposite of responsive. This plugin caught my attention because I have a special place in my heart for FooTable. It’s an excellent plugin that delivers on many levels.

This plugin delivers right out of the box as well. What I like about it, is that it just does exactly what you want: it makes your tables responsive. It has far less features than FooTable does, but that’s exactly how it distinguishes itself. Maybe you don’t need all the sorting, filtering, searching that FooTable can do. You just don’t want your tables looking like s*&^. If that’s you, this plugin will get the job done.

The next two plugins deal with your login or registration form. “Custom WP Registration Form” caught my eye because it’s really a developer’s tool. It’s not your standard end-user plugin… it’s actually pretty much useless to an enduser. Think of it as a PHP Class that makes it very easy to create a robust registration form. If you’re developing a WordPress site that needs custom registration fields and want to do that with as little code as possible, plug this in, and you can code it up with a simple array and be done.

Honestly, it’s pretty refreshing to see the Plugin Directory used for developers again. I’m used to seeing tools like this only on Github, so this was kind of a breath of fresh air. The author, Adam Carter, obviously builds WordPress sites and didn’t want to have to keep re-inventing the wheel and decided to make a plugin out of his registration form code and offer it for other devs to benefit from. Thanks Adam!

Next, the WP Customize Login page plugin enters an already very full plugin space. There is no end of Login customizer options out there. And honestly, in that light this plugin falls far short.

This plugin works, it’s does what it claims to do, but in light of new developments in WordPress — specifically the Customizer — I’m not sure how useful a plugin like this really is. The folks at CodeinWP, for example, have this excellent plugin that allows you to do all the things that WP Customize Login Page does, but in the Customizer instead — giving you instant live previews.

I’m all for new developers learning and posting their work for feedback and the experience, but generally, I’d suggest doing it right from the beginning rather than putting out “Just another Login Customizer”.

My Nutshell Advice

Overall, the majority of what came out on the Plugin Directory this week are repeats of other plugins that already do it well. That’s not a huge problem, but I think developers of all stripes can do better than that. The Mobile buttons plugin is a unique idea, it just needs to be iterated on a bit more to be really effective. Adam Carter’s registration form plugin can definitely be done with a lot of other plugins out there, but it’s unique in that it’s providing a framework for you rather than being a point-and-click user plugin. But the system info, and login customizer plugins really only do what others have already done and done better.

Here’s my nutshell advice to this author and others:

You have an idea, awesome! Do serious research first. Look around at available plugins that do the same thing or similar. Find code on Github or StackExchange. Learn from that, mimic what has already been done. But then iterate! Don’t stop! Take it to the next level. That’s where the real learning comes from and where you can start to actually get real feedback and attention for your code and the hard-spent time you’re putting into this stuff.

Until next week!

 

Matt is Head of Support and Community Outreach at WordImpress.com. He's the author of many free WordPress plugins, a popular blogger at his website, an admin of the Advanced WordPress Facebook group, co-organizer of the San Diego WordPress Meetup, and a frequent WordCamp speaker and attender.

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