What works for me: WordPress Plugins

by Bill Ferris on February 23, 2008 · 4 comments

in Blog Software

Table of contents for What works for me

  1. What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools
  2. What works for me: WordPress Plugins

My favorite thing about WordPress is the vast array of add-on functionality that is available. If you were wishing that WordPress had a feature or function, chances are someone has already developed it. The following are the plug-ins that I lean on heavily on my various sites:

Essentials

  • Akismet: I find this to be probably the single most important plugin I’ive ever installed. On my Tigers site alone it has saved me from having to moderate over 300,000 comments
  • WordPress Database Backup: Another essential tool. You can set it to backup your database at regular intervals and have the backups emailed to you, or stored on the server. With this plugin there is no excuse for losing more than a week’s worth of posts should something happen.
  • Google XML Sitemaps: Want Google to know about all of your pages? Want Google to know how often you are updating those pages? Just install this plugin and it will generate a sitemap that is recognizable by Google and will even ping Google to let them know when you’ve made an update.
  • WP-ContactForm: Readers have to be able to get in touch with you right? There are several Contact Form plugins available. Just make sure you use one of them.

Accessibility

  • WordPress Mobile Edition: Have you looked at your site on a mobile device? Did you let the whole thing load or did you get discouraged? This plug-in adapts your existing site and puts it into a mobile browser friendly theme. It’s so easy I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it.
  • Full Text Feed: If you’re not a full feed kinda blogger this probably doesn’t apply. In later editions of WordPress the feed truncates if you use the more tag. This will prevent that from happening delivering the full post in the feed.
  • Chunk Urls: Don’t you hate it when someone leaves a link as a comment, but it is several hundred characters long and breaks your theme? This plug-in will cut those links down to size keeping your site pretty.
  • Share This Deportes: Make it easy for others to evangelize those great posts. Share This was originally developed by Alex King and provided icons for many popular bookmarking/social sites as well as the ability to email posts. The deportes version is tailored to sports blogs with links to sites like BallHype and Yardbarker.
  • Smart Archives: Many blogs are shying away from displaying date based archives. However I think that for sports blogs they are still worthwhile because many readers may want to search for information by season. But if you’ve been blogging for a while this can get unwieldy. This plugin neatly arranges those archives into a more manageable format. Here it is in action.

Stickiness

  • Get Recent Comments: Make it easy for your regular readers to see when new comments have been left, so they know where to leave comments of their own.
  • Articles: I use this plugin to create a “Best of” page. Just mark those popular articles with a custom tag, and they’ll display on a page of your choosing.
  • Related Posts: Keep people on your site longer by pointing them to other articles they may care about.

This wasn’t an exhaustive list of all the plugins that I use, just the ones I consider most important. One that wasn’t mentioned in the list was In Series which can link a series of posts together. It’s what is driving this series in fact. Are there plugins that you use or recommend?

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Bleacher Report launch

by Bill Ferris on February 23, 2008 · 2 comments

in Blog Networks,Blog News

Bleacher Report launched a new design with a bevy of new features this week. Bleacher Report isn’t an compilation of other existing works on the net, but a community project where writers can sign up and submit articles. Those articles are debated and critiqued and the best and most liked will bubble to the top.

Techcrunch picked up the launch, and are quick to point out why an aspiring blogger/writer might want to hook up with BR:

While sports writers could simply sign up for accounts at WordPress or Blogger, they’d do better to publish at Bleacher Report for several reasons. The first and most compelling reason is a better audience. The site attracts sports fans and surfaces the best content to the homepage after assessing several factors such as writer rankings, editor ratings, community ratings, and hits. Readers who like your stuff can become your “fan” and track your work alongside others’ on a special “lineup” page. And articles published to Bleacher Report are categorized into sections like “New York Giants” and “MLB” so your content is found by those interested in just those topics.

Instant exposure is always a plus, not to mention the fact that writers get instant critical feedback. The same sort of feedback that could take months or years to get if trying to launch a blog on your own.

The downside is that you don’t really own the content and you’re writing for someone else. Still, it might be a worthwhile strategy for anyone looking to gain additional exposure or boost his or her authority ranking.

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Pistons show bloggers some love

by Bill Ferris on February 8, 2008 · 1 comment

in Bloggers and their Teams


Talk about an organization embracing bloggers. The Detroit Pistons offered up a suite for Need4Sheed.com proprietor Natalie Sitto and some of her/the team’s fans for a night. Comping tickets is pretty cool in and of itself, but check out what else the night included:

  • A pregame tour of The Palace including time at court level during warm-ups
  • A fully stocked suite with food and beverage plus souvenir jersey’s for all
  • The 1989 Championship trophy being brought to the suite for all to see

Kudos to the Pistons organization for really making a special night for some of their biggest fans and supporters.  Fellow Pistons blogger Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys will have a similar night in the near future.

The Ultimate Pistons Experience – Need4Sheed.com

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Tim Dierkes’s MLB Trade Rumors blog is one of the preeminent baseball blogs. Tim has carved out a niche by covering every baseball rumor of substance and doing it in a timely way while adding his own commentary where appropriate. Dierkes recently made the transition to full time blogger and in an effort to spruce up the site submitted it for a Problogger Community Consulting Review.

The results of the review are up, and while they are specific to MLBTR, there is considerable information that all sports bloggers might want to use. These include:

  • Adding an Advertise Here page
  • Making RSS subscription prominent on the page, as well as including an email option
  • Cleaning up the sidebar
  • Tips for trying to find more relevant advertising (which should convert better)
  • Adding more art (some blogs such as Roar of the Tigers already excel at this)
  • Suggestions for attracting more social media love

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Get your ESPN Widgets

by Bill Ferris on January 25, 2008 · 0 comments

in Blogging Tools

ESPN.com has recently entered into the widget business. It appears they have them for every sport, although it’s kind of hard to tell because the widget page is acting flaky. But if you want to have say a box that displays all the scores and maybe some stats in your sidebar, but this might be one way to go.

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Peter Gammons on bloggers

by Bill Ferris on January 21, 2008 · 3 comments

in Mainstream Media

Peter Gammons writes at length about various topics today, but a big component of the article is a flattering look at baseball blogs. He writes several hundred words about the topic and manages to not only point out a number of his favorite blogs, but he doesn’t once mention basements or pajamas.

A refreshing take from one of the deans of the mainstream baseball media. Bloggers everywhere say “Thank you Peter.” Now there’s a Hall of Famer I can get behind.

A portion of the article is below:

The fact is that we all know more about baseball because of the proliferation of creative thought. Run through Baseball Think Factory, The Baseball Analysts, Squawking Baseball, Sabernomics, Beyond the Box Score, Dan Agonistes, John Sickels’ minorleagueball.com. For everything, Deadspin.

Unfortunately, time keeps most of us from getting to those sites specific to teams. It’s amazing how many club officials read USS Mariner (Seattle), Fire Brand of the American League (Boston), Ducksnorts (San Diego), Athletics Nation (Oakland), Viva El Birdos (St. Louis), Lone Star Ball (Texas), River Ave. Blues (Yankees), MetsBlog.com, FishStripes (Florida), Dodger Thoughts, Bronx Banter (great writing), The LoHud Yankees Blog, Reds Reporter (Cincinnati), Bleed Cubbie Blue, Brew Crew Ball (Milwaukee) and more.

And you need an update on steroids? Try Baseball’s Steroid Era (an informative blog).

There are probably hundreds of sites I have missed. If so, hopefully, they’ll run by my laptop. But as we begin the 2008 season, our information, understanding and thought processes have been dramatically altered from the days when a Sunday newspaper notes column seemed significant. And, as fans, we are so much better off for all the work that is being done.

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MetsBlog teams up with SNY

by Bill Ferris on December 3, 2007 · 0 comments

in Blog News,Mainstream Media

Matthew Cerrone, the owner of MetsBlog has teamed up with SportsNet New York (SNY). SNY broadcasts Mets and Jets games. As for the agreement, MetsBlog goes largely unchanged, but Cerrone will work with the network to create original online video content.

The real kicker though is that Cerrone will now have access to the players and team.

Like you, my biggest concern had been that SNY will try to alter the site’s voice. However, and I cannot reiterate this point enough, it is still Matthew Cerrone’s MetsBlog.com – in every way, shape and form. From this point forward, though, in addition to writing MetsBlog in the exact same way you have come to trust, I now have better access to the team; better access to video content, and top-of-the-line equipment and producers to help create it; and, most important, you will get better and more original material to read and watch throughout the day.

Congrats to Matthew who follows in Henry Abbott’s True Hoops footsteps in partnering with a major media organization – and still getting to remain a blogger.

News: MetsBlog and SNY agree to Partnership | MetsBlog.com

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Those f*%#&’n comments

by Bill Ferris on November 30, 2007 · 2 comments

in General

I’ve found that bloggers have a love-hate relationship with their comment sections. On one hand, we all want a lof of comments. It’s a sign of an active blog. It’s a sign of compelling content. It’s a sign that you have an engaged reader base. At the same time, when comments turn ugly it can be enough to make you want to throw your hands in the air and just shut down the whole blog. For sports bloggers, a losing streak can often bring on the worst of the worst in others as frustrations mount. And typically, the blogger is just as frustrated and is less able or willing to deal with the issue. So what to do?

I know for a long time I was reluctant to ban commentors or delete comments because I thought that it would hurt the community. But then I started to run into commentors that were hurting the community on their own. Two people came in and started belittling anyone that didn’t agree with their stances, making it a not friendly place to be. Those were the first and only 2 commentors I had to ban. One time proved to be enough. It also prompted the creation of my first commenting policy which essentially was:

1. Don’t swear. And don’t try to evade the censors when you swear either.
2. Don’t be a jerk.

Disagreement and criticism are fine, but there are ways to do it in a civilized manner. As for the swearing, it’s not that I have a problem with swearing in general. But I feel that my comment section is a reflection on my blog and on me and it’s not the kind of thing that I want on my site. It’s a sports site and there is no reason that parents should have any qualms about their kids reading it.

A guest post at Problogger nicely captures my feelings on the matter:

How you choose to moderate the comments on your site will affect who feels comfortable to participate on your site, and who will want to come back again and again.

If you let rude, obnoxious, spiteful comments persist on your blog, you are basically telling all of your commenters that it’s okay with you to behave badly on your site. This covert permission can act like a magnet, drawing in hooligans and bullies, making the reading of and participating in your comment section uncomfortable for many. I learned long ago that people will give you as much crap as you are willing to put up with. If you tolerate abusive commenters, they’ll just keep coming back.

USS Mariner probably has the strictest policy that I’ve come across. They will delete posts for a whole host of reasons that go beyond inappropriate content and will do it if they don’t deem your comment worthy. And yet they still have a very active community and the result is a ton of very intelligent discussion. Even a very strict policy can actually help to build community and that strong community lends more credibility to the blog itself.

The other downside to comment moderation is that it takes a lot of time. Spam catchers take care of stuff that is truly spam, but moderating comments can take so much time that it detracts from your regular blogging. The most absolute way is to moderate every comment. This can and will detract from the community because comments don’t appear right away, and who is always watching their blogs.

If you’re using WordPress (I can’t speak to the functionality of other blogging platforms) you can enter key words that when they appear in a post it will be sent to moderation before reaching the audience. This is also an effective way to ban people. I’ve entered IP addresses of the offending commentors into this field as well. It typically deters them for a while – at least until they get a new IP address. Hopefully by that time they will have given up posting. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it can at least free up some comment moderation time.

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Table of contents for What works for me

  1. What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools
  2. What works for me: WordPress Plugins

This is the first post in a series that will look at various elements of blogging, and what I’ve found to work for me. This is hardly a comprehensive list about blogging, or a best of the best list. It’s simply stuff that I’ve tried, that I’ve had success with. It may not work for everyone, and there may (and in many cases are) probably better options or solutions. But hopefully this will prime some discussion and I look forward to feedback and letting others know what works for you.

The Blogging Platform

WordPress is my tool of choice. I started on Blogger and it served me well for a very long time. But 2 years ago I got to the point where I needed functionality that just wasn’t available in Blogger. Blogger has since added quite a bit of that functionality, like categories for example. But because of the hundreds of plug-ins available with WordPress, I don’t think Blogger can ever really catch-up at this point.

Now with WordPress there are two options, a hosted version called WordPress.com and a version you host yourself. There are advantages to the hosted version. The big 2 as I see it are:

  1. It’s free. It costs nothing. No hosting costs are required. No domain needs to be registered. It’s completely free and not a bad route to go if you’re unsure of how committed you are to this blogging thing.
  2. You don’t have to know anything about programming, or maintaining a web site. It’s all taken care of for you. The software is updated automatically as new versions come out. It’s all handled for you which definitely has an appeal in terms of time, and expertise.

Still, I use the .org version. I want control over everything, including access to all the great plug-ins that exist. I also want control over back-ups and control over my content into perpetuity.

Now mind you, I’m not a web expert. I have some programming experience, but none of it is with PHP – the language that WordPress is coded in. And even with that limited knowledge I’m able to get by.

As for the cost, that is really pretty minimal because there is lots of cheap hosting out there.

[click to continue…]

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Bill Conlin – sigh

by Bill Ferris on November 23, 2007 · 1 comment

in Blogs & Journalism,Mainstream Media

It seems like it was only a couple weeks ago that Chris McCosky pulled the “I have a degree in this stuff” routine when differentiating himself from bloggers.  Now Bill Conlin is playing that card.

The whole chronology is detailed in: crashburnalley.com » Conlin’s Losing Numbers [UPDATED: See end]. The story is as old as time. Columnist slams sabermetrics despite poor understanding of the concepts. Blogger writes email to columnist. Columnist says that he’s smarter. This one went a little farther though in the exchange with Conlin ultimately dropping this response:

The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

I will say I’ll give Conlin credit for responding to the email. But that’s where it ends. Ignorance and idiocy trumps participation in this case. So Conlin longs for the return of Hitler to take care of those pesky bloggers?!

And he wasn’t it those pamphleteers that contributed to the series of events that allowed for Conlin the freedom to say stupid things and a free press. And he rights for a Philadelphia paper? The irony is excruciating.

For more see John Brattain’s response: The Progenitor of Severe Gluteal Discomfort: Barry Bonds vs. Bill Conlin…

UPDATE: Brattain has another response worth checking out. You can follow all responses on Ballhype

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