I entered the world of blogging back in 2006, and my first site used self hosted WordPress.
Since then, I have started many other blogs, for myself but mostly for others. In each case, WordPress was my preferred platform.
What I like about WordPress is its versatility. It not only has thousands of free themes that you can use or even customise to suit the look and feel of your site, but there are also many thousand plug-ins which can add enormous functionality or just plain gimmickry.
I tend to classify plug-ins under several categories.
First of all, there are the essentials. A site will work, and work well without these, but you can save yourself a lot of trouble and potential disaster if you use them.
Next are the very important ones. These are the ones that enhance the site in some way to make the reading experience easier or provide functionality that is otherwise lacking.
Next are the mildly important ones. Again, they provide some kind of added bonus to the site but are easy to live without.
Then there are the trivial ones that are there as pure decoration.
There are also two subgroups – those that are ‘free-standing’ in that they just add code to the site which performs a particular function, and the ‘non-free-standing’ ones which rely on a third party website to function properly. These latter ones require some caution.
Plug-ins should be treated with some caution, as they can impact heavily on the site. The essentials are essential, so I will leave them out of this argument, but even amongst the Very Important ones, there are some that may impact on a site’s performance. The dangerous ones are the Very Important Non-Free-Standing plug-ins. As an example, if a blog uses Google Analytics to track traffic (and who doesn’t like to know how their blog is faring?) then this requires coding that has to connect to the Google Analytics site. If, for example, the Google site is slow or down, then this is going to cause problems with your blog. Fortunately these events are extremely rare, but it is worth consideration.
Equally, some plug-ins set up additional fields in the site’s database. Not only does this impact on the server response time, but can lead to fairly weighty databases. One plug-in I had some unfortunate experiences with in the past is Firestats, which tracks statistics on a site. It creates extra tables, and in a couple of instances I found these tables filled with tens of megabytes of additional information – the plug-in was recording details of every single hit on the site and storing those details! I did not consider this information to be of such vital importance that I could tolerate not only the impact on the database server, but also the huge wastage of disk space, so I have removed it from all sites.
Next time around, I will delve into some of my favourite plug-ins; why I use them and how to get them.