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The wild world of WordPress plug-ins

A couple weeks ago, our family visited the Evergreen Air and Space Museum. Being an aviation geek, I took a ton of pictures, and wanted to post about 150 of them here on my WordPress-powered blog.

Years ago, I used to make such albums using an app on my Mac, which I’d then upload to my server, reference in a blog entry, and that was that. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, and I know that WordPress’ gallery had improved, and that there were tons of extensions that would also create and manage galleries.

So I set off looking for a plug-in to handle my gallery needs. I thought I had a pretty simple list of requirements:

  • Ability to batch add images at once via WordPress’ built-in Media tools.
  • A grid view to easily sort and caption large numbers of images.
  • Control over title, caption, and metadata—both customizing those fields, and whether or not they appeared.
  • Support for more than one gallery per post or per page.
  • The creation of a thumbnail index page must be optional.
  • An understandable user interface that didn’t have a steep learning curve.
  • No reliance on Flash, but with some flashy features via jQuery or similar.
  • Ideally, the plug-in would create slideshows that scaled nicely based on screen size/resolution.

So I went to the plug-ins section of the WordPress interface, and ran a search for slideshow.

overload

Yikes, 432 plug-ins?! Problem number one: an overabundance of choice. As I started digging, though, I found numerous duplicates as well as entries for plug-ins that hadn’t been updated in years. Problem number two: cruft in the search results reduces their usefulness. I scanned the results, focusing on those with high numbers of positive user ratings.

Over the course of many hours one Saturday morning, I probably installed and tested in excess of 25 plug-ins…and not a single one even came close to being a viable tool for my needs.

I ran into everything: horrendously complicated interfaces, failure to work as described, failure to work at all, image uploads restricted to one at a time (ouch!), no good way to rearrange large numbers of slides, payware disguised as freeware, plug-ins that required 15 additional plug-ins to run, etc. In short, it was a complete disaster.

While the world of WordPress is incredibly large and populated with amazingly talented people, there’s a definite need for some sort of curated plug-in store to greatly improve the user experience.

So what did I do? In the end, I returned to my years-old desktop app of choice, jAlbum. It met all of my criteria (except, obviously, the ability to use the WordPress Media library). The main downside of jAlbum is that it’s a Java app, so the UI doesn’t feel completely natural on OS X. However, it’s miles better than working in a browser, and it’s a very well written program.

There are also a ton of skins available, and the one I chose for the aviation photos scales incredibly well as you change the size of the window (though you do have to click a slide to get it to recognize the window has changed).

Basically, I’m back where I started years ago, and I guess that’s not all bad—I know the process, it works well, and it’s incredibly easy to use. I still feel like there should be a WordPress-based tool capable of doing this, but I’m done looking for the forseeable future.

2 Comments

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  1. Seems like the real lesson is, you should start a curated WordPress plug-in store! Take 30% off the top. ;o)

  2. It isn’t just WordPress. I inherited a Joomla project, and they love to brag about thousands of modules, extensions, components and plugins. I have found that the majority are infrequently used, were probably created for a specific client, have no support, but other than that it looks great. There are some really useful things nonetheless, but the good stuff costs money. Which is fine by me, I would like to have more search options for Joomla too, for example, just show me professional stuff, not the amateur hour stuff.

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