What I’m Thankful For in WordPress: 2016 Edition

thanks | wordpress thankful 2016

I asked myself: What in WordPress have I been thankful for in 2016? The answers will guide you to some amazing stuff.

Happy Thanskgiving! As in past years, this week I asked myself a question: What people and things in WordPress have I been personally thankful for in 2016? The answers will guide you to some especially amazing stuff in the generally amazing world of WordPress.

Two notes:

  1. This list is personal, and not comprehensive in any way—otherwise, I’d have to start with the WordPress core software itself and the thousands of people who have given their time to make it great. (On that topic: Thank you so much to all!)
  2. We’re not affiliated with the people and projects on this list; we’re mentioning them out of genuine enthusiasm. There’s one exception: SiteGround, whose affiliate code we do have (and are using), but which I’d unquestionably be mentioning even if we didn’t.

My Thankful List

Everything on this list is something that has made me pause in gratitude sometime this year. I’ve organized it by category. Let’s dive in!

Plugins that Work Suspiciously Well

Some plugins just work: they make a single, potentially complicated thing beautifully simple. The following plugins have given me moments of gratitude this year:

  • YouTube Embed Plugin, for dead-simple responsive YouTube video embeds. Continues to be one of the best plugins I’ve ever seen for solving the heck out of an otherwise tricky problem—although its one very crowded settings page got, in my opinion, slightly less intuitive to use this past year.
  • Video Background. Between this free plugin and its pro version, I’ve been able to make numerous clients happy with snazzy video backgrounds that Just Work™. To stay on your host’s good side, I strongly recommend embedding from YouTube (a pro feature) rather than hosting the videos yourself, for all but very small video files.
  • Display All Image Sizes. I’m grateful to this plugin for two reasons. First, I wrote it, and it’s been a really positive introduction to the WordPress plugin ecosystem. Second, I use it on just about every site I build for myself or a client, since being able to access different image sizes directly is so useful in so many situations.
  • Black Studio TinyMCE Widget. For me, WYSIWYG editing for my widget areas was a feature I didn’t know I always needed. Among other things, it makes widgetized homepages that the client can actually touch a much more near-at-hand reality. A great, simple, free plugin that does an important thing well.
  • Which Template. When a plugin’s title is a question you have ten times a week, there’s reason for optimism that it’ll be a good one. Which Template tells you which of your many PHP templates is displaying on a given page. A major time-saver in development and debugging.
  • CoSchedule. This plugin is not free or standalone, but rather links into the paid CoSchedule content marketing app. But it’s been very worth the price, because it helps us schedule and publish social content—and plan WPShout’s editorial calendar itself—from inside the post admin. An enormous time-saver.
  • The Give Plugin. Overseen by Advanced WordPress moderator and all-around awesome guy Matt Cromwell, Give helped me, this year, to run several donation drives in WordPress, one of which was shockingly effective. When WordPress is helping people offer thousands of dollars of support to worthy causes without any need for the usual middlemen, it’s worth saying thanks for.
  • WP Google Maps: between the free, pro, and gold versions, offers absolutely everything you’re likely to want in a Google Maps embed.
  • Akismet, for comment spam. Obvious one, but WordPress would be sad without it.
  • WooCommerce. Kind of an obvious choice, but it’s difficult to imagine what WordPress would be without being extensible into an amazingly robust and full-featured e-commerce solution—for free.

Theme Vendors: “the good ones”

This year has actually been a pretty dark one for me in terms of my attitude toward premium WordPress themes. More and more projects I see have already been weighed down by bloated, badly built, over-marketed “everything themes” like X and Divi. These themes aim to put WordPress developers out of business, but their actual effect is more to make our work difficult and unpleasant.

With that downer intro, I’ve been thankful for a few theme developers this past year:

  • ElmaStudio. Clean, spacious, lovely themes. The widgetized layouts and a couple of other coding choices can occasionally be tricky to work with, but I’ve made a couple of sites that I’m very happy with on their Zuki theme in particular.
  • SoloPine. Also clean, spacious, and lovely. Coded well: they give you a good design and get out of the way, with the exception of the weird homepage slider implementation. (Fortunately, I don’t use sliders in my work.) I’ve built a few sites I’m happy with on Redwood.
  • WPZoom. I’ve tried a couple of their themes, and one of them had a too-obtrusive theme options menu (I requested, and promptly, got a refund). But Modena has been the basis for a couple of sites I’m quite happy with, including one very large project I completed this year. The hero image takes some manipulating, but overall the theme is a simple, attractive, and clean starting point. I highly recommend adding featured image support.

As a sidenote, if there are any theme authors that are doing a beautiful job, I’d very much like to hear about them in the comments below. Bonus points if you’re a developer who completed a project with one of the studio’s themes; points off if you’re a marketing manager for the theme studio.

WordPress Teachers, Technologists, and Advocates

Some people loom large in my knowledge of WordPress. Each one of these people has contributed to the WordPress discourse in a way for which I’ve been grateful this year.

Work-Transforming Technologies

A few tools make my work way better. These are the ones for which I’ve been conspicuously thankful this year.

  • Chrome Dev Tools and in-browser mockups. I’ve had in-browser mockups push forward multiple client relationships. They get design ideas right out onto the screen, and they’re fun to do. And of course they’re made possible by Chrome’s job- and life-saving Dev Tools feature set.
  • WAMP. Here on Windows, WAMP is the easiest (although not necessarily the fanciest or best) answer for local development, and it makes my life much easier every day. From ultra-fast file editing to working with no internet connection, local development just feels better.
  • SiteGround. We’ve said a lot about SiteGround over the years of having them as our host, and I’ll just summarize that here: SiteGround is the best host I can hope for. In particular, their tech support—instantly available, friendly, and highly trained—has literally been a “work-transforming technology” relative to the many of the alternatives that I know exist from working with them on other projects. So have their free caching, CDN, and SSL solutions, which let you be a much larger and more professional outfit than you have any right to be on $10-to-$30 shared hosting. If you have any sort of hosting decision to make, I’d go with them until there’s evidence not to. (Again, this is our one affiliate link in this article, so if you’re made a commitment not to let money come between us, make sure not to click. 🙂 )
  • Sass, and Sass GUI compilers. Sass is CSS but about five times better; but you need a compiler for it, and command-line practices like setting up a task runner are painful for certain people and on certain computers. With GUI compilers, you don’t have to worry.
  • Git, GitHub, and the GitHub desktop client. Version control is an absolute must-have for any project that matters; but again, the standard user interface is a bunch of obscure terminal commands. The GitHub client takes the pain right out of the experience.

Technology Horizons

These are technology changes on the near horizon that are sure to change my work and industry for the better. Each one’s going to mean a fair amount of learning for me, but in each case I’m beyond excited to do that learning.

  • WordPress 4.7. This is shaping up to be the best WordPress update in recent memory. In addition to custom templates for arbitrary post types, an in-built custom CSS solution with live previews, video headers, and a ton else, this is the release where we finallllly get the WordPress REST API’s content endpoints in Core! Thanks to release lead Helen Hou-Sandí and the release’s other wonderful contributors, Christmas is coming slightly early this year.
  • Double-mention for the WordPress REST API, which is going to make just about everything cool possible when it finishes landing into WordPress. If you’re not clear on what those cool things are, Josh Pollock did a wonderful job explaining them in a recent interview we did with him.
  • React JS and React Native. These are the technologies that I want most fervently to learn in this coming year. Built by Facebook, React is currently at the top of the churn pile for JavaScript frameworks. And what’s impossibly cool about it is that React Native bridges your React code into literal native mobile apps, with a minimum of native (Swift/Java/etc.) code. This isn’t an instance of the usual promises to “Build native mobile apps in whatever language you want” that aren’t actually native (or well-functioning) at all—it’s a lot more real than that, and I’m beyond excited to learn it.
  • Flexbox, which is pretty much a thing now as IE fades into welcome oblivion. This is a major game-changer in how to do CSS layouts, and another thing I’m just learning now as the technology becomes appropriate for general use.

What About You?

Thanks for reading my list—now let’s hear yours! What have you been thankful for in WordPress this year? Post your list below, and let’s shout out even more amazing stuff in WordPress.

And, as always, we’re hugely thankful for you, our readers! You guys are the best. 🙂

Image credit: aphotoshooter

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November 26, 2016 5:10 pm

Im glad you found our theme useful thanks.

Devin Walker
November 23, 2016 2:58 pm

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m grateful for a lot of things in WordPress as well. I’m seeing a lot of overlap with yours, too. Keep up the great work here. See you at a WordCamp soon!

Pavel Ciorici
November 23, 2016 2:13 am

Thanks for the mention too, Fred 🙂 I’m glad you found our theme useful!

Matt Cromwell
November 22, 2016 4:37 pm

Thanks for the mention, Fred! Give has been a great project for our whole team, we’re now 6 people. Devin Walker is our Founder and primary creator and developer of Give and he does an amazing job. Keep up the good work! Much to be thankful for!

Devin Walker
November 23, 2016 2:58 pm
Reply to  Matt Cromwell

C’mon Matt! You oversee Give as much as I do!