Review: Smashing WordPress, Beyond the Blog

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Smashing WordPress is a book written by Thord Daniel Hedengren, published by Wiley in partnership with Smashing Magazine, and all about WordPress development. And recently, I read and reviewed it.


Reviewed in 30 seconds: Smashing WordPress is not a book for advanced developers. It’s best for those who have perhaps modified a theme or two and are now interested in developing more advanced, non-blog websites with WordPress. If you typically like Smashing Magazine’s posts, you’ll like this book.


First of all, the book that I read was written for WordPress version 2.8. There may be an updated version of the book in the works, or on its way out, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that. Being a couple of point released back doesn’t effect much, although it does mean there is nothing in this book about Multisite or custom post types.

Hedengren takes a nice approach to the development how-to in the book, typically diving straight into code and explaining how to get from A to B. He does such a great job exploring things like action hooks and the anatomy of a theme, though, that it makes the initial chapters covering WordPress installation basics that much more mundane. The book would have been stronger without any of the chapters on the basics of WordPress.

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Tweem: I'm in your WordPress, making it Twitter

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Tweem logo

Microblogging is all the rage nowadays. Everyone and their cat is doing it. Literally, cats are doing it.

One of the more exciting aspects of WordPress development, Plugins and themes, is how to draw what we’re doing elsewhere on the web into our blogs so we can own them. Right now for most of us that means integration of Twitter into our WordPress sites.

Tweem is a new theme from the new WordPress theme shop called Shopping Themes. I recently received a copy of Tweem and gave it a spin. Read on for my thoughts.

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Desk Mess Theme Review

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Overview:

Desk Mess is a two columns (sidebar to the right), widget and gravatar-ready theme. From the theme’s description:

Casual work-desk theme for a different blogging experience. Brought to you by Geek with Laptop

What I think is nice about this theme:

Why, it looks good, doesn’t it? The header area is a major point of interest for this theme, resembling a messy desk from which this theme gets its name. Aside from the somewhat puzzling look of the top nav (pieces of paper stapled to the desk), the whole thing looks quite realistic and nice.

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Crafty Cart Theme Review

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Overview:

Crafty Cart is a sweet-looking, 2-columns theme from King Cart. While it is intended to be used as a WordPress e-commerce theme in conjunction with the WP e-commerce plugin, it works without a hitch for your regular blog without requiring you to install the plugin. In fact, this review is aimed toward its usage for regular blog instead of for e-commerce.

What I think is nice about this theme:

Crafty Cart has a soft, friendly visual style with pastel colors and cute imageries. This might not fit with the general content of your blog, but you can’t deny that there’s a polished feel about the look: the elements fit together and it doesn’t feel cheaply designed like most WordPress themes out there. The details are there: the various icons looks great together, the search form is nice, and the top nav actually gives you a dropdown menu displaying sub-pages (something I’d like to point out since the theme’s release article doesn’t even mention about it).

Various Screenshots of Crafty Cart

Also, the typeface choice for the headers is nice. You might not think this is important, but you’d agree with me that most of the stuffs you see on the Web are done in the usual limited choices of Helvetica, Georgia, Lucida Grande, Verdana, and the like. Crafty Cart uses Century Schoolbook, giving it a unique look, a kind of lightness feel that works well with the rest of the theme’s visual style.

Century Schoolbook for Headers

Now, I am using the Sandbox Design Competition‘s dummy content (links to zip file) to test this theme, and this dummy content isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to having obscure HTML and WordPress elements that need to be supported by a theme. Fortunately, Crafty Cart does very well here. Post paging (a.k.a Page-Links), one of the most frequently neglected features, gets styled:

Page Links Stylings on Crafty Cart

Upon testing, various HTML elements like <dt>, <cite>, <abbr>, <del>, <ins>, and nested <blockquotes> are styled accordingly as well. Very nice.

The Comments area is well done too. You have different stylings for odd/even comments and another one for admin comments. The theme is also smart enough to separate between trackbacks and comments, displaying the entire comments first before listing the trackbacks for the post.

Comments area

Edge Cases / Minor Gripes:

As it turns out the blog title area looks best when your title is long enough to form two lines of it. One line or three lines and above kind of disrupts the visual:

Crafty Cart Blog Title Issue

Having too many pages will ruin the top nav, although to be fair this is a common problem for most themes:

Crafty Cart Nav too long issue

Lastly, hovered anchor texts on the sidebar gets a bold styling. This means a particularly long text might create a new line when hovered, creating a jumpy effect that can affect the rest of the sidebar:

Crafty Cart Jumpy Hover Effect

Conclusion:

The various nit-picking I did to find this theme’s flaws actually shows that it doesn’t really have any major issue. It has a lot of attention to details put into it, with a profesionally-designed visual look that’s friendly and pleasing to the eye. To top it all, this theme is released for free. So just go here to grab your copy, and poke around the demo site to learn more about this great theme. We don’t get a unique, pleasant-looking GPL WordPress themes like this too often, so don’t forget give it a try!

Creating Custom Content Type with Flutter Plugin

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Overview

There has been a lot of buzz regarding using WordPress as a CMS lately, with many clever solutions that come up. Today, we will be a bit lazy try to use a plugin that is made precisely for CMS-making instead.

One of the important feature of a CMS is the capability to create different content types. Say we want to make an “Events” content type. Here, we will probably need to make it so that user can input a title, a description, and the date/time for that event. Under WordPress, you can trick this by using the custom field to store that date and time value, and calling them within the theme’s code.

This practice, of course, is tedious, error-prone (mistypings, etc), and generally inconvenient.

Enter Flutter.

Flutter allows you to create what it calls a Write Panel. This, basically, is a custom content type in which you can add your own fields. So, if a vanilla WordPress installation gives you two different content types (Post and Page), Flutter enables you to add more Write Panels to your likings. Now let’s go make ourselves an Events Write Panel!

Let’s Try This!

The steps to create a Write Panel will be like this:

Install and activate Flutter. This will Create two different menu on your dashboard: A “Flutter” menu and another one under “Settings > Flutter”. Create a category. Name it ‘Events’, for our example. Create the Write Panel. Go to “Flutter > Write Panels” and click the “+ Create a Write Panel” button.

Next is the Write Panel setup page:

What happened here? First, you decide whether this Write Panel should mimic the Write Post or the Write Page panel. Assuming we’re going to have multiple Events posted, we go with Post. This choice also affects what Advanced Fields options are available for this Write Panel (try toggling between the Post and Page option). For the Assigned Categories, we give it “Events”. We didn’t just make this category previously for nothing, right?

Now, the Standard and Advanced Fields are interesting. These are basically the default fields you get when you open Write Post (or Page). If we don’t tweak this, then the Write Panel will look exactly like a Write Post page. If you want to make things simpler for your user, for example, you might consider removing some of them. For our example here, I remove everything from the Advanced Fields (I’ll show you the result soon). Click Finish when you’re done.

Get back to “Flutter > Write Panels“. Our Events Write Panel should be there, and there’s an “Edit Fields/Groups” option next to it. Go there. On the next page, you have the option to create a Group or Field. A Group is basically a box that contains one or more fields. For simplicity sake, we go straight to creating a new Field.


Name it, label it, and see that there’s even a built-in Date field type already. How convenient! Continue and you will be given a option to choose how to format the Date. Pick one and finish it. That is all!

Now let’s see the result of our work so far. Pick the topmost “Write” option, and you should see a new submenu named “Events”. Could this be…?

Oh yeah. Very nice. At the bottom of this page, you should see the Date field we just made. Also notice that the usual options (Trackbacks, etc) are gone, because we opt not to display it back at the Write Panel setup page.

Displaying the Custom Fields’ Values

The documentation (PDF file) does a good job explaining it. Go to part 3. Flutter Reference and you will se the three functions (get(), get_image() and get_audio()) needed to grab the value of the custom fields in our Write Panel. This comment thread could also be some help, too.

Conclusion

Geared towards making WordPress a powerful CMS, Flutter does a lot of things right. In fact, Write Panel is just one of its strong feature; there’s also a layout and module management built into this plugin as well. As of this writing, Flutter is currently in beta, so there are plenty areas where it can be polished (uninstallation apparently does not work cleanly, for example). Nevertheless, I believe this is a plugin worth keeping an eye on.

And who knows? Before getting acquired, BuddyPress was once just a set of plugins too, right?

Studio Blue Theme Review

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Overview:

Studio Blue is a new two-column theme made by Elegant Themes. It features a strong visual design backed with a useful theme options page allowing it to be tweaked further to your liking. Its attractive color scheme (there are 5 different schemes to choose), coupled with subtle usage of gradients here and there, work nicely to give your blog an eye-catching look that should grab your reader’s attention immediately.

The Home Page:

One nice feature of this theme is that you can change various parts of the home page via the theme options page. You can tweak how many featured posts you want, what categories to feature, and so forth. Even better, if you want to stay traditional, you can also choose to use classic blog-style display (listing posts in reverse-chronological order) on your home page instead.

Other Pages:

The single post display has a unique tabbed menu by the end of a post. It shows related posts, social bookmarking option and the post’s tags.

The default comment area display gravatars next to the comment, but you can also choose (via the theme options) to have a minimalistic, image-free comment area instead.

StudioBlue Features:

Here’s a list of StudioBlue’s features, which you can learn for more details this way http://elegantthemes.com/blog/?p=48/

  • Color Scheme Switcher
  • Theme options
  • Optional classic blog-style home page
  • Enhanced advertisement management
  • Optional categories dropdown menu
  • Home page settings
  • Post-page settings

Most of these features can be accessed via the neatly-designed theme options page:

Learn more:

You can preview StudioBlue version 2 here. For the curious, here is where the theme is first announced, and then a slight update is here, and finally here’s the big post about the release of version 2 and the various features added to it.

Conclusion:

StudioBlue is a good-looking theme with plenty of tweak-able parts via its useful theme options page. The fact that its author enjoys revisiting the theme and adding new great features to it makes it even interesting to use. What’s more, you can have this theme alongside with a bunch of other great themes by joining the Elegant Themes theme club for $19.95 per year.

Proximity News WordPress Theme Review

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Overview

Proximity is a professional-looking WordPress news theme by the well-known theme developer Nathan Rice. It’s a three columns theme on the homepage and a two columns one on most inner pages. The design gives it an organized look, with the home page displaying contents on various font sizes reflecting order of importance and with the single Post area sporting nicely sized font making it pleasant to read.

The Home Page

Proximity features a clever home page design with various elements on it easily customizable via the theme’s options page. You can choose one category to be used as the featured story, and a few others to be displayed on the left column. My favorite part of Proximity’s home page design is that you are allowed to pick what categories you want to display there. It’s a big plus that the theme allows you to do this instead of just dumping out all the available categories—leaving out some categories could be a good idea both to control your home page content and to keep the visual balance between the columns on the home page. If that’s still not enough, you can also control how many post per category to be displayed to.

Another smart part of the home page is that it avoids displaying duplicate posts at the same time. Think about this: one time or another, you will make a post that belongs to more than one category. Normally, if you feature all that categories on the home page, you’re going to see that post displayed repeatedly. But that’s not the case with Proximity. This theme is smart enough to avoid duplicate contents, you’re only going to see that post exactly once.

Here’s an example from the demo theme. That “Scandals Plague Capitol Hill” post falls under three different categories: Featured, Politics and US News. Now go to the home page. See how many times it shows up on the content area—once. Notice how it doesn’t show up under Featured (because there’s a newer post under that category) and Politics (a slightly older post is displayed instead). Subtle but definitely clever.

The home page sidebar features a Featured Video section (content customizable via theme options), a dual tabbed area displaying Most Popular and Most Commented posts, a 250 x 250 Adsense block, and finally a sidebar widget.

Other Pages

The single post page looks like this. Notice that small panel floating to the right area of the post? I love that. I bet you’ve seen those on major news websites, and it’s definitely a welcome addition here too. By the end of the post you’ll see a Related Entries and a Recent Entries list. The former needs a plugin to work, but the theme reminds you nicely instead of just stopped working if it doesn’t see the plugin installed. Yeah, Proximity is full of small details like these.

Now if we move to the Category Archives (here’s a demo) page, you’ll see that it’s been carefully designed to avoid the bland default WordPress archives look. It feels more professional while keeping a consistent visual look with the home page.

The Author page is even better. The dedicated area displaying the author’s bio and Gravatar-supported picture is a nice touch, and if you take a look carefully the two different columns displaying the author’s articles are done to avoid duplicate contents as well.

The Search result page displays stuff like with a similar format to Google’s search result: Title, URL and excerpt. A nice touch, as this is quite likely the search result format most familiar to your readers.

Theme options

Proximity has plenty of options for you to tweak it easily without requiring you to edit any of its files directly. They are:

  1. Feedburner URL: Tell Proximity to use your Feedburner URL instead as your feed.
  2. Page navigation exclusion: The navigation drop down menu gets too cluttered if you have too much Pages. This allows you to pick some instead of listing all Pages there.
  3. Featured category: Choose one as your featured Category on the home page.
  4. Home page category display selector: The one I mentioned before, it allows you to pick which categories to display on the home page.
  5. Other Headlines customization: You can change the header title and determine how many posts you want here.
  6. Featured Video code: That video on the sidebar? Here’s where you control it.
  7. Adsense 468 x 60: Place your Adsense code.
  8. Adsense 250 x 250: Ditto.
  9. Analytics tracking code: If you’re serious about your news site, you’re going to use analytics service to track your visitors. This is where you put your code.
  10. SEO features: Pick what to use for the page’s META keywords and whether you want duplicate contents (date based archives, content from search result page or category archives) to be indexed by search engines or no. Proximity shows you the recommended options here, so you could just go with them if you’re not sure what to pick.

Proximity Features

Here’s a list of Proximity’s features, which you can learn in more details this way.

  • Custom header image
  • Theme options
  • Drop-down navigation
  • “Smart” home page
  • Archives / blog Page template
  • Advanced sidebar
  • Pretty category archives
  • Author archives
  • Custom search result Page
  • Advanced Single Post template

Conclusion

With all the details and clever features put into it, Proximity is a good option to consider if you’re starting a news site with WordPress. Read the release announcement and play around with the demo site. Proximity is available in various packages: a Single Use License for $59.95, a Developer License for $119.95, also bundled with iNews theme for $119.95 with a Single Use License and $199.95 for the Developer License. The full details are here.

Win A Copy of Proximity

Nathan is extremely kind and is allowing WPCandy to give away one free copy of Proximity to our readers. To enter the contest, all you have to do is comment on this post. Winners will be selected this Wednesday, the 15th. Within the next 3 days, Nathan will also be handing out a free copy of Proximity to a random Twitter follower, so make sure to follow him to enter!

(This is a guest post by Hafiz Rahman of WPLover)

Arthemia Premium WordPress Theme Review

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Arthemia Premium, brought to you by ColorLabs Project, is a two-column, magazine style theme for WordPress (2.5+) with a clean, simple, and organized design. One of its main features is its awesome theme administration panel, perfect for customizing the theme to your specific needs.

Arthemia Features

Here’s a list of some of the features Arthemia Premium includes:

  • Category color assignment
  • Auto-thumbnail your old posts
  • banner & Google Adsense management
  • Google-friendly options
  • Navigation drop-down menu
  • Sidebar and footer widgetized areas
  • Cross-browser compatible

Screenshots


Arthemia Premium Homepage


Arthemia Premium Admin Panel

You can also check out a ton of more screenshots over at Colorlabs Project.

Demo & Download

Arthemia Premium is available in 3 packages: a 1-site license for $70, a 5-site license for $140, and a Developer Pack for $240. If you simply want to grab a demo of Arthemia Premium, check one out here.

Beautiful WordPress Themes from Elegant WordPress Themes

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Elegant WordPress ThemesA few weeks ago we were contacted by Nick Roach, owner of Elegant WordPress Themes, when he inquired about advertising on WPCandy. After taking a look at his site and the themes he offers, I have to say, I was quite impressed with how good his products looked. Here are a few of my favorite themes, some details on pricing, and my overall impression of Elegant WordPress Themes. Continue reading