WordPress and email

I’ve been moving a few of the sites that I manage away from a simple shared hosting arrangement onto something a bit more proper, with Steph’s advice (this blog, being incredibly simple albeit with a fairly hefty archive going back to 2004 or something, remains on the shared hosting for now). The new ‘platform’ is made up of using SpinupWP to manage the setup of the servers and WordPress itself, which is all hosted on DigitalOcean, with all the benefits that come from having this kind of control over the environment.

One area that has been causing me some worry is around sending emails out of these sites. The emails that WordPress sends, like password resets etc, can be a bit flakey in getting delivered at the best of times, but to make it more complicated, SpinupWP doesn’t install a means of sending emails itself, you have to configure your own, using an email sending provider like Amazon SES or Mailgun. It sounds complicated – and it is, in a way – but there are plugins and things to make it easier.

I’ve played with a few ways of doing it, but think I have settled on one, that I will now move all the sites onto over time. I’m going to be using the WP Mail SMTP plugin to get everything set up and working, and linking it up with SendLayer to do the actual emailing. When setting these things up, you need a domain to use, and each one needs configuring in SendLayer. To make life easier for myself, I have registered a specific domain to use for this, and so emails will come from sitename@davesemaildomain.notreal, which hopefully will keep things simple.

WordPress 4.0 is out

Oh, goody. A new version of WordPress is out!

WordPress 4.0 is here, and it’s packed with new features:

  • New media manager
  • Embedded media now visual within the editor
  • The editor now works more smoothly, expanding as necessary to fit your content and keeping the formatting tools visible at all times
  • The plugin directory is a lot prettier and makes it easier to find the plugin you want

Here’s a video explaining it all.

[wpvideo bUdzKMro w=400 h=224]

Blogging about WordPress for DXW

I’m pleased to be working with my friends from DXW, writing for their blog on the topic of WordPress, with a particularly slant on using it in the public sector.

I’ll be covering stuff from the basics right the way up to more sophisticated uses, advising on plugins, security, hosting, some of WordPress’ lesser known features and more.

If you’ve any topics you would like to see covered, let me know!

How WordPress as a Platform helps nimble project delivery

wordpress-logoWordPress started as a blogging engine, then became a content management system, and these days is a platform for the development of simple web applications.

After all, an awful lot of applications are basically just about putting bits of text into boxes, and then arranging them in order to suit whatever your purpose is. Putting words into boxes is something WordPress is very good.

The bit of functionality within WordPress that enables this is the custom post type. You’re no longer limited to just blog style posts and static pages – you can create your own content types with their own taxonomies and as many different fields (boxes to put text in) as you like.

Here’s an example from a project I’m working on at the moment. It’s all about building up and managing a disparate community of people within a government department. I need to keep a record of all the members of this community, what they do, what interactions I have with them, whether they attend meetings and respond to surveys, etc etc.

The default position here would be to build an ever-growing spreadsheet in Excel, which would be increasingly difficult to manage and interrogate as it had more and more information added to it. I’ve done this in the past and it’s a nightmare.

Instead, of going down that route, I’ve spun up a quick WordPress instance and got he PauPress plugin installed and running. PauPress helps turn WordPress into a simple CRM (customer relationship management) system, which allows you to record details of contacts and your interactions with them.

Now, I would never dream of advocating the use of this as a corporate CRM solution for any critical purpose (it’s a bit clunky in places and I suspect with lots of data and users it could get pretty slow), but as a way of getting a simple, easy to use database up and running in minutes for a handful to people to be able to use, you really can’t beat it.

It’s a hack – a quick, cost effective and neat solution to a problem. It helps that WordPress is open source, with a huge developer community, which means that a simple Google search for “WordPress [what you want to do]” usually results in a few options to solve whatever problem you’re trying to solve.

What do you need to have in place for your organisation to be able to make the most of this stuff?

Obviously, somewhere to be able to quickly throw up new WordPress sites, and to install the necessary plugins to make this stuff happen. But also the skills and knowledge within your teams to be comfortable doing this and to advise others about making it all happen.

Planning for Councillors

A nice little project this, that we developed for our friends at NALC. It’s a site introducing some of the issues around planning, particularly aimed at parish councillors.

We did the design and built the WordPress template, while the guys at NALC provided the content for us to build the pages.

The purpose of the site is really to drive traffic to NALC’s e-learning platform (provided by my good chums at Learning Pool) as well as to other online learning resources about planning.

We wanted the site to have a nice and bright, informal feel that perhaps not many websites in this particular sector tend to feature, and are pretty pleased with the results!

Some useful BuddyPress plugins

BuddyPress is a plugin for WordPress that turns your site into a simple social network. It’s a remarkable thing, but I think it is fair to say that while it makes creating a social network easy, creating a good social network is still hard.

At Kind of Digital we’ve built a few BuddyPress sites recently, and we’ve found some other plugins that make life a bit easier, so here’s our list.

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to pop them in the comments!

1. BP Group Management

Enables an administrator to manage groups within BuddyPress by banning, unbanning, promoting and demoting current members of any group, adding members to any group, and deleting groups.

2. BP Profile Search

Adds a configurable search form to your BuddyPress Members directory, so visitors can find site members searching their extended profiles.

3. BuddyPress Extend Widgets

Adds a BuddyPress specific element to all widgets you use on the site. You will be able to select on which users profiles or groups pages you want to display a widget on and so on.

4. BuddyPress Group Email Subscription

A really important one this – it allows users to sign up to email notifications of activity within groups, and also to choose between instant updates, or daily or weekly digests.

5. Buddypress Humanity

A downside of BuddyPress is getting non-existent spam member signing up, who just want to post loads of links to your community and generally ruining it. This plugin adds a Turing type test to new member signups to make it harder for this to happen.

6. Buddypress Sitewide activity widget

Adds a widget you can place in a sidebar or other widgetised area on your site that displays a handy list of the recent activity on your network. If you’re struggling for space on your homepage, this is particularly useful.

7. BuddyPress Topic Mover

Another behind the scenes plugin – this lets administrators move discussions from one group to another. Dead handy if a user has started a conversation in the wrong place.

8. Custom Profile Filters for BuddyPress

Out of the box, BuddyPress automatically turns some words and phrases in the fields of a user’s profile into links that, when clicked, search the user’s community for other profiles containing those phrases. When activated, this plugin allows users and administrators to have more control over these links.

I find these really useful for profile fields that link to social networking profiles.

9. oEmbed for BuddyPress

This enables users to easily share rich media content like YouTube videos on their walls.

10. Welcome Pack

Great for community management activities, this plugins sends new users a welcome message when then join, adds them to groups and sends friend requests – making them feel at home right away!

Learn WordPress.com


WordPress is a great bit of software, and by far the easiest way to get up and running with it is to use the usually free hosted version at WordPress.com.

It’s even easier to get started than ever, with Learn WordPress.com – a cool new site taking you through all the features in 10 simple lessons.

I am sorely tempted to switch this blog over to WordPress.com myself. Currently I self hosted, meaning I downloaded the files from WordPress.org, paid for some web hosting, installed the software and then added all the plugins and themes I wanted.

I’ve done this for the last five years, but over that time WP has become more and more complicated and a bigger challenge to keep on top of. Hosting your own site is still worth it if you are desperate for a stylish custom template, or a load of cool functionality. But to be honest, DavePress is just a blog, and so could easily be hosted at WordPress.com.

I’ll let you know what I decide!