Author: by Laura Hartwig
Jetpack is evolving and changing and offers much more now than it used to. Originally used only for WordPress.com blogs, now you can use it with your WordPress.org self-hosted sites. I had heard some good things about it, and decided it was time to investigate it’s offerings more. One note, to use Jetpack, you need a WordPress.com account, which is free, so I didn’t see it as a problem, except it was just one more password to remember. JetPack is created by Automattic, the company behind WordPress and almost all the options are free. For the shortlist of my favorites, be sure to see Publicize, Subscriptions, Sharing, Spelling & Grammar, Mobile Theme and Shortcode Embeds.
As you can see, Jetpack has quite a few options, so let’s look at them one by one. This is the most complete review of Jetpack you will find anywhere. Overall, they make having a website much easier. Please note that the ratings below are based on how useful these options are to me, not necessarily how well they work.
Social Media & Sharing
Publicize makes it easy to share your site’s posts on several social media networks automatically when you publish a new post. I use it to automatically publish my posts on Twitter, Linkedin & Tumblr. At first I had trouble connecting my Tumblr account, but it eventually worked. For Facebook, you have the option of publishing the post to your wall or to a page. It was easy to set up and then you can forget about it. You can also set up a custom message with your post. It does what OnlyWire does, but for free. Just be careful when pressing that Publish button, because the post will be automatically posted. If you meant to hit Save Draft instead, you will need to go and delete the post from your social media. This makes your life much easier. For me, it’s a must have.
Sharing Share your posts with Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, PressThis (Multisite only), Digg, LinkedIn, Google +1, Print, and Email. You have the option of using icon + text, text only, icon only, or the official buttons, which I thought was nice and you can customize the “Share this:” text to anything you want. I ended up using this instead of the Shareaholic plugin I used to sue for social bookmarking. I really like the options on this one and highly recommend it. A must have.
WP.me Shortlinks Instead of typing or copy-pasting long URLs, you can now get a short and simple unique URL you can use for use on Twitter, Facebook, and cell phone text messages where every character counts. It’s the same as other shortener services, but easier to use because of the easy to use button.
Enhanced Distribution Share your public posts and comments to search engines and other services in real-time. I couldn’t find anything more specific about what this module does, but it seems like a good thing. If anyone has more info, please post in the comments section!
Likes This adds a “like” button to your blog, but I find it very confusing. People might think that it is a facebook like. It also requires people to log in to their WordPress.com accounts or create one in order to like your post.
Extra Sidebar Widgets adds an RSS Links Widget to add links to yoru blog’s post and comment RSS feeds, a Twitter Widget to show your latest tweets, a Facebook Like Box Widget, and an Image Widget to more easily add images to your sidebar. None of these things are useful to me, but the image widget could be useful to clients who aren’t used to the simple code for adding images.
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Carousel Any standard WordPress galleries you have embedded in posts or pages will launch a full-screen photo browsing experience with comments. It is a nice, simple gallery with only options for black or white background. Depending on your needs, this could work nicely for you. Certainly better than the WordPress default that links images to their file in a window by itself, which I think is a poor option. Seems useful but not a “must-have”.
Photon For me, this is one of the most exciting options that comes with Jetpack. It gives your site a boost by loading images from the WordPress.com content delivery network. That means less load on your host and faster images for your readers. Basically, it acts as a free CDN for your images. While there are a lot of restrictions, there are also lots of options. The biggest issue that you will run into is that you cannot overwrite images. If you load an image an it’s not right for some reason, you can’t simply delete it and try again. You need to rename the image and load it up as new. The beauty of Photon is that once activated it does all the work for you. You do not need to do anything to your theme, make any changes to code etc. If something happens to Photon or if you decide to leave Jetpack, you could just deactivate the Jetpack addon and your site would be serving images from it’s own web server, so your images are safe. The reviews I have read on it say that it really makes a speed difference. The Photon CDN is using WordPress.com who does over 4 billion pageview a month, it’s in the top 50 largest web servers on the internet. It’s definitely one of the strongest out there and it’s free. I don’t have that many images on my site, but I’m planning on using this on a customer site to see if it helps. I’ll have to update you on this at a later time.
Tiled Galleries allows you to display your image galleries in three new styles: a rectangular mosaic, a square mosaic, and a circular grid. The rectangular and square tiled layouts also have hover-over captions to save space while making captions accessible. Here are some previews:
See examples of tiled galleries. This is not very useful for me, but if you have a blog with a lot of images, it could be useful to you.
Shortcode Embeds allow you to easily and safely embed media from other places in your site. With just one simple code, you can tell WordPress to embed YouTube, Flickr, and other media. This plugin makes it extremely easy to embed media. Inserting a YouTube video is as simple as copy & pasting the video URL into your editor.
Works with videos from Blip.tv, Dailymotion, Flickr, and Vimeo as well. There are also shortcodes for audio and SoundCloud, image embeds from Scribd and Slideshare.net, and for archives of your blog posts, Google Maps, and PollDaddy. Unless you will absolutely not be embedding any kind of data, this plugin is a must have.
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Posts by Email is a way of publishing posts on your blog by email. Any email client can be used to send the email, allowing you to publish quickly and easily from devices such as cell phones with a specially generated email address. This address is unique to you and must be kept secret (anyone that knows the email address can publish a post to your blog). If there are multiple authors on the blog, each person must connect separately to get a separate special email address. The email subject is used as your post’s title. The body is the post’s contents. Image attachments will be included in your published post as follows: Single images will be displayed inline. Multiple images will be displayed as a gallery. There are also special shortcodes can be embedded in your email to configure various aspects of the published post. I find this useful, but not really necessary for me. It might be of more use to others.
Spelling and Grammar Also called After the Deadline proofreading service improves your writing by using artificial intelligence to find your errors and offer smart suggestions. I’m not sure why WordPress doesn’t offer spell checking as a default, but this adds that and much more including misused words, grammar mistakes, and style suggestions. After the Deadline provides a number of customization options, which you can edit in your profile. Simply click this little icon to spell check. I think this is another must have for the spell checker alone.
Beautiful Math LaTeX is a powerful markup language for writing complex mathematical equations, formulas, etc. Not at all useful to me, but if you have a blog full of math equations, seems like this would be essential.
Infinite Scroll This option provides the ability to automatically pull the next set of posts into view when the reader approaches the bottom of the page. Requires theme compatibility, so it may not work for you. To me, this doesn’t matter much one way or another, so not worth activating. If you are using a Studiopress theme, be sure to also install Jetpack Infinite Scroll For Genesis. That’s what I use on this site.
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Comments This allows people wanting to comment to login with their existing social networking accounts so they don’t need to create another account and profile. This can make it much easier for people to comment. I highly recommend this plugin if you allow commenting on your site.
Subscriptions Easily allow any visitor to subscribe to all of your posts via email through a widget in your blog’s sidebar. Every time you publish a post, WordPress.com will send a notification to all your subscribers. When leaving comments, your visitors can also subscribe to a post’s comments to keep up with the conversation. Subscriptions are handled by WordPress.com for free. Subscriptions is on by default when activating Jetpack. I can see no reason why anyone wouldn’t want to use this. By default, you’ll see two new checkboxes at the bottom of the comment form of every post and page. It’ll look something like this, depending on the theme you’re using:
Notifications Toolbar Notifications allow you to view and moderate comments right from the toolbar, anywhere on your site or across WordPress.com. So, overall, not useful unless you spend a lot of time moderating comments.
Mobile Push Notifications allows you to receive push notifications of new comments on your Apple device, which makes it easier than ever to keep up with your readers and moderate comments on the go. Like the module above, this is just not that useful to me, but maybe good for others.
Gravatar Hovercards enhance plain Gravatar images with information about a person: name, bio, pictures, their contact info, and other services they use on the web like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. As a commenter, Hovercards offer a great way to show your Internet presence and help people find your own blog. If you’re a blogger on WordPress.com, you can quickly check out who’s commenting on your blog, and have an easier time connecting with them. So, these are useful if you want to know more about your commenters, but don’t seem that useful to you on your own blog. You have to depend on someone else having this option on their blog for it to help you. So, for me, I don’t see it as that useful.
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Contact Form allows you to easily create a simple contact form with the click of a button. In addition to receiving an email for each contact form response, all responses will be listed in the Feedbacks section of your WordPress Admin. Integrates with Akismet anti-samp protection. Personally, I use the paid plugin Gravity Forms, which has many more options, but this looks like a great free option if you just need something simple.
It’s nothing fancy and there are no options whatsoever for making it look nicer. No options to move the sidebar down, or anything like that, so points off for that, but what is does have going for it is that it’s simple. Click a button and there it is. Here is a screenshot of how it makes this site look, and an extra note that, as of this posting, this site is not responsive. Here is my full review of the mobile theme.
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WordPress.com Stats is a simple, lightweight statistics tool that lets you see your views & visitors, views by country, referrers, most popular pages & posts, search engine terms, clicks, and followers & shares. For WordPress.org sites, I recommend Google Analytics, but if you use WordPress.com or if GA is too much for you, this is easy and gives you the basic info you’d like to know.
Backups & Security
VaultPress This is one of the few paid options. With a monthly subscription, the VaultPress plugin will backup your site’s content, themes, and plugins in realtime, as well as perform regular security scans for common threats and attacks. I’m not going to rate this one because I haven’t used it myself. For backups, I like to use BackupBuddy(paid) and for security, I use Better WP Security(free). Whether this is better or not, I don’t know. It’s a monthly plan for either $15 or $40 depending on the option you choose.
Custom CSS At first glance, this option seemed to be totally useless. You either are comfortable with CSS and you can edit the style.css file, or you don’t know CSS, and this won’t be of any use. But then I thought of two things. 1) This offers an excellent option for Revisions, which I have long wished that the CSS & PHP files had. Posts and pages have always had revision options, why not the other files? 2) This could help the child theme problem. If you aren’t using a child theme, then when your base theme gets updated, you loose any customizations you’ve made. With this, customizations stay in a separate file and are not lost on upgrades. Also, this could make using Firebug much easier (A Firebug tutorial is in the works!) which means customizing your theme will be much easier. Although I’m not sure I will use this option myself, I would say it’s a must have for any newbie wanting to make changes to the look of their site.
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One Last Thing – How to Avoid Bloat
You know I am a big proponent of only using plugins that are absolutely necessary. No need to overload your site with unnecessary bloat and cause potential plugin conflicts. When you first activate Jetpack and connect it to your WordPress.com account it activates a whole bunch of stuff by default. However you can disable everything if you want to! I find it best to disable everything I know I am not going to be using. On the Jetpack configuration page simply click “Learn More” under each of the features and a “Disable” button will magically appear next to the Learn More button. It would be nice if this wasn’t hidden, but hey at least it’s there! Speed up your own site by making sure only the features you really need are activated.