Under Construction: Featured Content Plugins (Part 3) — A Review

When I first undertook the project of rebuilding my family of websites, I thought I could build them and be done with them, other than a little maintenance. I never imagined running into so many problems that I would actually prefer to put one of my sites under Coming Soon mode than let the public see, which happened last spring.

Now I’ve learned that I’ve only built a skeleton for each, and that I’ll be changing and improving things for as long as the sites exist.

The proof? I keep finding even better ways to display featured content in sidebars.

I wanted a featured content plugin with a widget that would let me choose individual posts, but for some reason I kept only finding ones that displayed by category (though I needed that, too). I spent a lot of time on finding the perfect featured content plugins, and now I’m happy with the results.

Not everything I tried performed as well or the way I would have liked, though. The clear winners are obviously the ones I chose to use on my sites, but I do discuss the ones with more cons than pros a bit.

So what did I try out to display featured content on my sites, and what didn’t make the cut? Read on:

Widgets

LinkView

Probably one of the most important featured content plugins has been LinkView, which I’ve got installed on all my sites. If you’re used to the Blogroll widget from WordPress.com, you’ll immediately be comfortable with LinkView.

You can use the regular Links widget in sidebars, or the LinkView shortcode, with all its attributes, in posts, pages, or text widgets.

Featured Post Widget

When I needed to find a featured content plugin that would let me choose posts from a list (rather than by ID, or worse and much more common, by category), it took a lot of digging, but once I finally found it, I fell in love with Featured Post Widget, which I use in the inner right sidebar of my personal site.

It comes with all the extras I need, like images, excerpts, the ability to hide post info, styling options… Bonus: You can set an alternate post to display if the widget appears on the featured content page, or let the plugin randomize it for you.


WP Siren Recent Posts by Category

But that’s not to say I don’t sometimes need to display featured content by category. The plugin I most often choose for that is WP Siren Recent Posts by Category, which I use in the outer right sidebars of my personal site, as well as at Green Niackery.

The one thing I don’t like about this plugin is that the “enable credits” box is always checked, so every single time you update the widget, you have to remember to uncheck it; otherwise, plugin credits will begin to be displayed.

Not that I mind displaying credits when it’s appropriate (I do it frequently), but I don’t think it’s necessary to be sneaky about it. If a plugin author is going to offer people the choice, then trying to trick them into it won’t impress them. It would be better in that case to make the credits mandatory; then at least people know what their real choices are.

I still use this plugin — quite a bit — but I always make sure to uncheck the credits box, if for no other reason than to assert my choice.


AK: Featured Post Sidebar Widget

This is another featured content plugin that renders a list by category. AK: Featured Post Sidebar Widget works well, though I think WP Siren Recent Posts by Category works slightly better, which is why I tend to use it more.

I do use AK: Featured Post Sidebar Widget on my Blogs page at my personal site, but if the WP Siren Recent Posts by Category widget works just as well, I’ll get rid of the AK Featured Post Sidebar Widget, since it doesn’t always meet my needs. And by uninstalling an unused plugin, I’ll hopefully improve my site’s performance a little.

Update: The transition to WP Siren Recent Posts has been completed!

Related Posts by Taxonomy

Sometimes a list of recent posts in a given category just won’t do it for you, though. Take the Similar Posts sidebar widget at MiscellaNiackery, for example.

I actually wanted to be able to pull the most similar posts from within a category, not just the most recent ones. So, I chose Related Posts by Taxonomy.

But this plugin is much more powerful than what I use it for. I only use the widget as is, but filters can be applied to it, or the plugin shortcode can be placed within content.

No-Go’s

RSS Multi Importer

At times, I would have liked to just use an RSS feed to display content from my other sites. Since I have overlapping categories (I talk about food in all my blogs, for instance), I would have liked to amalgamate similar categories from different blogs.

Enter RSS Multi Importer, which does just what it promises to. Problem is, it seems to me there are just too many bugs — it’s always being updated. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if problems were getting resolved, but they weren’t for me.

I had a (rather important) category feed that was constantly broken, no matter what I did to fix it. So, I ditched the RSS idea and went another route entirely.

Sliders

There are times when you want an attractive display for your posts, or you want to present a more dynamic experience, or you simply want to save space by avoiding lists. Sliders are a good way to do that, but they’re definitely not all created equally!

I’m lucky — two of the themes I use, Graphene and Parabola, come with awesome front page sliders, especially Parabola. Still, I wanted to be able to display sliders elsewhere, too.

Slideshow

If you want to display static slides (and you don’t have too many!), Slideshow is really great. It’s what I use on the Published Works page of my personal site.

But, since every slide has to be created manually, it’s not a very good solution for recent posts or automatically displaying new content from within a given taxonomy.

Smooth Slider

Which is what led me to find Smooth Slider, a handy featured content plugin with lots of flexibility. It includes the ability to display the slider in a widget or within content sections, as well as the option to add content to existing sliders from the relevant Edit page. New sliders are easily created from the Settings menu.

I use Smooth Slider in the sidebar over at Green Niackery.

Update: I don’t use Smooth Slider anymore. I will be posting more on why I ditched sliders soon, so stay tuned! You can sign up for free email updates to make sure you don’t miss it (smiley face).

Recent Posts Slider

But what if you just want to pull recent posts in your slider, and you want to display more than one at a time? Try Recent Posts Slider, which I use on the home page of my personal site.

This featured content plugin is very customizable and CSS styles are easily added within the Settings menu.

No-Go’s

I tried a couple more sliders, Newsboard and Amazing Posts Widget among them. Both were good and I might have used them, but they didn’t meet my needs as well as the featured content plugins described above.

Placement

Two of the themes I use, Atahualpa and Graphene, come with built-in methods for adding widget areas. And though both work very differently, I can get what I want done with ease in the latter case, or with relative ease (and more flexibility) in the former. But the third theme I use, Parabola, doesn’t have that feature…

Custom Widget Area

So, I found a plugin that would let me do it myself (with a little bit of tinkering in the PHP files). With Custom Widget Area, I was able to create just the look I wanted at MiscellaNiackery by adding a widget area above the header area.

For more really useful placement ideas, plugins, and widgets, check out Under Construction: Site Building Plugins (Part 1).

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