Jetpack: Widget Visibility

The Widget Visibility tool in the Jetpack plugin can be very useful. It makes it possible to place a widget so it’s only visible in certain situations. For example, I’m building a digital library [see Society Journal for details] for my genealogy society. It consists of a WordPress page to introduce the library and each library item is a WordPress post assigned to the Library category and using tags to define the subject matter. I’m also using a defined set of tags to build a menu of sections – like histories, memoirs, genealogies and military. Additional tags are added to each item to further define its content.

digital library page

The main page of our digital library.

Here you can see the library’s menu widget posted as part of the page content and in the sidebar you see the tag cloud widget. I also want the menu and tag cloud to appear in the sidebar of every library item post. Jetpack’s Visibility makes that happen.

tag cloud widget

The tag cloud widget with the Visibility panel displayed.

Here you see the tag cloud widget. I have clicked the Visibility button that appears right next to the Save button on all widgets when Jetpack’s Widget Visibility feature is activated. The gray panel just above those buttons is the Visibility panel. First I set visibility to show this widget when a post assigned to the Library category is displayed then I clicked the Add item at the far right which displayed another set of options. I used it to display a Page and then chose the library’s home page. Save the widget and I’m done.  Note that I can choose from category, author, tag, date or page as items to determine visibility. Once that selection is mad, the second option will present choices based on that option. For example, when I chose Category, the “is” drop-down displayed each post category I had defined in this blog.

In the example I’ve given here, I’m using menus, categories and tags to organize a diverse collection of records and publications, but these tools can also be put to good use to organize your growing collection of family stories into an online genealogy. Thanks to Jetpack and the Widget Visibility feature, pulling it all together is quite easy.

Moving to Markdown

When it comes to writing, I find I’m spending more time in the Byword text editing app than in Pages (my word-processing app), the WordPress dashboard, the Tumblr dashboard or Scrivener. Why? Because Byword supports Markdown – as does WordPress, Tumblr and Scrivener – so I can focus on writing, not formatting.

No, I’m not saying that I’ve given up on formatting. Anyone who remembers the old WordStar word-processing application – way back in those dark DOS days – will understand. Thanks to Byword and Markdown, I only need to remember one set of formatting commands and when I’m ready to “publish” the text, Byword will convert it to HTML or rich text for me. Even better, all the formatting commands are keystroke commands so I don’t have to stop typing, grab the mouse, select text and click a button. My typing rhythm isn’t interrupted.

The Byword app is available as both a Mac app ($9.99) and a universal iOS app ($4.99). There’s an additional $4.99 in-app purchase (one purchase for Mac and one for iOS devices) to upgrade to Premium which gives you the ability to publish directly from Byword to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and Scriptogram blogs and Evernote notebooks. Since both WordPress and Tumblr now support Markdown, the premium upgrade isn’t needed, but you will need to copy/paste your text into the blog editor. For me, publishing direct from Byword is worth the ten bucks.

Byword on my iPad makes a great mobile platform for my Scrivener writing projects. Scrivener also supports Markdown so I’ve set up my projects to sync to a Dropbox folder and Byword takes it from there. Markdown and my Amazon Basics keyboard ($25.99) make serious writing so much easier on the iPad. Even if all I’m doing is editing, Markdown means I’m not constantly frustrated trying to make fat-fingered text selections on that small screen.

A view of the Byword editing screen on my Mac showing the first part of this article.

A view of the Byword editing screen on my Mac showing the first part of this article.

Moving to Byword does require a bit of a learning curve, but most of the commands are so easy to remember that it’s more a matter of getting out of the habit of reaching for the mouse. To italicize, type an asterisk immediately before and after the word/phrase you want italicized. To bold, type two asterisks on each side instead of one. If you’re still in the habit of two spaces after a period ending a sentence, you’ll need to unlearn that. In Markdown those two spaces designate the end of a paragraph.

Byword can handle tables, footnotes, cross-references (links to other parts of the current document) and even metadata. One of the things I really like is “referenced” images. This means that I can put a reference code for an image at the point in the draft where I want it to appear, then list the image details at the end of the document. When writing a draft article, this means I can place the reference and continue writing – then worry about the images I need later. A quick search of my draft will show what images I need.

There’s also an option for referenced footnotes too.

One last point. Markdown is plain text – the only “archival quality” digital text we currently have. Take another look at the editing screenshot above and you’ll see just how readable a marked up Markdown document is. If you’re writing for posterity, Markdown is your best option.

You can see for yourself how Byword’s text formatting works by taking a look at their Markdown syntax guide. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Jetpack: Related Posts

The Jetpack plugin was created by Automattic (the folks who operate WordPress.com) to give self-hosted WordPress users a number of the functions once only available to WordPress.com users. Once you’ve installed the plugin and connected it to WordPress.com, you can then activate the features you want and you’re ready to go.

The Related Posts feature will automatically display links to three related posts already posted to your site at the bottom of each post. Here’s an example post to show you how it looks.
related posts example
This particular article discusses the Scrivener app with “Scrivener” included as both a tag and part of the post title. Using this and other metrics, WordPress will pull out three existing posts with topics that are related to this one and display them below the original article. Visitors can click on any one of the related previews to view that article. Using this feature will show your visitors that there are other related topics to view on your site and help them find them.

Setup is easy. The first step is to go to the Jetpack > Settings screen and activate Related Posts.

activate related posts

When you mouse over an item in the list of Jetpack features, you’ll see the Activate and Configure options appear to the right. Click Activate then click Configure to display its configuration screen.

related post options

There are only two options – do you want to include the Related title and do you want the simple (seen here) or striking (seen in the first example) display. Your theme will have an impact on how these options actually appear.

That’s it. You’re done. Jetpack will take care of the rest.

WordPress.com users will find the Related Posts option on the Settings > Reading screen. The only difference here is you also have check boxes to turn related posts on or off.

related posts on wordpress.com

Related posts is one of the many useful tools you’ll find in Jetpack. There’s lots more Jetpack goodness yet to come . . .

Turn Comments Into Conversations With Disqus

To call Disqus a commenting service doesn’t begin to describe its capabilities. This service can turn your blog into your own social network. A better way to describe it would be that it’s like putting a text conversation at the bottom of each post. Disqus can be connected to WordPress, Tumblr, Postach.io,  Blogger and other blogs to provide a commenting capability that functions more like a Facebook status update with likes and replies. You can even choose to allow your commenters to include images and links along with their comments.

sample Tumblr post

Here you are looking at a sample post in my Moultrie Telegraph tumblr. Scroll down and you will see the comments section.

comments screen viewed by visitor

This is the comments section as a site visitor sees it. In this example, there are four comments but only three are visible. The reply to the top comment is still collapsed under the original comment. Clicking the Show 1 new reply link on the right will make it appear. There are also items for liking (∧), not liking (∨) , editing (if it’s your comment), replying and sharing this comment. Notice the dash and the flag icon to the right of the moderator’s comment. These allow you to collapse a conversation (the dash) or flag it as inappropriate. These icons only appear when you mouse over that area of the screen.

At the bottom of the comment area is a Subscribe link. You can subscribe to this post’s comments and receive notifications when others add their own comments.

moderator view of comments

This is the moderator’s view of the same post’s comments. The primary difference is that the flag icon has been replaced with a down button which displays a number of commands the moderator can use to manage this comment item. It can be moderated (if you’re using moderation), featured, marked as spam, deleted or the offending user blacklisted – all from the public side of the blog.

Every commenter either already has or is set up with a Disqus account and profile. If you are not a Disqus user, when you add a comment at a Disqus-supported blog, Disqus will ask you for a username, email address and password to quickly set up your account. You can then complete your profile with an avatar, link to your web site and other information if you wish. That Disqus account can then be used to comment at any other Disqus-supported site. And, you can even follow other Disqus commenters by clicking on a commenter’s avatar to display his or her profile. There you’ll find a list of his/her recent comments and a Follow button.

If you’d like to take a look at Disqus in operation, stop by Moultrie Telegraph and say hello.

So how can we put Disqus to use? I can see using a Tumblr blog with Disqus as a Special Interest Group for a genealogical society. It is one of the easiest ways for people with limited tech skills to ask questions and get answers. Publish a Tumblr post to present a topic and then watch the Disqus conversation for that post to ask and answer questions, display examples and link to useful information.

Disqus could also be used for online events like Miriam Robbins’ monthly scanfests where family historians from all over the world spend an afternoon scanning and chatting. Using Disqus, the conversations can be live with people chatting in real time or asynchronous with people adding their comments at a time convenient to them.

Disqus costs you nothing to use and is very easy to set up. You’ll find details and examples at the Disqus site and make sure to check out their Publisher Quick Start Guide for complete instructions.