I recently discovered the WP Builds podcasts. Nathan Wrigley and David Waumsley, the hosts, have interviewed some great guests with a focus on topics relevant to site builders and WordPress professionals. The discussions are informal, entertaining, and you get a good feel for the people and an inside view of their world and specialization. Highly recommended.
I listened to episode 22 which featured Amir Helzer, the CEO of OnTheGoSystems, the company that makes WP Toolset. WP Toolset is a suite of plugins that add a great deal of flexibility and power to your WordPress site, stuff that is usually only available via programming. What follows is going to make the most sense for current Toolset users and I apologize if there is too much “assumed knowledge”.
What hooked me about episode 22 was that both Nathan and Amir started with Drupal and came over to WordPress. I had a very similar experience to that discussed in the podcast. I had built sites with Drupal 7 and wrote several custom modules. When the plans for Drupal 8 were confirmed it was clear that version 8 would be very different from the previous version and it felt like starting over from scratch. Instead of starting over with Drupal 8, I switched to WordPress, and have been a happy camper since then. I wrote an article comparing WordPress and Drupal if you are interested in that topic.
How I Started Using Toolset – A Common Tale
The first thing I did when coming over to WordPress was to try to figure out how to make what Drupal calls “Content Types,” you know, things like a book content type where you have extra fields for the book author, publication date, etc. Drupal has the ability and the UI to create these in Core and I found them very useful. WordPress calls these “Custom Post Types” and while support for them is built into Core, there is no UI for creating them as part of the default WordPress install. Instead, people create Custom Post Types in code or by using a plugin. I researched the options for creating Custom Post Types and Pods was the only other plugin that interested me, but at the time it was very far behind Toolset. The second thing I searched for when coming to WordPress was a replacement for Drupal Views. The Drupal Views module is the magic sauce for flexible display of site content. It gives you a UI for putting together a database query and organizing the output, without programming. These searches for WordPress equivalents of Drupal 7 goodness led me, like I imagine many others, to WP Toolset.
The second thing I searched for when coming to WordPress was a replacement for Drupal Views. The Drupal Views module is the magic sauce for flexible display of site content. It gives you a UI for putting together a database query and organizing the output, without programming. These searches for WordPress equivalents of Drupal 7 goodness led me, like I imagine many others, to WP Toolset. The plugins in Toolset offer similar and in some cases better functionality than those of the Drupal universe. But enough of the backstory.
In episode 22 Amir says that one of the hardest things for the Toolset developers is getting feedback to understand what people using Toolset need. It was great to hear that the company was very interested in user feedback. So here are my top suggestions for Toolset, divided into two groups. The first group has things that I’ve experienced while using Toolset, which is what Amir seemed to want the most. The second group has some suggestions that I think would make Toolset even more powerful.
From Real-world Experience
It seems like a lot of effort has gone into being able to use Layouts everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. It would be fantastic if we could use Layouts for creating Content Templates. The current method is serviceable but seems dated. This was really made clear to me after using the Themify Post Type Builder on a project. Diane Laidlaw has a nice video showing how it works. At around the 2-minute mark, she shows how to use the Template Editor. It is an easy to use drag and drop layout editor for your Custom Post Types. This suggestion seems like it would be low hanging fruit and would benefit a huge number of users.
A huge time sink for me has been working with Schema.org definitions for my Custom Post Types. I spent days reviewing plugins before I ended up writing my own, limited solution. It seems logical to me that we should define the Schema.org settings when creating a Custom Post Type. Let’s face it, the WordPress community is obsessed with SEO and these days providing Schema seems like a requirement.
A couple of times I’ve needed a 5-star rating option for my Custom Post Type. Yes, I found the threads in the Toolset support forum related to this. Again I ended up writing my own rating plugin for personal use, but it would have saved me a ton of time if Types had this built in. My suggestion is that the Toolset team investigates adding something that on the backend is something like a “Percentage Field”, where the value entered is a factor of 100. For the user and output, have options for display as stars, progress bars, pies, etc.
Ideas to Make Toolset Even More Powerful
In the podcast, Nathan asked if Toolset would ever add an Events Calendar? I’ve had the same thought. It seems like a natural expansion for Toolset. I’ve also seen other Toolset users ask similar questions. Amir replied that Events Management is a specialized solution and he would rather work with someone who already created a plugin, and integrate Toolset with them. So why am I bringing it up? My suggestion is not to go for a full event management solution, but to add a “Recurring Date” field type to the Types plugin. I imagine something along those lines would cover many use cases.
Calculated fields are another feature request, like an Events Calendar, a rating field, and schema.org support, that continually surfaces. Calculated fields would energize the CRED plugin and add a feature that all professional forms plugins have.
Toolset was inspired by some of the cornerstone Drupal modules. It makes sense, then, to pull another one from Drupal over to WordPress, and that is Drupal Rules. WordPress is sorely lacking a native “If This Then That” automation plugin. Such a plugin would be a power tool, like Views, that would make Toolset stand out and be indispensable.
Suggesting enhancements doesn’t mean that the Toolset suite is bad or lacking. I think I made it clear that I’m a fan. It is because it is so useful that it is easy to get excited about and suggest even more ways for it to excel. I suppose if it were my choice, I’d make the first suggestion, the ability to use Layouts to create Content Templates, the next priority. Many of my other suggestions involve adding “dynamic” fields to the suite. I realize that adding “dynamic” fields is difficult. Of course, solving hard problems is what has made, and will continue to make, the Toolset suite a good value.
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