WordPress.com has limited flexibility and functionality in many ways. For example, you can’t add plugins, and you have to sign up to a paid upgrade in order to use ads. Even so, many of us who use and create self-hosted WordPress sites (with WordPress.org), have some serious FOMO when it comes to some of the built-in features at WordPress.com – features that often don’t have a great alternative in the plugin directory. These features include a pretty photo gallery, comments which can be used by logging into social media profiles, and more.
The plugins included are:
- WordPress.com Stats: Simple, concise site stats with no additional load on your server.
- Comments: enables your visitors to use WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook accounts when commenting on your site.
- Subscriptions: Allow users to subscribe to your posts and comments to receive a notification via email.
- Contact Form: Easily insert a contact form any where on your site.
- Sharing: The most super duper sharing tool on the interwebs. Share content with Facebook, Twitter, and many more.
- Spelling and Grammar: Improve your spelling, style, and grammar with the After the Deadline Proofreading service.
- Gravatar Hovercards: Show a pop-up business card of your users’ gravatar profiles in comments.
- Shortcode Embeds: Easily embed videos and more from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
- WP.me Shortlinks: Enable WP.me-powered shortlinks for all of your Posts and Pages for easier sharing.
- Beautiful Math: Mark up your posts with the markup language, perfect for complex mathematical equations and other über-geekery.
- Extra Sidebar Widgets: Easily add images, Twitter updates, and your site’s RSS links to your theme’s sidebar.
- Enhanced Distribution: Share your public posts and comments to search engines and other services in real-time.
- Carousel: Transform your standard image galleries into an immersize full-screen experience.
We actually hadn’t used Jetpack yet because we have felt that the issues we see in the plugin outweigh the benefits to us. The way Jetpack is being provided to WordPress.org users opens a lot of questions for us. For example:
- Why the bundling? Why is Auttomatic bundling so many random plugins together? What are the chances that someone who uses the pretty math equations will get excited about the Carousel and vice versa? And, are pretty math equations really in high demand at all? Even though you can activate and deactivate individual plugins within Jetpack, the fact that you can’t just install individual plugins makes us uncomfortable.
- Why do you have to be signed into WordPress.com? Jetpack was created by Automattic, a for profit company behind WordPress.com. Why must we connect with a WordPress.com account in order to use all the plugins? Some plugins might need access to the site’s server in order to function but that is far from necessary for most of the plugins in Jetpack. Connecting our sites to third parties when unnecessary makes us uncomfortable.
- The bloat: 13 plugins for the free price of $0.00. Sounds like a delight to our consumer ears, but when it comes to WordPress plugins, I like them one at a time.
- Possible resource hog / slows speed of site: We read some negative reviews about Jetpack slowing down page load time. Here is an example.
- Added value? Initially we wondered what added value Jetpack could give to our sites – we were already using Google Analytics, Gravity Forms, ShareDaddy, and had no need for our (nonexistent) math equations to look beautiful.
Jetpack’s comments feature, released in June 2012, enables your visitors to use WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook accounts when commenting on your site. I love this idea because it allows visitors to your site to maximize their commenting potential by linking their comments to their homes online! However, I had two major issues using this feature.
- I couldn’t use the feature out of the box. I clicked activate but nothing happened in the comments area. Apparently, the plugin only works with the comment_form() function so I had to go into my comments.php file and modify the function to get it to work.
- My other qualm is that the email, name, and website fields are hidden by default and only appear once you’ve clicked in the message area. Commenters want to tell you who they are – they want to leave their name and website when they comment and it’s very disorienting when they don’t see those fields immediately. I think commenters are used to a certain commenting structure which worked well. Like they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I wanted to change the comments form so that by default it is always open, but I couldn’t find an option within Jetpack nor could I find anyone else even discussing that they have an issue with it, let alone a way to fix it.
An alternative: If you want an alternative stand-alone plugin for socially connected comments, try Mailchimp’s Social Plugin for WordPress.
There has been a major lack of a good photo gallery and/or slideshow in WordPress.org for a long time. The native gallery has great potential for adding nice photo galleries to your site, but it’s still a long way off. Currently, when you insert a gallery into a page or post, and click on a thumbnail, it takes you to a bigger version of the image on a separate page. Not great.
Meanwhile, we’ve always looked at the image options at WordPress.com with a bit of jealousy. So, we were really excited to see Jetpack’s newest carousel feature, which turns the native WordPress photo gallery into a beautiful viewer.
There are a couple of things that bother me about the new carousel. First, I don’t like the placement and size of the X for closing the viewer. In my experience, every single photo viewer has the closing X in the top right corner, but this carousel placed it in the top left corner, causing a nanosecond of helplessness before I figured out how to close it. And… why so small?
Second, I think it isn’t clear that when you click on a thumbnail you’ll get to a viewer. It’s possible that images should be lined up differently in order to make it clear that there is a slideshow view available.
I’ve created an example here of the carousel. Click on any of the thumbnails below to see the carousel for the native WP gallery in action:
An alternative: Carousel without Jetpack: A few days ago, WPBeginner forked the Carousel module from Jetpack and offered it as a stand-alone plugin! And he says if Jetpack upgrades the feature, he’ll upgrade his plugin. Yay!
Conclusions: A plugin for non-techy people?
I wish I could see only the positive aspects in this plugin. WordPress.com is working hard to give out nice free plugins and with the newest Jetpack’s comments and carousel features, I am really tempted to start using it on our clients’ sites. But for now, I can’t bring myself to add 13 plugins to all their sites and I don’t want to have to connect WordPress.com accounts to use all of them! I wouldn’t even know which WordPress.com account to connect it to since our clients usually don’t have one and it feels weird to connect it to our account.
On the other hand, I wonder if maybe we aren’t the target audience for Jetpack. We are developers, creating custom sites from scratch. For us the plugin is bulky, providing unnecessary features and feeling possibly big brotherish. But maybe Jetpack opens up more options to lo-tech users of self-hosted WordPress sites who will love having the ability to install 13 plugins in one click.
Do you use Jetpack? What do you see as the pros and cons?