The great thing about open source website building platforms like WordPress and Joomla? They come with a lot that works out of the box. In both these systems, you can create pages, menus, and manipulate the basic site template.
Most people, however, want their websites to do something with this software. They want to sell products, have a form that collects information, or display Flickr photo albums.
These ‘apps’ that work on websites and allow them to do more then the standard software allows are called plugins in WordPress and extensions in Joomla. Here’s where you can find them:
Joomla Extensions Directory (JED)
WordPress Plugins Directory
As you see, you have options. Want a Facebook like button that works with Joomla?
Oh I’m sorry. Were you not looking for 116 options but simply the best option for you? You are reading the right blog then!
Here’s how to find the best plugin or extension for your Joomla or WordPress site (I can’t speak for Drupal but I bet these same rules would work there as well):
1) Is it in the directory?
Both Joomla and WordPress review the listings of plugins/extensions in their directories. Now if I wanted, I could create a plugin and just put it on my website. But getting something that is listed in the directory means you are already more likely to be getting something that is peer tested and reviewed.
2) Is it compatible with your software?
When you log into your website, you should see the version of the software you are running. Let’s say you are running Joomla 2.5. You will need an extension that works with this software. (Not all extensions work with every software.) WordPress updates more frequently than Joomla so look in the directory and see when the plugin was updates and what versions of WordPress it’ll work with:
As you see, if you are running version 3.4 of WordPress, you can’t use this gallery… so you’ll have to find another gallery or upgrade your software (we recommend upgrading in general- prevents hacking and all kinds of other nonsense).
3) What else does it need to work with?
Let’s say you want people to be able to leave blog comments while logged into Facebook or Twitter. When you look for a commenting plugin, you know to look out for compatibility with Facebook and Twitter.
By understanding how you want something to work (and as importantly, how you don’t want it to work), that’ll eliminate some potential plugins.
4) Is your design responsive?
If so, you’ll find a lot of plugins/extensions are not responsive in nature so this will limit you. Like a lot. (Try finding a responsive business directory that doesn’t look like crap or cost a ton of money for example.) Tip: If it doesn’t say it’s responsive, it probably isn’t… but if you are in love, it’s worth installing and testing it out.
5) Are the reviews good?
Now granted, everyone has one to six haters out there but in general, I like something where at least a majority of the people are not completely angry in their reviews. A quick look at the star ratings and some forums will let you know what people really think of the plugin.
6) Is this from a reputable developer?
Great companies tend to have great reputations. Checking into the company that has developed the plugin will give you a look into how (and if) the extension/plugin will be supported and how customer service will be handled. Trust me, as important as having an awesome piece of software? Having the service to back it up. (I recommend a Google search on this since this will turn up forum posts and other places off the beaten path people may have left feedback.)
7) Does it work on your site?
So you download the extension and install it… does it work? Sometimes, it is not as simple as find, install, and tada. (If it was, not sure if I’d have a job.) If the plugin doesn’t work, try disabling all other extensions/plugins and see if there is a conflict. If it still doesn’t work, try it with another theme or template. If you find it works elsewhere and just not on your website, you have to decide whether it is worth your time getting it to work, or trying something similar.
The great news is people are developing extensions all the time that’ll make our lives easier and our websites better… but we still need to develop the skills to find and use the best of them.