Please think twice before leaving a flippant negative review

Last week I launched a new WordPress plugin, No Nonsense, and much to my surprise, it started to pick up steam after just a couple of days. It turns out, it got featured with a nice review on WP Tavern, and people took notice.

Unfortunately, almost immediately, it got a couple of really negative reviews, both of which were clearly dashed off with very little thought, or apparently even the slightest bit of effort on the part of the reviewers to try to determine the cause of their issues before leaving a negative review — rather than submitting a support ticket, which would be the correct channel for addressing a problem… if they actually wanted to solve it.

I take pride in the quality of my work, and I try hard to make sure it performs flawlessly. I respond quickly to any issues — even for a free plugin like this — because I want to make things right. So it is really painful to have the product of my efforts permanently stained with a negative review by someone who can’t be bothered to take the time to write a single cohesive sentence detailing the issues they had with it.

I understand the temptation to rip on something you think is garbage, and I’ve left a few one-star plugin reviews myself. But I feel it’s important to at least explain in detailed and objective terms why I think something is bad. And maybe if it’s clearly something brand new, I’d wait a while to see if the creators take the time to work out the kinks first.

So, no matter what you do, no matter where you are, if you are in a position to criticize someone else’s work, I implore you to take a second and think about the impact you might be having on that person and on what they’re trying to accomplish, and whether or not your criticism is truly valid and warranted. Perhaps it is not, in which case, I would respectfully suggest you stay quiet. But maybe it is. In that case, think about whether a terse and flippant negative review is really the best way you can contribute to improving the situation, or if there’s a more effective, more constructive way to share your input.

New WordPress plugin: Remove Broken Images

If you have a WordPress blog dating back many, many years, and you’ve just completed a massive cleanup of images from your Media Library, or if you just have any other reason why there might be a bunch of <img> tags in your blog posts that no longer go anywhere, you may be wondering if there’s an easy way to just, you know, have those annoying broken image icons not show up all over your pages.

Now there’s a way!

OK, actually there already were a few different ways, via free plugins, but as is so often the case with a lot of these types of small, single-purpose plugins, I find they’re almost always either really clumsily written, overloaded with unnecessary features, or both.

So I wrote my own.

This plugin couldn’t be simpler. It assumes that you just don’t want to display broken images — whether that’s the ugly little “missing image” icon some browsers display, the large outlined box containing an ugly little icon and the missing image’s “alt” text, or just a big blank white space. It doesn’t have an option for showing a different, placeholder image. Because, let’s be honest, that doesn’t look good… especially if you have more than a few of these to deal with. Having the same placeholder appear all over your site looks as bad as having broken image icons everywhere.

The plugin relies on the JavaScript error event, and uses some very compact jQuery code to remove any <img> tags that trigger the error, and their containing link and caption element, if present.

The end result is a clean looking blog with no indications whatsoever that anything is missing. Unless the text of your blog post describes the image in excruciating detail. In that case… you’ll just have to wait for version 2.

You can download Remove Broken Images right now from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

How did I not know about ClassicPress before now?

ClassicPressI’ve been using WordPress for 15 years, and have made it my go-to platform for all new websites I’ve built since 2014. So how is it that it took me three years to discover that ClassicPress exists, especially since its whole raison d’être is to keep the pre-Gutenberg dream of WordPress alive?

On one hand, being a solo developer — even before the pandemic — has always kept me a bit out-of-the-loop, especially since I don’t attend conferences. But I suspect the fact that I knew nothing of this also speaks negatively to the project’s future.

Is it gaining enough traction to continue to exist? Is it really a viable option to use on new professional projects in 2021?

Has the Gutenberg ship sailed? Well, yes, it has. But my issues with the current and future state of WordPress go beyond Gutenberg, to the nature of Automattic’s role in steering the ship, the greater vision of what WordPress is and should become, and… well… Matt Mullenweg’s personality. I feel like the future of WordPress is increasingly diverging from what I hoped to get out of it as a platform, and it’s clear that I’m not alone. That’s why ClassicPress exists.

There are a lot of things to like about ClassicPress, right out of the gate, besides the most obvious element, which is the absence of anything Gutenberg. It does away with a lot of the cutesy crap that’s rolled into WordPress by default, not least of which being the annoying proliferation of the word “howdy” and the beyond-pointless-to-actively-detrimental* plugin Hello Dolly.

As I look to my own future with WordPress and/or ClassicPress, I am primarily thinking about two things: 1) how/if I will continue to use it as the platform of choice for client projects, and 2) what the future will be for the plugins I have contributed to the WordPress community, and more specifically, my commercial plugin, ICS Calendar Pro.

I’ve been struggling with these matters for almost four years now, ever since Gutenberg emerged on the scene and went through its early phases of absolutely sucking, to its too-soon release as the default WordPress editor, to its current state as a mostly good but highly quirky and weirdly limited page building tool.

The timing was not great for me, as I had just recently gone “all-in” on 34 Blocks, my own block-based starter theme that I have been using to create all of my client sites since 2017. It started from a series of one-off client themes beginning around 2015 and is built around Advanced Custom Fields and its “Flexible Content” fields. It’s all much more in line with what “WordPress” has always meant to me. But as WordPress becomes Gutenberg, my vision of what this tool is and the reality of what it has become are increasingly at odds.

In those four years I’ve been bouncing around between several different ideas:

  • Suck it up and finally embrace Gutenberg development, learning a bunch of new stuff like React, in which I am not only wholly disinterested but with which I philosophically disagree?
  • Cling for dear life to Classic Editor and pray the gods of Automattic keep it on life support?
  • Switch to an entirely new platform, whether that might be another open source or commercial CMS, or a complete SaaS approach like Squarespace?
  • Get out of the web development business entirely?

So far, I’ve mostly stuck with “cling for dear life to Classic Editor” although I have been tempted a great many times to “get out entirely.” My enthusiasm for this field hasn’t been helped by things like the caustic toxicity of social media, the rise of absolutely godawful and not-at-all-intuitive-regardless-of-their-claims-to-such interface concepts (see: Google’s Material Design), and technical snafus like Digital Ocean’s entire subnet getting spam blacklisted and them doing absolutely zero to rectify the situation.

I’ve been taking baby steps towards making sure I’m not caught out when/if they pull the plug on Classic Editor. My 34 Blocks theme is to the point where it works adequately in the Gutenberg environment, and I’m even moving it towards a potential future where I would scrap my ACF Flexible Content blocks altogether, in favor of Gutenberg blocks.

But I’ve also made sure ICS Calendar is backward-compatible with WordPress 4.9, so it works with ClassicPress. And I’m still looking at other tools, now and again, in case I need to switch directions entirely.

It’s happened before. After the first half of my career consisted largely of building “bespoke” CMSes for corporate overlords, I went out on my own. From 2008 to 2014 I sunk thousands of hours into the development of a feature-rich, completely custom-built CMS based on the CakePHP framework, which I used to create about 10 client sites per year throughout that period.

But the writing was on the wall for that project when I found it impractical to upgrade the CakePHP core past version 1.3, which was incompatible with PHP 7. (CakePHP is currently up to version 4.1 and now requires a minimum of PHP 7.2, for an indication of just how doomed my old CMS project was.) By 2014 I gave up on it and switched to WordPress. Has the time come to move on again? If so, I feel like in some ways, switching to ClassicPress would be a step backwards, or at best a lateral move, and would not set me up well for the future.

Where does that leave me? I don’t know. There are options. But embracing Gutenberg and the future of WordPress is not at the top of the list. If anything, it’s never been lower.

* Why is Hello Dolly detrimental? The justification for its inclusion in the default WordPress build is that it is a demo for new developers to learn how to build a WordPress plugin. The problem is, it’s a terrible, no good, entirely wrong example of a plugin. It’s ancient and doesn’t conform to any modern WordPress coding standards, and it’s so rudimentary that there’s no useful structure to build on for people who want to create an actually useful plugin. So why is it still included? I don’t buy the “demo” argument. It’s still there because Matt wants it to be, and that in a nutshell is my problem with Automattic running the show. (I mean look, he even “cleverly” misspelled the company name so his own fucking name is embedded in it. That annoys me every damn time I see it… almost as much as “howdy.”)

WordPress might not be showing your Custom Post Types and Custom Taxonomies on the Menus screen for a really stupid reason

I’m working on a new WordPress site that’s going to have both custom post types and custom taxonomies, and I want my custom taxonomies’ archive pages to be in the site’s navigation menu.

Seems like it should be easy, right? If you set show_in_nav_menus to true in register_post_type() or register_taxonomy(), you’re supposed to get access to add them to your menus.

But when I set that, they still didn’t appear on the Menus screen. What the…?

I found it exceptionally difficult to track down any information about this, although I did eventually find a tutorial on the very subject but… whoa, those are some old screenshots! The tutorial is a decade old.

Nonetheless, I proceeded to try to make it work, with extensive customizations to suit my needs. Strangely — and it should have been a clue to me — they wouldn’t appear if I gave the meta boxes the name of my custom taxonomy, but if I gave them an arbitrary name, it did work. But there were still some quirks, so I started digging around in the inspector to figure out what was what. Then I discovered something really odd.

They were already in the page. Only, they weren’t displaying. That’s because they all had a CSS class hide-if-js applied. So what’s that all about?

Well… it was really stupid. They were “unchecked” under Screen Options. You know, that little tab at the top right of every WordPress admin page.

My best guess here is that it’s because I had already been to the Menus page for this site before I started building the CPTs and taxonomies, so when I added them to the theme, my personal preferences for Screen Options on the Menus page had already been set, and therefore they defaulted to “unchecked.”

That seems kind of stupid. More specifically, it seems stupid that WordPress gives you the option to turn the items in the Add menu items list off. But it definitely should default any new items that suddenly appear, i.e. that are not already “on” or “off” in your preferences, to “on.” So you, like, know they exist.

Get rid of that annoying “WebSocket connection to ‘…’ failed” error on WordPress sites running Jetpack

If you run a self-hosted WordPress site with Jetpack, installed, you may have noticed a frequent error message showing up in your browser console.

In Chrome it looks like this:

WebSocket connection to ‘wss://public-api.wordpress.com/pinghub/wpcom/me/newest-note-data’ failed: Error during WebSocket handshake: Unexpected response code: 403

In Safari it’s slightly less specific, but the issue is the same:

WebSocket connection to ‘wss://public-api.wordpress.com/pinghub/wpcom/me/newest-note-data’ failed: Unexpected response code: 403

This issue has been reported various places online but nowhere do I find a true fix.

As indicated in some of those support threads I linked to above, it’s due to an issue with the Notifications module in Jetpack. What? It’s something I was not even really aware of and that can be extremely easy to ignore, especially if your site is not blog-focused or does not have active commenting. Turns out Jetpack has this little “Notifications” icon up in the admin bar next to your Gravatar, where you can get the latest updates on what’s happening on your blog.

If you’re like me, you don’t need or want the Notifications tool. And if getting rid of it gets rid of that stupid error that’s constantly popping up in the console, all the better.

Side note: Did you know there’s a hidden page where you can access the settings for a ton of Jetpack modules? (Neither did I.) Just go to /wp-admin/admin.php?page=jetpack_modules in your WP admin and there it is! If you’re just dealing with this issue on one particular site, and don’t want to write any code, simply deactivate the Notifications module here and you’re done. If this is something you are dealing with on many sites though and you want an automatic, code-based solution to stick into your base theme, read on…

I tried using Jetpack’s instructions for disabling a module via code. (Fun fact, the name for this module in the code is not 'notifications' as you might expect; it’s 'notes'.) Frustratingly, neither the 'option_jetpack_active_modules' filter nor the 'jetpack_get_available_modules' filter worked. I even scoured the Jetpack source code for other filters I might need to use, and none of them made a difference.

Oh, I was able to get 'notes' not to appear in the array those filters returns, and I was even able to use that to get “Notifications” to always appear as “inactive” on that hidden settings page.

But the error kept showing up in the console, and the little Notifications icon was still in the admin bar. The module was not inactive.

Finally, through further source code poking, I discovered there’s a static public method called Jetpack::deactivate_module(). I tried running it in those aforementioned filters but it resulted in an HTTP 500 error. (Strangely, it was an out-of-memory error. Shrug.)

So I decided to try the method in different actions. After some trial and error, it seems the 'init' action works. But that’s a bit of overkill, running this code on every front end page load, especially since once the module is deactivated, it should stay deactivated, so my solution is to run it on the 'admin_init' action instead. Especially since this issue only happens for logged-in users anyway, it should be adequate.

Here’s a bit of code you can stick into your theme’s functions.php file or wherever you like to put things like this:

add_action('admin_init', 'rm34_jetpack_deactivate_modules');
function rm34_jetpack_deactivate_modules() {
    if (class_exists('Jetpack') && Jetpack::is_module_active('notes')) {
        Jetpack::deactivate_module('notes');
    }
}