Aug 142018
 

It is a sign of changing times when I get surprised by news specific to WordPress. I had heard about Gutenberg and the whole discussion around Facebook patenting REACT in a different context (about DIYThemes suing Automattic), and filed the information away as something not to be unduly concerned about.

Then, three weeks back, as I was looking to install a plugin from my WP dashboard, I noticed that a new “featured” plugin showed up, Gutenberg. It naturally accessed the information I had filed away and I started looking at it. Two things stood out at a first glance:

  1. It has a horrible rating.
  2. It is going to be a part of version 5.0 of WP.

At the time of starting this article Gutenberg holds an average rating of 2.4 out of 5 stars over 882 reviews, with a whopping 503 single-star reviews. That is more than all the reviews Suffusion and Photonic received their whole lifetimes! What is more alarming is that the rating is dropping by the hour and it wouldn’t be a shock to see it plummet to 2.2 by the time I am done.

The Poorly Rated Featured Plugin – 2.4 and Sinking

My curiosity piqued I started going through the reviews and I installed the plugin to take it for a spin. After playing with it for a few weeks in addition to formulating an opinion about Gutenberg I have, daresay, psychoanalyzed the reason behind Gutenberg. But before I go there here is some background. People familiar with me and this website are aware of these, but for those who aren’t, I promise to make it quick.

Background 1: Theme Development Experience – Suffusion

I was the author of a WordPress theme that was the highest rated free theme available on wordpress.org while it was active, mainly liked for the insane number of options it provided in terms of customization. I stopped active development of the theme in 2013, and it was eventually yanked from the repository by a zealous but poorly informed naysayer in 2016.

While the theme was in existence one of the main features I had provided was that of “Custom Layouts”. This was way back, in February 2012 – something that tells you how far ahead of the times Suffusion was! The design challenge I had at that time was, “How do I support layout customization using standard WP constructs, let people add advanced content, and not get into shortcodes etc.?” The answer that instantly came to mind was “Widgets!” I ended up providing a good number of widget areas that could be customized into fancy layouts and have any widget added to those. In theory you could build a page entirely comprising widget areas and add anything you want to them.

Background 2: Plugin Development Experience – Photonic

While I stopped work on the theme many years back, I have had a plugin running for over 7 years now that deals with the ability to insert galleries from sources such as Flickr, SmugMug, Google Photos etc. I have until now had a rather plain interface for inserting the shortcode corresponding to these galleries and that is one of the key limitations of what is an otherwise superlative piece of code.

Background 3: Experience Beyond WordPress

As a part of my WordPress life the only people I interact with are people who used to use my theme and those who use my plugin. So my experience with end-users editing content in WordPress on a day-to-day basis is low. However as a part of my day job I am a senior technical strategy and solution design consultant at a Big 4 Consulting company, having worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies. So I do have a good feel for enterprise class tools and what users expect.

Why Gutenberg

Now, to the main point of the review.

It has been a pebble in my shoe that WordPress has generally been a laggard with respect to innovation. Many facts point to this:

  1. For all talk of being a “Content Management System”, the native features built in to support content management have been sparse, and it has often had to rely on plugins to handle its many shortcomings. It has always amused me that this list that kicked up a firestorm in December 2011 is still mostly relevant, and the moment someone points out “Oh, WP is not a CMS”, there is a response pointing to a whole list of plugins. The point is, why hasn’t this been in core?
  2. Take menus – WP joined the party pretty late, in 2010, while several self-respecting themes offered a way out, not to mention competitors such as Joomla. Eventually WP picked on something developed by Woo and delivered menus with version 3.0. Even when introduced, the first version did not support automatic addition of new posts / pages.
  3. In many senses 3.0 was a watershed moment in the history of WP. They also released Custom Post Types in that version, because they realized that simply having posts and pages was not going to cut it in the CMS world and they needed something more meaty.
  4. Then there were post formats. Introduced in version 3.1 (in February 2011), post formats were introduced as something to quickly publish a post without making it look like a regular post (mostly as a counter to Tumblr). Think of them as out-of-the-box custom post types that can be formatted individually by themes.
  5. Next, customization: for the longest time WP had other recommended ways to handle theme settings, till it finally released the Theme Customizer in 2012. Even when it did so the interface was deemed so poor that very few theme developers jumped on the implementation (the adoption was a lot poorer for premium themes). A more large-scale adoption occurred only when the WP Theme Review Team forced all themes on .org to use it or be removed from the theme repository (I was compelled to pick the latter and had my theme removed). Obviously the WPTRT has no jurisdiction over premium themes, so several big-name themes still have other (better?) ways to enter options.

The point is, WP core was built as a blogging platform in the beginning, and has been playing catch-up ever since, trying to be seen as a more serious content management system. In fact to the uninitiated, the moment you mention “I work with WordPress”, the first response is, “Oh, the blog thing?” To that effect, what it says on wordpress.org is the truest definition of WordPress:

WordPress – No Official Pretensions towards Being a CMS

“WordPress is open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.” At its heart it is nothing more, and certainly not a full-blown CMS. And therein lies the ambition of wanting to be seen as something bigger.

Gutenberg is the first major shift towards a serious CMS, wherein WP is not telling developers, “This is an API. Now build something that others can go and play with,” a la custom post types. Rather it is telling end-users, “This is the result of an API. Now go play with it.” In fact in the list of shortcomings I referenced in the link above, the lack of a good WYSIWYG editor features high. TinyMCE is good as a content editor, but it is no design editor.

Gutenberg is the first major shift towards a serious CMS, wherein WP is not telling developers, “This is an API. Now build something that others can go and play with,” a la custom post types. Rather it is telling end-users, “This is the result of an API. Now go play with it.”

There is also another aspect – the money. If you are reading this, you are likely the user of the self-hosted version of WordPress, which you downloaded from https://wordpress.org. But chances are, you were introduced to this via its more famous cousin, https://wordpress.com. The .com version has many competitors, primary among them being Wix and Squarespace. They apparently have a better visual editor that WordPress is trying to ape (this is hearsay – I have no experience with them). If true, you will notice that the theme of playing catch-up is not limited to a desire of being a better CMS, but to also reclaim the share of the pie that it has lost out.

The Underpinnings

So how does Gutenberg work? It essentially introduces a very simple concept – a “block”. A block is a self-contained unit that could have pretty much anything – a block of text, an image, a gallery, a video etc. or another block. Seems very similar to a widget, doesn’t it (apart from the nesting of course)? The only difference is that a widget can operate within a widget area, but a block operates within a post. In fact, it does pretty much what every theme / plugin that offers custom layouts does – it provides you with an ability to insert arbitrary HTML markup at places of your choice.

Where a Gutenberg block has an edge over other methods is that it uses a very simple and innovative method to identify itself: an HTML comment! To quote examples from the documentation:

<!-- wp:image -->
<figure class="wp-block-image">
    <img src="source.jpg" alt="" />
</figure>
<!-- /wp:image -->

The above shows an image block and …

<!-- wp:latest-posts {"postsToShow":4,"displayPostDate":true} /-->

… shows a block of the 4 latest posts.

Of course, since WordPress has complete control over the platform it is able to define an API and work with such syntax. The advantage of having a comment is that even if you are able to disable Gutenberg (go back a version?) it will not show you unwieldy shortcodes the way custom layout plugins do. The other advantage of course is that since this will be a part of the core, it will not matter which theme or plugin you are using – the content will always be there.

The Public Opinion

A lot has been said about Gutenberg and the overwhelming dose of vitriol (i.e. most of the 1-star ratings) directed towards it points to a few things:

  1. People are seriously concerned about the amount of disruption it will cause to their clients.
  2. People are seriously concerned about how many of their critical themes plugins will stop functioning with Gutenberg.
  3. They think it is unnecessary, or at least not needed as a part of the core. Most people would be OK with a gradual phase-in.

There is a lot of additional constructive good feedback too among the 1-star ratings, though this is mostly covered in the 2-star ratings:

  1. The most common comment is regarding the way Gutenberg disrupts the writing process. Most people believe (myself included) that switching back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse is extremely distracting. Gutenberg makes you acutely aware of this.
  2. Gutenberg is buggy. 900+ issues buggy.
  3. It isn’t close to being as feature-rich a design editor as some commonly available alternatives such as Builder or Elementor are.

Curiously enough WordPress claims the intent of Gutenberg is post editing (where it doesn’t do well according to point 1) above and not a design editor (where it downright sucks according to point 3), while most users see it as an amalgamation of both that fails to deliver.

What has been rather unsavoury in case of Gutenberg though is that the WordPress forum moderators are stepping into multiple threads, often threatening and sometimes proceeding to remove single-line 1-star reviews. In several cases they have stopped discussions on review threads when none of the parties concerned objected. It is almost as though a bad review of Gutenberg is seen as an affront to the moderators themselves and they feel obligated to police the reviews. The same enthusiasm is missing when it comes to any of the other plugins in the repository.

My Opinion – A Much Needed Step Poorly Executed

As a WordPress user Gutenberg makes no sense to me for the following reasons:

  • When I write content for my posts I simply switch to the “Text” editor from the “Visual” editor. If Gutenberg was offered I would do the same. More than 95% of what I write needs no fancy UI and Gutenberg is just that.
  • I am not a person who dramatically alters the look and feel of sites every now and then, and for most of what I do I am very comfortable using Suffusion or a child theme of TwentySixteen. I have used the Builder plugin if I wasn’t using Suffusion, and it gets the job done with minimal fuss. From experience it takes less than a day for me to sort out the site’s look and feel and it is mostly done just for the landing page (for every other post / page the regular content editor just works). Plugins such as Builder can be used for individual pages without being shoved down our throats for every type of page / post.

Bear in mind that the above is why it doesn’t make sense to me – several users might be accustomed to the “Visual” TinyMCE editor and they might find Gutenberg a step up. I on the other hand am a person who favoured using Emacs / Vim before discovering JetBrains and their wonderful IDEs (no, IBM and Eclipse didn’t do it for me). Even today I keep Vim around for quickly editing text files :).

As a WordPress developer on the other hand Gutenberg makes a world of sense to me:

  • It is a no-brainer to have a standardized way to code the equivalent of blocks etc. Having this built into core simply eliminates the need for each fancy theme coming to the table with its own take on what its premium features are (yes, I am talking about Suffusion too!). So themes can focus on pure look-and-feel aspects instead of putting forth their own variants of what they think a wheel should be. Of course, I can see each theme author now scrambling to offer two-dozen custom blocks for Gutenberg users, but that is a discussion for another day.
  • Regardless of any amount of work this might cause for me in Photonic, I am really happy that the mechanism to insert code (even shortcodes) is being standardized. Did I say how much I like getting things standardized?

In a nutshell, as a developer I like standardization and simplicity. I am not yet sure how simple the Gutenberg API is – I still haven’t started writing Photonic’s compatibility for it, and while some of WP’s APIs have been easy, some like the TinyMCE API have been messy. As a user I feel ambivalent or perhaps negative towards it – I don’t like that fact that it has taken away from a simple writing experience and unnecessarily prolonged it, but I can see visual thinkers warming up to it.

(Poor) Decisions not (Better) Options

WordPress has always maintained a philosophy of “Designs not Options”. That is one of the reasons that option-rich themes are looked down upon, as the core philosophy of WordPress is having a theme for a single-purpose without cramming too much into it. This is a philosophy that has helped keep many things lean. Of course, concepts like Post Formats have things like “Status” or “Chat” which probably have about a 0.001% usage, so bloat has crept in here and there. But by and large they have been able to stick to this mantra.

That being said, for the amount of effort, time and money that the powers that be have invested in Gutenberg the end product or at least the product in its current state seems to be a letdown, much like how Windows Vista felt after years of delay. The presence of alternatives such as Builder and Elementor make this delay more embarrassing. What they have ended up building is a sub-par editor.

Is it a content editor? WordPress says yes and most testers say it does a pretty bad job of it. I used to feel TinyMCE was not good, and this takes that feeling further. It seems like one poor decision layered on top of another as far as the interface design is concerned.

Is it a design editor? WordPress says no and the testers think that if it was intended as a design editor it is very poorly made. It is certainly not a better option than the existing tools in the marketplace.

Is it an attempt to join the big CMS players’ league and be taken more seriously? You bet!

Is it an attempt to win back some of its lost customers from competitors? Of course it is!

Ultimately WP is going to land its “Decisions not Options” hammer and make this the standard in a few months’ time. The days of WP being one big happy community are long gone and in a bid to stay competitive the finished product of Gutenberg is likely to do one of two things – it might usher in a new era, or it might end up relegating WP to the irrelevant.

Jul 292018
 

Version 1.68 of Photonic is now out. This version has the following changes:

  1. Google Photos API:
    Google announced that Picasa was shutting down in February 2016. Two years and three months later it finally introduced a new API for Google Photos in May 2018. As soon as it did so, a few features stopped working reliably in the Picasa API, notably the ability to see shared albums. To counter this I have built a module to support the new Google Photos API. Here are a few highlights:

    1. If you have used the Picasa module, your Client ID and Client Secret can be reused, but you have to perform a few additional steps and re-authenticate for Google Photos.
    2. Album ids in Picasa and Google Photos are different for the same albums, so a new helper has been provided for Google Photos.
    3. The Google Photos API is in a “Developer Preview” mode. This limits the number of API calls that can be made to 2500 a day. If you have a site with significantly more traffic consider sticking to the Picasa module.
    4. Video support in the API is very flaky. I have myself opened 1 bug report and 1 feature request with Google for videos in the API. Also, some lightboxes cannot handle videos from Google, viz. Fancybox and Featherlight (in addition to Image Lightbox, PrettyPhoto and Strip, which don’t support videos from any source). Do keep this in consideration before you decide to use Google Photos.
    5. Two things that Google Photos does very well are shared albums and filters. As mentioned above, shared albums hadn’t been working very well over the past two months with the Picasa API, and the Google Photos API seems to have ironed out all those kinks. In addition the Google Photos API provides the ability to filter by date and category.
  2. “More” Albums:
    One of the limitations of the Google Photos API is that it can return at the most 50 albums in one shot. For people with multiple albums this is obviously a challenge particularly since the Picasa API had no such limitation. So I introduced the ability to use the more='...' feature not just for Google Photos but for everything lest you come up against the limit for that provider. See the examples here.
  3. “More” within Nested Photos:
    One challenge with Photonic so far was that if you were displaying a collection of albums and clicked on one of them, the resultant display could not show more than a certain number of photos. With version 1.68 you can now use attributes photo_count and photo_more when you are showing an overlaid popup panel to show the entire set of photos incrementally. See the examples here.
  4. I fixed an issue where, if the global layout option was set to one of the slideshow options, clicking on an album’s thumbnail to display its photos was not showing anything.
  5. I have updated the Featherlight script to the latest version.

Happy photo-blogging!

Jul 122018
 

I had to release a small patch for Instagram and Flickr while prepping for a bigger release. Version 1.67 has the following changes:

  1. If a user’s Instagram profile had a large number of photos, there was no way to get all of them. Now Photonic shows a “More” button till all photos are exhausted.
  2. Upon clicking on an album thumbnail for Flickr, the number of photos displayed would be cut off at 100 though Flickr was capable of displaying up to 500. I have rectified this.

Good luck using this version, and as always, please feel free to rate it if you like it.

Jul 092018
 

Dear Users of Photonic,
I know that many of you have, in the past, rated Photonic well on WordPress.org. However, sometime in late 2016 / early 2017 WordPress deleted all ratings without reviews, causing Photonic to lose out on a large number of good ratings.

As you are aware, all my WordPress work has been free and I have always been emphatic about not doing paid work for WordPress. This was true of Suffusion and this has been true of Photonic. And this is what makes Photonic an outstanding product. It is not that Photonic is the best in class in a single area for photo blogging – it is literally the best in class for almost every area that it touches! Some examples are:

  • Outstanding coverage for multiple photo services:
    • Flickr: There is no other WP plugin, paid or free that supports Flickr collections or authentication. Photonic supports photostreams, groups, photosets / albums, galleries, collections and authentication.
    • Picasa: There is no other WP plugin, paid or free that pulls photos and albums from Picasa. There used to be a couple that worked for Picasa prior to Google’s API shift in 2016, but no more. And Photonic nicely fills that gap.
    • SmugMug: There is no other WP plugin, paid or free that pulls photos, albums and folders from SmugMug. There are a couple of very old plugins that do static pulls of photos, but nothing that pulls dynamically. Photonic does this very, very well.
    • Zenfolio: There is no other WP plugin, paid or free that pulls photos, photosets and groups from Zenfolio. There is one very old plugin that hasn’t been maintained for over 3 years, and that provides rudimentary support for photosets.
    • 500px: Prior to the API shutdown, Photonic was the only plugin that integrated with 500px. And the integration was as extensive as everything else Photonic.
    • Instagram: In this case there are a few plugins that do things as well as Photonic, so I will not claim to be the best here.
    • Native WP Galleries: The closest competition to Photonic here is from JetPack, and it is a no-contest. JetPack’s tiled gallery layout was its USP, until Photonic did it much better and in a nice, responsive manner. Not to mention that all of the lightboxes of Photonic are available for native WP galleries

    Essentially there is no other plugin that beats Photonic for any of the individual services above, and Photonic manages to be the best in pretty much all of them.

  • Layouts: Most gallery plugins give you a basic “square” thumbnail layout. Anything more and you have to pay. Now let’s see what Photonic gives you. For free. For all photo services.
    • Square / Circular thumbnails: This is really basic and everyone offers this.
    • Justified Grid: Plugins offer this layout for standard WP galleries, or as a paid add-on for custom WP galleries. Photonic includes this as a basic functionality for every photo service.
    • Masonry: Plugins offer this layout for standard WP galleries, or as a paid add-on for custom WP galleries. As usual, Photonic gives this for free for every photo service.
    • Mosaic: JetPack does this, but all its calculations happen in the back-end in PHP, and only for images in users’ media libraries. Other plugins try, often for a price, but don’t get very far with this. Photonic does a beautiful job with this, in a nice responsive manner for the front-end, for every type of gallery.
  • Lightboxes: Photonic simply annihilates the competition here. Its support for 11 lightboxes (and counting) is way higher than that of any free plugin, and many of these lightboxes are supported with a hefty price-tag by others. More importantly, Photonic goes out of the way to support these for every lightbox (even very old ones not designed with such features in mind):
    • Touch / gesture capability: Have you ever been able to use Colorbox with swipe gestures? Not unless you have used Photonic.
    • Direct invocation of lightboxes without showing all thumbnails: Most lightbox scripts force you to show all thumbnails in a gallery before you can launch them. This is particularly painful if you have to show multiple albums without clutter. Photonic takes the sting out of this and lets you show images within albums directly for every type of lightbox.
    • Integration with photo services: Every lightbox in Photonic place nicely with all the external photo service providers.
    • Deep-linking and Social Sharing: Very few scripts come with deep-linking or social sharing capabilities. In most cases the lightbox scripts charge a price for such capabilities. But with Photonic pretty much everything comes with these premium features.
    • HTML5 video support: Most lightboxes just stop after supporting YouTube and Vimeo videos. Not Photonic though, which supports every conceivable type of video link.

I do realize that the above reads like an advertisement for Photonic, but this is pretty much the only forum where I publicize Photonic.

This is a request for you to kindly drop in a few words of encouragement on Photonic’s review page. It will keep me motivated for future releases and help retain Photonic as the crown jewel of gallery plugins in WP.

Regards,
Sayontan.

Jul 082018
 

Version 1.66 of Photonic is now out. This release has the following items:

  1. Video Support
    This is the big ticket item in this version. Like everything Photonic, video support is very comprehensive. I have added support for videos within Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, Zenfolio and Instagram, as well as self-hosted MP4 files, and videos from YouTube or Vimeo. I made every effort to ensure that the lightboxes that can support videos handle all facets, and this was a tough process. Take a look at the Videos page for generic instructions, as well as individual photo service pages on this site for examples.

    While addition of the feature might seem trivial, the implementation was a back-breaker. The challenge was in terms of how lightboxes display videos. Very few were able to open HTML5 videos (like the ones on Picasa or SmugMug) directly from a URL, and most of them required manipulation of the dimensions of the lightbox on the fly because they couldn’t determine how big the video was. Some lightboxes had trouble switching between videos and images in the same lightbox etc.

  2. No More 500px.com
    I didn’t have to do anything here. 500px.com shut down its API access in the middle of June. While the code for it is still present in the plugin, none of the API keys work anymore. As a result the 500px.com module doesn’t work any more.
  3. A New Lightbox: Fancybox3
    This release features the addition of Fancybox3 as another lightbox supported by Photonic. This brings up the total number of supported lightboxes for Photonic to 11 – way higher than any other plugin! In fact, the most popular lightbox plugin in WP, Responsive Lightbox makes you pay for scripts such as Fancybox3, Lightcase, LightGallery and Strip (and even for slideshows, justified grids etc.), while Photonic gives it all to you for free!
  4. Other Additions
    • I have modified the helpers under Photonic → Helpers to display the album thumbnails for SmugMug and Picasa.
    • I have added a structure option to the Zenfolio shortcode so that photosets in groups and group hierarchies can be shown either nested or as a flat hierarchy. See the Zenfolio pages for more
  5. Bug Fixes
    • The shortcode insertion script was not printing the alternative shortcode if applicable. This should now be fine.
    • If an alternative shortcode was being used to display a native WP gallery, passing the ids parameter was not working. This has been fixed.
    • If a thumbnail limit was specified for the archive-view, that limit was not working on the home page. I have taken care of this bug.
    • The Random Justified Grid was setting the alt attribute of images to “undefined”. This should not be happening any more.
  6. In other housekeeping items I have updated the LightGallery scripts to the latest version, and I have corrected instructions for Picasa redirect URLs.

Hope you enjoy this release. Happy “vlogging”!

May 282018
 

I recently received a question about GDPR compliance for Suffusion on the WordPress forum, posted on the support forum for Photonic – not the right place to post. But there is no support forum page for Suffusion on the WordPress support forums, plus I don’t monitor the forums here since I gave up working on Suffusion a few years back, so I am posting this here as a public service announcement.

Suffusion is fully GDPR compliant. To wit:

  1. Any information you enter and save in the back-end options stays there and is not sent outside your WordPress environment. Suffusion doesn’t send any data outside your website.
  2. There is no tracking of any sort built into Suffusion. Any references to “Analytics” in Suffusion (Appearance → Suffusion Options → Back-end → Analytics) refers to your ability to include tracking scripts into the footer of your website. Suffusion itself provides no analytics capabilities – that is strictly plugin territory.
  3. Suffusion doesn’t store any cookies of any sort.

If you encounter questions about GDPR compliance, please feel free to point the users to this page.

May 252018
 

In the past few weeks there has been a fair bit of buzz around General Data Protection Regulation a.k.a. GDPR, an EU law on data protection and privacy. In my day job as a consultant I am quite familiar with GDPR, but what took me by surprise was a question on the support forum asking me if Photonic was GDPR compliant.

To answer that and related questions I decided to post this on my blog. I will, subsequently, include the relevant content from this in the next release of Photonic. So, let’s get this out of the way:

  1. Photonic is GDPR compliant.
  2. When you (the WordPress user) install and activate Photonic on your site no information is sent back to me (the developer) or to any website that I own. Additionally when you save your API keys and authentication tokens within Photonic none of that information is sent to me either. It all stays within your WordPress settings, inaccessible to anyone apart from a user with administrative privileges on your website.
  3. What about when visitors (the end users) visit your website? Let’s break this down:
    1. When you set up Photonic without back-end (server side) or front-end (client side) authentication, Photonic stores no information of the end users anywhere. In other words nothing is sent to you, the WordPress user or me, the developer. Also, no cookies are stored in the end users’ browsers.
    2. When you set up Photonic with back-end authentication, you save your access tokens within WordPress’ settings environment. This is used for technical purposes to retrieve your photos and display them on your website. Again, this is within your settings environment and none of the information is collected or sent to me.
    3. When you set up Photonic with front-end authentication, your end-users will have to log into Flickr / Google (Picasa) / SmugMug / 500px to see your private photos. In such a scenario a cookie is stored with the end users’ authentication in their browsers. This is required from a user-experience point of view so that the users don’t have to login each time they visit a new page on your website. Your end-users’ information and data is not sent to you and is not collected by Photonic for storing within your environment or for being sent elsewhere.

From the time I released version 1.65, three things have happened in the photography world which will impact Photonic in the long and short term:

  1. Facebook started clamping down on third party apps after Cambridge Analytica’s shenanigans. They had done this in the past with Instagram, and that caused a massive disruption for sites using the Instagram API. In fact, to date I haven’t been able to convince them to grant the requisite permissions to Photonic to display tags etc. Burnt by my experience with Instagram I had been very wary about extending Photonic to Facebook. In hindsight that was a good decision since Facebook has made it harder to get approvals for apps to pull photos etc. I would have ended up throwing away a lot of development effort if I had built a Facebook module.
  2. SmugMug has acquired Flickr. This took me by surprise. As of now the platforms and APIs are independent and they haven’t announced any plans to merge them in the short term. However, if and when the merge, I will have to redo the code in accordance with the redesigned API. That is a bridge too far for now and I will cross it when I get to it.
  3. 500px.com announced that they are shutting down their API from 15th June 2018. And when this happens, there is nothing I can do to fetch photos from a platform. I have written to them to see if there will be any way to pull photos, but for now we must assume that the 500px.com module of Photonic will stop working from 15th June due to this change.

In the meanwhile I am working on adding video support to Photonic. Stay tuned.

Apr 212018
 

After a hiatus of almost 14 months I have been able to release a new update for Photonic. While this version comes after a long time, I have been extremely active on the support forum, often responding to issues in minutes. It is just that this release featured one big ticket item, which took me time to develop and test. Incidentally the day I released the last version was when I got on a different project on my day job, and that effectively killed all my free time.

Anyway, without further delay, these are the key features of version 1.65:

  1. Back-End / Server-Side Authentication
    I introduced back-end authentication with Instagram, then extended it to Google back in 2016. But these were necessitated by the API changes breaking Photonic. This time I have gone ahead and completed the journey for Flickr, SmugMug and 500px. This addresses one of the most requested features on the support forum: an ability to display private photos without site visitors requiring to log in. As a side-effect of this I had to split out the former Helpers page into two: a new Authentication page that handles authentication, and a Helpers page that provides tools to determine user ids, album ids etc.

    Admin Menu

  2. Fix for Bootstrap Bug
    The most frequently raised issue since February last year has been a conflict between themes / plugins using Bootstrap and Photonic. Incidentally the culprits here are the Bootstrap users, who include a tooltip script with their themes / plugins that conflicts with the JQuery Tooltip script bundled with native WP. Photonic uses JQuery Tooltip, so it ran into issues with Bootstrap users. I have coded a workaround that lets people use both now.
  3. Featherlight
    Keeping with the trend of adding lightbox scripts, this release adds support for Featherlight.
  4. Other Additions
    1. I have improved the error message reporting and made it hopefully more user-friendly.
    2. I have added support for Pinterest sharing of photos via the lightboxes.
    3. So far users were able to pass a filter attribute to the shortcode, which would fetch a named list of albums / galleries / photosets. In this release I have added an additional attribute filter_type that takes the values exclude and include to indicate if a list of albums in the filter parameter should be excluded or included.
    4. Flickr has an oddity – in some cases the URL structure of its photos doesn’t match documentation. I have added a workaround so that now such images from Flickr too will be displayed.
    5. I have added a new title style that is similar to the “Slide up on hover”, except that this title doesn’t disappear and stays covering the lower portion of photos.
  5. Other Bug Fixes
    1. In the previous release I had accidentally left in some code that gave you the option to show a “Buy” link for SmugMug photos, but did nothing upon selection. That should be fixed now.
    2. The SmugMug folder view was dropping albums that didn’t have a “Highlight Image”. This has been corrected, and such albums will now show a placeholder image.
    3. SmugMug folders were unable to show more than 10 albums under them. This has been addressed to display up to 200 albums.
    4. While displaying 500px.com photos, if a user name started with a number that was breaking the code. This should be working fine now.
    5. While displaying photos from a 500px.com category, if the category name had spaces the plugin was not pulling the photos correctly. This has been fixed.
  6. Other Changes
    1. I have streamlined the Picasa code to use native WP methods for HTTP request
    2. The “Getting Started” and “Helpers” pages will now be visible to any user who can edit posts. Previously this was only visible to admins.
    3. I have improved compatibility with PHP 7.

Hope you enjoy this release!

Feb 272017
 

I have just released Photonic Version 1.64, with quite a few big features:

  1. Masonry Layout
    Masonry layouts had never been a part of Photonic because, to be honest, I never got results that I desired with the jQuery Masonry script. So after 6 years of the plugin’s existence when I decided to integrate Masonry, things went swimmingly at first … until I tried testing the “Show More” functionality of Photonic. Try as I might I wasn’t able to make Masonry play nicely with dynamically added content. Eventually I gave up and went a different route – CSS3 columns. This worked out a lot better, and all I needed to do was provide a jQuery Masonry escape path for IE9 and its older brethren. You can now trigger the Masonry layout by setting layout='masonry' in the shortcode. See examples in the Layouts page.
  2. Mosaic Layout
    I wasn’t content with just providing the Masonry layout this time, so I provided another – a Mosaic layout. I must confess that ever since I saw JetPack’s tiled galleries, I have wanted to provide this feature. In fact, almost a year back I tried to implement this, then gave it up and built out the Random Justified Grid instead. The challenge had always been that Jetpack only deals with images on the local server, so it can compute heights and construct the layout in the back-end PHP, while Photonic predominantly deals with images outside the local server, making it impossible to do computations in the back-end. The solution had to be based in JavaScript.

    I looked at several third-party scripts to help build this functionality (Packery, CSTiles, and more), but nothing seemed to fill out gaps properly with images of varying sizes. Eventually I bit the bullet and built out the script myself. It wasn’t very difficult once I had the algorithm and a plan to do the layouts sorted out, and I was eventually done. Take a look at the finished product. You can activate the mosaic layout by setting layout='mosaic' in the shortcode.

  3. Enhancements to Native WP Galleries
    There were three things missing from native WP galleries that existed for all other gallery providers – deep-linking / social sharing, “Show More” capabilities, and an ability to enable / disable lightbox linking. All of these have been addressed in this release.
  4. Thumbnail Effects
    I have added options for some thumbnail effects. So far Photonic used to display a somewhat opaque layer on thumbnails in the square and circle layouts, while others would show with no such effect. In this release I have added an option to zoom upon hover, and I have provided separate options for the different layouts. You can control the effects from Photonic → Settings → Generic Options → Layouts.
  5. SmugMug Folders
    I have added support to display SmugMug folders. See the usage here. As a related change, the SmugMug helper (Photonic → Helpers) shows folder information as well.
  6. Larger Images in Instagram
    So far only the documented Instagram sizes were supported by Photonic – 150px × 150px, 320px × 320px and 640px × 640px. In this release I have added support for the undocumented sizes – 1080px × 1080px, 1080px × 1350px and 1080px × 566px.
  7. Other Additions
    1. Added an option to auto-start slideshows in the slideshow layout. See Photonic → Generic Options → Slideshow Settings → Prevent Slideshow Autostart.
    2. I added a popup attribute to the shortcode, which overrides the “Bypass Popup” capability (Photonic → Generic Options → Overlaid Popup Panel → Enable Interim Popup for Album Thumbnails). It takes the values hide and show.
    3. I added the slideshow options to the shortcode editor for all galleries. Previously this was only present for native WP galleries.
  8. Bug Fixes
    There are a few minor bug-fixes in this release:

    1. I fixed a corner-case issue with the random layout – if the post content width was being rounded up (e.g. 549.8px became 550px), some widths were not being computed correctly, causing the layout to break.
    2. There was a mismatched HTML tag appearing for single-photo displays, which has been addressed.
    3. I corrected a minor styling issue for the preview button in the WP editor that occurred when the back-end shortcode editor was active.
    4. There was an issue with deep-linking working with Image Lightbox, wherein if the same image was repeated in different galleries, the deep-link would show up from the first instance.
Feb 132017
 

Photonic Version 1.63 has been released with two major updates requiring contrasting levels of development skill:

  1. TinyMCE Integration
    One of the most frequently raised support topics for Photonic was that upon inserting a gallery the user was presented with “No Items Found”. In each of those instances, upon performing troubleshooting what I found is that the user was reporting what he / she was seeing in the back-end Visual Editor, not what was on the front-end. In fact, in almost all of these cases, the front-end would show the gallery perfectly. The issue was not that the shortcode wasn’t working, rather the shortcode wasn’t integrated with the TinyMCE script of WP, and this had been a documented shortcoming of the plugin (in the FAQ section) since one of the early releases. This shortcoming caused a lazy troll not bothered to read documentation to provide Photonic a single-star rating on WP.

    In any case, starting with Version 1.63 Photonic offers integration with TinyMCE. What this means is that if you insert a gallery with your Visual Editor, you will no longer be presented with this:

    Visual Editor showing nothing in the Gallery

    Instead you will see something that makes a little more sense:

    A placeholder for a Flickr Gallery. The placeholder shows the logo of the provider, so you will see the Picasa logo for Google Photos, the SmugMug logo for SmugMug galleries etc.

    Clicking on the placeholder will let you edit the properties of the gallery.

    Change the attributes of the gallery

    There was a reason this hadn’t been developed until this point – it was insanely difficult! In fact among all the integration I have had to do for Photonic until this point, this has been the hardest. As of now, though the feature has been implemented, there is a likelihood of conflicts with other plugins. So if you do come across conflicts, please bring them to my attention. Please note that in case of conflicts you can disable the visual editing capability (Photonic → Settings → Generic Options → Generic Settings → Disable shortcode editing in Visual Editor), which will still let you edit the shortcodes by hand in the “Text” editor.

  2. StripJS Lightbox Support
    If the integration with TinyMCE was the hardest thing I have had to do, the integration with StripJS was one of the easiest. It literally took me less than an hour to get this integration in place. Strip describes itself as “an unobtrusive lightbox”, meaning it doesn’t occupy the entire screen, rather it takes up the space to the side of the screen.

    Strip is distributed under the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 License (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0), which is incompatible with GPL, so I cannot bundle it with Photonic. However, there is nothing stopping you from using the script. See here for instructions. Do bear in mind that you are responsible for following the licensing restrictions of Strip.

  3. Lightgallery Fixes
    A couple of fixes have been put in place for the Lightgallery script – when the “download” capability was being used with Firefox, it didn’t work for external providers. This has been rectified for Flickr, SmugMug and Picasa. Another issue was that when you opted to not display captions if they were blank, Lightgallery would still show them in the lightbox. This too has been addressed.

Good luck with this release!