Worth the Read: How a WordPress Plugin Gets Made

3 min read

Brian McCulloh

The wonderful thing about WordPress—and part of the reason we’re such fans of it here—is the platform’s flexibility. If you can dream a feature up, WordPress can do it. The question is: How?

Brian McCulloh is Well Done’s senior developer, and part of his job is to figure out how to make those feature ideas into reality. Recently, Brian developed a plugin for WordPress called Worth the Read, which has been well-received (and is presently in use on this very blog—scroll down and keep an eye out for the yellow progress bar on the left of this window). Here, Brian talks about his creation, plugins in general, and the enduring power of the WordPress platform.

So what exactly is a plugin?

A plugin is a piece of functionality that enhances WordPress, either in style or usage. Ideally, it improves or extends the experience of using a site.

Worth the Read, your new plugin, can be added to blogs and articles to act as a progress bar, so users know where they are within a piece of text. What was the hardest part of designing it?

When people write blog posts, they’re always different. So how do you take into account every single use case? How does the plugin work if a blog post is really short, or if the content doesn’t start until you’re way down the page? A plugin like this has to be extremely adaptable, and so the first challenge was to do the calculations and work out the JavaScript functionality.

But another challenge is that it’s a visual indicator—how do I create something that can be plug-and-play with every style of theme that’s out there, without clashing with the look of the website? It had to work well, but it also had to look good.

Being a former designer, I have an eye for that. But the other piece I created was an option panel, so the customizability is built in.

One of the key features of your plugin is that it’s unobtrusive, and that’s something that’s true no matter what the WordPress theme is. How did you ensure it would work across themes when there are so many in use?

I’ve worked with WordPress themes for years, so I’ve seen pretty much everything from super-complicated to bare bones. Every theme has certain baseline requirements in WordPress, so I knew my limits if I wanted it to be as accessible as possible for every blog. My mindset was that if my plugin didn’t work with a specific WordPress theme, then that theme was going to be such an outlier it probably won’t work with most plugins.

You mentioned you’ve been working with WordPress for years—what do you enjoy about creating in the platform?

They’re always at the forefront of the web, and so the platform is always ready to utilize the newest technologies, design guidelines, and user experience ideas. They aren’t locked in to some ancient platform. If you learn WordPress, it’s going to prompt you to keep up with the latest trends and innovations.

I’m also an author on the ThemeForest marketplace, where I support a userbase of more than 18,000 customers, and the developer community with WordPress is also big and very supportive. No matter what issue you run into, somebody has dealt with it too, so you can always find help.

How did creating Worth the Read help you grow as a developer?

WordPress has very stringent policies in place if you want to publish a plugin. Learning that process was the first step, and then learning Subversion, which is the version control system they use for plugins.

But more than that, it was a way to apply all these disparate skills to a single project. Before this plugin, sure, I knew JavaScript, blogging, and WordPress Hooks and Actions, but this was a chance to combine that knowledge for a single project. It’s a unique opportunity.




Download Worth the Read for your own WordPress site here