Some Favorite WordPress Plugins

With the 100-degree heat broiling the East Coast this weekend, I decided to stay inside and make some design and performance tweaks to my site. I added Google +1 buttons to posts and the index page, and I also tweaked some of the settings in my plugins.

Speaking of those, here’s what I’ve been using to make life easier:

Akismet: Gets rid of a ton of comment spam for various Russian “services” so I can spend my time doing other things. You’ll need to sign up for an API key, but otherwise it’s simple and effective.

Contact Form 7: After trying a few contact plugins, I settled on Contact Form 7 and have had great results. It powers my Contacts page, which I prefer to use instead of posting an email address. For spam filtering, I implemented the quiz feature, but the plugin also supports CAPTCHA. I rarely get spam.

Google XML Sitemaps: Generates a sitemap.xml file that Google and other search engines use to index the site. Lets me include or exclude content and control how often to update the file.

A Facelift for a Book List

The USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list has a new look and added interactivity, part of a relaunch of books coverage. It’s been a fun project that has been on my front burner for about three months.

I get to work with all kinds of data at USA TODAY, but the book list has been a constant. When I arrived at USAT in 1997, one of the first projects I took on was to build and analyze an archive of the list to mark its fifth anniversary. Since then, as that archive grew to hold nearly 18 years of data, we’ve used it to anchor stories about authors and trends in publishing. We’re awfully proud of the list, and people in the publishing industry tell us it’s one of the most accurate accounts of Americans’ weekly reading habits.

Last year, we opened the archives up to developers via a Best-Selling Books API. This year, giving the list itself a facelift was the next logical step.

We were fortunate to assemble a crack team of designers, developers and product managers who, in a short time, conceptualized, designed, redesigned, and coded an entirely new collection of book-related pages for our site. What’s new: