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10 website-worthy sometimes-life-changing Joomla extensions (part 1)

January 25, 2010

Website-worthy, (sometimes) life-changing Joomla extensions

When I first found Joomla, I made all the rookie mistakes. Filled with entrepreneurial-style adrenaline at the thought of all the websites I could make and companies I could help, I must’ve downloaded and installed 20 extensions on my first site. I couldn’t help it!  The potential of each one of those extensions were just too much to pass up.

A couple of days later, once I was done playing (and once I realized that the more extensions I had, the more updating and customization I’d have to do to make it all run smothly and look like it was all one website), I got serious about a few of them and have since used and modified them for various companies’ websites, including my own. The bottom line is that anything’s possible with Joomla and it’s thousands of developer-made extensions. But there are a few that trump all else, once with either the functionality, appearance and/or support that make them truly worthwhile for professional use in the long-run. This is a list of those extensions (in my humble opinion).

So if I was stranded on a (virtual) deserted island and all I could take with me was Joomla and 10 extensions…

1. JoomlaPack: It’s not exciting until you’ve been infected by a virus. This has saved me a few times during the dark period (virii). JoomlaPack is a backup and restore app for Joomla.

  • Great for noobies like me to backup and restore while still looking like we know what we’re doing (I pretty much made every mistake in Top 10 Stupidest Administrator Tricks).
  • Allows you to restore multiple versions of your site to different areas of your server in a couple of minutes, allowing you to test and develop ‘live’ without the need for offline testing using Xampp and the like.
  • Note: Do NOT use their default backup-file-saving settings or you’re doomed to be infected.

2. xMap: Creates a sitemap in one or two clicks.

  • It updates when you update your content.
  • It creates google-worthy sitemaps for all or some of your menus.
  • You can block certain menus that you don’t want being paid attention to by search engines.
  • It can be displayed as on long column or in multiple columns.
  • I use it to set up my sitemaps and then carry on to Google Webmaster Tools to add the sitemap address. It’s as simple as that.

3. Frontpage Slideshow: An easy to use slideshow app that’s great for the front (or any) page of a Joomla website.

  • You can the size (ie. max width of 600 pixels) of the photos, upload them directly in the frontpage slideshow admin area, and watch as the program resizes and uploads your images.
  • Uses css and javascript
  • Lets you determine ‘slide’ transitions, navigation types and styles, and just about everything.
  • Lets you add captions and titles on top of slides/images or in tab-style positions
  • You can use it as a CNN-style news flash module with images or just for a photo slideshow.
  • Each image can link to an article in your website.
  • There’s 7 templates bundled with Frontpage Slideshow. Most don’t need any customization because they already look great and offer a number of different customizations.
  • Slides can be modules or photos.
  • Slides can have tabs, captions and more.
  • It’s apparently good for non-Joomla, php websites but I haven’t tested that.
Frontpage slideshow for joomla, wordpress and php sites

Frontpage slideshow for joomla, wordpress and php sites

4. jReviews: If you ask me, jReviews is the ultimate must-have of Joomla extensions. It was created for review sites (obviously) but it’s the custom fields that really take the programmable cake.

  • Custom fields allow you to break outside of the generic just-title-and-description fields of Joomla content articles to create any number of fields, amping up the power of Joomla 100-fold.
  • You can create any number of fields, have them appear wherever you like in the content, and set different permissions for each custom field – so one user type can view fields 1 to 5, and another can view fields 1 to 10.
  • If you allow users to submit content from the front end, you can use the custom fields to eliminate the learning curve of wysiwyg editors and ask for their submissions in the exact format you want without worrying about them missing an end tag and messing up your entire template.
  • Technically, you can use jReviews without ever even enabling the review option. Or you can turn it into a commenting & discussion system.
  • Listings allow for easy uploading of photo galleries and resizes the images as you upload.
  • Lots of ‘holding for moderation’ and similar type admin functions.
  • Even better is the fact the creator, Alejandro, actually responds to support tickets personally. He has literally logged into and fixed a couple of bugs in my site within hours of my pleas for help – more than once. Any Joomla administrator will know how hard it is to get support on a Joomla extension, whether it’s free or paid for. Open Source support sucks because everyone’s busy and most developers aren’t getting paid – or certainly, not getting paid enough.
  • Video tutorials show you all the basics and some of the more complex stuff.
  • To say jReviews is slick, would be an understatement. I will use it on every Joomla site I ever develop.

jReviews

5. Acajoom: This newsletter extension (there’s four versions of it by iJoobi.com ranging from $97 to $197) it’s probably the most popular. It does everything you need it to if you’re using correspondence/newsletters to update your site members. I use Acajoom Pro, the middle-of-the-road, does just about everything, costs $150.

  • Opt-in modules
  • Lets you import subscribes via csv files
  • Checks subscriptions against current ones so that users aren’t added multiple times
  • Doesn’t require users to be registered to the site in order to subscribe (unless you tell it otherwise)
  • Let’s you set up different news lists/topics so that users can get the news they want
  • The option to set up different lists for different users and have them choose which one they’d like to be on
  • Automatic name/username and date fields for personalized newsletters
  • HTML and plain text versions
  • email-newsletter extensions you the basics you need to update your website members – a newsletter that allows users to sign up for your news, choose from different lists and news sending formats, etc.
  • Has a ‘smart newsletter’ option that actually sends out newsletter FOR you at times you set up in the parameters, using content you’ve updated on your site. It’s Joomla AI at it’s best. Creepy and wonderful.

For the rest of this list of favourite Joomla extensions, click here.

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