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Mind Blowing WordPress Plugins: Officers Directory and Contextual Help Menus

WordPress PluginsI will be presenting a session on “Mind Blowing WordPress Plugins” at OpenCamp in Dallas, August 27-29, 2010, and I want to introduce you to some of the WordPress Plugins I will be talking about to tease and tempt you, as well as to showcase the innovations that are out there in the WordPress Plugin world.

Douglas Bell is one of the many “youngsters” who grew up with WordPress, helping with the core development, community and Plugins and Themes. Now in college and continuing his podcasting, blogging and web development, he recently took advantage of the new Administration Panels Contextual Help Menus to bring excellent customer support to his new Officers Directory WordPress Plugin.

Officers Directory WordPress Plugin by Douglas BellThe Officers Directory WordPress Plugin was designed with membership organizations in mind but can be used for any multiple author blog or even a blog network as it works with WordPressMU/Blog Networks. It creates a contact page listing the officers in a table view with their contact information and job description. The contact information can be optionally linked to an automatic reCAPTCHA-powered contact form for easy (and hopefully) spam-free contacts directly to the officer who can provide them with the right response.

You can set the position and details in the Plugin’s Administration Panel, and set it for co-officers or identifying a vacant position. The email addresses are obfuscated and kept private. You can also group related officer positions together under custom position types, like by department, specialty, or even region. You have complete order how the officers are structured within each of the sections. A simple shortcode is placed in on the page you wish the officers directory to appear.

While all of this is amazing, the best part his Bell’s use of the contextual help system built into WordPress which has gotten little attention.

Contextual Help System for WordPress Plugins

Officers Directory WordPress Plugin - Contextual Help MenuOne of the main reasons for burn out with WordPress Plugin and Theme developers is the overwhelming need for customer support. The questions are often helpful, but can be time consuming and redundant – and there are always idiots who can’t read the basic instructions. With contextual help menus, the burden of support may just lesson as users can get the help they need right on the WordPress interface.

Imagine clicking a button and finding all the instructions you need right on the Plugin options panel. Imagine finding the instructions you need for the specific functionality you are using on its panel? It’s all possible and Douglas Bell wrote an article in the , the online manual for WordPress Users, to help others add this ability to their WordPress Plugin or Theme in “Adding Contextual Help to Administration Menus.”

To add the contextual help menu to WordPress from your Plugin, add the hook with a unique identifier:

<?php
add_action('admin_menu', 'my_plugin_menu');

function my_plugin_menu() {

 	global $my_plugin_hook;
 	$my_plugin_hook = add_options_page('My Plugin Options', 'My Plugin', 'manage_options', 'my-unique-identifier', 'my_plugin_options');

}
?>

To add the contextual help text and instructions, you then add the menu code and include the three parameters essential to make it work:

<?php
function my_plugin_help($contextual_help, $screen_id, $screen) {

	global $my_plugin_hook;
	if ($screen_id == $my_plugin_hook) {

		$contextual_help = '<p>To use this WordPress Plugin, you must select from the following options:</p>
<ul>
<li><strong>Option 1:</strong> This is Option 1 features.</li>
<li><strong>Option 2:</strong> This is Option 2 features.</li>
<li><strong>Option 3:</strong> This is Option 3 features.</li>
</ul>
<p>When you have made your choice, click apply.</p>';
	}
	return $contextual_help;
}

add_action('contextual_help', 'my_plugin_help', 10, 3);
?>

The globalized hook checks to match the $screen_id to ensure the user is on the right panel and the right help instructions appear, and standard HTML can be used to style the help text. In Bell’s Plugin, there are two different options panels, one for the main table of officers and the other for ading new officers and editing their information. Each panel has its own unique set of instructions to help the user understand how the Plugin works.

Help Button for Contextual Help MenusThe possibilities are unlimited for incorporating contextual help menus into your Plugins or Themes, guiding your users through the process. My brain is exploding with ideas such as a list of the things to do before publishing a post added to the Edit Post panel, guidelines for your blog network…

For those who are users not writers of Plugins, learn to use that Help button to get access to the help you need.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

4 Comments

  1. Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle
    Hope all goes well for you in Dallas and thanks for the heads up on the plugins.
    The contextual help plugin could have been written with me in mind. LOL

  2. Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Thats really great….

  3. Posted August 27, 2010 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve been writing my first plugin for a charity site i’m developing and the most important thing for me is giving them something they can use when i’m not around. I wasn’t aware you could integrate a help system like that but this definitely something i’ll put in. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Good luck at the conference.

  4. Sean Sutton
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    I am new to the wordpress scene and was planning on using one of the new themes like pilkrow. I had no idea there were so many options for plug-ins, guess I need to do a lot more research. Many thanks for this info from a very avid learner!


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  4. [...] Directory Plugin is a favorite of mine I’ve showcased recently. Designed for membership organizations, it would work brilliantly to display authors on the author [...]

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