Critical Review of Dyasonhat’s Premium Smart Sort WordPress Plugin

After hearing about the recently released “premium” version (404 link removed 2012/06/11) of Dyasonhat’s Smart Sort Plugin for WordPress (404 link removed 2012/06/11), I just had to give it a try. Occasionally working on projects requiring customized ordering of posts, I like to keep my utility belt well-equipped with any plugins or code techniques that will facilitate the process of man-handling post order. In this article, I discuss my experience with WP Smart Sort Premium.

About the Smart Sort plugin

There are now two different versions of the Smart Sort plugin. The first version is a free WordPress plugin that provides advanced sorting capabilities for your blog’s posts. For example, the free version of the plugin enables the blog administrator to sort posts according to custom fields or any field available in the wp_posts table.

Going above and beyond, the “premium” version of the plugin also provides all of the “smart sort” functionality of the free version, as well as advanced sorting, filtering, and even searching of posts. These features will help transform your WordPress blog into a full-fledged CMS. The premium version is priced at $35 $25 (until January 31st, 2009).

Installation and setup

Okay, down to it. After obtaining a trial version of Smart Sort Premium, I installed it on a freshly installed, plugin-free installation of WordPress 2.7. Installation and activation of the plugin was a breeze, and is performed according to conventional methods. Once the plugin was installed, I found myself wondering where to begin..

After spending some quality time with the plugin’s documentation, I still had difficulty connecting the dots between what the plugin does and how to configure it according to specific needs. Finally, I decided to just “jump in” and “play around” until things began to make sense. After adding each of the available function calls to the blog’s home page, I spent a few minutes toggling between the various admin pages and changing numerous settings until everything finally “clicked.”

Performance testing

After figuring things out, I began implementing various post-ordering configurations and did some testing from a performance perspective. Fortunately, even with some of the most convoluted settings applied, I was unable to discern any reduction in performance. All tested pages continued to load just as fast with the plugin installed as they did immediately after WordPress installation.

Advanced sorting

After selecting several custom fields via the Smart Sort Index page, I first tested the functionality of the advanced sorting options via the Sorting options page. Selecting different options and configuration of the custom sorting feature is fairly straightforward: each of the custom fields selected via the index settings page may be displayed in both ascending and descending order. Additionally, several display options are also included, such as basic drop-down menu configuration.

After testing the display and functionality of the sort feature on the public side of the blog (via home page), I have to say that I was impressed. The plugin performed flawlessly as I flipped back and forth between the various post-ordering options. For me, having this on-the-fly, custom sorting functionality available to visitors is the main reason for using the Smart Sort plugin.

Advanced filtering

After putting the sorting functionality through its paces, I began exploring the various filtering options available via the Smart Sort Filter page. Again, every field selected on the index options page was present and ready for advanced configuration. Each filtering option may be displayed via checkboxes, dropdown, input-range, and dropdown range. Further, in addition to selecting the display type, administrators may also select one of three ways to generate filtering options: automatic, semi-manual, or fully manual. Of course, not every possible configuration makes sense, like user-defined input ranges for categories and tags, or auto-selected check boxes for content sorting (trust me on this one!).

When you really need control over which fields are displayed, the advanced configuration options made available via the “fully manual” mode enable you to customize each filtering field and its associated text-display value. At least in theory; unfortunately, not much filtering was happening on the public side of the blog. On the home page, user-specified filtering of posts simply did not work. I tried several different fields — comments, date, and many others — but nothing. Post display and order remained the same regardless of which filtering options were tried. So, no filtering (at this time) on a default installation of WordPress 2.7.

Advanced search

Moving on to the “advanced search” functionality of the plugin, I explored and tested many different settings and configuration options, but experienced limited success. Certain features function as expected, however, several key configurations did not function at all. For example, trying to configure a smart search limited to categories, neither dropdown nor checkboxes worked for either “semi-manual” or “fully manual” mode; the dropdown menus displayed nothing and the checkboxes themselves were not even displayed. Fortunately, both of these display options seemed to work when using the “auto” data source option. This same pattern was seen across every search field that was available (comments, tags, date, and so on).

Observations and suggestions

After reviewing the core functionality of the WP Smart Sort Premium plugin, I spent some additional time with the plugin and observed the following:

  • The public dropdown menu for the sorting options needs a default value that explains its purpose (something like, “customize post order..”)
  • The admin-specified text for the sort and filter menus did not seem to result in any publicly displayed text, or do much of anything for that matter
  • The difference between “categories” and “category” needs to be explained/documented somewhere (one seemed to work, but the other did not)
  • The advanced search function seems to search only post content; would be great to search everything (e.g., titles, comments, etc.) to avoid the need for a secondary search plugin
  • The Smart Filter and Search admin pages need a single “update” button that updates all settings (as in the Sort page) instead of many individual buttons next to each configuration setting
  • When using “categories” versus “category” in advanced search, “category” displayed “0” while “categories” worked as expected
  • The extended date format for the search and filtering display options is just too much — the plugin needs a method for customizing the date according to any format
  • The toggling “advanced search” JavaScript link needs to be implemented unobtrusively; as is, users without JavaScript will not have access to the advanced search feature
  • Provide customization options for the advanced search list items; currently there are links to the home page for each option, which just doesn’t make sense.
  • The plugin needs a complete “uninstall” option that removes all database information and restores original blog configuration

Bottom line

As with the free version of the plugin, the Smart Sort feature of the premium version is excellent, enabling custom sorting of post content according to virtually any database field imaginable. The premium version of plugin also promises advanced filtering and advanced search functionality, but unfortunately fails to deliver as promised. Without the fully manual and semi-manual data-source options available for configuring advanced search options, much of the plugin’s strength and flexibility is lost. Likewise, with the filtering functionality not working, there is not much difference between the free and premium versions at this point, and thus not a lot of incentive to spend your hard-earned cash.

On the upside, the premium version of the plugin is still in its infancy, so chances are good that Dyasonhat will be spending some quality time with plugin and bring it up to par with other premium plugins very soon. With lifetime “free upgrades” and plugin support, there is good reason to be optimistic about the promising WP Smart Sort Premium plugin.