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Critical Review of Dyasonhat’s Premium Smart Sort WordPress Plugin

After hearing about the recently released premium version of Dyasonhat’s Smart Sort Plugin for WordPress, 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.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Creative thinker. Passionate about free and open Web.
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25 responses
  1. Dysonhat was kind enough to end me the plugin as well; unfortuantly for me there were some errors on both my test sites so I have not fully tested it.

    However the advanced search feature I love! (trialed it on thenexus).

    It needs a little bit of work maybe but the potential (espically the search aspect) is brillaint!!!

  2. Jeff Starr

    Yeah, the plugin has enormous potential and will further facilitate the use of WordPress as a full-fledged content management system. I also liked the advanced search feature, but wish it was functioning properly. Dysonhat is certainly on to something here, but much more work needs to be done; hopefully this review will help the evolution of the Smart Sort plugin.

  3. Nice in-depth review about the Smart Sort plugin.
    Was looking for some detailed analysis!

    Would be nice if we could define multiple search boxes for different areas of the site. I could see that being useful.

  4. Jeff Starr

    Yes, you should mention that to Dysonhat — he has been making a lot of improvements to the plugin and he may be willing to add new features in order to make the plugin even more useful than it already is. Multiple search boxes for multiple areas of the site would be awesome. Great idea, and thanks for the feedback on the article!

  5. I’ve been using the freeware version of Smart Sort on a number of sites for some time. It works very well and I haven’t been able to find any other plugins which have the same functionality. I would have been very happy to pay for the Premium version had the problems identified in your review been addressed.

    However, I received an email from Dyasonhat this morning announcing that they are now ‘closed’, so he obviously isn’t going to be supporting either plugin any longer.

    Does anyone know of any alternatives to Smart Sort. Essentially I need a facility which will enable me and users of my sites to sort on a numerical custom field.

    I’ve tried addressing this via code – there has been lots of discussion at wordpress.org – but couldn’t get anything to work. Also, one of the great strengths of Smart Sort is that it enabled site admins to change sort order via the dashboard. As I say, I’m happy to pay for this sort of functionality so I hope someone picks Smart Sort up or offers a working alternative to it.

  6. Jeff Starr

    Ah, that’s unfortunate – I think the plugin has enormous potential, and agree that someone should pick it up and run with it. I can’t imagine someone not continuing development, but until that happens, I have a post that explains six ways to customize post order. Perhaps a solution may yet be found.

  7. Hi Jeoff – thanks for your reply. I read your excellent ‘six ways’ post some time ago and tried the suggestions but couldn’t get any of them to work at the time. I’ll take another look at it as my skills have improved a little since then.

    Just as a matter of interest, what would be the best way to flag up to the developer community that Smart Sort is up for adoption or that a replacement is needed?

  8. Jeff Starr

    Not sure what the best way of doing that might be.. definitely don’t want to step on any toes. I think it should be left up to the developer to find someone to take over. Do you happen to know if Dyasonhat has announced it anywhere first? If so, I would be happy to “echo” his message at Digging into WordPress to help spread the word.

  9. Take your point re. treading on toes. He announced it at his website here http://www.dyasonhat.com/ and via email to registered users.

  10. Jeff Starr

    I did see on his site where he closed the dysonhat domain, but couldn’t find anything explicitly stating that the plugin is discontinued. The forum for the plugin also shows some recent activity.. I think you’re probably correct that the plugin is abandoned now that the site is closed, but we really should have some sort of official statement about the plugin from the developer before announcing to everyone that it’s up for grabs.

  11. A quick update – I’ve emailed Dyasonhat to ask if he’d be willing for it to be made available on an open source basis.

  12. Jeff Starr

    Awesome. Let me know what he says about it.

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