If you’ve been using WordPress for any length of time, you’ve almost certainly heard of Jetpack – Automattic’s free plugin that promises to bring much of the power of the WordPress.com infrastructure to self-hosted sites.
Getting a grip on what Jetpack actually does, though, is not so simple for many WordPress beginners. With over 30 (wildly different) features available after you’ve installed it, it can be difficult for many site owners to get a handle on how best to use the plugin, and whether it’s really worth installing at all.
In this article, we’ll strip away some of the confusion about Jetpack and break down what it actually does and why you might want to use it. Along the way, we’ll highlight seven key features of particular interest.
Before we dive into features and functionality, let’s start with a little background.
Some Background on Jetpack
Jetpack was launched by Automattic back in 2011 with the intention of making WordPress.org functionality available to WordPress.com users. Matt Mullenweg summed up the core value proposition rather succinctly in his introductory blog post about the project:
No one really gets the distinction between the two things called WordPress at first, the dot-com and the dot-org.
On dot-com in just a few clicks you’re set up on a web-scale centralized platform that constantly gets new upgrades and features. And you never have to worry about it because it’s completely hassle-free and completely supported by our happiness team.
On dot-org you sign up and host your blog with a hosting company and you get complete control over every aspect of your plugins and code, but you also have the responsibility of maintaining it and adding anything new you want to try.
What if you could have the best of both worlds?
The project is obviously core to Mullenweg’s vision of WordPress’ future, but it has attracted criticism over the years for alleged feature bloat and blurring the lines between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
The bloat issue is more or less settled at this stage and the vast majority of users aren’t really going to care about the distinction between the two wings of WordPress if the plugin makes their self-hosted sites noticeably faster, safer and easier to use. The latest stats on the Jetpack site suggest it’s doing a pretty decent job in all those departments.
Now that you know a little more about the background of Jetpack, let’s move on to its features.
The Main Areas of Jetpack Functionality
Currently Jetpack bundles together 34 different features split across seven broad areas:
Security and Performance
Even a quick browse through the range of functionality on offer shows that Jetpress is potentially hitting a lot of classic pain points for site owners. You’re also free to take an à la carte approach once the plugin is actually installed and simply turn on the individual options you need.
Speaking of installation, let’s briefly cover what you need in order to actually use Jetpack.
Jetpack Requirements and Installation
Jetpack is a fairly hefty beast in terms of plugin size but the actual install process is straightforward. You’ll find comprehensive installation instructions on the Jetpack site along with a handy video overview which we’ve included below.
In terms of requirements, all you really need is a recent version of WordPress, a WordPress.com account and a web host using PHP5.
One point to note is that Jetpack will auto-activate most features on install so you’ll want to decide what you will and won’t be using early. Speaking of which, let’s move on to a quick rundown of killer Jetpack features we believe make installing the plugin worthwhile.
7 Killer Jetpack Features That Justify the Download
Every site is different so some of the features we’re highlighting here may not be must-haves in the context of your own particular setup.That said, we’ve tried to go for a mix of features that will save the average site owner a considerable amount of time and trouble and that highlight some of the infrastructural power that Jetpack brings to the table.
Grappling with CSS is the bane of many site owner’s lives and, despite the huge improvements options for this in WordPress over the years, it’s still a frustratingly fiddly experience much of the time unless you’re a theming wizard. Jetpack’s simple Custom CSS editor gives you an intuitive place to make changes with minimum fear of breaking anything down the line.
It’s no use having great content if nobody knows about it but juggling social media accounts is nobody’s idea of a good time. The Publicize module makes it straightforward to automatically push notifications to core social audiences on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more whenever you post new content.
If you’re running a content-heavy site, offering related posts to your reader is a no-brainer in terms of lowering bounce rate and maximizing value to readers. Using Jetpacks’s Related Posts feature means you won’t have to worry about crippling your database when you provide the option.
Serving up eye-catching imagery to your audience is a key part of keeping people coming back for more but, again, it brings potential site performance issues in its wake. Jetpack’s Photon image acceleration and editing service throws a genuinely global cloud infrastructure at the problem to keep things humming along nicely.
Automated site monitoring is one of the keys to a stress-free life as a site owner. You could shell out monthly fees to take care of this with services such as Pingdom, or you could simply turn on Jetpack’s Monitor option and handle things for free.
Making the switch to Markdown as your default text format will save you an awful lot of hassle if you’re regularly producing content for the web and Jetpack’s Markdown module makes it a cinch to integrate throughout your WordPress workflow.
If you’re looking for a deeper dive into Jetpack’s range of options, check out this great recent presentation from Chase Livingston on how to supercharge your WordPress site with Jetpack.
One way or the other, Jetpack is going to be increasingly important for the future of WordPress. The range of power tools Automattic is putting at the disposal of WordPress users via this plugin is already impressive, and only set to grow in the future.
If you’re looking to offload some of the more onerous aspects of site management – without shelling out a fortune on your own implementations – Jetpack is a no-brainer to install across your sites.
You’re free to pick and choose from the functionality on offer, secure in the knowledge that the best WordPress team on the planet is taking care of business behind the scenes.
We’d love to hear from you about whether you’re already putting Jetpack to work on your sites, and if there are particular features that are must-haves for you. Get in touch via the comments and let us know!