Pages Module 4 - Eleven Ways to Pimp Pages with Add-ons
In the final entry in this series we’ll take a look at what’s currently available in the form of add-ons to extend the native functionality of the ExpressionEngine Pages Module.
I haven’t worked with all of these add-ons and this post is not meant to be an in-depth review of what they do and how well they work. I am currently using one of them on a client build so can comment more deeply about my experience with that one. The list below is in a relatively simple to complex order starting first with Accessories and other little UI helpers and moving towards Add-ons like Taxonomy and Structure that can radically alter the way you work with ExpressionEngine.
- Pages Autocomplete - Free
According to it’s developer “Pages Autocomplete is a simple accessory that turns the ‘Pages URI’ field on the publish page into an autocomplete text input.”
- Page Helper - $7
One of the challenges with the Pages Module is that the Page URI field has no help - it’s entirely up to your users to enter a correct and valid path and title. To ease this process Page Helper lets users select a parent page, then pulls the URL title from the entry. These elements get put together to form the Page URI.
- ‘Plates - $10
Along with a Page URI there is also the template choice to worry about clients getting wrong. According to it’s developer “This fieldtype for ExpressionEngine 2 is a drop in replacement for the native Pages Module or Structure Module ‘Template’ field. No longer do you have to present your client with a confusing + long drop down list of templates to choose from. With ‘Plates you can give your templates meaningful names, thumbnail previews and publish notes.”
- MX Extended Content Menu - Free
While the main purpose of this Add-on isn’t Pages Module related, a secondary function of it is building a Control Panel submenu for your Pages Entries—as a way of getting to them quickly for editing.
- Easy Page Links - Free
Sometimes making a content-based link from one entry to another is a harder process than it should be in ExpressionEngine - mainly because content doesn’t normally get directly to an output URL. The Pages Module does that mapping however, so this accessory “extends the functionality of the default link HTML formatting button. The link button will now open a modal window which lists the current pages from the Pages module and also has a text input field for custom URLs”.
- CrumBum - Free
Over the years I’ve seen many requests for an automated way to build breadcrumb trails in ExpressionEngine. If you aren’t using the Pages Module that’s pretty tough to do - but if you are using Pages then this add-on could prove handy. According to it’s developer “Crumbum is an ExpressionEngine 2 and 1 plugin that automatically generates breadcrumbs in your templates based on the URL structure of entries managed by the Expression Engine Pages Module”.
- Better Pages - $15
Better Pages can limit Pages templates to only those that are actually useful for a specific custom field group. You can add thumbnails for your templates to make selection even more intuitive, and it will narrow fields displayed on the publish/edit screen based on which template is selected.
- NavEE - $35
NavEE lets you manage multiple navigation bars using drag & drop to sort them. It can dynamically apply active classes applied to either standard nested lists or custom HTML, generate Breadcrumbs, and more.
- Taxonomy - $25
According to it’s developer Taxonomy “is a navigation/breadcrumb building tool which uses nested sets to control hierarchy.” Taxonomy lets you build links either using or not using the Pages URIs from the native Pages Module. You can either build your Nav and then choose entries to assign to that navigation item, or use the included Fieldtype to assign an entry into the navigation right from the Publish page. I’m currently using Taxonomy on a client site - see my comments after this laundry list.
- Blueprints - $35
According to it’s developer “Blueprints lets you take control of your Publish Layouts and take Member Groups out of the equation. It is designed let you create Publish Layouts based on templates, not Member Groups. No longer will you have to tell your client “Ignore this custom field, it won’t display in Template A, but works in Template B” or, “Ignore all these templates in the drop down, just use Template B or Template C for this Channel”. Nor will you have to create different channels for different page layouts. You can create a single “Pages” channel, assign it custom fields, and use that one channel for all your page types.”
- Structure - $65
No list of Pages Module related add-ons would be complete without the ever-controversial Structure Module. According to it’s developer “Structure is a powerful add-on that lets you create pages, generate navigation, manage content through a simple interface and build robust sites faster than ever. It forgoes the current template_group/template setup and creates “static” and “listing” pages that are all editable through a tree sitemap view. Now, traditional page style content and multiple entry pages can live within the same area.” I’ve yet to have a project that felt right for Structure, but know that there are many in the EE community who wouldn’t build and EE site without it.
Taxonomy Use Case
I mentioned above that I’m using Taxonomy on a current client project so I wanted to fill in a bit of the reasons why and comment about how it’s gone so far.
The project started with an EE 1x site that I didn’t build. It was done a few years ago by an agency that has since closed it’s doors. I’m not sure if this particular site was one of their first ExpressionEngine jobs, but there were some puzzling aspects to how it went together. For example, the Template Library was filled with page-specific templates that were all exactly the same, save for the fact that they specified a different entry_id to pull for content. I’m not sure the developer fully understood how ExpressionEngine works dynamically with URL’s. Every time they needed a new page on the site, an existing template would be copied and the hardcoded entry_id changed in to pull the newly published content.
In addition to the template mess the other aspect of the site was that one weblog was storing content for multiple sections of the site. About Us content was stored in a catch-all “Pages” weblog along with more business-focused content (and the templates sorted it all by using the hardcoded entry ID’s). Now throw in the main reason for my involvement - the client wanted to reshuffle the site’s information architecture to reflect an updated way of communicating their business structure. And by the way, can we keep the amount of content editing & reshuffling to a minimum?
Enter Taxonomy. With it I can keep the content stored the way it is and let the client assign existing entries into the revised navigation structure using the Control Panel tools the Taxonomy Module provides. After a bit of phone training they seem comfortable using the Taxonomy fieldtype to also assign newly published content into the navigation structure. I’ve got them working with just one menu so we’ll see how things go when I add another - but during the training they were quite enthusiastic about being able to control their navigation using the drag & drop interface Taxonomy provides.
While working with Taxonomy I’ve run across the odd broken link in the documentation and did have to apply one change to the code itself (which was included in a subsequent release). Developer Iain Urquhart has - in spite of our vast time zone differences - been very responsive to my questions and ideas for improvements to the product.
This is the end of the line for this series covering the Pages Module. Have experience with these add-ons? Know of something that I missed? Feel free to comment and let me know the error of my ways…