Category Archives: Software Reviews

Forget Moodle: WordPress Can Power Your Educational Portal

No doubt Moodle is the standard open-source solution for building educational communities and portals. It’s been around for years, it has huge community, regular updates and contributions. It’s really good.

But forget about it. Use WordPress.

I’m not writing this to bash Moodle. I appreciate the efforts that the community puts in it. Contributing to Moodle is in my plans as well. However, 90% of people who use it can achieve nearly the same functionality with WordPress and several plugins. Advantages?

  • WordPress is easier to install, update, and use
  • It has even larger community and more contemporary interface
  • More free plugins
  • Easier to host (less demanding in resources)
  • A lot more premium plugins and themes
  • A lot more developers available for customization

Need I say anything else? Just look at the downloads – Moodle is more than 30MB zipped! Way too much code and stuff, maybe good, but you don’t need most. WordPress is just 4.3 MB at the moment.

The most important Moodle functions can be replaced with similar, sometimes better, free and premium WordPress plugins and/or themes. On top of that you can add some more of WordPress awesomness – SEO plugins, caching plugins, tons of little widgets and so on. And, you can still host a regular blog along with the educational suite if you wish.

Here is how to replicate the most important Moodle functions in WordPress:

Courses

The core of Moodle is creating courses, assigning user groups to them, course reports, assignments. There are two great WordPress plugins that will handle this in one or another way:

TeachPress is properly maintained and up-to date plugin for creating courses with enrollments and publication management.  It has only one version that’s entirely free. Scroll down their site to see a bunch of screenshots and get an idea what you can do with it.

On the other hand if you want to run education suite that’s more of a community thing, you may want to first install BuddyPress. This thing is huge: it turns your WordPress site into a social network and then you can go further and extend it with more plugins and themes. (Right, this means to extend a plugin with plugins).  So once you extend WordPress with BuddyPress you can add educational capabilities with the great BuddyPress ScholarPress Courseware. It’s also fully open-source and free, well supported and frequently updated plugin. Allows managing courses, lectures, basic quizzes, assignments, and schedule calendars.

Now there is also the completely free Namaste! LMS which is also built by us. We have huge plans on it, so it’s worth taking a look!

As these all-in-one plugins sometimes don’t have exactly what you need and may be clumsy in some areas, there are more niche-ones that can handle individual tasks better.

Exams

This is the area where Watu comes in place and sometimes its premium version. Watu lets you create exams with single-choice, multiple-choices, or open-end questions. Assign grades, points, display results instantly. In the premium version you can also keep stats of the taken exams, limit by user group and categories, email user results, set times, assign certificates and so on.

WatuPRO Screenshot

You may also want to check WP Survey And Quiz Tool which is heavier but has some other features that may sound compelling to you. It seems to be more appropriate for running surveys rather than exams.

Assignments

One great plugin for handling assignments is Cleverness To-Do List. Tasks can be assigned to different users along with deadlines, various permissions etc. Regular assignments for whole groups can be handled by adding a post to a selected group and connecting it with an exam.

Of course don’t forget that BuddyPress ScholarPress Courseware also has assignments module.

Chat

Chat plugins are abundant. You can use a simple self-hosted and free solution like AjaxChat or get rid off the hosting hassles  and subscribe for something like LiveChat or ChatRoll.

Ajax Chat Scheenshot

AjaxChat

If you only need a pretty simple thing then install a shoutbox like Schreikasten or Buddypress-Ajax-Chat and you are all set.

Polls

Polls are useful not just for educational sites but also in marketing and sales, or any other site that needs to get user feedback. But for educational suite perhaps the most useful will be WP-Polls (free).

Now if you want to relate poll answers to users and extract more detailed stats you may prefer to use a plugin for creating exams or surveys.

Forums

There is no shortage of solutions here as well. While BBPress is the standard choice, you may wish to check ForumPress too. A PRO version is expected soon.

You may notice I sometimes favor paid versions. This is not just to encourage paying for quality stuff and helping WordPress developers to do their great job. If you are running a site that makes money, spending few bucks on a premium plugin may help you stay over the competition by having something they don’t have. Premium plugins usually come with high-class support too and are more user-friendly (well, not always, but most are).

Glossary

Glossary is another thing you would want to do even if your site is not educational portal. But speaking about education sites, My Instant Glossary is one of the best choices. With free and premium version it can handle different glossary terms, tags, auto-link categories etc. An entirely free alternative is WordGallery Glossary which is one of the few relatively up-to-date ones. (That’s why I told you premium/paid is often better).

Resources

Moodle has a Resource module which can display different media types along with a lesson or course. WordPress itself can handle resource listings in many ways – the simplest is just to use the rich text editor in a post or page and link to various files or media. Because of this, there aren’t any notable plugins for handling on-page resources. If you plan to list external resources you may want to check some directory plugins. In most cases the WordPress is good enough to handle this functionality by its core.

Survey

Although close to exams and quizzes, surveys have slightly different purpose. So the best plugin for adding surveys is probably WP Survey And Quiz Tool. A simpler solution is again Watu (besides its primary purpose is exams) and WordPress Simple Survey. The latter has extended version for $50. Unfortunately the authors don’t at all make it clear what else is available in that extended version.

Wiki

Wikis can be very useful in learning communities as your members can save you a tremendous amount of work. (I guess I’d need to create Wiki on this blog, so members can write about wikis. How meta!).

An excellent premium wiki plugin is available from WPMUdev. Their plugins cost $39 each – but the better alternative is to be a paid member. Once a member, you can download all of the 140+ premium plugins.

A decent simple alternative is eSimple Wiki from the official WordPress repository. I guess this plugin may be abandoned soon because it hasn’t been updated for nearly two years.

Workshop

There are plenty of ways to handle workshops and events. If you need a thing with lots of features then The Events Calendar by tri.be is going to be your choice. They also have a PRO version priced from $50 to $250. There are widgets, registrations for workshops, Google maps integration, and more.

A simpler solution may be my Eventy which is really easy to set up and use, and the PRO is only $29.

Eventy Screenshot

Eventy

If your workshops involve webinars you may need to use some webinar software too. The only decent plugin I found is quite pricey so you may prefer to use some hosted webinars solution outside of WordPress.

Yes, Moodle fans, some of these features are more complicated and rich in Moodle. But most of us don’t need that. WordPress works in 90% or so of the cases and most webmasters are more comfortable with it.

As for Moodle, it’s a great stuff if you really need what it offers and have the patience to learn working with it.

56 PHP Scripts That Will Help Your Website Make More Money

While it’s always a good idea to get custom developed enhancements for your sites, using ready scripts can save a lot of time and money. Look at the list below: all these software products can help great deal to make more money with your sites.

Besides that, looking at them can give you a lot of ideas for further growth and improvement. I know doing the research for this post generated many new ideas for me.

Wikis

Niche wikis can feed your site with user generated fresh content. This may improve your rankings in the search engines, your traffic, sales, ad revenue and so on. Users who contribute content often eagerly promote it as well.

Tiki Wiki is one of the most popular wiki softwares and it’s a lot more than wiki – integrates blogs, forums, image gallery and more. And it’s free.
Wikiwig is also free and has a visual editor which will save you and your users from learning a wiki language.

Web Fetching and Content Agregators

Publishing duplicate content shouldn’t be the primary way to enrich your website. But smartly placed and relevant news, reviews and comments can improve greatly the user experience and increase the pageviews and the revenue it generates.

PHP RSS Reader – very professional RSS agregator although a bit expensive (from $97 to $297)
Free RSS to HTML PHP Script – here is a free alternative but without an administrative panel and not many features.

Communities, Social networks and Dating

Before starting a community or social network around your main site make sure you have a clear idea how it is going to be unique as these things are very hard to raise up and make alive. For sure you should think about niche (related to your main site) network or dating site, not a general one.

If you can do it successfully it will turn into very powerful free advertising and broadcasting platform for your main business.

Facebook page or group. This is not really a PHP script but I ought to mention it. Before investing time and money into buying or developing your own community, try to start a Facebook fan page or group around your niche or site. If you can make the page active, you have a chance to go further.

BuddyPress is a great social network for WordPress sites. It’s free and quite well supported with many themes and plugins.
Dolphin 7 is a high profile free social network engine. Very popular and feature rich.
SocialEngine is commercial and judging by the users feedback it’s well worth the money.
Chameleon is good if you want to start a niche dating / match-making site. Starts from $597.
VidPersonals is another good dating software with multimedia support. Starts at $99.

Membership Areas, Subscriptions, User Management

Sometimes the best way to monetize your expertise and knowledge is not through consulting or through offering it for free and earning from advertising. Sometimes the best idea is to protect more advanced pieces of your content and to charge for access to it. Here are some good softwares which can help you do this:

Quadodo is one of the free solutions. It’s not very fancy but does most of what you may need.
OmniSecure looks better, does more and has good support. Of course this comes with its price – the software price starts at $197.
aMember is might be the most popular solution famous for the large community around it.

Sharing and Recommendation

When users share your content this leads to more new visits and pageviews. Besides that people tend to trust their friends a lot more than other forms of recommendation so usually this kind of traffic is very efficient.
addthis.com isn’t exactly a PHP script or at least not one that you can download and install on your server. It’s a free web based service that will provide the most popular social media icons at the bottom of your pages. It’s very easy to use and you don’t need to care about updates etc. They also provide analytics so I decided it’s well worth including in this list.
Omnistartell is one of the good options if you want to host the widget yourself. This will cost $57.

Reviews, Ratings, Polls and Voting

The most important things that these tools do are two: they increase visitors participation and engagement with your site and they can provide a very important social proof for the quality of your products or services.
MicroRate is a basic but free script that will let your visitors rate your content or products.
Five Star Review Script is more comprehensive Amazon-style rating widget. It’s a bit pricey however, starting at $50 per year.
StarsRate – another paid one, but it’s good and costs only $28 one time fee.
LimeSurvey is a lot more than a rating tool. It’s fully functional survey software and is open source and free.

Email Newsletters and Autoresponders

Keeping in touch by e-mail is one of the most powerful ways to get your visitors visit your site again, buy from it or subscribe for your affiliate offers.
Inout is a complex and feature rich mailing list manager for $49.
BFT Autoresponder combines simple and easy to use mailing list manager with autoresponders. All for $37
Tellmatic is for you if you are looking for something free and open source.

Image Galleries

By themselves image galleries don’t usually make money, but they are huge link and traffic magnet.
Piwigo looks great and is free open source solution
Coppermine is also free and although I dont like how its code is written, it’s quite good and can be used as photo contest as well.
TinyWeb Gallery is also free, supports video, has ajax and flash effects, really cool one.
PhotoStore is commercial solution with a bit different purpose – it allows you to sell images. It can be a very powerful revenue generating tool if you have original niche photos.
– Another photo store is Pixaria which is one of the most popular commercial solutions ($249)

Graphs and Charts

Graph and charts can help you make great infographics and visualizations that often attract links or lead to social media shares and bookmarks.

FusionCharts is very impressive commercial package having several licenses (start at $69)
MaxChart are simple but free. Good enough for basic charts.
JPGraph was the first I have ever used. A bit complicated but offers very big variety of charts and a high level of customization. There are free and commercial licenses.
AMCharts are easy to use flash based charts. Very modern looking with reasonable level of customization options.

E-commerce Systems and Tools

These scripts are intended to help you directly make money from your site. Of course you need something to sell – it could be software, movies, music, books, or even physical products like furniture, cars and clothes.
JShop Server is one of the best rated tools in this category. I have not tried it myself, but it looks promising. GBP 200.
CS Cart is also a commercial shopping cart software but it has a 60 days free trial. Very modern outlook and seems to be easy to use.
Oscommerce is the most popular free open source shopping cart solution. I am horrified by its code and I don’t like the administration panel but it’s free and popular and there are a lot of modules, plugins and themes for it.
Squirrel Cart is reasonably priced commercial software that has all the features of the more expensive ones.
– Years ago CubeCart was my favorite. I have not used it recently but I believe it’s probably still good. And the price is very decent, having even a free version.

Forums

Forums can make some money by showing advertisements but their effect is stronger in an indirect way – they are great to keep users interest in your site and to build more trust, traffic and links to it. Just have in mind that starting a forum is not an easy thing to do because no one wants to post in it while it’s empty.
PunBB is cute little forum, very easy to integrate in existing site and customize. It has just enough features in most cases.
SimpleMachines is for you if you need more features. It has everything that the commercial forums do.
vBulletin is widely considered the best forum. It’s commercial but sometimes is worth the money especially if you are sure your forum will be active. I don’t think it’s better than SimpleMachines but most people are familiar with it which reduces the barrier to participation.

Customer Support

If you sell anything on your site you should think about customer support software. Not only it will reduce the time you spend answering emails – it will also improve your customer supports which leads to more happy customers spreading the word about your products or services and thus to more sales.
Iscripts SupportDesk is a support suite containing everything you may want to use for customer support for $147.
HelpdeskPilot is modern looking and fully featured software with 15 days free trial. The prices for the licenses are a bit steep however, starting at $399
HESK is one of the few support suites that have free versions. The paid licenses are also very reasonably priced, just at $39.
– Here is a completely free one: TrellisDesk! Regardless of being free it’s a very high quality support desk software.
LiveHelp‘s main purpose is live support chat and it’s maybe the most popular one. License prices start at $120.
HelpCenter Live is the free open source alternative

Classifieds

Running a niche classifieds section is yet another method to increase traffic or directly make money if you charge for posting classified.
NetClassifieds is one of the easy free solutions which can help you do this
68 Classifieds is a higher quality but commercial one which has hosted license for $40 and downloadable licenses starting at $150.

Blogs

It’s very uncommon to have a popular and lucrative site without a blog these days. Even if you are just selling products and not looking for advertising revenue having a blog can greatly improve the image of your business.
WordPress is definitely the super-leader. This blog runs WordPress, every blog runs wordpress, social comunities, shopping carts, many other sites are based on WordPress. There is no other software category which to have such a strong leader. Besides that it’s completely free!
b2evolution tries to compete by being more than just a blog. Well, WordPress is also a lot more than blog, but b2evolution is at least worth a look.
MovableType used to compete WordPress succesfully but in the recent years remains in its shadow. Still it’s a very good software and you may like it for a change.

Auctions

Running niche auctions can earn you commissions in direct way or just increase the participation and popularity of your site (like the most of softwares reviewed here)
WeBid is open source, free and looks professional. What else you may want?
– If you are looking for penny auction, this Ajax PHP Penny Auction for $99 is a good choice.

Affiliate Programs

If you sell your own products or service, running an affiliate program is a good way to get marketers work for you (for a commission of course)
Postaffiliate is one of the oldest and most popular affiliate program scripts. It has a simple free version and a feature rich starting at $199.
JAM is one of the good Postaffiliate alternatives. I have no experience with it but it has good reviews.

Ad Management

If you are content publisher and/or blogger, then running ads on the site is probably one of the main sources of income. Adsense and Chitika are great, but often the most money are made by selling advertisements directly to advertisers.
A.M.Y. is modern, simple and only $29 with unlimited domains license.
Inout Adserver is a lot more complicated and feature rich but this comes with it’s price, starting at $149
PHPads is simple, modest and free. It can do the work if you don’t need much.

This completes the list. Am I missing an important category or product?

Here Is a Nice Coding Editor For PHP, XML, HTML, CSS and Javascript

Its name is CodeLobster and it’s the editor used for most of the recent upgrades to the software on CalendarScripts (except those that was made under Linux). It’s a Windows editor for editing text files, CSS, Javascript, PHP, HTML and XML.

The basic version of the editor is free. There are some plugins form Drupal, Joomla, Smarty, WordPress, JQuery and CodeIgniter at reasonable price. I never needed those so I haven’t tried them, but for someone who us coding a lot on these platforms it might be a good option.

Before CodeLobster I used CrimsonEditor for years but it really had a lot of problem and even it’s inheritor Emerald Editor still has most of them. CodeLobster is far more advanced, has Class and Functions view, good cross-file search, auto-complete, excellent syntax highlight and good auto-indentations.

At this point the main problem with it is that it crashes often without any reason. Hopefully the guys will fix that in some of the next version.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10.