Introducing the Daily Schedule Event Listing Block, with a Conference Demo

One of the new editor blocks available in RSVPMaker is RSVPMaker Schedule, an alternative to the calendar-style presentation meant to let you display a series of related events such as sessions within a conference program.

You can see it at the conference schedule demo site I’ve created, from which this screen shot is taken. The demo is based on a live implementation for the Toastmasters District 47 annual conference (which this year turned into a virtual event).

WordPress enthusiasts might consider this as a way of sharing a WordCamp event schedule.

The setup for the conference schedule demo is that there is one RSVPMaker event post that serves as the registration page for the entire weekend event. Each conference session is then modeled as its own RSVPMaker event. As displayed within the RSVPMaker Schedule listing, the sessions of the individual presenters are grouped by day, with the time that they are speaking shown as part of the session headline.

Continue reading “Introducing the Daily Schedule Event Listing Block, with a Conference Demo”

3 Confirmation Message Design Examples

Here are examples of designs created using techniques laid out in the blog post Styling Your Confirmation Messages and Broadcast Emails. RSVPMaker now provides the flexibility to style confirmation messages for different events differently.

White on Black

Here’s the black background confirmation message for a pirate party. This design allows me to specify styling on the RSVP button (Update RSVP in the case of a confirmation message) differently from the one used elsewhere on my website.

white on black email confirmation
Confirmation with a black background and white-on-black RSVP Button

White on Black Email Template

Using Gutenberg Columns in the Template

One technique for creating an template layout is to rough out the design in the WordPress editor, then copy the resulting HTML and elements such as shortcodes and dynamic Gutenberg blocks into the body of an email template.

Here, I have created a 2-column layout in the editor and a centered image to appear beneath the columns. The left column contains the [rsvpmaker_email_content] shortcode for dynamically generated content such as confirmation messages. The right column contains a heading block, followed by the latest-posts block to display the latest blog posts (where the idea is to encourage the person who has registered for an event to explore other website content).

Note: I had to use several hacks to make the two columns display acceptably on a mobile email client:

.wp-block-column {max-width: 50%}
.rightmain {padding: 10px;background-color:  #191D6C; color: #EEEEEE; height: 95%; }
.rightmain a {color:#FFFFFF; font-weight: bold; display: block; margin-bottom: 10px; margin-left: -30px;}

See the explanation of columns and CSS inlining.

Using Gutenberg columns to define a sidebar with latest posts.

Adapted from a MailChimp Sample

You can use a sample template provided by MailChimp, or created using MailChimp’s design tools, as the basis for a template you can use within the RSVPMaker mailer tool — including messages RSVPMaker handles itself, such as confirmation messages, as well as messages to be submitted to MailChimp via their API.

For this example, I started with a MailChimp sample design for a fictional gallery promoting a featured exhibit. I then turned it into an RSVPMaker confirmation email template suitable for being used in conjunction with a gallery talk event.

Gallery talk template, based on a MailChimp sample design

MailChimp uses nested tables for its basic layouts, then adds CSS on top tagged to different table cells.

The process of adapting the MailChimp template to work with RSVPMaker follows this pattern:

Exporting HTML from MailChimp
  • Use the Export as HTML option in MailChimp to get the code for one of the templates in your account that you want to use.
  • Place the [rsvpmaker_email_content] shortcode in the table cell where dynamically generated content such as your confirmation message should appear.
  • Add CSS as necessary to make your content look good in the template.
  • Alter MailChimp’s CSS as necessary to allow you to achieve the effects you want. I had to remove some of the default MailChimp code for link styling to get the RSVP button to display properly.

Gallery Event Template

Here is the original MailChimp sample design I started with:

Styling Your Confirmation Messages and Broadcast Emails

The latest update to RSVPMaker focuses on more design freedom and better consistency for confirmation messages, reminder messages, and email broadcasts.

This push was inspired in part by a recent post on the SendGrid blog, How to Send On-Brand Confirmation Emails (+ Examples). Having noticed some shortcomings in the formatting of RSVPMaker email messages (which were annoying me as much as anyone), this project had been on my todo list anyway. The examples in SendGrid’s article nudged me to put it at the top of the list.

Here’s an example of a confirmation message for a wedding, created using these new capabilities, with the correct formatting for a section laid out using the Gutenberg columns block and a centered image below the spot where the registration details are included:

A styled confirmation email
Continue reading “Styling Your Confirmation Messages and Broadcast Emails”

How I Learned to Create a Gutenberg Sidebar for Editing Post Metadata (Tips for WordPress Plugin Developers)

More than a year after releasing the first version of RSVPMaker with support for Gutenberg (the WordPress “block editor” introduced with 5.0), I now have an editor sidebar implementation I’m pretty happy with.

In the process, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the WordPress Data API for JavaScript — and frankly more than I needed to know for the relatively simple thing I wanted to accomplish. I just wanted to update my old PHP-based UI for getting and setting post metadata to work in Gutenberg. The problem is not just insufficient documentation, but overwhelming documentation that can lead you in a wrong direction.

What you see below is a composite image of 2 screenshots.

What you see on the left are the most basic RSVPMaker settings (when does the event start and end? and are we collecting RSVPs?) as they’ve been added to the Document tab of the standard Gutenberg sidebar. I do that to make these basic elements of editing an event date as accessible as possible.

The insert on the right shows an additional sidebar, specific to RSVPMaker, that I can get to by clicking the calendar icon at the top of the screen. This additional sidebar provides access to a longer list of RSVPMaker settings: not just date and time, but also the email address to send registration notifications to, whether there is a maximum number of registrations to be accepted, and so on.

There are still a few more complex settings, such as those for event pricing online payments, where I direct users to a separate RSVP / Event Options screen. But I want them to be able to accomplish most tasks without delivering the editor.

The designers and developers behind the Gutenberg UI recommend providing a “distraction free” editing environment that minimizes the use of the old “metaboxes” at the bottom of the content editing window, which used to be a standard for WordPress plugin design. I also found that the JavaScript functions in my old metabox code seemed to clash with Gutenberg, so I got rid of metaboxes some time ago. But making those same capabilities available in a Gutenberg sidebar, rather than a metabox has proven challenging.

Gutenberg represents a steep learning curve for those developers who learned plugin programming in PHP and are now asked to master at least the basics of the React JavaScript framework and the Gutenberg component library. I hope that we will eventually be provided with some easier ways of handling common needs like setting the metadata of a post from within the Gutenberg UI.

Meanwhile, here are my tips on how to cope with the current state of things.

Continue reading “How I Learned to Create a Gutenberg Sidebar for Editing Post Metadata (Tips for WordPress Plugin Developers)”

Background Loading RSVPMaker Event Listings From Any Site To Any Site

Using the new widget and/or the new Gutenberg block that have been added to RSVPMaker 6.4.2, you can display a listing of events that will be dynamically loaded from your own site or any other site that implements RSVPMaker. This feature uses JavaScript and RSVPMaker API endpoints to fetch a listing of events in the background and display it in a widget or in the body of a page.

Widget loading an event listing in the background (GIF runs in a loop)

A separate RSVPMaker Widget plugin (see below) is available for sites that want to fetch listings from a remote sites without having the full RSVPMaker plugin installed locally. Or you can embed an HTML/JavaScript code snippet in a non-WordPress site to achieve the same effect.

Advantage of Dynamic Loading

One advantage of using this technique, even for displaying events from the local website, is it may work better with websites that have implemented caching. The client can be served a cached HTML version of the page but will still see a current listing of events because it is loaded in the background via a JavaScript call to the API endpoint.

Site visitors may briefly see a “Loading …” message while event posts are being retrieved.

API urls are in the format:
(all future events)

or wp-json/rsvpmaker/v1/type/featured
(events tagged with the event type “featured”)

RSVPMaker Widget plugin

A separate RSVPMaker Widget plugin is available for download as a zip file (and pending as a submission to the plugin repository). I have been using it on websites where the full RSVPMaker is not active or needed.

Example: a WordPress multisite implementation for a Toastmasters district, where divisions within the district have their own blogs but RSVPMaker is not active on those subordinate sites. Instead, RSVPMaker is active on the main domain, and division-specific events are designated with an RSVPMaker Type tag.

The RSVPMaker Widgets plugin allows me to display a listing of each division’s events on the division site homepages, while still maintaining a single calendar of events from across the district.

HTML/JavaScript Snippet

You can also embed events listing into any website, including static HTML sites and those that run a different content management system, using the HTML / JavaScript code snippet shown below. Change the div ID and the parameters for the creation of the widget object to match your needs and modify to taste.

On a WordPress site, you can use the Custom HTML widget or the Custom HTML editor block to add this code (assuming it’s allowed by your site security) as an alternative to installing the RSVPMaker Widget plugin.

PayPal Integration (REST API)

RSVPMaker now integrates with PayPal via its REST application programming interface (API).

If you previously set up integration with the older Express Checkout / NVP API method, RSVPMaker still supports it. PayPal also still supports it but is not adding new features to that version. You probably want to switch to the new method anyway because the user experience is better and more tightly integrated with your website.

The pay by PayPal / pay by credit card buttons will appear as part of the confirmation message when someone registers for one of your events.

PayPal payment buttons

Attendees who click on the PayPal button will get a pop up prompt inviting them to log in and pay.

PayPal login prompt

Those who prefer to pay by credit card can click one of the credit card icons (or the button on the screen above that says Pay with Debit of Credit Card) and be prompted for credit card information.

To obtain the required credentials for the REST API, go to and log in with your PayPal password. The developer’s dashboard allows you to register multiple sandbox accounts for testing and create an app for your integration. Creating an app just means you are generating the API access keys required for the integration with RSVPMaker. Just give your app a name, associate it with a sandbox account for testing, and click the Create App button.

Creating an App

Then copy the keys (the client id and client secret) for both the Sandbox (test) and Live versions of the app.

Copying the client id and client secret.

Once you have copied and pasted all the credentials, into the Payments Tab of the RSVPMaker settings, it’s a good idea to toggle the Operating Mode setting from Production to Sandbox. Create a sample event with sample pricing and test the integration. For testing, you can make payments using one of the sandbox accounts associated with your developer account on PayPal, which is funded by imaginary money.

Once you are satisfied that everything is working properly, go to the Payments tab in RSVPMaker settings and toggle the integration from Sandbox to Production to accept live payments.

Here is a quick video demo:

Recommended wp-config.php Debug Logging Setup

When people contact me with reports that RSVPMaker is misbehaving in some way on their websites, figuring out whether the problem is due to a flaw in my code and/or interaction with some other plugin is tricky business. This can be made more complicated by WordPress features that hide error and warning messages from being publicly displayed — a good practice, but one that can frustrate access to debugging information.

Here’s the debug logging setup I recommend adding to wp-config.php – so you can track down errors when necessary without them being publicly displayed:

@ini_set( 'display_errors', 0 );
// Enable WP_DEBUG mode
define( 'WP_DEBUG', true );
// Disable display of errors and warnings 
define( 'WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY', false );
// Enable debug logging to file, ideally outside of public_html
define( 'WP_DEBUG_LOG', '/home/mysite/debug.log' );
@ini_set( 'display_errors', 0 );

The debug file location will vary based on your server setup, but for example on my sites /home/mysite/public_html/ is where publicly visible files go, so /home/mysite/ is a more secure location for a debug log that you don’t want someone attacking your site to be able to access (bugs are sometimes opportunities for hacks).

Should come before the line that says:

/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */

Note: these debug log files can grow large after a while, so you might have to periodically delete the file and then let it regenerate as new error and warning messages are generated. Then go try to perform whatever action wasn’t working for you.

On systems that include the Cpanel utility (or something similar), I typically use that to view and delete log files.

RSVPMaker Concepts and Terminology

The basic idea behind RSVPMaker is that every event is a post — an event post, rather than a blog post — meaning you use all the same authoring and editing tools, but event posts have a date and time associated with them.

When you add a new event post, you will be prompted to enter the date and time up front, along some basic details like whether you want to collect RSVPs (registrations). You can also use RSVPMaker to announce events for which no registration is required.

Once an event post is loaded into the editor, you can change the date and time using a calendar widget that appears in the sidebar (assuming you’re using the Gutenberg editor introduced with WordPress 5.0). To change other parameters, including pricing for an events you charge for, navigate to the RSVP / Event Options screen associated with each post.

Link to the RSVP Event Options screen

You will see several submenu options under RSVP / Event Options, which will take you to the screens for customizing confirmation and reminder messages and for customizing the registration form.

In RSVPMaker, your confirmation message is also modeled at as a WordPress post that you can edit as you would any other content. Reminder messages work much the same way, except that they have a specific interval relative to your event date / time associated with them. The reminder message headline becomes the subject line of the email message, and the body copy becomes the content of the email message.

The RSVPMaker form is modeled as a series of custom content blocks that specify the data you want to gather from each person who registers (details).

The RSVP Form editor

When you are editing a form, a confirmation message, or a reminder message, you will see a navigation option in the black admin menu at the top of the screen that allows you to navigate back to editing or viewing the parent event post. First, make sure you save your work.

Multi-Date Events and Event Templates

RSVPMaker allows you to create a single event that stretches across multiple dates — so one registration (if you’re taking registrations) for an event that lasts all weekend.

The more common requirement is to support events that recur on a weekly or monthly schedule, with many of the details repeated each time. For example, the local Chamber of Commerce holds a breakfast meeting on the first Wednesday of the month at a standard location, and the phone number to call with questions is always the same. We need to be able to account for occasions when the schedule or meeting place changes, and we want to be able to add details about a specific month’s event.

For that, use an Event Template. The template defines the standard meeting schedule and the details that should be included in every event listing by default. From an Event Template, you can create a series of events along the projected schedule (all those first Wednesdays in my example). Each of these events will include the content and the settings specified in the template, including details like event pricing.

Each individual event can then be edited individually, for example to add the names of a guest speaker. If the Event Template changes, perhaps because your standard meeting place has changed, you can update any previously published future events with the new details. (More about Events and Event Templates).

Many event parameters can also be changed on the RSVPMaker Settings screen on the WordPress dashboard. For example, you can specify whether the feature for collecting RSVPs should be on or off by default. A link from the settings screen allows you to create a standard RSVP form to be used if a custom one has not been defined.

The settings screen is also where you would enter the required credentials for the PayPal or Stripe payment services or the MailChimp email broadcast service.

Video: RSVPMaker Events and Event Templates

One of the keys to using RSVPMaker effectively is taking advantage of event templates. Like the rest of RSVPMaker, the templates feature has been updated for the new Gutenberg editor.

Templates allow you to create one or many events that follow a regular schedule and that share some basic details like meeting location and who to contact with questions.

Like a cookie cutter, a template lets you create many events that will start out the same — until you decorate them.

Think of it like the relationship between the cookie and the cookie cutter, where you can stamp out one or many cookies that start out the same, but you still have the option of decorating them all differently, with details specific to a particular event date.

On the other hand, if you’ve created many placeholder events based on your template and you change the template (say, because your meeting location has changed) — you can update those related events. You can update them all, or update them selectively (if you don’t want to overwrite information you’ve added for a specific event date).

Navigating RSVPMaker: Event Posts, Options, Messages and Forms

The whole idea behind RSVPMaker is to allow you to take advantage of the familiar WordPress user interface for content creation and editing, while adding the event dates and registration form options that allow you to display even posts on a calendar and/or chronological listing of events, collect RSVPs (or registrations) and charge for events when appropriate.

New Event

The latest versions of the software have gotten away from trying to cram all the options onto one screen — which I hope is an improvement — but it means you need to understand the relationships between the different screens available to you.

These include:

  • The Settings screen for RSVPMaker, which is where you can set defaults for most event options, plus settings related to email notifications, email broadcasts (Mailchimp integration) and payment processing (integration with PayPal and Stripe).
  • The Event Setup screen, displayed whenever you choose Add New for RSVP Events — prompts you to specify the date and time, plus some other key settings (RSVPs on or off?) before filling in the event description details. The Event Setup screen is shown above.
  • The event template variation of that same screen, used to define events that occur on some regular schedule (such as every Friday or first and second Monday) along with the defaults for events in that series (RSVPs on? etc.).
  • The WordPress editor — works the same as for any other post, but with a few RSVPMaker-specific controls in the sidebar and more available through the “admin bar” (the black bar that appears at the top of the screen when you are logged in as an author or editor).
  • The confirmation and reminder messages, which you also work with in the WordPress editor. Look for the admin bar menu items that allow you to navigate back to the parent event post.
  • The RSVP Form, where each registration field is modeled as a special block in Gutenberg. You can add or modify fields, including text entry, textarea, select, and radio button fields, and the optional guest data block.

Some of these options may not appear if you are not using Gutenberg, the new editor introduced with WordPress 5.

Here’s a visual tour:

Draft event

When you save your options on the Event Setup screen, RSVPMaker creates a draft post with the headline, event date, and other basic options set. You can now add whatever body copy you want your event post to have.

RSVP / Event Options link (and submenu)

More event options are presented on a separate RSVP / Event Options screen. When you are viewing a post in the editor or on the website (when logged in), you will see RSVP / Event Options as a link on the admin bar with several submenu items.

Edit Event link (and submenu)

When you are on the options screen, you will see Edit Event as a link on the admin bar with several submenu items related to customizing confirmation / reminder messages or customizing the form.

Default documents show link to RSVPMaker Settings.

You can set the default documents for Confirmation Message and RSVP Form from the RSVPMaker Settings screen. New events you post will use these default documents unless you create custom ones for your event.

You can also create templates for specific types of events, with a Confirmation Message and RSVP Form that may be different from your overall default but will be copied to all events based on the template. (More about event templates below).

Recommendations: Customize the confirmation message to include details people will need to know to attend your event, such as directions to the venue and a number to call with questions.

Change the RSVP Form if the default options don’t make sense for your event (for example, when registering attendees at a webinar, the guest fields probably aren’t necessary) and to gather additional information, such as the name of the person who referred the attendee to your organization.

Custom documents show a link back to the Parent Event.

When you create a custom Confirmation Message or custom RSVP Form for a specific event (or template), you will see options to allow you to navigate back to the parent event (in either viewing or editing mode) on the admin bar.

Customizing registration form fields.

When you edit the form, each form field is represented as a content block with properties including Label, Required, and Include on Guest Form displayed in the sidebar on the right hand side of the editor. (More about the form editor).

Link to create a template rather than an individual event.

To create a template instead of an individual event, look for the New Template link on the Event Setup screen. You can also go to the Event Templates screen and click Add New at the top of that page.

Setting a schedule, rather than individual dates, for a template

On the template version of the screen, you set a schedule rather than specifying a specific date. Unless you merely choose to say that the schedule “Varies” (meaning you’ll specify the date each time), the schedule will be something like “Every Friday” or “First Monday” or “Second and Fourth Tuesday.”

Create / update link displayed after saving a template.

After you enter your template content and save it, you will be prompted to “create / update events” based on the template. The template itself isn’t meant to appear publicly on your website and won’t be included on the calendar.

Think of the cookie versus the cookie cutter. The template is a cookie cutter, which you can use to stamp out many cookies and then decorate them individually. But you don’t eat the cookie cutter.

Templates typically include “boilerplate” details that are the same for all your events, or almost all of them.

Checkboxes to add multiple events based on a template.

The create / update routine allows you to create one or more events based on your template. Both the body copy for the event and the associated settings (RSVPs on/off, confirmation message, etc.) will be copied.

You can create many events according to your schedule and then add details to them as each event date draws closer. For example, you may publish a whole series of events for a club or professional organization, then add the names of speakers when you want to promote a specific event.

Updating previously created events, based on a template.

When you update your template, you have the option of updating all the events based on the template. An example would be if your standard meeting location changes, or you now want people to call a different number if they have questions.

RSVPMaker tries to warn you if any of those events have been modified independently. For example, perhaps we’ve added speaker or activity details to the April 12 event shown above. We might want to uncheck that one and make any modifications to it manually.

Viewing your events on the calendar.

If all goes well, the result is an interactive calendar that allows you to promote and organize your events more effectively.