Will Jetpack Supercharge Or Superbloat Your WordPress Site?

Will Jetpack Supercharge Or Superbloat Your WordPress Site?

Jetpack, Automattic’s meta plugin adds more than 30 features to your WordPress site but has a bigger footprint than the WordPress core.

Built by Automattic, stress-tested on WordPress.com, almost 12 million downloads, installing it on your self-hosted WordPress site would seem to be a no-brainer.

But is Jetpack the solution to all your problems? Just how many of Jetpack’s modules will you actually use? Will your site be supercharged or just superbloated?

Composite image of WordPress logo and jetpack
Jetpack, a disparate collection of features and services

The idea of the meta plugin, a single plugin that contains a host of features maintained by a single entity is initially very appealing. Especially when that entity is the work of WordPress.com owners, Automattic. Not only can you be entirely comfortable that these guys know a thing or two about WordPress but many if not all of the Jetpack features have already been given a thorough workout on WordPress.com.

It’s an attractive proposition: features written by the WordPress development team and stress-tested in a peerless WordPress environment

But it’s not that straight forward.

Identity Crisis

Even Jetpack itself doesn’t seem to be entirely sure what it brings to a self-hosted WordPress site. The official Jetpack site reckons that it’s “a suite of the most powerful WordPress.com features” whilst the Jetpack entry on the WordPress.org plugin repository claims it’s “the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com”.

These might seem the same but they are not. The latter, the “awesome cloud power” makes a lot of sense as it (correctly) suggests the leveraging of WordPress.com to bring features to your self-hosted site that would otherwise be hard to impossible to implement. The reality is that Jetpack is a mix of the two: a collection of features driven by WordPress.com services and those are completely self-sufficient.

It’s Big. Really Big.

At 7MB zipped (22MB expanded on disk), Jetpack is actually 15% bigger than the WordPress core. That’s big, although the language files do represent a massive chunk of Jetpack’s size. Adding that much extra code, no matter how well written or tested, is always going to increase the risk of introducing a bug or conflict with an existing plugin.

It’s also a little surprising as you might imagine that a plugin that is leveraging “awesome cloud power” would be leaner. In fact, given Jetpack’s size, it’s surprising that it doesn’t solve its identity crisis and focus on the cloud and the 18 modules that require a connection to a WordPress.com account.

And perhaps add the obvious missing service, Akismet.

Too Many Obscure Modules

There are some very strong modules in Jetpack (more on that later) there’s also quite a few modules that can only have a fairly niche audiences.

Beautiful Math might be great for inserting mathematical formulas into posts but how many WordPress site owners are “maths geeks” and really have this need? Similarly, how many owners actually use Markdown to write posts, want to post to their site by email, need spelling and grammar checking above that provided by their browser, want to shorten links using wp.me rather than bit.ly or want to expose the JSON API (slated to be included in 4.1 core anyway)?

What’s even more perplexing is that practically none of these modules is providing functionality that is not available in alternative plugins, and this is especially the case for the Custom Post Types and Extra Sidebar Widgets modules which must have plans for expansion.

Some Modules You’ll Want To Avoid Altogether

Beyond the obscure, there are several modules (Enhanced Distribution, Jetpack Comments, Jetpack Single Sign-on, Likes) that just don’t stack up or seem to be of very little value.

I’m not a fan of alternative comment systems: the built-in commenting system seems more than adequate (perhaps enhanced with social sign-in) so why replace it with a system that relies on a 3rd-party and yet that’s what Jetpack Comments wants to do. There also seems to be limited benefit in allowing visitors to sign into your site using WordPress.com credentials and using a WordPress.com-specific liking system, when the real currency is a Facebook like, would appear to be a waste of time.

Auto-activating Is Just Plain Bad UX

When you install Jetpack and connect it to your WordPress.com account, you’ll find that over 20 modules are automatically activated, including Site Stats:

[table id=33/]

That it is highly unlikely that any WordPress user will find an immediate use for all those activated modules and therefore will want to deactivate most of them is not the issue.

The issue is that it not Automattic’s (or any plugin developer) decision as to which modules should be activated: it is the site owner’s. At the very least this is highly presumptuous and, of course, means that WordPress.com is collecting stats about a site without appearing to first get explicit permission.

Simple Approach Is Double-Edged Sword

Jetpack’s simple approach to implementing functionality is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Despite the size of the plugin, and likely due to heritage, the modules rarely go overboard with features and functionality. They stick to implementing simple solutions in rock-solid code. This is a real positive as the modules are often quick and easy to get the hang of and in many cases provide good results that have little or no configuration.

But that simple approach is also a disadvantage as you may quickly outgrow the Jetpack provided functionality and need to go with a more full-featured competitor.

Not All Doom And Gloom

Despite the negatives, there are services and features that should keep Jetpack in the frame for any WordPress site owner.

In fact, it’s when Jetpack is leveraging the “awesome WordPress.com cloud power” to access high-end features and functionality that it really excels:

Related Posts – Jetpack pushes this database-intensive activity to the WordPress.com servers (they effectively index a WordPress site to generate suggestions). Based on WP Engine’s stance on related post plugins, this is clearly a big deal.

Monitor – This service, a subject of a recent Weekend WordPress Project, is almost justification alone for installing Jetpack. Once set up, site owners are notified by email every time their site fails to respond along with details of total downtime.

WordPress.com Stats – Google Analytics may be the tool for in-depth analysis of  traffic but for a quick overview of what’s happening with a site, WordPress.com Stats provides an ideal summary directly in the WordPress dashboard.

Subscriptions – Allowing visitors to subscribe to updates to your site (including comments) is a standard relationship building technique and this module takes the emailing load off a self-hosted site.

VideoPress – If you produce a lot of video content for your blog then VideoPress is worth a look. A paid service costing $60 per year, VideoPress will handle the conversion and streaming of SD and HD video to a WordPress site. Videos have no length restriction but are limited to 1GB in size and have no pre or post roll ads. VideoPress uses the related WordPress.com site for storage so you may well have to factor in the additional cost of upgrading from the default 3GB.

VaultPress – Another paid service but the pick of Jetpack’s offerings. The Basic Plan ($165 per year) provides real-time backups and automatic restores which is represents a cheap insurance policy against disaster. Again, if we look to WP Engine for guidance, not only is VaultPress is the only backup plugin / service they allow, they recommend it.

It’s interesting to note that both VaultPress and VideoPress have specific plugins in the WordPress Plugin Repository and VaultPress at least is being actively maintained. A puzzle, perhaps, as to why Jetpack is not the sole interface provider for these 2 services.

Is Jetpack Worth Installing?

Is this even a question worth asking for a plugin that has had 11.7 million downloads? It’s actually a valid question for any plugin, not just Jetpack, but given Jetpack’s size, it is particularly pertinent.

Viewed individually, many of Jetpack’s standalone modules face stiff competition from more feature-rich competitors and perhaps only survive because they are part of the collection. But I would ignore the standalones and concentrate on the services because that’s where Jetpack’s value is (and where it should be concentrating).

Monitor is a service that every site owner should be utilizing. If one (or preferably more) of Stats, VaultPress, VideoPress, Related Posts, Subscriptions or Publicize can be added to the mix then installing Jetpack, despite the fact it will bloat your site, is a definite yes. Any other modules are then a bonus.

If not, then you’re better off finding an individual best-of-breed plugin to meet your need.

Do you have Jetpack installed on your site? Which modules do you actively use?

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