WordPress Plugin Directory – a Better Way?

WordPress Plugin DirectoryEvery weekday, I drag myself out of bed, have a quick shower in order to make myself feel human again, get dressed, and head downstairs to my home office (couch). I fire up my trusty MacBook Pro and get started on my writing work for WPMU.

My first port of call is a quick visit to the WordPress.org plugin directory to take a look at the freshest plugins. And there are a lot of them. A tentative count shows that over 30 new plugins were released yesterday. So more than one new WordPress plugin is being released every hour.

As my sister would subtly put it, that’s a crapton of plugins (I have no idea what a “crapton” really is, but it sounds like a lot). And the majority of these new plugins are either completely useless, or a carbon copy of 50 other plugins already on the directory.

Taming the Jungle

WordPress plugin directory: It's a jungle out there.
WordPress plugin directory: It's a jungle out there.

But useless plugins are perhaps the least of our worries. The plugin directory is a wild and untamed jungle, and it’s certainly not getting any tamer. For a beginner WordPress user, it is a confusing place, and you can get yourself in trouble quite easily by installing outdated, bloated, or unsafe plugins.

It’s hardly a cakewalk for intermediate and advanced users either. Essentially you have to use plugins from the directory on the understanding that whilst they may do exactly as advertised with no negative side effects, they may also slow down or corrupt your site, or even leave you open to attack. That’s not to mention that the plugin might never be updated again.

But what can you expect, right? It’s a completely free resource. If you want the guarantee of well designed and regularly updated plugins, go and check out one of the numerous reputable premium plugin developers. The plugin directory is not for you.

But maybe it could be. Maybe the plugin directory could be far better than it is. And surely if it is possible, it should be a huge priority? After all, plugins are what drive WordPress’ popularity.

A Better Way?

WordPress Plugin Directory
Choosing whether or not to use a plugin can be a tough question to answer.

How do you make a decision regarding a plugin? Generally speaking, you’re led by the number of downloads, the ratings (and number of ratings), the date it was last updated, and compatibility. That’s rather a lot to take into consideration, isn’t it?

If one were to overcomplicate the situation, there would be additional factors to consider that might affect your decision-making process:

  1. How long the plugin developer has been registered on WordPress.org
  2. How many other plugins they have released
  3. When the plugin in question was released
  4. Whether downloads of the plugin is on the increase, or vice versa
  5. How often the plugin is updated
  6. How many times the plugin has been updated

All of the above factors could affect your decision regarding a particular plugin. Here’s a really ambitious suggestion – would it be possible to put together some sort of algorithm that rated plugins based upon a combination of most or all of these factors?

What if you could look at an overall score which represented a combination of all of the most important data points relating to a plugin – a score that, if high enough, gave you peace of mind in knowing that the plugin in question is of reputable quality?

Safe Zone

There’s a good reason why the plugin directory is open to anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection – it is open source. WordPress is defined by the fact that literally anyone can have a crack at plugin development. The barriers of entry are nonexistent, which has led us to the thriving community that we currently enjoy.

And that is why I don’t think the plugin directory can change a great deal from its current guise. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Therefore, the only way to avoid the catch-22 situation is to circumvent it.

So how about a standalone plugin “safe zone”? A strictly controlled independent plugin directory, containing only those plugins that have been proven, over an extended period of time, to be stable, well-coded, popular, and highly functional. The kind of directory that a WordPress user could browse with complete confidence.

The key in creating and maintaining such a directory would be a reliance on automation – up to a point. Manually sifting through 20,186 plugins is neither practical nor realistic. But if you could rely upon some kind of scoring “threshold”, perhaps similar to the algorithm mentioned above, which granted a plugin manual review, you could perhaps create a sustainable system.

Isn’t Improvement Necessary?

I fully expect to get shot down by some for these ideas, but if we’re not trying to push the boundaries of WordPress’ capabilities (not just in terms of its core functionality, but also in its extendibility), what are we trying to achieve?

If you feel that the WordPress plugin directory is “good enough” in its current guise, fair enough. But if you, like me, are of a mind that it is in a sorry state and needs improvement in order to advance WordPress’ cause, please offer up your suggestions in the comments section.

Creative Commons photos courtesy of brewbooks and the Italian voice

10 Responses

  • A good start would be the possibility to filter the plugin database based on the stats you mentioned above. I think it’s rather difficult to calculate a score for a plugin, because some arguments/stats may be of different importance for different visitors.

  • I’d like to see some sort of scoring system on the plugin vendors and perhaps something Amazon-ish like “customers who downloaded this plugin also downloaded x”. While the current system does seem unwieldy, it is functional and give us wide visibility on what is available. If anything, I’d like to encourage more developers to use it whose things I find only available from their own proprietary web sites.

  • The problem of what you suggest is that it removes neutrality and it opens the system for being gamed.

    An example would be one of the stats you mention – “How long the plugin developer has been registered on WordPress.org” – what if someone has a kick-ass plugin but they’ve just been registered? Or what if they’ve been registered for years, but have a crap plugin?

    What about two other stats you suggest – how often or how many updates have been made for a plugin? Does a plugin that’s updated regularly and loads of times mean that the developers are making a good plugin better? Or does it mean it was rubbish to begin with?

    I understand your points about there needing to be a better way… But I think that better way is very subjective.

    I think the only fair way is to show downloads, votes and reviews, as currently… Though I also like the recommendation of Jim Esten – to show that people that downloaded this plugin also downloaded x plugin, Amazon-ish – that’s a good call.

    Maybe also a Facebook / Twitter / WordPress.com/.org users that you’re friends with have also downloaded this plugin / these plugins – and the ratings they gave them. After all, you trust people you know – or experts, or you at least can decide (or have a preconceived judgement of) how much you trust/agree with people you know or experts who’s columns, blogs, websites, etc you’ve read…

    Just my two penn’eth’s worth of course…

    Oh – I also think your sister’s crapton means “crap tonne” – or as we call it in this part of the world – “sh** load”. :-)

  • New Recruit

    The Majority? Carbon Copies? That seems needlessly pejorative if not insulting to everyone who contributes their work to the repository.

    The repository gives one set of users the opportunity to get very specific solutions to very specific problems and the other set of users to showcase their talents. I think its wrong to suggest that the majority of plugins released on the repository are useless.

    There are way more than 20,000 specific problems that can be solved by specific plugins.

    • Design Lord, Child of Thor

      Hi Rick,

      Do you keep tabs on the WordPress.org plugins directory on a daily basis? I think there have been four testimonials plugins released in the last week. As for Facebook plugins or Pinterest “pin it” plugins…yikes.

      I would put my mortgage on their most definitely *not* being 20,000 specific problems solved.

      I think you’re getting a little too agitated here – I am a huge supporter of free plugin developers. Anyone who reads my articles here or on other sites can see that. However, that doesn’t detract from the fact that an enormous number of duplicate/buggy plugins are released on WordPress.org.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  • New Recruit

    There are three or four main changes that I think could really help the WordPress Plugin directory.

    1) Better search filters – right now it is only possible to set one filter at a time. It would be very helpful if we could set multiple filters. For instance, imagine being able to search only for plugins that have been updated in the last 1, 3, or 6 (or a custom date) and that have a 4 star rating or higher.

    2) Reviews as well as ratings – ratings are nice, but reviews can often times provide valuable information (including whether or not there are better alternatives worth looking at).

    3) Be able to view ratings (and/or reviews) by date. I wonder at times about 4 star rated plugins. Did they start out good and down, or did they start out not so good and improve. If all the ratings over the last year are 5 stars, but the first year was three stars, the plugin might be worth taking a look at.

    4) People who downloaded this plugin also downloaded… — it would be nice to get a sense of related plugins (like related posts or Amazon’s people who bought this book also bought).

    The algorithm is an interesting idea, but I personally would rather have the actual data in front of me so that I can look at those bits of information that I care most about.

    Be well,

    Moshe

  • NES
    New Recruit

    I have to echo Rick, and some of the others who mention ‘fix the filtering’.

    My biggest pet peeve is to do a search for something, for example ‘facebook’, click the ‘sort by most popular’ and the first 1 is WordPressSEO by Yoast. The next is Jetpack and then NextGen gallery…while these are very popular plugins they have nothing to do with Facebook.

    A simple change, and I mean probably really simple, would be to make those buttons filter ‘these results’ and not everything in the repository.

    To take it another step…. If you search ‘gallery’ and then click ‘most popular’ the results are different.

    What exactly IS the filter ‘most popular’ based on? or any of the other filters?

    Cheers
    Doug

    PS. WordPress.org – Love You Long Time – You Too WPMU – Thank you for all you do.

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Some great suggestions here guys – especially advanced filtering. That could provide a similar solution to the algorithm I proposed, you could tailor it to your own needs, and it would require barely any resources to implement (I think).

    However, I don’t think that helps WordPress newbies. I still think that some kind of “safe haven” for plugins would be worth considering.

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