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For a beginner WordPress user, it is a confusing place, and you can get yourself in trouble quite easily by installing outdated, bloated, or unsafe plugins.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