The WordPress plugin repository is a platform which seeks the interest of almost every user who has toyed around with WordPress in one way or the other. Efforts have been put since 2014 to redesign the plugin repo with a few enhanced features. Recently in a blog post, Konstantin Obenland announced that the third beta version of the proposed plugin repository is out and open for the community feedback. The entire process is monitored by the WordPress meta team, and you can view the latest design beta release of the new WordPress plugin repository here.
But, let’s take a step back and discuss what the meta team is all about.
‘Make’ WordPress and the ‘Meta’ Team
WordPress is no more a blogging platform. It has evolved from democratizing content to a full-fledged website building tool such that people have built their independent sites, online stores, etc. with this open source script. Owing to its multi-tier architecture, the WordPress is divided into components like core, design, accessibility, themes, plugins, etc. And the best way to get in touch and involved with any of these components is via the Make WordPress Blog.
“Make.WordPress.org” is the website where all the details about this CMS are beautifully stacked in different sections. Each section represents a component and directs you to a blog containing the latest development in that area. e.g. the Core blog section has all the details relevant to the WordPress core and so on. Likewise, based on your needs you can subscribe to any of these sections separately.
Meta is one such blog section of making WordPress blog. The Meta team bears several responsibilities like maintaining WordPress.org, building tools for contributors, managing support, etc. So, if you want to contribute in making WordPress.org better, this is the place to be.
When Konstantin asked for the community feedback, a lot of WordPress developers responded with what I’d call a mixed feedback, though, a majority of them stayed critical. Their primary concerns dealt with the fact that the new design contains little information about a plugin and how difficult will it become for new plugins to compete with the featured ones. I reached out to several community members and picked a few pieces of feedback from here and there; following is the summarized version of the community’s feedback:
- The language notice should appear once for every user and when configured it shouldn’t appear.
- The plugin list page is a bit spartan. When searching for plugins, I normally like to look at last updated date and author (This is so true, the plugins’ list on the search page must include information about meta like active installs, author, last updated, etc.).
- Abandon the “Read more” link and return to a tabbed interface.
- There’s no way obvious way to add a direct link to a particular section (e.g. Screenshots) like you can with the tabbed system.
- Once a “Read more” link is expanded, you must scroll a great distance to find the next section (e.g. try expanding the Description section and then finding FAQ).
- Video tutorials should be displayed if they exist for any plugin.
- From a design perspective, I like the new pages. They are super simple and clean and easy on the eyes with nice spacing and balance.
- As others have noted, I’d love to see filters. Right now, when we search, we just get the default search results. I often find those results unsatisfying, but even if I did find them compelling, everyone has different preferences and priorities. We could add filters or sort panel for ratings, installs, recent updates, etc., which would add tremendous functional value with very little clutter to the interface.
- +1 for the re-inclusion of Stats tab. The existing of the plugin stats offer transparency into the history and trends of one of the most important parts of the WordPress ecosystem. WordPress is, in turn, one of the most important parts of the modern web. Stats like this are, quite simply, valuable knowledge that should be made available for the public good. Advanced users, industry observers, researchers, bloggers, news outlets, etc., can all refer to stats like this to draw meaningful conclusions about the world’s most important website platform and it major components.
- Luke Cavanagh suggested an alternate WordPress repository by good folks at Algolia.
- Brian Krogsgard suggested “Overall, I think this is pretty great. My biggest feedback is to do with the home page, where I think the categories could be put to good use, as a listing or dropdown of some sort, to help people looking for plugins get an idea where to start.”
What Do I Think as a Developer?
There is no doubt about the fact that Meta team is doing a fantastic job to bring the best of the best for the WordPress community. Their efforts in this refurbished plugin repository are clearly visible; they aim to give an excellent user experience which is acceptable to the major chunks of the community. So being a WordPress developer with 10+ plugins in the repository and a core contributor I’d like to share my opinion which is in line with what many other developers suggested.
Admin Area For Developers Is Cool
What I like the most about the new plugin repository is that it has a built in WordPress admin area for developers. Immediately, after signing in, I started seeing the value in this particular enhancement. When I browsed the admin area for the first time, I found out that there were unresolved support tickets, which for some reason, I had forgotten to attend to.
As Konstantin puts it: “If you have commit access to a plugin in the existing directory and are logged in to your WordPress.org account, you also have access to the provisional developer interface“.
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The above two screenshots are from my personal account. The first image displays a list of my plugins with all the relevant details like ratings, active installs, unresolved support requests, etc. The second image shows the individual plugin page for CF7 Customizer, which enlists the plugin statistics, categories, author, etc.
Plugin Page at the New WP Repo
Enough about the backend admin area, let’s discuss the frontend plugin page in the new WordPress repository. I am going to comment on each section of this page. For the purpose of explanation, I’m referring to the CF7 Customizer plugin.
The plugin name does not overlap the featured banner which is good. This is visually appealing and creates a cleaner interface. Plugins with text in their banners which used to get overlapped by RTL version of the repository would benefit from this implementation. Though I’m not a great advocate of images crowded with text on them but those who like doing it can find it helpful.
Dcooney suggested, “Hero banners and 128px icon are very similar for most plugins, so it creates repetition way to0 early on the page.” That’s true. I think, it is a bit redundant to have both the banner and the icon placed on one page. If you are not sure about what redundancy I am talking about, take a look at the screenshot above.
Next, is the section for description which is not at all sufficient. A few sentences about the plugin and then a Read More link are one the worst things about this design. Don’t get me wrong; I like the new concept and how clean it is, but removing tabbed interface is a wrong decision.
The idea of hiding the full description doesn’t make much sense to me since it is the backbone of your product. Your lead will only be successfully converted if you’ll manage to break them well on the copy of a plugin, which is currently hidden under a read more link. The description should not be cut off at all as it’s the most important piece of information which a user is looking for.
I’m really concerned about the liberal use of “Read more” links on individual plugin pages. They’re being used in order to fix the information overload problem caused by placing all the information onto one page, instead of using the tabbed interface of the current directory.
Consider that the description of a plugin is the single most important piece of information available to the user, why is this being cut off at a mere four lines of text? It should not be cut off at all. And why is the short description no longer exposed at all? If a user is seriously researching which plugins they want to use, constantly clicking “Read more” links is going to drive them crazy.
The information density of individual plugin pages in the proposed design is extremely low. The page shows four large pieces of incomplete information (description, screenshots, FAQ, changelog), whereas the existing design shows one complete piece of very important information; the plugin description.
I hate to be a negative nancy, but the proposed design attempts to make the directory prettier at the expense of information density and actual usefulness. — by John Blackbourn
Like many other developers, I also agree with John on this point. +1 for bringing the tabbed interface back. Otherwise, we developers will stand to lose potential users, and a user may lose a valuable plugin. Think about a plugin which includes a small introductory video as I do, which is nowhere to be found on the new design (read as hidden behind the Read More Link).
Now this section is where I’d like to highlight a huge potential concern. Ratings are crucial for any plugin, yes I get that. But are they so important that we place them on the landing page of a plugin? Even if we do, I have never seen a single product page that enlists bad reviews at the landing page of a product.
I am against placing the bad reviews at the Plugin’s Page. My answer is a big fat NO. Reviews are already a hot topic in the WordPress community. I think the reviews are not regularly maintained. A user with un-explanable requirements leaves a bad review, and you are stuck with it for life.
Since reviews are not the ultimate criteria to differentiate between a good or a bad plugin, you can expect several bad reviews despite all the right ones. Apparently, you cannot satisfy everyone all the time.
Again referencing to my plugin, the first bad review that a new visitor gets to read is that CF7 Customizer is not compatible with the Visual Composer. This is so naive as I never claimed for my plugin to offer any such functionality in the first place. And that the moderators would not remove this review, by calling it subjectively unfair. I can handle that; I can get why moderators would want that. But what I cannot handle is having this review listed right on the landing page of my plugin.
Reviews have more real estate as compared to the description itself. This situation gets worse for many plugins, like take Stripe plugin for WordPress as an example. And then take a look at the screenshot above.
FAQ, Screenshots, Changelog and Contributors
The section for FAQ and Screenshot seems just fine to me. However, I have certain reservations regarding the latter two. The section for Changelog should be displayed on a separate page as this is not of great interest to the users. And that there should be a way for us developers to link to any of these sections in the URL. That can be done if there is a tabbed interface.
That’s why the traditional tabbed layout would work perfectly fine in this respect. A separate tab for Changelog can be created, and users can click on it if required. The tabbed approach can further be extended to FAQ and Screenshots as well; it just makes a lot more sense that way.
Similarly, the plugins’ contributors and developers should be listed in the same order as they’ve been mention in the
readme.txt file. CF7 Customizer’s
readme.txt file contains my name first followed by other contributors, but the new plugin repository displays my name at the end. So, the plugin credits should be prioritized based on their order in the
Markdown Readme Files?
Almost every developer out there hosts the plugins at GitHub as well as the WordPress repository. That means we get to maintain two versions of the
README file. One in markdown for GitHub and one which is valid with the WordPress repository. While several efforts have been made to build converters for parsing the readme.txt file, I think we can make use of ParseDown and build an optional
readme.md parser. With that, any developer would be able to keep one version of the
README file (either
.txt one or
How It Affects the Normal WP User?
The new plugin repository affects all of us. For a regular WordPress user, the new plugin search listing can be a pro or a con at the same time. Beginners who’ll visit the repository for the first time may find the most refined and credible results for plugins. This gives them a great start with WordPress.
But at the same time, this will never let new plugins come on the front-page. So, a better approach would be to offer different filters so that users can refine their search results. Filters can be based on reviews, active installs, downloads, most recent, favorites, etc. What should I do if I want to check the latest caching plugin released on the WP repo? Right, there isn’t an easy way to do that.
So, if users are looking for the new plugins in a particular niche, they should be able to easily find good plugins with the help of such filters. This will also improve the user experience and will provide better opportunities for new plugins to succeed. And we do want that to happen, don’t we?
This is just the third beta version release, and we all can expect several other iterations before this new repository makes a debut. Since this is and should be the essence of an open source community where community’s feedback does matter. A massive amount of feedback has been already received be it in the form of discussions, blog posts, or at social platforms. But the topic is open for debate.
What are your thoughts about the new plugin repository? Share your feedback in the comment box below since it does matter.
Finally, you can catch all of my articles on my profile page, and you can follow me or reach out at Twitter @mrahmadawais; to discuss this article. As usual, don’t hesitate to leave any questions or comments below, and I’ll aim to respond to each of them.