Major Changes in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory

The new plugin Reviews feature suggests a shifting approach to the WordPress ecosystem.

Reviews: a new tab in town

WordPress.org Reviews TabOn every plugin page, there is now a Reviews tab. This is in addition to the Support tab that WordPress added around August.

Rating a plugin now requires a review

Until now, WordPress reviews were basic: 1-5 stars, with no additional details. You would only need to be signed in and click a star rating. With this change, WordPress.org requires users to be logged in and to write a review with their star rating. This will force users to be more thoughtful on why they rate a plugin a certain way.

You can now reply to reviews. Nice.Each review is now a forum thread: when a review is posted, the plugin author has a chance to reply. This is great for me as a plugin author: I can attempt to  resolve issues and get better plugin ratings. Users are able to modify their reviews and update their star ratings, which adds incentive for plugin authors to address issues with each reviewer. This is smart.

The beginning of higher accountability.

This is one way to add security and stability to the WordPress ecosystem.

I believe WordPress wants to have more tight controls over the plugins listed on the directory.  With over 22,000 plugins, Automattic simply does not have the resources to make sure all plugins are up to snuff.

The WordPress team has taken steps to help users know whether a plugin is good or not:

  • The May update made visible the number of resolved plugin support requests over a time span.
  • Earlier in the year, the website started displayed a banner alerting users when a plugin hadn’t been updated in over two years.
  • In 2011, the website started showing a graph of the plugin star ratings, not just the aggregated star rating. This helped visualize the plugin’s ratings.

WordPress as a platform.

Matt Mullenweg spoke at a WordCamp recently about his vision for auto-updating WordPress where users wouldn’t have to manually upgrade the software. His vision is of WordPress as a hassle-free platform, and I bet that reducing the variables added by troublesome plugins or themes is a high priority.

WordPress 3.5, currently in beta, introduces a new feature (emphasis mine):

You can browse and install plugins you’ve marked as favorites on WordPress.org, directly from your dashboard.

This feature, in concert with more in-depth reviews, marks a shift from a directory of plugin downloads to more of a WordPress “App Store” mentality: when you are logged in to your account, you can easily find and download your favorite plugins. The directory, armed with better ratings and review, will show higher-rated plugins first. All from inside WordPress instead of on the WordPress.org website.

This reviews implementation is a big next for the plugin directory, and is likely the first  step of many. I look forward to seeing what is planned for the directory, as well as the WordPress platform as a whole.


Notes as a Plugin Developer

  • On each plugin page, you can grab an RSS feed of the reviews, which will be helpful for responding to review comments. This is functionally similar to the plugin Support forum.
  • I really, really like this change. It will help good plugins get discovered.
  • Plugin authors can now respond to their critics! Re: Marco Arment.

Feature Request: Per-Version Ratings

Each review prominently displays the date of the review. I’m hoping that WordPress segment reviews on a per-version basis, like what Apple does in their App Store. There would be two charts: ratings for all versions, and ratings for the current version.

WordPress.org Changes Plugin Page Layout

WordPress.org plugin page layout change likely for usability

Wordpress.org plugin page from 2008
What the WordPress.org plugin page used to look like.

A couple of weeks ago, WordPress.org changed the layout of their plugins directory plugin pages. The update was likely to improve usability for users trying to determine whether a plugin is trustworthy and what it does. I believe the re-arranging of the page has achieved those goals.

The update removes author links

The layout redesign removes links to the official plugin page. I believe this makes it more difficult for users trying to get support on plugins.

Removing links also affects plugin authors. One of the ways that plugin authors are “rewarded” for creating plugins used to be a link from the WordPress.org website. This resulted in two things: increased traffic to the author’s website and some passed SEO value from the WordPress website to the author’s website.

I recommend all authors to go back through their readme.txt files and add a link to their support pages. Continue reading “WordPress.org Changes Plugin Page Layout”