In: , ,
On: 2010 / 09 / 18
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Recently, as part of a broader redesign, the plugin pages on have begun to reshape. There are some nice addition, for instance now voting that a plugin is broken sends you directly to the support forum to state your problem. But there are changes that I strongly dislike, in particular the removal of the author name and URL, and many think that way.

What it used to be

Here is a screenshot from the Themes sections, which I believe currently looks like what plugin pages used to:

The main things I liked were that the Author name was instantly visible in the main column as part of a rather important information, while the sidebar consisted in three strong areas:

  • Main links: download or preview, the mandatory "click here" stuff you don't want to look for
  • More about the plugin & author: this section was a bit poor at the time but had at least some valuable info
  • "Additional Evaluation Information": what can give you, in a glance, an idea of how popular, broken, neat or unknown the plugin is. The rating may or may not be meaningful depending on the number of votes, and the last few forum posts quickly tell the mood of users.

What it's now

As of writing, the redesign of the plugin page looks like this:

The nice ideas: a quick description to make sure in a second you need the plugin, important information about WP compatibility and requirements, a compatibility form.

The weak points:

  • I have mixed feelings towards the compatibility form, which lets people vote on older versions of WP/plugins, as if it was OK to use one or the other. I think it would be best to see past ratings to have an opinion on how the plugin used to perform, but be able to vote only on the latest combination.
  • The "last updated" bit is minor. Honestly, I don't care if the plugin was updated yesterday or two months ago. Or maybe I do care if there has been a new WP release in the past weeks. And maybe it was the first update in months. Or maybe it's never updated because it just works and don't rely on complicated WP APIs that evolved recently. As is, I think this information is just useless.
  • The rating is over promoted, above plugin information, when it's actually of little to no interest on 90% of the plugin pages. Overall, minor information and major stuff are randomly mixed all over the sidebar

The suck points: No author and plugin link??!

This is important information and not just vanity links: it allows recognizing some known names, but more importantly it allows browsing the other plugins from the same author, which you cannot do any longer.
Now, if you want to show your name, you have to insert it manually in the readme.txt and list yourself as a contributor. So, you have to enter redundant information, while other existing data from the readme or plugin file is simply ignored.
The reasons for this removal are: "links convert better when manually inserted" and "links are redundant now that there is a support forum on". So, now you have to scan the whole page to see if links exists, and, what I really, really, reaaaally dislike: "please use our site, don't use yours". So long for freedom and choice.

I'm not even covering the "marketing" topic: how many freelancers got gigs after someone found a plugin on the repository and thought "I'd like something similar but tweaked for my own use"?

My proposal on how it could be

I'd be an ass if all I said was "that sucks" and did not give constructive criticism, so hopefully here is some.

In my mockup (in HTML if you want to check for real) I think the sidebar is better organized: first, the main information; then, everything about the plugin, including outgoing links; finally the "Additional Evaluation Info". Oh, notice all the way down a little block giving some information on the author and what he has done. Since plugin authors get no love, why not give them some then, especially when it's easy and free?

The author name also gets promotion near the plugin name. Again, I think it's important information, besides obvious respect and consideration for being involved in the community. I'd rather read that a plugin is from Yoast or Viper007Bond than just seeing there are 5 stars after 3 votes.

By all means, I'm not saying my mockup is perfect. There are even some information I would probably take out if I was in charge, like the "last updated" bit, or the development log link which leads to highly uninteresting stuff.

Final words

I'm all for changing stuff when they can be improved. I'm fully aware that this is a work in progress and things are never final. The current iteration leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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This entry "Plugin Pages on WordPress: Before, Now, and My Take" was posted on 18/09/2010 at 7:30 pm and is tagged with , ,
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22 Blablas

  1. Stephanie Leary says:

    Agreed on all counts! I've often used the plugin author's name to distinguish between those with generic names — e.g. "Justin Tadlock's Members plugin" — and now that info is gone, for reasons I find pretty silly given that the author name is right there in every plugin header. The plugin homepage link is always good when you're looking for bug reports, since a lot of people go directly to the author rather than using the forum — but maybe that pattern will change.

    The changes make the repo even more dependant on those awkward readme.txt files. If we're stuck with them, I think there needs to be an official readme generator in the dev tools. There are a couple of unofficial ones out there, but they never seem to be quite in sync with the latest specs… and I know I'm not the only plugin author who finds Markdown unintuitive and frustrating. The validator helps, but why not just provide a quick form to generate the file to spec in the first place?

    I do like the addition of the short description, but I'm frustrated with the rest of the changes.

  2. scribu says:

    On most plugin pages, you will see the list of authors (complete with avatars) at the bottom, above the tags. Example:

    Don't know why it's not showing up for the WordPress Font Uploader plugin.

  3. Ozh says:

    scribu » you need to explicitly add "Contributors: scribu" to the readme. My plugins didn't show my name until earlier today when I updated all the readme's.

  4. Otto says:

    Few thoughts:
    – I like the graph.
    – The "See what others are saying" will become more prominent.
    – Authors may move around more. But having Contributor data in the readme is still going to be required. The goal is to encourage more authors on plugins. As I see it, single author-plugins should be de-emphasized (IMO, of course). It's better for users to have well-tested and well-supported plugins, and this means building community around your plugins.
    – Accordingly, "about the author" doesn't make any sense as the goal is to have more than one author. The best plugins do/will.
    – Rating is staying up top because we want people to rate things.

    I have a few other ideas, but that's enough for now. Nacin is starting his talk at #wcbhm10. :)

  5. Ozh says:

    Otto » Thanks for the comments. As for building communities around a plugin, I think it's what the plugin's page is for.

  6. Frank says:

    Great graph.
    Actual it is thinking, the author is not realy interested for WordPress. The plugin-pages use the traffic from the authors of the plugins and give only small feedback. I hope the team use your ideas.

  7. George Burley says:

    "The goal is to encourage more authors on plugins. As I see it, single author-plugins should be de-emphasized (IMO, of course). It’s better for users to have well-tested and well-supported plugins, and this means building community around your plugins."

    So now that the Thesis GPL issue is over, single author plugins = the devil. Community developed plugins = the golden child.

    While we are at it let's de-emphasize the marginalize the authors who spend valuable time making plugins by removing their credit links from plugin navigation where people are used to accessing them.

    The socialization of WordPress continues.

  8. Otto says:

    Not sure I said that…

    Just saying that I want to encourage collaboration amongst plugin authors and plugin users and to build a better community.

    Remember, I'm a plugin author too.

  9. Heatcliff says:

    I agree on the 'Compatibility' tab with you there. That particular bit of information has helped me pick good plugins thus far. No sense in installing something that doesn't work now is it?

    Also, the author bit is nice. Credit where credit's due I say.

    I hope wordpress listens ;)

  10. Tom says:

    Very well said – I absolutely look at the author name.

    In some cases – when I am looking for new plugins, the author name will definitely help me if I know that another plugin by that same author was good.

    Also – on additional websites, instead of hopping back and forth the get the right plugin, and not a closely named copy that doesn't work as well… (I guess using WP as MU would fix some of that).

  11. Richard says:

    Agree on all counts. Well, almost; I like to know when something was last updated – if it was up to me, authors would be forced to put in the date on each version number in the changelog. If something is updated often (and the changelog shows nice additions/refinement in functionality, and not just bug fixes), it says to me that the author is active and the plugin will always stay current (hopefully!).

  12. Ozh says:

    Richard » The thing is, some plugins just *don't* need an update. Code something using simple APIs and it'll last forever.

  13. Simon says:

    Agreed – the current layout and priorities are very confusing. It doesn't feel as if the high standards of UI planning and design applied to the WordPress application itself have been applied here.

    Otto said: "The goal is to encourage more authors on plugins. As I see it, single author-plugins should be de-emphasized"

    This is a completely artificial distinction.

    A plugin's community is made up of far more than the author(s). There are plenty of great plugins written by one person who listens and responds to users on the support forums and comments on their own website.

    Many (if not most) people who submit ideas and highlight bugs are end-users, not coders, so they simply couldn't become a co-author.

  14. chris says:

    i was disappointed as well that the plugin link and author link was removed, i found that really handy, if its not listed on the actual plugin description then you have to hunt around on your own to find it.

    they should really add that back.

  15. Patrick Daly says:

    The author/plugin page links were among the first things I clicked on prior to their removal. You can tell a lot from visiting someone's site or find much more valuable information. I get that people want to move all that info to the plugin pages, but obviously the plugin pages haven't (and still don't, IMO) offered the best solution.

    For me, its less about giving the author credit and more about giving the users (and other developers) as much information as possible.

  16. demetris says:

    “The goal is to encourage more authors on plugins. As I see it, single author-plugins should be de-emphasized (IMO, of course). It’s better for users to have well-tested and well-supported plugins, and this means building community around your plugins.”

    Excuse me, Otto, but that’s utter nonsense!

    Code quality has nothing to do with number of authors.

    Is ozh’s Better Feed not the best of its kind because ozh is a single person? (I don’t even remember how it looks. I set it up once in a couple of sites and then forgot it’s there.)

    Is your Executable PHP Widget not the best of its kind because you are a single person?

    Is HeadSpace2 not the best plugin for no-nonsense WordPress SEO because John Godley is a single person?

    Is XML Sitemaps not the only absolutely must-have plugin just because Arne Brachhold is a single person?

    Is PHP Markdown Extra not among the absolutely best WP plugins just because Michel Fortin is a single person?

    And, please someone explain to me, what are the plugins that become automatically better than their equivalents simply because they are authored my multiple persons?

    Also, importantly, author does not have to be a single person. If the plugin has multiple authors, the author link may very well point to the web presence of the team behind the plugin. (E.g., to the site of the WPtouch folks.)

    I recognize that the Author Homepage link may be tricky to handle in some cases of multiple-authors plugins, but that’s something the authors can very well deal with on their own. No need for to jump in and dictate how this will be done.

    Finally, even if we all agree that your reasoning behind the removal of the author links makes perfect sense, why were the links to the plugins homepages removed too?

    Ozh, thanks for your time to write about this. For me, your mockup would be perfect with two small changes:

    1. Remove completely the short description from the individual screens. It is not needed there and just takes vertical space.

    2. Simplify the requirements box a bit more:

    Requires WordPress: 3.0
    Compatible up to: 9.9


  17. Rahul Bansal says:

    Nice idea Ozh.
    I have one suggestion.
    As sidebar in your mockup is going to be longer – each "widget" in sidebar can made to have a "notch" to expand/collapse. That way we can have more "widgets" giving more details.
    In addition to above, a users per widget setting (expand/collapse preference) can be remembered in cookies.
    Just my $0.02 :-)

  18. What's the first thing I click when visiting a plugin's page in the repo? The link to the plugin's page on the author's site. I often do this before ever downloading the plugin.

    For my own plugins, I don't care about the ridiculously insignificant amount of traffic the plugin repository sends my way. But, I do care about figuring out who wrote other plugins and what other information they might have about it on their own sites.

    In the "Plugin Information" box, the last updated time is something I rarely look at. Assuming the plugin was coded using proper WordPress functions, this is mostly irrelevant. I've used plugins written two years ago that are better coded (and still work wonderfully) than some plugins written a week ago. The last updated time is not a good measuring stick for figuring out how good a plugin is.

    The one thing I prefer from the current look over your example mockup is the authors' avatars listed on the plugin's main page. This works well when there are multiple authors for the plugin.

  19. Mike Koepke says:

    This is a great post. The new plugin page is a step backwards imho. As Ozh points out, the author information is critical information that is lost. Yes the author's nickname is still there on the very bottom of the page, but for plugins with long descriptions, you have to scroll down and down and down.

    When looking at new plugins, many times I click on the plugin link or the author link to get more information. Additionally some plugins are very complex and require further explanation and "tutorials" located on the athour's site. Previously these links were very prominent.

    Speaking of author's name, the removal/deprecating of the name is a poor decision. Not all plugin author's are created equal and when I spot a new plugin, I will immediately look at the author to help me judge if I'd like to spend the time toying with it. Some authors such ozh, yoost or coffee2code are in high regard by me and I like to see their latest works or updates. Similar are plugins from Automattic (or it's employees) themselves. Many plugin authors provide their plugins for free and spending their own time developing. The wealth and breadth of WordPress plugins is what help to make WP what it is and it's only fitting that Automattic and/or the WordPress Foundation give these authors some appropriate credit.

    I love Ozh's counter-proposal and believe it is much more professional and "social" than the redesign.

  20. Hi Ozh,

    Great post and I totally agree with you (well almost). I'll repeat a couple of points from my comment on the wpdevel post:

    As a user, I’ve found that *most* plugins have extra information, comments, etc on the plugin home page on the authors site. The removed link to the plugin home page is something I clicked a lot.

    It seems that quite a few others leaving comments here also click the link to the plugin page. I think there is demand for those links to be included.

    I take Matt’s argument that this link can be added to the content area, but a) the vast majority of plugins aren’t going to have this and b) those that does will have it in a slightly different location.

    End result, instead of having a *consistent place* on *all* plugin pages where I can easily find this link, I have to search for it and in many cases it won’t even be there. There’s a term for that sort of thing:

    Usability fail

    I really think that making people search for a link that may not even be there is terrible for the user experience.

    Your design would fix that problem and is far better than the current one (no offence Otto, I know it's a work in progress). However, I think it would be worth throwing in some user testing, with real users (not just us plugin developers) and see which design elements work and which don't.

    From my understanding, that was why 2.7 Admin was so well received in comparison to 2.5 – because they did some user testing with 2.7. At least that's what this post from Jane Wells seems to say:

    So why not do some user testing on the redesign? It doesn't have to be expensive testing – there are many cheap options available.

    As for the multiple author plugin issue mentioned in the comments below, why not just turn the About the Author area into an About the Authors area and repeat the author information for each of them? They'd need to store the author's URL in their profile but that can't be hard – the author's URL is currently stored in the forum profile, but not the plugin/extend one (aren't these being consolidated anyway?).

  21. Oscar says:

    Totally agree. where did the author and site links go? I use those all the time to see what else is available by the author. I also like the website link where you can see who makes the plugin and generally get a good feel of their commitment to the plugin. IMO.

    I'm surprised that these links were removed without looking at the statistics. As other people mentioned before, these were some of the first links I'd click upon finding a new plugin or theme.

    I hope they get put back or entirely improve the screen as you've suggested Ozh.

  22. Matt says:

    Thanks for your feedback! As you've noticed it's in flux, and will probably change a lot before we're done. Don't be surprised if some of your ideas make it in. :)

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