WordPress has seen great development in the plugin software marketplace over the past many years. Plugins are pieces of code that attach into WordPress’s core software to provide greater functionality for the software in so many ways. Both the development of brand new WordPress plugins, and the upgrading of existing ones, occur based on both internal and external reasons: An upgrade to the core WordPress software can allow for the expansion of plugin opportunity, or another plugin provides incentive to provide some features that can dovetail into that plugin. Of course, other web-based software development can also tie into this, from social media to payment gateways to brand new online software offerings. And importantly, the life of the company or person developing the plugin in the first place can come into play – more opportunity for sales in a plugin may lead to greater development, or competition from another company, or just the amount of time that the programmer has to focus on the software.
The same can hold true for the end-of-life of plugins. Change of everything leads to the constant question of whether a plugin is going to remain viable. As web designers, we tend to follow the beaten path when we can – the popular plugins in terms of installations, the ones that have created a revenue flow, the ones that have a regular history of upgrades – those are the ones we tend to choose. We do not want to go down the dead end of a dead plugin if we can help it. But, as all things in all marketplaces, you can’t know everything.
Which leads us to an important issue for today – how to plan for dead or dying plugins?
There are some clear practices to use in selecting plugins. Popular plugins in installations, and plugins that have a clear “premium” revenue line feel safer than ones that have neither of those attributes. Plugins that have been around a while, that have a track record of upgrades and updates, that have a history of responses to questions and issues, are preferable if possible.
But at some point you have to look at a plugin and wonder what the plan is for it. If it hasn’t been updated in a while, if it doesn’t have much in the way of approving reviews, if nothing is being responded to in the Support area for the plugin lately, you have to start wondering. And it might be time to be proactive with the plugin author.
Sometimes plugins that become dead ends can be easily rerouted with another plugin. Sometimes, though, you can be building towards a future rebuild.
How do you avoid disaster?
First of all, don’t rely on iffy plugins – those plugins that are unpopular, are not updated, don’t have a revenue line, have obviously poor customer support.
Another idea is to look for plugins developed by someone with multiple plugins available. That’s a commitment to plugin development, not just a sideline. They are more likely in it for the long haul.
The WordPress Plugin industry is maturing. There are bigger firms sometimes acquiring smaller firms. Yes, the bigger firms sometimes cost more. Sometimes that is your insurance that the plugin will be maintained. Particularly if that plugin is key to the functionality of your web site.
Keep in the loop with your plugin developers. Most of them have a feed of some sort – Twitter, Facebook… get in it. Bookmark their plugin pages for easy reference. Don’t be afraid to contact them if you have questions. Do be concerned if you get no response.
Build a library of backup options. You picked that form plugin for a reason. Keep a record of the other candidates and why you didn’t you use them. Look at that market again from time to time.
From time to time, review the last updated version of ALL your plugins. Anything older than a year, you really have to understand why that is. It could be fine… not everything changes from version to version of WordPress and PHP and impacted by greater demands of security. But so much is.
There is a theme. Keep in the loop with your plugins, or hire somebody who will.