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Abandoned WordPress Plugins: Interview with Matt Jones of WP Recycle

Posted on by in Interviews

Matt Jones is the co-founder of Visioniz.com, a Denver, Colorado based team focused on making useful products for small businesses. One of their projects is PluginChief, a WordPress plugin shop that provides premium plugins and ongoing support. I caught up with Matt recently to talk about a new project of theirs called WP Recycle, a plugin recycling program.

WPHub: As of today, there are just over 22,000 plugins in the WordPress repository. Of those, do you have any idea how many have been updated in the past year? 

Matt Jones: I know over 14,000 of the plugins have been updated in the past 2 years, though I don’t know how many of those were updated in the past year.  That means about 8,000 plugins haven’t been updated in over two years.  So that’s nearly 1 in 3 plugins that are outdated.

WPHub: Back in August, 2011, Siobhan McKeown over at WPMU did a fascinating analysis of the plugin repository. Has anything major changed since then? Has it gotten any better? Or worse?

Matt Jones: Nothing much has changed with the repository, the stats seem pretty stagnant, hasn’t gotten much worse, but definitely not better. The only thing WordPress did related to outdated plugins was automatically hide them from searches. I think that’s a start, and it’s probably decreasing frustration levels when looking for a solid plugin, but it doesn’t address the issue, it hides it.

WPHub: Why do abandoned plugins matter? Should the average WordPress user really care? 

Matt Jones: Let’s first define abandoned plugins, because my definition, is not the same as WordPress’ – in fact they don’t have a definition. The age notice isn’t there to indicate that a plugin is abandoned or bad, it’s there to get plugin authors who care about their plugins to actively update them, adjust their readme.txt files, read the support forums, etc. It’s to encourage author participation, not necessarily to indicate dead plugins.  A plugin that has gone 2 years without updates can be perfectly fine.

The danger with outdated plugins is they could simply not work at all, crash your site, prevent other plugins from working, or leaving your site vulnerable to security threats.  Depending on the WordPress user, this is a issue, some users need support, others don’t, and can fix the plugins them selves, but for those who can’t fix up the errors, they are sadly left in the dark.

WPHub: I know you’re passionate about figuring out a solution for abandoned plugins. From the WordPress leadership perspective, what do you recommend be done?

Matt Jones: I think making the repository a market place, where authors could choose to charge for support and updates would motivate authors to maintain their plugins.

WPHub: From the plugin developer’s perspective, why does the issue of abandoned plugins matter?

Matt Jones: Plugin developers have incentives to increase downloads, especially if they are planning on supporting them. Having the repository full of outdated plugins distracts attention from the supported, well working ones. For plugin developers, it’s frustrating not getting as much attention, as a broken outdated plugin.

WPHub: Tell me about WP Recycle. What is your plan for tackling the issue?

Matt Jones: WP Recycle is a project we started where we take submissions of abandoned plugins, and try to bring them back alive. We prefer submissions from authors, it’s much easier to adopt the plugin from the author, then try and hunt them down to see if they will allow us to adopt the plugin. Every plugin that we recycle, will be free on the repository still, but in order to prevent the plugins from going abandoned again, we will eventually charge for support and add ons. That’s a realistic way to handle the issue, but I don’t think it is a solution.

WPHub: Look ahead a year from now. Do you think the issue of abandoned plugins the repository will be resolved? If so, how do you think it will happen? If not, why not?  

Matt Jones: I don’t think the issue of abandoned plugins will be resolved in a year, it will need more time. In order to be resolved, it will have to be WordPress that takes the initial steps to cleaning up the repository. When that will be? No idea, as far as I know, there is no further development on anything to improve the repository.

A huge thanks to Matt for his time today! If you have questions for Matt or feedback on the points raised, leave them in the comments below.

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Comments (1)

Comment by ScottN says:

You know what we need? A plug-in that checks your active plug-ins and tells you if any are ‘abandoned’ (i.e. have not had any updates in 1 or 2 years).

Right now, WP site owners think their sites are “updated” (thus secure) if they have the core, plug-ins and themes updated. In reality, they could have any number of abandoned, vulnerable plug-ins installed. Having everything “updated” provides a false sense of security.

Thoughts?

– Scott

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