Information Scent: Deciphering the WordPress plugin repository.

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Choosing a plugin would be easier if WordPress permitted a little more repository information. Author-generated advice is untrustworthy because it’s biased. Popularity (number of installs) is, also, a lame indicator. Newer plugins sometimes are better. We can’t search on freshness.

We seek indicators of credibility (which is composed of expertise, trustworthiness, and leadership). These findability cues are sometimes referred to as information scent. These things are inferred in the plugin repository – or are discovered by downloading. They include:

1. Download file size. This is a potential indicator of plugin efficiency. Not always but frequently. If we have alternatives, we recommend the smallest plugin package to avoid bloat. Why doesn’t WordPress just tell us file size before downloading or having to click? Editorializing download links is considered polite and good web etiquette.

2. Date of first approval or submission. Longevity in the market is an indicator of credibility. At present, we either must open the download package and examine the readme.txt for a change history – or figure it out in the repository by compatibility to the oldest version of WordPress. Like a reverse-lookup. Do we have to use Wikipedia? That still doesn’t really tell first-release date of the plugin.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WordPress#Release_history

3. Similar or newer plugins should be listed as linked options. Popularity doesn’t always mean “best.” It may just mean old or antiquated. Inference from similar plugins (if listed) helps cue us for plugin usage and adaptation (workarounds).

4. Does the plugin require a signup or registration? In other words, is it bait?

5. Does the plugin interrogate an offsite database or cloud information? This is an indicator of slower load times (page speed) and HTTP requests.

This information and more would make for better productivity using the repository. There isn’t enough information when making choices.

There are a few other things we’d love to see. But we’re being idealistic in our wish list. These include answering plugin questions such as:

  • Does the plugin have hidden non-features? For example, some image optimization plugins have limitations of image-conversion quantity. The repository says nothing about it. Nor does the readme.txt file. You must install first to find this bugaboo out.
  • Are there known incompatibilities or conflicts with other plugins or themes? Sometimes authors only reveal this in the readme.txt file. That wastes our time.

 

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