A Guide to Sourcing and Evaluating Plugins – Tim Nash (WordCamp Manchester 2014)

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Tim Nash once wrote a plugin… that’s how he begins his talk, reminiscing about how he spoke at the previous WordCamp Manchester. He had to close the plugin down, and help customers find other plugins! Therefore, he qualifies to speaking about plugins (and particularly, bad plugins!)

An Introduction

So, a theme is apparently a plugin, but with the job of displaying a design on the frontend. He lists the different types of extensions for WordPress, including plugins, drop-ins, themes, extensions, templates, and MU plugins. He says, “the thing I like about plugins is that they can do anything!” Essentially, it’s just a bunch of PHP that can do whatever they like.

Finding Plugins & Installation

Installing a plugin, apparently isn’t great to be done with SFTP/FTP. You could also use the admin interface, or the WP-CLI Command Line plugin. “Plugins can be good, and can also be terrible!” – he then jokes about the white screen of death. “Who knew there was a video player built into the WordPress Core?” Around half the hands in the room go up.

Before installing a plugin, look in the core and see if we actually need a plugin, as there’s more than you think pre-included in the WordPress software.

And where should you look to find plugins? WordPress.org, GitHub, Individual sites, and VIP WordPress (mostly designed specifically for .com) Apparently, don’t use CodeCanyon! “It’s a pile of s**te!” Well, as a developer for them myself, I kinda disagree with that statement…

Tim then goes ahead and quotes Tom McFarlin, who works for Envato (the guys behind CodeCanyon – maybe not the best thing to quote if he hates them so much).

Does It Do Its Job?

Finding out if the plugin does the job it’s designed to do is super important, and finding out if it loads lots of CSS or JavaScript, making the site slower to load. Does it need to call home? Does it need to make calls to a remote resource? Again, he emphasis, “Does it do the job?”

But wait, then, he thinks that you may actually need to load extra resources, so maybe, these plugins are needed after all.

Big Plugin vs. Single Purpose

“The bigger the plugin, the bigger than change it’ll do lots of things mediocre-ly.” Nothing wrong with them, but Jetpack, for example, isn’t always necessary if you’re not using all of its features. Thankfully, if you like, for example, the social sharing buttons in Jetpack, you can choose to just install that segment as part of its own plugin.

Free vs. Commercial vs. Freemium

Expectations of premium plugins are higher, but you can’t always guarantee quality from them. Freemiums are great, because you can try something out on a simple level, and then you’re forced to buy the premium version with that feature you really wanted. “If that doesn’t happen, they’ve not done their job right.”

Shouldn’t Plugins All Just Work?

Well, as a user, yes! But as a developer, not always. For example, Google Analytics have over 100 plugins which add maybe 8 lines of code… :)

Most plugins do things which others don’t, but then they’re all very specific, and again, they add hardly any code. You only need to add your own code which you need to your theme, and then you’ve bypassed the need for yet another plugin.

Is Item Support Required?

“Good plugins have great support, great plugins don’t need good support… but you should still provide it!”

No Such Thing As Too Many Plugins!

It’s the quality of the plugins, not the quantity. Look at the one’s which you’re not using, and not only deactivate them, but delete them from your plugins folder. He’d rather have 50 plugins doing everything well, than 1 plugin doing lots of things badly.

Development Sites

“Test/Dev sites are not optional” – don’t need to be an exact replica, as they’re just where you test things. So, enable WP_DEBUG, P3P Plugin Performance Profiler, X-Debug, and VIP Scanner (this one, mainly for themes).

Final Words

“If you want a fast, stable, reliable site, use a static site generator! For the rest of us, use common sense.” And, really, that’s it! “The End – go forth and pluginate!”

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