Continuing on with our theme of support this month, we can look at Otto’s example for how plugin authors support their work.
The first time I met Otto was at WordCamp Kansas City 2012. We started talking and he let slip that he was in the process of handing over support of his Simple Facebook Connect, the most popular and well-developed Facebook, to the duplicate plugin that Facebook themselves had developed. He explained that he had helped the Facebook team develop all the right features, and was satisfied with their quality and it was time to let them support it.
I asked why he was letting them own it, and he explained that his users would be better supported by Facebook than just him, and now that it had caught on, he was ready to go develop the next plugin.
That’s amazing support. Make sure your users get the best experience possible to the point that you can recommend other solutions to them that might work better than yours.
As a WordPress site owner, when you’re on the hunt for a good plugin, there are usually a dozen or so on the market that seem identical. How are you supposed to know which plugin is going to be the best one for your site?
To put it another way, not every plugin is going to be as dutifully supported by an Otto, but you want to install the plugin that is going to be as close as possible. You want the best supported plugin.
The goal with a plugin — or your theme, or hosting for that matter — is to download it once, and then have it “just work” for a long time into the future. That means the plugins developer needs to be committed to supporting the plugin for the future. So what can you look for in your research to make sure you’re getting the best plugin?
What signs should you look for that a plugin gets proper care and feeding from its developer?
It’s in the WordPress.org Plugin repository
This one is going to be obvious for everyone familiar with WordPress, and non-obvious for folks who are starting to learn. Most plugins that are worth their salt (there are a few exceptions) are available for download at wordpress.org/plugins. If a plugin isn’t in the .org repository, the chances are that the code hasn’t been properly vetted for quality. Gravity Forms is a notable exception. Because it is a paid plugin with no free option it cannot be in the repository.
Highest WordPress version it’s compatible with
Is the plugin compatible with the latest version of WordPress? Is it compatible with the current WordPress beta version? If the plugin is compatible with the most recent stable version, or the beta, then the developer is keeping it up to date. However, if you’re seeing the plugin is only compatible with an older version of WordPress, you should move on to the next one.
What are other people saying about the plugin? Do they love it, or are the reviews mixed? This one probably doesn’t need more explanation.
Number of Downloads
It’s not always true that the most downloaded plugin is the best one, but in most cases, the plugin with the most downloads is getting regular attention from the developer, and is a safe bet.
Number of versions in the changelog
If you go to
wordpress.org/plugins/fooplugin/changelog/, you’ll see the code updates that support new features or fix bugs on the plugin. A regular string of updates means that the plugin is getting great support from its developer.
Are there forums? How active are they?
WordPress.org will let plugin users ask questions in forums dedicated to the plugin. If you’re curious how active the plugin author is supporting the plugin, check through the forums and see how regularly the plugin author pops in to help users with the plugin. Also look for how the users help each other out – they may be as valuable a source of answers as the developer.
How detailed are the install instructions?
Plugins are simple to install, but if they have a number of features, setting them up can be a challenge. Check for detailed documentation with screenshots. The easier the developer makes it on you here, the more user-friendly the rest of the plugin is apt to be.
Is the FAQ well-documented?
Same principle. Are there a lot of questions about the plugin answered here, or is it a bit sparse?
Are there positive reviews or other users raving about the plugin?
Google around and check on Twitter for mentions and reviews. The easier it is to find stellar reviews, the more likely other users love using the plugin, and love the support provided.
Did we miss anything? How do you judge the quality of a plugin before you download it?