The act of adopting an abandoned plugin reminds me of adopting an orphaned child. On the one hand, the new parents are taking on someone who they didn’t help raise thus far, which forces them to “learn” the ways of the new child to communicate well with them. On the other hand, the new parent is left with the fear that there will come a day that the old parent will come to claim their rights on the child.
The analogy I brought can go some way in building an intuition about the problem of orphaned plugins, but if we want to go beyond just intuition we need to take a more in-depth look at the subject. I hope such a look will inspire a discussion that will benefit us all.
The chase for a faster plugin installation
My prime example for an orphan plugin for this post will be the “Improved Plugin Installation” plugin. What is it:
This plugin is an improvement to the current WP 2.7 plugin installation methods. It allows you to install one or more plugins simply by typing their names or download URLs in a textarea.
This means you can install all your favorite WordPress plugins in one go!
Furthermore, a bookmarklet is included which lets you install plugins directly from an external plugin download page. (See screenshots tab)
Sounds heavenly. Why? because the “add a plugin” feature that Automattic introduced, And the already existing, “One Click Plugin Updater” – where both lacking in exactly what “Improved Plugin Installation” came to solve. That is – they didn’t allow for a massive, fast, easy way to upload a lot of (predefined) plugins in one time. This is, to my opinion, the biggest cost effective solution for a bottleneck in today’s WordPress installation, and it was solved! Or was it?
After the release of WP 2.8, me and others suddenly discovered that “Improved Plugin Installation” stopped working. 5 Months later, after seeing that no programmer came forward to fix the problem, I published the cry on the forums “An orphan plugin is looking to be updated: “Improved Plugin Installation” “, 5 days have passed, and no one replied.
So what do you think should happen next?
This question is directed at you, the reader. But with your permission, I will assume my prerogative.
The first one is that there is a need for someone (who knows plugin programming) to take on himself to fix “Improved Plugin Installation” for WordPress 2.8+. This conclusion is the easy one.
The bigger question here is what is the pattern behind the story. What is missing in our community that we do not adopt orphaned plugins? My personal answer (and I hope for yours as well) is the further improvement of the “Compatibility” section in the WordPress Plugin Directory.
Up until now the Compatibility window gave an action item for just two audiences: The plugin users (don’t download the file) and the plugin authors (Maybe I should fix my plugin). But there is a third audience who are not being addressed. That is the other developers in the community. Imagine that a plugin is voted incompatible (above X consensus level), for T amount of time. I hope that there is a system e-mailing the plugin author letting him know that his plugin is having issues (I don’t know if there is). But what if the problem persists longer? Maybe we should have another page, for other developers to let them know that a plugin is suspect of being abandoned.
Maybe developers should commit, when uploading a plugin, to saying after what amount of time, should the system consider their plugin as an orphaned one – and to go look for someone else to be its parent.
I don’t have the right answer, but I hope one of you will.
About the author:
Tal Galili is passionate for WebActivism, WordPress and Statistics. He was proud to have helped with the organizing of WordCamp Israel 2007 and WordCamp Israel 2008, and is hoping to see another one in 2010. Tal Galili writes (about the web and beyond) in Hebrew, and will start writing (on statistics) in English at Statistics and R