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Should Plugin Authors Add Links To Your Site Without Giving An Option To Disable It?

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February 13th, 2010
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Quite recently, I was trying out a few new plugins which came across as interesting to me. As usual, I ran up my test install and installed the plugins, everything worked fine, except for one thing. Couple of plugins from the lot added linkbacks to their own site, that is fine, however, they did not provide me with an option to disable those links.

This brought up a few questions to my mind. I will list out the most important one’s below.

  • Are interesting plugins being developed to enhance SEO and backlinks to sites?
  • Why would I as a developer not want to provide an option to disable a link, when I am providing an open source software? Isn’t it curtailing choice? Which is anti open source?

I have used several plugins which do add links, however they provide users with an option to enable or disable links to their site. I usually decide to not show the links for several reasons, and instead donate to the plugin developer so that they can continue development and support for the plugin.

Quite sometime back a similar thing happened with a pretty popular plugin which was created by a startup which is now big, I complained to them about it, however, they did not provide an option and I went ahead and disabled the plugin.

To make it clear, the problem here is not about adding links to a site you do not own, the problem is adding it without allowing users an option or them knowing. Several people have told me about plugins taking over their admin dashboard and adding widgets without giving them an option, so taking over a site and adding links to it is certainly not appreciated. Isn’t it called hacking?

All aside, I decided not to use plugins who do this, and yes, I could have edited the code to remove the links, but what about others? My philosophy is that Open source is all about giving free choices, not curtailing them.

I came out strongly as I do not really appreciate open source without choices. What about you?

Disclaimer: I am a plugin developer and have developed numerous plugins. However, I have not tried to add links to the main site as far as my plugins go, except for WPAU, where a link was placed on the home page of the user to the plugin page, when the site was put into maintenance mode. This link remained there for a few seconds at the most.

Update: I did not read Mark Jaquith’s post before posting this, but you can read his post here. Plugins which follow this will be removed from the WordPress plugin repository.

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39
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Comments

  1. Ashfame (12 comments.) says:

    It should give user the option to enable or disable it with the default being disabled (as being discussed on Mark’s blog)

  2. Ronald Huereca (32 comments.) says:

    It’s just downright shady not to include an option to remove a credit link.

  3. Viper007Bond (91 comments.) says:

    If the plugin is hosted on WP.org, then report the plugin to Mark. This is not allowed. :)

    http://markjaquith.wordpress.c.....-from-dir/

    (see #5)

  4. Jonathan Dingman (1 comments.) says:

    I’ve had issues with plugins that force links, in which I will likely remove the code from the plugin manually or just not use the plugin.

    If you’re going to have a linkback, you should definitely offer an easy way to remove it, so it’s an optional linkback.

  5. Mark Jaquith (5 comments.) says:

    For those who think it should default to on:

    Why default to “on” ? Does your answer have anything to do with the fact that people may never visit your plugin’s options page, might not be able to find your plugin’s options page, or might not notice that a link has been inserted? It seems much more decent to ask them, and display the link only if they agree, than to insert the link without asking, and give them the option to eject it.

    • Hikari (14 comments.) says:

      And how should the asking be done? Have a dashboard intrusive yellow message “Hey! Please go to my plugin admin page and please enable a link to my site!”?

      In the same way you suppose that a noob is not willing to credit a plugin and is not being able to find out how to disable it, I can suppose he likes the plugin and want to credit, but can’t find out how.

      Spam stuff is one thing, but credit a develop for his work is another. Having the link as default is not abuse the user, if he wants he can disable it on the same page he sets all other configs.

      If he doesn’t bother with either and will just leave default regardless of what it is, better have the link than not.

      • Peter Holloway (1 comments.) says:

        I agree with you Hikari, they might just be trying to get credit for themselves, and people who don’t bother changing options just don’t care.

    • WP Developer says:

      It should default to “on” because someone has spent a serious amount of time building a plugin that will add (possibly huge) value to the blog and they are offering it free of charge and with the freedom to change as you wish.

      Simply having a clear option on where they can remove the link is more than fair. If you apply this same logic to themes, you’d have to kill most of the themes in the repo. Saying themes are different is BS. Themes take the same time commitment (sometimes even less) that it takes to develop a plugin.

      If a plugin inserts links that you are not okay with, turn off the link or turn off the plugin. No one forces you to use a plugin. I’ve turned off many plugins that were overly aggresive… a pinging one that is pretty famous comes to mind.

  6. dgrut (2 comments.) says:

    Backlink for plugin developer?? Why not?
    Its at least appreciation to developer, i dont mind if plugin developer ask for link but please dont force to it. I would agree for link of the free plugin developer, its espesially under its widget.

  7. Nicolas (25 comments.) says:

    I’m pretty much on the same page as Keith. Most of the time I don’t want it to show up but will go ahead and make a donation if I keep using the Plugin.

  8. Stephanie (11 comments.) says:

    Just curious but are themes held to the same rules? I ask because most of the themes I looked at (in the wordpress extend repository) when I was getting started with WordPress, all had a backlink / credit link in the footer. There weren’t any options to remove it (unless you edited the footer of course). I assumed it was just the way things were, that themes all had that link in the footer.

    Which is why I’m wondering if themes and plugins have the same set of standards/criteria; if it’s ok for themes then why not plugins? Or vice versa, if it’s not acceptable for plugins, then why do themes get away with it?

    Not that I’m supporting one way or another – I ended up making my own theme, and only use a handful of plugins, half of which I’ve made or modified one way or another. I’m just curious.

    Cheers!

    • Pross (4 comments.) says:

      Themes should be allowed to include links, after all someone has spent hours designing the theme your are now using.
      Plugins however should not in my opinion, or if they have to it should be default not to show, otherwise you could end up with a foot long footer ;)

      None of my plugins inject links anywhere, any credit is shown in the html source.

      • Barranger says:

        And that folks, is my problem with many (not all) in the WP community! It seems that the ratio of designers to developers is extremely skewed towards the designers; as such the two are treated very differently.

        I understand that “someone spent hours designing the theme you are now using”, but guess what? The developer of a plugin certainly didn’t pull it out of his/her nether regions in a couple of seconds. Allowing Theme developers to add links that are just as difficult to remove than the links discussed in the article, while not allowing plugin developers to do the same is definitely not in the spirit of Open Source.

        For the record I think that forcing in a link in either a theme or a plugin should be considered dirty pool.

        Sorry if this comment comes off as me b***ing, but the hypocrisy was a bit much.

      • Hikari (14 comments.) says:

        Ah of course, and there is a software (free of course!) that takes a plugin developer’s mind thoughts and automatically converts it into code, without any effort or spent time!!

    • Andreas Nurbo (9 comments.) says:

      Plugins and themes don’t have the same set of standard.

      “No hidden, paid or sponsored links in the theme. Links back to the author’s site are fine.”

  9. Dana @ Blogging Update (27 comments.) says:

    I think it is fair enough that plugin creators try to get more benefit from their plugin by adding link to their site. I as user always can do not install the plugin if i do not like the link, right?

  10. Dave (15 comments.) says:

    Backlinks on a plugins option page don’t bother me. Extra dashboard widgets are kind of annoying. And no plugin should insert a link on the front of the site by default.

  11. TeraS (2 comments.) says:

    What really bothers me about one plugin author is that they add a widget into the Dashboard. That widget is a RSS feed to their site. You can choose not to display it , which is fine, but removing the plugin doesn’t remove the widget. I call foul on that.

    I’d love to get rid of that widget as to me that was really a poor thing to do.

  12. Harry, BikeTravellers.com (5 comments.) says:

    I think the plugins should be able to do with the options page what they want (add links, donation buttons, info about other plugins etc).

    what bothers me is forced links (which can be removed, but it has to be done again after every upgrade), like on the otherwise very useful Global Translator.
    You can buy a link-free pro version for $129!

  13. Anas Kamtiyono (1 comments.) says:

    The case is same as themes I think. Those annoying links finally let me create my own theme.

    But plug-in is more than that, not only html, css and a little php, but deep php we should know. And maybe this is the reason for developer to create it by giving link to their own site with no option to disable it.

  14. bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

    Well, see Keith, thats sorta the argument in regards to “paying for plugins” too. If a plugin is considered “GPL open source” or written for a GPL Open Source project, then why should people have to “pay” money for an Open Source project?

    I believe the same as true for linkbacks. For one thing, its rather stupid not to include an option to disable linkbacks, because if the user wanted to disable credit, they could just edit the php file itself and remove it that way, like alot of people are doing with Themes.

    In my opinion, I don’t mind giving author credit for their work. I’ve developed both themes and website layouts before where people refuse to give me credit, which makes me mad because not only does it break the CC License, but alot of times the reason I write things is for my own portfolio. I don’t mind if someone, or the whole community, uses my code for their own purposes, after all its not a “contest”. but, as a developer, I want to get a full-time job someday, so I have to do some kind of project that gets me noticed by an employer. Usually those projects I keep private, that way I can show an employer “yes this is what I’ve done”, but in the case of say, a web design job, you have to show an employer you designed “such and such” website, so they know “this is an example of your design”. The problem, is when you design something for somebody, and the employer goes back to the person and they lie saying “oh no he didn’t design it I did” then as the developer, an employer thinks your “lying” and doesn’t hire you for the job because they think you were lying.

    Thats an example of why I stopped doing web design for other people, and why I have no interest in plugin development, because if I had some references from people that said “yes tom did do this” I’d be fine with it, but 99.9% of the time, our fellow webmasters “lie” and say they created it when they didn’t to potential employers. That is where the problem lies.

    • bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

      WHen it comes to plugins, most people know if they see a plugin it was written by “so and so” without the link back. Like ajax edit comments, when someone sees that, they automatically know it was written by “such and such” even if it doesn’t say it on the persons website, so I don’t think with plugins it really matters if linkbacks are present or not.

      The thing that has been bothering me lately, is about themes.
      My favorite theme, has like, 3-4 different linkbacks to various sites. I don’t mind giving a linkback to “mangoOrange” thats all good and great, but why shoul I give a linkback to “just hosting” when thats not the host I use? or “top 10 hosting companies” thats just rediculous. I know the theme authors say you have to keep those links in there as a condition to putting their theme on your site, but I can understand why some webmasters take all that crap off, because its one thing to give a linkback to an author, but its completely different to give linksbacks to all these different sites I consider to be “spam”. I’ll take ‘em out, I don’t care, because I don’t want users going to a site I consider “spam”, otherwise I give credit where credit is due.

    • George Burley says:

      “Well, see Keith, thats sorta the argument in regards to “paying for plugins” too. If a plugin is considered “GPL open source” or written for a GPL Open Source project, then why should people have to “pay” money for an Open Source project?”

      How many times does this have to be said?

      OPEN SOURCE AND GPL SOFTWARE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PRICE. THE “FREE” IN FREE SOFTWARE IS ABOUT FREEDOMS AND NOT PRICE. YOU CAN SELL OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND IT IS PERFECTLY OKAY BY THE GPL AND ACTUALLY ENCOURAGED BY THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED THE GPL.

      Don’t believe me? Here is an entire article written by the authors of the GPL that explains that

      http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

      This sums it up:

      1) YOU CAN SELL GPL SOFTWARE

      2) FREE HAS TO DO WITH FREEDOM… NOT PRICE

      3) THE GPL ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO SO

      4) DEVELOPERS NEED TO MAKE A LIVING TO KEEP CREATING FREE SOFTWARE.

      I don’t know how many times it needs to be said before people quit getting things completely wrong.

      Open source doesn’t mean FREE as in price. GPL doesn’t mean FREE as in price. It’s all about FREEDOM.

      It’s not that difficult people… read the article. This view that you can’t sell open source software and that it is somehow illegal or wrong has GOT to end.

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        It’s not that you can’t sell it, it’s that it’s very difficult to sell it when the people you sell it to can then turn around and give away as many copies as they want, legally.

        Selling GPL software is a tricky game. Those who have done it successfully don’t sell the software, they sell their ongoing services. Support. Upgrades. Things like that.

        Hell, look at Red Hat.

  15. ecommerce glasgow (2 comments.) says:

    they should add a link, its easy to remove a link via the code, and the link back helps the designer get a little PR and adverts so it would be unfair to always remove it

  16. Developer Overseas says:

    Speaking of donations for plugin developers… I **hate** when plugin developers post the names of people who donated via PayPal.

    Why do I hate this?

    Because I just feel it is a violation of the privacy of what I’m paying for and when I’m paying.

    I know to most people this sounds silly, but there are real legal reasons behind my decision to *never* donate to someone that publicly makes it known that I donated.

  17. eCommerce Guru (1 comments.) says:

    I think if a plugin developer spends enough time, its fine, thats their link bait and thats what they worked at it for. Its their form of payment. NOW, if you do want a plugin and dont want a link, they SHOULD have an option to disable it maybe for a fee?

  18. Vlad (Small Business Blog) (8 comments.) says:

    Personally I can understand the frustration of free plugin and themes developers when the credit is not given when it is due. But guess what? Even when you put it in contract language some clients who paid money for design/development still would go to great lengths to remove your link/credit/etc. Why? I have no idea. But they know that taking them to court over a link in a footer is stupid and costly, so they do it anyway.

    The point is – if someone wants to get rid of your link – they will. No matter what you do. In light of this what leaves me astounded is how some developers put obfuscated pieces (feces?) of code to hide their links away. Seeing those evals and base_decodes always makes me wonder – why would someone be so annoyingly stupid? If I don’t have the knowledge to remove links – I would probably not know how to deal with them in plain text. If I know what they are – I’ll figure out the evals just as easy.

  19. Karl Foxley (1 comments.) says:

    I prefer links to not be activated by default and allow me the option to give credit.

    There are plugins that have links auto-enabled with the only way of disabling them is through a purchase of a pro version. I would prefer a ‘lite’ option that removes some functionality (where possible) with an upgrade an optional upgrade to pro allowing full access to the full plugin. Some plugin authors do this and it seems to work well for them.

    Additionally, people love to write about the plugins they find useful and this is the way I like to support the plugin developers whose plugins I have enjoyed. Just my thoughts!

    Karl

  20. Miroslav Glavic (27 comments.) says:

    Can’t you comment out the link?

  21. Jessi says:

    Interesting. In that case, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do in the plugin repository because there are quite a few plugins that do this & are still in there.

  22. George Burley says:

    Just FYI… having a credit link in a plugin (or theme) does NOT go against the rules of open source.

    If you don’t like it, edit the source and remove it. Thats the point. Since you have the source you can change it and make it do whatever you want.

    Let’s be very clear here…

    Just because someone creates something that is open source doesn’t mean they can’t force you to enter an email address when you first install it. The fact of the matter is you don’t HAVE to do this because you can simply edit the source and remove this requirement and the author can’t do anything about it.

    There is also nothing that says you can’t obfuscate your GPL application using base64 or something similar. As long as you also make the source code available, even if you charge for it, makes this okay. So if you obfuscate your code, if you make the source available… it’s still kosher by the GPL.

    Most of the rules regarding credit links, requiring email sign up, etc. are NOT open source or licensing rules… they are WordPress.org Repository rules and have NOTHING to do with the GPL or open source licensing. They are rules that Matt and the WordPress organization want followed because they are things they feel shouldn’t be done. That is all they are.

    Do not confuse WordPress.org rules with that of the GPL… they aren’t the same thing.

  23. Peter Kersbergen (1 comments.) says:

    Fully agree with the sentiments of the author – you should have the option to disable backlinks in any plugin. Whenever this option doesn’t clearly exist, or the plugin creator forces me to have a link in a place I did not choose (and often having an impact on the visual look of the page or site) I will remove it manually and not show one at all.

    I have and will continue to donate to truly useful plugins which I simply feel I can’t do without and I leave credits where serious credits are due. But as soon as anything is forced upon me in such a manner, that donation goes out of the window, as do the credits/backlinks.

  24. Aaron says:

    I wish there was a standard practice of a colophon.php page which lists themes and plugins w/o having to spoil a site with unrelated links on every page.

    “Wow, that was cool… let me see the tools he used.”

    On the other hand, if a plugin or theme was compromised, such a colophon page would enable a hacker to easily Google and identify many sites vulnerable to his hack.

    Pity there isn’t the simpler solution of encouraging hackers to pursue an honest living by encouraging “dead or alive” bounties on their heads. Until there is sufficient disincentive for hacking, it will be a problem that worsens.

  25. Arpit Shah (2 comments.) says:

    Awesome discussion. Interestingly, as far as plugin developer puts an option(or check box) in “Admin page” to remove links then there should not be any problem or issue. Also, I strongly disagree with adding widget in WP-admin dashboard without user’s concern.

  26. Andrew@BloggingGuide (63 comments.) says:

    My thoughts on this is that it all boils down to the purpose why one would create plug-ins. Is it basically for links, to be known or to help the wordpress community. Once your purpose is established then you can act according to that purpose. For me, developing plugins should always be to help the WordPress community and nothing else. Prioritize this and everything else falls into place even financially.

  27. Chris Howard (4 comments.) says:

    I always turn off linkbacks. As a designer it makes my designs look untidy.

    I’ve also found it easy enough to disable forced link backs by finding the CSS selector and putting a version of it in your CSS with display:none, or visibility:collapsed property.

    However, I am trying to get in the habit of adding a Credits page to my miscellaneous pages where I can put credits for plugins, image, theme frameworks, etc.

    Because I do believe in giving developers some kickback. I just like to do it in a way that is harmonious to my designs.

    One reservation I have though is the threat of hackers. If they find weaknesses in a plugin I’m using, then I’ve got a big sign saying “come on in!”

    Thoughts on that?

  28. Matthew (4 comments.) says:

    Terrible, I would never use a plugin that has a backlink without an option to disable it. Its like putting a Google Advert on your blog and there is nothing you can do about it.

  29. Dan@Nuvi255 (1 comments.) says:

    I used a few adsense plug ins that would place adsense code or ads on your wordpress page. I didnt realise but it was automatically set to give them 10% of the impressions as part of the wordpress plugin. There was the option to change this to 0 although there was no mention of this in any of the readme’s or installation guides. I know plugin developers need to make money to survive but i dont think in your case adding links is going to work for them. 9/10 times when the person finds out this is happening they will stop using that plugin. Needs to be an opt out option…IMO



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