Pruning WordPress Theme and Plugin Directories

Wordcamp San Francisco

Image by planetc1 via Flickr

Last weekend at WordCamp San Francisco, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg announced a most sensible plan to prune the existing plugin and theme directories.

When you’re building a software ecosystem, numbers count, and WordPress successfully built its plugin ecosystem to the point where more than 12,500 applications were accepted into the directory. At least, that was what we reported in the newly released 2nd edition of WordPress in Depth (at better bookstores everywhere, and online, of course). Today, that number is nearly 16,000! The theme directory isn’t quite as prolific, but still has close to 1500 themes.

So WordPress has demonstrated that it can attract designers and developers to build on its core functionality, but now the user has to wade through all those apps to find the right tools and look for their site. The directory offers some help with descriptions, compatibility information and other statistics.

We of the community can also contribute ratings and other real-world compatibility information, but not enough of us do that. If you need evidence for that, consider that only 23 people have reported on whether the highly popular All-in-One SEO plugin works with WordPress v3.2! And that, of 8.5 million downloads of the same plugin, only 1070 users have bothered to rate it.

Soon all these numbers will be going down, as themes and plugins that have not been updated since 2009 will disappear from search results. This is only fair, really. There have been a lot of changes to WordPress since v2.8 (the active version two years ago). If a developer hasn’t even checked to see whether that plugin even works with newer versions, chances are good the user won’t get the benefit of support if something goes wrong.

Over at the WP Dev Updates blog, someone asked “Might there be plugins out there that are so good and really basic that their utility spans greater than 2 years?” Mark Jaquith gave the right answer:

We looked at the old plugins with the highest download counts and saw nothing that caught our eye. Ultimately, if a plugin author can’t update just the “Tested up to” version, then it’s pretty safe to consider it abandoned. The “Tested up to” values for such plugins are no higher than 3.0, and most are far worse.

It may be a cliché, but pruning old dead wood is great for a forest ecosystem. Good for a software ecosystem, too.

See the complete State of the Word 2011 address at WordPress.TV