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Why Do Plugins Die?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with plugins.    When I experiment with plugins it generally involves me thinking of some great idea at 3.00 a.m. for a site and then trying to find the WordPress plugins and tweaks necessary to turn my idea into a reality.

It’s been really disappointing lately because often the plugins that I think will be ideal for my concept have died

No, they haven’t physically died, more the plugin developer has given up.    When a plugin developer gives up the plugin doesn’t get updated for different versions of WordPress, bugs don’t get ironed out and new features aren’t implimented.

So, the question is why do plugin developers given up?

I don’t know the answer why every plugin developer gives up but I’m going to take an educated guess and say what I think.

It’s our fault!

Yep, you heard me.  It’s our fault that plugin developers give up.

If you browse the WordPress repository you’ll see that there are over 6000 plugins that you can download for free.   In fact, at the date of writing there were over 49,741,827 plugin downloads.  Obviously, there is a demand for free WordPress plugins, but are we too demanding?

Creating a plugin involves time, testing, preparing documentation and future planning.    Most plugin developers that create free plugins have a day job.    Your average plugin developer thinks of a cool idea, develops it, wants to share his creation with the world and doesn’t consider what happens next.  While you are enjoying dinner and a movie they are up to their neck in code, and I bet some of them are pretty disappointed with human nature.

Here’s what I mean, and this is why it’s our fault.

It seems to me that most people that pay for something actually appreciate it more than people who receive something for free.    They see a value in the product.    This doesn’t just apply to plugin developers it applies to all aspects of business.     Strangely, in my old job, the higher the fee, the more perceived value and the less client complaints/dissatisfaction.   It often seems to me (and yes I’m jaded!) that the less the fee or, if it’s free, the less value people perceive which gives them a greater right to make demands.    I don’t make the rules that just seems to be my take on it.

For instance, have you ever downloaded a free report?    It might be something that you are really interested in like PPC.   Do you read it and action it straight away? Probably not – after all it was free, it can’t be any good

The other day I was lurking in an internet marketing forum and a guy was selling a report for $1.00 (I bought it but … um I haven’t read it yet!).  Anyway, my point is that the report was a buck but there were about 20 comments in the thread seeking further details, how much would it cost to carry out the strategy, doubting if it was doable and wanting reviews.   

It was a buck!   I can’t even buy a coffee or a chupa chup for that!

If you equate the value of your time to post in the forum, wait for a response and then contemplate and analyse the response surely you would have spent more than a buck in time.   Time does equal money after all.    Or is time worth so little to some people?  I felt like telling the guy to charge more so people could perceive more value in his product.

This brings me to plugin developers.

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on the plugins pages for blogs recently and if you’ve been reading my recent posts you’ll notice that I’m not happy

Why I’m not happy

I love plugins  I’ve got lots of them – paid, free, modified, beta testing – you  name it I love the little babies.  I love having them on my hard drive.  I love using them.  I love showing other people how to use them and  I love the people that create plugins. Plugins make my life easier and let’s face it, it’s the plugins that really make WordPress sing.   A WordPress blog without plugins would be like ….toast without vegemite, a morning without coffee…you get the drift

I’m sure I’m not the only one that loves plugins.  In fact, the stats show that 49,741,827 people also love free plugins.

So, why is it if we love plugins we treat plugin developers so badly?

From the plugin developer’s view point:

*they give their time freely and generously to the community to create a plugin
*they beta test, troubleshoot and do their best to iron out bugs
*99.9% of plugin developers (yes I made that statistic up!) don’t charge for support for their plugins
*a lot of plugins have their own website and forum which costs money to maintain and set up
*most plugins have "read me" documentation, FAQ, help desk which costs money and time to create and maintain

Here’s why I think plugin developers are badly treated

If you look at a lot of the comments on a plugin page you’ll always find a nice selection of "Nice plugin I’ll use it" which must be gratifying to the developer but in between that there will be the comments like "it’s been a week since I told you about the bug and you still haven’t fixed it so I can’t use it" and more of the same.      How would  you feel if you are the plugin developer toiling away on the plugin when you could have been out and about enjoying yourself to be met with demands from people you’ve never met, have never shown appreciation for your work, and want you to drop everything and do their bidding?    

I’m guessing a lot of plugin developers feel pretty disappointed and frustrated.    But that, of course, is just one comment, one day.    Try multiplying that.   Every day, one more demanding comment which brings me to my next point.

Not only do plugin developers have to fix bugs, troubleshoot and install new features but they are also expected to respond promptly to forum posts, comments and the like.   Every time a plugin developer does this means time taken away from carrying out those changes that you wanted.  Of course, there are also some users who think it’s more fun to comment that they can’t use the plugin on any site other than the plugin developers site. So, they’ll post on Twitter, non WordPress forums, Facebook and the like.   Just to make sure you receive their message they might also email, PM, message in other forums  as well.   By the time the plugin developer has logged into all the various places where a treasure trove of messages have been left their blood pressure must be near boiling.   

And of course, some people make it incredibly frustrating to help them at all.    Reading through some comments on a blog recently one user posted "It won’t work on my blog – please help me".  Now, there always seems to be a nice selection of these comments on any WP Plugin blog.   Do you seriously think this comment is helpful?   Will it  help to troubleshoot your problem?  Not on your nelly    Of course, what it will acheive is another chunk of time disappearing from the plugin developers life when they respond asking for further information.

And of course, my final point.    Most plugins come with an instruction file.   It’s the one usually called "read me".  Guess what?  You are meant to read it   It will tell you how to install the plugin and sometimes it will have answers to some common questions on it.  If you are having trouble with a plugin the first place you should look for help is in the "read me" file.    If your problem is still not resolved then you should go to the plugin’s home page.  

I was reading a plugin blog the other day and I was stunned to see how many people could not be bothered to read the post at the top which had a highlighted section in bold saying that the plugin did not work with PHP 4. I guess the plugin developer was trying to address a concern that he had seen quite often but he assumed that a lot of people actually read his blog post.  Below was about 5 comments all asking why the plugin wasn’t working and noting that  they used PHP4.

(Note if you have PHP4 are you serious?  It takes 5 minutes for your host to update to PHP5)  

A lot of plugin developers go to a great deal of trouble to create FAQ files and forums.     Read that information.   Do a search in the forum for your query, try using different search terms.  Only when you come up empty handed should you post your question.   If you save the plugin developer time answering your post he will gain time to develop the plugin – and surely they deserve to have some life as well!

I know I said that was my final point but I lied.   One more thing.    It costs money to develop plugins and support them.    If we keep treating plugin developers like we don’t value their work – guess what – they’ll think they are not valued in the WordPress community and they’ll abandon ship or go to plan B.   Plan B would involve plugin developers actually placing a value on their work.   Personally, I think they should charge for paid support so they can develop the plugin.  But, if you don’t want to see plugins abandoned or moved to paid support then take on some of the points above.

Finally, if you look at the amount of downloads for a popular plugin like Contact Form 7 you’ll see something pretty disappointing.  Contact Form 7 has been downloaded according to the WordPress repository 820,908 times.  

Sadly, if you look at the donation bar on the Contact Form 7 site you’ll see that they have received donations of  $699.00.

I’m not very good at math so I’ve grabbed the calculator and worked out that  $699/820,908 means that on average each user of Contact Form 7 has donated 0.08 cents.   That’s right, less than a dime.   By the way, I am really bad at math so your results may vary  Either way, it’s not much is it for the use of the plugin and the support, upgrades and new versions?    So, when you are next downloading a plugin think about showing your appreciation to the plugin developer either by way of positive comment, rating in the WordPress repository or a donation.   I’m going to encourage you to walk on the wild side with this one and do all three

So, why do plugins die?

They die because we demand too much and give too little.


By Leanne

My name is Leanne King and I'm an Australian internet marketer and WordPress fanatic. I share my knowledge of WordPress here on my blog, through my products, private coaching and in private forums. In my spare time I like to develop products for WordPress users that are easy to use.Find me on Google+

4 replies on “Why Do Plugins Die?”

Again, that’s why I really think that there should be some paid support/credit system with free plugins it might encourage users to post in the right spot for one! I’m glad that you are spending the extra time with people that don’t have english as a first language because it must be incredibly frustrating for them at times.

Rather than the contribute button have you tried adding your Amazon wish list or a button to collect funds for future development. It’s just an idea but it may be worth considering saying something like when donations hit $X I’ll start adding new features at least it would encourage people to login to PayPal and slip a few bucks your way.

Great observations!
I also develop plugins, I have a forum set up for users, yet every week I receive support requests in the site comments and via email directly. I try to answer their question and request that they take any further questions to the forums. They seldom get the message. After looking at the ip of said users I have seen that they are often from eastern europe or the philippines (and other non english countries), so I realize that english probably isn’t their language. If I detect that to be the case, I try harder to help them out. They may be making a great effort to spit out those few words in english. It’s not easy to communicate or understand in a language which you don’t know.

As for my “contribute money” button, I removed it after 12 months of zero contributions. The few pennies it may have brought in (eventually) didn’t seam to justify the disappointment of there only being a few pennies.

Hey Namith, thanks for dropping by. I hope you seen the post that I did a while ago on WP insert here: One thing I would mention is that I for one didn’t know there was a beta version for WP Insert. I love beta testing plugins and always have a selection on the go testing. Perhaps, if you start a mailing list you can mail out when there is a new version for beta testing? This means that you will be asking existing users rather than people just wandering by your site.

There does need to be a change in plugin development and perhaps this can be a topic that is added to WordPress Camp for discussion.

That’s a perfectly valid point you made about the frustration with developing plug-ins.
I am the author of a couple of plugins including wp-Insert”. Very few people show appreciation toward the work we are doing for the community.
I am trying to believe that people cant afford to spent even a $ on plugins which earn them substantial income. Even if that’s the case they still can show support to the plugin developer by helping in beta testing etc. Currently Wp-Insert is in version 1.5 and from Version 1.2 till 1.4.2 I had place beta version of the plugin on my site and requested people to participate in testing it via the plugin page and via the plugin settings page in wordpress. The number of downloads I have received for beta version till date is a big huge ZERO!!!

Now comes the donation part. My plugin till date has accumulated donations worth $30.
Click throughs from the plugin settings page linger around .2% of the total impressions so thats not a viable source to support development costs.

Despite no apparent revenue source we are still spending time on the development but very few people recognize this effort and I seldom receive a thanks or compliment message. As you said when something breaks there will be a flood of messages and forum posts but wen everything works fine no one cares.

People ask Why do you continue development if this is the case. I always respond by saying “It feels nice when something you made is being used by thousands of people”. But the feel good factor is not paying my hosting bills, My Job is!!

Its high time for Automattic to come up with a plugin and theme maket place like the I-Phone market place.

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