Why A Plugin’s Popularity Matters

Believe me it's not often you'll hear me say that popularity matters but sometimes in the world of programming it does.

But first – I'm going to pull a Lema and share a story about why I love apartments.

I Love Living in Apartments

I really do love living apartments – so much so that I don't know if I ever want to move into a home. Part of the reason is that I pay a little less in rent than someone does paying a mortgage, part of it is that homes are permanent and apartments are easy to change, but mostly the thing I love about apartments is that they take care of certain things for me. And if you have a good landlord not only do they take care of things for you but they take care of them quickly.

I have a question for you. How long does it take you to fix a dishwasher? It probably takes an hour or two to verify that the dishwasher is really broken and it isn't another problem. Then you have to figure out how to fix the washer and what parts you might need. After trying to manually fix it you might realize that it's out of your skill set. You'll probably have to call a handyman over to fix it or get a whole new dishwasher. The process is time consuming and you could still end up paying a professional for assistance.

Well this happened to me a few years ago and here's roughly how it went:

  1. Notice the problem at 7am right before going to work.
  2. Call landlord at 8am
  3. Come back from work at 5pm
  4. Discover a fixed dishwasher with clean dishes inside!

Wow – what an awesome experience! It took me virtually no effort or time. Now if you want to figure out why a dishwasher is broken that's great but for me a dishwasher is a tool that I want to work.

Plugin Popularity

This is where a plugin's popularity comes in. For me there are certain aspects of a website that I don't want to mess up. I don't care if the color of my comments area is messed up. That's pretty easy to notice and manually fix if I have to. I do care if something like an e-commerce plugin or a contact form breaks. If you have either of those on your site that's probably how you make money or bring in new jobs (to make money).

Nothing in this world is perfect and things will break (yes even your favorite plugin) so you should take that into account when choose plugins. That's why when I had to setup an e-commerce store here in Green Bay I chose WooCommerce (this was before working for WooThemes). I could have gone with something like WP e-Commerce but why? How much active development is going on? If I report a problem how long will it be until there's an update?

WooCommerce  ChangelogIf you look through the WooCommerce changelog.txt you'll see that we actually did break something in 2.0.15. Right after the release someone reported a problem so we went in and were able to discover the root cause, write a fix for it, and release the new version all within 6 hours. That's incredible. Most users never even realized there was a problem. Most users updated straight from 2.0.14 to 2.0.16 and skipped the broken release.

No one wants to wait for something to be fixed (Bueller? Bueller?). That's why when it comes to certain functionality on my site I'll go with the plugin that's more popular rather than the shiny new one. I don't care if your new contact form plugin is bleeding AJAX all over the screen I want one that I know works and is well supported. Or even better – when there is a problem I would love it if you're so damn awesome that I never realize there was a problem in the first place.

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