Could WordPress Plugin Adoption Lower the Rate of Abandonment?

photo credit: jono dot com - cc
photo credit: jono dot comcc

In light of recent events wherein plugin authors have been receiving suspicious requests for repository access, Mika Epstein posted a clarification on taking over plugins. The plugin team does not give out plugin author emails. Instead, the team acts as an intermediary to send the author an email, notifying them of a third-party trying to get in touch.

Her note also assures developers that will never give away a plugin unless they have received the author’s explicit permission:

Your plugin is yours. We will only close it if there are security issues or guideline violations, and we will always email you about that (so remember to keep your email up to date in your forum profile!). We also will never just give away your plugin without contacting you first, and getting your approval.

Developers who no longer wish to maintain a plugin are also urged to consider giving it away to someone else before requesting removal from the repository. There is a chance that someone may be willing to take the plugin on to continue it. But how will other developers find plugins that are up for adoption?

How to Put Your Plugin Up For Adoption

There are two simple things you can do right away:

1. Add a Note to the Readme.txt File
Epstein recommends updating your readme.txt file as a first step towards letting others know that your plugin is available to be adopted.

2. Add a Sticky Topic to the Plugin’s Forums
Andrew Nacin suggested that plugin authors create a sticky post in their plugin’s forum to put a plugin up for adoption and add a link to it in the readme.txt file. Interested parties can then comment in the forums and ask questions.

Both of these suggestions are useful if someone is specifically interested in your plugin. If the readme.txt and forum sticky are all developers have to depend on, it’s unlikely that someone will stumble upon your plugin with the intention to adopt.

A Standard Adoption Tag

In the followup comments to the post, several developers chimed in to suggest that a standard tag might be a good option. A plugin tag would provide a centralized way for developers to search for plugins that need a new owner.

For example, a “needs-takeover” or “adopt-me” tag could be applied to indicate the plugin’s availability. It might even be useful to have a separate tag to indicate that the author is looking for a collaborator, which could help connect developers and prevent orphaned plugins.

I asked Samuel Wood, better known as “Otto”, about the possibility of the project designating an official tag. He said that this is unlikely, given that tagging plugins is entirely voluntary to begin with and not something that you can organize with a standard:

Anybody can create and use such a tag and add it to their plugins, we don’t have tag limits on plugins like we do on themes. If somebody wants to make it an unofficial thing, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so, but I don’t think it will take off because it’s edge-casey and relies on authors giving away their plugins intentionally instead of simply letting them die from neglect.

If an unofficial tag is to catch on, it will require a group of developers with plugins for adoption to get behind their selected tag and help to make sure that others know about it.

Adopting vs. Forking

abandoned-pluginThe recent suspicious requests aside, would any WordPress developer actually favor adopting a plugin over forking it?

Alex Mills (Viper007Bond) doesn’t think that a list of plugins available for adoption would be of much use to anyone. “Mika’s suggestion of editing the readme to say so is probably better,” he said. “As it’s unlikely it’d be useful to have a list of plugins that need new ownership.”

While adoption has its benefits, including a built in user base and history on, forking a plugin is less of a hassle, since it doesn’t require permission. Forks also usually make a good number of changes right off the bat.

Last year Jeff Chandler wrote about the growing concern of abandoned WordPress plugins. As the repository is now approaching 30,000 plugins, the discussion continues.

Too much orphan-ware can quickly add up and paint a less than inspiring picture of the repository, which is frustrating to users who just want something that works.

Even if the incidence of plugin adoption remains low, every bit counts towards making the repository a better resource. If we can providing a clear path for adoption and better ways for plugin developers to collaborate, there may be some hope for lowering the rate of plugin abandonment.

Let’s hear from our readers. Would you favor an unofficial tag for adoption? Is it best left to readme.txt notices and sticky forum posts? Have you ever adopted a plugin or had one of yours adopted?

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