Samir Shah is ready to part ways with his popular Disable Comments plugin. The WordPress extension has garnered over a million users and a solid 220 five-star reviews out of 229, but its owner no longer has the time to maintain it. Rather than simply give it away or sell it for profit, he plans to auction it for charity. The highest bidder will donate to Effective Altruism Funds (EAF), a charitable organization, for ownership.
Shah asks that those who are interested in bidding on the plugin contact him via his Twitter account. He is also open to feedback on how to approach this at the moment.
He first released the Disable Comments plugin in 2011. This was during a time that he was working professionally with WordPress. His primary use case was with corporate clients who did not need any sort of commenting functionality on the site.
“After repeating this implementation on several projects I ported it to a plugin,” he said. “The plugin became popular very quickly so it turns out this was a common use case.”
Shah used PHP and WordPress primarily between 2009 and 2015. However, the work his company has been doing has shifted his focus to other languages and platforms. He has not used WordPress professionally since 2016 but has continued maintaining this plugin for the community in his free time.
“In the last year or two I’ve found it hard to keep up with the maintenance of the plugin,” he said. “I’m increasingly unfamiliar with both the WordPress core (major changes like Gutenberg, for example) and with newer versions of PHP. It is time to find a new owner who is actively using WordPress.”
Disable Comments allows administrators to disable the comment functionality across the entire site. Users can also control it based on a specific post type or even disable comments across the network when used on a multisite installation.
The primary use case is for disabling all commenting-related functionality. When this mode is enabled, the plugin hides comment links from all menus, removes comment widgets, hides the discussion settings screen, disables outgoing pingbacks, and more. Of course, it disables commenting on the front end too.
Shah also has a “must use” version of the plugin available on GitHub. This comes in handy for professional work where the developer does not want the client to accidentally deactivate the plugin.
“I never intended to make any money off this plugin, which is completely free to use,” said Shah. “I have however received a number of financial offers for it over the years (presumably because people value the large user base), and so the idea I had was to auction it. The highest bidder would pay their bid to my preferred charitable organization, and send me a receipt as proof of donation in exchange for ownership of the plugin.”
He is hoping that someone in the community will value a free plugin that does not generate revenue. With over a million active installs, there is a possibility that a company could directly or indirectly profit from ownership. Even if not, this would be a good opportunity for someone with the resources to give back to the WordPress community. There is an obvious need for this type of plugin.
While Shah says he does not spend much time on charitable work, he does try to donate a percentage of his annual income to charity and believes this is another avenue to do some good.
“I’m in the privileged position at the moment of having sufficient income to meet my basic needs,” he said. “Selling the plugin for profit isn’t going to alter my standard of living, and I’m not interested in profit for its own sake. If I can extract some value from this plugin and give it to EAF then it will go some way to improving the lives of others.”
He said he chose EAF because it uses an evidence-based approach to distributing funds by focusing on empirical measures of impact. “This felt to me like a better strategy than just picking a cause that I was personally attached to. There are particular areas of their work — e.g., the long-term future fund — that I think are especially important today.”
It will be interesting to see how this type of sale works out. What do you think of trading ownership of a plugin for a charitable contribution?