Eight years ago, Justin Tadlock moved back home to Alabama and was living in the spare bedroom of his grandparents’ house with nothing more than a laptop and a suitcase. Over the course of a few months he started going deeper into learning about writing WordPress plugins and produced Members, a role management plugin for WordPress. The first major overhaul of the plugin came in 2015 with version 1.0’s expansion of features and a new UI for editing roles.
Members has built up a user base of more than 100,000 active installs since it first launched in 2009. Tadlock estimates that over the last couple years, 40% of Theme Hybrid customers are primarily there for support and small tweaks to the Members plugin. He decided it was time to begin investing more in the plugin and its community.
Tadlock released Members 2.0 this week. The plugin manages core WordPress capabilities but 2.0 adds the ability for plugins to register custom capabilities. The labels for the capabilities can be internationalized so users can manage the plugin in their own languages in human-readable form.
This release also adds the ability to use the WordPress editor for writing custom post error messages, making it easy to direct visitors to registration or other important information regarding access to the content.
Members 2.0 lets users add multiple roles when creating a new user from the Add User screen. It also introduces the ability to bulk add or remove roles from users, even when multiple roles have been enabled.
This version of the plugin serves some of its data using the WP REST API and a new setting was added to authenticate users who are accessing the REST API endpoints. This protects content from being exposed on sites that have the “private site” setting enabled. Tadlock plans to write a tutorial about what he has learned in integrating the REST API with the plugin.
Tadlock Aims to Monetize Members with Add-Ons, Renews Efforts to Develop a Community of Add-On Developers
Members 2.0 introduces a new Settings screen that ties in with Tadlock’s future plans to monetize the plugin. The new screen includes a view for add-ons. Tadlock has two add-ons available currently and has written an API for third-party developers to register their own add-ons to be visible on this screen.
“The plan is to create some small add-on plugins,” Tadlock said. “There’s already two: Members – Role Levels, which is paid, and Members – Role Hierarchy, which I was hired to build and was allowed to release to the community for free. I’ve got a few small plugins like those in mind that’ll be in a lower price range.”
Tadlock also plans to release a more robust version of the “Content Permissions” feature as another add-on. He has received numerous feature requests from users over the years about what they would like to see in this plugin. The add-on will offer a variety of different ways to show/hide content.
I asked Tadlock if he has considered building payment gateway add-ons so users can charge for memberships. He said the idea is on the table.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to build those or someone else,” Tadlock said. “I’ve mentioned it to some other developers. It would be a good place to start building add-ons.” His current setup uses Easy Digital Downloads with a couple of plugins to bridge it with Members and ThemeHybrid.com.
A plugin like Members has the potential to have a large, third-party ecosystem of plugins for payments and additional features, but Tadlock was focused on other projects during the first few years after it launched.
“I haven’t actively pursued the add-on angle,” Tadlock said. “Instead, I focused more on themes during most of that time. Now, I’m focusing more on plugin development. It’s my fault for not nurturing a community of add-on developers, which is something I’m trying to do more of now.”
Tadlock said many of the developers he knows are working with Members because they like that it gives them a solid foundation to build on for client work. He hopes to persuade some of them to release some of that code back as commercial add-ons or free plugins in the WordPress plugin directory.
Since launching the plugin eight years ago, Tadlock has aimed to make it behave as if it were a natural part of WordPress. At its core, Members is a role and capability management plugin and not a one-size-fits all membership plugin.
“It’s more or less a UI over what you could do with code already,” Tadlock said. “Most of all, it tries not to get in your way. Every membership site has its own unique needs. It’s tough building something that suits everyone. That’s why I’d rather have that foundation of Members just exposing the roles/caps system with third-party add-ons that suit various users’ needs.
“Other membership plugins often try to please everyone or pigeon-hole everything into their custom system. I like more to have a bit more flexibility without the bloat.”