Unsplash Launches Official Plugin for WordPress

Unsplash has released its own official plugin for WordPress, co-developed with the team at XWP. The plugin seamlessly connects Unsplash’s 1 million+ free high-resolution image library with the WordPress editor.

Post usage 1

Users can easily search Unsplash directly inside the custom block and insert images with attribution and alt description info automatically filled in. The selected images are download and added to the WordPress media library, saving users the trouble of having to leave their dashboards to search, download, and upload images.

Unsplash co-founder Luke Chesser described the project as “bringing the internet’s image library to the internet’s publishing platform.” Although the plugin is useful for any type of website – from small blogs to businesses, it was large publishing organizations that provided the impetus for Unsplash to develop an official integration for WordPress.

“We’ve been working with a lot of publishers as they integrate Unsplash into their publishing flows to replace legacy solutions,” Chesser said. “With so many publishers being powered by WordPress, we saw a repeated need for a high quality integration that could be shared by all of the publishers. In order to best serve them, we needed to offer something that we could ensure met their needs both now and in the future.”

Instant Images, a plugin that boasts one-click Unsplash uploads, is currently the largest competitor to the adoption of the official plugin with more than 50,000 active installs. Many other plugins have also added some form of Unsplash integration in the past. Chesser said his team has loved seeing the variety of applications developers have created with their API and they were hesitant to create their own plugin.

“We saw a gap between the things big and small publishers were telling us, and the way the existing plugins had been developed,” he said. “Most existing plugins reupload the image to the WordPress library and then treat it as a standard image, which breaks a handful of things:

  • Image attribution to the original photographer is usually lost (or is no longer supported past the first usage)
  • The time it takes for the server to download the image and then reupload it can be slow
  • Out of the box, WordPress’s current support for dynamic image URLs that adapt to the device connection and screen size is limited and by using the Unsplash CDN, we could ensure that the right size image is served to better optimize for performance.”

When developing the official plugin, Unsplash and XWP took feedback from publishers and aimed to improve on how existing plugins handled images. After testing it, I found the search feature was fast and setup was a breeze. The plugin handles everything for the user invisibly in the background and its integration with the block editor makes it feel like a natural part of WordPress.

Unsplash Aims to Increase Its Audience by Enhancing the Publishing Workflow for WordPress Publishers

As Unsplash looks to define a new economic model around photography, WordPress-powered sites are a major consideration, since the platform powers more than 37% of Alexa’s top 10 million websites.

Seven years after it started as a Tumblr blog, Unsplash is moving to directly monetize the site by working with brands to create photos that will appear in search results. “Unsplash for Brands” launched in December 2019 as an answer to the question of how Unsplash will make money. Companies pay to have their branded images show up prominently in search results alongside other organically ranking images that match users’ queries.

“While they serve completely different purposes, I think a lot of brands are growing tired of the state of digital advertising today, with Facebook and Google having a host of problems around privacy, targeting, and negative consequences for culture,” Chesser said. “Unsplash allows brands to influence the visual mindshare of the internet while having an authentic and positive impact on their audience.” 

Launching an official WordPress plugin is a strategic move for Unsplash as it puts those branded images in front of a larger audience with users searching directly within the editor. Although the company continues to push out new features to the Unsplash API, many publishers did not have the resources to create their own integrations.

“After so many conversations with publishers, both big and small, that want to integrate the Unsplash library but can’t due to resources, we felt that we needed to offer something more ready to use than the raw API or SDKs,” Chesser said.

“We built the current version of the Unsplash for WordPress plugin so that it meets those needs of publishers now, but we know that we can push it a lot further in the future.”

The first iteration of the plugin mirrors the flow and features that a user would have while navigating unsplash.com, while keeping the writer inside the editor. Now that Unsplash is integrated into the WordPress publishing flow, Chesser sees the opportunity to add more interesting features. Open sourcing the plugin also has the potential to increase Unsplash’s audience as developers extend its core features for use in other plugins.

“Using the context of the post, we can help suggest images or prefill a search using natural language processing,” Chesser said. “We can link together Unsplash images with other WordPress tools to help publishers edit and process images directly in their posts. And with a lot of the work from the plugin being focused on making Unsplash images work natively inside of the WordPress Media Library, we can even open-source the core in such a way that developers can extend and reuse the functionality, avoiding duplication across all of our third party WordPress plugins.”


30 responses to “Unsplash Launches Official Plugin for WordPress”

  1. “The selected images are download and added to the WordPress media library, saving users the trouble of having to leave their dashboards to search, download, and upload images.”

    “Photos cannot be sold or redistributed without significant modification.”

    If the images are downloaded and put in the media library for you to use (in posts for example), then you’re basically redistributing them.

    Also, the license as a whole is against the GPL.

    Promoting this plugin and hosting it on wp.org shouldn’t have happened, even if it’s just a service gateway.

    • Nothing about this plugin is incompatible with the Unsplash License — you can see that we’ve been working with companies and developers to build thousands of similar integrations across Medium, Ghost, Buzzfeed, Squarespace, etc. for years and there have been zero problems. The issue you’re thinking of refers back to recompiling the library to create a competing service which isn’t the intention of any reasonable person using Unsplash or this plugin.

      Re GPL, content doesn’t have to be GPL compatible to be used in WordPress. Hence why you have plugins for Youtube, Twitter, etc. and you can upload your own imagery + post your own content (99.9999% of which is distributed under a much more restrictive license). The Unsplash License allows creators to use the images to create things freely, which is what we and our community promote.

      For more, you can checkout FAQS at https://help.unsplash.com/en/collections/1463188-unsplash-license

      • What tracking or logging is done when someone chooses to use this CDN? It must be expensive to provide, so it’s unclear “why” you want people to use that versus uploading to their site.

        Could the terms or licensing of that hotlinking change in the future, as the licensing did in 2017?

          • @william You’re right that there was a change to the license page design yesterday, but I want to be clear that the license definition has stayed the same since the 2017 clarification. The license is defined as the actual legal definition of the license + the terms, and those have remained the exact same since the first few weeks of Unsplash being created back in 2013.

            We had updated the design of the license page about a month ago to include a an extra bullet point ‘do this, don’t do that’ list next to the legal definition of the license. The purpose of this wasn’t to introduce any new legal points, but to test a simplified presentation of the license next to the legal definition of the license.

            When doing this, we had used the word ‘redistribute’ in one the ‘don’t do this’ bullet points instead of the word ‘recompile’, and this had been missed by our review team before being shipped. When this was pointed out to us yesterday, we removed the word ‘redistribute’ as the word redistribute is not the correct word to describe the restriction. Mistakes happen — we’re a small team — there is no mal intent here. It was a mistake that was caught yesterday and corrected.

            Re logging or tracking, we record a ‘view’ for the photo to increment the view count information for our contributors stats. This is common practice. We do this on all 2,200+ of the other API integrations using Unsplash, including Buzzfeed, Medium, Wix, Squarespace, Dropbox, Figma, Sketch, Ghost, Framer, and Notion, and we’ve been doing this for 8+ years.

  2. Not surprised to see Unsplash develop their own ‘official’ plugin for the repo. Unfortunately I don’t see this as a good thing, but actually the opposite.

    They can now force user sign ups to inflate their user base even though other plugins just serve images without any sort of authentication. What is the point in a user authenticating to only receive an API key? It’s not like you can access Likes or your collection with only the API key.

    Serving images from their CDN also allows them to track image views and URLs which helps inflate the download and view counts for their contributors. These other plugins like Instant Images downloads the file to your media library which would only count as a single download.

    I’m going to stick with Instant Images as I don’t feel like feeding the advertising machine.

    • The other plugins are violating the Unsplash API terms of service. Signing up for an account is very simple and can be done in the authentication flow with your name and email, or even a couple social OAuth providers like Facebook.

      In a discussion about licensing I would think this point is extremely important. You cannot use the API the way those plugins currently are. However, Unsplash has not taken any action against those plugins to my knowledge. There is a lot of goodwill on their part to let the community make their own choice to do it the right and legal way.

      As for the CDN, it tracks views so the really lovely people who upload their images, that you get to download for free, can know how popular those images are. I think that’s fair. As well, the images are all downloaded to the media library and the CDN is actually filtering the local URL to render the assets from a free service that would normally cost you money. You are getting a free global CDN with edge caching. That’s pretty nice of them, all they ask in return is to know how many times it’s been downloaded and viewed while also being fully GDPR compliant.

    • Hey Melissa,

      I understand how on the surface it can seem like the requirement for each install of the plugin to be authenticated via an Unsplash account can seem like there’s something sketchy going on, but I can assure you that it comes from a real engineering and security requirement.

      We gain nothing from ‘inflating’ signup metrics — if you’ve ever used unsplash.com, you can see that we don’t care about requiring anyone to signup, as you’re not auth walled from any popular features like searching or downloading.

      As you know, WordPress uses decentralized installs — unlike lets say Trello, where there’s a single centralized application. The developers at Trello can use a single API key for all of their users because the key is hidden behind the Trello servers and can’t be exposed to any of the Trello users.

      Each installation of WordPress uses its own servers and therefore needs access to its own API key. If every WordPress install were to share the same API key, then there would be no point in having API keys at all, as anyone would be able to open up the Unsplash plugin, read the code and take the API key, and then use the API key for any application they want. Our team then can’t protect the service of the API from spammers and DDOS attacks (two very real things we deal with every day) because we can’t identify requests to the API by their API key.

      Every WordPress install therefore connects to Unsplash to create an API key that is used for that install, so that if the API key starts to do suspicious things, we can notify the owner and resolve the issue without taking down other legitimate uses. This is common practice in any API.


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