WordPress Meta Team Publishes Prototypes of The Plugin Directory Redesign

In early 2015, the WordPress.org Meta team redesigned the WordPress plugin directory and added a number of new features. In an effort to iterate on the page’s layout, the Meta Team has published prototypes of a new design for the plugin directory’s home and search results pages.

The prototypes are inspired by Get WordPress, a landing page that provides key information about the WordPress project at a glance.

There are a few things to keep in mind while looking at these prototypes. The first is that plugin information displayed on the page is inaccurate. Second, the Pro and Light classifications are for design purposes only. Third, links at the bottom will point to their corresponding pages.

WordPress Plugin Directory Homepage Protoype
WordPress Plugin Directory Homepage Protoype

Unlike the current design, the prototype displays far less information. Authors, Last Updated, Compatibility, and Active Installs are absent from the homepage view. Initial feedback highlights the concern that too much information has been stripped away.

In response to a comment on the announcement post, Samuel Sidler, Apollo Team Lead at Automattic and contributor to the Meta team, explains why he doesn’t think the information is useful to users.

Author, as you said, is only really useful for insiders. The latter two, meanwhile, are already taken into account in the search results. If a plugin doesn’t have a recent compatible version, it will move down the list. If it’s too old, it won’t get shown at all (which is the case today).

Active installs is more interesting, but we account for it weighting search results as-is. I actually find it refreshing to not show the active installs as it allows for less-popular plugins to get more downloads. Users will be less likely to click the popular plugins (outside of familiar names) and more likely to find the plugin they actually need.

Another commenter suggests creating a simple/advanced view. By default, the page could display a simplistic design while giving power users an option for more details.

“Just like WordPress core, we strive to design for the majority and build features for the 80%,” Sidler said in response to the comment. “An ‘advanced’ view doesn’t meet that requirement, in my eyes.”

The Meta team is iterating quickly and will soon publish a prototype of the plugin details page. If you have feedback on the plugin homepage and search result prototypes, please leave a comment on the announcement post.


35 responses to “WordPress Meta Team Publishes Prototypes of The Plugin Directory Redesign”

  1. If they are looking to give new plugins a fair chance then they should also consider removing number of reviews as it is reasonible to think that plugin with more reviews has more users.

    Anyway, more than redesign, plugin directory needs an update to search engine, for one of keywords i am using the top result is a plugin with 0 active installs, 0 reviews and one sentence description.

  2. I believe that the plugins directory needs a better categorization based on fixed, hierarchical categories, instead of tags that can cause more chaos than order. For example, such high level categories could be “security”, “development”, “performance” etc., with each one having its own children (but no more than 2 levels deep).

    Author’s name by itself isn’t important information for the average user, but perhaps it could be used as a signal of the plugin’s credibility. If an author with a history of good plugins releases a new one, it makes sense to promote it higher compared to a similar newly created plugin of a not-so-credible author – supposing, of course, that we want to somehow promote new releases.

    Also, it would perhaps be better if beta plugins appeared visually different compared to the other blocks of content – maybe in a sidebar or something.

    Finally, some other random thoughts about plugins in general:
    – It would be interesting if we could see something like “many people who use this plugin also use the following …” at the plugin’s presentation page.
    – Not all ratings are equally useful. For example, giving WP-Rest API one star because “I didn’t understand how to use it” is misleading about the plugin’s actual value. Perhaps a button “I found this review helpful” under each review would make sense on that direction.
    – During disabling or removing a plugin there could be a discreet prompt asking you to explain your decision. It could also ask for permission to send some data about your specific installation. From that there could potentially emerge meaningful information such as “80% of the people who use plugin A and plugin B tend to remove plugin C”.

      • Actually, the Postmatic plugin does this. It’s a simple modal popup with something like 6-8 choices for why you’re deactivating the plugin. Very simple, and extra 2 clicks and done. Options they provide cover every scenario, including debugging.

        I thought it was a bit intrusive at first (I hate being quizzed when I’m not expecting it), but after a few times while I was debugging an issue, I saw it as a positive feature.

        I agree that this can be abused, but the way the Postmatic devs did it is perfect.

    • – Not all ratings are equally useful. For example, giving WP-Rest API one star because “I didn’t understand how to use it” is misleading about the plugin’s actual value. Perhaps a button “I found this review helpful” under each review would make sense on that direction.

      Rating reviewers could be useful in that case.

      Of course, that leaves it open for flamers, petty revenge and jerks who want to undercut someone who didn’t leave them a glowing review.

      Instead, they could use the data from the existing WP.org profiles. “Member since…, plugin developer, etc.” would give some idea of which reviews have more merit. A newbie review would carry less weight that way.

      • I agree that flaming / revenge ratings would be a problem and this is the reason why I only suggested a positive feedback.

        Rating reviewers would be tricky, though. I believe that a review’s value should be independent from its author. The same person that gives a valuable, detailed review on one plugin could give a simple rating with no review on another. Those two reviews shouldn’t count as equally important (or unimportant), just because they come from the same person.

        Perhaps when someone gives a very low rating, it would be useful to elaborate more on that by choosing a reason from a predefined list like for example “- has security vulnerabilities, – I couldn’t find how to use it, – Broke my site, – incompatible with some other plugin – Other”. This might be useful especially for security vulnerabilities, since it could automatically alert the plugin’s author or the moderators to take a look.

        Rating plugin authors, on the other hand, seems more interesting. In that case, though, revenge ratings would be even more common. Perhaps it would be interesting if the author’s rating could be measured somehow automatically – e.g. based on the average rating of his/her plugins, the responsiveness (how often he/she replies to the support tickets) and how well the plugins are maintained.

        • I don’t know; the abuse possible only grows by adding negative feedback, to plugins or reviews. It’s been my experience that most every plugin has it’s fair share of 1-star and 5-star reviews, and half the 1-star reviews are clearly from users who just didn’t get it, expected one-click-magic, etc.

          I think of it like Facebook and their likes and reactions. Still no dislike button and there’s a great reason for that. Negative feedback indicators are prone to false reporting from angry users, whether or not their anger was unfounded.

          And even still, I find that too many plugins in the repo are deserving of a “Scam” button. They often don’t do what it says, or the author uses misleading language/flat out omits where the line is between freemium and pay-to-play functionality. It would be abused, but perhaps the answer the to negative feedback is to track the user who leaves it. Something that is seen by mods and authors that attaches even a modicum of accountability.

    • One of the problem with reviews is that you must have a forum account to leave a review. Why? How many WordPress users have a forum account?

      People should be able to leave a review using their Facebook or Twitter account. They shouldn’t need a forum account to leave a review. Most people don’t like Internet message boards.

  3. The new design is HORRIBLE! (although I’m sure it will be awesome for Automatic and the chosen few crap plugins – *cough*yoast*cough*).

    It appears the WP minions (aka Samuel Sidler) have decided that it’s going to be their way and no community involvement is required (or even desired).

    He spends all his time arguing why his way is the right way and NO time considering other opinions.


    • Ron, you just did exactly what you’re criticizing Sam Sidler for. Share why the new design is horrible and then there’s a higher likelihood someone will consider your feedback as a data point. But just dismissing it as horrible without an explanation why isn’t actionable feedback.

      • Not my job to be part of the solution.

        I’d say there are plenty of good arguments here why it’s horrible though.

        Hint: Active installs is a CRITICAL number. I’m not interested in installing some brand-new plugin from some wannabe hack only to find out 2 weeks later it caused a major security breach that said hack has no idea how to fix (or any interest in fixing).

  4. Showing active installs is very useful, both for the end user and for the developer. As an end user, I don’t like installing a plugin and then after finding out it doesn’t do what I thought it did, uninstalling it and then making sure it didn’t leave anything in the database. Being able to see how many other end users are using a plugin, helps me decide which one to use.

    As a plugin developer, I like being able to see how many active installs my plugin has. It shows me how many people are using what I made. Will this information be removed totally?

    The plugin repo would be much more useful if tags were used correctly. Some plugin authors tag their plugins with tags that aren’t applicable. The plugin guidelines state there should be no more than 12 tags used. How many plugins have more than that? Too many.

  5. Active installs is very important – the excuse that it’s already taken into account when sorting the results is not good enough.

    When deciding which plugin to use, the active installs is an indicator of the popularity and community support around the plugin. Same with Last Updated – if a plugin hasn’t been updated for a year, I’d like to know that BEFORE installing.

    It seems to me that they’re trying to make it easier for smaller/newer plugins to grow – but I don’t think this is the right way to do it.

  6. Active installs number may be useful. But not an indicator that a plugin is actually good, just that it’s popular. A lot of things that are popular are not that good, right? A plugin that excels at an obscure task might stall at a few active installs. Because only a handful of people would ever need that.

  7. There are two things that are useful indicators of whether a plugin is worthwhile.
    1/ Author
    2/ Active installs

    Author tells us instantly if it’s someone known & with a reputation i.e speaks of the plugins credibility.

    Installs may not be an indication that a plugin is good but then again active installs must stand for something; again like the author attribution it’s a yardstick.

    Sorting through plugins can be a pita for both devs and users, the ‘design’ of a screen listing them needs to focus on not what looks cool but on how best to convey as much info as possible not how best to hide it.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head hnla. Plugin search is not supposed to be cute or cuddly. It’s an essential work tool.

      Giorgos idea about creating a structural hierarchy I find very helpful as well. Tags is great as a loosy-goosy band-aid but certainly does not replace systematic categorisation.

      As Ron notes, it’s strange to see an Audrey capital employee (Samuel Sidler, curiously he was lead on the Camino browser for 8 years, a great project) autocratically take essential features away from WordPress pros while other Automatticians impose features on us we don’t want (required by Automattic for WordPress.com or Jetpack). It would be great if the redesign were more of a open-minded discussion with the community.

      I’ve made a more detailed comment at WordPress.org as that is the official discussion and this is news. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Author doesn’t tell me anything. I have a few plugins in my favourites. If we could favourite plugin developers and see what they have new/ updated that would be useful.

      Active installs doesn’t mean much to me. I like trying a new plugin before it gets noticed by a lot of people. If it works out that’s pretty fabulous and I can watch it evolve. There are gems which don’t get noticed and don’t have a lot of installs.

      The main things I want to know about a plugin are features which are free versus the premium version. (I have bought plugins but it bugs me to find a free version is just a useless promotion for the premium plugin). Also, I want to know when the plugin was last updated.

      I’d like to search by phrase and have the option to refine the search by freshest update.

  8. I think compatibility is more important than popularity. I don’t really care how popular a plugin is. I want to know it’s being kept updated as WP updates. For me it is disappointing that popular and trending are the first/ top categories. I’d much rather see what’s new and freshly updated and decide for myself.

  9. I’m not sure if the rationale behind some of the design changes has been shared, but it would help couch them in context.

    I’m a developer, so by definition I’m a power user. So maybe this redesign isn’t for me, but when I search for a plugin for a client who has a problem I start with installs and reviews, and I look at who the plugin author is. As long as this information is still present somewhere, like if it launches in a modal when I click on the plugin title or thumb, then that’s fine for me.

    I think they need to do a better job telling me what “Pro,” “Light,” and those meta tags are. Are those tags talking about the plugin, or are they talking about the requirements for my WordPress site…? Without context, it’s difficult to understand what those mean.

    Otherwise I’d echo updating the search algorithm and implementing a better hierarchy for categorization. The flat tag hierarchy is difficult to use and not informative. There should be a facet-driven hierarchy with categorization and then tags/facets for whether something is premium/free, beta/official, etc. I’d also like a special category for anything under consideration for being implemented into WordPress core.

    Otherwise I like the clarity of the layout and I doubt I’d get hung up on my favorite features disappearing. I only rarely use the plugin search directory now a days, so most of these changes may not be for my use case.

  10. All plugins in the Repo are free. So “PRO” is invalid. Also, “LITE” (not light) is a bad user experience because of its persuasive history.

    Don’t adopt trends that have a questionable track record.

    Hidden facets (not removed) are fine, as long as there’s a Basic Search alongside Advanced Search–Autocomplete’s dream come true.

    Multi-star Ratings are redundant (real-estate killa) and should be wrapped into a single star icon with a numeric value inside the star. Matching WxH icons can accompany Ratings icon to convey has_addon$, vote_count, trending, popular, last_update, antiquated, etc.

    Did “(3,648)” people give this plugin 4.5 stars? No. So roll that value into a unique vote_count icon.

    Of course, with accessibility in mind.

    Lastly, although I love color-coding systems, be careful when using Gray (disabled), Green (free !== pay) or Red-ish (warning).

    Great job Meta Team! Looking good so far :D

  11. I think this is a great start but it needs work. I would recommend dumping the slider and adding more plugins to this page. Possibly 6 or 8 for each of the top two categories. Beta should be elsewhere because it is not for everyone.

    Also +1 for fixing the search, the results that come up are scary!

  12. All this talk about restructuring the plugin repo and still the biggest issue I, and many others have isn’t being addressed.

    Outdated plugins litter the repo.

    It’s a drain of time and energy to look for plugins there because more than half the plugins on the first 5 pages of any search are not listed as compatible with the current WP version.

    They can change it around all they want, but as long as the repo is clogged with old plugins, it’s still a crap shoot to find new plugins you can use. And best of all, it’s entirely fair. If authors don’t like not being listed, tough. Update the code and problem solved.

    Anyway… looks like the repo is going to continue being useless. I’ll stick to Envato for the time being.

  13. Every time I see something on this subject I jump on it, hoping to read something new and exciting is going to happen to the repos.

    Always I am disappointed, and today is no different.

    A couple of things spring immediately to mind.

    1) Analysis paralysis.
    2) Design by committee.

    And the noise to signal ratio on this issue makes it impossible to discern whether something of any value is actually happening and, if so, is it going to happen over anything less than an evolutionary timescale, I wonder?

    My input, for what its worth, is as follows:

    A) paint dries faster, and its more interesting to watch.
    B) a camel ~ the horse designed by a committee.

    “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” –Steve Jobs

  14. Some thoughts:
    * Allow only positive reviews
    * Remove the star rating and replace it with a simple binary “like” icon
    * Keep the active install number but do not account it too much in search results
    * Remove tags and replace it with categories
    * Allow reputation based reviews
    * Remove the plugins not getting updated
    * Display a simple search box in wp-admin plugin page; not promoted plugins
    * Display a meta completeness rating based on number of screenshots provided, documentation etc.
    * Require users to donate to plugin author before submitting support requests

  15. I think this design misses the mark. In many ways it feels like a store when it should feel like a conversation. Some thoughts:

    1) It doesn’t feel like there’s been enough thought about the various segments of people who will use this. The design leads with Popular but does popularity really matter? Same for Trending and Beta. The front page should be an answer to a question which is “I need a plugin that does X, what are my choices?” No one really is thinking “You know, I want to install the most popular plugins, regardless of what they do” or “Hey, I want to install some trending plugins on my site!”.

    So, it’s important to understand WHY people come to the site. What they’re looking for. What problem do they have and how can the site direct them to a good set of solutions?

    2) To me, this means the design should be that of a conversation and the search interface should basically help the visitor ask a question. I’d start by doing this almost literally, i.e. with a form that says something like “I’m looking for a plugin that does _____________” where ___________ is a search box. As they type, show matching categories and tags.

    Alternatively, show the top level categories (and there really shouldn’t be THAT many – maybe 15-20?) and let the visitor choose what they want. Use faceted search to refine that (“Over X Stars”, Updated in the last N (week/month/3months/ 12 months) etc.

    The design as shown in the mockup doesn’t come close to doing any of this. It’s designed for the plugin authors and not for the people who are using WordPress, find that they need a new feature and are hoping to find a plugin to use in order to implement that feature.

  16. At our local WordPress meetup I run a ‘evaluating plugins’ session about three times a year. We go through how Author, Last Updated,
    Requires WordPress Version,Compatible up to and Active Installs can be key in evaluating wp.org plugin options. Being able to see this information makes it easy to ignore plugins that haven’t been updated in 8 years and plugins that have low ratings. Having this information available without needing to click on a plugin makes evaluating plugins harder.

    Having reviews be the primary indicator of quality is also problematic as users can give a single star because a feature they want isn’t in the plugin. Having reviews being so central can lead to more people gaming their reviews by blatant self promotion and requests for friends to review the plugin, even if they have never used it.

    As a local community organizer, my goal is to help casual users to level up and become ‘insiders’. Teaching people how to get the most out of WordPress and make decisions that will save them frustration is a key part of that.

    As NateWr said in the discussion:

    The question that should be asked isn’t “what does the 80% do” but “what do we want to encourage the 80% to do”.

    Active installs is something that helps users know if others have found the plugin too frustrating to use. If you combine active installs with reviews you get a quick litmus test to see if people’s expectations are being bet.


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