Releasing a WordPress Plugin – What’s Stopping You?

At OM4 we’re typically  creating a WordPress plugin in order to solve a requirement for one (or more) of our paying clients.

Some of the time, the problem we’re solving is quite specialised and unique, so there would be little benefit in releasing it to the masses.

However in a lot of other cases, the problem we’re solving for our client is a generic problem that applies to a lot of other people out there.

In those more generic cases, we have tried to make an effort to give away those plugins to the public by releasing them into the official WordPress plugins repository.

So far we’ve publicly released 4 plugins into the repository, and today we reached a milestone: our WordPress plugins have now been downloaded more than 100,000 times!

The main reason we released these plugins was because we wanted to try and give back to the WordPress community. After all, we had free access to WordPress and 25,000+ plugins due to the generosity of others, so why not return the favour?!

Speaking of why not, there are a few common arguments against publicly releasing a plugin, which I’ll try and address below.

1. But won’t I get too many support requests if I release my plugin?

Well, it depends.

In our case, we’ve had 100,000+ plugin downloads, but we’ve had a mere 18 support requests, which equates to:

  • 1 support request for every 5555 downloads
  • 1 support request every 11 weeks

Personally I think those numbers are very low, and I attribute that fact to the following 3 reasons:

a) A simple plugin designed to do one thing only

In our case, the plugins  we chose to publish are all very simple plugins, which are designed to done thing only.

The biggest plugin we’ve released is a mere 600 lines of code, however I’ve come across plugins in the repository that have 50,0000+ lines of code.

Now I have no doubt that those large plugins can be useful to people, but I personally wouldn’t want to release a plugin that large without charging for support (because there would be a lot of support requests)!

b) Decisions not options

The plugins we’ve published all have very few user options (which follows WordPress’ philosophy of Decisions not Options).

This helps keep your plugin small, simple, and easy to use.

Speaking of WordPress’ philosophy, in my opinion the main points that are relevant to plugins are:

  • Design for the Majority
  • Decisions not Options
  • Clean, Lean, and Mean
  • Striving for Simplicity
  • Out of the Box

I strongly recommend you read the philsophy and try and apply it to your plugins.

c) Clear & simple documentation

We have also put quite a lot of effort into documenting each plugin (in the plugin’s readme.txt file), so that the users can get up and running without having to ask questions.

Remember that you wrote the plugin, so you understand how to use it. However your users don’t have that knowledge, so they’ll need clear and simple instructions.

2. But isn’t releasing a plugin extra work that I won’t get paid for?

Technically, it is a little more work to publicly release a plugin, but if you’ve gone to the effort of writing the plugin for a client, why not spend another hour packaging it up and releasing it on WordPress.org?

Speaking of extra work: the major benefit to releasing your plugin is that other plugin developers might do some work for you!

I’ve had several developers who have been nice enough to send me bug reports (and pull requests) for our plugins, which has saved us some time and thus benefited our own clients.

If you’d like to encourage this community development, I strongly recommend putting your plugin’s code on GitHub (in addition to the WordPress plugin repository).

3. But I don’t know how!

If you are interested in releasing your plugin, I encourage you to have a look at the WordPress Plugin Developer Centre.

Conclusion

Now that I’ve been working with WordPress for ~6 years,  I can’t even guess how many lines of code I’ve written!

But when I pause for a second and compare that  to the amount of code that I have released publicly, I realise that there is still a lot of room for improvement. Is it too late to be making more new year’s resolutions?!?

I’m interested in hearing from you.

Is there anything in particular holding you back from releasing your WordPress plugin code to the public?

I’d love to hear why, and help encourage you to take the plunge and release it.

3 thoughts on “Releasing a WordPress Plugin – What’s Stopping You?

  1. Congrats on the 100k milestone!

    A simple plugin designed to do one thing only

    That is great advice. I’ve all but completely abandoned the large plugins I released free. Those which do one thing well are thriving. Fixes are easier. Support is easier and there is less of it. So plenty of people continue to enjoy the simple utility they provide.

    1. Thanks for the input Brent.

      At the end of the day, it sounds like both users and developers appreciate simple plugins!

      These days I think that if you’re planning on releasing a large/complex plugin, you’re better off doing so with a premium plugin business model. Either charging for the plugin itself (like Gravity Forms does), or giving the plugin away for free and charging for addons/extensions (like WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads do).

      James

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