Though plugins are arguably responsible for a significant part of WordPress’ popularity as a content management system, you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the current version of the Plugin Directory. Good news is on the horizon, however.

The official listing of plugins has been in need of some extra love for quite some time, and it looks as if a recently announced makeover is finally going to drag this part of the platform up to speed.

In this piece, we’ll cover some background on the proposed changes and why they’re long overdue, and consider what can be expected in the near future.

The Surprisingly Low-Key History of the WordPress Plugin Directory

Plugins have been a core part of WordPress going all the way back to 2004’s official introduction in the release of version 1.2 (Mingus). Though the number and range of plugins available in the interim has skyrocketed, the amount of work that’s gone into their listing remains relatively small.

As the recent official makeover announcement indicated, the upcoming changes will constitute the third major makeover of the directory. Version one of the directory powered the listing of the first 20,000 plugins all the way up to a refresh in 2012. Version two brought improved options for users, including the addition of a proper support tab, and improved information on how actively engaged developers were.

Discovery remained a problem for the directory, however. With over 40,000 plugins currently available, the default search and filter options have attracted their fair share of ire over the years. As an example, Luca Fracassi pointed out last year that roughly 50% of searches will return a plugin that hasn’t been updated in over two years.

The WP Plugin Directory is an alternative plugin directory
The WP Plugin Directory is an alternative plugin directory

In addition to paid plugin options on CodeCanyon, a small number of developers have attempted to provide a better way of listing plugins along the way. Tidy Repo and Addendio both deserve honorable mentions here, with WP Plugin Directory being perhaps the most fully featured reimagining to date – its addition of faceted search remains a highly desirable feature that it would be great to see in the official directory.

What’s in Store for Version 3 of the Plugin Directory

Against the low-key backdrop discussed above, the proposed version three of the directory was greeted with excitement upon its announcement. The project follows on from a recent Theme Directory makeover by the WordPress meta team, and will also involve finally moving away from bbPress into an (appropriately) plugin-based model.

A quick look at the project overview shows the main areas being targeted in the revamp:

  • WordPress users: Standard WordPress users should benefit from a faster browsing experience, improved search and options for managing favorites, and a UI that more closely matches the existing backend. Internationalization is also a theme, with translated plugins being given greater weight.
  • Plugin authors: The move away from bbPress should enable much more straightforward options for submitting, documenting, and managing plugins. Developer Mickey Kay has already chimed in with his take on several of the issues the redesign needs to address.
  • Plugin reviewers: The sheer scale of submissions to the directory has long been a potential issue. The redesign should open the way to better automated processes for approval, place less of a burden on the current review team, and help remove perceived inconsistencies.

With a provisional shipping date of late June 2016, work is already fully underway on the revamp. As Scott Reilly’s announcement made clear, the initial rollout was largely concerned with theming issues, and more substantial functionality changes are in the works. As the comments on early versions of changes from developers such as Justin Tadlock show, it’s very much a work in progress.

The WordPress official plugin directory
The WordPress official plugin directory

What we’ve seen so far is a rollout of a favorites section for logged-in users, the addition of a ‘Beta Testing’ section to highlight feature plugins, and the long overdue ability to search for plugins by author username. There’s also been good news for developers in the form of more accurate ratings data for plugins and improvements in fighting spam.

The elephant in the room remains the thorny subject of commercial plugins, but it seems safe to assume we won’t be seeing any major moves to include them on WordPress.org any time soon.

Conclusion

The revamp of the Plugin Directory is long overdue and largely to be welcomed. Though the impact of the REST API leaves many aspects of future plugin development slightly unclear, it should at least be easier to sift through free offerings on WordPress.org for all concerned in the near future.

Here are the main places you can keep an eye on the project as it develops:

Are you looking forward to the redesign? Or do you have any particular bugbears you’d like to see addressed? Get in touch via the comments section below and let us know!

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