Update Apr 29, 2015: My friend Emil from ThemeReview.co announced their Plugin Review service which I highly recommend for all plugin authors, business owners and clients – high quality means higher security, better performance and compatibility for your project.
We have these regular discussions on Open Source, the future of WordPress and such. I’ve been discussing the global community aspect and the challenges with the self-made development titles, so let’s take a closer look at the community.
As I’ve said before, I’m all in when it comes to having an Open Source platform for everyone to use and play it. It’s great when it’s accessible for everyone and people can set up a website for free, even with tools like Softaculous which takes like 3 clicks.
And if we want to outgrow the blogging application of WordPress, we need to get serious about the real business projects out there. Drupal is widely popular among the governmental network, and Java, C# and Ruby are common choices for serious projects since business owners want a reliable and stable platform. We need a reliable ecosystem in place before we can offer WordPress for solid platforms of any kind.
Plugin and Theme Pricing
One of the challenges of building a viable ecosystem is having dedicated experts working on products. This means consultants and teams spending their time on a given plugin without having to worry about their rent or daily expenses.
This doesn’t rule out WordPress as being Open Source, nor the plugins being freely distributed. Pippin is a great example with his overview on EDD for 2014 for having a successful business model that brings revenue. Red Hat is a billion-dollar Open Source company as well (annually), so there are examples out there.
But having an example or two in the WordPress world is not enough. Having just a few companies over 10 people or so doing full-time WordPress development is concerning.
Case In Point
Most of the business owners, customers and newbies tend to attack WordPress on the pricing aspect, always pointing out the cheapest solutions available. This is degrading, and that is the reason why websites are being offered for $200 or so without taking any quality measures.
So let’s see an example of a free and beautiful plugin with about 14,000 downloads that people prefer and use. It’s shiny and it converts good, don’t get me wrong – we use it on DevriX too. But the difference is that we build a lot of things from scratch, or review the rest accordingly.
Helios Solutions Social Media Buttons is a free plugin that adds a floating bar with your social icons. It looks nice and it converts to followers on various social networks. And it’s mostly used for social media marketing, from people who are zealous about their SEO and often want to get on first page of Google with zero investment, using free tools and not spending money on content marketing or SEO services by professionals.
After installing the plugin and adding a link to any of your networks, you can view the source of your home page (or whatever page).
Turns out that style snippets are directly injected into the head tag, but that’s okay. The interesting part is the HTML for your social widget – which is also in your head snippet.
If you took even a basic class on HTML, you will know that your content stays between your <body> and </body> tags. Scripts, styles and meta are in your <head>, the rest is in your body. That’s how browsers work and that’s been so for the past 20 or more years.
I’m not going to mention the broken inline style “top:px” which is invalid (having no number) or the indentation of the code, but getting back to SEO. One of the things big G cares about is valid HTML and CSS. Passing this page through the validator comes with a price:
- Line 118, Column 38: Element style not allowed as child of element body in this context. (Suppressing further errors from this subtree.)
<style type="text/css" media="screen">
- Line 126, Column 7: Stray end tag head.
- Line 128, Column 91: Start tag body seen but an element of the same type was already open.
- Line 128, Column 91: Cannot recover after last error. Any further errors will be ignored.
…"home blog logged-in admin-bar no-customize-support fuelux masonry group-blog">
So, while taking care of your SEO and installing your shiny plugin, you reach to a fatal error where the validator pretty much gives up and says “please stop”.
It’s completely invalid markup and anything in your body remains non-validated. Google considers that a malformed page of some sort, can’t crawl it properly and isn’t keen on indexing it way too high either.
This is a simple example of a freely distributed plugin with close to 14K downloads to date. While it’s not transparent, it’s something that happens all the time. Security issues aside, but making sure that the code is in tact, performance is taken into account and the overall page structure isn’t malformed are standard things to check while building a solution.
Yet, lots of free products don’t do that. And they’re free – use them at your own risk.
Even worse, too many premium plugins are not optimized either. The competitive costs of themes worth as much as a decent dinner (or even less) affect the time for QA or bringing high-end engineers who have to spend enough time building the right framework and test it properly.
Keeping the prices so low and not rewarding the time of our consultants is not going to increase the quality. Supporting Open Source projects is part of the culture of free and open source software, and clients ignoring that rule later complain about all sorts of issues on their sites.
So, which one should it be – free with no commitment or giving back, or a quality product that helps your business?