WordPress.org deletes plugin active install growth data

Over the weekend, WordPress.org contributors took down the active install growth data for plugins. These charts were a key tracking tool for many developers and a few services. The charts were taken down for a mysterious reason called “insufficient data obfuscation,” but the decision-making process was not clear.

WordPress.org deletes plugin active install growth data

Mark Zahra, CEO of RebelCode, says in a ticket called “Bring back the active install growth data ” that this information is useful for seeing how the number of installs of a plugin has changed over time.

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“These stats are very helpful for plugin developers, and it’s one of the only ways to tell if a plugin is getting more popular or less popular over time,” Zahra said. “At least, these graphs show us how a plugin works before and after we make certain changes. This helps us figure out how useful they are for WordPress users.”

Plugin developers didn’t know why the plugin was taken down, so they went to the #meta Slack channel to find out more. From what plugin developers have said, it seems like this was a bad decision and a failure to communicate.

Equalize Digital CEO Amber Hinds said, “I’m also sad that that chart was taken down.” “I hope that we’ll hear soon. In a perfect world, this commit should be rolled back until the community has a chance to talk about it.”

Zach Tirrell, a product manager at Liquid Web, said, “We don’t get many metrics from the plugin directory, and this one was very important to plugin authors.”

Josepha Haden-Chomphosy, who is the Executive Director of WordPress, joined the conversation in the channel. However, she didn’t have much to say about why this change was made without any public discussion.

Haden-Chomphosy said, “The data shared is always a little bit hidden so that it’s harder to “game the system.” This is also why we don’t have running leaderboards for contributions.”

“We’re open to ideas about how to get some data for you all while trying to keep a “co-opetition” mindset.”

Co-opetition is a term that combines the ideas of cooperation and competition to make a system where different vendors work together for the good of the system while still competing. Haden-Chomphosy didn’t say much more, but it seems that making data hard to understand was seen as a necessary cost for co-opetition.

Scott Reilly, who made the change and was paid by Audrey Capital to do so, said, “The implementation made it possible to figure out the stats we were trying to hide.”

Not all plugin authors agree that these stats need to be hidden, and people don’t trust people who make decisions like this one that are hard to understand.

Yoast’s founder, Joost de Valk, said, “The real data is out there.” “Automattic is one of the companies that buy plugins and has access to the exact data, even more so than before. Other companies don’t have this access.

“This whole thing about cooperation is interesting, but I think this is an unfair advantage. Literally every other open source system out there just makes these numbers public, and we should do the same.”

It is still not clear if this decision was made because of security concerns, but de Valk and others are urging WordPress.org’s decision makers to bring the data back until a better solution is found. Participants on the ticket have also asked WordPress’s leaders to talk with the plugin developers about what kind of information would help them make an alternative.

Matt Mullenweg wrote on the ticket, “Thanks for the feedback. I’m aware that there were a number of commercial and free third-party services that scraped these data in bulk and used it.”

“If someone has reasons to bring it back that haven’t been mentioned above, please add them to this thread so that we can look at the best case for that side.”

Iain Poulson’s WP Trends newsletter went on hiatus for 10 months, but he brought it back today with a new issue called “Second-Class Third-Party Developers.” It says that the removal of active install growth data is “a symptom of the larger problem that WordPress doesn’t really want to support third-party developers who make freemium plugins.”

“Because of this, developers don’t have a lot of data insights. This is one of the reasons I made Plugin Rank and why there are other solutions like wpMetrics. Both of these will be affected by this change. That doesn’t mean that other platforms and marketplaces are perfect, but they don’t seem to work against developers like WordPress.org does. As a plugin developer trying to grow a business, data is everything. Unfortunately, the data from the directory isn’t very good, and it needs a big change to make it better.

Poulson says that WordPress.org could offer even more information than it does now, such as the number of new installs per day/month, the number of updates to existing sites per day/month, and the search terms that led to the download.

Poulson said that people who make Freemium Plugins shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in the ecosystem. “Developers who only make free plugins should be able to see good numbers. If you don’t know people are using your plugins, there’s no reason to keep making them.”

Beyond the fact that developers can’t get useful information about how their free plugins are doing, many people in the resulting discussions seem to think that the meta team’s decision was made in a way that wasn’t clear. A fancy portmanteau that encourages cooperation without good communication can’t easily take the sting out of another decision made behind closed doors.

Will WordPress keep collecting this information if it can’t be trusted that plugin developers won’t use it “co-opetively”? Who can get to it privately? Why weren’t other options looked into before access was taken away quietly? After this decision is made, these questions need to be answered in order to find a way to improve plugin data.

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