While I wrote up a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t use Multisite, the truth is I really like it and find it well suited to my needs. But one of the big problems with it is that everyone’s network setup is different. Many times, when people ask for help in the forums, I have to sketch out the bare ideas of what to do and why. This brings people to their biggest complaint in Multisite: Why isn’t there a plugin for this already?
First and formost, Multisite is still ‘new’ for the mainstream. Thelonius, the 3.0 release, is only two and a half years old! WordPress 1.0 came out in 2004, just as a reminder. 3.0 is when Multisite was folded into full WordPress, and it’s not been there very long, but it’s changed a lot since the start. In 2010, when 3.0 came out, there were 10,000 plugins in the repository. Today we’re at 22,000 and growing every day. When it comes to single site WordPress, the plugin world is mature and populated. Of those 22,000, about 300 are specific for Multisite. That’s a pretty small number when you look at the over 1000 plugins that do something with Twitter. Of course, most plugins work with Multisite anyway, but the ones that are Multisite specific are the ones to look at here.
A plugin is developed to fit a need. A good developer tries to keep the plugin simple and adaptable, so as many people as possible can use it for as many situations as suit their needs. Doing that has a lot of weird scope creep, of course, and if you consider that we do have 1000 twitter related plugins, you may understand why. Plugins fit a need, and when they don’t we extend/fork/hack the plugin to fit our specific need. Multisite, in and of itself, is fitting a need, and while that need is very specific, it’s also very broad. There are myriad reasons to use Multisite, and because of that, those 300 plugins that are built specifically for Multisite have to meet all of our needs. Of course, that’s not how it works.
While the majority of themes and plugins work just fine on Multisite, the ones people get in arms about are the ones that are supposed to be ‘for’ Multisite. These plugins should do more, but not too much. They should meet my specific needs, as well as all of yours and hers and his too. There should be a plugin for everything. Why am I the only person who wants this? I walk away from those arguments a lot, or I point out “You’re not the only person who wants it, but you’re possibly the only person who wants it in that way.”
Plugins are not the silver bullet for everyone. Your site may be a werewolf, mine a zombie, and his a vampire. Each one has their own needs and because of that, their own requirements. So let’s be direct. The whole reason you can’t find the perfect plugin is because no one’s a mind reader. The reason you can’t find everything you want in one plugin is because you didn’t write it (or have it written).
What does that mean? Multisite is still young, and those 300 Multisite specific plugins aren’t all Multisite specific first of all. At least a third are listed as Multisite because they work on Multisite. For example, bbPress is tagged ‘multisite’ but it wasn’t built ‘for’ Multisite. On the other hand, Networks for WordPress is built for Multisite, and nothing else.
The best way to tell if a plugin is built just for Multisite is to see if it set ‘Network:true’ in the code. If you open up the code of the plugin, you can see this in the header:
Now, not all Multisite plugins are meant to be Network enabled, but only plugins that are for Multisite will be Network only like that, so it’s one way to make sure that plugin is intended for Multisite. The downside to that is expressed via something like BuddyPress, which if you use on a Multisite must be network activated, but you don’t have to use it on Multisite. This means the check isn’t perfect.
The point to all this is that Multisite’s still the new kid in town. It isn’t perfect, and it is still evolving and changing in pretty dramatic ways. Also, I find it pretty cool to watch it grow. But the reason you can’t find all the plugins you want with it is really simple: They haven’t been written. You may actually be the first person who wants something done in that specific way, and with the myriad new methods Multisite gives us to do amazing things, there’s a lot of room for different options.
What should you do if you’re not a coder and want something that’s never been done? Well, learn to code. Or hire a coder. I wish there was another way, but when you want that special one-off toy that really isn’t suitable for everyone, you’re going to need to meet the challenge head out. None of this is meant as an excuse, by the way, but an explanation. It’s just not done. Yet.