Is This Plugin Bad?

They're not bad, they're just misguided! And the secret answer is "Be aware."

I get asked this a lot, in part because of my job (WordPress Support Guru and Manager) but also because I’m a know-it-all busy-body. The problem with the question is that it’s very subjective, and the answer highly depends on why someone’s asking the question.

I’m sure it annoys my co-workers when they ask “Is this plugin bad?” and I ask “What problem is the customer reporting?” If the answer is that the customer has a slow site, then MY reply will be different than if they were hacked. Making matters worse, sometimes the answer depends on what other plugins they’re using, or what their theme is, or how they use everything together! You see, the issue is rarely “This is a horrible, evil, terrible plugin and no one should ever use it!” It’s generally more “Well in this case, I would say this is the best plugin, but you have to take this into consideration…”

As a customer, it’s annoying. I just want a yes or no answer. But this is like that gas milage situation I talked about in my explanation of Shared Hosting. How many tanks of gas does it take to drive from Chicago to Cleveland? For me, it’s one. For my cousin, it was two and some change. Same distance, same day, same weather! What was different? The car and how we drove.

Your site and my site are different. This site and this other site on my network are different. They run different plugins, though the same theme, and sometimes one of those different plugins causes a problem. Like I found out the custom prices plugin caused my background image not to display. Oops. Does that make it bad?

There are a few types of ‘bad’ plugins to consider.

Evil Plugins

This is the easiest to explain. A plugin that is created to do evil things, like leave backdoors into your site, is bad, no matter what. Don’t use it.

Holey Plugins

This plugin has the best intentions in the world, but for whatever reason has a security hole. Maybe they forgot, maybe they missed it, but it happens to everyone. In general, this is not a bad plugin, unless the dev refuses to fix it. Or worse, can’t fix it! Now it’s a bad plugin.

Broken Plugins

Pretty common, this is a plugin that once worked but now, with the new upgrade of your theme/plugin/WordPress it stopped. This one sucks, and not much can be done except try and fix it, unless the developer comes around.

Works For Everyone But You Plugins

This is the brunt of what people mean when they ask me “Is this a bad plugin?” but they just don’t know it yet.

Mal (aka Bad)

If you haven’t noticed, most of the ‘bad’ plugins are really just unfortunate plugins in bad situations. Determining if a specific plugin is bad for you isn’t as simple as going “Yes, I know that plugin is crap!”

What I do know, but I have to be circumspect in saying, is some plugins are better than others for specific server situations. You’re on shared? You probably don’t want W3 Total Cache right away because the best parts of it (that hooks into server side caching) aren’t available for you. On a VPS? You can probably use that YARPP (yet another related posts…) plugin just fine! Oh, but you’re using it with BuddyPress and bbPress and a whole mess of other plugins with a high degree of interactivity? You may need more memory.

And that’s the real answer. Is any individual plugin I named ‘bad’? No! In fact I’ve used them all and they’re wonderful in their use case. But they also require me to be aware of my whole situation. What kind of server am I using, what kind of environment am I in, what other plugins am I using?

It all comes back to being aware.

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