I guess what I was trying to get at with my previous poll about too many plugins was the idea that a lot of WordPress sites that I see these days are just absolutely trashed in the Admin Area due to inconsiderate, poorly planned plugins and themes. For users, a few wrong turns when choosing plugins can leave the streamlined, easy-to-use Admin Area an absolute mess of annoying ads and discordant design. So this DigWP post is encouragement for plugin and theme developers to please STOP ruining the WordPress experience with aggressive marketing tactics, endless nagging, and other obtrusive nonsense.
“The overall quality of a plugin or theme is revealed by how well it harmonizes with WordPress.”
And the winners are..
Just kidding. When it comes to polluting the WP Admin Area with hideous design and strident advertising, there are no winners. The user experience suffers, your brand looks pathetic, and the WordPress experience is ruined.
For those of us that run "pristine" WP installs, it's easy to imagine that all WordPress users enjoy the same clean, well-organized Admin experience. You know, a world where the unencumbered luxury of the Admin Area is freely available for all users. Unfortunately, this unhindered utopia of administrative functionality is far from universal reality.
Thanks to some overzealous plugins and themes, the carefully designed and refined Admin Area can be transformed into an unusable mess of popups, reminders, and advertisements in just a few short clicks. All it takes is a few desperate plugins and suddenly you're staring at a barrage of poorly designed "alerts" and obtrusive advertisements scattered throughout the entirety of the Admin Area.
Seeing is believing
Of course, descriptive language fails to convey the full extent of the UX degradation we're dealing with here. If you've yet to experience anything like this for yourself, congratulations. To get a better idea, please examine the following screenshots (click images for full-size views).
As one of my readers recently lamented:
“[...] Developers seem to be so full of themselves and avarice that WP has become their private ad board. Nicely, suggesting a pull back to less in-your-face tactics has only brought condescending ‘it's got to be’ responses. I wouldn't mind even an occasional nag at the time I was dealing with their plugin; BUT, it's all the time, any time.”
But wait there's more..
The previous examples show some of the worst, most polluted Admin Areas that I've had the displeasure of visiting. But the backend doesn't need to be completely obliterated to make the user feel violated: all it takes is one blatant, in-your-face advertisement or some self-serving, obtrusive notification to ruin the simplicity and elegance of the WordPress experience. Here are some screenshots showing examples of this (click images for full-size views).
From the same frustrated user:
“They've begun thinking the Admin page is their own personal playground to further their business.”
I'm guessing there are thousands upon thousands of examples like these, where some ill-conceived design decision leaves an otherwise decent plugin looking obnoxious and desperate. And all at the expense of the end-user. Here are some further examples to really help the idea sink in (click images for full-size views)..
..and a few more examples to consider (click links to view full-size images):
Had enough of the mercenary tactics and ill-conceived design? Let's look at some ways of dealing with this unfortunate phenomenon..
Dealing with it
In an effort to encourage developers to NOT trash the Admin Area, and to educate users that they shouldn't settle for obnoxious plugins and themes, here are some recommended guidelines.
Developers, here are some tips to help keep your plugin or theme 100% legit with your users.
- Use the WP API for notices, etc., not your own funky thing
- General usage information belongs in the readme/documentation
- License nags and prompts belong on the plugin page or submenu
- Nags to "rate my plugin" and similar should be left on the plugin page
- Asking for donations at the top of every page in the Admin Area makes your plugin look cheap
- Nags for "recommended plugins" should be kept in the documentation
- Applying your own "custom" styles to make your stuff stand out or "pop" out is an absolutely horrible idea
- If you must advertise or ask for ratings/donations, for the love of WordPress keep it on your own plugin page, and DO NOT display it on every page in the Admin Area
Basically these tips can be summarized with two golden rules: keep your ads, nags, and other infos on your own plugin page (or in the documentation), and always use styles that harmonize with WordPress. And to go even further, these two rules can be boiled down to a single point:
“If your plugin or theme stands out in the Admin Area, you're doing it wrong.”
Users shouldn't have to give your plugin exclusive space. The Admin Area is not a private billboard for your plugins, themes, and whatever else. You get a plugin page to put your best foot forward, so make the best of it and show respect for both the user and WordPress.
Users, especially new and/or inexperienced users, I feel for you. Hopefully the following recommendations will help you run a cleaner, more productive WordPress.
- Choose plugins that harmonize with WordPress
- Avoid pushy, inconsiderate plugins like the plague
- If you install a plugin and ads and nags are the first thing you see, uninstall immediately and don't look back
- If you find a plugin that works but is capitalizing the Admin space, look for an alternative (there's almost always at least one good alternative)
- After all of your plugins are installed and activated, the Admin Area should remain as fluid and functional as it was when you first installed WordPress
- Uninstall "noisy" plugins that insist on standing out with ads, nags, etc.
- If you can't find a suitable alternative to an obnoxious plugin, try disabling its ads/nags/etc. (see next section below)
These rules intentionally are a bit repetitive, so let's summarize:
“Avoid plugins and themes that don't harmonize with WordPress.”
Fortunately, the endless army of WordPress plugins and themes enable users to be extremely discerning when it comes to quality. And that's precisely what all of this is pointing at: the overall quality of a plugin or theme is represented by how well it harmonizes with WordPress. Anything that you are adding to WordPress should be tightly integrated with WordPress.
So if you find yourself staring at some oddly styled plugin notice that's splattered throughout the Admin Area, asking you to upgrade, donate, subscribe, like, tweet, or whatever, that's a clear sign that you've installed the wrong plugin.
If all else fails, and you absolutely need to use that annoying plugin or theme, you can try disabling some of its unwanted Admin Notices. Savvy users can do this manually by grabbing the global
$wp_filter variable and filtering as needed. But there's no need to reinvent the wheel; try using a plugin such as Hide Plugin Updates Notifications or similar to do the job. Of course, this method won't clean up rogue styles or stop all ads, nags, and virtual panhandling, but it may help restore the UI to something a bit more manageable.
Take home message
If you are a WordPress developer: respect the software you are working with. Understand that it's taken thousands of people many years to make WordPress the popular, easy-to-use publishing platform it is today. Show your users that you care by not wasting their time and space with blatant, condescending marketing tactics and in-your-face self-promotion.
If you are a WordPress user: understand that WordPress is designed to be simple, fast, and easy to use. When you first install WordPress, have a look around the Admin Area. Notice how clean and well-organized everything is. As you build your site, choose harmonious plugins that vibe with the WordPress aesthetic, and avoid disrespectful plugins like the plague.
For both developers and users, it's all about maintaining the integrity of WordPress, harmony of the Admin Area, and quality of the user experience. WordPress is the greatest, please help to keep it that way.
2016/08/31: Just looking at the new WP Plugin Guidelines: The plugin should not hijack the blog admin — hopefully it helps! :)