Extensions: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

Over the past few years there has been a growth of companies using the “plugins as a platform” type model. They will offer up their core plugin for free, and then monetize it with paid extensions. WooCommerce is the most notable in this market, but there are others. Easy Digital Downloads and Ninja Forms are two plugins that also do this that I use quite a bit.

Disclaimer: I have developed a number of extensions (free & paid, public & private) for a number of platforms – including all the ones listed today.

The Good.

For the user, this is (usually) a really great thing. They get their core functionality for free and then just pay for the features they need. If they want to add a recurring subscription to their shop later, they just buy that extension and drop it in. Hard to beat the simplicity of that isn’t it?

There are always haters and of course this feels like nickle and diming when you end up “needing” (read: wanting) a lot of features on your site. Honestly – that’s all I chalk that up to as long as the extensions are reasonably priced. Don’t want to pay for $500 in extensions that build 90% of your site without having to hire a developer? I can understand being cash strapped when getting started but please at least respect the amount of development that has gone into all the plugins you are using. Chances are if you had to build that site from scratch you are looking at a 5–6 figure estimate. How’s that $500 in plugins sounding now? 🙂

The Bad.

For all the plugins as a platform type marketplaces out there, I don’t think there are any that do not have third party developers buiding the extensions. Next time you go to buy an extension look around for a “Developer” name listed on it. It may or may not be the company you think you are buying an extension from. This is not by itself an entirely bad thing… there are some amazing developers out there and they do not have to work for the core plugin to be amazing. I am not including this fact as something that is “bad” in itself, it can actually be great. It is something to be aware of though and is not always totally clear to the uninformed.

What this can lead to though is a semi-political environment and a number of “got there first” situation. The reason for this is obviously the best place to sell your extension is on the website of the plugin itself, you get the most exposure and the best sales there. To avoid confusion these sites are not going to sell two extensions that do the same thing. So usually regardless of quality or what is “better” (of course that is totally relative). Unless something really messes up or breaks if someone else has built an extension, you need to find somewhere else to sell it.

The typical extension marketplace uses Trello as a place to manage all the extensions. Usually “claiming” an extension is a matter of creating a card and assigning your name to it. At that point unless you take too long to build it or are unresponsive someone else cannot just come in and build the same thing and have theirs sold in place of yours… again regardless of quality.

In all cases of selling extensions on the core plugin’s website all of the code is in initially audited and held to certain standards. This does not include the likes of CodeCanyon or other marketplaces where you can just upload whatever and good or bad it can likely sell.

The takeaway here is, just because you are buying from “the people who made the core plugin” that does not mean you are getting the same developers for your new extension. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, just be sure you know what you are buying.

The Ugly.

It’s hard to find a nice way to say this next piece.

Some extensions are total garbage.

As an average consumer the typical extension purchase involves reading the title and description and if it sounds like it does what they want they may get it. Sometimes this invovles looking at documentaiton, watching videos, reading reviews.

Having been in that mindset and knowing a number of developers who build extensions I see varying levels of though put into the code. You have the ones that want to build the best product and it becomes very obvious. There are others who want to find the extension that they can do the least work on and it sell high volumes.

The good news here is usually with larger marketplaces there is some sort of refund policy. If shortly after you buy an extension it turns out to be horrible you can possibly get a refund. Smaller shops seem to do this much less.

The ugly part of this is, usually the consumer buying an extensions does not know what good or bad code is. They usually do not find out there is an issue until they have issues or the site gets large enough that they work with a developer to further grow their site, and these extensions start creating limitations and more issues than they are worth.

My Point.

For small projects or something you just need to get off the ground, an extension can be great. If you have plans to really grow a site and you want to make the most of your time and money investment into a site… work with a developer to plan that out and decide what features of yours can be accomplished with a trusted extension, and what features you want specific enough functionality that it makes more sense to develop your own from scratch.

The last thing you want to do is become succesfull and find out your site is getting in your way of your success. Dealing with growth pains of rapid success can be hard enough, you really don’t want to also end up having to rebuild half your site at the same time!