Dr. Devlove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Plugin

Plugins, those powerful little pieces of code that extend the capability of a website (typically a WordPress CMS), have a bit of a reputation problem. One of the rumors going around is that a website can have “too many plugins”. And, as rumors go—there’s a little truth and a little fiction to that statement. But, before I begin dismantling that rumor, let me walk you through a little history… Way back when I was a budding WordPress (WP) developer (it was that long ago, in developer years), plugins seemed scary like a “growth challenge”. Happily, I did stop worrying and learn to love the plugin. One of the things that helped was realizing that plugins fall into roughly three categories:
  1. EZ-PZ—A plugin can be as simple as appending all Amazon Affiliate links with “(paid link)” or changing the WP admin icon for Posts to a Palm Tree.
  2. Fancy Functions—A plugin can also be as complicated as adding an entirely new set of functionalities (e.g., BuddyPress for a whole social experience, WooCommerce to sell your bracelets, LearnDash to teach virtually), or extending that functionality even further (e.g., Profile Fields for BuddyPress, PayPal for WooCommerce, Admin Toolkit for LearnDash).
  3. Zombie Plugins—The third kind of plugin is one that is no longer maintained or tested with the current version of WordPress.
So… what about that “too many plugins” question? The unsatisfying but honest answer is, “It depends.” If your site is slow, your web host may tell you that you have too many plugins. If something isn’t working quite right and the PHP error log is riddled with stack traces, a developer-for-hire might tell you that you have too many plugins. What they really mean is, “You have too many plugins for me to quickly and accurately diagnose your current situation.” I usually find myself saying, “It’s not quantity, it’s quality.” If you have 12 zombie plugins, that’s 12 too many. If you have 112 healthy plugins and your site is humming along swimmingly (true story!), then you don’t have too many plugins. Until the time when one of them becomes no longer maintained (or gets bitten by a zombie), then you have too many. Take-Home Message: Audit your plugins, keep them updated, remove the inactive ones, and work with a trusted developer who has the chops to diagnose potential problem-plugins and suggest alternatives. Earthling is that developer! Send us a transmission.