Like most people who create something, I decided to build Addendio based on a personal frustration. In my case it was the whole experience of searching and finding plugins/themes that was bothering (more on that in future posts).
Back when Addendio was still an idea, I knew that the WordPress ecosystem was big, but I wanted more quantitative data. While the System 1 in my head told me that betting on WordPress was a no brainer, my System 2 did his job and forced me to do my due diligence.
In case you don’t know what System 1 and System 2 are, I suggest you to read the wonderful book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. You won’t regret it.
Based on my System 2 input, I started out my search and I hit Google so hard that I had a few captchas to fill in (I can be brutal when it comes to hitting the search button).
I was expecting to be able to find information easily concerning the WordPress ecosystem. After all it’s the #1 CMS in the world, right? Truth is that it was much harder than I expected. Sure you can find plenty of posts concerning the famous 20ish % of the web, but there wasn’t much else. I quickly realized that if I wanted something more I had to do my homework.
How Big Is The WP Repository?
Have you ever wondered how many plugins are added to the WordPress repository every year? That was my first question because while I knew that the WP ecosystem was big, I couldn’t really tell how big it was and how fast it was growing for plugins.
I decided to focus on plugins as I think this is the area that has most potential both for end users and for developers.
Rather than writing about all the findings, I put together a dashboard so that we can keep track in the future about how things will evolve.
The Addendio WP Repo Dashboard
There’s nothing fancy about this dashboard for the time being, but it does help visualizing some key points . The different tabs contain each of the 4 graph so that you can use them in a isolation if you prefer.
The 4 graphs in the dashboard (left to right, top to bottom) represent the following:
- Plugins #: number of plugins added to the repo each year
- Last Update #: year the plugins were last updated with a stacked bar representing the year they were added to the repo
- Added vs Last Update %: percentage of plugins by year of addition with year of last update on the stacked bar
- Added vs Last Update: same as the previous graph, but in absolute number of plugins
From the above I took away the following points:
- There are 40,000+ plugins today (Nov 2015) in the repository (ok that was easy)
- 2015 is set to be another record year in terms of number of plugins (assuming the pace of additions continues at this level)
- Around 22,000 plugins have been updated over the last 24 months, which represents around 55% of the repository. While this is true, we need to note that this number takes into account plugins that were create in 2015, which, by definition, have been updated in the last 12 months. It also takes into account plugins that where created in 2014, but were never updated afterwards (around 52%!). We will get back to this in a minute.
This brings us to the most interesting point in my view: Which percentage of plugins are actively maintained?
There’s no right/wrong answer here, but if a plugin hasn’t been updated in over a year, it’s not a good sign in my view. More than two years without an update is a clear no-go for me. And that’s also why you get that alert in the WordPress repository for those plugins.
That’s exactly why one of the first filters that I added to the Addendio search engine was the Last Update date. I wanted to be able to simply filter plugins that hadn’t been updated for over one year or more than two years.
The reason is pretty simple: if you search on the WordPress repository you have today a 50% chance of looking at a plugin that hasn’t been updated in over 2 years. Basically, 50% of your searches end up with a no-go plugin, which means you are wasting your time (unless you use Addendio.com or the Addendio plugin of course).
If we do some maths around the above mentioned point 3 and we try to forecast this in the future we can see that 28,000 plugins were added to the repository until 2013 included. Of all those 28,000 plugins only 5,000 were updated in 2015. That’s 18% of the total and it has some practical consequences if you are searching for plugins.
Another interesting finding in my opinion concerns the long term view when choosing plugins. When you pick a plugin you need to keep in mind that only 2 out of 10 plugins keep being updated after 3 years. Yes, you read that right. If you pick a free plugin that has just come out today, there’s a 80-90% chance that in 3 years time you won’t have any more updates.
You can clearly see that in “Added vs Update %” tab.
How do you read that graph?
On the horizontal axis you have the year the plugin was added to the repository, while the stacked bars represent the percentage of the plugins added on that year and when they were last updated. So, if you look at the year 2007 (I am using 2007 as there are about 1,000 plugins added that year, so the sample size is meaningful) you can see that only 9% of the plugins added in 2007 were updated in 2015. On the opposite side of the same stack bar you can see that 42% of the plugins created in 2007 were not updated beyond, well, 2007.
Repeat this for the years after 2007 and you see that the percentages remain between 10%-20% up until 2012.
Should we then stop using new plugins?
Of course not, but you need to be aware of the current statistics around free plugins in the repo.
Like all new things, picking something new has some risk associated with it. You need to do your homework and see who’s behind the plugin and whether it’s a critical one for your website. On the other side, picking a plugin that hasn’t been updated in over 2 years means you are aware that the chances of the plugin being updated are even slimmer than trying a new one.
This is just a quick analysis of the WordPress repository, in future posts I will try and dig into other areas. I will update this chart once a month, let’s see how things will evolve.
In the meantime I hope you found this useful and feel free to comment, all analysis are debatable and I am looking forward to different point of views.