The Future of WordPress Plugins

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In our last blog post, we discussed the future of WordPress and the impact that it may have on the future of the Internet. Two key enablers of this future were the new REST API and the move to JavaScript-heavy front-ends like Calypso. These same enablers will also impact the future of WordPress plugins and will radically change the way that plugins are deployed, maintained and delivered.

The Future of WordPress Plugins – Web Services

The Future of WordPress Plugins

Today most WordPress plugins are installed directly on a WordPress site. As such, they share common infrastructure. As any WordPress site owner can attest to, this deployment model has a number of drawbacks. These include:

Maintenance overhead. WordPress site owners are largely responsible for ensuring that plugins are kept up to date. Very often, this maintenance is overlooked. This leads to issues with security, performance, and compatibility.

Performance overhead. Because plugins run inside of your WordPress installation, they add performance overhead. The more plugins you run, the more this overhead adds up. This in turn leads to higher hosting costs.

Compatibility issues. From time to time, plugins can interfere with one another for a variety of reasons. It’s possible to test your plugins for compatibility issues in a testing environment prior to installing them in production. The reality is that this approach is rarely employed by site owners. This often leads to performance and stability issues.

With the REST API and JavaScript-enabled front-ends, WordPress allows for a new plugin delivery model built on the concept of web services. In this new paradigm, plugins run as web services in the cloud. Your WordPress install connects to these web services through interfaces that are defined by the plugin provider and registered with your WordPress installation.

About Plugin Interfaces

Plugin Interfaces

Plugin interfaces are JavaScript-enabled content that are generated by plugin web services. They allow WordPress site owners and visitors to interact with these cloud services. They also seamlessly integrate with a site owner’s WordPress installation to provide a consistent user experience. We envision two basic types of plugin interfaces, although the potential for more exists:

Control interfaces allow WordPress site owners to configure plugin behavior.

Content interfaces allow site visitors to interact with these cloud services and present a user experience that is consistent with a site owner’s WordPress installation.

In theory, this model will deliver better page speed. The burden of loading a page is now shared between a site owner’s WordPress installation and a scalable cloud service optimized to deliver specific content.

Benefits of a Cloud Services Model

WordPress Plugin Cloud Services Benefits

Along with an increase in page speed, there are a number of other benefits of this approach:

Lower hosting costs for site owners. Site owners will benefit from lower hosting costs because much of the burden of delivering their user experience will shift to the plugin provider’s cloud.

More stable WordPress environments. Plugins delivered as cloud services are self-contained. They exist in their own discrete environments. That means that there is very little chance for plugins to interfere with one another. This avoids the types of compatibility problems that many WordPress site owners experience today.

Recurring revenue streams for plugin providers. The cloud services delivery model will lead to new revenue models based on monthly subscriptions. This will greatly benefit plugin providers, who sometimes struggle to develop sustainable business models.

Greater freedom and control for plugin providers. The cloud services delivery model allows greater freedom for plugin developers when it comes to how to build their solutions. As long as the interfaces are WordPress compatible, the backend service itself can be written in any language the plugin provider sees fit. Plugin providers can also optimize the infrastructure that delivers their cloud service to meet their own exacting performance standards.

The Future is Here

JetPack

If you are looking for an example of this bright new future, you don’t have to look far. Jetpack is a prime example of a plugin delivered as a web service. Whether you use VaultPress for backups, Photon for content delivery or Protect for Brute Force Protection, each module of Jetpack runs as a discrete web service that runs in the cloud. The codebase for each service is unique/discrete and the infrastructure powering each service is optimized based on the performance requirements of that service. The result is a plugin that packs powerful features and doesn’t slow down your WordPress site.

The future of WordPress plugins has many implications for the WordPress ecosystem. Our advice to plugin providers is pretty straightforward. You need to start evaluating what it’s going to take to refactor your plugin as a web service. You also need to get involved with the community to help define the interface standards that we described. It’s in your best interest to do so to ensure you’re not left behind. Our advice for WordPress owners is even simpler. Sit back and wait for this transformation to take place. And when it does, opt to leverage cloud service plugins whenever possible. You’ll enjoy a much more stable and performant WordPress site if you do.

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