I’m helping another business convert from a proprietary CMS to run their sites on WordPress. While I’m in the discovery phase of an implementation, it seems I spend all of my waking hours pouring through the  WordPress.org plugin directory.

The plugin directory is an amazing resource and a great starting point for determining if it’s ‘already done’ or if you need to write a custom plugin to fulfill the business function. Having all free plugins listed and ready to load in one place is especially refreshing if you’re moving from a closed source CMS (like Ektron).  With those you can expect to pay for any customization needed, even simple functionality.  Of course, I augment my repository search by using the Google to check for premium plugins and ask my buds in the twitterverse if there is something they have used successfully.

When using the WordPress directory today, I had a creeping realization that there is a glaring deficiency in the information provided in the repository.

(Note: I’m currently auditioning EditFlow to control the company’s 3 step content approval process. Any other plugins I should consider?)

Here are the headings available on a plugin detail page, see if you notice what’s missing.

  • Description
  • Installation
  • FAQ
  • Screenshots
  • Other Notes
  • Changelog
  • Stats

Where are the instructions? The HOWTO? Logically, a user will want to know what the plugin does (Description), how to get it working on their system (Installation) and then they will immediately want to know how to make the thing work (Instructions).  But the instructions tab doesn’t exist.

To figure out how to operate a new plugin a WordPress user has to 1) find the link to the developer’s site; 2) dig through their site until they; 3) find the instructions in whatever form they have been provided — notes, videos, full blow demo sites, etc.  That’s if the instructions exist at all.

But that is just three simple steps.  Not so hard, you say? But in the name of uniformity and all things good, right, and perfect — why make anybody perform any extra steps?  The instructions are in the readme.txt you say? Well, that has its own set of steps.  How often does a non-technical users EVER go into the edit option of a plugin? Exactly.

I propose we simply add one more tab:

  • Description
  • Installation
  • Instructions
  • FAQ

WordPress would be better if each plugin author had a place to spell out how to use his/her plugin right on the plugin detail page.  The current process has created a free-for-all situation that causes the user to have to hunt for what should be basic information on external sites that may or may not even have the information. This is troublesome, especially for those new to WordPress — the people we should spend a decent amount of time catering to.

It looks like it may be as simple as requiring plugin authors to add a new section == Instructions == to their pre-formatted readme.txt upon submission to the repository.  But without making it a standard it probably won’t happen.

Let’s provide a standard place to describe how to use our plugins.

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