Stand Out In The Cloud

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Be careful when choosing plugins for your site

crashed websiteAs part of my course I have a hand in running a website about online journalism called Interhacktives. A week or so ago I managed to break the site because I installed a dubious plugin. I thought I’d write this post to show where I went wrong and help prevent you from making a similar error.

The day I broke Interhacktives

At the time, I had been redesigning the entire site and was looking at ways of making it run more smoothly. We were having problems with author pages not displaying any content, something that could not be remedied through the WordPress theme, so I tried to find a plugin that could potentially solve the issue.

I plumped for a plugin called Easy which is a multi-purpose, ultra-intuitive php editor. However, when I clicked install I was presented with a screen that looked like this, causing my face to look like this.

Artist’s impression

It turned out that Easy hadn’t agreed with the Interhacktives site and had caused it to crash. This can apparently happen, although I’d never experienced it before and so spent an uneasy night trying to gauge just how apologetic I would have to be for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, the problem was resolved by logging into the site and removing the offending plugin via File Transfer Protocol. However, it could have been worse and potentially even irreversible. Since then I have had a good hard look at how I use plugins and would like to think that I have become wiser from my mistake.

Interhacktives offline tweet

WordPress Plugin Verification

One of the issues with plugins is that often they are not regularly updated. This means that they don’t evolve at the same pace as your site and may no longer be compatible with it. In the case of Easy, I decided to install it anyway. In hindsight (and you might argue foresight) this was foolish.

My thinking behind this move was swayed by the fact that the plugin had a lovely looking 5 star rating. Had I looked a little deeper, however, I would have seen that only 6 people had submitted a review. Hardly a good sample size, and made less reliable by the fact that they were all likely to have different versions of WordPress.

Easy plugin

When you see this message do not install the plugin

Easy had been updated 3 months previous to my installation of it and had had over 14,000 downloads to its name. Facts that made me think that the plugin was trustworthy. Alas, no.

In comparison with a plugin called SEO by Yoast (one I recommend) these figures are extremely poor. SEO by Yoast has over 7 million downloads to its name as well as an average rating of 4.8 stars from over 3,000 reviews. It has also been updated less than a month ago.

Had I looked into the context of plugin stats, I may have thought again about installing Easy.

Lesson learned

Aside from a lesson against naivety, this was also a lesson in re-examining the plugins that were installed on the site. There were far too many and some of them were even doing the same job – for example we had two plugins that were both designed to catch spam comments.

Sometimes the signs aren’t as clear as the ones that I’ve mentioned in this post and sometimes your site will just seemingly randomly crash. However, by being discerning when choosing plugins and not installing too many, you can at least take some steps towards minimising the likelihood of breaking your beloved website.


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