Years ago, I started writing small utility plugins that helped me maintain any given task on managing this site or projects that I was building for others.
Some of these plugins I’ve kept just for me because they are quickly put together and built in such a way that are geared towards this site; others I’ve open-sourced, shared, and/or installed on other sites because a person with whom I was working was interested in the functionality or because it was niche enough that it solved a single problem they didn’t want to deal with.
Many of these have been archived because I didn’t need them, didn’t want to maintain them, or no longer had a use for them. Case in point: Page Template Dashboard.
But these types of plugins, at least for me, date back over a decade. The first plugin I ever released in the WordPress Plugin Repository was called Tipsy Social Icons. This year, it will be 11 years old (not that I maintain it anymore but get a look at the plugin page to get some good social web nostalgia).
It was written one afternoon when there was a rare snow storm in Georgia and we couldn’t go anywhere. 🙃
Anyway, there’s something to be said for large plugins that greatly extend WordPress in all kinds of ways such that we practically have full applications running within WordPress that help users do things far beyond posts, pages, taxonomies, and user management. Be it something that runs in the browser, something that serves as a headless application, or something else. There’s a reason WordPress can be referred to as the operating system for the web.
But there’s also something to be said for small tools or utilities that do something either that require user interaction or that take care of something behind the scenes. I see the occasional discussion about this [whenever I am lurking] on Twitter, in newsletters, or in other Slack channels [in which I am lurking].
That is, people seem to be interested in them, people want to build them (or they want them built), but they seem fewer and far between given the size of other plugins that are available.
So it raises a question: Where are they? Is there a market for utility plugins? Are they overshadowed by larger projects? Is it too hard to find them given the way GitHub or the WordPress Plugin Repository is structured?
These aren’t loaded questions; instead, they’re general musings on the whole thing.
For those of you reading this who have been in WordPress for a long time, you’ll remember some of this and for those of you who may be newer consider it a cautionary tale:
- Years ago, we had what was essentially a race to the bottom for product pricing. The idea was something like “s/he who sells the most at the lowest price wins.” This could be for plugins but it started with themes.
- Then we moved in the subscription model which we see every where both inside WordPress and outside of WordPress.
It’s not that I need an lesson on economics to understand this dynamic but there’s also alternatives especially in projects that aren’t the backbone of a person’s livelihood or their business.
People talk a lot about “side hustles” and each person has their own motivations for having them. (That is, some want to turn them into full businesses, some just want a hobby.)
This is where I think this idea of utility plugins come into the picture again (granted, I don’t think this is an elegant term to describe a product but that’s beside the point – for now).
Instead, I think there’s a small model by which extremely simple plugins can be marketed for a specific problem and sold at a price that doesn’t require a subscription, that doesn’t drain a person’s wallet, and that helps them when using WordPress by simply doing a job that keeps them from having to do it.
Further, “extremely simple” may be an overloaded phrase. Some of the simplest solutions are not in how few lines of code or how much is going on behind the scenes but how simple it comes across to the user.
- Does it require activation, user input, settings values, and so on
- Does it just require activation?
Alternatively, simple plugins can be just that. It might be an anonymous function that’s associated with a hook that adds or removes a single UI element.
Despite talking semantics here, that’s not what I’m after. Instead, I’m talking about a market for utility plugins where a utility plugin is defined as a single plugin that’s activated and does one thing with minimal user input and that enhances or streamlines their work within WordPress.
It does a job they don’t want to do (maybe once, maybe multiple times, maybe always), stays out of their way, and allows them to focus on what they need or what they want to do.
Personally, I think there’s a market for them. I don’t know how large or how small it is nor do I think there’s a consistent price point at which they can be placed (how do you value someone’s time when it’s a single WordPress installation that’s a hobby or someone who maintains an entire set of WordPress installations?).
There are ways to test this, though. And I’ve a list of ~25 plugins that I’d love to actually try to implement.