One of the things I said was important in my WordSesh talk on the future of WordPress was better access to WordPress.org data. Well, Greg Ichneumon Brown has posted a gold mine in an update regarding the new WordPress plugin directory design, which is in active beta.
The beta version of the upcoming plugin directory has a very prominent search bar, so Greg collected 53 days worth of anonymized search data (non-API driven data) from the current (non-beta) directory to see how folks are actually using WordPress plugin search.
His analysis focuses on half a million unique searches in American English (en_US locale), which account for almost 4 million total searches. In all languages, there were ~800,000 unique searches and ~5 million total searches. I made a little chart to visualize this, which shows — as Greg concluded — that the most popular search terms really doesn't make up a satisfactory percentage of overall search activity:
Also noteworthy, only 8% of searches were unique (made once during the trial), but 32% of terms only occurred once per day in the 53 day trial.
For people, myself included, who were in favor of a visual tag filtering system, this chart makes it clear that even if you have a thousand tags, that still doesn't cover half of all searches. So a fuzzier searching system may well be preferable.
Greg gave his own takeaway from the data:
Hopefully from this data it is clear why we can’t just focus on the top 100 queries. Doing so ignores probably 75% of our users. Even top 1000 is less than 50% of all searches. So in testing out our search quality at the very least we should look at top 1000. Ideally we’ll also do some random sampling of the other 50% of searches and find ways to address spelling mistakes and other edge cases that affect a very large percentage of users. Similarly, adding better support for non-English languages could help as many users as improving the top 100 queries.
This data is fascinating, constructive, and super helpful for determining a path forward for what will make a better system to find plugins on WordPress.org. Huge thanks to Greg, and Automattic for sponsoring his time (he's a data wrangler there) to do this experiment.