Unplugged Plug

What we can learn from the ProfilePress debacle

WP Avatar’s users reacted when the free plugin became a freemium product rebranded as ProfilePress by its new owner.

This week the WP User Avatar plugin (with an install base of around 400,000 sites) rebranded as ProfilePress. ProfilePress is still free, but it’s no longer a simple, single-purpose plugin. As part of the rebranding, ProfilePress now offers a much larger set of features. It’s now a user registration, profile, and membership management plugin that offers a paid upgrade to the pro version.

As you can imagine, many WP User Avatar users were not happy about this change. Many of them downrated the plugin on the WordPress.org repo in response. On Tuesday, Dan Maby brought the situation to broader attention on Twitter. Other developers and companies jumped in quickly to provide alternatives to people already using WP User Avatar.

There are two sides to every plugin story… 🔌

It’s easy to make a negative judgement on a story like this, but there is always another side. Collins Agbonghama, the founder of ProfilePress, acquired WP User Avatar last year. He explained his actions in the comment scrum that emerged over the story at WP Tavern. It’s worth reading Matt Medeirosinterview with Collins and his thoughts about the community’s reaction.

You can draw your own conclusions, but this particular quote stuck with me from Collins’ take:

Maintaining free plugins is evidently unpaid labour but surprisingly, very demanding. You get droves of users demanding help… And as soon as you offer say a paid version to help offset the cost of development and maintenance of the free version, you get criticized.

Collins Agbonghama @ The WP Minute

Free plugins can be a labor of love or a thankless job. Sometimes both.

ProfilePress could have handled its business, brand, and feature transition differently. It could have acted in ways that would have minimized the disruption and angry reactions. But there always are those reactions no matter what. And at the end of the day, plugin businesses are people who are trying to make a living.

Can the WordPress community help prevent stories like this from repeating?

Perhaps it’s up to the WordPress community to educate developers better about marketing communications and business transitions. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It won’t be the last.

While we hear a lot about big acquisitions, even small companies and single developers are buying up existing brands and products. New plugin owners usually do aim to monetize the software they’ve acquired and invested in. And they want to add value that builds their customer base. That’s always a difficult needle to thread, but it could be easier for new WordPress businesses to learn to do. It’s a win for everyone if new owners preserve the goodwill of existing users. 🧵

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  1. Affecting 400,000 sites is no small thing with such an update. I agree with Collins about maintaining free plugins and sometimes it is hard to maintain the same high standard as when working with clients.

    But definitely, this should have been handled a bit better by taking into account the number of sites using the plugin. Some plugins may have already similar solutions and such.

    I’ve acquired the WP Sponsors plugin with 5,000 active installs to make it better and also to provide a channel for promoting the Simple Sponsorships plugin. If I went down the same road, I guess a lot of people would not be happy with that. Yes, I could have gained 5,000 users for my new plugin but that would not be the correct statistic I need since it would be pushed to the users.

    Good luck to Collins with his plugin and I hope 400,000 active sites do stay close to that number so he can grow his business.

  2. The plugin used to be simply adding custom avatars to users. That is it. This is a completely different plugin.

  3. Without the hundreds of unpaid labour hours that it took for WordPress, plugin authors wouldn’t exist. Give back to the community that gave you the chance to create your plugins/authors.

  4. Even if you don’t need the features provided in a premium version of a freemium product, you should buy the premium if you can. It is important to support the development and maintenance of the products you use. If you can’t support it financially, maybe you can support it by e.g. helping out in the support forums.

    But this case is about something entirely different. The new author changed the plugin into something else overnight. Without any warning, users would essentially get a totally different plugin that did different things. Freemium or not, that is not OK to do.

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