Platform stability: removing third-party plugins

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I’ve written and presented about what a devil’s bargain it can be to reach for third-party solutions. In the earlier days of LexBlog, we were more prone to doing so. Over the past seven years or so, we’ve been much more likely to remove third-party solutions than add them.

Removing third-party solutions is valuable because otherwise we spend a lot of time vetting them when they release updates. The time that we spend doing this over the lifetime of a solution is far greater than the time we’d spend developing our own custom version.

This comes as a surprise to some, but look at it like this: Adding a new feature does not just add one additional testing scenario. Rather, it doubles the existing amount of scenarios, in that it ads one variation to every existing scenario. In other words, removing one third-party solution reduces the volume of possible changes by half! It really is shocking, and it’s exactly why the best tech product teams understand that they need to focus on a core solution.

When we remove a third-party solution, sometimes we replace it with our own custom solution, and sometimes we just drop support for whatever feature it was addressing.

I spent a few days recently doing a little of both, targeting a feature called “Advanced Excerpts.” It’s a third-party plugin that gives the admin user a UI for making post excerpts behave in various custom ways. I queried our platform and found that 68 blogs were using this in various ways.

Many blogs actually were not using it in an impactful way at all, and I was able to simply remove the plugin. In other cases, I added a small handful of settings to our modern platform in order to reach feature parity. Finally, there were a handful of legacy blogs that I spent some time manually updating in order to match the outcome provided by Advanced Excerpts.

This is not a body of work that sounds terribly exciting, but I find great joy in it. In the words of Antoine de St-Exupery, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Scott Fennell
About the Author

Scott is a WordPress theme and plugin developer with a penchant for connecting the dots between services like MailChimp, Cloudflare, and GoDaddy. He has been published in A List Apart and CSS-Tricks.

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