All the Plugins – Custom Fitted?

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Are you custom-made, custom-paid, or you just custom-fitted? –Ludacris

I finally got a look at all the plugins in use across our install. I ended up having to incrementally push the data to a CSV file. It’s not a beautiful and I guess I could just as easily create a table and update that . . . but it works.

The top 25 most installed plugins are in the chart below.

Even prior to seeing the data I realized that the vast majority don’t turn on any plugins. I just didn’t quite realize how vast that majority was. That certainly makes dropping plugins easier to simplify management but it also points out some areas where we can really improve. As Tim Owens pointed out, it may be that students/faculty simply aren’t used to plugins existing. It makes sense. You don’t have anything like plugins in most of today’s social media tools. You get what you get with almost all of the major players. Even wp.com lacks a plugin structure on the free accounts. Instagram won’t even let you use a browser at all. People may have become accustomed to acceptance with their online tools. This kind of passivity<footnote>That’s not meant as a judgement. Fatalism doesn’t work either but it’s something like that.</footnote> is certainly something to consider when thinking through the student role in any university or personal API. How do you get people more actively involved in the construction of the media AND tools they use online? The basic shift from acceptance to co-construction on a variety of levels maybe . . .

The idea of tools being exactly what you are given is interesting to me conceptually because while it lowers the threshold for participation it is also a lowering of the ceiling. It is no doubt easier- to manage, to support, to train people to use . . . It is the same. You might be able to change a button color here or there but the tool is constant. They already know what it needs to do and it does exactly that. There are no additional possibilities to introduce when you have the need. There is no substantive way to change what it can do. There is no DIY mindset that encourages playing at the edges and making something that does exactly what you want or something that turns the whole tool upside down. That’s clearly an area I’m interested in and one of the main reasons I like WordPress and other open software. I think that mindset is worth developing.<footnote>There’s also the beauty of working within limit tools to do something above and beyond like people have done in Twitter and with Pinboard/Delicious. So that’s true too. I think there’s plenty of room for both ideas in my head. </footnote>

Looking at the popular plugins only a few of them are making real changes in terms of possibilities. Most are dealing with minor issues or automating something boring (auto featured images for instance). There are some though – gravity forms, feed wordpress, list category posts, bbpress and a few others really change what you can do with WordPress. They open up new possibilities. I also have to wonder how many were the result of direct interactions with ALT Lab members vs faculty/student initiated. I wonder if we turn it on the first time, are they seeing the value and gaining the knowledge to do it in the future? How do we make sure that happens?

The question our group needs to start asking is whether we’re setting up the right kind of experiences for faculty and students so that they realize they can go beyond stock WordPress and that they have a reason for wanting to. If we can’t then pruning back the options considerably makes sense.

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