Shiny New Toys: A Weekly Report of New WordPress PluginsDespite only 139 new plugins added, there’s a couple serious contenders this week that might deserve their own dedicated posts later.

The Plugin Directory has a somewhat slower week, adding only 139 new plugins. It’s impossible to say whether that’s a result of less plugins being submitted or the Plugin Review Team just taking their time. Personally, I think a slower week is a sign of health. I’d prefer less than 100 new plugins in a week that were generally more vetted and production-ready.

From the plugins we’ve been reviewing a couple continue to stand out strong. Imagify is absolutely killing it with 2000+ Active Installs, keeping up their rate of 1,000 active installs a week. Social Pug also continues to grow rapidly with 900+ Active Installs already.

Let’s jump into this week’s latest, free-est, shiniest new toys.

A brand new Learning Management System plugin has hit the market. This space is already very full with many well-established contenders. But I’m not surprised to see another new and robust offering. WordPress is an ideal candidate for an online learning environment. And yet to this day there is nothing in WordPress that compares to what Moodle, or even that archaic behemoth “Blackboard” offers. Some might argue that a CMS is very different from an LMS and therefore can’t be handled correctly in the same space. While generally I agree, there’s so much room for innovation and so much demand for quality online learning platforms that I don’t see a reason why WordPress can’t provide amazing solutions.

But like I said, WordPress is doing that through other great LMS solutions, and LifterLMS seems more than up to the challenge to enter the arena.

Out of the box, it’s clear that this is a robust and fully-featured free product. This is not a “LMS lite” solution. You automatically have post types for “Courses” and for “Memberships”. The main plugin settings area also provides customization for things like “Analytics”, “Achievements”, “Certificates”, “Vouchers”, and “Coupons.”

One feature that really impressed me is the “Engagements” feature. As a product guy, I’m always looking for ways to engage with our customers. Often it really takes some development to have some activity in our e-commerce platform (EDD) trigger an email in MailChimp, or another dedicated service like CartHook. With LifterLMS’s “Engagements” you can configure your own triggers and actions right there in one dashboard.

The course management is also extremely robust. You can setup different stages of a course, with different levels of difficulty and trigger actions upon successful completion.

Wrap that all up by making your courses connected with a membership and you’ve got a whole bunch of monetization options available for a lot of different business model types.

From a marketing and monetization perspective, LifterLMS is entering the freemium space with one major benefit: They’ve been a premium only product for almost a year already. This is always an interesting move. They have several strong write-ups online for this product when it cost $149/year. So why go free? Well, they’ve switched to the Add-on model. As champions of the freemium Add-on model, we get it.

They also have some strong companies using it publicly. The endorsement from Joost de Valk of Yoast SEO is a great testimonial. Having this kind of public support is key for showing potential customers that your product is used and trusted.

The WordPress Plugin Directory is an amazing tool for getting exposure for your brand and your product. You increase the reach of your product exponentially simply by having the free product hosted there.

What I like about what they are doing here is that this is honestly one of the most robust free plugins I’ve personally encountered. WooCommerce is extremely robust, EDD, Give, BuddyPress, Peepso… each of these is very robust out of the box. LifterLMS really feels like a premium product with infinite flexibility that you get for free.

Another twist is that they also offer a “Pro” version of the plugin. But it’s advertised not for it’s added features, but for support and access to their developers. Most freemium plugins really couldn’t do something like that since support and developer access really shouldn’t be a big necessary feature. But with extremely complex and flexible plugins like these, it makes a lot of sense to offer that.

This all raises many questions. Will they support their free product well from the Plugin Directory Support Forums? If the free version is so robust, are their premium Add-ons attractive or necessary enough that they’ll get enough sales to support their business? With a big entry like this, these questions become central. The last thing anyone wants is for users to build their whole website strategy around this plugin and we find out in a year that their freemium model just isn’t profitable enough to sustain the product.

Overall, this is a huge addition to the Plugin Directory. They seem to have a large and successful team behind it. This is a plugin and team worth paying attention to for sure.

WP Spider Cache

WP Spider Cache is absolutely the most dead-simple caching solution for WordPress period. Until now, that’s what I’ve always said about WP Rocket. You turn it on, configure a couple things and it works. But with WP Spider Cache, you don’t configure anything. At all.

I’ve only done some initial local testing but there are obvious speed improvements once WP Spider Cache is activated. But the main reason why this plugin jumped out to me is for the author and the plugin suite that it’s part of.

John Jacoby, or JJJ as most know him, is a formidable force in the WordPress space. He’s committed a huge portion of the code that runs BuddyPress, bbPress, and Glotpress. For the past year, he’s been creating a suite of plugins that he calls Stuttter. Jacoby says that each Stuttter plugin adheres to the one-purpose philosophy, and WP Spider Cache is no exception.

Stuttter as a project is meant to highlight the many ways WordPress can be enhanced without deviating from its core principles. Jacoby says that he was inspired by Jeremy Felt’s definition of what makes for an Excellent+++ plugin. He wants that each plugin in the suite has no admin notifications, no licensing, simply does one thing and does it well. Check out the whole suite of Stuttter plugins here.

This is a great little plugin that does two things for you very easily:

  1. Allow your visitors to preview your website with any theme you have installed in your site
  2. Allow those visitors to download that theme immediately

This is obviously made for WordPress theme authors who want to showcase their themes. The settings allow you to choose which themes you want made available for your visitors.

But another great application for this tool is for plugin developers. Devin and I got all excited as soon as we saw it because it will allow us to test our plugins with a bunch of different themes just by switching from the front-end. That’s a real time saver for us plugin devs.

A couple features I’d love to see added:

  • Don’t enable it sitewide as it is currently. Instead only implement it when either a shortcode is present in the content, or perhaps a metabox is enabled.
  • Integration with Easy Digital Downloads would allow premium theme authors to have a preview, but the “Download” button would swap to “Buy Now” and clicking would redirect the user to the Theme product page.
  • Ability to customize what is in the header besides the dropdown and download button.

This plugin was released as version 0.2, so I pressume that means the developer has a lot of ideas like these and more in mind. Hopefully version 1.0 isn’t too far off and full of great features like these and more.

I’ve bemoaned the “Click to Tweet” trend before. I think it can be disruptive to the flow of an article and feels a bit desperate to force users to share your content in a way that might not be natural to them. But I still like the general idea of providing sharable quotes within your content if done really well.

What I like about Easy Pull Quotes is that it really is about Pull Quotes — a great way to visually break up content without losing the flow of reading — with the added bonus of being able to click to tweet the article as well.

There’s just a couple small but important features this is missing:

  • Add the ability to add your own twitter handle into the message
  • Add a character count to the text field that already includes the shortened shareable link and your twitter handle so you know what you type gets shared well.

Recurring Trends

The last thing I wanted to mention is several trends that seem to crop up week over week which are interesting to me.

  • Throughout this year, I’ve already seens a handful of Push Notification plugins arrive on the Repo. I still am skeptical of whether that really will be an effective engagement tool for websites, but obviously enough people think they are effective that they’re putting development and marketing time into these tools. This week, a new contender called Notificare appeared. They’ve got a really impressive website with case studies and examples. That looks like a very well-designed option if you’re interested in testing out push notifications for your website. I’m most interested in seeing how pushes can be customized by activitiy on our site. Can we push per user? Like a push notification when a plugin license is about to expire? That would be really powerful.
  • WooCommerce Extensions continue to be added at about a dozen or more a week. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, or if the Automattic acquisition has accelerated that or not. But, it can only mean more and more adoption and brand loyalty for Woo as a company.
  • It’s interesting that every week I see another solution for adding Custom CSS, or inline JS, or¬†advanced Script Editors into WordPress. It’s possible that per page/post script management is a need that still needs to be filled appropriately.

That’s it for this week!

Matt is Head of Support and Community Outreach at WordImpress.com. He's the author of many free WordPress plugins, a popular blogger at his website, an admin of the Advanced WordPress Facebook group, co-organizer of the San Diego WordPress Meetup, and a frequent WordCamp speaker and attender.

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