rating-your-own-plugin

Every now and then I see an interesting new WordPress plugin on WordPress.org. Naturally, as I do with many products, I check the reviews. I want to know how its users like it before deciding to try it. More than once (many times, actually), I see a review from the plugin author themselves. Seeing this always makes me cringe and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So why do I call this an epidemic? Well, I just pulled up 25 plugins at random in the official plugin directory and found that 8 of them (32%) had been reviewed by their maker. And how do I know they rated their own work? Because it says “Plugin Author” on their review. The featured image for this post shows you what I found. Not surprisingly, they’re all 5-star reviews.

Why people rate their own plugins

I am only guessing here but I’m pretty sure these are two of the main reasons plugin authors post perfect ratings of their own work.

  • They think it will get them more downloads
  • Other authors do it

I have additional thoughts on of these.

Trading trust for downloads

I know that on CodeCanyon and ThemeForest there have been accusations of authors buying copies of their own plugin or theme in order to woo customers with a 5 star average early on. Customers buy based on average rating. It’s reality. Think about how you buy things on Amazon and other sites. Unlike WordPress.org, Envato takes measures to prevent this, so it only happens behind a curtain.

But in the official plugin directory, it is technically possible to rate your own plugin. The thing is, your name shows alongside a badge that says “Plugin Author”, as you have seen. Reviews are forum posts on WordPress.org. That badge is a badge of trust when answering a forum support request but it’s a badge of distrust when scoring your own work. It makes one ask himself, “did that guy really just rate his own plugin?”

Jumping off a bridge with friends

One thing that I see a lot of in the world of WordPress products is people copying each other. It’s good to learn from others in order to give a shot at making something useful yourself but it’s not good to do it without thinking for yourself first. If they end up in trouble, you might end up right there with them.

I see it with plugin and theme pricing models and now I am seeing it with plugin authors reviewing their own plugins on WordPress.org. Didn’t this sort of thing used to be a shameful practice done in secret? I can only assume that a whopping one-third of plugin authors are doing this because they see others doing it and therefore think it’s okay.

Jumping Off Bridge

I drew this to prove Mom is right

As many point out, a legal activity is not necessarily beneficial. This applies to reviewing your own plugin as much as it does to jumping off a bridge, even if your friends are doing it.

Build trust, not suspicion

Do you know who King Solomon was? He was the wisest (and richest) man in the world. And he said this.

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. – Proverbs 27:2

You can’t grade your own homework. You’re biased and people might accuse you of cheating, even if your answers are right. It’s the same with plugins. Instead, let others speak for the quality of your work. Make a great plugin and work at marketing it. Be patient for good reviews to come in. You can ask users to review it if you want feedback sooner than later.

It’s not worth risking your own reputation to get a few extra downloads at the onset of your product launch. When I see somebody rate their own plugin, even if others do end up liking it, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. And I can’t be the only one who leaves with that feeling. Build trust, not suspicion.

Should WordPress.org stop plugin authors from scoring their own work? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Published by Steven Gliebe

I make things for the web. That includes WordPress themes at churchthemes.com and a tool for helping people find web hosting at HostingReviews.io. I also like growing food.

33 Comments

  1. Hey there Steven!

    First off, I want to say that I am honored you quoted me so prominently above! You even highlighted me saying “it’s weird voting for your own plugin”. You didn’t have to obscure my name though! It’s ok! I’m proud of everything I’ve said online and stand by it 100% :) I also think it’s interesting that you picked a very high quality plugin with over 90,000 users, an overall rating of 4.8, and over 175 ratings to highlight as a case study for authors skewing the results.

    I have a different point of view on this topic. Should be allowed to vote for their own plugin?

    It’s a good question. I think of it this way…WordPress.org is a democratic forum, and the whole point of a rating system is that it’s a democratic process. Each person gets a vote, just like in an election, a presidential candidate (or any other elected official) is allowed to vote for himself. Why shouldn’t they be? Plugin developers also put in a lot of time and energy into a plugin that they (hopefully) really believe in. Often hundreds or thousands of hours. In our case, we really believe in this plugin, which we hope people see from the positive responses about the plugin’s performance and the quality of our support. (Which is all provided for free by the way. We work hard to solve all issues within 24 hours if possible.

    A plugin author’s 1 single vote is not going to skew the plugin’s rating in the overall scheme of things, just like that elected official’s 1 vote is not going to skew the overall election results. If people disagree with their rating, then they need to get out there and vote…give their own rating. That’s how it works.

    Another thing to consider, is that statistically for online rating systems, more people rate when they are dissatisfied than when they are satisfied, so ratings often tend toward the negative. Happy users or customers tend not to rate services. You can read up on this as Amazon, ebay, and Yelp have had to deal with this a lot. There are many trolls out there who give plugins 1 star reviews without ever reading the documentation or submitting support requests. This is something that all plugin authors understand and have to deal with…patiently, as frustrating as it is.

    With Amazon and ebay, they have a system that, when a user is about to post a negative review, reminds them to get in touch with the vendor and try to resolve things first. WordPress.org would do well to have a system that requires a user post a support thread and wait 48 hours for a response before being allowed to post a 1 or 2 star review. In the end, that has much greater effect than a plugin author rating their plugin.

    I too am a huge fan of Solomon’s writings, and Proverbs. King Solomon also said “Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Proverbs 11:12 We could go back and forth all day on that one. My point is, in this case it’s a bit out of context to use Proverbs, and I don’t think using religious references is appropriate when we are talking about WordPress.

    So, in the end, yes, I think plugin authors should be allowed to vote for their plugin, and no I do not think it is an epidemic. I think a far worse, and an actual epidemic, is the large number of users who will vote a plugin down without submitting support requests first.

    I appreciate you posting this opinion on the topic, and again, and stoked and honored that you decided to quote me. Feel free to quote me as often as you like as I am proud to stand behind everything I say.

    Know that I took no offense to your article, as I hope you won’t take offense to my response, and will consider my point of view. (I’d like to think we still live in a world where people can be civil while having differing points of view.)

    Have a good one. :)

    – Scott

    Reply
    • Hi Scott,

      Thank you for sharing your opinion on authors scoring their own plugins. It’s good to hear the perspective of an author with a different view than myself. I hadn’t thought of it as being like an election in which a candidate votes for himself. I think of it more like an author posting a 5-star review of their book on Amazon.

      My intention is not to deride anybody but to share my opinion on something that I believe is harmful to plugin authors, mainly because it can make a plugin author look bad. I understand other users and authors may have a different opinion. In any case, I think this is a good discussion to have so I appreciate that you’ve left a comment.

      I agree that it would be great if WordPress.org had measures to prevent users from posting poor ratings before requesting support. I’ve seen unnecessary ratings many times and have had experienced it myself. It’s like a stab in the heart, especially when you are offering free support. The rating system would benefit from a few changes.

      I’m glad your plugin is doing well and getting great ratings! I hope you find even more success with it.

      Reply
    • Point very well taken! :)

      Reply
  2. I have noticed this recently too, because I frequently browse the plugin directory by new plugins. I think it’s fine for plugin authors to leave a review on their own plugins, but quite often the comments that stand out and leave a bad taste in my mouth are the ones that are written as though they’re not the plugin author.

    I also see new plugins with multiple 5 star reviews and each of those members suspiciously created their accounts the day the plugin was published and left their comments within an hour of each other. This could be a coincidence, but the plugin I saw this on was for analytics and I would think needed more than a day to see drastic changes in the stats.

    A better way for plugin authors to promote their new plugins would be to include proper descriptions and screenshots. I’ll often come across plugins with a great name, but unless I install it I’ll have no idea if it will do what I need.

    Reply
    • It is suspicious to see several comments within hours of each other right after launch, although I have seen some plugins with reviews immediately added by real people. My assumption is they beta tested it, were excited about the launch and were ready to rate right away. It’s great that you can click through to a user’s profile to see how “real” they are (based on other comments, forums posts, gravatar, website, etc.)

      Thanks for the tip on promoting a new plugin. Screenshots, for sure! I feel the same. Screenshots are really helpful in making a decision to install and try. Ideally every plugin would throw up at least a screenshot or two.

      Thanks for commenting, Jesse.

      Reply
  3. Good write up integrity is such a lost trait.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting.

      Whether or not integrity is even involved seems to be a matter of perspective on this issue. If something actually is your right then perhaps integrity is not at play. But what if what is allowed is not beneficial?

      Everybody decides for themselves. And those who see what is done decide what they think of it. That’s why I’m concerned for the reputation of authors who do this. I just don’t see it as being worthwhile, whether or not integrity is even an issue.

      Reply
  4. The forum moderators do not take kindly to “sock-puppetry” actions such as these … I would suspect it might cause a few veins to pop in some of their necks but I would suspect just as equally they would appreciate confirmable reports of these “authors” as well.

    Reply
    • I don’t know much about people using false identities to rate plugins. Does that happen much? How can it be known?

      Right now I’m concerned with authors doing it in the open, which is technically allowable and automatically disclosed, but the opinions on such action varies.

      My opinion: Stop reviewing your own plugins. It’s silly …. I would love it if authors could only reply to reviews.” Mika Epstein, Forum Moderator

      Why restrict them from commenting positively on their own work? Singling them and excluding them from reviewing their own work seems punitive.” Jan Dembowski, Forum Moderator

      https://wordpress.org/support/topic/plugin-authors-rating-up-their-own-plugins-oh-please

      So there’s quite a divide on this issue (to my surprise). Not being able to rate your own work would likely not cause trouble, but being able to rate your own work does trouble people, so I say play it safe and shut it down like Envato and Amazon have done.

      Reply
      • I don’t see any issue with an author giving a single review of their plugin (for example, at its initial release), as I have done it myself as a means to provide my users some insight into why I developed the plugin.

        I may have also slightly misread the topic thinking that you were referring to multiple accounts by the same author to provide “extra” high rated reviews.

        Reply
        • Some authors do it to get extra downloads at launch but those who are not motivated by that I think are treating a review like the plugin description. I’m not sure there is anything an author can say in a review that isn’t better placed in the description section.

          Reply
          • I don’t see “insight” as a relevant descriptive item for a plugin but I can appreciate your opinion that it could be used there as well.

            As far as I see it, the real-estate a plugin’s description covers is within the user’s domain and should be respected, thus the best thing to do with a description is keep it concise and to the point.

            Now, given that, perhaps these insights could be added to the FAQ section of the `readme.txt` file instead, I’d be just as happy to put it there … but to be clear, I do not put a lot of stock into the rating system as it is right now to begin with.

  5. I rate my own plugins.. Why? Because they are fucking awesome. That’s why.

    Reply
  6. I have to admit I’ve rated some of my own plugins. I released my first plugin in 2012. When downloads doubled after it got it’s first 5 star rating I added a rating to the next two plugins I created. It might be a bit tacky, but seeing that rating does indeed encourage people to download. What I do now is ask people I know to rate my plugin. I know I’ll get an honest, good reviews from fellow developers. If they see something wrong they’ll tell me first so I have a chance to fix the issue before they leave their rating.

    I also want to echo what Scott said about people leaving negative reviews without filing a support ticket. Every 1 star rating I have ever received came from someone who rated the plugin without opening a ticket. And half of those ratings weren’t even real issues, it was just that the person misunderstood how the plugin works or was angry because I offered a paid version of the plugin. I definitely think it is an issue that should be addressed.

    Reply
    • Hi Jeremiah,

      Thanks for sharing what you did and why and what you do now. I like your new approach. I sometimes ask people to rate one of my plugins if I know they are very familiar with it and can write something substantial for other users to learn from. I think a reminder on a plugin’s options page it handy too.

      Your early experience confirms my suspicion that authors do it to get more downloads after launch. Just now I was looking for a plugin and noticed that my eyes passed over plugins without reviews. I only tried the two with reviews, not the two or three with no reviews. Those yellow stars grab my attention.

      Ditto that on what you and Scott have experienced with questionable one-star ratings. I’ve been there and hope something will be done about it. Even a simple note informing users that free support is available could make a difference (I wouldn’t doubt that some users are unaware).

      Reply
  7. As a consumer of WordPress plugins, my initial reaction to authors reviewing their own plugins is negative. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that it’s fully disclosed, and I also appreciate some of the additional points brought up by the developers in this comment feed.

    Personally, when I’m perusing the plugins, I, and I’m sure others, depend on the ratings on the plugins being relatively unbiased. If I see a five star rating, I’m much more likely to download it then if it has a 3 star rating. This is because the five star rating means others have tried it, and it has worked well for them, and they were able to highly rate it from a (supposedly) unbiased perspective. As the developer, I have a hard time believing that you could avoid being biased towards your own plugin, and thus in my mind that starts to undermine the rating system.

    I feel there has to be a better solution for counteracting stupid negative reviews then posting a positive review yourself.

    Reply
    • “others have tried it”

      Exactly. Knowing the experience of other users like me is where the value in ratings and reviews come from. The plugin author is a different category of user. Their rating is of no value to me, but the description they provide for the plugin is.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I am glad to hear the perspective of a plugin consumer.

      Reply
  8. I agree. The author rating his/her own plugin is totally meaningless because they’re never going to rate it less than 5 stars, so what’s the point?

    Reviews are there to help other people determine how useful the plugin is and whether or not it works. The author is always going to think their plugin is the bomb and give it 5 stars, so I’d never to that as an accurate way to judge the plugin.

    The description is the place for the author to put their best foot forward and “sell” the plugin to users.

    Reply
    • Yep, it’s pointless apart from the prospects of more downloads and a reduced reputation. readme.txt is big enough for anything the author wants to say to encourage users to try their plugin.

      Thanks for sharing your view on this issue.

      Reply
  9. I voted for my themes and I feel very good about this.

    In my case I use my themes for all my non-profit and commercial projects and I know that it is a good product.

    The point is – if theme/plugin author uses own work for his projects it is very normal thing to give a vote.

    Reply
  10. Well, this is interesting. I never knew authors would be so desperate to having their plug-ins rated high. Doesn’t make sense though, why go through all the hassle if people won’t put up with it once they try it and find out that it’s bad in the first place.

    Reply
    • Based on comments from plugin authors on this post, it seems like many really do believe their plugins are 5-star quality. And that might actually be the case. Which begs the question, why praise yourself in public when you don’t have to?

      In the case of someone desperately rating their own shoddy work then, yeah, what you said.

      So I don’t see a good reason ever to rate your own plugin.

      Thanks for commenting, Nick.

      Reply
  11. I think that authors do that to have a rating of 5 stars automatically since it’s an average made up of positive numbers. Ex.: 10 ratings (1, 2, 5, 4, 3, 1, 2, 5, 3, 2) = 2,8 stars. Ex.: 1 rating of 5 stars = 5 stars.

    Since users aren’t all that stupid, we should allow plugin authors to start with a 5 stars rating from default while make the number of ratings more proeminent in the UI so users know that the number they see is based on a low number of ratings. Then, we would “devaluate” this 5 stars rating instead by counting backwards. Ex.: 10 ratings (5-1, 5-2, 5-5, 5-4, 5-3, 5-1, 5-2, 5-5, 5-3, 5-2) = 22 negatives = 5-2,2 = 2,8. Same result, but reversed calculation to allow the author to start fresh with 5 stars at the beginning and be more discoverable until a user with a bad experience leaves a lower rating.

    Seems more complicated than it is when I explain it like that ahah

    Reply
    • I get what you’re saying. Maybe not the math, but the idea! :)

      I think an average star rating should not show until there are several ratings to be averaged (maybe three). Authors might want that quick 5 stars to show up fast but on the flip side it’s detrimental when the first rating happens to be 1 star. I mean, if you see a new plugin with a 1 star “average” (one rating), you’ll probably avoid it like the plague.

      Reply
    • What would be an even better option would be to let the WP plugin team give you an initial rating based on code, complexity, perceived usefulness, etc.

      Reply
      • That would be interesting (especially code quality). I don’t think the review team would ever want that burden though. Authors would cry foul for any rating less than perfect (ie. the rating they would give themselves).

        Reply
        • Well they are going to get negative reviews anyways if their plugin sucks..

          but the WP plugin team reviews every plugin anyways – at least on the initial commit to the site, so they would best, and first hand of how good a plugin COULD be.. and this would be from a trusted source (because we all know that 5 stars is the owner or their friends and all 1 stars are competition)

          Reply
          • I kind of agree with the initial rating. Maybe it could be another unit (not mixed up with the stars)? Like a “performance unit” based on some criterias as suggested. That’s already what reviewers need to go through to allow plugins to show in the repo. Why not adding a simple score while reviewing?

  12. I rate my own plugins, for one simple reason: the wordpress.org directory shows your plugin as having zero stars until the first rating.

    So, people search for relevant terms, and see a list of results: and everyone else’s has a least (probably) 3 stars, even if it’s rubbish – whilst yours sits their with none. Unless they’re an expert user who realises that zero stars equals “no reviews yet” rather than “the world agrees that this is trash”, you make it much harder to get the plugin established. It’s not the case that plugins get inevitably reviewed soon just because they turn up in the directory.

    David

    Reply

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