In this edition:
- Important changes to the plugin-review process
- Improvement to load time for your site; boost your Web Core Vitals
- Launches over the past week
- Get Newspack calls on your calendar
We’ve made some important changes for you to the plugin-review process
One of the many strengths of the open source WordPress project is the availability of third-party plugins that allow publishers to extend the functionality of the core WordPress software.
There are nearly 60,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org plugin directory, but unfortunately not all plugins are created equal. Using poor quality plugins can have adverse effects on your site’s performance and introduce security problems. And using too many plugins can often lead to conflicts between them, increasing the risk that your site may become unstable or crash.
Newspack is designed to take advantage of that broad universe of plugins, while eliminating much of the risk, by carefully curating a collection of plugins that are both reliable and tailored to the needs of digital news sites. Some of these plugins are more tightly integrated directly into the Newspack platform, while others have simply been reviewed by our team and selected for use because they meet a business need many of our publishers have.
From time to time, publishers identify new plugins that they may want to incorporate into their site. To help you make informed decisions about the plugins you choose, the Newspack team reviews new plugins for security and performance to ensure that they work well on the Newspack platform and are less likely to cause you headaches down the road. Our team also has decades of experience working with news publishers using WordPress so we’re happy to help you think through your business and editorial needs and recommend plugins that we know will work well for your site.
We maintain a list of approved plugins that have either been built by our team, reviewed by our support staff, or that have been used by a number of our other publishers without incident. Any plugin on this list can be installed on your Newspack site without our intervention.
If you’d like to use a plugin that doesn’t appear on this list, we ask that you fill out this short form to request a review. If we need more information or recommend a different approach, we’ll reach out to discuss the business or editorial needs you’re trying to address and decide whether to proceed with a review of the plugin you’ve requested. We’ll review new plugins on a regular basis and add new plugins to the list every Friday (so you can expect the review to take about a week to complete).
The outcome of our review will be a simple red/yellow/green rating.
- Red = a plugin that has significant flaws that we will not allow on our platform;
- Yellow = a plugin that has some issues but that we’ll provisionally allow (though we may come back to you at a later date if we notice further issues);
- Green = a plugin that has few or no issues that we think you will be able to use without incident.
For plugins receiving a Yellow or Green rating, you will be free to install the plugin in question immediately upon completion of our review. For plugins receiving a Red rating, we’ll try to identify alternative plugins that might work better and perform another review in our next weekly review cycle.
As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions and are looking forward to supporting you!
What are we changing?
Effective immediately, we have updated the list of plugins that are allowed on the Newspack platform. This list includes plugins built by the Newspack team, third-party plugins that our team has reviewed, and third-party plugins that are currently in use without issue by at least five Newspack publishers. The plugins on this list can be installed by any Newspack site without our involvement. If you need assistance installing any given plugin, please open a request in the #newspack-help channel and we’ll be happy to assist.
Any plugin not on this list must be reviewed by the Newspack team before we will allow it to be installed on our platform. Our review looks at a number of factors, primarily around security and performance, to try to identify any issues with the plugin that might cause you headaches down the road.
To request a review of a plugin not on this list, please start by filling out this short form. We will get back to you within 48 hours to let you know if we have a plugin we recommend for the need you’ve identified. If we do not have a preferred solution and need to review the plugin you’ve suggested, we’ll do that on a regular schedule and report decisions each Friday. (so you can expect to hear from us no later than the Friday after receiving your request).
If you are currently using a plugin that is not on this list, we will continue to allow its use unless it starts causing problems. If you would like us to proactively perform a review of any particular installed plugin to try to identify any issues it might cause, please fill out the form and we’ll include it in our regular review cycle.
Why the change?
As the number of sites on the Newspack platform has grown, our once permissive policy of allowing publishers to load plugins at their discretion has become untenable. There are more than 1,000 plugins running on 130+ sites. And the more time we spend troubleshooting unvetted plugins, the less time we have for more essential support tasks. And our initial process for reviewing and approving plugins, instituted at the start of the year, proved confusing and time-consuming.
Our hope is that this change to a more streamlined process will help you more clearly understand which plugins can be used on the Newspack platform, allowing you to take advantage of our team’s expertise and the experience of your fellow Newspack publishers to make informed decisions about the plugins and extensions that are best suited for your business and editorial needs.
What does the review look at?
The things we look at include:
- Whether we have a preferred solution for the problem you’re trying to solve that has already been reviewed or is in use by other Newspack publishers.
- Whether the plugin is in the WordPress.org plugin directory (and whether it’s actively maintained, compatible with the latest version of WordPress, and the plugin authors are responsive to support requests, etc.)
- If the plugin causes any activation or fatal errors that could make your site unstable or even crash.
- Whether the site has any warnings that could indicate poor code quality.
- A number of performance factors to try to make sure the plugin won’t make your site load slowly for your staff working the backend or for your readers.
- A review of the business purpose of the plugin to ensure that it’s something we’re comfortable recommending and supporting.
How long can I expect a plugin review to take?
We are reviewing plugins on a regular, weekly basis and aim to get back to you with the outcome of our review within a week, typically on the next Friday after you submit your review request.
What do the red/yellow/green ratings for the plugins mean?
The final outcome of our plugin review will be a red/yellow/green rating:
- Red = A plugin with critical issues that we will not allow on our platform.
- Yellow = A plugin with some issues but that we think will probably be ok. These plugins are allowed to be installed but we may come back to you and ask that the plugin be removed if it starts to make your site unstable or if it becomes a heavy burden on our support team.
- Green = A plugin that has few or no issues and we think can be safely installed and used. These plugins will be added to our list of approved plugins upon completion of our review and any Newspack publisher will be allowed to install and use them without our intervention.
Why not just allow all plugins?
Unfortunately, not all plugins are created equal. Some plugins are well-built by reputable developers, have a large community of users and contributors, and generally won’t cause conflicts with other plugins, introduce security issues, or affect your site’s performance. Other plugins may be built by less-experienced developers and can put your site at risk. Our hope is that by performing a technical review, leveraging our team’s decades of experience working with publishers using WordPress, and drawing the experience of your fellow Newspack publishers, we’ll be able to help you make informed decisions and avoid some of the common pitfalls that poorly built plugins can introduce.
Homepage Posts block has a new feature to speed load times and improve Web Core Vitals score
Some of you have said you’ve gotten lower-than-expected scores when running your site through Web Core Vitals. We’ve tracked that down to lazy loading of images that appear above the scroll, and we’ve come up with a solution.
You’ll now see a toggle in the Featured Image panel of the Homepage Posts block.
You’ll want to disable the lazy loading (turn on the toggle) for any Homepage Posts block above the scroll that displays images. If you have a Homepage Posts block just showing headlines, it’s not a concern.
135th Newspack newsroom launched
Congratulations to newsroom leaders on your launch in the past week.
As always, you can see the gallery of launched Newspack sites here.
Get our regularly scheduled meetings on your calendar with a couple of clicks
We have a Zoom call each Tuesday to which all publishers and their staffs are invited. The time alternates by week in an effort to accommodate publishers in various time zones.
Click the link here to add the late call, set for 5 p.m. Eastern
And this one is for the 11 a.m. Eastern call on opposite weeks