In early October, WordPress.org added a cool new feature – live previews for plugins.
This feature was powered by WordPress Playground, which lets users run a fully functioning version of WordPress right in their browsers.
The basic idea was that users would click a button on the WordPress.org listing, and then it would use WordPress Playground to open a working WordPress site in a new tab with the plugin pre-installed. Users could then play around with the plugin to see how it works before installing it on their own websites.
Sounds pretty cool, right? What’s the problem?
Well, the issue is that this approach doesn’t work for all plugins, but it was still enabled for all plugins.
Sometimes, it just wouldn’t be a very good experience for certain plugins, such as plugins that rely on other plugins for functionality. For example, imagine opening a preview for a plugin that extends WooCommerce but the core WooCommerce plugin wasn’t installed.
In some situations, the plugin could even throw a fatal error when the user opened the preview because of issues with the configuration from WordPress Playground.
Obviously, some plugin developers weren’t very happy about these facts because it could create an unfairly negative perception of the quality of their plugins. Additionally, people were upset that the change seems to have been pushed through very quickly, without much testing or feedback, and without advance warning to developers.
As a result, the new preview feature was removed a few days later.
Overall, I think that the idea is very cool and could be useful to people browsing plugins. However, the execution definitely left some things to be desired.
First off, plugin developers should have had time to provide feedback and prepare for the new preview feature.
Additionally, there should be some opt-out mechanism so that developers can disable the live preview feature if it doesn’t play nice with their plugin. This was actually suggested by Steve Dufresne on the initial ticket, but it doesn’t seem to have been factored into the design.
It would also be helpful if the preview feature were able to factor in dependencies, such as installing the core WooCommerce plugin alongside plugins that require WooCommerce. There are plans to add this via the Blueprints feature in WordPress Playground.
The Blueprints feature will also allow for importing demo content, which should help developers create a much better demo experience.
Still, I think developers of commercial plugins would be better off creating their own plugin demos using something like InstaWP, as it lets developers better control the demo experience and also generate leads.