Jay was nice enough to chat with me about his passion project. Here’s what he had to say:
Michelle: Tell us a little bit about your site. How long has it been in the making? When did it go live?
Jay: I’ve been frustrated with the plugin discovery process for a long time. I’ve had too many experiences where a plugin has brought down my site, or caused major problems that took me forever to track and it’s taken me years just to figure out how to navigate the web to find the best options.
There are over 26 thousand plugins in the Plugin Directory right now, and thousands of premium options floating around. There should be. It’s important that plugin submission be open and fair, or I think we’d quickly fall into a sort of nepotism. But still, a lot of these plugins haven’t been updated in years, or add unnecessary and clunky code and database tables. It’s hard to find the good ones using just a search bar and a rating system on WordPress’s plugin listing. And even if you can, it’s easy to get locked in a sort of choice paralysis that leaves you spending hours pouring over research to try and figure out whether you should use plugin X or plugin Y.
As a curated selection, Tidy Repo makes it easy to find the most consistent and reliable WordPress plugins. I’m personally sorting through the directory, running the plugins through some rigorous testing to find the good ones, the ones that work correctly every time. If a plugin starts to slip, or for whatever reason development is suspended, I’ll remove it from my site. Basically, I’d like to make finding the right plugins easy and simple and break us out of our paralysis so we can get back to actually making websites. It’s a healthy mix of free and premium options, and each plugin is accompanied by a walkthrough to get you started right away.
Tidy Repo came together very quickly. The idea’s been brewing for a little while, though I didn’t know what form it would take until I saw Unheap, and thought something similar could be done in the WordPress space. It took about a month to design, build and add content to the site. I launched it in June.
Where did the name come from?
Honestly, I wish I knew. If you hang around the WordPress mailing lists and community, you’ll hear “Plugin Repository” tossed around a good amount. I wanted to clean the repository up and make it easy to use, so Tidy Repo just seemed to fit. It was one of those late night eureka moments.
Who are you and what is your background?
I’m Jay Hoffmann, and I’m a front-end designer and WordPress developer. Like a lot of developers out there, I got my start simply because I found the web interesting. I kept at it and taught myself HTML and CSS, but WordPress really brought it all together for me, and I’ve been working with it ever since. I tend to stick to the coding world, mostly front-end with a dash of PHP, but I’ve been working on bringing my design chops up to speed.
I’ve spent plenty of time doing client work, but have recently settled into a full time job. I try to involve myself in open source projects when I can, but the next step for me is to contribute some code to some of my favorite plugins.
What’s the full time job?
I work for a popular children’s media company doing web design and development work. I was brought on to manage their corporate site, which I have since moved over to WordPress and continue to work on creating digital experiences for them.
What is your history with WordPress? When did you discover it and how have you been using it since?
I first started creating websites around 2004. A friend and I came up with some ideas to mock new school policies we thought were a bit Draconian. I learned Flash and made a few (pretty crappy) animations. I quickly realized I would need somewhere to put them so classmates could see them, so I used Flash again to create my first website. Within a year or so I ditched Flash and was using Notepad to code up some HTML and very basic CSS.
It wasn’t until 2006 that I was first introduced to WordPress, and everything started to make sense. At the time, WordPress was really my transition into web standards, and proper DRY coding. Since then, WordPress and I have grown up together. I’ve used it as a platform for all kinds of projects, from simple blogs to websites with hundreds of unique pages, to once, even an intranet. WordPress isn’t always the perfectly shaped tool, but I sincerely believe it can be used to build anything, and it’s always the first that I try.
Seems like your site has been doing very well. I see mentions from esteemed WordPress community folks like Brian Krogsgard and Pippin Williamson on Twitter. Did you know them before or did they discover your site on their own?
Thanks, I’m pleased with the feedback I’ve received so far, and I am grateful to the WordPressers who have chosen to share it. I’ve worked with a few people in the WordPress space before, mostly with the 8BIT team when they were still running WP Daily. Tom McFarlin in particular was a real source of inspiration for this project and was the person that pushed me into getting myself out there and trying something new. He’s been vocal about his problems with the Plugin Repository for some time and has really ignited a valuable conversation.
But I really owe my rapid success to Jared of 8BIT. He tweeted it out, which caught the attention of Brian Krogsgard, who I had never met. Brian and I have since talked and his interest in Tidy Repo and guidance has been a huge reason for its success, so I tip my proverbial hat to him. I have yet to meet or speak with Pippin, but I have great respect for what he does and I can’t imagine what the WordPress plugin space would be like without him.
Are most of the plugins featured on your site ones that you have selected? How many are plugins that other people have submitted?
I’d say right now, most of the plugins listed are ones that I either have had experience with or found through some research. I’ve had a lot of submissions coming through, so thanks to everybody who has participated. It is a great way for me to discover new plugins I may not have found on my own.
There are several factors that I consider when choosing plugins. Obviously it must work without bloating or breaking WordPress, but I also look for authors that give a reasonable amount of support and who update their plugins at least as often as WordPress does. When you’ve had the kind of experiences I’ve had with plugins, it’s a little easier to spot the good ones, but I think for Tidy Repo to be effective I have to be thorough with each and every one.
How do you handle it if someone submits a plugin that doesn’t meet your standards?
When somebody submits a plugin, I add it to a growing list of plugins that need to be tested. I don’t just run automated tests on each one; I actually use it and dig through the code to make sure functionality is implemented effectively. I install plugins on a test server, and run it alongside several other plugins in the most extreme use cases I can think of. If I find that the plugin is consistently good, then I’ll write something up and put it on the site. If I find a plugin is lackluster I discard it. No exceptions. Everything that gets submitted gets a fair shake, but if the plugin lacks consistency or quality then I have to leave it off or I’m doing my users a real disservice.
What is your goal with Tidy Repo?
I’d love to see Tidy Repo be a reliable source for seasoned developers that don’t have time to pick through dozens and dozens of plugin options and WordPress newcomers who don’t even know where to begin. In both cases, the question is the same. “I need a plugin that does X.” When you come to Tidy Repo, it will be right there, and you don’t need to worry about compatibility or reliability. You’ll know it works because if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be on my list. And it will be accompanied by a walkthrough so you can learn a bit more. It’s kind of your one stop shop for finding great plugins.
It’d be great to keep things simple. Right now, I’m adding a few a week to the list, and I have lots and lots more, but I don’t want to become the universal WordPress resource. Tidy Repo is for people looking to find great WordPress plugins, not tips, tricks and top 10 lists. There are plenty of other sites that do a great job with that already. I guess I’d just like to keep the list going and hope that people find it useful.
Are you involved in the WordPress community in any other way? For example, do you go to meetups or WordCamps?
I’m based in NYC and I’ve been to a few meetups in the area. I work on the WordPress docs team whenever I can, contributing to handbooks and fixing up the Codex. I also try to answer questions in the forums and help people that way. For a lot of us out there, WordPress hasn’t just been a great tool, it’s how we actually make a living. I think it’s important to give back to the community that puts food on your table. I think sometimes people don’t realize just how fragile the WordPress ecosystem can be. If it weren’t for the hard work of a relatively small group far more talented than I, there wouldn’t be a WordPress. So I try to give back however I can.
If you had to name one favorite plugin, what would it be and why?
Advanced Custom Fields. When I build WordPress sites, I like to break the content down into blocks so clients have an easy time figuring out what goes where. I can’t remember the last time I used WordPress without ACF, or what I did before. I hear that the core/UI team is working on a way to add similar functionality to core, and I think we owe a lot of that to Elliot and his wonderful work.
Anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like divulging just for fun? A Jay Hoffmann fun-fact?
I went to school for a combination of history and film, and both are still passions of mine. I work on film shoots whenever I can, mostly doing sound recording and design. Actually, I just got off a set this past weekend. If there’s ever a chance for me to teach a class, I’ll take that too. Getting outside the web and doing something creatively different really inspires me when I come back to my computer, and I’m thankful to my friends that keep my passions alive.
My fiancée also thought I should mention that I can eat an entire box of Mike and Ike’s in one sitting.
And here’s a bonus question on video, just for fun:
Jay Hoffmann is a WordPress developer hailing from NYC. In the strictest sense of the word, he is a WordPress enthusiast with an eye for front-end development and design. He has been working with WordPress since 2006 and currently works for a popular children’s media company. This year, he started Tidy Repo, a curated list of the best and most reliable plugins from around the web.