Why WordPress Plugin Updates Aren’t Always a Good Thing

When updates go wrong.

Way back in 2006, I wrote an article titled “Reader Engagement Site Improvements.” In it, I detailed a number of plugins I’d installed to help keep visitors around a while longer, looking at new content on my site.

Landing Sites in ActionOne of these plugins is called Landing Sites. Its job is to check to see if a visitor has arrived (or “landed”) on your blog from a search engine it knows. If it has, it displays a custom message with links to possibly related posts. The idea is that if a visitor has come to your site because he was searching for something, maybe one of your other related posts might meet his needs. Here’s what it looks like on my blog, with some customization.

I used the plugin on both my main blog, An Eclectic Mind, and this Maria’s Guides site. It worked like a charm. My blog was even commended by another blogger for the use of this feature. (Wish I could find the link, but I can’t. Sorry.)

Then, I made a fatal error. When WordPress notified me that the Landing Sites plugin had been updated from version 1.3 to 1.4.1, I allowed it to automatically install the update. I didn’t realize until I updated my blog to WordPress 2.7 and changed the theme that Landing Sites had stopped working. Instead of showing a list of related posts, it was show some raw and ugly PHP code.

I figured the problem was with WordPress 2.7, so I just disabled it on my blog. I posted a comment in a WordPress.org support thread and waited for a response. The author of the plugin subsequently posted instructions for a fix, but it didn’t work for me or for others.

Today, Lorelle (of Lorelle on WordPress fame) e-mailed me to point out that the plugin wasn’t working on this site. (I admit it: I’m lazy and still have this site set up on WordPress 2.6.5.) That surprised me. I went into action, beginning the troubleshooting process.

No fix worked. But I was able to track down the old version of the plugin. I disabled the current version and deleted it. Then I reinstalled the old version (1.3) and activated it. The result: problem solved.

I then went to my blog, which is running WordPress 2.7, and installed the old version there. As you can see from the screenshot above, it works.

What does this mean to self-hosted WordPress users? Unfortunately, it means that plugin updates don’t always make things work better — or even right. In this instance, the plugin author “broke” the plugin by trying to fix it and releasing an update. I don’t know if the new version works for everyone else, but I know it doesn’t work for me. I don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m just glad that reinstalling the old version fixed the problem.

I like the plugin and am glad to have it fully functional on my blogs.

A big thanks to Lorelle for contacting me when she found the problem. Since I never reach my blogs via a search engine, I probably never would have found the problem on my own.

4 thoughts on “Why WordPress Plugin Updates Aren’t Always a Good Thing

  1. I had something like this happen to me when using the democracy widget, in where my customizations totally went out the window. It helps to check compatibility issues before updating, if at all possible.

    Susan´s last blog post: Nature Gift

  2. Always glad to help. Updating Plugins and tracking them is a pain, but hopefully, the new upgrade feature will help, if we pay attention.

    Landing Page Plugins are great, but if you don’t use them, how would you know they are broken. We all need to work together and report when we find something wrong with each other’s sites. I think that’s part of the social, and the joy, of blogging. :D

    Lorelle´s last blog post: WordCamp Las Vegas Will Rock the WordPress Community This Weekend

  3. Susan: You know, I always check compatibility of installed plugins before I update WordPress, but if I’m running the current version of WordPress, I seldom check plugin updates before installing them. Frankly, I think the author of the plugin thought he was “fixing” the plugin with a modification that actually “broke” it on some setups. I don’t know what about my setup made the update bad, but I know I’m not the only one who had the problem. The lesson I learned is to keep the old version handy in case I need to downgrade and to check the functionality of a plugin after an upgrade — don’t just check the functionality of the total blog.

    Lorelle: I agree that we need to help each other point out blog formatting or plugin problems. A lot of folks don’t, though. (Of course, my rather restrictive contact policy doesn’t enourage it, either.) I’m glad you took the time to write.

    Enjoy WordCamp this weekend. If I wasn’t so busy at home, I’d come on up and join the fun. Las Vegas is only a 2 hour flight from here and I sorely need a photo of the helicopter on the ramp at McCarran for an article I’m writing for a helicopter magazine.

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