Not so long ago I mentioned YARPP or Yet Another Related Posts Plugin on this blog. It used to be my go-to related posts plugin, but times have changed, and something happened to it. I aim to investigate what caused its demise, where are its authors, and why the plugin died. You see, us plugin authors have a professional interest in the possible timeline of plugins we develop. For how long will they sell? How will the development cycle look like post-release? Seeing a plugin that was likely the most popular of its kind go down the drain is hard. (It had some 3 million downloads!) I feel like it deserves an article to commemorate it. YARPP has a 10-year history. Let’s go down memory lane!
Who developed it and where are they now?
Upon firing up the web archives to dig into the past, it soon becomes clear that this little plugin had a bumpy road and various owners.
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (mitcho)
A Japanese developer was the original creator of YARPP between 2009-2013. He was 24 at the time, but now he mentions a retirement from coding on his website :
In a past life, I was a coder most active in the WordPress and Mozilla (Firefox) spaces. I have now essentially retired from professional coding to focus on my academic work, but still maintain personal connections with these communities.
Based on his Linkedin, he started over and now refers to the WordPress years as a “previous life”. He maintains an active Twitter and an Instagram account. I was glad to see he is alive and well! Michael found a better use of his time, as he is now a Linguist (Assistant Professor). With a 21-page long CV, he seems like a brilliant person who was destined to do more than just a WordPress plugin. In the beginning, he also listed Alexander Malov, Mike Lu, Peter Bowyer were as co-authors of the plugin. However, he managed to independently operate YARPP for five years and then sold it to Adknowledge, Inc. in 2013. On September 23 that year – the last day mitcho had his name on the plugin – the download count was just shy of 2.5 million.
The acquisition happened at around version 4.0.7, after which only a handful of (maintenance?) updates seen the light of day. The plugin was already mature at that point. I don’t know too much about this company, but it’s CEO is Ben Legg doesn’t seem like a programmer. The sale of YARPP might have been a purely business transaction, after all.
The name Adknowledge only appeared on the plugin page in the spring of 2017. Ever since the acquisition, they just listed jeffparker as the developer. His signup time precedes the acquisition only by a few months. I don’t know much about him either, but I guess he was a hired gun to take over development. When the repository changed its layout to allow a brand name to appear under the plugin name, the developer got pushed to the very bottom of the page, under “Contributors & Developers”.
The owner/developer tried to add a free YARPP pro service between 2014-2016, which then had to be removed, possibly due to outside pressure or regulations applying to the free plugins. It was for earning money by promoting sponsored posts by 3rd parties. This monetization didn’t seem to align with the core concept or the legacy of Michael. The new management tried to exploit and leverage the popularity of YARPP, and when it seemed to be unsuccessful, they ditched the product on the street: the updates stopped soon after the monetization element was out. Who would have thunk? This lead to the abandonment of an otherwise fantastic little plugin. It must feel used. 😢
Why was YARPP pulled from the WP plugins repository?
Aside from the fact that the last update was years ago? I’m sorry to let you down, but I don’t know. I initially wanted to reach out to all the translators who must have been more or less in contact with the new developer. But now that it’s clear that the plugin was in a downward spiral since 2013 – and essentially abandoned – it’s no wonder it ended up like this. In the fall of 2018, WP plugins repo put an end to YARPP:
This plugin was closed on October 23, 2018 and is no longer available for download. Reason: Guideline Violation.
Free plugins have to meet a good number of
guidelines that should be common sense. As you see, code style and quality are not grounds for a retroactive removal. However, these guidelines are more about what a plugin can and cannot do, in terms of respecting the users’ privacy. In the GDPR-era, people take these more seriously. If you check out that list, most of the rules are there to prevent dishonesty and some wtf behavior of plugins. Users DO catch call-home scripts, admin hijacks, offensive ads, etc. No matter how YARPP failed to comply with the guidelines, it must have been ugly. I don’t think I need to know more, do you?
Moral of the story
Plugin developers who want to leave their old life behind and sell their product should be vigilant about the buyer. Unless they are only doing it for the money. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame mitcho, he couldn’t have known that the new guy will set YARPP on a path of deterioration.
It’s tough to be the seller, and we talk from experience. Thankfully, we have a good relationship with our publisher, Belcovio. When we sold the usage rights, we retained the ability to develop our products further if we want to.
The initial concept and an honest mission statement of a plugin or product should resonate throughout its entire lifetime, no matter the current owner. You’ve seen what happens when a plugin gets twisted out from its roots and ends up in the wrong hands.