I've had a love-hate relationship with Jetpack. Actually, it's been more hate than love. Actually, it's just pretty much-been hate. But today, I set out to answer the question: Is my disdain for Jetpack unfounded?
See, I've been having conversations with people, smart people. People are arguably smarter than me in the WordPress space and in the web development space. And they've said that Jetpack is not bad. The Jetpack is actually good. And to be honest, Jetpack serves a lot of functions and has a lot of features that I want for my websites. So, am I doing myself a disservice by not using Jetpack? Could I potentially be hurting my websites, my visitors, and my clients by ardently refusing to use something that is a legitimately good tool?
Today, I'm going to set out to answer those questions.
Hey, everybody. And welcome to WP Review. A show that provides analysis on what's happening in WordPress and what it means for users and business owners in the ecosystem. This podcast is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. My name is Joe Casabona. And today we're going to take a deep dive into Jetpack.
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So first, let me answer this question: Why would we use Jetpacks at all? What's made me reconsider my position besides these conversations?
Well, it was actually something that Matt Mullenweg said on a podcast that got me to look into it again. He said that a lot of people think Jetpack makes websites slower and adds a lot of bloats. But Jetpack actually makes a site fast.
So there's the potential performance boost, which is always good, and often hard to achieve if you're not coding a site from scratch or doing a lot of custom development.
Aside from that, there are some critical website features that should be included in any website as I referenced in my Freelance WordPress Toolkit: Security, and Backups. Having a solution as simple as Jetpack could be a big boost for a lot of folks who might not have them offered in their hosting solution for free.
And finally, there are some other helpful tools: analytics, tight integration with Akismet for comments spam, social sharing, and blocks that get added to the block editor. Some of those blocks, depending on the plan, allow you to accept payments.
But what about Jetpack CRM and VideoPress? Jetpack also comes with two services that I view as separate from the core plugin, because well, they are separate from the core plugin: Jetpack CRM and VideoPress.
It’s personal preference really, but I think that these services should be separate services that aren't branded as part of Jetpack. I don't think a CRM should be part of WordPress at all (that's a separate episode), and VideoPress, a dedicated video hosting platform is easily a standalone service that I don't think should be bundled with the Jetpack branding. But that's neither here nor there. It's just worth mentioning that I'm not going to explore those two features at all.
So let's talk about setting up Jetpack. I have a video on my YouTube channel where I go through the Jetpack setup process for the first time in a long time and generally weigh the pros and cons. You can find it in the show notes over at [wpreview.io/48].
When you first enable Jetpack, you're asked to connect it to your wordpress.com account. As far as I can tell, you cannot use Jetpack at least on our production site without a [.com] account which was an incredible reminder of why I stopped using Jetpack in the first place. If you're going to offer a completely free plugin, I don't think it should be required that you connect the plugin or the website to your SaaS. No. Technically this is not against the WordPress plugin directory rules.
As a quick aside here, if I were a better journalist or a journalist at all, really I would look at all the times the WordPress plugin directory rules changed to accommodate Automattic. But I'm not a better journalist or a journalist at all. So that we'll just have to go into the analysis of anecdotal evidence based on (Inaudible: 6:11.78] When you do connect your website to wordpress.com, you're bombarded with upsells and constant reminders that you're not paying for Jetpack. This is an upsell tactic that makes me a little crazy. While I understand the need to make money, It feels a little hypocritical that some companies like Automattic can get away with these tactics while others are lambasted for them. It's not a direct analogy, but I don't see much of a difference in what MemberPress is doing vs. what Jetpack is doing.
Sure. Jetpack has some free features. But most of the plugin is locked down if you're not paying for them. I think tactics like this are also what give plugins justification for admin notification spam. We need Automattic to set better examples, or we need to change the mindset of users and developers to make things like more admin notifications or locking down parts of a plugin.
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Now, let's talk about actually using Jetpack. After setting up Jetpack is time to start using it, and it's kind of become a confusing mess. Part of that reason is most of the services you turn on during the onboarding process are now background processes.
The days of a wall of toggles for Jetpack features are over, as many have moved to either background services driven by.com, or have been turned into blocks.
So using the actual Jetpack section in the WordPress admin has become mostly a new opportunity for upselling. That said, there are a few really good features, including downtime monitoring and the performance or boost features.
So first, let's talk about Downtime Monitoring. This can be an expensive service that comes completely for free in Jetpack. You can set it up to email you whenever your site is down, and that's pretty great. I suspect that this along with analytics is a strong reason why the Jetpack team would argue the need to connect any Jetpack site to WordPress.com.
The other great reason to use Jetpack is the performance features. Free Jetpack also comes with a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for images, which need to be uploaded somewhere. And that somewhere is [wordpress.com].
And as a quick side note, [wpreview.io] is using 2015 as its theme, which is a default WordPress theme. So maybe I benefited a little bit there.
In the previously mentioned video, though, you can see how well critical CSS works after it's generated by Jetpack, and I've got to say I was really impressed.
Now, the third feature I think Jetpack does particularly well is social sharing. It allows you to automatically add social media buttons to posts, share out posts upon publication, and can even let users subscribe via email to your blog. While the Publicized feature, and therefore connecting to various other social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn has been punted to wordpress.com, it does work well and makes connecting multiple WordPress sites more convenient for sharing purposes. However, I'd rather not link all of my social accounts to a single wordpress.com account.
Now, there are a number of features I skipped in the aforementioned videos because they weren't really easy to find on the first installation. I don't know if when you first installed Jetpack, there's a particular menu that gets hidden or certain features aren't hidden until you second refresh or whatever. But there's a bunch of stuff that I missed in my kind of first look or a renewed tour of the video. In fact, many of the toggles I mentioned that are gone are still there if you look in the right place. These include:
Custom post types for testimonials and portfolio
Theme “enhancements like infinite scroll
Allowing people to comment by logging into wordpress.com, Facebook, Twitter, or other social sites that allow for single sign-on
A bunch of free SEO features
and a lot more.
It's easy to see why Jetpack is a preferred option for many who don't want to install a million plugins and don't mind connecting their wordpress.com account. In fact, if I'm being honest with myself, I might recommend to some people to just use Jetpack because then they don't have to find and evaluate performance plugins and find and evaluate social plugins, and finding evaluates portfolio plugins. This is all stuff that just comes for free in Jetpack.
So now let's talk pros and cons starting with the cons. The thing that bothers me the most about Jetpack is too much of it is tied to [wordpress.com]. It doesn't feel very privacy-focused, and I'd like to be able to use certain features without connecting Jetpack so that the plugin can't phone home all the time.
Automattic wIll say they need me to connect for the stats portion of it, which I think is baloney. The downtime monitoring and CDN are stronger arguments. But I'm not entirely convinced that the entire plugin needs to work by connecting it to [.com]. Surely, adding social share buttons or adding the custom post types are not things that need to be tied to WordPress.
The second con, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with connecting it to [.com] is the upsells. And I get it: The WordPress space is kind of cheap and you need to put those sales front and center and you need to ask for them. But it's extremely heavy-handed in the beginning, to the point where you're almost unsure if Jetpack can actually be used for free. The free option is multiple scrolls down most pages. And it's just a kind of a box that blends in with all the other upsells. And I just don't like that. If you want Jetpack to be paid, a paid plugin, that's fine. Everyone needs to make money. I'm not anti-making money.
But like I said earlier, the thing about it is that it's a little hypocritical. We're seeing lots of cruft in the admin from unnecessary admin notifications and it kind of feels like Jetpack is leading the charge on that. We're seeing a lot of impact from plugins that are trying to make a little extra money off of their free plugins by getting people to upgrade or by making sure people have actually paid for a license and those companies are either getting punished or lambasted by the community. I don't think that's fair.
But as far as cons go, whoa, that's it. They’re big, but there are only two.
So now let's talk about the pros. First of all, Jetpack comes with a lot of stuff. I think every website should have: backups, stats, spam control, and security features. When it comes to spam, in particular, I haven't found anything better than Akismet. I've tried a bunch of different spam plugins and they all fall down on the job. Some even go so far as to try to scare you into upgrading because your site's unprotected. I think Akismet is still the best comment spam plugin out there and that alone might be worth connecting the site to [.com]. If I really need to do it. Though, I will note that Akismet is standalone.
The critical CSS/Boost and downtime features are other big pros. The performance stuff again, it's a strong argument for connecting to [wordpress.com]. The downtime monitoring really allows me to combine with the performance stuff to get a good picture of how my website is performing. And if that requires as it often does connect to a third-party service.
Wordpress.com Isn't worse than anything else out there. It's probably a little bit better. Then there are the social sharing features. I think Jetpack has the simplest implementation. I just want WordPress to tweet when I publish a new post, which Jetpack does really well. Some of these other social sharing plugins have a bunch of settings that you kind of need to go through first.
So those are the pros and cons.
And now it's time to answer the big question: Am I wrong in my disdain for Jetpack? I think, yeah. A little bit. I think I'm probably biased against Automattic. I feel they're a little hypocritical and that colors my opinion of Jetpack.
Am I doing a disservice by not checking it out and using it and at least considering it for some of my clients? Again, I think the answer is yes. So I'll do a little bit more testing, maybe I'll even install it on [casabona.org] and see how it does there.
Now, I want to turn it to you. Are you using Jetpack? What are your favorite features? Let me know by messaging me on Twitter @jcasabona, sending me an email at [email protected]
, or heading over to the show notes, page [wpreview.io/48] and leaving some feedback.
But that's it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
To get even more WordPress insights and to subscribe to this show, head over to [wpreview.io/48]. You can also find all of the show notes there.
If you liked this episode, perhaps you need to convince somebody to try out Jetpack, share it with a friend.
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Until next time. I'm Joe Casabona, and I'll see you out there.