To Ban or Not Ban Animated Plugin Icons?

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed a few people voicing their disdain for animated plugin icons. Since I don’t browse the plugin directory as much as I used to, I was unaware that this was a thing. Scott Kingsley Clark published a poll on Twitter last night asking what people thought of them. Not surprisingly, the poll heavily favors the Burn Them All option.

If you’ve yet to see one in action, Scott shared a few examples on Twitter.

Some of the animations are a bit a flashy while others are subtle. Since the plugin directory is governed by a set of guidelines, any points of difference that a developer can take advantage of can potentially give them a one up against competitors. Animated plugin icons is one of those points of difference but it turns out, that may not be the case in the future.

Accessibility Concerns

One of the arguments against animated icons is there lack of accessibility. Proponents pointed out the following guideline as part of WCAG21.

“Moving, blinking and scrolling” refers to content in which the visible content conveys a sense of motion. Common examples include motion pictures, synchronized media presentations, animations, real-time games, and scrolling stock tickers. “Auto-updating” refers to content that updates or disappears based on a preset time interval. Common time-based content includes audio, automatically updated weather information, news, stock price updates, and auto-advancing presentations and messages.

Based on the guideline above, users must have the option to pause, stop, hide, or control the frequency of the update unless the auto-updating is part of an activity where it is essential. None of these options exist and clicking on the icon does not stop the animation.

Changing the Guidelines Won’t Fix the Problem

WordPress plugin authors have had the ability to animate their plugin icons since the directory was rebuilt. The new directory has built-in support for animated GIFs. At one point, the detailed plugin guidelines noted that animated GIFs were not allowed but that changed last year. As long as the file size was not cumbersome and the animation was not offensive or violated other guidelines, they would be allowed.

Throughout 2020, the topic of animated plugin icons came up a few different times in the #meta and #pluginreview channels on WordPress’ Slack instance. Mostly in the form of suggestions on having them banned by altering the detailed plugin guidelines. Mika Epstein, one of the gatekeepers for the plugin directory, made it clear that there were technical hurdles involved and that changing the guidelines wouldn’t solve the problem and would actually increase the workload for the review team.

1. We would need a way for SVN to flag an animated image (when named screenshot-* or icon-* or banner-*) and hard stop it.

2. We would need to make it so existing animated icons aren’t animated in wp-admin and on the plugin page

Regardless of if I agree as to if animated icons and banners are bad (which I do), it’s not going to happen to have a new guideline that is hard to monitor and enforce. Any new ‘you can’t do this’ guideline MUST have a way to be actually managed by the volunteers. And “Look and see and close” is not that. We’ve done that for a decade, it does not scale.

Mika Epstein #pluginreview Slack Channel

However, there has been discussion and some work done to figure out how to ban animated images from being used as plugin icons. According to this Trac ticket, DD32 outlines the four issues that the directory must account for:

  • Multi frame Gifs
  • Animated PNGs
  • The above uploaded as a .jpg
  • SVGs with CSS transitions or <animate> tags

The goal is to automatically prevent animated images from reaching the plugin directory in the first place while also having measures in place to detect them if authors add them in an update after the plugin is approved. Alan Fuller suggested a possible alternative by altering the plugin directory search engine so that it would give less weight to results that use animated icons.

The Future of Animated Plugin Icons Appears Numbered

I understand why plugin developers would us animated icons but as a user, I prefer static images. Searching for a plugin and then seeing a bunch of animated icons on the screen makes me cringe. At the moment, animated icons are allowed as long as they don’t have a large file size and are not egregious. While there are technical hurdles to overcome and from the conversations that have taken place in Slack in 2020, I can summize that animated icons will eventually be banned or blocked from the directory.

Do the animated plugin icons bother you?