The core of WordPress links user profiles to a “gravatar” for their image. In some ways this does simplify things as my email is linked to any WordPress site where I have a user account. If I changed the picture stored at gravatar.com, it automatically changes on all sites. This meets my needs and those of my clients in the majority of sites I build.
There are other sites where I need more. Typically I need a higher-resolution avatar on blog sites so that it looks good on author pages and in the bio of authors. Many years ago I found the perfect solution in a plugin named WP User Avatar. It had one basic function in using locally-stored files for a user’s avatar. If you didn’t load one, it used the Gravatar version. It did the job well until a new company bought the plugin and completely destroyed it on May 16, 2021 when an update gave it a new name with vastly different functionality.
A notice appeared telling me the name had been changed from WP User Avatar to ProfilePress. The name change isn’t that important to me but the other message telling me I have to create at least five more pages on each site for the plugin to work properly was very concerning. As I looked closer, it was now a full-blown membership system. If I had wanted a membership system, I would have installed that in the first place.
Prior to the change, the WP User Avatar plugin was rated very highly. As of this writing, it has 158 five star reviews. It also has 135 one star reviews, most of which were added after the plugin was so drastically changed. Many of the reviews talk of the plugin being hijacked or users feeling it was a bait and switch. That’s definitely understandable. Others say this action is a blatant violation of the WordPress Terms of Service. I don’t know the TOS rules well enough to say if it is truly in violation. But it is definitely not the actions of an ethical company.
For some users, this broke their sites due to conflicts with other plugins and required many hours of work to undo the damage. Luckily I was able to reinstall the previous version of the plugin as a quick fix that only wasted a few minutes of my time for each site. It is still wasted time, just not as much as others have reported.
I will look at alternative plugins to use going forward and WP User Avatars looks promising. At least two people have taken the previous version (legally) of WP User Avatar plugin and developed it without all the extra bloat. So I’ll wait for at least a couple of weeks before I determine how I’ll move forward.
Why Was This Done?
There is no way to truly know the developers intentions. ProfilePress has been listed as a separate plugin with 4000 active installs. That plugin was removed and then ProfilePress took over the WP User Avatar plugin with more than 400,000 installs. So a guess would be the developer thought that having that many installs would help to sell premium versions of the plugin. I would also guess they felt the damage inflicted on users was worth the profits they might reap from this stunt.
If nothing else, they have gotten a lot of attention as I’m writing this post about the plugin. The folks at WordPress Tavern also wrote a detailed post entitled ProfilePress Rebrands and Repurposes WP User Avatar, Now a Membership Plugin, Users Revolt via the WordPress Review System.
One thing is certain. I won’t ever do business with ProfilePress and I’m guessing this stunt will completely destroy their business much as they did with a great plugin.