Interview: The Developer of Polylang

1. Where are you from / Who are you?

I am located in the south-east of France. I am almost 50 and I started using WordPress for a personnal blog in 2006. I released my first plugin, Polylang, in 2011. As the popularity of the plugin was growing, it became impossible to further develop and support it on my free time. Thus, I founded my own company and I am now fully dedicated to the development of WordPress plugins.

2. Why did you create a WordPress plugin?

Since I got my first computer, I like to play with code. So when I started using WordPress, I naturally tried to code my own theme, even if I was a total beginner in PHP and Web development. I then I did the same for the few extra features that I needed. Finally, the website doesn’t use any plugin that I did not developped myself, even if part of the code is greatly inspired by existing plugins. Years later, I decided to add a second language to the blog and I started coding Polylang. The result looked not too bad, so I decided to release it to the public. It was the first time that I shared a personnal project, and it’s how I entered the spiral.

3. Before Polylang, I think WPML already existed (I am not sure, just a feeling). Why did you make a new plugin?

You are right. When I started Polylang in 2011, WPML already existed and was still available in the WordPress directory, though with a warning that the plugin had become commercial. I also looked at two other plugins, which have been abandonned since, qTranslate and Xili Language. WPML looked too heavy for a personnal blog on a shared hosting and Xili language looked a bit complex. I liked the simple way of qTranslate but, don’t ask me why, I looked at how data were stored and I disliked that all languages were mixed in the same post. It’s a bit technical but I feared that it would be difficult to migrate to another plugin if required. I was in a sabbatical year, I had plenty of time, thus I attempted to start coding my own plugin.

4. What are the differences between Polylang and WPML? (not necessarily about the features, it can be something less technical)

Polylang is often seen as an alternative to WPML, but the two plugins differ in several aspects. You’ll find more features in WPML while we offer less in Polylang with the objective to offer a lighter product, easier to use. Thus WPML is also offering much more options than Polylang. I adhere so much to the philosophy “Decisions, not options” that our extension “Polylang for WooCommerce” comes with no option at all. Also the interface is very different. To translate your content, WPML often proposes separate panels. This reminds translation sofwares with the original content on one side and the translation on the other side. On the contrary, in Polylang, you generally write the content in all languages directly in the WordPress or plugin interface. This is less a translation tool and more a multilingual CMS.

5. How do you see the future for WordPress in general?

Sorry, I am not in the confidence of Matt Mullenweg, so I don’t have a scoop for you for the future of the core.

Regarding the ecosystem, the past years have seen a great move to more professionnalization. Most of the top 100 popular plugins are now baked by companies. That wasn’t the case when I started developing Polylang when there were still a lot of popular plugins offered by coders developing for fun. This move will continue, but I also believe that we are going to more concentration. It’s not new that the biggest companies acquire smaller companies or plugins. But my guess is that we will see an acceleration in the coming years.

6. I noticed that WordPress would probably offer multilanguage in the core directly, I imagine you are aware of this. Do you think that Polylang will still have its place (as it is now), or are you already thinking of adapting the plugin to this new potential situation?

It reminds me a similar question asked to page builder developers 2-3 years ago when the block editor was about to land in WordPress 5.0. We see now that page builders are more popular than ever. All of them adapted to the new situation. My guess is that it will be the same for multilingal plugins. But at this stage we can’t really do anything as, as far as I know, the work did not start. However, I hope that it will improve the current situation with other plugin developers caring more about multilingual websites if this is a core feature.

7. As a plugin developer, what are the most common issues you face? (regarding support, technical problems, etc.)

The issues are in fact very diversified. This means that our job is not boring at all. Hopefully the configuration of Polylang is quite easy as we offer a limited set of options. However, the most frequent issues that we faced in the past were users who forgot to assign a language to their existing content or users who took the wrong decision for the media translation. That’s why we introduced our setup wizard with steps related to these 2 decisions.

8. What are your favorite plugins?

I am a plugin developer, not a website developer so I am using very few plugins, and by far, my favorite one is “Query Monitor”. This tool is just fantastic and helped me debugging a lot of situations.

9. What advice do you have for someone who is starting the WordPress adventure, as an user?

This is much depending on the type of website. However, doing support, I see a lot of entrepreneurs who are starting a small business and need a website to ensure their internet presence. That’s rare but we are sometimes seeing users who lack the basics. My feeling is that the best way to start with WordPress is to go on a 2-days training course. I am sure it’s worth the money. That way, a future user can learn most of the basics. He should be able to make a very simple site by himself for a limited budget. And if the needs are more complex or if the website is at the heart of the activity, then this should help in the discussions with professional web developpers.