EP382 – WordPress plugin updates, changes and abandonment

January 29, 2021

This week we’re discussing what site owners should do when managing WordPress plugin updates, changes to a plugin, and what about plugin abandonment from the developer?


Jason Tucker @jasontucker https://twitter.com/jasontucker​
Steve Zehngut @zengy https://twitter.com/zengy​
Jason Cosper @boogah https://twitter.com/boogah​

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Episode Transcription

Jason Tucker 0:08
This is episode number 382 of WP water cooler. WordPress plugins, updates changes and abandonment brought to you by our friends over at ServerPress makers of DesktopServer. They make local WordPress development easy. Check them out at ServerPress.com dot com. The events calendar is the number one calendar and event plugin on WordPress for a reason. It’s built by WordPress and events experts who know what it takes to succeed and what events are part of your business. Whether it’s weekly virtual classes or robust event ticketing solutions events calendar has you covered. Use the code WP water cooler to save 20% on your new purchase today, events calendar.com.

Support us over on Patreon. Go to patreon.com slash WP water cooler to help us out over there. We’d really appreciate it. Thank you. I’m Jason Tucker. I’m an IT director. Find me at Jason Tucker on Twitter.

Steve Zehngut 1:14
I’m Steve Zehngut. I’m the founder of Zeek interactive and I run the OC WordPress meetup.

Jason Cosper 1:22
Hey, everybody, it’s your boy Jason Cosper, AKA Fat Mullenwig in the building ready to talk some WordPress today.

Jason Tucker 1:29
Subscribe to us as a podcast, go over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, even Spotify. Go check it out. We’re over there. And you can subscribe to this podcast there.

Steve Zehngut 1:41
Everything you said about events calendar was totally off the cuff. It wasn’t read off a script, it totally

Jason Tucker 1:44
was off the cuff. It wasn’t on the screen. It was my first time reading it off the screen. But hey, you know, things work out. Yeah, you know, try to get try to get it with a 32nd block is always fun, too. So let’s just say I did read that about 12 times last night just to get it just right.

Jason Cosper 2:04
How are you guys doing great. It sounded really off the cuff. Jason. I can’t. It was it was one of those things. I just felt the passion.

Jason Tucker 2:18
Oh, God, like the ServerPress wide. We’ve been doing that for years. And I literally could just rattle it off, like real quick. boom, done. Turn. But you know, yeah. So today, we’re gonna be talking about WordPress plugins, and a whole whole different whole bunch of different things regarding WordPress plugins themselves, you know, from abandonment to updates, it just updates, it just piss you off. You’re like, man, really, I gotta deal with this. Like, they change something or now there’s a new notice a new notification that’s up on the top of the site, or there’s new something, something’s not working correctly with this thing. And maybe I think a fine other plugin or something. And we’re also going to talk a little bit about in the news, there’s a couple of different solutions out there for kind of managing those sorts of things. So we’ll get into that, too. Let’s talk about plugins, shall we? Yeah.

Steve Zehngut 3:14
Wow, that’s a lot you there’s a lot to cover there. From what you’re on what you just said, right? Well,

Jason Tucker 3:18
you know, we do and we don’t, we don’t, you know,

Jason Cosper 3:22
we’ve got 27 more minutes to sort this out. Let’s get into it. You know,

Steve Zehngut 3:27
I actually kind of want to start with abandonment. I know, it’s probably not, not where you thought about starting. But I think I think abandoned plugins are important, just to be aware of because it wasn’t always obvious in the plugin panel in your WordPress dashboard. When a plugin has been abandoned, it still may not be right. And so there there is something that dashboard that’s really obvious that says when a plugin has an update, right, that and that means that the there’s an active developer that has that is updating the plugin regularly, right. And so when a plugin is outdated, and the developer has posted an update, it’ll show you there’s an update, and it’ll put it in the in the updates panel inside of WordPress. But if a plugin has been abandoned, right, nothing ever happens, right? So if you have that plugin installed, and it’s been abandoned, it just sits. And so it looks like it’s always current, right? That plugin could be years out of date. But it there’s no there’s no update available, and there’s no warning that the plugin could be problematic for you. And so I’ve always found that to be an issue inside of WordPress. So I think abandoned plugins, it’s just not obvious inside of the WordPress dashboard that they’ve been abandoned.

Jason Cosper 4:47
Yeah, I saw this as a problem. I mean, a number of years ago and I said something on Twitter and Pete Maul, who is You know, a lot of people are aware of, but for those of you who aren’t, he’s done car contributions. You know? Yeah. And I basically said, it would be cool. If I would just get something on that plugin screen that said, Here’s when the plugin was last updated. Let’s just keep a log of that. And those are Pete bang together this plugin. Like I said, this was like seven or eight years ago, put it together, and it works great. But also the plugins abandoned.

Steve Zehngut 5:40
The exact same thing I know about this plugin, there’s a plugin that tells you if your plugins are abandoned, that has been abandoned. Right. And so that in itself is causing a rift in the space time continuum.

Jason Tucker 5:51
Right, right.

Jason Cosper 5:54
I mean, I actually think, you know, with a focus on security, that should, that should be something that makes its way into core.

Steve Zehngut 6:03
Absolutely right. This this, this is a problem. I’m CT core is really not letting you know, when there’s outdated technology, it only lets you know when there’s new technology. Right?

Jason Tucker 6:14
Yeah, there’s a I was reading an article on WP tavern, I posted an article about using a plugin called WP lookout, which gives you a bunch of bunch of really good information it tells you about like, you know, essentially, it kind of scans the change logs, and it looks at some of the various metadata that that’s about that particular plugin, and you can kind of look to see, like, you know, if there’s a security update that was done or not, it looks at all of the different plugins that you have. And so, you know, plugins for you could download it and kind of play around with it and see if that, if that works for you. But it the abandonment side of it is still something that is going to be really difficult for us to manage, because like what you guys were saying is that because of the fact that you can have an abandoned plugin, but both you and Steve are still downloading that plugin, and still using that plugin, there’s probably customers of yours that may potentially have that plugin stone installed, because it might be working still, it just abandoned.

Steve Zehngut 7:12
I was just gonna say abandoned doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Right? And so the the flip side of this is if you go to the to the WordPress plugin directory, right, there’s a flag that says, this plugin hasn’t been updated in over a year, it hasn’t been tested with this version of WordPress, right. And so that actually looks bad. It may not be that may not be a problem, right? There’s plugins that are so simple that they don’t need updates, right? Or they’re future proof. Right? So so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So that’s that’s kind of the flip side of this is some plugins are okay to abandon? They don’t need updates.

Jason Cosper 7:47
Right now. I mean, so I actually would like to make a confession, I have a plugin that I recently abandoned.

Steve Zehngut 7:57
Oh, you’re terrible.

Jason Cosper 7:59
I know. I’m the worst. So it was one that you might be aware of, and had a few users get back. Yeah, I’ve abandoned jetpack. Hello,

Jason Tucker 8:13

Jason Cosper 8:17
No, so the plugin I used to maintain was four strong passwords. And if you I know that for a while, I’m not sure anymore. But I know WP engine was hosting it on all of their users. And it was like the bane of existence for a number of users, because there was no way to disable it. But it would, it would basically the the plugin would force you to use a strong password like no matter what, there was no way around it. I finally, because all I was doing all the time was just updating just bumping the version number to the last version it was tested with and then sending way I would test it. But I would just I would bump it every time and then I realized not too long ago, that and see this plugin has been closed as of November 3 2020. Last updated three years ago, so like I really just yeah, it was

Jason Tucker 9:32
it’s okay. Or they don’t really, they’re just like you and it’s kind of like let’s just abandon it. We’re good.

Jason Cosper 9:39
Yeah, I’m Well, I mean, nobody really wanted to take it over. A lot of people who had done work on it before Simon Wheatley is the guy who I picked it up from and but what I had realized working on a site was now WordPress has the thing that will shame you for you. Using a weak password, it’ll say, hey, this password isn’t great. Are you sure you want to use it? And you actually get to say yes or no. So it is forcing you, you have to hit that checkbox to say, yeah, that’s cool. Before you submit and change your password, I was like, You know what? That is a much less annoying version of what I did. So I think I think it’s cool. I think nobody really needs to pick this. I mean, if, if WP Engine is still using it, and wants to like, fork it, the GitHub repo is still out there. I mean, I’m not I think they actually maintained a fork of the plugin for a while just to work around some platform functionality that they needed to so. But yeah, I abandoned it, because I just kind of got tired of testing it and then bumping the version.

Jason Tucker 11:03
That’s all you’re doing is testing the version. So yeah, I get it. It makes it makes total sense. So for the user’s point of view, when they see something like this, where they go, like, for instance, I went and did a search for for strong passwords, and was not able to find it at a Google search to find it, because now it’s been essentially removed from the search results on the directory. Yeah. For on the on the users perspective, what should a user do if they were to install this plugin, or any other plugin that has been abandoned? And how do they kind of manage that? Because? Wow,

Steve Zehngut 11:40
yeah, that’s a great question. That’s,

Jason Tucker 11:42
that’s, that’s the tough part, especially like, for us, as you know, either working for agencies or owning an agency, you may have this in your tool belt, and you’re essentially kind of, you know, putting these out there.

Steve Zehngut 11:53
You know, this, I mean, this, this one’s kind of a bad example, because this one, you just disable, because core has gotten, you know, he’s got this kind of built in now, like cost per cent. But there are plugins that may be abandoned that you just need an alternative for, right. And the alternative is not always out there. So sometimes your sLl Yeah, I mean, that’s just that’s just the way it is. Sometimes, sometimes you’re sLl, or you’re forced to create something yourself, hire a developer and create something like what you need it, I think it really depends on how critical that plugin is. Right? Which, which, you know, we we’ve said this many times on this show, it’s important to visit your plugins, often right? You know, I don’t see plugins is something you just set and forget, right? Because plugins are ever changing, right? Sometimes they do get outdated or they’re not necessary. because something’s built into core. A lot of times sites that I encounter have plugins that are offering duplicate functionality, right? That happens more often than not when I inherit a site, right? So So I consider the plugins, part of WordPress, a living and breathing thing, right? It’s something that does need to be maintained. And that maintenance includes possibly just deactivating a plugin that you just don’t need, right? Because it’s not a critical piece of your website. Right.

Jason Cosper 13:16
Something something I noticed that the health check does now also, if you have a plugin that’s disabled, it’ll encourage you to get rid of that plug in to get rid of the the themes that you’re no longer using and stuff like that, which I think is great.

Steve Zehngut 13:31
Well, that’s a best practice anyway, right? Yeah, there’s no reason to have extra code hanging on that you’re not using, right, that’s just, you know, it’s it’s potentially opening up security flaws. I was gonna say bloat your system doesn’t really, because it’s not really doing anything, but it’s important to not have that extra code laying around.

Jason Tucker 13:49
Right? Yeah, regardless, it’s just like, it’s just like, with themes, having a theme just kind of sitting around in there, that you’re not actually using the same sort of get rid of it for not using it,

Jason Cosper 13:59
especially if it’s, if it’s a theme that you started out early, like early days, and he didn’t know what you were doing on your site, and you grab something from code Canyon, and it has a revolution slider in it. And, or something that turns out to be exploitable, you know, a few months or a year from now, because they packed in some other functionality on a plugin that’s built into the theme and not getting updated at all.

Steve Zehngut 14:25
And I just say what you said another way Cosper I was I always think of removing plugins or maintaining plugins or maintaining themes as a way to speak to future me, right? Because when future me goes into this site in a year from now, I’m going to look at all this extra stuff that’s there and think to myself, okay, I’ve now got to re familiarize myself here to see what I can remove. If we’re if we’re constantly maintaining it, right. That’s a good practice for future me. And if this gets handed off to another developer or if the team expands, right, you want to keep that code as clean as possible.

Jason Cosper 14:58
Yeah, if you’re If you’re a developer, if you’re doing kind of sites for, for friends or acquaintances, or you have like a small practice where you’re doing stuff for clients, this is a good reason for selling a maintenance contract to folks to basically say like, Listen, WordPress isn’t just a set it and forget it thing you have to go in and garden it, you have to go in and pull the weeds. And in some cases, a plugin gets abandoned, I might have to find you a different plugin. That’s what this maintenance contract will cover. It will like little things like that. If I have to really re engineer something, because a plugin is gone. We’ll have to have a talk about that.

Steve Zehngut 15:44
And sometimes some something better just comes out. Right? Sometimes there’s there’s just a good reason to switch because something better came out. Right? I’ll give you a good example. I didn’t mean to cut you off there. Cosper. But I’ll give an example. Let You know, a lot of my clients will have a plugin or some piece of technology that’s interacting with a third party like a CRM, right. I but but a lot of my clients change CRM, like they change underwear, right. And so, you know, one year we’re using HubSpot The next year, we’re using Active Campaign right. And so that means that maybe the form plugin that we’re using, doesn’t have the same integration with the see the new CRM that they chose, right? So now we have to look at a completely different forms plugin. Things just change, right? And that’s just one thing I say to my clients all the time is a good website is never done.

Jason Cosper 16:35

Jason Tucker 16:35

Steve Zehngut 16:36
It just isn’t, you’re always going to be developing something or changing something, because the technology changes rapidly. Mm hmm.

Jason Tucker 16:45
And when you’re looking for like, when, when you’re going and switching CRMs, or something like that, looking to see if it’s compatible with not that you’re gonna be like, Oh, my website, let’s make sure the website is compatible with the thing that’s essentially going to be running my entire business. But I think it’s one of those things to take into consideration. And if not, then you’re going to have to hire a developer who’s going to have to tie those hooks together and make it all kind of work.

Steve Zehngut 17:08
I’ll give you an example. And this is not a knock on Gravity Forms, right? In no way am I knocking Gravity Forms here, but we just made a decision as a company, right to standardize the form plugin that we’re using in WordPress, and we’re going to go with ninja forms, right. And part of the reason we’re going to ninja forms is the interface is easier, it’s easier for our clients to maintain. But the third party integrations are superior to any of the other form plugins that are out there. Right. And that’s really what sold it for us is because we do so much third party integration, that ninja forms just has it when we need it, it has it. And so we’re in the process of actually switching everything over. So we’re taking old sites that have Gravity Forms, and switching into ninja forms. And that’s not a that’s, that’s not an easy task.

Jason Tucker 17:54
Especially if you wrote a bunch of code that is yes, just to be able to make the interaction happen between Gravity Forms and whatever API that you’re interact. There’s,

Steve Zehngut 18:05
there’s custom code, there’s third party integrations, and then there’s the migration of all the data.

Jason Tucker 18:10
Right? That’s true. Yeah. Yeah, and I mean, that that’s, that’s both the cost on your part, as well as I’d imagine you’re, you’re sharing that cost with the customer as well. But you’re gonna, you’re gonna be able to maintain everything so much easier. If it if it works better for you, right?

Steve Zehngut 18:29
Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to, right, the the, you know, when it comes to cost, you know, we can either spend the time, you know, working on third party integration into Gravity Forms, or we can switch over to ninja forms, which already has it, which is, which in the end is is a lot less expensive.

Jason Cosper 18:45
Now, I mean, I know that I already said that you got to attend to your garden thing. So I’m going to I’m going to mix metaphors a little bit here. But buying a website is like buying a house. If you’ve ever if you’re if you’ve ever bought a house, and I know that not everyone in our audience owns a house. But if you know someone who’s owned a house, whatever, they’re never done working on the house. I mean, Jason’s in the middle of it right now. Jason’s in the middle of it right now. I we had a huge gust of wind like 4050 miles an hour through here. And the back fence with one of my neighbors is just leaning. And I am like, okay, that fence is old and ragged. I need to replace it. I need to hire an outside developer in like in this metaphor, I need to hire somebody to stand up a fence for me. I guess I could do it myself if I wanted to. I could, but that would also require me to interact with my neighbor and that’s not how COVID is going to get me so I’ll just hire some dudes.

Steve Zehngut 20:05
But, but continue with your metaphor, I always hire for that stuff. Because, you know, I could learn how to build a fence. Right? Yeah. Right, I could learn how to do plumbing work and electrical work, right. But why? Why would I do that? Right? When there’s when, when I’m probably just going to screw it up? Right? I’m going to screw up and end up hiring an expert anyway. Right? So just pay for the expert, right? That it’s the same. It’s a metaphor here. It’s the same same thing applies here. When I go

Jason Tucker 20:35
further on this metaphor, so what if the what if the what if the? What if the fence is incompatible with the wind? So for instance, if you go and get a fence, that’s, that isn’t a chain link fence, and you think that’d be really good if I just if I just used a fence made out of sticks, and you go and put this up there, and then the wind blows it down? Yeah, you may want to get one that it’s made out of brick.

Steve Zehngut 20:59
God, all of a sudden, this became the three little pigs. Yeah.

Jason Tucker 21:03
But I think there’s, I think there’s something to that, in that, because of the fact that, you know, Cosper can go out there and just go slap a fence on the he’s gonna go buy at Home Depot. But it might be better for him to hire someone who’s actually installed the fence before, and probably is well aware of the fact that there’s wind that happens in the area, and that he should probably have a very specific fence to get,

Jason Cosper 21:23
I mean, I have, I have installed a fence before, but I was eight years old. And I am not kidding, my dad made the whole family get out there and work on the fence with them. I did some like work in a posthole digger, I I’ve got, I’ve got a good idea of how to make it level and everything else. But I am 42 I will be 43 next week. That was I’m not even gonna look at anyone.

Jason Tucker 21:54
Well, abandoned in

Steve Zehngut 21:58
the new fence. So since we’re spending census, we’re spending this last two minutes or 10 minutes expanding on this continuing metaphor, right? To expand it even further, right? In addition to hiring expert and Jason, you said this, you’re also going to hire a regional expert, right? Somebody who specializes in caspers region, right? So they know the weather conditions, right? In that case, you need somebody who understands your your server environment, your WordPress environment, the other plugins that are installed right there, there there is, you know, specifics around how you’re running your site that that are important here. And those all affect your this can affect your plugin choices, right? I’ll give you an example. Some plugins, don’t cache as well as others, right? some plugins require heavy server resources to run. One of the plugins I’ve encountered this recently is abandoned cart Pro, you’d think the pro version, the pro part of the word would mean it’s good. It doesn’t. Right? And so I know, it’s weird. And yeah, but abandoned cart Pro is a is a is a resource hog, plugin, and there’s other plugins like it, but this one specifically, not only is a resource hog on the front end, because of the way it’s gathering data, but it’s a resource hog in the backend, because what it does is it collects all the email addresses, and then uses the WordPress server to generate those emails on a batch process. Right? All of that is bad. Right, right. And so, but it’s a very common plugin, a lot of people use it, they just install it, they go for it, they go great. I can I can save my abandoned carts, you’re actually costing yourself a lot by installing this plugin, especially if you’re on a server that can’t handle it. And so that’s where that environment becomes important. Because not all plugins, you know, have the same requirements. Yeah, I mean, from a server perspective.

Jason Cosper 23:49
Yeah, I mean, the the version, when you hire the person, the person you hire to do this work, it’s one thing if they’re on there helping you get your site running on, let’s say, our favorite sniping is Bluehost or Hostgator, big, big. Any, any of the big brands versus something like pateley or a kinsta, or a liquid web or a WPS, or, like an even there, there’s little differences. There’s there’s not one like unified hosting environment for everybody. Yep. Yeah. Yeah. I was gonna say like, I actually when I moved into this house, and not to flex further, it’s like Jason Cosper owns a house. Now he’s gonna tell us that he owns a house that has a pool, which it gets very hot in Bakersfield in the summer. And, but when we got this house, the light in the pool wouldn’t come On. And our first thought was, let’s hire an electrician. This is to kind of get back to what Steve was saying about, you have to have a specialist for a region. We call out the electrician, he looked at a couple of things. And we said, oh, by the way, we’ve got this problem with our pool light. And he goes, Oh, I don’t put my hands down in the water with electricity. Let me give you the phone number of a guy who can come over and water electrician. Yeah. What did he give you the numbers. And he was he was fair price. I wasn’t getting gouged or anything like that. But he was just like, You know what? I don’t put my hands in water with electricity. Sorry, bro. Like, we’re gonna need to get a different guy out here right now. And and in that case, to go back to the the big hosting or the the shared hosting versus a managed host. Sometimes you’ll try to hire a guy to help you on your your little shared hosting plan, and they’ll go, I can’t put my hands in water. I can’t put my hands in water with electricity that way. Yeah. This is going to this is going to come back on me. Let me get you someone who’s actually trained for this.

Steve Zehngut 26:14
And I also want to I want to highlight something else you said here, which I think is important, right? You named if you name several good hosts, right? WP Engine liquidweb, Nexus, Pagely, Kinsta. Right. Those are all good managed WordPress hosts, very fast servers. But there are nuances, right, they’re not all exactly the same. They’re not serving the same stuff, their servers aren’t tuned the same, right. And what that means is, some are better for hosting static websites, some are better for hosting sites that have a login like a membership site or an e commerce site, right, which means that WooCommerce is not going to run the same on each of these, each of these boxes, right? And WooCommerce is not going to run the same as you scale, your membership site isn’t going to run the same, right. And so, so not only not only is important to understand the environment, but the types of plugins that you’re that you’re choosing, right to meet your business goals also add up to a certain formula, right? Which means that, you know, when, when my clients come to me, and they’ve got an existing website, and it’s not working for some reason, all that’s almost all the time, you know, one of the parts of our discovery will be okay, where are you hosting? How are you hosting? Are you are at the right package at that host. Right. So that’s, that’s just part of our discovery. And so all that stuff adds up to success. And it’s, it’s, it is a machine with a bunch of moving parts, right. And I also want to stick my hands in water when I’m working on electricity. Yeah, but you know, I do neither of those things. So it’s,

Jason Tucker 27:55
it’s good for you to know, you know, what’s, what’s the best web host to use for the situation that you’re in?

Jason Cosper 28:00
Are you guys familiar with Matt Coppola? chapala. He, I’m trying to remember the host. He works at Site district. And they do a good job with their manage hosts stuff. I saw a talk two years ago. Well, I mean, it’s, yeah, definitely at least two years ago, at wordcamp, Santa Clarita, where he was talking about, basically, one of the things you can do when you’re like, my site isn’t running well, even if it’s on a managed host, is go sign up for a free trial at another host. go sign up and just move your site there. Just see, hey, let’s see how my site runs. You know, say I’m on a kinsta plan and I’m not liking what they’re doing with whatever Sam method

Steve Zehngut 28:52
we’re throwing Kingston under the bus,

Jason Cosper 28:54
Sam it Sam at WP Engine and my WooCommerce site isn’t performing the way I want it to and you’re like, Well, I know that there are a few hosts that actually do stuff with WooCommerce. Let’s see. Let’s see if these sites actually work any better for me, let’s get in. And you know, okay, so I got an outlay, the the $30 the $60 the whatever for like a one month but they have like a 90 day money back guarantee or something like that. Like that’s,

Steve Zehngut 29:26
that’s cheap. And along those lines another strategy for doing that if your site isn’t isn’t running properly, set it up on a staging server assuming that your host offers that and you start disabling plugins to see and disable the plugin see how it runs disable another plugin, see how it runs right you know that there there there are ways to kind of determine what’s what’s happening. But once you determine it, you’re gonna have to do what Cosper said anyway to to see if there’s a better home.

Jason Tucker 29:52
Yeah. All right. All right, guys, we did great talking about this. Of course, thank you. As always, every week we’ve been doing this stuff on Fridays, feel free to go take a look at the stuff that we talked about both today, as well as on our previous show that we just recorded. We actually talked to, to the CEO of Pagely, and she was awesome. So feel free to go take a look at that episode that we just recorded. Here’s our outro talk to y’all later. Bye.

Hit the subscribe button. You can subscribe multiple ways and if you don’t listen to us as a podcast, you can definitely do that. But you can also subscribe to us on YouTube. Go over to youtube.com and do a search for wp WPwatercooler and you can find our show over there. talk to y’all later. Have a good rest of your day. Bye bye


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Likes, Bookmarks, and Reposts

9 responses to “EP382 – WordPress plugin updates, changes and abandonment”

  1. Check it out –
    EP382 – WordPress plugin updates, changes and abandonment wpwatercooler.com/video/ep382-wo…

  2. I wonder, @boogah is there a way for a developer to basically make the plugin null upon update so it has to be removed? For example an update results in a empty plugin that does nothing but update the description with a phrase like (Delete Me)

  3. @WPwatercooler Thanks for mentioning us in this episode! We’re excited to keep adding new features to help with this problem space, and we’ll take a look to see what we can do about tracking abandonment. Glad for any feedback/suggestions from your listeners!



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