A New Version of WordPress Plugin Support

I’ve written at length about the dilemma of supporting WordPress plugins and looking at various support systems both of which generated some good discussion on offering WordPress plugin support.

Over the past few months, I’ve been [slowly] mapping out exactly where I want to take the direction of the work that I do on plugins (as well as other projects), and how I want to offer support.

Last week, I took the first step and began directing all of the support requests for my current plugins into my inbox.

WordPress Plugin Support

In short, I took all of the plugins that exist in the WordPress plugin repository, made a note that I do not monitor the support forums in the plugin repository, and then directed them to contact me via email (with a linked form) on my site.

WordPress Plugin Support
My README sticky in each of the plugin support forums.

Ultimately, the decision to do this came down to two factors:

  • It is a chore to load up each plugin’s support forum each week to look for potential problems. I’d rather have a push system (that is, email) in place, than a pull system (that is, me checking for something). It saves time on all fronts.
  • The RSS feeds and the emails are inconsistent. Don’t get me wrong: I really dig the fact that the repository offers a set of free tools for plugin developers, but it easily becomes overwhelming when you have even just a handful of plugins.

I want to make sure that I’m able to offer as much support as possible – even for free plugins – but having to juggle multiple support forums each week then there may not be any new tickets becomes a bit of a hassle especially when there’s other contract work to be done.

Just The First Step

But that’s not all: As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m still looking to eventually move to a more professional system, but many of you who read this blog are developers or designers, right?

As such, you’re used to versions of your work, so I’m trying to take a pragmatic approach to this: Simply put, this is the first version of revamping support :).

No, it’s not perfect but it’s a single step that will make things better and easier for all parties involved (permitting they read the sticky post, of course), but it’s not my end game. Ultimately, I am looking to move to a more professional system as well as increase what I offer, but why should I wait until the stars align to do that?

Just like in software, it’s easier to iterate and improve rather than “build the world,” as they say. So I figure why not apply this perspective in something other than code.

So far, it’s working. Now I just need to get to the next version.

10 Replies to “A New Version of WordPress Plugin Support”

  1. Hmm… I get the one inbox rationale for doing this, but I wonder if that will be outweighed by (1) not having answers to questions archived for others to find online or (2) not having the ability for others to answer questions for you.

    1. (1) not having answers to questions archived for others to find online

      This is one thing I’m simply having to sacrifice for the time being. When I get an actual system setup – which it is coming – that problem will be resolved.

      It’s a temporary hit I’m willing to take.

      or (2) not having the ability for others to answer questions for you.

      This is less of a concern for me (though still a valid point!): The way I see it, people can continue helping one another on the forums as they see fit. Totally cool with that, of course.

      I just want them to know that if they want to reach me directly, email’s [currently] the best way.

    2. I understand Jason why you’d have these concerns, most users do. I know I copped it when I switched from forums to tickets, and those were the two biggest concerns of users.

      Re #1 My own experience of forums suggests they are a nightmare to actually find stuff in, especially if they dont’ allow search of individual forums, or by categories or tags.

      And WordPress forums are the worst – they don’t actually have a search facility. The only way to search the WP forums is to search the entire WP site. So I doubt Tom’s users are finding solutions easily.

      Also, any decent ticket system lets you turn tickets into a knowledgebase of regularly asked questions.

      Invision Power Services, who make a range of software, including the IP.Board forum, which is used by, among others, iThemes to provide tech support.

      IPS though, don’t use it themselves for tech support, instead using a ticket system.

      This is the message at the top of their forum (http://community.invisionpower.com/forum/311-ipboard/):

      “The technical support forums are for peer-to-peer support provide for any by IPS clients to other clients. IPS Staff does not normally reply in this section so if you need official support please be sure to submit a support ticket in the client area.”

      So, I figure, if a forum developer acknowledges that forums aren’t the best place for providing tech support, then that’s proof enough for me.

      Re #2 it’s still covered by the WP forums in Tom’s case, the IPS forums in their case, and many tickets systems like ZenDesk and FreshDesk include forums.

      The fact is though, these two concerns are easily outweighed by the benefits of a tickets system or managed email. Or in reverse, the drawbacks of forums for tech support greatly outweigh these two concerns of not using them.

      1. And WordPress forums are the worst – they don’t actually have a search facility. The only way to search the WP forums is to search the entire WP site. So I doubt Tom’s users are finding solutions easily.

        You know, this is an interesting point – I’ve honestly not heard it one way other the other; however, I do know that people often ask questions in the wrong place (and I only know that from others referring me to the issues in question).

        The other thing is that is that are solutions out there that make tickets available in a searchable repository – which is something I want to do, at least for paying customers – but I’ve yet to actually land on a solution.

  2. I am very interested in what you will come up with in the next step(s).
    Have you thought about GitHub Issues?
    It aims to be a bit more than the WordPress support forum and the features work. Email notifications are reliable and you can answer via mail directly.

    1. Yep – I’ve considered GitHub Issues, but that only works well for developers. Average users have no use for GitHub so asking them to add their issues there is like sending them into a dark forest :).

      Ultimately, I want the final solution to be as absolutely seamless and pleasant as possible. I’m still scouting out options, though.

      I’ll be sure to document what I do next here on the site :).

  3. I really like the method you’ve opted for and completely agree with your reasoning.

    As you do, I appreciate the forums provided by WordPress but really feel they need some attention.

    Perhaps a Forums dashboard or something of similar sort so it’s easier for us developers to manage multiple forums.

    Or perhaps a plugin that integrates with current support desk software like Freshdesk or Zendesk but also integrates with the WordPress Forums. A central management system is really required in my opinion, especially if you have a lot of plugins.

    1. Having the .org repository integrate with a third-party solution would be really slick; however, my guess is that third-party solutions would need to be fully open source before the guys behind .org would want to even consider doing something like that.

      I could be completely wrong, though.

    1. There has been some extensive discussion on this, but I’m relatively certain that the system in place is here to stay. Don’t read me wrong: I’m not complaining about it.

      Like I said in the post, I love that they provide these tools for developers; however, when you end up managing multiple plugins, it’s more of a chore than I’d like to personally manage so this is the route that I’ve opted to take.

      This may not be something that appeals to most, you know?

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