I don’t know why I feel compelled to begin a post like this, but this is going to be lengthy as it covers quite of a bit of the state of the culture of WordPress right now.
As someone who loves the software, makes a living off of it, and tries to follow along with everything going on with it, things have gotten really intense over the past few weeks – more intense than usual, that is – and it’s kind of a bummer to see.
Secondly, I’ve been told on a couple of occasions in the past that I don’t do a good job of staking my own claim in terms of how I perceive a given situation. That is, I’ve been told that I tend to hang out in the gray versus the black or white of a issue (so I try to weigh both sides of an issue – big deal :) – but I thought maybe I’d take this time to lean in one direction or the other a little harder than I usually do.
Like I said, I don’t know why I should preface what I opt to write about in this post (as it kind of enforces the point above), but I figured it was worth giving some background of where I’m coming from.
And my experience won’t be the same as yours and yours won’t be the same as mine or the next persons, but this is my take on what I’ve seen over the last few months all the way up until the last day or so on what I’ve seen going on with WordPress and the WordPress community.
From Web Publishing to Egos and Beyond
I’ve been working with WordPress for quite a while now. First as a blogger, then as a programmer, then as a programmer and a business owner, and I can’t think of a time in which the general community has ever been more divided.
Being divided, by definition, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can lead to some really good changes within the software and within the community. But it can also lead to a lot of hot topic debates that ultimately result in people being rude, snarky, and flat out mean to one another.
And it’s pathetic.
It’s a bunch of adults passionately arguing and personally attacking one another over topics that could be respectfully discussed and handled in a significantly more mature way.
Passionately arguing about something is one thing. Personally attacking someone else is another.
We often talk about those on the outside looking in and wonder how they may perceive what it’s like, how they should be involved with WordPress, and all of that other lip service that we love to espouse.
On the contrary.
We should be embarrassed of how it looks, but it’s not just those who are standing on the periphery – there are those of us who are deeply engaged in WordPress itself who don’t even want to get into the fray of everything because it appears to be such a waste of time. I’ve yet to see something productive come from half the things that have come up in the past quarter, let alone six months.
At some point, the software that aims to democratize web publishing has become so focused the promotion of egos and clever subtweets.
And for those who are building other content management platforms, other publishing platforms, and other similar software, it’s gotta appear like we’re anything less than professional.
Would you want to work with (let alone hire) you based on how you’ve interacted with others online?
Furthermore, how can we honestly talk about “those people on the periphery” or “those outside the community” or whatever phrase you opt to use when we can’t even bother to get ourselves together enough to have mature discussions?
A Comedy of Drama
For those who spend the majority of their time working with WordPress may not necessarily be those who are following the latest trends in WordPress drama (or #wpdrama).
And that’s fine.
Then there are those of us who love the software and who are trying to run our own businesses off of it, educate others on how to use it, and also apply software development practices to it who try to follow along with everything that’s happening within the community in order to stay updated on what’s in the pipeline for upcoming releases.
It’s a lot of reading, it’s a lot to keep up with, and I have a love/hate relationship with it. Or, maybe a better way of putting it, is that I love reading about what’s going on – whether or not I agree with the topic doesn’t matter – but I definitely dislike reading some of the pure hatred that’s expressed when there’s even the slightest bit of dissension around it.
Up to this point, I haven’t even referenced anything concrete and I hate it when people end up doing that in their articles. So to provide some form of context, there are some quick examples of things that have been going on thus far:
- A Trac ticket for disabling the Customizer and the ensuing discussion
- The discussion on WP Tavern around [one of the many] the Menu Customizer
- Another Trac ticket for adding a new function to introduce a wrapper function to help decouple parts of WordPress and, again, the ensuing discussion
- Any of the various tweets that include #wpdrama
- …and there is much, much more that I’ve not bothered linking for a number of reasons
And that’s just within the last month or so.
To be absolutely clear (because this is the part where a person is usually vilified and the insults start being thrown and attacks start being made because people don’t have the time to read entire posts anymore), the above points are not targeting any one person or any one site in particular. On the contrary, I’m just sharing some of what’s been reported and what exists online.
Communities don’t exist with people in silos, so it’s not possible for this to be a single person’s problem. This is a group effort.
Anyway, as mentioned, working within the WordPress economy presents an interesting dynamic because the software can be seen in two ways:
- Those who work on the software
- Those who use the software to work
That is, there are those who are active in building WordPress (and thanks to those who do!), and there are those who use WordPress as a means to an end such as in agency work, SaaS applications, and so on (and good on them for that!).
And sure, there are certainly those who also divide their time between both. I know I’ve tried and it seems that the more I do, the more I get pulled in one direction or the other the second camp – so I ultimately try to provide solutions for others where WordPress is the supporting software for said solutions.
As with any community, there are then subcultures within each community. For example:
- There are those who primarily build WordPress who have a community unto themselves
- There are those who use WordPress to build solutions for others
- Then there are those who also follow what’s going on with the core software
I’ve probably missed at least one of the permutations of how people interact with WordPress as a whole, but you get the idea.
Speaking as someone who has flirted with the various niches that exist in WordPress, I can say that it’s far easier to be a developer who’s passionate about the software but refrain from leaving any type of comments about a specific article, feature, or what have you than to try to participate.
And I chalk this up to an issue of productivity. It’s a cliché, but we’ve all the same amount of hours and what we do with those hours matter regardless of your age, your stage of life, or whatever. Some are single are spend plenty of time at the computer, others are married with kids, and then there are those who fall in between.
No situation is any better than the other – it’s just different.
Given what I’ve witnessed and what’s been linked here, what incentive do I – let alone any one person – have to engage someone else in discussions around something when we disagree?
I’ve very little evidence over the past few months to say that anything productive would come of it other than having my integrity and personality called into question rather than the topic of the discussion itself.
Why Working Excludes the Community
When it comes to the hours that I have available to work, I want to be able to enjoy what I’m doing, and I want to be able to enjoy the tools that I opt to use in order to do it.
In neither of those situations does engaging people in the comments of a blog or in the comments of a ticket appeal to me.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t meant to be about me nor is it a critique on anyone else (because there are those who do truly look to be offended just so they can leave their mark on Twitter or in the comments for Internet Posterity Points).
Instead, I’m trying to state a use case of someone who’s plugged into WordPress, has contributed code to it, writes about it daily, shares code for things built on top of it, and makes a living off of it. But it’s meant to be about those who are involved and how we opt to spend our hours.
I understand that, ultimately, a lot of what’s being said, tossed around, and all that jazz comes down to the fact that we’re all passionate about a single piece of software and we want to see it succeed.
But the problem is that the way we actually go about wanting to see it succeed is completely counterproductive and the complete antithesis of how we should go about doing it.
- Some reject any idea that does not fall in line with their own ideology, yet we work in open source.
- Some claim to be open minded and welcome requests, features, discussions, etc., only to light it on fire and throw some additional fuel on to it whenever it happens, yet we work in open source.
- Some want democracy that comes with open source but treat it more like an oligarchy than anything else, yet we work in open source.
We’ve got it backwards.
“It’s Time To Fork WordPress”
This is something that I’ve read over and over and over again and I’m sure that many people see this time and time again as years go by.
It’s not time to fork WordPress. Or maybe it is. That’s one great thing about open source, isn’t it? But above all else, I read these claims as idle threats.
Forking WordPress may be a good solution for you, but it’s not necessarily a solution to some of the complaints that you have. Or maybe it is. It doesn’t matter because WordPress will continue to move forward.
On top of that, I think it’s far easier to talk about doing it than actually doing it. We’re not only looking at software that’s a fork of another piece of software, but we’re talking about software that’s 10 years old.
You want to fork that and start something new? The source code is freely available and licensed as such. Why treat something that’s completely legal, available, and possible as a threat to something you don’t like?
For whatever it’s worth, I don’t really think it’s time to fork WordPress. I think it’s time to re-evaluate how we’re acting in terms of a community and work on that rather than just start something new. Talk about going 10 years worth of steps backwards.
WordPress is a Tale of Two Cities
The way this all plays out reminds me a lot of A Tale of Two Cities where – spoiler alert – the story talks about a single city seen through two completely different perspectives.
WordPress is a lot like that.
For everything that I’ve mentioned above, there’s a lot to love about certain things in WordPress and just how we have to choose how we spend our working hours, we have to choose the people to whom we pay attention and the people with which we interact.
As my friend Chris likes to say:
WordPress will change your life if you let it.
During my time with WordPress, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredibly smart people and I consider that to be a gift. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to run a business, about what it means to be a product developer and product owner, about what it means to write better code, and about what it means to be a part of team.
And all of this is still going.
Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with other people who are interested in getting into the field but don’t know where to start, I’ve had opportunities to speak at meet-ups and WordCamps (and am hoping to do so again later this year), and I’ve had some pre-conceived notions challenged and changed by those who are active within the community.
I’ve read some incredibly insightful articles, some absolutely brilliant code, and heard talks that equipped me to be better at what I do. I’ve gotten to work for people who have had incredibly intelligent ideas for projects, and I’ve gotten to solve some challenging problems all using WordPress.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the software, the people, and what it offers us. It honestly can change your life if you let it (and it can change it for better or for worse).
But I love what I get to do and I love the tools with which I get to work.
Based on everything that’s come before, though, I’m absolutely embarrassed by what I’ve seen. Anyone who is passionate about something is bound to feel that way though, right? It’s natural.
I’m seeing things get worse rather than better, I find myself wanting to distance myself more and more from certain aspects – and, yes, even people – involved in WordPress rather than get more deeply involved, and I’m finding myself wanting to narrow my focus more than I ever have and cut off some of the things that inspired all of this.
I hate that feeling. It’s disappointing. It’s sad, even.
I don’t want to become the kind of person who’s gained so much from a community and who has attempted to give back to said community distance himself because of the way the general community has started to behave.
No, I’m not making a threat. I’m not that important. I’m not a beautiful, unique snowflake. No one is making me do anything. We can choose to be as close or as far as we’d like from what’s going on. If things weren’t as tense as they are right now, I probably wouldn’t have even taken the time to write this.
This isn’t a plea or a request for anything to change either. WordPress and all involved are going to continue to move forward in whatever way they want and I’m going to continue to try to do the best work I possibly can given the software that’s available and the tools that I have.
My opinion matters no more than the next person’s and I don’t think that it represents anyone else, but WordPress has changed.
The community, as a whole…
- Has become extremely snarky, arrogant, and far too critical.
- It’s unable to have respectful debates, it’s moving away from any type of democratization that it preaches (we’re in the open source world, even!).
- It seems to be more concerned with throwing 140-character clever darts at other people all in the name of something that I do not understand.
- It’s so wrapped up in itself that it’s turning people away who are on the periphery, and it’s turning people off who are on the inside.
No, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. No, WordPress is not crumbling. No, WordPress is not going to be anything other than WordPress.
It’d be nice if we could be a bit more mature about many of the things covered here, but I know that ultimately this is my perspective, my take on a situation, and that things are going to continue moving one way or the other.
I’m not threatening to fork WordPress, I’m not threatening to stop working with WordPress, and I’m not offering any other type of illogical responses to much of what’s happening right now.
All I’m saying is that it’s really disappointing – even sad – that it’s at the place that it is. Naturally, some will disagree and that’s cool. There’s no really good close to a set of thoughts on this kind of stuff so I’m leaving it here.
Ultimately, the WordPress community is going to flow in whatever direction in chooses. Right now, it seems to be in a state that’s of the lowest quality I’ve ever seen.