Software, Development, and WordPress

Unsolicited Advice in WordPress (But Is It Really?)

Obviously, I can only speak for as much of the culture that I’ve experienced both online and offline so I don’t mean this to be an overly general statement, but I think it’s fair we live in a highly polarized culture – if not offline, and if not in the west, then certainly online.

That is, we have no problem telling one another if their policy, their ideas, their implementations, or whatever sucks, or if it’s terrific. Unfortunately, it seems to be much more of the former than the latter.

I tend to be more on the pessimistic side – I know, probably not the most flattering personality trait, but I try to fight it :) – so I don’t know if it’s getting better, but I can definitively say that over the past few days, I’ve personally experienced some criticism – all constructive – that’s respectful and that has generated a lot of food for thought.

The Polarization of A Free Theme

Specifically, I’m talking about when I announced that I was placing Mayer on GitHub, I received a number of great comments that provided food for thought as I continue this move into this new model with which we’re experimenting.

Mayer on GitHub

  • WPTavern shared and announcement post which had some really interesting comments (at least as far as I was concerned) that have spurred some thoughts that I’ll be continuing to think about over the next year as I try this experiment. I consider this to be a good thing.
  • Scott Bolinger, the lead developer behind AppPresser and a developer of whom I have the utmost respect, published a rebuttal (for lack of a better term) on some of the dangers in going this route. And I respect everything he’s written, and take it as wisdom and food for thought as I continue this route.

These are two examples of how we should be talking about issues from various angles and doing so in a non-polarized manner.

Conversely, I also received my fair share of tweets and other inputs where people offered their candid (read: blunt) opinions, that that’s fine, too. At this point in my career – and I think I can speak for many of us – when I say that we’re used to it.

Keep calm and carry on and all that jazz.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to highlight the various forms of feedback that have come with experimenting within the WordPress economy. Instead, I’m trying to use it as an example of some of the ways in which we can go about having respectful, even positive conversations about things even if we don’t fully agree with them exactly like I’ve tried to demonstrate above

The Inundation of Unsolicited Advice

Technically, I could take all of the aforementioned things above and write them off as unsolicited advice, but when you share something online, you’re implicitly asking people to share their opinion on what you’ve shared, as well.

And in doing that, I think it’s fair to say that you have an obligation to take into account what they are saying. People generally – not always – but generally have good reasons for saying the things they do and offering the advice that they have.

Some of it is the usual negative drivel that doesn’t warrant a response, other things can be viewed as wisdom and that’s something that should always cause us to tune in.

First, we work in a weird economy. I mean, here’s a number of us all selling products within the same space but offering advice to one another on how to be successful while also, in some cases, being competitors.

Weird, right?

Secondly, when people are able to write thoughtful comments and blog posts, it’s usually rooted in something far more than just an opinion. They’ve experience with something like that. That’s something worth focusing on and taking into consideration as you move your business forward.

So is the advice really unsolicited? Some, maybe.

But not all.

And although I believe that our culture is far more polarized than it should be, I think that it’s worth trying hard to separate the signal from the noise, appreciating and considering the former while ignoring the latter (and there is a lot of the latter).

When you end up releasing something new or experimenting with something new with what you’re doing with you’re business, prepare to have a bit of a thick skin because there will always be those who are going to have something to offer that doesn’t contribute anything back to your effort.

Even still, don’t fear the push back you may receive. It’s not always offered in a negative manner.  It’s actually on the contrary and that’s a welcome, less polarizing thing.


  1. Jeff Yablon

    Hey Tom:

    Hope my unsolicited advice wasn’t on of those you were holding up as “of questionable welcomeness” ;-)

    You know, of course, that I love this piece. The WordPress world is … odd on a good day. I’ve written MANY times, not at The WordPress Helpers, but over at about the idea of “Coopetition” . It of course never occurred to me that I was merely prepping for THIS.

    I believe my perspective is similar to yours. Nobody likes being criticized, because … criticized. And it’s easy to feel as though even constructive criticism is merely criticism, or just not care about the “constructive” part because someone else defined it as such.

    But we happen to be in a community where helping each other out in this way makes sense. Carry on, sir.

    • Tom

        Nobody likes being criticized, because … criticized. And it’s easy to feel as though even constructive criticism is merely criticism, or just not care about the “constructive” part because someone else defined it as such.

      Sure, sure. This is something that we all have to mindful of – that is, in how we take criticism and how we give it :).

      The comments on Tavern and Scott’s blog post are positive examples of that. I left off some of the more negative tweets and other things I received (because they don’t matter).

      • Seth Miller

        I believe in Open Source software, which WordPress is. If you’ve been given the software by a community, and you’ve made a fair amount of money already on the source, community-driven software is about giving back. We need to get back to our roots.

        This is a grassroots movement, we can’t go about holding back resources and think the movement as a whole will improve. That’s self serving and not how we got here. There are so many ways to monetize WordPress, I could probably think of 20 or 30 completely different market approaches that could make an honest living (without selling source code). You can easily take multiple avenues and combine them in a revenue stream and live a good life.

        I think that the pay for entry to a forum & dedicated support are both great options. If someone is not familiar with WordPress, this is perfect for them. I’m sure that you will find plenty of novice developers, and price-point would be important. Or if you are an experienced developer, maybe you contribute to the plugin. If we developers can stick together and offer our code, that’s how fellow developers can help each other out, while still offering a service and value to someone who is not as good with WordPress. Also, I personally have donated to plugin authors if the plugin got me out of a bind, saved me massive amounts of time, or are staple plugins in my builds.

        Maybe that’s what really needs to happen, some sort of marketplace for developers to offer rewards to authors of code, the donate thing works but I think there is a better way? If you look at the most recently State of Drupal, Dries mentions that they are looking to bring a badge & reward system to contributors and agencies alike. If you could link someone to your agency profile page and that is all the time that you take to apply for a job, what would be the value for that? Seems like a lot of time saved, and time = money. Actually time is arguably more valuable than money.

        Maybe another solution is a transparent, donation powered system to show support to plugin and theme authors. Crowdsourced plugin development? Someone who is not a developer would for sure be able to contact the code author for paid support and/or consulting work.

        My beef with open source code for sale is I think there should be a better way, and I don’t want to see WordPress going along the lines of a platform like Shopify, where everything turns into a paid plugin. That was certainly not what got me into WordPress in the first place and I would not be able to recommend WordPress to a client with the fear of seemingly limitless, unbundled costs packaged into the platform.

        Thanks for writing this Tom, I think we are in a very dangerous time for WordPress where we need to be thankful and reflective.

        Thanks for your reflection and releasing the Mayor theme as open source code.

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