For those of you who are involved in working with building things for WordPress- specifically, premium plugins and themes – then you’re likely plugged closely into what many refer to as “the WordPress community.”
Granted, I’m not saying it’s not a community – it is – but it’s just part of the community, right? I mean, the word encompasses people who use WordPress to blog, people who are fans of the software, those who have contributed to it, those who build things with it, and so on.
All that to say, the community has a variety of facets.
And the challenge to this is that when we spend so much time with our subset of the community, it’s easy to accidentally develop a degree of tunnel vision such that we become at least partially focused on writing things, designing things, or buildings things with our part of the community in mind rather than our customers.
WordPress Developers, Community, & Products
This week, I officially released the latest version of Mayer For WordPress.com. I detailed the features and fixes in another post, but throughout the time I was working on the theme, I spent some time thinking about how we – as developers (or designers or bloggers or so on) – spend our time hanging around with fellow developers (or designers – ah, you get the point by now) and how that has the ability to find its way into product development.
The WordPress Developer Community
I think that most people who are in the business of building things for WordPress, especially things such as premium plugins and/or themes, end up dividing themselves between two different groups of people:
- The community of developers and designers with whom they interact daily via Twitter, IRC, chat rooms, and so on.
- The customer base with whom they interact with via email, support channels, and however else they stay in contact with their customers.
And when we do this, I think that we end up dividing our thought process – consciously or not – such that part of us is thinking about how our peers may respond to the work that we’re doing (after all, everyone wants to be building something cool, right?), and thinking about how we can continue to support customers such that we’re making a living and extending the life of our product.
With that said, it’s easy to spout off advice from others who are successful in the software field, who have high reputation on various online forums, who are bloggers with a large following, and genuinely those who are considered to be high profile “thought leaders” (a term that I’m not particular fond of, for whatever that’s worth) on how we should handle our customers.
But the proof of how we do so isn’t based on the comments and quotes we can share, but the actions we take in how we approach building our products, interacting with our peers, and interacting with our customers.
In short, I think some feel a conflict between what our professional peers think, and what our customers think, and if you let the former overtake the latter, then you’re going to be headed into dangerous territory as it relates to product development.
On Product Development
If it’s true that the reason we build solutions for other people (or for ourselves) is to solve problems in order to make their lives easier or to enhance their experience in doing something, then it would make sense that our focus should be on our customers, right?
But instead, it’s far too common to see people complaining about their customers and doing so in a public forum.
To me, this raises the question of who or what is actually driving the product build? Is it the part of the community with which you exchange ideas, or is it the people who you’re attempting to help?
Or perhaps another way of looking at it is if you’re valuing your reputation among your peers and perhaps the drive to make money over your base of customers and the potential you have to reach more people and to improve other people’s experiences online, then you’re motivation for building products is backwards.
Don’t Read Into This
To be clear, there’s nothing to read between the lines here: I know that people love drama and love to politicize things online in order to generate further discussion, drama, or whatever. This post has no ulterior motive nor is it referencing about anyone one person, people, or organization.
It’s talking about all of us who are part of the WordPress Development Community, who care deeply about the project, the work that goes into it, the products we build, the work that goes into them, and about the feedback we get from both our peers and our customers.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that those of us who are making a living by building things for others to use need to make sure that our primary focus and concern is on their needs or what they can get out of our product because they are the ones who’s lives we are impacting as they are also, in turn, making it possible for us to earn a living.
Peers, Customers, and Me
None of this is saying that I don’t respect the opinions of my peers – I do. Very much so. After all, I try to be open and share when others challenge my habits in order to help make me a better programmer. But I – along with everyone else – must remember that, at the end of the day, the people for whom we are providing a solution are not always the same people who have a strong opinion on the matter.
After all, it’s far easier to have an opinion on any given topic than it is to take action and attempt to make a living while solving someone else’s problem, right?
Besides, opinions are going to vary and if we try to appease all of them, we won’t make any progress. Cliché, I know, but ideally, it’d be nice if we could step away from trying to dramatize so many things that go on within our part of the community, and aim to help one another and/or urge one another on to further success (which, in and of itself, is a weird idea giving that many of us are in a competing space, but I digress).
Admittedly, there’s a lot of really, really smart people doing incredible things. Why focus on the downside of something when we can focus on so much more of the fun stuff going on?
Anyway, as we continue to work on whatever it is we’re working on, let’s remember to prioritize things as much as possible. That is, let’s keep in mind the people who are finding value in our work and those who want us to continue iterating and making it better.
Let’s try to turn up the signal, turn down the noise, and try contribute more to the former rather than the latter.