For those who have been following along, the purpose of this post should come as no surprise: I’m going to be talking about another pillar of the WordPress Philosophy.

Specifically, I’m going to be talking about The Vocal Minority which, in my opinion, is arguably the least discussed, and the least shared among all aspects of philosophy. That doesn’t make it any less important, though – it just means that we, as those who are involved in the WordPress economy, have more with which to familiarize ourselves.

The WordPress Philosophy

Then again, to be fair, there are probably those who are just as familiar with this particular aspect of the philosophy as they are as much with the rest of the philosophy – and that’s great!

But remember: We’re primarily looking at how we can take the philosophy and not only how it applies to WordPress, but how we can apply it to the products that we’re building on top of it.

So the vocal minority – what does that even mean?

The WordPress Philosophy: The Vocal Minority

So the vocal minority – what does that even mean?

There’s a good rule of thumb within internet culture called the 1% rule. It states that “the number of people who create content on the internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing that content”.

So while we consider it really important to listen and respond to those who post feedback and voice their opinions on forums, they only represent a tiny fraction of our end users. When making decisions on how to move forward with future versions of WordPress, we look to engage more of those users who are not so vocal online. We do this by meeting and talking to users at WordCamps across the globe, this gives us a better balance of understanding and ultimately allows us to make better decisions for everyone moving forward.

Personally, I find this particular rule of thumb absolutely fascinating. Think about: “the number of people who create content represents approximately [<= 1%] of the people viewing the content.”

Another way of looking at this is that for those of us who blog or do any kind of digital publishing, we represent up to 1% of the entire population of the Internet. Aside from being incredibly daunting, this also shows us just how much responsibility falls on to those who are driving the WordPress economy.

In other words, if we’re working on or working with a platform that powers approximately 20% of the web, and the people who use the platform are part of the 1% of the people publishing content, that’s an extremely humbling number of people who have potential to use our work.

What Am I Getting At?

Above all else, I believe that this shifts an extremely high burden of responsibility on those of us who are involved in WordPress:

  • We shouldn’t take the things that we’re working on lightly,
  • We should focus on making the best product possible,
  • We should focus on understanding our users needs more,
  • We should stop trying to turn a profit quicker than creating quality work,
  • We should treat plugin development, theme development, and more with the same level of craftsmanship and engineering that professional software developers do in their day-to-day work.
  • …and more.

I know – at the end of the day, it’s really easy to rationalize your way out of what you’re doing. There’s that voice in the back of your head (or maybe it’s just me?) that says “Come on, all you’re doing is making a theme. It’s nothing special.”

But for those who have been in the theme business in any capacity, there are several truths that you know:

  • Working with WordPress, its APIs, and handling the work that comes with managing people’s data requires meticulous attention to detail and sensitivity to managing data.
  • Some people end up doing “full stack” development where the work that they’re working on reaches all the way down into the database and all the way up to the presentation layer touching everything in between. This requires a deep knowledge of the WordPress application and familiarity with a number of technologies.
  • As new tools have been developed, we’ve been able to introduce more complex build tools into our front end development making for a much more professional working environment.

And that’s just off the top of my head – I’m sure you could all add more to this.

Anyway, this is going off track a little bit. The point of this post isn’t to talk about how to build themes or what goes intro creating WordPress products.

Instead, it’s all about recognizing that we’re part of the 1% (all political joking aside, please) and that we have a responsibility to listen to as much of the remaining 99% as possible. And let me be clear: I know it’s near impossible to reach that 99%, but say you were able to reach 3%, or 5%, or even 10%!

That’d be an astounding amount, wouldn’t it?

So What Should We Do?

To begin:

There’s a good rule of thumb within internet culture called the 1% rule. It states that “the number of people who create content on the internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing that content”.

I know that this has been stated earlier, and even discussed at length in this post so I won’t be any more redundant than necessary, but I find this to be a reminder – a constant reminder – that it’s very easy to live within the WordPress bubble in blogs, on Twitter, and on whatever other social networks you’re a part of.

Remember that the people to whom you talk to on a daily basis who are super users of WordPress, who are designers, developers, and so on, are not part of the core audience of the market for which you’re building your work.

They may be good friends – I know I’ve made some – and they be useful resources – I know I’ve learned a lot from others – but they aren’t the people I focus on when working on my projects. They are people from whom I may tap for opinions, insight, and so on, but they don’t help me make decisions on solving a problem for a given user because they aren’t the type of user who has the problems that I’m trying to solve.

So while we consider it really important to listen and respond to those who post feedback and voice their opinions on forums, they only represent a tiny fraction of our end users. 

This is a really touchy subject because, to be completely honest, interacting on forums can be a really mixed bag of experience, right?

On some hand, you deal with the most snarky, most entitled, and rude people that you’ve likely encountered.

“How could anyone talk to other people like that and expect help?”

And I’m not going to say much about empathy here. Though I know people are frustrated and it’s important to understand where they are coming from, I also think that that mindset gets dangerously close to absolving the end user from having responsibility of being respectful to those who are trying to help.

I know that some – perhaps many – won’t agree, and I’m okay with that, but to that end, at least take it for what it is. Try to sift through the noise of the comments get to the crux of what they are trying to say.

Read between the lines or find that single sentence or two that really drive the point home of they’re issue. That’s what we’re looking to do – and we need to do that for our themes and our plugins via email, support forums, or however users communicate with us.

But, as the philosophy states, they only represent a fraction of our end users. There are more people out there with opinions, insights, and feedback.

When making decisions on how to move forward with future versions of WordPress, we look to engage more of those users who are not so vocal online.

Though the philosophy goes on to support this particular statement regarding meeting other people via offline meetings such as meet ups, WordCamps, and so on in order to achieve a better balance of the people who are using WordPress, it’s still applicable to those who are using our products.

There are a number of different things that you can do in order to get face time with those who are looking at, interested in, using, intimidated, or even confused about your work:

  • Hold Google Hangouts where customers – either potential or existing – can be a part of the discussion and listen to what they have to say.
  • Send out weekly emails letting them know what’s going on with the theme, what’s in the pipeline, and prompt them for questions. Or, simply say “thanks” for being a customer.
  • Pay close, close attention to what’s being brought up in the support forums and ticket anything and everything that’s remotely close to a bug or an enhancement. Don’t interpret this as me saying to build the world into your theme – just be aware of some of the pain points people feel.
  • Hold local meetups, offer a copy of your theme for free to those who attend, and do a workshop letting them get their hands on your work in order to see how they are using it.
  • …and so much  more

The bottom line is that you not only want to understand your customer, but you also want to be able to serve their needs as much as possible.

No, your theme or product can’t be all things to all people (I believe that actually reduces the identity of a product, but I digress), but there is a persona – a type of customer – who can benefit from your work, and it’s worth understanding said persona when prototyping your theme, when looking to improve your theme, or when looking to expand your offering.

At this point, I know that some push back against a quote that Steve Jobs is famous for saying:

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Similarly, Henry Ford said:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

And I’m not discounting these. Sometimes, I think it’s applicable, but these guys are also the exceptions – not the rule – and it’s fine to take inspiration from them and apply some of the lessons that they taught us (to some degree, I think we’d be foolish not to do so).

But don’t leverage advice from past leadership as an excuse not to do your due diligence for your work. There’s a big difference.

Ultimately, it’s about making better decisions. If you’re working directly on WordPress, it allows you to improve core, if you’re working on WordPress-based products, it allows you to improve exactly that.

This isn’t something that should be dismissed or treated lightly. The benefits one can reap from even a small focus group are large.

We need to be doing more of that.

Category:
Articles
Tags:

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.