An Open Letter to the WordPress Community

I’m up at 4 a.m. contemplating the idea of this post.  Regardless of if I ever publish it, these things need to be said.  The community I love is crumbling around us, and all of us are at fault.  If something isn’t said, it’ll ruin us all.

A few years ago, I fell in love with the WordPress community, as I have spoken about.  Even my wife sees people she has never met, as family.  The people I have had the pleasure of meeting in the WordPress community have made a dramatic impact on my life, and I thank you all, but some of you have become the thing I dread each day.

You know, I used to enjoy checking Twitter and see what many of you are up to.  Now, I scroll through occasionally; only to usually see some kind of bullshit labeled as #wpdrama.  Some of you are nodding but haven’t the slightest clue of what I’m talking about.  I’m not protesting those who bring up controversial topics.  I’m protesting those who slap a #wpdrama label on something and sweep it under the rug.

You have made me feel exiled

The community that once made my day is now one that makes me feel excluded.  It seems that so many folks in the WordPress community are more focused on their appearance than who they are.  Look at the people whom you consider big players in the WordPress community.  Do you work with them?  Do you even know what they do with their days?

Everyone seems so caught up with their appearance, and trying to prove that they are a big shot, that they have lost sight of what makes this community great.  Personally, I on’t give a shit about how much money you make.  Show me your code.  Show me your accomplishments.  Prove it.

I was brought up in an environment where your word didn’t mean a thing unless you can back it up.  If you say that your code shits cupcakes and rainbows, I want to see the pot of gold at the end.  I judge people by their results; not their statements.

I’m just a guy getting by.  I like writing code.  I like helping people.  In my world, advice is always free.  Someone simply asking for advice should never pay.  How many of you have I provided advice to, or even taken control and fixed your issue without ever mentioning anything in return?  How many of you have provided me with advice in how I should handle something regarding business, design, or anything else that I will openly admin that I suck at?

I chose the path of open source for a reason.  Since the day I picked up my first HTML book, I have believed in open source.  Unfortunately, the open source community that I fell in love with has become a monster.

We all have opinions

It seems that in all of the community concepts, one thing has been overlooked: opinions.  The beauty of open source software such as WordPress is that anyone from any walk of life or skill level can provide something.  Open source and the community surrounding it, is what has made me what I am today.  Now, I see far too many trying to stick to cliques. The WordPress community’s biggest pitfall, in my opinion, is being far too closed-minded; the exact opposite of what open source software means.

Somewhere in the business aspect of things, focus has been lost.  Why are we arguing over minor things that prevent an entire project from being completed?

Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone at Rocketgenius that really has stuck in my mind.  I was told to stop paying attention to the details and just get it done.  I needed to stop worrying about squeezing every last bit of horsepower out of the project, and just get the damn thing running.  Nitpicking how something is done rather that commending that it was done is entirely counter-productive.  In this case, I was the one critical of myself, but how often do we criticize others because minor details that don’t matter?

Yes, like you I was taught that if I’m going to do something, to do it well.  I still live by that every day.  Tragically, that has bee interpreted as doing something perfectly, when in reality, it’s just making sure you covered your bases.  The screw doesn’t need to be completely flush; it just needs to be secure.

To put it bluntly, I’m sick of people being crucified for having a differing opinion or perspective.  If I provide you with a solution, I did everything I could to help, even when I have nothing to gain but pride.  When a solution that I worked hard on is shot down because of semantics, my pride is tarnished and I’m just picking up the pieces of my shattered ego. Far too many times have I seen open source communities crumble only because of differing perspectives to an issue.

Look at the Linux kernel development community.  While quite a bit of effort has been put forth to reunite it (and many swallowing pride to admit fault), there are scars there that can never be rebuilt.  Learn from their mistakes.  We already know that WordPress is the best platform on the planet.  We have data to show for it.  Now let’s have pride in showing how we all work together.

Stop the witch hunts

Seriously, fucking stop it.  Are you a child?  Do you need to hold a grudge and ruin somebody’s life to prove that you’re right?

One of the primary reasons that I have stopped paying as much attention to my Twitter feed is because of the constant attacks.  Don’t get me wrong.  Those of you who follow me know that I absolutely love a good argument, but never at the expense of someone else.  Arguments are great because they stir up discussion, but is your pride really worth destroying someone else’s?

It seems that the WordPress community is still hiding behind anonymity to an extent.  Little is it realized that your attack towards someone can have a dramatic impact on their lives.  You really just never know the impact you might have on someone; good or bad.

When I was younger, a close childhood friend killed himself.  After finding out, the first thing that came to my head was that I had been meaning to chat with him, but pushed it off.  Little did I know, I would never have the chance to talk to him again.  I make an effort to ensure that I never disregard someone, and urge you to do the same.  That argument about if Yoda conditions isn’t worth it being the last thing you said to someone.

Don’t just preach it.  Live it.

Every one of us in the WordPress community will tell you how awesome WordPress is. It has made careers for many of us, and lifelong friends for others.  I will proudly credit the WordPress community for making me the individual I am today.

Somewhere between my entrance to the community and now, we’ve lost touch.  We push how great open source is, but criticize others because their opinion on how something should be done differs from own.  We’ve gained a a pack mentality without the understanding that every wolf pup needs to learn to hunt.  Do we want this project to die with us, or pass it down as part of our legacies?

I challenge you all to be more accepting of others.  Maybe I’m insane and should get some sleep, but what if I might be right?  Hell, I’m on the inside of things.  It might even be worse than I envision it.

Whatever the case may be, we have some changes to make as a community.  Perhaps we’ve just grown too fast and need to take a step back to see the flaws in our masterpiece.  Perhaps we’re just too young to know the difference.  Whatever the case may be, we need to change or face imminent failure.

The choice is yours.  Don’t let me down.

Think I’m a super cool guy? Love my beard?

15 comments

  1. I’m new to this community. I found it through local WordPress folks in my neighborhood and it blossomed from there. I never used Twitter before joining the WP community, it just didn’t make sense to me. I signed up because it seemed like a must if you want to network here. I’m still not used to it and sounds like that’s a good thing from this post. I truly enjoy the small group networking I’ve found in the WP community, I guess when you grow with it and are part of a much bigger stratosphere the #wpdrama shit becomes more prevalent. Anyway, thanks for the article, hopefully I can avoid all that bullshit and still grow with the wp crowd.

  2. You put a lot of thoughts I have been having most of this year into words. You did a great job. I’ve pretty much stopped interacting with the wp community because it continually reminds me of a junior high clique.

  3. I agree with you. But most of what you say is a result of social media in every field. Every view and opinion will meet with opposition on the Internet. You will always find some group that will flag even a blank image as offensive. WordPress is not immune to this. I have met my share of jerks in the WordPress community (may be sometimes I am one), but it all comes with the territory.

    Be strong, we still love you.

    Thanks

  4. As someone that gives to the community way more than I take, I agree with you to some extent but I also think there are two different communities in WordPress. The folks that do “core” related work and everyone else. Some people forget that “core” isn’t everything, I know plenty of people that think WordPress is built on magic and rainbows and every few months a new version come out that they have to upgrade to. I’m not part of core and don’t feel that I need to be, but I still have community with the non-core folks. I give to the community both locally at my meetups I attend and to the online community in the form of podcasts and YouTube shows that I produce. I do all of these things for the community, I don’t get paid for them and I don’t take sponsorships for them either. It costs me time, it costs me money and it costs me effort to do these things but I do them because I enjoy doing them.

    Anytime you bring people from all walks of life together everyone is going to have an opinion, people are going to have agendas and people may be hurt when they aren’t invited to things or aren’t asked to be involved in things. As you get deeper into a community you’ll find various cliques that build, people with like mindedness joining forces for good and evil and unless something is said or done about it nothing will be done. I applaud you for talking about this openly, I don’t know the circumstances that brought you to this point but I think sharing your experience is a healthy thing to do.

    1. Just wanted to say thank you for the stuff you do for the community, because it is appreciated. I love WPwatercooler, and I’m sure it hasn’t been easy to do 200+ episodes.

      I’m the type of WordPress developer that nobody really knows anything about because I keep my head down and code all day. There’s probably a lot of us out there. WordPress is a huge community, so of course there are going to be some negative people. They are a very vocal minority. But there also a lot of people who contribute time and effort to WordPress, and they are what make the community great.

    2. I think you can be part of both, I do some stuff on WP core, WP support as well as help in many WP FB groups. So there should not really be that sort of mentality at all.

  5. Excellent points, Jeff. I’d like to think that, for the most part, the community is still strong and full of very friendly & helpful people (like yourself). But there certainly is a clique mentality that has come along. Maybe that’s just a natural progression (or regression) for any community as it grows. Hopefully we can keep doing great things with WP and helping each other out. That’s the true spirit.

  6. I don’t know any WordPress big shots, and don’t know a lot about the infighting. But this is an interesting read…and It sounds like you have some good points, but you also sound a lot like some of the people you are complaining about.

    Maybe this is just what happens when you write stuff at 4 o’clock in the morning. 🙂

  7. All human interaction is “clique” or group based, it’s just that now we are large enough that we have started to congregate into subgroups within our larger group. So, the formation of groups is not the part that concerns me. It’s the fact that, like the rest of humanity, we’ve forgotten that the person at the other end of our conversation is also a person, and that kind of sucks even more when you encounter such hostility within a community branded as “nice/helpful.” Not sure what the solution is, aside from telling people to maybe have some empathy.

  8. Interesting post. I hope it matters to a few who can make a difference. Talking to people directly didn’t help me at all, but then I didn’t put feathers in their cap. Thanks for confirming there are more and more people out there feeling the gulf widen.

    I like your beard, I like mine too.. LOL

  9. I abstain from commenting on core and trac for this particular reason.
    I’ve had the thought of opening a trac ticket to distinguish between themes maintained via the WordPress repo and other third party services but on the off chance it wouldn’t sit well with the WP heirarchy, I’ve bit my tongue as although not a pup, i’m no lone wolf

  10. Jeff,

    I’m sorry that you’re feeling down on the community as a whole, but I fear you may be throwing the baby out with the bath water. What concerns me is this feeling of “exclusion” that you speak of. In my opinion, we’re all excluded in some way or another. I have joked for two or so years now that I’ll never be a part of the “A” Listers of WordPress, and I’m perfectly OK with that. There have always been “A-Listers,” and there always will be in any community, especially one the size of the WordPress Community. There will also, always be cliques, as Michelle mentioned. It’s part of the human condition and part of the reptile-brain/pack mentality. We simply have not evolved beyond that.

    Where I find hope in the WordPress Community is that it is a perfect example of a community that is trying to evolve past that. But underneath it all, we’re still the humans with that reptile side of our brain which is about survival, kill or be killed, and pack mentality. It takes conscious effort to overcome all of that, and generations of it to become part of our instinct.

    I don’t know where this is coming from, because you and I have had several conversations about our love for the Community as a whole, but my guess is that something triggered it. I know that there has been a lot of drama on Twitter, apparently. As one of the few (so it would seem) who does not follow Twitter super-regularly, it’s hard for me to know. But I agree, that it’s really easy to be vitriolic in 140 characters or less, and really hard to be equitably kind in those same 140 characters. Being one who consciously makes an effort to only do the latter in my Twitter interactions, even I have found myself falling into a trap of negativity.

    But, the beauty of a Community as big as WordPress is that if you find you are being excluded in one place, there always seems to be another that will accept you. And, btw, my experience is that the negativity may only make up 5% of the Community at best. That means that it’s 95% full of really cool people! If that’s what you need, then seek them out!

    As with everything, Communities evolve. WordPress is a community that has evolved and will continue to do so. Since we’re human, it’s a community that will have its ups and downs. Evolution can be painful, and it can go down paths that are not for everyone.

    When you consider that our community is made up largely of introverts who may be experiencing the first time that they felt accepted for who they are, I can definitely understand the frustration, hurt, and anger as a reaction to the negativity. And you’ve done (IMO) the right thing by bringing it up as a concern. But don’t dwell on it. Always look for the good things. Believe me, they’re there in abundance. But keep in mind that there will always be those who seek power in any organization, and power does strange things to people. The more you consider all of these things, the easier it will be for you to decide who your friends are. And while 100% of them may not be your friends, you’ll find that this community will result in a fairly high percentage overall.

    So, in all of this, I’d say, don’t base your whole opinion of the Community you love on some tweet storms that take place on Twitter. In the grand scheme of things, the people that take part in those conversations are a very minuscule percentage of the Community as a whole.

    Keep the faith, and don’t give up! Focus on the great things you’re doing and you’ll be fine. 🙂

  11. Thank you for your contributions to WordPress, Jeff. It’s just right that you let out what you think about the community and where it’s evolving. Sometimes we do get lost in the process but we should really accept differences. There’s nothing wrong in criticisms. But criticizing with the intent to put someone down or prove that you’re better is something that people should really stop doing.

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