how to lose your soul slightly

Has WordPress slightly lost its Soul? Well, gee, I don’t know. First off, I don’t know whether you can lose souls ‘slightly’, or whether they are indivisible entities which can either be lost completely or not at all. Second off, I wasn’t overly enamoured of the ‘software by geeks, for geeks’ culture they had going at the start, so while I might whine about newbie-pleasing cruft like widgets and spellchecking it is at least an improvement on the ‘if you can’t code, go back to blogspot’ attitude that infected the forums a few years back. That said, these things are only in .org because they’re in .com, and they want it to look like .com is benefiting the community at large. We don’t see features that are in .org being rolled into .com. The traffic is all one way.

So yes, wordpress.org is being left to wither on the vine, but come on people, what did you think was going to happen? What did you think was going to be the priority, the profit-making site where you can sell the ads and the hosting and the widget deals, or the non-profit .org that generates little but pagerank? (And you can’t even exploit that to the full because it pisses off the fanboys). Most people spend more time on their jobs than their hobbies. I don’t think anyone seriously expects to see an actual developer on any of the forums nowadays; where on earth would they find the time to answer mundane queries like ‘why are my widgets all messed up?’ or ‘what does this error message mean’? It’s a scale thing. It’s what happens when you get bigger.

Free themes by community members are being used here, though it’s rare indeed that the actual designer even gets a hat-tip in the announcement post, let alone being notified of any bug fixes (spirit of open-source, anyone?). Forum regulars are trying to pick up the slack because somebody in their infinite wisdom has decided that official support for nearly a million users can be handled by one person and shut on weekends. Bloggers are posting busily away, blissfully unaware that adspace is being sold on their sites. In short, WordPress are relying on the goodwill of unpaid, unthanked volunteers to keep their business going, every bit as much as they relied on it to keep their original project going. Is that different? Is it trading on the confusion between the commercial enterprise and the open-source project? Probably, yes. Is it avoidable? Probably not. How screwed would they be if drmike decided one day he’d had enough? Very.

Has WordPress lost its soul? Come on people, if we say that now, what will we have left to say when Automattic gets bought out by Yahoo!?

34 Comments »

  1. adam said

    things are only in .org because they’re in .com, and they want it to look like .com is benefiting the community at large. We don’t see features that are in .org being rolled into .com. The traffic is all one way.

    i’m surpised the HPL didn’t get a mention. sure, they’re spending their time elsewhere, but automattic could do a lot worse. i think the summer of code is a pretty decent thing (i know that’s not a popular opinion in these parts).

  2. engtech said

    I don’t know of any specific issues people might have with the WordPress summer of code, but as someone who still remembers being a tech intern, I can vouch that it can be a great experience for the up-and-comers. Especially if blogging/internet is something they’re passionate about.

  3. Mark said

    I don’t think anyone seriously expects to see an actual developer on any of the forums nowadays;

    When is ‘nowadays’? I think it’s fair to say the devs started reading more than posting back in 2004 – the effect of which hasn’t stopped development – so it’s hardly fair to throw that in now…

    And support closed at the weekend. I read everything that comes in, including replies and replies to replies. I also hang around the forums at weekends, every new user gets the email address even if the form does not work and people still reply to replies which also come in. Do I want these building to the monday morning? No – so I answer them. Don’t forget too that have that note there wil the links to the forums and faq does help, it does drive traffic and it does show people there is more than just me. Which is a Good Thing. When the time is right we will have additional support but right now is not that time. Compared to the number of users and the number of normal support emails the decision to close support at the weekends was the right one.

    Volunteers – it’s great that drmike, raincoaster, timethief, sulz, yourself, adam and engtech and others help the way you do. But WP has always relied on help – I would imagine other projects do too and I would imagine that it’s for the same reason – because there is enjoyment of some sort. That’s why I did it and even now I enjoy my work – I like doing support.

    Like you said, these things happen but it doesn’t have to be bad.

  4. drmike said

    Mark, wordpress.com is not WordPress. It’s a corporate entity, not the Open Source project that regular WordPress is. Automattic has to realize that. It’s also rather tasteless that Automattic doesn’t recognize those offering their help. I’ve suggested many times over that wp.com at least acknoledge (how ever you spell it) the folks who do put in hours on your support forum. Instead I get a rather distasteful email from an employee when I feel it’s that employee who’s been out of line.

  5. drmike said

    And why the bloodly hell won’t Matt and Ryan hire a weekend person to watch the support channels so you can get a weekend fully off? God knows they’re coding on the weekends. Just look at how often they break stuff during Saturday and Sundays. It’s kind of stupid making you work all seven days a week.

  6. Mark said

    drmike – I have posted and helped on forums that have been owned by my webhosts, my ISP, various programs I have bought and others. They were all corporate too.
    And I do what I do at weekends because I enjoy it. I don’t do 9-5 hours. Most days it’s around 9am to after midnight – why? Because I happen to really enjoy my work and because there are people with questions. No-one is making me do anything.. As I said above, when the need is there more support will happen – but even then the hours are yet to be decided.

  7. Root said

    I guess anyone who was in the first one thousand WP users feels a certain type of stake holders sentiment. Its difficult to quantify. What did we expect really? I don’t know. I became disenchanted earlier than most but the signs were there from the getgo.

  8. adam said

    end users are always stakeholders. i think that since wordpress.com opened to general registration, it’s been more clear that we have stakeholders as automattic’s customers, rather than as open source contributors, but a stake is a stake.

    but, i guess i don’t feel as disenfranchised, having not been anywhere near the first 1K.

  9. Root said

    I have to say that one of the really good things about Habari is the inclusive nature of the development. It is sometimes immaterial whether every individual gets what they want. Obviously that’s not possible. But the open and inclusive nature of the dialogue makes everybody feel better. It also leads to a much better decision making process. I do not get the feeling that Habari is *owned* by any any individual or even a group. That is a testament to the wisdom, experience, and maturity of the developers group. Open Source needs to go the whole 9 yards otherwise it is faux. WordPress has always been a dictatorship, and the open source phase was no more than a spring board for the commercial arm. I have no objection to anyone making a ton of money. But there are many aspects of the com/org schism which make me very uncomfortable. The treatment of theme devs is only one example.The eternal infighting about forum mod is another. The advertising schizophrenia is a third example. There are plenty more. A lot of the really good functionality has emerged from the plugin community and then been swallowed by Automattic. Why was there no ideas forum 2 years ago? Where’s the kvetch gone? On it goes.

  10. Summer of code: yeah, nice for the students who I’m sure will learn a lot, and great PR for Automattic, but I’m fairly sceptical about whether anything will actually find its way into the core download (or for that matter wp.com) as a result of it. That would be a useful learning experience too, of course.

    Volunteering: no-one’s disputing that all commercial hosts rely on volunteer support to some extent, nor that volunteers gain a sense of personal satisfaction from what they do. At Livejournal, there’s a rewards system for support volunteers, which would be looked upon here with a lot of suspicion, but I don’t think it’s in place as a form of bribery to lure volunteers in, more of a way of expressing the site’s gratitude for time they’d spend and work they’d do anyway. The attitude at Automattic is that everyone should do what they do for the love of it and that’s reward enough. And yes, 99.999% of the time it is enough and people neither want nor expect anything more. They won’t beg for gratitude for their contributions. If it ain’t there, it ain’t there, and no amount of nagging is going to change that.

    Stakeholding: this is always going to be a source of contention and frustration. The users think WP belongs to them and Matt thinks it belongs to him, and there’s not a whole lot of room for compromise between those two positions. Where it has the potential to get complicated is where people are actually paying customers on wp.com. Someone who’s forked out for a domain name and the CSS upgrade perhaps isn’t going to be as tolerant of bugginess and downtime as they were when they hadn’t handed over any cash. (I’m assuming, of course, that VIP customers are ringfenced and not exposed to the same unstable code as the rest of us.) I don’t think there are enough of these people yet for their views or financial contribution to be considered significant, but that may change as the community grows.

    Why was there no ideas forum 2 years ago?

    There was no Habari two years ago😉

  11. engtech said

    It’s really hard to give production code to a summer intern you’ve never worked with before. You never know what you’re going to get.

  12. drmike said

    Quick aside – I had wished that they had opened up the SoC to non students. I would have loved to do something like that.

    Mark, I have also helped out at other forums as well as a volenteer. Don’t get me wrong either. Take a look at the links page on my blog at that long list of forums I’ve spent time in over the years. And, yes, some of them are commerial. But on those commerical blogs, there’s a lot more input from from paid staff members. 99% of the questions there aren’t followed up by another client or volenteer. That’s OK for something like a small hosting company.

    OK, Mark’s doing 9am to lets say midnight. That’s 15 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s 75 hours a week. Plus weekends.

    Heck, even I ain’t doing that. I went through that when I managed for some of the chains down here. Hated that, especially since most of them were like “Mike’s doing it. Why aren’t you?” to the other managers.

    And there is a need. Every weekend, something has broken. We being the forum volenteers have to deal with the folks who come in bitching about support being closed. We’re the ones that have to explain what’s going on to these folks, not staff. We’re the ones doing triage.

    And then to be told by Lloyd that I’m acting like I’m trying to make myself sound like I’m an employee? That just shows he doesn’t have a clue as to the “quality” that he’s supposed to be managing. How many times have I or someone else have specifically stated in the forums that “I’m (we’re) not an employee”? Hell, Timethief probably has it in her copy and paste list.

    Asked for someone to drop me a tshirt in the mail for wordcamp since I couldn’t go. Nope. Passed my deadline so I’m not going this year either.

    And, hell, I asked for a job reference because of all of the time I put in because I am looking for work because living on disabilty sucks. That didn’t happen either.

    Don’t get me wrong. Customer Service means a great deal to me. if you haven’t figured that out by now…

    *chuckle* Kind of ironic that I can spell triage but I can’t spell volenteer. How do you spell it anyway?

  13. drmike said

    Oh, and half of the forums I’ve spent time with aren’t on that list for one reason or another. Just for reference.

    One issue that’s really bothering me is that it seems like while WordPress is so “Our volenteers are so wonderful!” is it seems like to me and others that it’s just lip service. I’ve suggested a couple of times a quick post on the main wp.com and heck lets say the wp.org blog about the volenteers. Show some love. I gather that idea got bit bucketed as well.

    *sigh*

    I said this a few days ago. It’s pretty bad that I get more thanks from an 85 year homeless man when I hand him a cup of coffee on Saturday mornings than some of us do around here.

    Just somethign to think about.

  14. drmike said

    Damn, I wish there was a spelling checker on this comments.🙂

  15. How many times have I or someone else have specifically stated in the forums that “I’m (we’re) not an employee”? Hell, Timethief probably has it in her copy and paste list.

    It gets spelled out all the time. If people see the same people answering questions in multiple threads and one of them has ‘Moderator’ under their name then they’re going to assume that these people are staff, however many times we tell them that we don’t have any more access to and don’t know any more about the technical side of things than they do.

    If staff have a problem with non-staff being mistaken for staff, maybe once we’re past a certain number of posts (twenty? fifty?), they should change our status to ‘Not Staff’. OK, so changing rankings based on post count is possibly a bit advanced for bbPress, but other forums seem to manage it. And it might cut down on the number of times the situation has to be explained, since we can safely assume that nobody ever reads the stickies.

  16. Root said

    *Not Staff* ? LOL🙂

  17. drmike said

    Actually that was something else I asked about a number of times. Having those who help out a great deal have a special tag instead of ‘Member’ I suggested ‘Support Guru’ a couple of times but was told it wasn’t do-able.

    I haven’t looked at the bbpress code that much so I couldn’t tell you.

  18. Root said

    As Matt wrote bbpress it can do whatever he wants. Any suggestion it couldn’t manage another category of mod id laughable. But there goes Matt……………..

  19. engtech said

    I don’t understand why the input box for posting doesn’t have:

    “This forum is for blogs hosted at WordPress.com and Akismet users, if you are using WordPress hosted somewhere else go here”

    That would cut out 25% of the threads, easy.

  20. I think 25% is a little optimistic (not many people will bother reading the blurb above the textbox) but it would certainly be more effective than the sticky posts. Trouble is, wordpress.com benefits too much from the warm reflected glow of .org’s non-profity goodness for Automattic to want to distinguish more clearly between them.

  21. Matt said

    That’s silly.

  22. Root said

    On the com forum I would like to see a huge banner asking *Are you really at WP com? Or should you be at WP Org? *

    @Matt- I do not think that saying that is silly is a satisfactory response. When your lead mod at com is that pissed something must be up.

    Another one of my issues is that podz has been embraced, corporateified and rebranded:) by Automattic. Thats been a huge loss to the Org forum.

    Matt must be the first developer in the history of Open Source who has forked his own software. That is some achievement.🙂

  23. Dead_ said

    Considering he originally forked it from b2 (and absorbed that project’s lead developer), it’s not that surprising.

  24. I see drmike has shifted his personal blog from wp.com to MT.

  25. Mark said

    @Root – it took me nearly 2 years to get to 10,000 replies on .org and I now do that in 2 months. I’d love to do more but I literally do not have the time. And me corporate? Not at all🙂 (I don’t even own a suit)

  26. Matt said

    The Artist formerly known as Podz might not get by a metal detector, but he’s fine by us.🙂

  27. Root said

    A suit podz? That would be chain mail surely ?

  28. Wank, your Venn diagram is inside-out. You seem to see WordPress as a subset of Automattic, when it’s really the other way around. Automattic employees are a subset of WordPress contributors. They may be the largest subset, but they’re still a subset.

    It irks me when people refer to Automattic as “the company behind WordPress.” WordPress is the software behind Automattic, because of chronology and the fact that so many WordPress core contributors and decision makers are not Automattic employees. It disrespects such non-Automattic contributors (like myself) to suggest otherwise.

    We don’t see features that are in .org being rolled into .com. The traffic is all one way.

    Huh? WMPU trunk syncs to WP trunk often. WP.com syncs to WPMU trunk often. I’ve seen my commits to WP trunk show up on WP.com within 2 days.

  29. […] [WORDPRESS] how to lose your soul slightly (wank.wordpress.com) […]

  30. Matt said

    Amen. Now stop reading blogs and go get married.🙂

  31. engtech said

    Amen. Now stop reading blogs and go get married.

    That sounds like something I would do.

  32. V! said

    what will we have left to say when Automattic gets bought out by Yahoo!?

    “What took you so long?”

  33. drmike said

    Anyone else notice that “staff” really didn’t touch any of the issues discussed here?

  34. […] In other news, I have a new avatar, inspired by this: […]

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