Articles, WordPress

Why All The #wpdrama ??

Last week, Tom McFarlin laid down the hammer on the level of animosity that is currently all to present in many parts of our community. I thank him for doing so.  When something is wrong in a community, its leaders have to stand up and say no.

From discussions around to the customizer, to discussions about the WordPress Foundation’s lawsuit against WordPressHelpers, the tone of the debate has gotten ugly and in many cases become downright harassing.

Tom is very right — it needs to stop. But wishing doesn’t make it so. So I wanted to offer a few thoughts on where this frustration is coming from, while resisting the urge to throw in my 2 cents in on the actual issues being debated… for now.

I think understanding is important for improving communication and decreasing animosity. Before I do I want to say three quick things:

  1. At the end of the day it’s going to take more than understanding, it’s going to take leaders in our community saying “this isn’t right.” Maybe we need a hashtag that is the reverse of the #wpdrama tag that can be used to point, hopefully with some humor, that what is happening is not cool.
  2. More so than every other article I’ve ever written, some, if not all of what I’m saying here is full of shit. So I ask you to take it with a grain of salt and practice forgiveness when you feel I am wrong. Personally, I strive to do the same and be less quick to think of people, or call them “jerks” or “trolls” when that is my gut reaction, which it often is.
  3. There is no excuse for using using racist, sexist, homophobic, and similar language to put someone down, instead of discussing your disagreement with them. I suspect that when this type of harassment occurs, and it does when #wpdrama goes over the line, that the issue has very little to do with the customizer,  Automattic’s clearly-defined special relationship with the WordPress Foundation, or whatever else is actually being discussed.

WordPress Isn’t A Democracy

Decisions are made by those who show up. – Jeb Bartlet

WordPress’ mission is to democratize publishing, but the open source project, and the WordPress foundation are not democracies. The open source project is lead by people who didn’t just show up, they showed up, gave back value and kept showing up.

While the size of the group that does get to make final decisions, both in terms of committing to core, deciding its direction and other parts of the open source project has grown significantly over the last few years, proportionately speaking, this group of people is an even smaller percentage of the total community.

As the community grows there is less of a chance that someone who disagrees with the actions of a leader has interacted with them on Slack, or Twitter or met at a WordCamp.

So, let’s keep in mind that while the process is open, decision making is still in the hands of a view — as it should be. But, not everyone’s job or business can be organized around making the commitment to becoming contributors, and becoming leaders. As a result, it’s very hard for many to feel like their concerns can be heard.

The people who are able to make contributing to the progress a huge part of their work day, they are rightfully personal invested in WordPress. It’s what they make, and what has empowered them to be where they are today professionally. It’s their baby and I understand why they are protective of it, especially who are criticizing it are not putting in the work on it, or being particularly nice about it.

Not Everyone Is Killing It

But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice. – Master Yoda

There are a lot of people who are, thanks to WordPress killing it, in terms of meeting life goals, having fun and making money. We have a very giving and open community. We encourage people to share details of their success and show others how they have done it.

That’s awesome. But not everyone has the skills, time, personality, connections, luck, etc. to take these models and make it work for themselves. I know personally while I’m having a lot of fun, and making OK money, I’m far from “killing it.”

As I write this I have a less than $200 in my checking account. I have lots of work coming up, I’m starting to invest in better financial planning — a major failing of mine — and things keep growing at CalderaWP, so I’ll be fine. But I know how frustrating it is to be working crazy hard, and not having much to show for it financially.

Frustration, and jealousy leads to bitterness.

Contributing to WordPress has delivered amazing things to many. Many have found the right product or service that they can sell well. We call that killing it.

Others, not so much.

So, let’s be mindful that the WordPress community offers an amazing promise, but it is not attainable for everyone.

Photo by: Kiran ValipaContributing Is Hard

And it should be.

I am a firm believer that the more that you give to the community, the more you get back.

I also know that it’s a difficult up-front investment. You need to give a lot of your time for free, give it correctly, and then properly exchange that reputation for career building. That’s hard when you’re already putting in full-time or more hours into your business, which generally has a similar equation.

Of course contributing to WordPress is more than contributing code to core, or feature plugins. While I’ve had a few “props” in core, and a small handful in the REST API project, and spoken at WordCamps, I know I could do more.

I don’t have any real wisdom to add here. As it should be hard to contribute to core. What happens in core affects millions of websites. What happens in the rest of the open source project has big effects on us all.

What I can say, is what we say in AA, “The system works when you work it.”

That’s not an offer of magic. You don’t show up at an AA meeting and become permanently sober, but those who work the system, almost always get what it promises.

Life Is Hard & The Internet Is Mean

But WordPress is our profession.

The WordPress community, except during Meetups and WordCamps occurs on the internet, where the level of discourse doesn’t always trend towards civil to say the least. Part of that is a reflection of society at large, part of it is a bad habit we are all caught in and constantly reinforcing and some of it has to do with the lack of face to face contact.

Our work and involvement in the community is not isolated from the rest of our lives. When people get frustrated, because a change isn’t what they want, or they felt like they had no voice in the decision to change, or the change could hurt them, cost them money, make their lives harder, etc. their frustration isn’t just about that. It’s compounded by all the other BS in their lives.

While this is what many of us do for our jobs, and therefore we approach it in a professional manner. For others, it’s just another part of the internet and for too many that means that being hyper-literal and quick to go to hateful language. That might be fine on 4chan or certain subreddits and middle school playgrounds, but it’s not in a professional setting, or in most places, which is a good thing.

Photo by: Noel Lopez

Being Right Is Meaningless

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they’ll keep being wrong!” – Randall Munroe


xkcd386Sure, the bigger the community gets, the bigger the percentage of people in it that are just jerks. That happens in any community. But that’s not what this is about.

This is about smart people who are right about something they are passionate about.

But “right” is subjective. Nothing is objectively true, except, possibly the fact that we can’t be objectively sure about anything. Uncertainty is tricky, and appears to be a fundamental component of our universe.

I started this post by pointing out that some — unknown to me — portion of what I had to say was full of it. How much? I don’t know. I’ll end by asking you to be kind to me for my failings, and consider that someone being wrong on the internet, just might not be the worst thing.


  1. Antoni

    Thank you, Josh

  2. God grant me the serenity….

    Don’t want to get a resentment over this.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. This was a really great post, thank you for writing it and sharing it.

    • You’re welcome. Thanks for reading and for sharing. I hope it helps in some way to tone down the animosity and remind people that we are all just imperfect humans trying to do what we think is right.

  4. Thanks for writing such a concise and well thought out post on this. I’m honestly amazed by how much drama some seem to stir up in the name of NOT creating drama for the WordPress community. This post is the opposite of that. Thank you.

  5. Josh, brilliantly articulated. Thanks for adding to the voices of reason.

  6. Great post. It is really good to see recognized names in the community speak out. Thank you.

    Personally, I think the core team is doing awesome work, but perhaps the process could be changed to better communications. Also, while WordPress is a meritocracy, there are things that could be done, that some other open source projects are doing, to inject a democratic element, such as ticket voting (Trello, Waffle style).

    It is good to get the perspective of the developer parleying OS contributions into an income, but there are many more perspectives that need to be included in this discussion. I hope that others follow the example you and Tom have set.

    • Thanks for reading and your feedback. Personally, I don’t think interjecting voting in such a huge project now makes any sense. I don’t see what practical problems that would solve, while it would allow for mob mentality, and auto-haters to have more say than those who actually put the work in, and are committed to taking a bigger picture view.

      • I’m pretty happy with the direction WordPress is taking. While I have opinions on the Customizer, for instance, there is no “hate”. The “practical problem” is that unlike you and I, there seems to be a fair number of people who think their voice is not being heard and who feel disenfranchised. Is ticket voting the answer? Maybe not, but finding ways to foster better communication and participation would be a win.

        +1 for taking a bigger picture view instead of having a knee-jerk reaction, but I’m not big on the label “auto-haters”.

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Josh — I think it’s important that we call continue to have a civil discussion about this topic.

    And when I say “this topic,” I mean the umbrella under which all of the finer nuances of WordPress fall. We’re all passionate and care about the various parts that impact us the most – and that’s great – but we need to make sure we don’t elevate the code that we write about the feelings of those who are also involved and just as passionate about it as we are.

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