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The WordPress Community Needs an Attitude Adjustment

For any designer and/or developer that stumbles into the WordPress community for the first time, they are bound to feel a bit overwhelmed.

After all, we’ve got a near endless supply of themes, plugins, developers, designers, blogs, and other artifacts- all of which are surrounding our favorite blogging platform, CMS, and slowly-developing application platform.

It seems almost like a gold mine, right?

WordPress is a Gold Rush

WordPress is a Gold Rush

We’ve got entire sites dedicated to asking questions, we’ve got meetups – both official and unofficial – that meet around the world each week (or, at least each month), and we’ve got people all over the Internet, both on blogs and on Twitter, talking about the application, the strong points, the weak points, and even negatively critiquing one another about their pet projects or even their core business’ projects.

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to generalize and call it the WordPress Community because the “community” is actually a collection of smaller subcultures or microcosms (for lack of better terms) that are made up of business people, designers, developers, bloggers, consultants, and so on.

But for all intents and purposes, we’ll refer to all of the above as the WordPress community in this particular post (as much as I’m not really a fan of the term).

Mos Eisley

We’re not a wretched hive of scum and villany.

The problem is that if you spend time in this community long enough, you begin to notice that it’s got a side that’s not so attractive. Open debates and dialog (and I use that term very loosely) quickly become passive aggressive comments.

People take sides on certain issues – which is a prerogative we all have, but when it comes to the greater good of the WordPress application, there has to be middle ground that’s found rather than simply making statements about “how things would be if were working on it.”

It gets complicated really fast, doesn’t it?

WordPress is Bigger Than Ourselves

I honestly do believe that we all have the highest aspirations for WordPress both as a piece of software and as a global community.

The challenge in trying to find compromise in those aspirations is that our egos and our overall opinions on how something should be done gets in the way.

And that’s human nature.

But I don’t think that’s an excuse, and here’s why:

  • If we’re all aware of our human nature (our egos, our opinions, and what not),
  • And if we’re all aware that we’re striving to improve the core application and its community,
  • Then why would we not do a better job of keeping our opinions and thoughts in check?

Now, don’t read me wrong: I’m grouping all of us in this. WP Daily is not above board in this. We could all do a better job.

We're all in this together

Yes, we’re all in this together but I hope it’s not like this!

The thing that concerns me the most is that newcomers end up discovering the dark side of the WordPress community where they’ll quickly see that we attack our own.

That really sucks.

Especially so because open source, by nature, is supposed to be about collaboration. How else is anything supposed to get done?

So to that end, I challenge all of us to do a better job of being more respectful to one another, to handle political issues and differing opinions with far more respect that we’ve traditionally seen.

Simply put, it gets nasty out there and do we really have time for that?

Time is On Our Side

Honestly, we do have time for that; otherwise, we shouldn’t actually spend the time doing it, right?

We Have Plenty of Time

Yes, we have plenty of time. No need for a DeLorean.

And this isn’t something that’s new to us, nor is it something that’s relegated to the WordPress community. In fact, I’d say that it’s almost a right-of-passage: When you discover what goes on in the underbelly of the WordPress community, then you’ve arrived – at least to some degree.

Look at local meetups or WordCamps for example: attendees come with an insatiable desire to learn about all things WordPress.

Perhaps it’s designing, developing, blogging, how to even use WordPress, or generally how to level up their skills.

All the while, there’s this entire group of people that are blasting others for what they are sharing, what they are not sharing, or even how they should be sharing.

How To Share

How To Share: Should We Get Back To The Basics?

But if you stop for a minute and think that maybe these people are truly doing the best work that they can possibly do, don’t they deserve a bit more respect and constructive criticism rather than simply directly criticizing their methodologies- either on blogs, Twitter, or whatever other medium you opt to share?

The point that I’m trying to make is this: Whether you like it or not, we are all in this together. Yes, we’re all going to have our opinions to share, and yes, we’re often going to disagree.

But that disagreement doesn’t have to be inflammatory, passive aggressive, or flat-out insulting in nature.

In fact, I’d argue that it doesn’t even have to be public at first. After all, whatever happened to chatting via email? I mean, honestly, is 140 characters really worth stirring up something that you know can’t be resolved via that particular channel?

So Where Do We Go From Here?

In the end, people are probably going to go wherever they want to go. Those who hope to make the WordPress Community a better place will likely aim to continue on that track, and those who like to bicker and prod others are going to continue to do so.

And that kind of sucks simply because we should helping one another far more than simply critiquing one another about the work that we’re doing.

The next time you opt to shoot that snarky tweet, or aim to share that direct message, or start to write that inflammatory post comment, try to determine if it’s actually going to provide anything productive or conducive to progress.

If not, then forget about it.

The WordPress Community doesn’t need that attitude. In fact, it could stand for less.

More WordPress News From Torque:
  • http://literalbarrage.org/blog/ Doug Stewart


    Next WP-related event we’re at, let’s have a beer. There’s more to this than fits/works in a comments section, I’d wager. *grin*

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      can i hang too? 😛

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Only if John can’t come 😉

      • http://literalbarrage.org/blog/ Doug Stewart

        Gentlemen, we are at an impasse.

        Water pistols at dawn. (Translated into WordCamp time: 1:13pm on Sunday.)

  • http://jarederickson.com Jared Erickson

    Can’t we all just get a long?

    Who is Darth Vader?

    • http://ericdye.it Eric Dye

      I think he drives the DeLorean.

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Spoiler Alert: He’s the dark lord of the sith. Obi-wan’s ex-best friend. #dramawars

    • http://literalbarrage.org/blog/ Doug Stewart

      Get a long what?

  • http://ma.tt/ Matt



    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      you’re a natural!

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Now you’re just trolling! :)

  • James Burgos

    I believe the word you are looking for is—ecosystem.

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      That works, too – but the WordPress Community is made up of communities of developers, communities of designers, communities of business developers, and so on.

  • http://designisphilosophy.com Morten Rand-Hendriksen

    Don’t forget the silent majority of users.

  • Dan

    The silent majority of users doesn’t follow WP catfights on Twitter or see themselves as part of a community — certainly not just one community dedicated to a single platform. They are passive consumers of many things, including WP, and the community politics is inside baseball to them. They hardly see it or care as long as it doesn’t translate into an unattractive market with undesirable good and services.

    Probably the best reason to be polite, professional, and keep the political stuff private is so you don’t sully the brand, waste people’s time, and needlessly add conflict into a competitive arena.

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      They are passive consumers of many things, including WP, and the community politics is inside baseball to them.

      Agree completely – perhaps I should’ve been clearer about that in the post.

      Most communities suffer from this internally and I think it’s somewhat natural, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aim and/or strive to be above board. I don’t think that’s too idealistic (or maybe it is?)

      Probably the best reason to be polite, professional, and keep the political stuff private is so you don’t sully the brand, …

      I like this :).

  • http://10up.com Jake Goldman

    I think this has more to do with the consequences of public micro-publishing platforms like Twitter and the increasing battle for eyeballs (link bait), in large part because I don’t think this is unique to the WordPress community.

    Any large, enthusiastic community is going to have louder, more opinionated voices, and softer “never offend” voices. And even those of us that generally strive to be loud only when the subject seems in need of broader discussion, sometimes err in how we communicate (I know I regret the way I framed a point about business and WordCamps that was, ironically, sensationalized here).

    Follow any large audience – Android fans, UX groups, Joomla communities – and you’ll find the same characteristics. It’s a sign that we’re passionate, diverse, and engaging. And human!

    No one would argue that calmer, more professional dialog is a bad thing. IMHO, lets just remember its not uniquely endemic to WordPress, and try to embrace, not shun, the more opinionated among us.

    • Josh Cunningham

      Came here to post essentially this. Fancy meeting you here!

      Read Hacker News regularly and you get this complaint a lot. Open Source is mean, Rails is mean, Hacker News is mean, etc, etc. I see it as an environment issue, not necessarily anything to do with a platform, technology, or particular subject. Go read the Car Lounge or any other user-submitted discussion site and you’ll see all the same stuff (likely worse). This is par for the course online.

      I watched a Louis CK special last night and he told a story of someone swerving into his lane a little bit and he called them a “worthless piece of ****!”. He said “imagine if you were standing one foot away from someone in an elevator and they bumped your elbow and you turned around and called them that. Literally zero people would do that.”

      Online discourse has a similar level of anonymity and/or distance from real life as driving does. I find similar approaches work well in both scenarios: ignore the trolls/lunatics; be overly conscious about context and tone; slow down and pay attention!

      • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

        Louis CK is fantastic. His form of observational humor gets me every time – and he’s right, like you said:

        He said “imagine if you were standing one foot away from someone in an elevator and they bumped your elbow and you turned around and called them that. Literally zero people would do that.”

        And yeah, it’s par for the course, but why does that make it acceptable?

        To what Jake was talking about: We’re passionate, opinionated, humans are are well aware of how we behave in socially acceptable situations. We also understand what respect and polite discourse is.

        Yet, put us behind the wheel of a car, a computer screen, (or a comment field ;P) on a blog and things can get nasty. It’s a bit of a paradox.

        Why not aim to try to be a bit better online (or driving or whatever :))?

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      I’m in 100% agreement with you, Jake, that any community has this. I experienced this when I was doing more JavaScript-specific work as well as Ruby on Rails stuff.

      I also agree to this:

      Any large, enthusiastic community is going to have louder, more opinionated voices, and softer “never offend” voices.

      I do wonder, though, if some of the larger, more opinionated voices don’t keep other “never offend” voices quiet.

      Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for being opinionated, sharing opinions, and having conversations around them, but I personally think that we (as a generation on the Internet as a whole) have given ourselves too much credit in having “dialog” and “conversations” in micro-publishing, like you mentioned.

      Opinions and passion with limited ability to express ourselves puts us in a position to really come off as offensive or just snarky. I could be wrong, but this happens to all of us at some point or another.

      You’re also right in this:

      It’s a sign that we’re passionate, diverse, and engaging. And human!

      I do love that the people care so much about WordPress as a piece of software. I just want to see us rise above what so many other communities fail to do.

      It’s almost like, at some point, online communities hit some sort of ceiling through which they can’t break and we’re left somewhat hanging in the territory in which we find ourselves right now.

  • http://corporacaoideias.com.br/en/ André Crevilaro

    Simple and cool. The WordPress community is always growing. This kind of attitude shows taht we are going to the right and bright side.

    WordPress Brazil

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Yeah – let’s aim to continue being up, to the right and to the bright :).

  • http://fooplugins.com Adam W. Warner

    Families bicker sometimes, it’s true. But we ARE a family and posts like this serve as a reminder to us all.

    Nice one Tom;)

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Thanks Adam.

      And you’re right – one big [mostly?] happy family? Or perhaps we’re all “red-headed step children?” 😉

      • http://twitter.com/andymci Andy

        As a red-headed step child… 😉

  • http://www.graphicallydesigning.com Susan

    I guess I’m living under a rock, because although I spend a lot of time on Twitter, I never see the nasty stuff. Maybe I follow the wrong people.

    Great article!

    • http://fooplugins.com Adam W. Warner

      …or the RIGHT people;)

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Thanks Susan!

      If I painted the community in a negative light, that wasn’t my intent. It was just geared toward making us better!

      Don’t read too much into it, either. You’re not following anyone wrong or right. I think you’re probably good to go :).

  • Ted Clayton

    Soo … when I do finally ‘arrive’, I should not pull up the drawbridge behind me?

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Let the troops storm the castle, Ted!

      Then offer them beer. That’s how you turn an enemy into a friend ;).

  • http://www.websitedoctor.com/ Alastair McDermott

    Surely this is just a “human nature” issue, and not WordPress community specific?

    We see negative stuff all the time in all walks of life. It’s usually vastly outweighed by positive in terms of the scope, but it tends to pack more impact than positive stuff when it affects one personally.

    I don’t think we really need any attitude adjustment.

    • Ted Clayton

      Sure it’s human nature. Of course it’s not just WordPress.

      It’s not so much that the insiders are damaging each other with their sniping, but that the lounge-lizard mode ensures that strays figure out quick to go find something else to do with themselves.

      Political correctness is misguided, but discouraging recruitment is self-defeating.

      • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

        I think you bring up a really good point, Ted.

        And I want to go on record that this isn’t so much an issue of political correctness for me (just in case anyone has interpreted that way – that’s a topic for a whole other post, or other blog ;)), but an issue of simply respecting one another.

        For me, the thing that’s I’ve learned through the other blog posts and comments about this particular issue is that different people have different ways of expressing their opinions – which is fine, of course – and some are willing to do so through the limited mediums like Twitter which, to me, can be a really volatile place to chat about sensitive issues.

        But I’m not saying we should stop, either. I’m simply saying that things don’t have to get so personal or disrespectful.

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      Oh, I completely agree that it’s human nature versus being WordPress-specific.

      I think this happens a lot in online communities, but does that mean we should settle and/or exempt ourselves from trying to be better (or above or whatever word you wanna use) than the norm?

      I guess the biggest motivating factor for me is that just because there is something that seems to be socially acceptable or socially normal when it breeds negativity primarily and especially at the expense of another person when it doesn’t have to be that way seems like we could adjust.

      It’s one thing to disrespect an inanimate object or a piece of software, you know? But other people? Not a fan of that.

      • Dan

        From what I’ve noticed over the years, the WP community is a *lot* better at handling its internal politics and personality conflicts than others I’ve seen, whether its open source communities, neighborhood groups, or volunteer organizations. It’s good to consider like this now and then.

  • http://rachelmccollin.com Rachel McCollin

    Hi Tom,

    Interesting article, and one that echoes many articles I’ve read (and some I’ve written) about the wider web design ‘community’ as a whole (which really doesn’t feel like a community very often).

    My own experience is mainly of the UK-based WordPress community and personally I haven’t experienced any negativity or seen people being critical without being constructive as well. Compared to other sections of the UK web design community it’s a huge breath of fresh air. Hopefully it will stay that way!

    Now I will sit back and wait for people to disagree with me… :(

    • http://tommcfarlin.com Tom McFarlin

      the wider web design ‘community’ as a whole

      Yeah, this certainly isn’t isolated to just the WordPress community, but since we predominately focus on WordPress here, that’s why I brought it up.

      Just trying to be relevant 😉

      My own experience is mainly of the UK-based WordPress community and personally I haven’t experienced any negativity or seen people being critical without being constructive as well.

      That’s awesome! For the most part, meetups I’ve been to haven’t been bad. That isn’t to say there aren’t a few negative encounters, but, again, the majority of them have been great.

      It tends to be stuff online then ends up being a bit more negative.

      Now I will sit back and wait for people to disagree with me…

      Nah, I think you’re good to go. They can’t disagree with experiences that you’ve had personally :).

      • http://rachelmccollin.co.uk/ Rachel McCollin

        Thanks Tom – I hope you’re right! :) And it was by no means a criticism mentioning the wider community, just emphasising the fact that my experience of the WP community is much better than that of the wider community.

  • http://thewpvalet.com Paul Barthmaier

    Hi Tom,

    Great article! I kind of want to know more about the specific inspiration. I guess I’ll have to look for your John-less meeting with Doug at the next WP event. I would echo the sentiment that what you see here is what you get in any community. I suppose the only issue I have is with your use of ‘fair.’ You said:

    Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to generalize and call it the WordPress Community

    I’d say, not only is it fair, but it’s appropriate! Looking at the word ‘community,’ I see etymology, as in ‘co-‘ with and ‘munit’ strengthen, fortify, akin to munition. So if we gain strength by coming together, which I believe we do, then it seems fair to say we’re a communtiy.