Last month, John James Jacoby (or JJJ) launched a 24-day Indiegogo campaign to help focus his time solely on the development and improvement of BuddyPress, GlotPress, and bbPress for the next 6 months.
With less than 34 hours to go, JJJ has surpassed his 50K goal, exemplifying the supportive nature of the WordPress community, and confirming the importance of the further development of these beloved plugins. Check out our chat with him below, then consider chipping in a few bucks to help his project out.
Crowdfunding and open source: the perfect pair
Torque: It’s exciting to see developers coming to the community to get support for their projects. Do you think the crowdfunding model could become sustainable for WordPress developers in the future?
JJJ: Crowdfunding is a funny and fickle thing; it’s a modern conduit for action where anyone can step up and ask for faith in them to own the solution to a problem.
There are several popular & free WordPress plugins & themes that could be completely transmogrified with a few months of dedicated time and focus, and if the right person with the right approach needed help completing their best work, the WordPress community has proved it wants to be supportive.
I can very vividly see a future where open-source projects (and the engineers responsible for them) are fully funded by their communities and audiences. I’m hoping my campaign can be a catalyst for a shift towards this being an approach more people consider and strive for. It’s the equivalent of a truly elected position, where a community decides who is in what position for how long, and I think that’s a pretty great approach for the kind of work we do.
Major releases of WordPress come fast these days, every 3 months or so. Each release comes with new features that are getting so cool, it’s easy to forget that people other than you interact with your website, and increasingly difficult to consider what experiences you want those users to have. WordPress gives visitors Comments and nothing else, and BuddyPress and bbPress fill the gaps with user profiles, private messaging, public forums, user groups, etc… The bb’s are the de facto choices for user-to-user environments inside your WordPress.
Spiritually, they serve as a reminder to the greater WordPress community that alternatives to blogging are still relevant, and they can be both equally as simple infinitely sophisticated as WordPress allows. The easier we can make BuddyPress and bbPress to get installed and providing a good default experience, the more passionate people become about extending them.
Torque: I heard an interview with you on WPCandy about some of your early jobs, including being a roller rink dj, and it got me wondering what your early days as a web designer were like.
JJJ: My early days building websites were probably not too different from most. I had this intense urge to change the world thanks to influences from Zeldman, Meyer, & Stallman. I wasn’t sure if I was a designer, a developer, or something else, because I was interested in all of it equally. I was full of insecurity about my own abilities, and wasn’t confident in what my niche was, or if it even existed.
I started building websites using WordPress for basically any local small business that would pay for it. In my early experience trying to sell the benefits of a CMS like WordPress, I was pretty shocked at how little most business owners cared about their presence on the web. One time I built a static HTML site for a small business, and later secretly converted it to WordPress so they could edit their content without needing to pay me to do it, and they actually were insulted I didn’t want to manage their content anymore, and stopped working with me. Obviously back then, it was all sorts of wrong; place, time, approach, relationship, everything. I’m admittedly not a great salesperson, but when the solutions seemed so obvious and clients would disagree or not care, it was hard to stay positive and keep at it.
What always did work for me, and yielded really positive results, was contributing to improving the software itself and talking about the benefits of the community behind it. When I was able to confidently sit down and talk less about the problems I could solve and more about what made the work I did rewarding, I found that people really enjoyed the conversation and felt comfortable with any recommendations I would provide.
Torque: What advice do you have for other developers who are considering crowdfunding as a means to support their development? Do you have any thoughts on using big platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo versus using some of the crowdfunding plugins like Fundify?
JJJ: My experience using IndieGogo has been hugely positive so far. Their website is intuitive and easy to use, and I found their rates to be acceptable considering the effort it would otherwise take to build trust in similar functionality myself. There’s also a huge perception difference between a donate button on a blog vs. an official initiative on a campaign site like IndieGogo. Activity breeds activity, and watching a campaign be successful motivates more people to be part of it, but a donate button on a blog or website doesn’t feel as rewarding, even if in reality it’s more direct to the individual or initiative.
My advice to anyone in the WordPress community who is interested in crowdfunding their ideas is to find your passion and own it. There is so much opportunity to influence positive change that it’s a great time to hunker down and focus on the thing you think you can improve better than anyone else. It could be something big like an e-commerce platform or accessibility or internationalization, or something relatively small like creating a standard for “About” screens for plugins to use. Whatever your niche is, own it, champion it, polish and shape it into something that’s yours. Pitch it to the world, be positive and responsive to feedback, and do whatever corrections you think make the most sense.
Seek out mentors, friends, and healthy relationships to help steer you in the right direction. Jen Mylo influenced me hugely in my early days contributing to core, and Matt Mullenweg took a chance inviting me into Automattic to work on Dotorg way before it was a finalized process. Andy Peatling, Ryan Boren, Peter Westwood, Nikolay Bachiyski… I learned so much about the WordPress engineering approach from their critical feedback. Jake Goldman and John Eckman taught me what a traditional agency model looks and works like, and how complex growing business operations can be.
Be thankful, humble, and appreciative of every opportunity to be taught by someone nice enough to teach you, and you’re incredibly likely to succeed no matter what your goal is. Most importantly, be considerate and kind to everyone, and respect their time by communicating clearly and concisely and skipping past being clever, something I need to remind myself on an almost daily basis.