It’s Not About Money or Gratitude

Watching people respond to my recent post reminded me of a scene in When Harry Met Sally (it’s about 51:50 in – watch on Netflix).

To steal and paraphrase (badly): “If you asked me what my motivation was and I said ‘I’m not making any money’, that would mean my motivation is money. Just because I answer a question about how much money I see as a direct result of releasing free plugins doesn’t mean that my motivation is money.”

In the prior post I was answering the questions posed to me. The questions were about my motivation and were also explicitly about monetary benefits. I answered both, but certainly didn’t make them causal.

When I talked about the donations I received, I was trying to illustrate that money is not motivation for this type of Open Source contribution. If you’re getting a couple hundred bucks a month or 5 bucks a month, that amount isn’t that significant to most developers. I wasn’t even referring to the most recent design changes of the plugins pages on, though people falsely assumed I was and chimed in accordingly.

A number of people focused on this line from my prior post:

I actually feel strongly that the current situation is unsustainable. Unless the WordPress community at large starts to better recognize and reward the developers that create the tools that they use and rely on, the developers won’t/can’t continue to provide as they have.

and misinterpreted it. People again focused on money or the need to thank developers, but that’s not at all what I’m talking about.

I want the community to simply have a better understanding and respect for developer’s time. That can be many things. It is the attitude with which someone approaches a developer, it is having understanding if a developer is too busy to help, it is the community finding a other ways to get support (and support each other) rather than relying on the developer.

If you re-read my answers I think I actually make it fairly clear: my motivation for releasing free GPL plugins and themes is not money. I see things that can be improved and want to make them better. Because WordPress (and b2 before it) is Open Source, I have an opportunity to do this. My motivation to contribute to Open Source is driven by three factors:

  1. Self-interest. Most of the things I’ve written and released germinated as things I had a need for or interest in.
  2. Intellectual curiosity and satisfaction. I like tackling and solving problems.
  3. Philanthropy. My Open Source work provides me with a feeling of pride and satisfaction that I create things that help others.

That is my reward and motivation. Based on my conversations with other Open Source developers, I believe these are pretty common factors.

I don’t want or need gratitude. I want an understanding that using something I created does not give you a right to my time.

I want to not be personally lambasted if I don’t have time to update the plugin when there is a bug or something in WP changes and the plugin I wrote breaks. Expressing frustration is fine, speculating on or assigning motivation is not.

I want to be given the benefit of the doubt when something outside of my control, that I’ve spoken out about, happens (and not be accused of breaking it on purpose to drive revenue to WordPress HelpCenter).

I want to not read about me “not caring about my users” when other commitments and priorities have to come before my free contributions to the community.

I don’t think these are unreasonable requests. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Joost says don’t release plugins if you can’t support them. I find that statement to be naive. It is very difficult to predict the future. I would not have accurately predicted that WordPress would graduate from a technical community to a mainstream community and that WordPress would power 10% of the world’s websites today. 4 years ago as an independent developer I would not have predicted that I’d have a team of 15, a baby and more responsibilities and draws on my time than I could have imagined at the time.

I’d like to reiterate the statement I used to close my previous post:

There are lots of smart people with good ideas trying to do the right thing, I’m optimistic that solutions can be found. I’ll certainly continue to support that effort however I can.

This isn’t a situation without solutions, but it’s not going to happen overnight either – and it’s going to need to be led by the community.

I would like to emphasize that the issues discussed above are all related to free plugins and themes. As the WordPress community has transitioned from a majority of technical users to a majority of mainstream users I believe that it has also transitioned to being better served by commercial products and support.

WordPress users today expect things to work, they expect packaging and documentation, they expect support. These are all very reasonable things to expect from a commercial product.

We provide great support for customers of our commercial WordPress products directly through our support forums and via the documentation we write and maintain. This is part of our agreement with our customers; this support is part of what they are paying for.

We have our forums configured so that every post in a forum for one of our commercial products results in a task assigned to me personally. I then triage the posts and handle them myself or assign them out within our team. It helps me keep a good view on exactly what the needs of our customers are and helps identify holes and areas of improvement in both our products and support offerings.