January 10, 2010
In matters of criminal investigation, intent can be proven by certain actions. However, in these cases, there is a jury to be convinced and a victim to be vindicated. Thankfully, when it comes to disputes in the tech community, one need not try to prove intentions through actions. One need only ask. Following the remarks from yesterday’s WordCamp Atlanta, where a trial balloon was placed in front of the world—this is the internet; everything local is global—about “canonical” or “endorsed” or “core” plugins, I must ask the WordPress lead devs, all the way up to Matt himself: why?
I’m not a plugin developer, nor a theme developer, or a pure front-end designer. I honestly don’t know what to label the gestalt of my skills, but I do good work. Part of that good work is being able to select which plugins work for my project requirements. While I truly appreciate the good intentions of the WordPress leadership in bundling plugins together and endorsing them, but I have my fears on its effects on the plugin marketplace.
It’s libre in more ways than one. Let’s keep it that way.
The current state of the marketplace follows the standard distribution of players based on power laws. Right now, very good plugins with even better promotion and marketing dominate the marketplace. Is there a better plugin for a given application? Yes, but for reasons beyond the control of the WordPress leadership, they don’t get as much exposure. These reasons vary. The developer may be an asshole. Updates may not be frequent enough to keep up with WordPress’ own development cycle. The plugin may be very esoteric in application. Whatever the reason, this hypothetical “better” plugin lives and dies without the interference of the leadership. The only thing more American than the WordPress plugin and theme marketplace is apple pie.
Releasing canonical plugins and themes, while making it easy for end-users and new adopters, interferes with that dynamic. Today, If I were to release Richmond—the theme running this blog—into the wild, I will have to compete with the awesomeness of Studiopress and Woothemes. If the WordPress Project were to include a theme similar to mine, not only do I have to compete with everyone else, I’d have to compete with God Himself.
“Canonical” “anything” is a takeover of a market that doesn’t need it.
I’ve always defended the WordPress Project and especially Matt himself from accusations of others that he’d rather not let anyone else make money off of this. Mark Jaquith is proof positive that one can make plenty of hard-earned cash from playing within the rules of the open source game. However, these “official” add-ons are a deathblow to innovators, because WordPress’ expansion has evolved the market into a consumer one.
The bar to entry is low: it’s easy to set up a blog, find cheap hosting, map a domain name, etc. The users, however, have gotten lazy. When only 75% of users at a WordCamp are using the latest versions, we have a problem. Using a simple extrapolation—of course, not a statistically perfect method—of that number, assume 15% of the market is running outdated, insecure versions of the software. That’s a huge problem, considering the number of WordPres blogs out there. While I strongly believe that it’s one’s responsiblity to maintain and update a site, that assumed number is that of irresponsible blog-owners who present a danger not just to the reputation of the WordPress community but to the general online health of all online people.
These same lazy people are the ones who won’t be bothered to pick a plugin based on how it performs. They’ll reach for the closest solution accessible and go with it. In today’s plugin/theme marketplace, the market leaders may not be the best of best of the very darned best, but they come close. In tomorrow’s canonical marketplace, the majority of users won’t be bothered to move beyond that which is canonical. Why would they, when those selfsame plugins and themes carry not just the approval that a theme is safe, but that it’s endorsed by and is considered “official” by the WordPress leadership itself?
Leave us to squabble amongst ourselves.
God Himself limits the miracles He performs, because He has given us the ability to affect our world because of our will. The free market of plugins and themes is a beautiful thing. It forces the likes of Studiopress and Woothemes to innovate ahead of the market, or lose their edge. It forces me to refine my projects or lose relevance. The miracle of canonical plugins would end this. Perhaps not overnight, but it will. I implore the decision-makers at the WordPress Project: this is not change we need, nor is it change we can believe in. I understand that the opinions of end-users are important, but this still is a community-driven project, and a canonical marketplace—or better yet, a Command Economy—would have us fighting for the favor of the leadership, and not our clientele. That’s not a marketplace; that’s a clique.
Hey Jay! I’m always happy when you write about WordPress.
First a disclaimer: I’m probably one of the biggest free market nuts you know. In fact in college I focused on economics and political science/philosophy.
That said, I didn’t finish, and let’s be honest I wasn’t the most studious guy in the world. Maybe I missed something important. Although I’ve thought about this issue endlessly, including most of the issues raised here, there are some things brought up in the comments that I haven’t thought about before. More importantly, you could be right.
That’s why we’re doing this whole thing as an experiment; not the Large Hadron Collider type that could potentially destroy the universe, but more incrementally with just three initial plugins.
The first, health check, is one that’s entirely new, a collaboration between some existing core folks and some new contributors. The second is existing core functionality, post by email, that we’re taking into a plugin to make core lighter, faster, and less bloated. Hopefully it will improve significantly too because we’ve got some really cool new code from it being donated from the WP.com side. The third, PodPress, is an existing plugin that is very popular in the community and provides important functionality but has effectively been abandoned, so we’re going to adopt it and modernize it so people who rely on that plugin aren’t stuck on old versions of WP.
Something new, something old, something borrowed… something blue? Yep: Kubrick.
Now if in the course of working on these three plugins it looks like we’re going to cause the end of WordPress as we know it, we’ll change course. It’s not that big a deal, and we’ll figure something else out. The only dangerous course of action is doing nothing at all.