The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Elusive WordPress Way

There are significant differences in the ways plugin owners think about and operate their businesses. This is an opportunity to learn and grow together.

I learned a lot from the community discussion on Twitter this week in response to MemberPress’s handling of users with lapsed support licenses. The specific question we started from spawned a lot of important tangents, but the main issue is really about limits — or voluntary self-limitation:

“Is it over the line for a commercial WordPress plugin to respond to a lapsed support license by locking users out of the plugin’s admin screens?”

Is there in fact a line, a standard of acceptable practice?

  • Yes, lapsed plugins should simply degrade to “free/basic” features and core business functions for e-commerce, like the ability to issue refunds.
  • No, lapsed plugins can completely shut down access to their admin/settings or even quit functioning altogether.

What is the WordPress Way?

There's an old joke in different military branches and other organizations about there being the right way, the wrong way, and the Army (or whatever) way. Our way, the way we do it here.

Read Jason Coleman's thoughtful and deeply invested view of The WordPress Way. He defines it as:

“an ever-evolving set of standards and conventions that will change over time, but basically what we mean is that our code, UI, and UX should be familiar to other WordPress developers and users interacting with our software.

Is that how you define “The WordPress Way?”

It’s not a sign of a healthy ecosystem if buyers and sellers are seriously at odds with each other.

This is an important conversation to have. There are significant differences in the ways plugin owners think about and operate their businesses in a tough market in uncertain times. Differences can seem like barriers and conflict-starters, but they are a great opportunity to learn and grow together.

Finding Common Ground

I noticed there were a few quiet (and humorous) points of agreement that may seem small, but they're important. First, attacking others’ motives is never good, but even the least relevant complaint in any marketplace — that buyers are cheap and sellers are greedy — shows what everyone has in common when frustrations run high: the sense that too much is being asked of them. That’s relatable, whoever feels it, but maligning each other's motives … we don't do that.

We can probably all agree it’s not a sign of a healthy ecosystem when buyers and sellers are seriously at odds with each other. That’s not what anyone wants.

So what are the tough realities and hard questions we need to face to get where we want to be? (Giving and growing — together.)

What doesn't work? What does? What are the most difficult dilemmas and apparent contradictions? What risks might be taken?

Lesley Sim and others involved in this discussion so far have suggested a good place to start. Admit what’s broken and what doesn’t work, what’s not sustainable. Take risks expressing challenging ideas. Value and hold all the disagreements and apparent contradictions in mind together. Be kind. Don’t demonize others.

No guarantees on outcomes, but it is a start.

And we’re asking for your involvement! Consider this a call for papers — and blog posts! (Or even Twitter threads, spaces, and conferences.)

How should we define the key issues and concepts?

Are the appropriate limits for commercial activity in the WordPress back end a UX design issue? A communication issue? An ethical issue? All of the above?

Should we view plugins (that need constant updates and support) as products, services, or something in-between? How do you educate customers to adopt the appropriate view of your software product so renewals for updates make sense?

Which plugin sales tactics work best?

Are aggressive shutdowns of potentially all functionality one of many possible sales models worth trying out? What else hasn't been tried much, or at all? How do support license renewals and marketing around them work elsewhere in Open Source? Does it kill off your user base or just free riders if you take a very aggressive approach to customer retention?

What if plugin vendors didn’t offer unlimited support with their licenses? Is this problem what we get without a WordPress “app store?” Is there another way to a win for both plugin owners and users?

This is a Call for Papers (or even short posts) that advance knowledge and understanding of a thorny issue in the WordPress community and commercial ecosystem. We need your perspectives, experiments, and the wisdom of experience you’ve accumulated. Please connect by email to submit a proposal or share a draft post for Post Status on this subject. If you've published relevant writing elsewhere, please let us know about that too. Join the Post Status Slack #tending-the-commons channel for an ongoing discussion of these and related issues.

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