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How Not to Communicate Grievances with WordPress

A few days ago, I offered advice on how non-developers can contribute to and influence core WordPress development. Communicating online is hard but where and how you communicate affects the likelihood of making an impact.

CMS Critic is a site I’ve read for years as it routinely publishes articles on a variety of content management systems, including WordPress. For whatever reason, the site generally publishes negative things about the WordPress project.

In late October, Kaya Ismail published an article that describes how WordPress needs to improve itself in six ways. What could have been a great article, is instead a great example of how not to communicate grievances you have with WordPress.

Twenty Sixteen Developers Are Lazy

Many people, including myself have an opinion of the Twenty Sixteen theme in WordPress 4.4. Ismail thinks the developers behind the theme are lazy.

I totally understand that WordPress doesn’t need to compete with the massive library of third-party themes available out there, but that doesn’t mean that they should lead with a default theme as bad as that. It’s nothing short of lazy.

Tammie Lister, Takashi Irie, and others continue to work hard on Twenty Sixteen to prepare it for the WordPress 4.4 release in December. They are far from lazy people making Ismail’s opinion more of an insult. He doesn’t provide any examples or ideas on what should be in a default theme.

The WordPress Plugin Directory

According to Ismail, the WordPress plugin directory is filled with large chunks of trash in addition to great plugins. While some plugins in the directory could be coded better, his explanation falls short of describing a solution.

Many plugins simply don’t work, while many more are poorly put together, which in turn makes WordPress as a platform harder to use. Quality control needs to improve.

He doesn’t link to plugins that are broken, provide any code samples, or show where quality control is lacking. His statement is an assumption that’s not backed by evidence.

Those who oversee the plugin directory don’t test every submitted plugin to make sure it works with WordPress. Among other things, they’re job is to make sure plugin submissions don’t have security issues. If the moderators performed quality control on every plugin, the submission queue would likely have a substantial backlog.

Instead of writing baseless assumptions, Ismail should monitor the Make WordPress Plugins site to stay on top of what’s going on with the plugin directory and submit feedback where necessary. If a broken plugin is discovered, he should create a forum thread within the plugin’s support area.

This way, his feedback is seen by those who directly control the WordPress plugin directory. The simple act of reporting a broken plugin to the developer is a major step towards being part of the solution and not the problem.

Admin Menu Clutter

I agree with Ismail’s opinion that the WordPress admin menus can become cluttered if the right plugins are activated. At least in this case, he suggests an alternative.

I’d like to see WordPress group third-party menu options together, in a way that’s a little more organized and less intrusive. Perhaps this can be done by giving them a sub-section within the menu which can be collapsed. The solution itself is up to them, but the problem is evident.

There are guidelines for when plugin developers should create top-level or sub-level menu items but they’re not followed as well as they could be. Without strictly enforcing these guidelines, it’s out of WordPress’ hands. The complaint is aimed in the wrong direction and should point towards third-party developers, not WordPress itself.

If you want more control in how items are displayed in the admin menu, I recommend using the Menu Humility plugin by Mark Jaquith.

Akismet is Not Enough

According to Ismail, comment spam is a major issue with WordPress sites and Akismet doesn’t do enough to stop it.

Akismet, a spam comment filter, now comes with every WordPress install – which is a good thing. But the free version doesn’t do enough for me, as comments still pile up in the back end. If you ask me, WordPress needs to find another way to turn the unrelenting tide of spam.

To clarify, Akismet has been bundled with WordPress since version 2.0 and there’s no difference between the free and commercial versions in how Akismet protects sites. He doesn’t provide any suggestions on what WordPress could do to thwart spam but says it has to do something.

What are members of the WordPress core team supposed to do with this kind of feedback? It’s not helpful, doesn’t provide any ideas, and is easy to discard.

Updates are Hard

Depending on your webhost’s configuration, updating themes, plugins, and WordPress is as simple as clicking a button. For the more adventurous, you can configure them to happen automatically. For Ismail, the update process is difficult.

Updating a plugin may cause conflicts between it and another plugin. Updating a theme can erase your modifications (unless you use a child theme), whereas updating WordPress itself can render a variety of your plugins redundant until their developers apply a patch. Confused yet? You should be.

He makes a few good points but editing a theme instead of a child theme is like editing WordPress core files which should almost never happen. It’s true that there is a slight risk of things breaking after an update but it’s more of an anomaly than a common occurrence.

Ismail suggests that WordPress look into preserving theme changes across the board and to provide alerts if  plugins interfere with each other. I like these suggestions and my hope is that one day, WordPress will be able to create a snapshot during the update process to provide assurance that the site won’t break after an update is applied.

WordPress Hack-a-thon

Ismail’s last point is how WordPress can improve its security.

I think we can all agree that WordPress needs to beef itself up (by shoring up its admin login page, for example), but I call for it to go a step further and start offering better protection, even if it comes at a small price.

Third party solutions exist, sure. But why should I have to patch together several security plugins, each with their own confusing settings, just to secure my website? Many WordPress users have become accustom to handling their own security in this way; but I think WordPress needs to take on more responsibility.

He wants WordPress to go a step further and offer better protection but doesn’t say what that protection is. He also doesn’t explain where, how, or why WordPress should take on more responsibility to make sites more secure.

Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

Ismail concludes his article by saying it’s time for WordPress to innovate. He also says, “The onus isn’t on me to provide the solution, it’s upon WordPress. And it’s about time they started coming up with innovative solutions for their long-standing issues.”

The article is another example of how CMS Critic chooses not to be part of the solution. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but airing grievances which sound more like demands and telling core developers to start innovating is not a recipe for results.

This quote from WordPress core developer, Mark Jaquith, eloquently describes how important communication skills are in an open source project.

The number one skill you need for just about any job, but specifically working on open source, is communication skills. You need to have clarity, consistency, compassion, relatability, a little bit of a thick skin and a decent sense of humor.

The onus may not be on Ismail or any of us to come up with solutions, but he and others can help discover and be part of solutions by taking an active role in giving constructive feedback in the right place. WordPress has its fair share of issues but there are plenty of opportunities for people to step up and contribute to make the software better.

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