An Honest Post About the WordPress Community

Everyone is getting honest about the WordPress community. Everyone is telling it like it is, calling the community out for generally being an asshole. What an asshole community (not pointing fingers at anyone of course). What a bunch of pathetic people, what a lot of meanness. You’re a bad community, a nasty community, a naughty community. Isn’t it great that everyone is getting so goddamn honest?

I wanted to play along. So time for me to bring in some hard-hitting, hard-facts. Are you ready for it? Can you handle it?

Here are some of my truths:

A few months ago I quit my job. I didn’t announce it on my blog. I just did it quietly. I was ready to move on, I was happy about it, but I didn’t feel the need to post about it. What I do in my job is my business and besides, I didn’t think that anyone would really care. A few weeks afterwards, I started getting emails, DMs on Twitter, and messages on Slack. “Are you okay?” they asked. These were people that I don’t see very often, but who were genuinely concerned about my wellbeing. They didn’t pry into my reasons, they just wanted to make sure that everything was alright. I didn’t think that anyone would care, but they did, and I was moved by that.

Two weeks ago, myself and seventeen other people pulled off one of the biggest WordPress events in the world. We were eighteen people from different background and cultures, who spoke different languages and who had different ways of doing things. We didn’t always agree, and sometimes things got heated. But when we all arrived in Seville, we greeted one another like old friends and we pulled off an amazing event. Nearly a thousand people joined us for that long weekend; for many of the attendees it was an opportunity to rekindle old relationships, for others was the start of new friendships, and who knows what could come of them?

At the end of 2014, a friend to many of us, Kim Parsell, passed away at her home in Ohio. This was a huge shock to many in the community; it was so deeply sad. There was an outpouring of grief across the project, on Twitter and on Slack and on our public blogs. I received many emails and messages checking on my welfare, asking if I needed any help. I remember one in particular, from someone I greatly admire and respect, saying how shocked he was and how it reminded him of the importance of keeping in touch. I spoke with community members then about the need for being vigilant, to make sure that no one just disappears, to check in to make sure that everything is okay. These lines of communication between us are fragile. We all have lives outside of this online community, lives that we keep to ourselves. It’s easy for someone to just drop off the map, but there are people around who won’t let that happen.

Here’s some more honesty: there are things that piss me off about the community, the snark and the backbiting, and the poisonous people who dominate conversations and make it so that I feel so uncomfortable that I can’t even raise my voice. I don’t particularly like how the project is structured, and I have problems with how it is run. Problems go from root to branch. But, to be honest, I don’t dwell much on those things. What I value is this: the email from New Brunswick that bears the gift of a quilt, the friend who jumps on a plane to spend a weekend, the messages of support and care when suddenly I’m not around as much anymore, the out-of-the-blue emails to keep in touch; the people around the world who support me through the many changes in my life, those who have taken a chance on me and are supporting me in my future; the big get-togethers where I make new friends, and the quiet dinners when I can slip away with old(ish) ones. The constant surprise that there are people who live in more countries than I can count on my fingers and toes who actually give a shit about me.

Write your posts. Wring your hands. Join comment mobs. But the sheer number of posts of late that are overly critical and snarky and angry gives the wrong impression. When all we have are posts about the bad things, it’s easy for the good to get lost. Every community is both, and we should celebrate the good as much, if not more, as we bemoan the bad. Otherwise we misrepresent ourselves, we misrepresent this community, and we misrepresent those that we care about.

43 Comments

  1. Well said. I was just thinking the other day how recently it seemed that the WordPress Community was one big happy family, and now it seems one big snark fest. In actuality I think it’s both, all the time. Families are like that.

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  2. Thank you for pointing out the delicious sense of community that I have found at every WordPress related event I’ve attended or casually strolled past. I’m not even a “real” WordPresser, but I always feel like one when I’m amongst WP people. I wish I’d gotten to meet you in Seville for more than a second. You seemed lovely.

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  3. This quote on my Twitter feed which is right near your tweet seems appropriate:

    “Miracles start to happen when you give as much energy to your dreams as you do to your fears.” ~Richard Wilkins

    I had no awareness of the politics inside the Wordpress community, but people = politics, so you are right, focus more on the good.

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  4. It is people like you and the many others whom I gratefully count amongst my closest friends who keep me going, and that I’ve stayed on even just this long is a testament to how much more good there is than bad. I still worry about the good people leaving or never joining because of the bad, leading to an over-influence of the negative, which is something I fear we and many other online communities are currently facing. I’m still going to stand up to it because it’s the right thing to do, especially as a leader, but you are right. We need to rejoice in the good, too.

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    1. I appreciated your stepping into a comment thread when there didn’t appear to be any point. It’s important that people do that. Not because we will ever change minds, but because it demonstrates to observers that some shit we will not stand for.

      If I had been a newcomer to the community over the past weeks and seen some of the things written I would have walked away. I worry that some of the new contributors that we engaged at wceu may have been put off by what they’ve seen. We need to combat that by both visibly standing up to people and by highlighting the positive. Otherwise we just look like a community of assholes.

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  5. I thanked you on Twitter for this, but I’ll say it here again.

    The WordPress community, with the odd snark and rant aside, is the friendliest, supportive project I’ve ever seen. I’ve made friends through this community. Real ones, not the “Facebook Friends” kind. People who are caring, supportive and would help you without you needing to ask.

    We may not agree with every decision made (I sure don’t), but I know the community is mature enough, and respects each other enough, to have a discussion about these topics rather than turn to name calling and worse.

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  6. Thank you, Siobhan, you’re such an eloquent communicator. I have always appreciated your contribution to the community and I look forward to what pleasant surprises await!

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  7. We’ve only met in person once in Georgia and it was very brief, but I want you to know how much I respected you before and since as a voice that we (as WP community members and just people) can count on to focus on the positive side of things.

    Always listening,

    Adam

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    1. Thanks Adam. I generally feel like that I’m in a vacuum so it’s nice to know that people are interested. Hopefully we’ll see each other again at some sort of WCUS 🙂

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  8. Yes.

    Isn’t it curious to follow the thread to its very end and discover that you could take the project out of the equation and still be left with a “community” of sorts? We may very well and rightly credit the project itself for its inception but in the end the friendships that are born transcend it by many orders of magnitude. I still maintain that it is grace (in whichever form you want to picture it) which keeps this quilt together. It’s not WP we need to worry about but rather ourselves and our fellow travelers.

    Maybe.

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    1. For me the importance of the community has surpassed that of the project. If WordPress disappeared tomorrow there are people who I would still count as friends for many years to come.

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      1. What a lovely thing to say 🙂

        It’s exactly my position. And the happenings now over thesis.com make me feel less a part of WordPress, but still a friend of many who both work in and outside of Automattic.

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  9. It’s so easy to trash things, but seems hard to say something positive. I lack a filter, but use it to be more positive. That has come a long way from the old days as it takes patience and compassion. Our community has a lot of greatness. We just have a lot of newbies who aren’t familiar with handling people well… lol

    Like you, I love that there are people who do care, and do pop up to ask “How are you? Are you okay?” It makes my day.

    I started with b2 cafelog, and still love this community today. Sure, there’s some bad weeds and some bad experiences, but sometimes you just gotta look past it and keep contributing with enthusiasm.

    Your words nail the issue on the head… so thank you!

    Congrats on pulling off a successful event, and another big thanks for also your wonderful contributions to the WordPress community. 🙂

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    1. It’s easy to feel cut off and alienated when you work remotely. Those messages that come in from time to time remind us that we’re not alone. They’re important and they make my day too 🙂

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  10. Aside from all of the overblown office politics, I can say this.
    There have been two WordCamp talks posted to WordPress.tv – Cory Miller’s talk on mental health, and Jenny Beaumont’s wonderfully titled <a http://wordpress.tv/2015/01/07/jenny-beaumont-how-come-every-time-i-get-stabbed-in-the-back-my-fingerprints-are-on-the-knife/"How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in The Back, My Fingerprints Are On The Knife". Neither talk has a thing to do with programming or design, but both were welcomed as part of the discourse in the WordPress community. Obviously it took a hell of a lot of guts for the two of them to get up on stage and talk about these things in front of an audience, knowing that the talks would also go online.
    These two talks gave me the strength to pick up the phone, call a close friend, and unburden myself of a secret I’ve been carrying around every day for ten years. It’s done. It’s out there now. I’ve told someone. With the help of two people I’ve never met.

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    1. It’s great to see more discussion in the community about issues such as wellbeing and mental health. Because we are so scattered across the world, our discourses are determined by those who have the courage to raise their voices. For a long time the thing that we all had in common was software but we also face similar challenges in terms of working remotely and feeling isolated and cut off from people and sometimes confused and uncertain what to say.

      I think we’ll see more of these types of discussions in the future. I hope so anyway.

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  11. Thanks for all your comments everyone. I’m glad to have made people feel a bit better. There’s been a lot of negativity around of late that has spiralled out of control. While it’s important to continue to discuss problems where we see them, it’s equally important to talk about the positives – otherwise we lose sight of what we’re doing it all for.

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  12. Siobhan, thanks for supporting the community! It’s a brilliant place, one of the greatest group of remote social groups I’ve ever been witness to!

    Yes, we have our issues, cliches, and assholes … but as you rightly point out, there are so many wonderful people in the community that it’s more like a family to me in many ways.

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  13. Siobhan,

    I know I’m late in writing this – I read it last night, shared it, and just now have the time to give it the response that I’ve wanted.

    I know that you’ve got *a lot* of close friends in the WordPress community as it exists today (and were it not to exist in the future), and that’s fantastic.

    I think *many* of us can say the same thing.

    Our paths have only crossed a few times (and hopefully they will at a WordCamp one day), but I did want to say that one of the things that I remember most was working with you and Rachel Baker on planning the core Handbooks and what a great, great experience that was.

    You were always welcome, always nice, always listened to ideas, always had respectful alternative perspectives, and were completely open to ideas that were presented.

    From that, that also helped motivate me to want to contribute in more ways than code (such as some of the coding standards). So thanks for that.

    You’ve impacted a lot of people in a lot of great ways. Keep on with that.

    I don’t know how much merit this particular comment brings, but you’ve brought a great, *great* experience to WordPress and though we’re not exactly regular acquaintances, the times that we have tweeted or talked on Skype have been a pleasure.

    So thanks for that and thanks for this post – I hope we’re eventually able to meet at a WordCamp at some point :).

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  14. Siobhan, Lovely read. WordPress’s is a brilliant community to say the least. I think we need more and more positive stuff like this. We should feel proud of how WP community is better than a lot of others and we should definitely celebrate the good.

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  15. Hi Siobhan:

    Some really important things you touched on here. Community lasts long after projects fade. People are more important than the work. Every family has squabbles and drama, and WordPress is much larger now than it has ever been before.

    Negativity cannot take root unless we choose to focus on it. This doesn’t mean we should ignore bad things that happen, quite the opposite. But it’s good to keep things in context, and give thanks for the positive things that surround us: like the people in our lives, and the opportunities we have to make our way in an uncertain world. WordPress has done that for a lot of people, and hopefully it will continue to do so.

    It’s important to remember that the actual ecosystem of WordPress is much larger than just the people we already know (although these folks have a lot of influence on the direction of the platform, and the conversations we have around it). For the platform to stay relevant into the future, we have to keep attracting people to the community. That requires positive actions, both from leaders in the community, and those involved in evolving the software.

    Great piece. Thanks again.

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  16. “When all we have are posts about the bad things, it’s easy for the good to get lost. Every community is both, and we should celebrate the good as much, if not more, as we bemoan the bad. Otherwise we misrepresent ourselves, we misrepresent this community, and we misrepresent those that we care about.”

    Beautiful said Siobhan. Thanks very much for saying it so loud and clear 🙂

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  17. This is all extremely well said and presented. I am really disappointed in the perceived “drama” of the WordPress community and thought some leaders were above the FUDing (fear, uncertainty, doubt) of others.

    Apparently not. It’s important to always present our ideas in their most authentic forms, but not when the primary purpose is to create snark and unrest (especially in a comment section that goes un-moderated).

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

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  18. My personal take on things:

    * Angry people are the most vocal.
    * People are more likely to respond to things which anger them.

    Those two issues ^ result in a bias towards negativity. It’s not just WordPress though. This has happened in every community I’ve been part of.

    We need to combat it by being annoyingly happy/upbeat and responding positively to anything good that we see 😀

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  19. @ Siobhan – Now that is what I call keeping it real! AWESOME! I personally tend to speak very honestly, bluntly and factually with a positive focus (as much as possible), but I always censor whatever I post publicly. I do not censor public posts out of fear of what other folks will think about me and instead do that because it feels like the right thing to do, but sometimes “you just got to tell it like it is”. 😉

    Disrespect for anything WordPress irritates the hell out of me. My first thought when I see a disrepectful public post about WordPress is – “what a clueless asshole, doesn’t this asshole see the big WordPress picture, doesn’t this asshole see everything amazing that WordPress has created and continues to create, etc…..”. That anger lasts for a few minutes and then I take a deep breath and remind myself that the person is probably just really upset and not thinking about the big picture.

    Anyway my point is I believe assholes should be called out for being an asshole and everyone makes mistakes. I do not see anything wrong with calling someone on their shit in a polite way to get that person back on track with what is really going on. If the person does not get it (and some just never do) then a 3 strikes rule should apply – ie “delete user account” – bye bye dumbass.

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