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.

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Speaking about WordPress and Philosophy at WCEU

This Saturday I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Europe. It is particularly exciting for me because last year I was one of the organisers and this year I get to see it from the other side (i.e. less stress, more sleep, more socialising!). It’s also my first WordCamp in Europe since WordCamp London last November (which I was organising so didn’t really get to enjoy all that much!). It’s wonderful to be back in this part of the world. I missed Europe. I missed cobbled streets and the way the light spreads across crumbling old cities.

Many of the presentations I’ve been doing of late have been focused on the work that I’m doing on WordPress’ history. For WordCamp Europe I decided to talk about some of the ideas behind WordPress and how they came to be on WordPress’ philosophies page. I’ve been working on this aspect at the minute so it fit well with what I was going. The more I dug, however, the deeper I went and I found it hard to stop. My old training as a philosophy graduate kicked in and quickly I was writing about Philosophy instead of philosophies.

This makes my presentation doubley exciting for me, and also doubley nervewracking. If someone had told me two years ago that I would do a presentation at a WordCamp about philosophy, I would have thought it was ridiculous. And it probably is still ridiculous, but I’m doing it anyway.

So if you want to hear what Duns Scotus, Michel Foucault, and Isaiah Berlin have in common with WordPress, come to my presentation this Saturday at 11:30am to find out.

Degrees of Openness: Communication in the WordPress Community

Communication issues have affected WordPress throughout its history; it’s something that we’re constantly trying to figure out. We have to adapt to changes in development strategy, changes in technology, or changes in project members. Over the past few weeks I’ve been focusing my research for the WordPress book on designing in an open source environment. Redesigning the UI has always been a challenge, particularly managing the relationship between those carrying out the design and the rest of the community. Often the break points come around communication and it has been interesting to track the evolution of how design has been carried out in the project. Helen’s post yesterday made me reflect on these things in relation to the project today. Continue reading →

My Interview on Women in WordPress

I was interviewed for Raelene Wilson’s recent article on women in WordPress on WPMU.org. As an ex-WPMU.org writer, I was happy to answer all of the questions. Just one small quote made it into the article, and since I wrote a lot (I’m an expansive interviewee 🙂 ) I thought I’d post the interview in its entirety. The final article didn’t reflect my personal experience of the WordPress community, and I wanted to share that.

Note: I’m keeping the comments closed because I don’t want to get into a debate. I just wanted to share. Continue reading →