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When the Burden of Support is Too Great

WASABI wants it. So do a lot of other people now and then. Some say they want it, and then they change their minds after a barrage of comments helps them to understand their worth and value. Others are angry and want it just because they are fed up. Others are bored and tired.

What do they want? They want other people to take over responsibility for the support of their WordPress Plugins and Themes.

When the Thrill is Gone

Developing a WordPress Plugin and Theme is exciting. It challenges the mind and pushes you to think not only out of the box but around the entire box. You even jump up and down on the box to get it to work.

Once the thrill is over, and the thing works, the beta testing ensues. You put it out there for other people to jump on. You plunge back into your beloved code to toss things around and make it work in a variety of the situations which the users use. You make improvements to its features. You strip back the excessive coding towards simplicity. You do a little dance around your newly updated box, and put it back out into the hands of your public.

It’s exciting when it starts. The feedback is excellent. There is a lot of appreciation and a lot of reward for doing it well. But then comes the dragging times: support.

After you’ve tweaked, twisted, and tugged at your new WordPress Plugin or Theme, and it is working as well as you can make it work, and so far, everyone seems to be happy – something happens.

First comes the let down. Because it works, you don’t have 145 people a day knocking on your comment panel asking you for help and advice, or telling you how brilliant you are. Because it works, there is no one to tell you how to do it better. Because it works, the only ones who need help are the ones who fail to read the instructions, which you realize aren’t that clear to begin with, so you put a little energy into cleaning them up, and then even those people stop asking for help. Because it works, there isn’t that much to do.

You can now sit back on your laurels, until the next idea for a WordPress Plugin or Theme hits you upside the head.

Then comes along someone, like me, who rants and raves about how awesome your WordPress Plugin or Theme is and how everyone has to have this hot new toy. Your download file bandwidth starts to soar. Now, months after you’ve been sitting on your laurels doing something else, you have to pay attention to an increase in the number of visitors and comments on your site.

They tend to ignore your carefully worded instructions, especially the ones in bold that say “DO THIS” and “DON’T DO THAT”. They don’t read the comments explaining how to do X, Y, and Z. So you get a lot of redundant comments on how to do X, Y, and Z.

You start to spend more time answering questions then working on the project or the new projects you have in mind. You become a support maven for your WordPress toy instead of the inventor and creator.

It just isn’t fun any more.

WordPress has tried to make the process easier through the WP-plugins.net and the newly updated WordPress Plugin Installer, which helps you to choose, install, and update your WordPress Plugins. Not every WordPress Plugin author takes advantage of these services. And they don’t provide much in the way of support.

So some WordPress Plugin and Theme authors turn to the public and other WordPress fans and gurus to help them support their original creations.

Helping WordPress Plugin and Theme Authors to Continue Support

You are burned out and want help. You want someone else to answer the questions and keep this baby of yours growing and continuing to breathe. What do you do?

Basically, these are your options:

  1. Ask for help.
  2. Pass the project on to another person.
  3. Write good instructions and announce you have stopped all support for the project. Use it at your own risk.
  4. Let it die.

Ask For Help for Your WordPress Plugin or Theme

Asking for help is a bit different from passing the project on to another person. If you pass it on, you are handing over rights and responsibilities, not just responsibilities. By asking for help, you are asking others to help you answer questions about the tool and/or helping you to continue upgrading and maintaining it.

This can mean allowing your helper to be an editor on your blog so they can answer questions for you. This may mean setting up someone else to actually provide all the support and downloads to the WordPress Plugin or Theme, allowing them to do all the work, but you handle all the coding.

It could mean that you open up a support forum for the WordPress Plugin or Theme, such as the Ultimate Tag Warrior WordPress Plugin Support Forum, to encourage other fans of your WordPress Plugin or Theme to help each other solve their problems.

It can mean a variety of things. It’s up to you to be specific about the type and kind of help you need, the qualifications of the help you need, and how much time and responsibilities are you asking of your helper.

Pass Your WordPress Plugin or Theme to Someone Else

You can ask people to take over your WordPress Plugin or Theme project, and hopefully you will get it. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

A fellow enthusiast might want to take what you’ve done and make it better, and continue to support the Plugin or Theme. They may want to take on all of the responsibilities, support, and upgrading, or only parts and pieces of the project.

Sometimes this doesn’t work, as people just don’t have enough time, or the original author still wants a finger in the pie and is unwilling to give up total control.

And then there is the debate over credit. How should credit and responsibility for the original creation be credited? And for how long? What happens if it isn’t done right? Or if the tool’s new owners drop the ball? Then what happens? Does ownership revert back or is it totally lost? What if a third party comes along and takes over? Then what?

What if they change it totally, or publicity goes out giving the new owner all the credit with no mention of your hard work and invention? How should that be handled? Think the entire process through.

Sometimes the issue of passing on your toy to others gets more complicated than keeping it yourself. Make a plan, be clear about what responsibilities you want to keep, what you are willing to share, and what you want to totally not control, and put it in writing so they and your users understand fully what is going on and who is responsible for what.

And if you are serious about giving up total control of your precious baby, then do so. Let it go. Don’t hover. Answer when asked, but let it go.

Use At Your Own Risk. No Support Provided.

Many WordPress Plugins and Theme authors put a big sign on their sites that say “No support provided. Use at your own risk.” That’s another choice you have.

If you choose this path, you must put it in writing everywhere. Be blatantly obvious. Put it in a big heading, in bold, or red to make it very clear that you will not answer questions and they are on their own. Put it in the readme file and in the description in the PHP or style sheet so it appears on the Plugin or Theme Administration Panels. Put it in capital letters so it is clear.

On the post to describe your WordPress Plugin or Theme, close comments. If you don’t want people to ask, don’t give them an opportunity.

If you choose to go the “No Support Provided” route, you have a big obligation to your users to provide them with clear and specific instructions on how to use your WordPress Plugin or Theme. Since they can’t ask for help, you have to give it to them up front.

Be very clear about how and why someone would want to use the Plugin. Be very clear about how to use it, including screenshot graphics and examples of how to use the Plugin in all its forms. Give multiple examples on how to use it. Everything should be step-by-step so even an 8 year old could figure it out.

Do not assume we know what your Plugin does. Do not assume we understand what a trackback, template tag, template file, PHP, folder, ftp, or .htacess is. Don’t be condescending but write as if we are all idiots from outer space who think a blog is something to eat.

To be successful at denying support, you have to have really good documentation. The in the WordPress Codex offer excellent examples of clear, simple, easy-to-read instructions designed for beginners, so use their form and layout as an example.

Let Your WordPress Plugin or Theme Die

If you don’t want to support it, encourage it, or fan the flames of your WordPress Plugin or Theme, then you can choose to let it die. You can stop support, or just ignore the requests for help, which unfortunately results in pleas for help on the WordPress Support Forum where they tell you to contact the Plugin or Theme author – a vicious circle.

You can publicly state that you won’t continue support, and then just ignore it. Or you can remove all pages and downloads, hopefully with a note saying that the project if over.

Some WordPress Plugins and Themes die automatically if they are not updated with major upgrades of WordPress. If not fixed so they will work, they will die naturally as more people upgrade to the newer version. But you might keep a fan base for those who choose not to upgrade. In time, they will all upgrade, so the life expectancy of your Plugin or Theme will be short anyway.

It’s up to you to decide if you want to continue or not. We’d just appreciate a note on your Plugin or Theme page letting us know if this is your decision.

Supporting Your Favorite WordPress Plugin or Theme Author

As depressing as this topic is, we must continue to support our favorite WordPress Plugin or Theme Author.

If you are using a WordPress Plugin or Theme that you really enjoy, then let the world know. Let the author know. Tell them and us why you enjoy it and can’t live without it. Write about it on your blog, with links, and let everyone know how you feel. Tell people how you use it, why you choose it, and help create a body of support on the web to help others use the Plugin or Theme if the author doesn’t continue to support it.

If you feel you have the experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to take on support of a particular WordPress Plugin or Theme, then do so. Make sure everyone knows and get all the details for the transfer and/or support in writing. Make sure all resources for the Plugin or Theme will be linked to you, not the original owner.

If you are using a WordPress Plugin or Theme, and you really can’t live without it, consider showing your appreciation by donating money to the author. Many Plugin or Theme authors accept donations. I consider this to be like buying shareware. I tried it, I liked it, now I fork over financial appreciation for the hard work they put into creating this for me so I didn’t have to.

Other authors do it for the love of the process, without wanting money. However they would like feedback, appreciation, and they certainly won’t complain if you brag about their tool.

Make once a month a “Hug a WordPress Developer” day on your blog and highlight a WordPress Plugin, Theme, or feature of WordPress to let everyone know that you appreciate the hard work that goes into making WordPress the best and easiest-to-use blogging product around. All for free. Come up with a way to say “thank you” to WordPress.

When we show appreciation, the process of supporting these services lightens. If WordPress developers and authors don’t get feedback, they start to wonder why they do this. They wonder who cares about what they do. They start wondering why bother, and if they should continue to bother making things people ignore or whine about. Apathy sets in. Caring stops. Improvements and upgrades come to a dragging stop.

I think the solution to helping a WordPress Plugin or Theme author to continue to support their product is by positive reinforcement and showing you care. If you read a post about a WordPress developer or author considering stopping their involvement, let them know how much their involvement mattered to you. But before it gets that bad, tell them now.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen

2 Comments

  1. Richard
    Posted February 15, 2007 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Fully agree. Well written. Sometimes you can almost see the light go out of plugin authors eyes as you scroll down a long list of comments, all of which seem to begin with, ‘Great plugin! But I have this problem ….’

    It’s human nature never to say thankyou but always to make negative feelings known. (Well …. sweeping statement :-))

    Have you ever seen commenters showing genuine appreciation rather than appreciation immediately followed by the rider (‘I need help’) ? If so, that plugin author must be doing something right.

  2. Posted February 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    If there’s some young person willing to accept the baton, an author
    should jump at the oppurtunity to pass it.

    E.g., I hardly leave my mountaintop these days, so it was a godsend
    that somebody who actually still takes city buses came along to offer
    to takeover my city bus wiki (http://taizhongbus.jidanni.org/).


8 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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