Open Source Motivations - What are yours?

This post is in response to a write up entitled “Open Source Motivations” by long time WordPress developer, contributor and plugin author, Alex King.

Alex runs a successful and well known software and development consultancy firm, Crowd Favorite, along with WordPress Help Center, a specialized WordPress support center.

In the article Alex answers some tough questions about the motivations, financial gain (or lack of), and indirect financial benefits of writing, maintaining and supporting “free” WordPress Plugins. Alex’s response to the questions along with some of the reactions on Twitter suggest that the current situation is unsustainable for developers.

I disagree with this

I actually feel strongly that the current situation is unsustainable. Unless the WordPress community at large starts to better recognize and reward the developers that create the tools that they use and rely on, the developers won’t/can’t continue to provide as they have.

Why it might not be financially beneficial for large shops like his to continue developing and supporting free themes and plugins, it is very beneficial to individual developers like myself, and others whose release of free plugins and themes have brought them great financial gain.

How do you think developers like Alex and others got to where they are today?

I strongly believe that part of the success of Crowd Favorite was due to the contributions that were made to b2 and to the WordPress community. Others like Jason Schuller, Brian Gardner and Cory Miller attributed part of the success of their Premium Theme businesses to releasing free themes to the community. You can listen to the interviews and discussion about this very topic on Jeff Chandler’s WordPress Weekly episode 94.

Contributing to the WordPress community is a way for smaller developers to make a name for themselves, get experience and prove to potential clients that they know what their doing.

WordPress.org gives you the opportunity to put your product in front of millions of people. Currently I have only released one plugin, WP Coda Slider, on WordPress.org. My plugin is pretty simple and the only options available for it have to be put inside of a shortcode or through the use of a template tag but the response I have gotten has been great. Hosting the demo of and providing support for the plugin on WP-Performance gets me around 250 – 500 visitors a day.

In fact my simple little plugin has brought 8,267 visitors to my site since I released it back in September.

Website traffic may not be that big of a deal for the well known players in the WordPress development community but it has offered me the opportunity to expose my WordPress support and development services to a great number of people. In the last three months I have gotten around 4 or 5 new really good clients who found me through my plugin. I also find it very rewarding to help others and I am amazed that people are actually using software I created on their websites.

One of the most troubling parts of Alex’s article is his sentiment towards the users of his products:

In talking with other plugin developers, it seems fairly universal that the reward for a successful plugin is a deluge of support email that includes the worst kind of sense of entitlement, rudeness and ignorance. The community as a whole seems to expect to be able to pay nothing, yet received expert and individual help and support for free.

I completely disagree that the community as a whole has this type of entitlement.

I am sure there are those out there who don’t understand how much work and effort developers like Alex put into a free product but I have found that a majority of the community is very appreciative and also very polite when it comes to getting support for a free plugin. Any time I have offered free help or support to other WordPress uses it has been a very pleasurable experience. See for yourself on my plugins support page. Almost every single request contains a thank you and is very polite. The same is true when I answer questions in the WordPress.org support forums or on Stack Exchanges WordPress Answers site.

I used to get about $100-200/month in the way of donations through my website. Unfortunately due to changes in the way plugins are presented on WordPress.org that has dried up to about $5/month.

Ask any Plugin author about the “donations” they have received for their work and they will laugh because donations for WordPress Plugins have almost always been non existent. If your counting on donations to make it or to feel appreciated then the “FREE” Plugin business is not for you. This is not the fault of WordPress.org’s new plugin page design this is how it will always be.

It is very understandable that busy dev shops with payrolls to make and lots of clients to keep them busy don’t have the time, energy, resources or find it rewarding enough to contribute then thats fine. There are plenty others who do and are thankful for the opportunity to contribute and without an open source community like WordPress none of you would be in business today.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

UPDATE: There has been a lot of discussion on this topic including a great post by Jeff Chandler

9 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Great contribution to the debate Chris.

    Its human nature to polarise these things with simple ‘them and us’, ‘either/or’ views, but as your post illustrates, the truth is that everyone – users and developers – have all kinds of different motivations, attitudes, behaviours etc.

  2. Chris, very well written and positioned. I always appreciate seeing two sides of a story.

  3. I see both sides of this argument, having developed a few plugins that are in the repository myself (nowhere near what Alex has done, mind you). The vast majority of the WP work I do is private client work, so there isn’t much to worry about. After all, I’m getting paid for it. The plugins I’ve released are few and far between, but I can’t say I’ve gotten a single ‘thank you’ for my work. Forget donations, just appreciation would be nice. And while I haven’t gotten the amount of negativity that Alex mentions, most ‘support’ emails I have received are people who basically want me to re-build the plugin to suit their needs. For free.

    • Andrew,
      I appreciate your comments. There will always be those who think everything should be given to them for free but there are also a lot of people who will hire and pay people like you and me to do custom work for them.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Your plugin looks very handy and I hope that you continue to get only joy from it.

    You can imagine that once your plugin gets downloaded in hundreds of thousands, or millions, you’ll get all sorts of comments and many many more support requests.

    While most of these requests will continue to be pleasant, there will be others too.

    Imagine something like (twice a day):
    “Hey, everything worked until your recent upgrade, but now my site doesn’t load at all. HELP!!!”

    You’re not alone in that. WordPress itself gets a fair share of bashing. You can’t expect 25 million downloads and no complaints at all.

    The point Alex was making is that, in the long run, maintaining support for free products that have no revenue model is problematic.

    Writing plugins only for lead-generation is a very expensive thing.

    When you count the time it takes to write a plugin, document it, support users, handle upgrades, test on different environments and promote it, you see that even a tiny plugin is pretty expensive.

    • Amir,
      I appreciate your comments and you make some good points. In the end I guess it comes down to whether or not you enjoy contributing, maintaining and supporting a plugin. When it stops being fun or becomes a burden thats when you should stop doing it.

  5. The post where I criticized for not clarifying major issues that the GPL doesnt address received a lot of coverage and it seemed to quickly identify those that were clearly whom prefer not to think for themselves and those that possess valid alternative arguments from their comments section. Thankfully there are others that also have the guts to and demand he recognize the error of his ways to help provide a better business model for WordPress plugin theme developers. Unfortunately during that brief discussion Matt hid behind his whole GPL song and dance once again put forth no effort to openly discuss the issue and tossed out the lame excuse that he didnt have time to discuss it.

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