The following guest post has been written by Andrew Rickmann who operates the Fun With WordPress website.
Not too long ago, on a domain not so far away, there was a disturbance in the community. It wasn’t the first, it won’t be the last, but it proved to me that a large distributed community like the WordPress community needs more than a project leader, more than a figure-head, and more than a great pool of evangelists. What WordPress needs is a community voice.
The voice of our community needs to be many things. First of all he needs to be respected, not for his mad coding skills, or his design acumen, but for his choice to look at things from a rational and considered perspective. He needs to know when the users are getting a raw deal from the developers, and when the developers are entirely correct in their expectation that users should go a little further to get what they want.
Secondly, while we shouldn’t rule out coding skills, he should be a user first, and a hacker last. He really needs to understand the frustration of getting a theme that doesn’t work, or following instructions that output something wrong, and not knowing how to fix it. This is a regular experience for all users, but where some people see this as a challenge to be solved we need someone who will simply say “hold on, I want this fixed“.
Third, he needs to be able to bring people together. Those people may be Matt and the users, or one user and another, or the community as a whole, but when there is a kerfuffle he needs to stop it in its tracks, strip away the emotions and religious intensity that so often surrounds such things, and help us get to the facts. He needs to mediate: a community peace envoy, if you wish to put it that way.
And of course he needs an appropriate platform from which to do that.
Finally, of course, he needs to love WordPress and the community he serves. He needs to find the new things fascinating sure, but he needs to care about what exists now. It is no good his being an uber-early adopter who quickly moves on to the next new project, he needs to use the mainstream every day and see the greatness in it, not get bored and hanker after progress.
So what does this all amount to in the real world? Well, for sure, it rules me out in so many ways. They say the best leaders are the people who don’t want to lead; I don’t know if that is true or not, but in this case I suspect it is. We have in our midst someone who never set out be a servant of the community. He never asked to be our voice, he just wanted to make a living from what he loved.
He built up his reputation by writing, by asking questions, by talking to the people who run the great ship WordPress, and putting to them the questions that we all had. Time and time again he has shown us new developments as well as great things about old developments. He has faced down Matt and asked “what the heck is going on with this?” and, more importantly, “What’s your favorite cheese?“. He has connected people. Promoted the views of users and hackers alike. And, through it all remained self deprecating, and one of us: the lowly users.
WP Tavern is already proving to be a great extension of this work. As I write this the very first post on the blog has 33 comments, the forum has 50 members and 750 posts, the first just ten days ago, and it hasn’t even been formally launched yet. Anyone who doubts that we have found our voice needs to come and be a part of this. It is only the beginning.