Candid Conversation with Tom McFarlin About the WordPress Community

Earlier this month, Tom McFarlin published a great post where he shares his perspective on the WordPress community. His post struck a nerve and instead of discussing it through comments, I invited him to a Google Hangout to have a candid conversation. Within the conversation, McFarlin and I discuss a number of topics, including:

  • Community behaviour and discourse
  • It’s not a WordPress problem
  • Comment moderation strategies
  • Subtweeting
  • How, as men, do we show that a significant portion of us are color/ethnicity/whatever blind?
  • Women in tech

McFarlin is the father of two daughters which adds an interesting dynamic to the women in tech issue. I enjoyed the time I spent with him discussing topics we both feel are important. If you have any feedback concerning the content in this recording, please leave a comment.

There’s also a transcript of the interview available here.

29 Comments


  1. Hi Jeff,

    Sounds like a fascinating conversation.

    Any chance you could share a transcript with those of the overly caffeinated among us who read better than we listen?

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    1. I don’t do transcripts. However, Tom is interested in getting the interview transcribed. If he does, I’ll be sure to update the post with his transcription.

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      1. I think those have a less-than-stellar success rate. The last thing I want is having some software like Google Voice supplying quotes that I never said for the sake of saving some cost.

        Of course, it _might_ provide for some fun content, huh? :)

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    2. Yep – in the process of having it done now. Should have it up in 48 hours or so.

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  2. Hey Jeff,

    Travelling at the moment and listening to this.

    I really enjoyed the talk!I back Tom’s stance about how we should stick to a certain set of ethics.

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    1. Ahmad Awais

      While I agree with your last sentence (about the set of ethics). I also agree with Tom’s stance…

      How far do we go as a community on these ethics/behaviour rules. If we cross certain lines, we could get into the whole censorship thing.

      Each individual member in the community has different values, we come from different countries/cultures/regions/etc..each with it’s own set of values.

      When does criticizing crosses into the line of harassment.

      As a community we need to talk about these ethics. my garbage is another person’s treasure.

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      1. > How far do we go as a community on these ethics/behavior rules. If we cross certain lines, we could get into the whole censorship thing.

        I hesitate to comment on this because I’ve seen threads hijacked for far, far less and I’m afraid that this has potential to do so.

        Against my better judgement, I’m going to go ahead.

        To that question, I think that there are pretty clear lines as to what should be censored. There are somethings that are complete intolerable. We talked a little bit about this in the show. I’ve personally made the mistake of not doing _enough_ moderation on my own site, so I’m learning from those mistakes.

        With that said, I think there are some things that – although rough – are worth having shared. Then there are things that are blatant harassment, immature, and generally against what’s considered mature decorum.

        Those are the things that should be moderated, I would guess. I’d like to think those cut across culture boundaries, but I don’t want to make too many assumptions, either.

        > Each individual member in the community has different values, we come from different countries/cultures/regions/etc..each with it’s own set of values.

        This is to true to a degree, but personally attacking someone is something that should not be tolerated. I’m speaking from experience in comments that did just this and have lead me to re-evaluate my stance on several things that have transpired the past few weeks.

        Ultimately my goal is to be the best community member I can possibly be, even if that means taking the heat for some poor decisions. We’re all adults, though. I’d like to think we can handle it.

        How many times have we read headlines in the local newspaper, magazines, publications, etc., that praise this type of behavior and thought “yeah! that’s what we need to do! harm the humans!”

        I say that with a bit of /s, but the point I try to make is that I personally think there are subjective values we all hold, and there’s some objective values we hold. Perhaps the latter should be discussed at some point. I don’t know. Just a thought.

        > When does criticizing crosses into the line of harassment.

        You criticize ideas; you harass people. That’s where [I believe] the line is.

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      2. Tom, thank you for “taking the risk” and putting your thoughts out there. They’re greatly appreciated and I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. I look forward to seeing the conversation continue.

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      3. Thanks for the nice comment, Jonathan – glad you found it interesting and I appreciate your thoughts!

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  3. This comment is just a heads up to let everyone know that I should have a transcription of the conversation within 48 hours or so. Once I’ve got it, I’ll send it to Jeff to update the post.

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  4. First, I really appreciate this discussion. Tom, thanks for being a voice for marginalized groups in the tech space.

    Just a thought. I would propose that “color/gender blindness” is not what is needed, but rather a celebration of what this kind of diversity brings to the community. Blindness proposes we don’t see what value a person of a different race/culture/gender could bring to the table. It seems borderline offensive to say “I don’t see you are a woman”, or “I don’t see your color”. We don’t need to just be blind or tolerant to differences, we need to Celebrate those differences because they bring a new perspective and make us better.

    I don’t think this is what either of you meant, and it is probably just semantics, but I think this language matters.

    Thanks again for speaking up.

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    1. Only diversity of thought should be “celebrated”. Being a man or woman, contextual minority etc, does not by itself bring anything. You could have a very “diversive” group that think alike and agree. Getting more women in STEM etc wont solve anything. Whatever that blob is that needs solving.
      A: We need more women(minority y, handicap x etc)!
      X: Why?
      A: [insert silence or irrelevant argument here]

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      1. Only diversity of thought should be “celebrated”. Being a man or woman, contextual minority etc, does not by itself bring anything. You could have a very “diversive” group that think alike and agree. Getting more women in STEM etc wont solve anything. Whatever that blob is that needs solving.
        A: We need more women(minority y, handicap x etc)!
        X: Why?
        A: [insert silence or irrelevant argument here]

        A: I think I get your point…but only a person that uses accessibility features, or those that work with people using those features on a regularly basis can give insight into if the efforts to make WordPress more accessible are actually working. That is why we need more diverse experiences and not just thoughts.

        Same with women and any other marginalized group for that matter. Experiences in and of themselves give us better insight into a more well rounded product and the needs of the end user. It may not solve a code problem but can improve UI/UX and force us into other ways of looking at problem solving.

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      2. A: I think I get your point…but only a person that uses accessibility features, or those that work with people using those features on a regularly basis can give insight into if the efforts to make WordPress more accessible are actually working. That is why we need more diverse experiences and not just thoughts.

        But now you are talking about competence really. Just because you are colorblind does not mean you know how to make good websites for colorblind ppl. There are lots of variations on that.

        Same with women and any other marginalized group for that matter. Experiences in and of themselves give us better insight into a more well rounded product and the needs of the end user. It may not solve a code problem but can improve UI/UX and force us into other ways of looking at problem solving.

        Not really, experiences by themselves adds nothing. Also the idea that a person because they belong to group X share experience or views with others that also belongs to group X is for me a really weird idea. Being a white cis male that doesnt mean you share experiences etc with other white cis males. You are arguing that your “group identity” so to speak defines you.

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      3. I no longer follow so I humbly bow out. I think we are having two different discussions. Maybe someday we can clarify over a pint at a WordCamp. Cheers!

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      4. It doesn’t “define you” but it’s incorrect to act like who you are doesn’t shape your experiences of both software and the world at large. Women and minority groups absolutely have experiences of the world that will not and cannot be shared by cishet white men, and celebrating diversity of backgrounds intrinsically leads to diversity of experiences.

        That also presumes that accepting and celebrating diversity isn’t just intrinsically good. I don’t see why we should feel having a community predominantly from a single group is an acceptable position to take.

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    2. > First, I really appreciate this discussion. Tom, thanks for being a voice for marginalized groups in the tech space.

      Of course, but I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve. This is really about interactions that I had with a lot of other people a given post ended up sparking a lengthy set of comments that ultimately all lead to this one conversation :).

      > I would propose that “color/gender blindness” is not what is needed, but rather a celebration of what this kind of diversity brings to the community. Blindness proposes we don’t see what value a person of a different race/culture/gender could bring to the table. It seems borderline offensive to say “I don’t see you are a woman”, or “I don’t see your color”. We don’t need to just be blind or tolerant to differences, we need to Celebrate those differences because they bring a new perspective and make us better.

      I can understand that position. Very well articulated. I can definitively say that the latter half of your definition is what I meant – having diversity is good, and I love meeting and talking with people from all over – that’s the truth and this is something that I think I’ll aim to speak more carefully about in the future.

      > I don’t think this is what either of you meant, and it is probably just semantics, but I think this language matters.

      Thank you for assuming the best about us. Really appreciate that!

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  5. Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

    Eleanor Roosevelt

    Anyway …. sad to say that I have been shaking my head in dismay at some of the things I have seen posted. I am a WordPress user. I am a web designer. I am a programmer and developer. I have ideas. I submit them and they get shot down by the devs (and then I see similar ideas appear in core, which makes me happy), but I don’t take offence. I don’t post nasty comments. I am old (56). I am autistic. I find the concept of a ‘camp’ entirely frightening. The internet is enabling for me. Anyway, the camps for the UK are usually miles away in expensive places (the UK is small but travel and costs and times, and hotel costs, are horrendous). I find bugs, I fix them. That’s what I am good at.

    So, as to customizer, I think it is a great idea. Maybe it doesn’t go far enough. Anybody used Microthemer? The new version (4) is superb.

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    1. Trevor – thanks so much for your comments!

      > Anyway …. sad to say that I have been shaking my head in dismay at some of the things I have seen posted.

      You’re not an exception in this. Many of us want to try to improve the overall experience for all people involved in WordPress :).

      > I am a WordPress user. I am a web designer. I am a programmer and developer. I have ideas. I submit them and they get shot down by the devs (and then I see similar ideas appear in core, which makes me happy), but I don’t take offence.

      That’s a good position to take because ultimately it’s about having a better product overall. I know that it can be sad or disappointing to see ideas shot down and then implemented by someone else, but I think you have a fantastic attitude about the whole thing. Props for that.

      > I don’t post nasty comments.

      :)

      > I am old (56). I am autistic. I find the concept of a ‘camp’ entirely frightening. The internet is enabling for me.

      Please! You’re young, IMHO. I can understand the concept of a camp being scary – seriously. They can be really great things to attend, but can also be really overwhelming.

      Perhaps you can find some local friends to also attend the camp with you so you don’t feel as if you’re hanging out in the camp alone? Or maybe there’s even someone you can find on Twitter or perhaps on another UK WordPress-related blog who would be interested in attending with you.

      That might make it a bit less intimidating. If you’re ever in the States, let me know.

      > So, as to customizer, I think it is a great idea. Maybe it doesn’t go far enough. Anybody used Microthemer? The new version (4) is superb.

      I think this is a great question, but this particular post isn’t the best place to discuss the Customizer or themes that use it. That said, maybe Microthemer will be discussed at another time and it could be a great place to have further conversation about it.

      Don’t read into this as me shooting down your question (it’s a good one! :). I’m just trying to keep the comments centered around the podcast linked above for the purposes of this post.

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  6. Trevor,

    I just want to thank you for your excellent comment.

    I’m 57. I feel I’m almost like an Asperger in some senses. I also have my (core) ideas “shot down”, but go on. I fix bugs, mostly in plugins and themes. I develop for clients.

    I would like to meet you in a UK WordCamp and have a beer/drink afterwards.

    The WordPress community need people like you.

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  7. Just an update to let you know that I’ve added a transcript of this conversation to the bottom of the post.

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  8. One thing not discussed which I think is important is the history of the WP community, it gives context to how it’s evolving. In my opinion the direction of WP has always been very self-centric, but now we see protectionism taking over from innovation. This is due to the commercial viability of WP, WordCamps, and people having a financial stake in using WP.

    It has become territorial in some regards and to be frank not very interesting. The attraction now is based heavily on finance, when you look at the innovations happening in the industry (news blogs for one example) WP is not even a discussion point.

    The challenge is the barrier to entry is so very low, to combat this WP needs to really bring some innovation to the table and along with it a more diverse user-base will follow, unless they hire Steve Ballmer..

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  9. Comments are made by a very small percentage of a community, yet they consume a vastly disproportionate amount of time and energy. Are the benefits of comments really worth all the time and stress they create?

    Human’s are still very primitive, they still need laws. Imagine removing all the laws and a police from a city. It would eventually stabilize, but would there be anything left once it did.

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    1. Thanks Mel! Such is the case that happens whenever we aim to get the transcript done and out ASAP ;).

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