Contact Form 7, one of the oldest and most popular WordPress plugins, passed 40 million downloads this week. Takayuki Miyoshi uploaded the plugin on WordPress.org 10 years ago and it’s now active on more than a million sites. Over the years, other developers have created hundreds of add-ons to extend Contact Form 7 beyond its core contact form capabilities.
I asked Miyoshi how he manages support for his free plugin and was surprised to learn that it doesn’t require much of his time.
“I receive 20 – 40 support requests every day,” Miyoshi said. “I look over them, but I don’t think I have to respond to all of them. I answer only when resolving the issue is surely important for the user and that can also help other users. Since in most cases I can pick up the answer to the question from the FAQ and docs, it doesn’t take so much time even when it’s a million active installs.”
His strategy seems to have been successful, as Contact Form 7 maintains a 4.5-star rating on WordPress.org. Miyoshi said that managing the plugin hasn’t impacted his life significantly other than helping his income become a bit more stable. His advice for anyone wanting to find the same success in authoring and supporting a popular plugin highlights his firm belief in the power of open source software:
Feedback is the most important. Don’t try to protect your plugins with walls. Keep them free. That’s the only way you can keep the quality of your code high.
Last year at WordCamp Tokyo, Miyoshi spoke about why people should choose free plugins over commercial plugins. He contends that commercial plugins cannot receive all of the quality feedback they need to improve (i.e. bug reports, security reports, and developer comments) because only paying customers have access to the code.
Four years ago, Miyoshi promised his users that Contact Form 7 would be free forever, because his plugin was the direct result of learning from others’ code.
“Before I started developing Contact Form 7 in 2007, I was an avid user of Ryan Duff’s WP Contact Form and Chip Cuccio’s Contact Form,” Miyoshi said. “I learned how to implement contact forms as a WordPress plugin by looking at their code. These developers were like teachers. If they didn’t publish their plugins for free, Contact Form 7…might not exist.”
Miyoshi attributes the growth of the WordPress developer community to the availability of free, open source plugins.
“Open-source code is the best educational material for developers,” he said. “Open-source community is invaluable for the new generation of developers. The community grows by bringing new members constantly; I believe this is also how the WordPress community has grown.
“The current trend is selling WordPress plugins and themes. Even if their license is compliant with GPL, wouldn’t it be difficult for developers to learn from them? This trend could weaken the WordPress community over time.”
Given the recent proliferation of commercial plugins with successful business models that have created jobs for many developers and support personnel, Miyoshi’s stance on these products weakening the community over time is somewhat controversial. However, his thoughts are worth considering, given his unique vantage point of having accrued a decade of experience supporting a popular free plugin.
Even if you disagree with Miyoshi’s basic premise, his conclusion that supporting free plugin authors with donations whenever possible is something most people can get behind.
“With your support, we can continue development of free plugins,” Miyoshi said. “Your contribution defends the philosophy of the open-source community. Please keep supporting.”
I asked Miyoshi if he has any plans to celebrate passing 40 million downloads of his plugin, and his reply aptly sums up the unglamorous, volunteer work of your average plugin author, “I’ll buy a cake and have a party alone.”