John James Jacoby Publishes 35 Part Tweetstorm on WordPress Leadership, Community, and Economics

jjjJohn James Jacoby, lead developer of bbPress and BuddyPress, published a 35 part tweetstorm sharing his thoughts on leadership in the WordPress project, the community, and the WordPress economy. A tweetstorm is a series of tweets linked together in chronological order around a particular topic.

There are a number of useful nuggets of wisdom in his tweets that I think can benefit from more exposure to a wider segment of the WordPress community outside of Twitter. It’s a snapshot of one individual’s eight year plus journey in trying to create a sustainable business using WordPress. With Jacoby’s permission, I’ve republished his tweetstorm into a blog post to make it easier to read and digest.


No exacting leadership hierarchy provides the perception of opportunity for anyone to step-up. This is actually really important. Having @photomatt (Matt Mullenweg) be the BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life) means we always have a safety net, to help the community be true-north during times of unrest.

Don’t forget that @photomatt purposely has made monumental gestures to remove himself and @automattic as a WordPress dependency. It’s up to the 99% of us that aren’t @photomatt to learn from what he’s accomplished, and find the ways to invest that he hasn’t yet.

Core, Plugins, Themes, etc… none of this in WordPress is easy or directly profitable. It’s all a very long gamble to sustainability. Some WordPress companies/agencies have long-term investment strategies outside of employee retention/satisfaction. Again, it’s a long game.

Ultimately, WordPress needs more than @Automattic‘s bank-roll to help empower the next generation of awesome plugins/themes as products. Some people in the WordPress community that have labeled me: Hot-Lava: Do Not Touch – that makes me sad, because I don’t feel that way.

People will choose to stonewall professional progress because of misperception. Biases exist all around the WordPress community. Some of the most prolific contributors to WordPress (@alexkingorg, @koop, etc…) ultimately were shunned and exiled. It can be toxic.

When @johnbillion (John Blackbourn) says there’s a lack of leadership – there is plenty of leadership, it’s all just currently in a holding pattern. Holding patterns are not bad things, they are necessary to assess what happens next. And there is more happening than ever before.

WordPress is about to get real. Reporting will shape your perception of progress, because there is too much progress to report on. @post_status & @wptavern are our CNN and BBC. They are plugged in so the rest of us do not have to be, and can worry about other things.

I’ve made a lot of friends and allies through WordPress, and accidentally made foes somehow too. That’s not fair. We all need each other. So many individuals are pouring their lives into passion projects surrounding WordPress, hoping to eventually pay their kids tuition.

Talented individuals wanting a better life for their families than they had, busting their butts 24/7 on great ideas, need our support. When someone says this plugin sucks because whatever – it’s an OPPORTUNITY to help someone. Take it, be helpful, that’s the spirit.

When someone says this WordCamp talk was bad – provide that person with feedback yourself, in private, and help elevate them. The problems of the relatively small WordPress community are systemic across all communities. Be ready to be wrong, learn, and recover.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to take a vow of poverty, relinquish my earthly possessions, and accept WordPress as my CMS and savior. I do want to be profitable enough (thanks to my WordPress experience) to provide others with stable and comfortable living conditions.

I’m eight solid years in, with a thorough understanding of the entire WordPress landscape, and know there are good people struggling. There’s no reason for qualified professionals to struggle in the WordPress space anymore. There is LIMITLESS opportunity and ability.

I deeply want WordPress to continue down the trajectory of success, and I want everyone following me to succeed along with it. Angel rounds dramatically increase the odds of success. Companies like @10up (the bootstrapped anomalies) need a @jakemgold (Jake Goldman) to work.

People are VERY quick to categorize. Yes; I’m an engineer. I also love philosophy, business, yo-yo’s, and clearly tweet-storms. The next time someone says something negative about someone/thing WordPress related, please remind them super-villains are not real.

To make money in WordPress, you need to be likable, and build products where your likability shines through. Like @pippinsplugins (Pippin Williamson). Being likable and profitable in open-source means having integrity, focusing on people more than product, and hoping it pays off in the end.

I think I’m likable, and I’d always like to be more likable, but I also know tweet-storms like this make people think you’re crazy. If you think there is ANYTHING I can do personally or professionally to help you, please know that I desperately want to.

I used to know @photomatt very well. He’s not a bad guy; he’s a great guy. Also an easy target. Concentrate on you. Shout-out to my starving indie plugin and theme artists out there. You rule. Don’t give up. We’ll figure it out together. Thanks for listening; sorry to muck-up your day. WordPress rules because of all of you.

16 Comments


  1. if only he knew how to start a wordpress blog :( someone should help him with that…. maybe someone should point him to medium if setting wordpress is too hard.

    This is mostly explains why complex ideas is not something you should publish on twitter or even FB. There is so much context missing that the only response this rambling is getting from me is “wtf is he talking about?”

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    1. When someone says this [tweetstorm] was bad – provide that person with feedback yourself, in private, and help elevate them.

      I think comments like this make his point ever more clear. Tearing down others drags everyone down. Lifting others brings everyone up. Please be kind :)

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      1. In most blogs you can comment without registration, to comment on twitter you need to register, and to have a proper comment you need to do a tweet storm of your own. I don’t pretend to not to have a user, but it is idle since it was born and I am good with that (use it mainly to test wordpress integration)

        I really feel bad that I even had to write that paragraph, this should be obvious to anyone that do anything in WP. The format in which you publish your thoughts have a lot of impact of what kind of responses you will get. You can always close the comments and claim that no one disagreed with you.

        Publishing things on twitter in my experience is an act of trying to get attention and not an attempt to start a meaningful discussion

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      2. if only he knew how to start a wordpress blog :( someone should help him with that…. maybe someone should point him to medium if setting wordpress is too hard.

        This is the type of “meaningful discussion” I wouldn’t allow on my blog because I find it toxic & vile, particularly when it’s anonymized behind a lack of user registration.

        This is mostly explains why complex ideas is not something you should publish on twitter or even FB. There is so much context missing that the only response this rambling is getting from me is “wtf is he talking about?”

        Most of my Twitter followers are WordPress folk; most of my Blog followers are probably spam-bots.

        All ideas should be published anywhere someone feels comfortable doing so, and where people are able to reach their target audience.

        There is no missing context other than what I choose not to elaborate on. Sure; each of those tweets could be a separate blog post, or I could write “Another Year Without Pants” and talk about my own experience at Automattic, but all of that is nonsense compared to the growing pains the WordPress economy is currently experiencing.

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      3. Yes, a fine example of the famous wordpress developers echo chamber. People say things which are not nice to hear so you make an excuse not to listen (btw, I probably contributed to bbpress before you even knew it existed, but sure I am some anonymous dude.)

        There is no growing pains in the wordpress economy. People rightfully think that everything related to wordpress is sub standard, starting with core that is actually proud in people using wordpress on obsolete PHP versions, following junk plugins and themes in both the repository and evanto. Like in any other businesses it takes good marketing and good product to make a good long term company and 99% of attempts fail. This got nothing to do with wordpress itself.

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      4. Yes, a fine example of the famous wordpress developers echo chamber.

        What does that even mean?

        People say things which are not nice to hear so you make an excuse not to listen

        I’m engaging you, aren’t I? Something which everyone else seems to have stopped doing because all they get is this type of interaction. On the receiving end, it feels really hostile for no reason.

        (btw, I probably contributed to bbpress before you even knew it existed, but sure I am some anonymous dude.)

        Probably. Where were you when bbPress needed you the most?

        —-

        From your blog:

        I have been told many times on the wordpress stackexchange that I am “not helpful” when I comment on questions or answers

        Literally the only thing anyone SHOULD DO on that website is be helpful, and you take the feedback from others and bend it around your reality to make it their fault you can’t be helpful.

        It’s okay to not know how to be nice. It’s okay to feel so much negativity that you’re blind to how you impact people. It’s even okay to not have any idea how your words impact others. It’s a bummer, though, to think your talent & ability is locked behind a wall you’ve put up to keep people out.

        Everyone says never interact with the trolls, ignore the trolls, no good comes from the back-and-forth, etc… I’m willing to bet 50% of people labeled as trolls can’t control it, and have no idea how other people perceive them. Whether you fall into that 50%, or the other 50% who choose to be difficult doesn’t really make much of a difference to me, but it does matter to the people that are missing out on having great experiences with you otherwise. <3

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      5. thank you for giving such a great example why it is just impossible to engage core developers in any sort of discussion outside of the echo chamber.

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    2. I don’t know man. JJJ is one of the better and more honest developers. I am not sure what beef you have with him, but I will say that at least he listens. At least he attempts to do better. I think at the end that is all we should do. I get the vibe that you might be a troll. I haven’t talked to JJJ often, but what I have seen does provide some respect for him.

      I think as much as I hate the core team. I often have to step back and acknowledge that some of them are pretty good or at least respectable enough to listen.

      I am not sure the origin, but I fear that if too many people step on developers in the community that we create an environment where they can only interact with an echo chamber.

      I realize it is hard when all you have is hate, but what has JJJ said that is disagreeable? Nothing from what I have seen.

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      1. I think someone needs to do a research about the wordpress community, how did it get to the point when every comment is immediately designated as “toxic”, “hostile” or “hate”.

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  2. Thanks for pulling all this together and giving it a coherent form Jeff. There’s a lot more to our community than Automattic and its favoured partners. JJJ’s tweet storm demonstrates that clearly. Those who would criticize JJJ harshly, please do not forget that this is the guy who carried both bbPress (1 & 2) and BuddyPress across the finish line. We use bbPress daily in our work and are profoundly grateful to enjoy a clean forum integration with WordPress.

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    1. NOT SAYING THIS ABOUT JJJ…So many members of the WordPress can’t handle ANY criticism thus call it harshly.
      Nothing wrong with calling out a shitty product or service.
      NOT SAYING JJJ HAS/HAD SHITTY PRODUCT(S) OR SERVICE(S).

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  3. “It’s a bummer, though, to think your talent & ability is locked behind a wall you’ve put up to keep people out. – JJJ”

    $this

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  4. Was this in response to something in particular? It’s very hard to follow on its own.

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  5. The thing I love about this is how a series of tweets, which are size constrained statements are then condensed into a blog post – it makes for a very entertaining and passionate read.

    If you think there is ANYTHING I can do personally or professionally to help you, please know that I desperately want to.

    @jjj – I am inspired by your humility! It is a beautiful and brave thing for someone to post that publicly. Hats off to you my friend. I hope that seed bares nourishing fruit.

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  6. Wait a minute–HATE the core team? Really?

    I can see disagreeing with their decisions, criticizing their code, not liking the direction they’re taking WordPress in. I can certainly see that if you make a suggestion or point out a problem and they don’t take it on board, you’d be frustrated. I can also see why people might think Automattic is making too many acquisitions and wonder what the future will look like. But HATE? That’s a very personal thing and doesn’t seem at all justified.

    I had something of a tantrum when they took the Post Format UI out of 3.6, because I’d just finished recording a few videos teaching people how to use it and had to do them over. It was inconvenient for me and I was upset. But Mark Jaquith explained why they had to do it and it was clear that it wasn’t to inconvenience people like me.

    The core team also went to some lengths to ensure such a thing didn’t happen again, and though the features-as-plugins model is an imperfect solution, they didn’t repeat that particular mistake.

    There will be screw-ups. There will be things that the core team can’t do because WordPress has to serve such a diverse user base. There will be problems that everybody knows about but which can’t be fixed without breaking something else. And there may be some complacency because WordPress doesn’t have serious competition as a multipurpose CMS. (I shudder to think of the stagnation that would set in if WP actually powered 75% of the Web.)

    And there will be people who produce flawed products. But a product doesn’t get better if you just say “This sucks and you suck too.” Criticism has to be specific to be useful, so say exactly what’s wrong and how you would like it to be different, and if the developer doesn’t take your suggestion on board, use a different product.

    My husband is Dutch and believes that if you aren’t being an asshole, you’re dishonest and a hypocrite. That presumably works fine in a culture where everyone else has the same attitude, but it doesn’t work so well in America. He’s been forced to learn to be diplomatic in order to get better results. And I’d think that if he can do it, anyone can.

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