Pods Framework Loses Primary Sponsorship, Seeks Donors To Fund Project

White Pods plugin logo on green background.

Scott Kingsley Clark, lead developer of the Pods Framework, announced the project was seeking new donors on Thursday. Automattic, the primary sponsor, dropped out after funding the project since 2012. This has put the team in a position to seek help for maintaining and supporting the project. Automattic was previously covering around 90% of the costs.

The Pods Framework is a WordPress plugin that allows end-users or developers to create and extend custom post types, content types, users, media, and comments. Essentially, it is a complete content management framework for those who need more than the basics that WordPress offers. It has well over a dozen add-on plugins for extra functionality and currently has over 80,000 active installations.

There are six primary contributors to the Pods plugin. They have also brought on a React developer who is just getting started with UI work on Pods 2.8. Other than work from the team, the project receives patches and contributions from the larger Pods community.

With the loss of funding from Automattic, Pods is receiving around $700 each month from donors. “Once we found out that Automattic was going to focus their sponsorship funding towards other priorities of theirs, we put together a plan of action to reduce overall costs,” said Clark.

The team’s goal is to have at least 200 sponsors. The average recurring monthly donation is about $17. Coupled with their current 40 regular donors, they need an additional 160 at the same donation average to cover costs. This would at least allow the team to be efficient with their time.

“Right now our feature/fix development and support efforts will begin to suffer from lack of funding because we’ll be spread too thin,” said Clark. “I work a full-time job and can’t pick up the extra weight entirely on my own.” Clark’s job with Modern Tribe gives him some flexibility to work on the project, but it is minimal and only when time is available.

People who are willing to sponsor the project monthly can contribute via the Friends of Pods sponsorship page. The project also has a one-time donation option for those wanting to go that route.

Automattic Was Crucial to Success

In his announcement, Clark said Automattic’s decision to pull their sponsorship was because the company wanted to put their funds toward native Gutenberg projects. Pods is a project that spans beyond Gutenberg. However, it does have some Gutenberg integration and more features in the works.

Since 2012, Automattic has been the largest sponsor of Pods. Their funding allowed the team to support and continue developing the plugin. “We’re so appreciative of Automattic’s support,” said Clark on Twitter. “They’ve sponsored Pods for over 7 years, I know their decision was a tough one for them.”

In 2011, Pods surpassed its goal in a Kickstarter campaign. The project raised over $4,000 with a goal of $1,500. The campaign was intended to fund the development of Pods 2.0. In hindsight, the dollar amount was far too low to realistically fund such a complex project.

“I naively thought that would be enough to accomplish everything and more we wanted to do for our big Pods 2.0 release,” said Clark. “I was really wrong. Adding developers at a late stage in a project can take even more time than you anticipate. I also had to work around those developers’ schedules and spend time coordinating with them instead of building things myself. It was a huge challenge as I hadn’t really led a team on a side project while having a full-time job before.”

Clark had to reach into his pocket and put money towards the funding problem. Yet, the team hit more roadblocks getting Pods 2.0 released. “That’s when I reached out to Automattic, which they offered to help out here and there to sponsor some more development”, he said. “I was at the right job and had the right developers in place to really make the most of that arrangement. I had tons of time on the clock at work to build projects with Pods and I could build features/fix problems every day. With the added help of the funding, we were covered for many years to come.”

The arrangement was a blessing for the project, propelling it forward for years. “Without Automattic, we surely couldn’t have continued on with the huge undertaking that the Pods 2.0 rewrite was,” said Clark. “We would have just shelved everything and only added minor fixes/enhancements to Pods going forward.”

Clark described the funding as crucial to maintaining a premium product for free. “Given what I know about many other free products out there, I can see why our support for Pods itself has sometimes been compared to premium support because of the people we could keep involved helping everyone with their project challenges and Pods questions,” he said.

After success with Pods 2.0 and several releases, the Pods team reached back out to Automattic. They were able to secure more funding with the agreement that they would diversify their funding and bring in more sponsors, which they were able to accomplish.

What the Future Holds

Clark is hopeful that they can meet their sponsorship goals. If not, they may have to explore some commercial options. However, he said Pods and its primary features will remain free of charge.

“Development is not cheap,” said Clark. “In fact, we’ve thought about diversifying our funding for a while, but ironically our sponsorship agreement with Automattic prohibited us from exploring premium add-ons to help fund more growth.”

While the funding was a blessing, it may have also been a crutch. “If we had suddenly gotten millions of active installs to support, we would have been in big trouble,” he said. “You can’t scale sponsorships with a growing userbase.”

Clark said he is committed to making sure the next three major feature releases go out for free as part of the main Pods plugin, regardless of the funding situation. “I believe in making it easy to build projects in WordPress and some of those features are just really crucial to normal projects,” he said.

The team is exploring the potential for premium add-ons. However, if going that route, the add-ons would be with useful features that go beyond the core needs of the plugin. “We have some really awesome features that we’ve always wanted to do and this could be the avenue to build them while giving huge value to our Friends of Pods,” he said. “This could be an added benefit to them for supporting our project, which they’d get as a reward for keeping their Friends of Pods membership active.”

The future is uncertain. The project is not in danger of disappearing at this point. However, the reality is that development and support have real-world costs that need to be met.

“It’s still too early to know exactly what we can do with the funding we have and what we can expect to get from our 2020 fundraising efforts,” said Clark. “We don’t know if those ongoing funding struggles will prevent us from spending time to build new add-ons to generate new revenue either. It’s all up in the air right now.”


25 responses to “Pods Framework Loses Primary Sponsorship, Seeks Donors To Fund Project”

  1. “Automattic wants to put their funds toward native Gutenberg projects” …
    “Pods is a project that spans beyond Gutenberg.”

    This is the first head to roll.

    Sorry for Pods, I hope they can manage enough donations. I don’t use Pods but anyway I just send them a small one-time donation, purely symbolic.

    So we are going to be forced to use GB sooner or later.
    They decided this, so it be.

  2. Will Gutenberg be what ends WP’s explosive growth? Needless added complexity for a webmaster to struggle with. Don’t need it. Don’t want it. WP needs lots of tuning up in many places. Even WP’s previous shiny object, Customizer, languishes in a half-finished state. Gutenberg sucks all the oxygen out of development. Woe is us.

    • The number of developers contributing to the WordPress project has increased since the integration of Gutenberg. Major plugin developers have adopted the block editor and are building interesting things with it. Right now, the signs point to Gutenberg being a boon to development. Maybe I’m a bit of an optimist, but I don’t see the project being detrimental to future growth.

      As the project continues, it has the potential for massive growth in development activity if core can finally solve the Fields API question. What I mean by this is Gutenberg could standardize how developers build anything within WordPress. Competing APIs have been a large hurdle for developers over the years. And, Gutenberg added another. The question is whether everything will eventually coalesce into a standardized API for any admin screen.

      Personally, I would have rather seen this happen before Gutenberg, but the idea never gained enough traction on its own.

      As for the customizer, I’m not sure what major features it is missing. However, I could see it falling to the wayside as we move into full-site editing via the Gutenberg project. Or, the two APIs melding in some way. It’s hard to say at this point.

  3. This is terrible news. I hope they can find a way to make the project sustainable. It’s the best option for this type of functionality in my opinion after having tried all the others. I have donated in the past and will again. I will also try to raise awareness to this and get some more donations if possible. I honestly think they should consider a paid option if that’s what it take to move forward. Without this plugin, WordPress would be considerably less useful to me.

  4. Kudos to Scott for putting up with this without getting frustrated with the platform. First, it was the scrapping of the Fields API by the powers that be after working on it for years, and now, this.

    • it was the scrapping of the Fields API by the powers that be after working on it for years, and now, this.

      Do you have any proof that it was scrapped? From the make.wordpress.org/core posts, it more so looks like it was abandon by the team working on it.

      • Fields API was an effort I and a few developers put forward for a few years. We just couldn’t get traction or buy off from people who could put weight behind it. We built like 3 different versions of it based on feedback we received. Everyone thought it should be done a certain way and I couldn’t keep pouring my heart and soul into the project. Unfortunately Fields API was a distraction for me where I wasn’t able to do feature development for Pods for a bit (our other developer was focused on bug fix development).

        I tried to push Fields API forward many ways and I just couldn’t get enough traction. I ended up announcing my departure in the WordPress Fields API channel in July 2018 — https://wordpress.slack.com/archives/C04MWK7PZ/p1532461483000439

        Automattic nor Matt Mullenweg directly put roadblocks in the way for Fields API, there were just other priorities like REST API and then Gutenberg.

  5. The path seems pretty clear if the team behind Pods wants it to continue: start charging and treat the product like a business instead of a hobby. It’s a subtle shift, but this puts the onus on the Pods team rather than the community (the latter of which is dangerously unpredictable, as this article points out).

    I’d buy a license because in that context I get something specific.

  6. Owner of Redux Framework here. I’m actually jealous you’ve had support from Automattic at all, we’ve had quite the cold shoulder despite our massive success.

    The donation route just doesn’t work. Not going to lie, it doesn’t. The developer market is poor. And it rotates so quickly it’s hard to get anything out of it.

    Take Redux for example; $56+ million in known revenue on Envato alone (https://redux.io/showcase/envato-market/), and less than $7,000 a year in donations and subscriptions combined. That is NOT sustainable. My suggestion, find a way to make a pro version and stop working on features for the base. Freemium is the only way to succeed in the WordPress market, especially when you have a developer-focused market.

    • Thanks for hitting me up on Slack, I really enjoyed our long conversation about our struggles in the ‘free’ market. I think it’s a HUGE shame that tens of millions of dollars go paid to developers who rely on your free project who then don’t help fund your project. It’s just crazy, those themers should set aside some % of all sales towards supporting the free projects they use. It’s in their own best interest long term!

  7. I’ve fully embraced the Gutenberg editor and the users I work with all love it. They are able to quickly accomplish things on their own that they could not even do before. I would happily pay for better Pods integration with Gutenberg.

    Perhaps a fund-a-feature approach could help the project. Make a list of features small and large with a target dollar amount and let users vote with their wallets on what gets priority.

    • That’s one of the things we’re working on after we get this next release out the door. We’re looking at offering some features like more advanced Gutenberg stuff to our Friends of Pods at first, even if we eventually release them to the public on wordpress.org. There’s already a few add-ons we’re looking at offering to our Friends in 2020.


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