photo credit: Greed Happiness & the Rest - (license)
photo credit: Greed Happiness & the Rest(license)

In the last two years, I’ve had many private conversations with people in the WordPress community about WordPress core’s leadership.

A phrase I’ve often heard during these conversations is, [I just don’t want to get crucified by insert name of core developer here.] It doesn’t matter who is saying or thinking it, it only matters that it’s occurring.

There’s this mindset that the people on the core team are able to walk all over anyone and there’s not a damn thing that person can do about it.

It’s disappointing that a growing subset of people are thinking and feeling this way and it’s preventing them from getting more involved with WordPress. At some point, there needs to be an open, honest, conversation about the culture, attitude, and mentality of the people at the top that are driving WordPress forward.

How and when did WordPress’ core leaders reach a point where they’re instilling fear into people? Why are people feeling this way?

On the surface, we discuss compassion, empathy, and understanding but down at a personal level, there are grudges, alliances, and interactions that are the complete opposite. There is a growing contingency of US vs THEM which doesn’t seem like a good way to run a software project.

This is a taboo topic for the WordPress community because it’s ugly, it’s personal, and no one wants to talk about it for fear of retaliation, whether it’s subtweets, making someone’s job or life more difficult, or ganged up on by multiple members of the core leadership team.

While we encourage you to share your experiences with us, this is not an opportunity to bash the core team. Please refrain from mentioning specific people by name. This is not an opportunity to drag people down but rather a chance to figure out where these feelings of fear and intimidation are coming from and what we as a community can do about it.


98 responses to “US vs THEM”

  1. It’s very healthy for the future of the project that you’ve raised this for discussion. I hope that we get comments from both folks who feel pushed out and from the core team.

    I suspect that community-driven (free software) projects are at high risk of running into these situations. When there’s money involved, the “users” have a very strong leverage to get the “developers” to listen. When it’s free, the development team needs to set some practices that would avoid us/them mentality from creeping in.

  2. I probably have a “typical” experience in WordPress, having been involved for a decade now, but never within the “inner circle” nor really a hardcore programmer of any sort.

    Let’s just say a few years back when I finally released a few free plugins, they were banned by the leader of the plugins team (who is also running BuddyPress/bbPress) because it was similar to one of his friend’s plugins. This was the same guy who a few weeks back launched a feel-good tweet-storm pretending that he has been on the side of reason and unity all this time (hmm).

    So there’s that. There’s also the “founder” of WordPress who publicly attacked me here on WP Tavern for suggesting XML-RPC is outdated, rather than engaging in a professional discussion.

    When I tried to make amends and donate several hours of my time each month to answering questions on I was accused of spamming and banned from the forums.

    Then we have the so-called “WordPress mafia” types, some of whom are members of the Core team itself, some of whom even donate web domains to Automattic as a sort of bribe for special treatment, among other instances of juvenile cronyism. They know who they are, and “we” know who they are, but nothing changes.

    The list goes on and on… the point being that WordPress will NEVER conquer its dramatic, bitter reputation until the “first generation” of power holders and admins back off and allow a true community to evolve, in the likes of a city council or planning commission, in which public feedback is not only allowed but encouraged, and in which the leaders are either elected or rotated in a transparent and well-meaning way, and in which favoritism, cronyism, censorship, personal attacks, revenge, and so forth cease to exist.

    It is very hard to run a non-profit or open-source community, and that will always be true, when compared to the efficiency of a private company who can hire/fire at will. In any regard, there seems to be a few very simple improvements that can be made, the least of which is an attitude change among those at the top.

    • Hi there. Since you’re obviously talking about me (and I’m okay with that) I’ll start by saying that if you feel like I mistreated you in any way, that wasn’t my intention, and I’m sorry.

      I don’t remember you, or what plugins you’re taking about, so if you’re comfortable rehashing anything, I am too, here or anyplace your comfortable.

      Whether or not something worked for or against you personally, please know that I honestly do & am always trying my hardest to do my best to be compassionate and reasonable. And it’s rare that I’d ever consider myself the end-all to any decision being made, especially without a consult from someone if it’s sensitive in nature somehow (checks and balances, and for my own accountability.)

      That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen the way you say it did, only that circumstances would have to be pretty unique for me to approach anyone without some kind of justifiable cause.

      I understand that once you feel burned by someone, it’s hard not to look at the scar and feel a phantom burn. I didn’t mean to burn you, and know that if I can actually be helpful in the future, that I always want to be.

      Edit: it’s funny you mention local governments and planning commissions. Everyone in my small town of 4k people constantly is disappointed by them — they are mostly open, almost proud of their cronyism, revenge, and the execution of their personal vendettas,. It’s pretty maddening, that it happens even with individuals that are voted in. I don’t know if there’s a solution, because it seems to resonate all the way up and around everything else. Very frustrating.

      • Are you aware of how many people felt burned by your crowd-funding project? And how, for reasons at the heart of Jeff’s post, they do not feel comfortable about publicly discussing it?

        Are you aware of how many people are frustrated and disappointed with the moribund state of bbPress and your leadership of that effort?

        • This is, honestly, the first time I have heard anything negative about either. And that was in 2014. Thinking back to the major contributors, almost everyone has explicitly thanked me for working so hard during that time.

          I’m curious what you/others expected to happen that didn’t, and what I could have done differently. Do you think it’s worth blogging about and asking? If I did, do you think anyone would feel comfortable commenting? What’s the best way to go about talking to the people who you say feel burned?

          bbPress 2.5, has proven to be extremely stable, and was released as part of that crowdfunding effort. And I’ve voluntarily maintained it and added features for 2.6, for free, for an entire year.

          BuddyPress received several major features & enhancements during those 2 release cycles that overlapped with my full-time shift.

          If anyone feels burned, I’m not unapproachable. I want that feedback & open dialogue so everyone can see improvement.

  3. It’s been nearly a year when I engaged in a topic like this on Twitter, days later I noticed that one of the core committer blocked me there.

    It’s not that I had any conversation or argument with that person- I’ve no idea what the reason could be but it was a surprise to me. I’ve been following the account (and many others) to get notified about WordPress and that had stopped right there from that person.

    When I see the person on Slack/Elsewhere, It just bring me smile sometimes- :)

  4. While I have not been deeply involved in WordPress for the last couple of years, I can say the creation of an atmosphere of “us vs. them” or “good vs. bad” or “insiders vs. outsiders” seems to have been a very conscious and deliberate decision made by leadership.

    When you have vendettas being pursued by leaders and people being intentionally excluded from participating in the community, it is natural that sort of behavior (or “spirit”) will permeate throughout the community as a whole.

    As far as I know there has never been any acknowledgement of this culture, much less apologies or corrective action taken to address the problem.

    Hopefully this post is the first step but honestly I think there will be some (many?) who will be hesitant to even participate in this thread.

  5. Well, I tried to contribute to core several times opening tickets, writing comments, a couple of small patches, and so on. After a few wontfixes and “this is plugin territory” messages I felt like I was talking to a wall. Now, I rather spend my time writing plugins that cover areas (mainly developer-oriented) neglected by core for my own projects and helping people on StackExchange, which I think is more productive.

  6. Jeff, I personally had this experience while arguing the documentation is designed so a noob can pick up a thing and use it while core dev’s were saying ‘read the core code’.

    It felt like some were trying to be elete.

    Sure they can be elete,but forgetting why WP is a success (its accessubility and documentation that anyone can (hopefuly) understand. (Yes I am looking at you drupal,google, Facebook….)) Its a wrong attitude choice.

    Thus the us and them.

    We ( the people ) want to be included.

    It does not matter the skill level, what matters is the desire.

  7. This is kind of very sad conversation. I don’t know where this negativeness is coming from. Maybe we are not empowering more people, maybe we have some sort of Nepotism.

    But could you imagine how hard it is to get noticed, get covered, and come into the light if you are not friends with ‘few people’. Running WordPress centric business from far side of the world is harder than ever. But pretty useless small products from some “chosen few” companies will get so much coverage that ultimately it ruins the ecosystem. In past we have seen so much conversation about a half done project, where even main person behind was not that serious that WordPress Media were. Result, people paid for the product and got disappointed. But 100 times better product developer will never even get response from Tavern itself.

    Sadly but sometime I feel there is real racism inside our Core Community!

  8. I experienced a lot of this when I was running CyberChimps. The last straw for me was when I was asked not to attend the community summit held during the last WordCamp San Francisco, which is my home city. I was hoping at the community summit I would be able to work through whatever issues were going on, and to this day I still have no idea why I was treated the way I was.

    The more I tried to get involved in the community, the more bullshit, and backlash I had to deal with. Whether it was having my logo messed up when sponsoring WordCamps, having major decisions made for how themes got displayed and upsold on .org by core developers who didn’t even talk to the theme review team, to trying to help make more mobile friendly only to have untested code pushed live without anyone discussing it.

    Every time I tried to help, or pitch in, or contribute something would go wrong, and usually not in my favor. I still believe in WordPress, and I’m still working on WordPress projects, but I don’t try to contribute anymore. After 6+ years of trying, it just hasn’t been worth it.

  9. I think it is incredibly unhelpful to view the many individual core contributors as a ‘blob’ that operates under some kind of uniform agenda. And that their is some heavily anti-user agenda going on a systematic basis, which many users believe. That in-out group distinction that gets made is not productive. I do think where core committers can improve is communication.

    As someone who has only made some tiny contributions to core, I look at the WP project in awe because so many people have contributed to it. So many people adding to it. It’s hundreds of thousands of small contributions put together.

    And with so many people interacting with a project, so many different personalities, so many different desires, it is simply impossible not to run into hundreds of little frustrations when contributors or would-be contributors don’t get a particular result they wanted, or the consideration they expected.

    Even if the ‘leadership’ was perfect, this would still be the case. Because a project this wide attracts thousands of different personalities and people with different ideas in mind. Routine disappointment is a necessary consequence of a collaboration this large, but it doesn’t take anything away from it.

    I know this is just one side of the topic… but I think it is important to keep in mind with a project with this big of a contributor base it is entirely expected to result in many people being routinely disappointed. In fact, the more disappointed people we have, the more likely it is that the project is doing well, because it means we have a lot of people caring about it and trying to add to it. It is also inescapable, so while there are always improvements to be made, we should expect a certain degree of friction regardless of how good leadership is, or how much integrity the people involved have, or how good the conduct is.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Peter. I have certainly had some very negative interactions with some of the core devs, and they left a very bad taste in my mouth. However, I’ve also had some fantastic interactions with some of the core devs, and they’ve left me feeling inspired and empowered. There are going to be jerks in every community, and it’s definitely frustrating when those jerks seem to be running the show, but that doesn’t mean they are all that way.

      I’ve also submitted tickets/patches to core, and been really disappointed when they were marked closed/wontfix, but I’m also mature enough to realize that my usage of WordPress and my vision for it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the bigger picture. I’ve also seen a handful of those tickets come back around years later and turn out to be something that the leadership gets behind (in other words, we were ahead of our time when we originally submitted it). The only time I’ve been really upset about a situation on Trac was when I submitted a very detailed ticket indicating that a core functionality had broken when a new version of WP was released, and a core dev came back and told me I was using WordPress wrong to begin with (doing something that had worked just fine for 8 years), and that it was stupid to worry about fixing the issue (it was actually a personal attack against me for trying to use WordPress in a way that worked just fine, but didn’t fit in with that particular developers’ vision of WP). That said, I didn’t even have to respond to the ticket; another core dev came in and stood up for my position in a well-reasoned and calm response.

      The very strange thing, for me, is the fact that many of the people I see friends complain about are the same ones with whom I’ve had great interactions, and some of the ones that I wouldn’t talk to again if you paid me to do so are folks that my friends get along with really well.

      I think the bottom line in all of this is that there are very diverse personalities involved in this project, and the way we interact with those personalities is going to be very dependent on our own personalities and biases.

      So, all of that to say, I don’t really feel an “Us vs. Them” mentality in the project, so much as I feel that there are folks I like and folks I really don’t like.

      As I said to some of my friends: There are jerks that are WordPress core developers. There are jerks that are not WordPress core developers. Not all jerks are WordPress core developers, and not all WordPress core developers are jerks.

      • I also searched for your ticket because I’ve had the same experience with commiters and I found, but the people who were fighting don’t look like they are commiters. Maybe they are core devs though, I don’t know what the difference is. I really want to collect some of these problems so everybody can see the truth but if everything I search for comes up with nothing it just makes all of us look bad, like it’s just drama that they can keep ignoring.

        • In Core Trac, core developers (and guest committers) will have a “Core Committer” tag next to their name, lead developers “Lead Developer”, component maintainers “Component Maintainer”. There’s a few other one-off tags, but that’s the easiest way to identify them.

  10. The entire topic is almost laughable. How many times and how many different ways will it be said before someone realizes things aren’t going to change.

    The “little people” will come here and comment. The defenders will show up and rationalize why things are the way they are and point out that what everyone not in their clique is seeing isn’t really what they are or should be seeing.

    After my one discussion on a “make” thread back at version 3.7, I had to realize the limitations of the people I attempted to have a discussion with and decided to go my own way.

    I’m not one to always fall within the required “politically correct” words and responses, so I wouldn’t be a good one to think I would belong anyway. I grew up when it was okay to tell someone when I knew their logic was lacking. And the response came back from people who were both qualified and skilled enough to understand they didn’t have all the answers. We did a good job of getting computers past the 1970’s.

    I am NOT part of a “WordPress community” I function within what there is of it and then I leave.

      • Quite honestly, I don’t care.

        I have too much going on to worry about the trivial ego issues of “core contributors”. It is they who have set the stage for the way things are.

        Some (even in these comments) defend them and suggest everyone should understand and blah, blah, blah. Nope, I don’t have to understand. I have been doing what I do for over 46 years. Why should I stoop to their level of immaturity?

        If they don’t want to accept there are those who have insights, that’s their choice. I run my business and they run theirs. I use their software as long as it does what I need it to do. If that changes, I am gone to something that does what I need it to do. That’s it, that’s all.

  11. Okay. I can understand why it feels like there is an us versus them mentality. Sometimes the things you want to make it in, don’t. Sometimes it feels like decisions are made in secret rooms by a group of WordPress Illuminati wearing scary robes making decisions to sacrifice a plugin or feature. That’s definitely not the case.

    Put yourselves in the shoes of the project leads and those who spend a good amount of time working on WordPress in some fashion. They are doing a job that isn’t just 40 hours a week during a set schedule. They’re working constantly every day. Even when they’re not at a computer, they’ll take some time to help guide projects, answer questions, and generally do their best to help the WordPress project along.

    Think about the amount of notifications you get each day and multiply that by a hundred. Imagine trying to answer all of them and give them the time they deserve. I bet you would find yourself giving short efficient replies that can come off as curt, rude, etc. Pair that with text-only communication and it become somewhat difficult to discern the tone when these people are having a discussion with you. My advise here would be to always assume the other person has good intentions just like you do.

    Think about the fact that many of them spend a good deal of time conversing with each other in Slack and Trac. If you hang out in any chat room for long enough, you’ll make some friends. This can start to look like an organized “crew,” but odds are most of the people get in debates regularly with each other.

    As for being “crucified.” I’ve only ever see that happen a few times and it’s rarely by the leads as much as someone doing or saying something very out of line. If you think you would get yelled at by any of the leads for something, maybe talk to somebody about your concerns.

    To be clear, I am not speaking for the leads. They’re vocal enough and can defend themselves if they want. I’m just speaking from my experience working remotely with hundreds of people for the last few years.

    I do understand your frustrations. It’s totally okay to be frustrated. I get frustrated all the time. If you step back or walk away for a bit and take some time to understand your frustration, you can figure out a way to move past it.

    I am a bit surprised at this article, to be honest. I’m not surprised because of the content, but because it feels like it could be viewed as a call for complaints even with your disclaimer. What exactly did you hope to accomplish with this post?

    • Sometimes the things you want to make it in, don’t. Sometimes it feels like decisions are made in secret rooms by a group of WordPress Illuminati wearing scary robes making decisions to sacrifice a plugin or feature. That’s definitely not the case.

      Maybe it’s time said secret room was created.

      My advise here would be to always assume the other person has good intentions just like you do.

      With the said secret room above, this would I hope prevent the leadership team from penalizing contributors cart blanche, with no accountability by others of the leadership team and no way for the contributor to have any form of redress.

      As for being “crucified.” I’ve only ever see that happen a few times and it’s rarely by the leads as much as someone doing or saying something very out of line. If you think you would get yelled at by any of the leads for something, maybe talk to somebody about your concerns.

      When this does happen though, there’s no avenue for the contributor to lodge a complaint.

      p.s. I’ve submitted this anonymously as I do not wish to disclose this information publicly.

  12. WP would ultimately be much better off it Automatic simply forked it, took it in the direction it should be going and charged for it. I believe that day is coming.

    I for one, would be happy to pay $100/month or even more for a much better experience. I am tired of the “my shit don’t stink” attitude that most of the core developers display. I’m tired of them playing favorites to CRAP plugins (Yoast). I’m just tired of their pissy attitudes and the “I’m doing this for free – wahhhhhhh” attitudes.

    Quite honestly – I’m tired of Open Source. I’ve been on the fringe for 20 years (osCommerce (actually The Exchange Project), WP, PHPNuke, and more). Besides WP, everything else I use is paid. CRM, marketing automation, etc.

    It’s much easier to be part of the process when you’re paying for that process.

    • You might be right, but WP would even than much better if they would take a look on plugin statistics or they just listened answers given by users. I mean core always asks what people would like to see in a new release, but somehow nobody ever asked for such nonsense features we always get. That is not a problem in itself, but it is a problem that there are commonly requested ones that never seem to be covered in core with the lamest excuses. Most eclatant example is improvements in mediahandling (OMG! not an eshop plugin or whatsoever). Always asked for, never to be done.

    • @Ron So what’s your deal? Pay or stay. Your grievances have major conflict. If what you propose were to happen, the Open Source community would still thrive & flourish. They’re just speed traps. Ain’t no thang. Use it for what it’s worth and contribute wherever you feel valued, then recycle that value :)

      • I would totally expect the community to still flourish. I would also expect Automatic to take the best of the updates and leave the useless stuff behind – emoji (whoever came up with that is a moron), this new check for malformed URLs feature (they couldn’t find something to work on that one person on the planet would care about?), customizer (don’t even get me started on that failure). New releases are a joke now.

        Focus on stuff that real businesses care about.

        – SEO
        – Security
        – Image Compression
        – Social
        – REAL front-end editing (look at Divi 3.0 for a great example of what’s coming) – Automatic should buy Elegant Themes – that would be one hell of a combination
        – add more smart business stuff here

        Right now it’s just a leftover, decaying collection of what bloggers that make $7.27/month with AdSense and want everything for free want. They won’t even pay for a plugin.

        The WP dev landscape needs to change drastically as well. No more wanna-bes charging ridiculous amounts to essentially setup WP, add some plugins and buying a template to make it look pretty.

        Automatic has a great start with JetPack. They should run with that.

        Cut all the advertising BS out of the back end (I’m looking at you “All In One SEO Pack”) and charge what it’s worth.

        I would totally fork WordPress, hire the rights devs and run with it if I had any time on my schedule. I don’t. I don’t even have time to be writing this but…………………………

      • Bwahahaha.

        You are definitely gone. Like. Totally.

        So its “WordPress is THE definition of ‘open source’ now vs. “you are into closed source” people because some prefer usability and proper documentation over fancy-but-useless feature creep?

        Yep, definitely US vs. THEM.

        cu, w0lf.

        • What an odd response. Ron states he’s tired of open source, the natural conclusion then is to try something other than WordPress since it is always going to be Open Source. A perfectly logical reply.

          He’s not making any claims about WordPress being the definition of Open Source. It’s just a fact that WP is OSS, stated matter of factly.

          And what’s the point in airing this annoyance anyway? If you feel other projects have better usability and documentation, what’s the problem with just using what you want? It’s like…no big deal?

  13. Why is there drama?

    1) There is big money involved in WordPress. Even for the small-time players, we’re talking about folks’ careers and their ability to feed their families.

    2) There is literally a small ‘in group’ and a larger ‘out group’, and there’s no way to change that.

    What can we do about it?

    “The Community” should read “The Four Agreements”

    1. Be impeccable with your word.
    2. Don’t take anything personally.
    3. Don’t make assumptions.
    4. Always do your best.

    The “Inner Circle” should read “Leaders Eat Last”

    The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own.

    You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

    When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result.

    So, at the end of the day, it comes down to this: Are the people in the ‘Inner Circle” there to benefit, or to serve? Does WordPress thrive, with a community that comes together and creates a circle of protection? Do the ‘leaders’ place the needs of the community ahead of their own needs, safe in the knowledge that the community will provide for them?

    Everything about being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interests advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.

    • This is a great comment. The Four Agreements is an excellent book and I enjoyed it. I’ve seen summaries of Leaders Eat Last but I’ll put it on my list to examine more deeply. Also check out Creative Leadership by John Maeda:

  14. This is bigger than Core IMO. I think the leadership of the WP community have a very strong view of what you have to think and do to be part of that community, and that is enforced by not letting people outside that mold take part in that community.

    This leads to groupthink inside of WP development & roadmap, in the WP community, and in the WP leadership. It will take a very big multi year effort to correct this course. It will be especially hard to pull into the community those who were pushed out because of perceived personal vendettas and deliberate targeting. I have no doubt the community thought it was doing the right thing, but sometimes you can do the right thing and still do it in a manner that destroys the unique differences that strengthen a community.

    Is the community expressing a wide range of ideas about the future of WP and able to speak? Are the right features being chosen or are just the apolitical features being developed? Is real discussion able to be had on the future of WordPress, or are key players too scared to talk lest they justify their position/businesses for expressing different opinions?

    Personally, I keep my head down so it doesn’t get cut off. Am I doing anything that might get my head cut off? I don’t think so, but I also don’t want to chance it and have someone call me out publicly, ban me from events, attack my business, or anything else because of a difference of opinion. I don’t think I am alone in this feeling.

    I still think this is an amazing community, but if this doesn’t improve the community will fracture further into groups who can’t talk, and refuse to hear the other person’s view of the future. I worry it could eventually lead to a fork of WP. I think Matt as a benevolent dictator has been very good for the project, I want to see him make a big push to return everyone to the folds of this community, and I want to see him encourage opinions from those he disagrees with. I want to see him graduate from a benevolent dictator to a wise sage. Matt as a BD is a huge part of the focus that got WordPress to this point, but now I want a little more democracy and freedom of speech.

    I do not feel comfortable expressing this with my name on it.

  15. US vs THEM is actually not something I’ve had to deal with.

    A few short years ago, I asked some stupid questions on IRC and later on the forums. A friendly guy, Marius aka @clorith from the Support Team helped me. Frankly I did not remember it was him until we talked about it at WCUS 2015

    Eventually that help gave me some confidence to answer some questions and eventually landed me in the Support Team.

    Over time, I received the same level of acceptance in the Theme Review Team, Docs Team and later the Core Team.

    I received the same level of respect from those in the Community Team when I sought to start my local meetup and WordCamp.

    I’m still making my way in to help with Core. And I would not say it is not daunting nor is it not intimidating. But there is a way in and it’s obvious. They ask for release leads and they ask for Core Component maintainers. They ask people to contribute and they properly attribute thanks to them.

    Is it perfect? No. Because it’s still a little scary. But I think this is how it is when you enter a family.

    It was scary for me when I first talked to the people from the Support Team. But they tried their best to treat me like one of them own right from the start so the scariness went away quick.

    There are definitely people in the Core Team who could work on their bed-side manners. But I refuse to believe that any of their possibly ‘hastily put across replies’ was meant to drive people away.

    So far I’ve received help from @jorbin @jjj @drew to contribute to Core. And the few core committers/contributors that I have spoken to @nacin @pento @dd32 @otto42 have been nothing but inviting
    to me.

    If there’s something that you don’t like, break-through and change it. Join the team, understand it, feel the pain and…… make your change.

    • I’ve a lots of very positive interactions w/ a many contributors from various WordPress team- which is the fuel to keep going through and keep making “changes” for WordPress.

      And I’d experienced only a few negative incident. More than that I’ve seen other people fall into unnecessary arguments just because some bad-behavior from one-two contributors (most-cases are miscommunication).

      I think this topic needs discussion freely so certain incident would be reduced because of awareness, and needs continuous efforts to improve overall for everyone. :)

  16. I think like with most things, the major issue here is communication: The core team are overloaded with timelines and tasks that need to be completed, so much so they have little time to do publicity and outreach. In addition, due to the workload, they mostly communicate with others who spend all day every day working on core – mostly other core developers. As time goes by, this results in strong partnerships, stronger friendships, and eventually an internal language that is hard to parse for those on the “outside”. This may explain why people feel left out of important conversations and why they feel there is an imposing wall to climb to get involved, that they are often brushed off when they try to jump into a debate. It may also explain why the response to this criticism is typically “just take part in conversations, and learn how to contribute” – something that often feels impossible because the language spoken and the systems and processes underlying the project are mostly unfamilar and hard to navigate without significant immersion.

    This is neither new nor unusual in large organizations, and it is not easy to solve without structural changes. Typically such issues are addressed by broader task delegation, team growth, and the introduction of people whose job it is to work as intermediaries between the core leadership and others involved. That’s challenging enough to accomplish in an organization where everyone gets paid for their work. In an open source project where everyone donates their time, it is a whole other kind of challenge.

    I believe we, the community as a whole, can solve this, and it all starts by having a frank and open conversation about leadership, delegation, and inclusion. It will likely mean slowing down the development train, currently running at 110% of max speed, to focus on community outreach and communication, but in the end we will all be better for it.

    Most important of all, everyone has to realize we are all in this together, and we all want the same thing: To build a great content management system that can help democratize publishing on the web. WordPress lives and dies by the contributions from the community, and nobody benefits from making either the application or the community worse.

    Let’s use this opportunity to have an open and constructive conversation about how to get as many community members as possible involved in our common task of making WordPress better for everyone, core contributors, sometime contributors, aspiring contributors, and regular community members alike.

    • There needs to be a decision of what the point of WP is. Currently it really wants to be everything to everyone ending up satisfying no one. Everyone feels a bit stiffed, mostly developers though. Yes I’m generalising but honestly currently I have no clue what the WP vision is.

    • Most important of all, everyone has to realize we are all in this together, and we all want the same thing: To build a great content management system that can help democratize publishing on the web. WordPress lives and dies by the contributions from the community, and nobody benefits from making either the application or the community worse.

      First need to accept we don’t all want the same thing. Many people think about WP future differently; more CMS features, less CMS features, better blogging experience, more developer focused features, frontend only experience, no frontend at all etc. Sure some want a great CMS but when we have no common vision of what a great CMS is that’s easier said than done .
      Also no WP does not “democratize publishing” since it’s too convoluted to work with and manage. etc “democratize publishing”, WP itself does not. Not that I have any idea of what “democratize publishing” actually mean. It’s a nonsense phrase really.

      • The vision of WordPress is cemented in its philosophy: to democratize publishing on the web. What does that mean? We build an application that anyone and everyone can use, for free, to publish their thoughts, ideas, and creations on the web. It’s a solid philosophy with a clear, if broad, vision. I think what you’re looking for are short-term goals and roadmaps. Those do not really exist, and that’s something our community should strive to improve.

        • We build an application that anyone and everyone can use, for free, to publish their thoughts, ideas, and creations on the web.

          But thats not true. There are a ton of things you need to understand to properly run a WordPress site, hence it should be for anyone and everyone. You need to know about file permissions, minor debugging and what not. The thinking thats it is for everybody is also damaging for the improvement of WordPress I think. It prevents us from for exampe increasing PHP min version since that puts demands on end users etc.

        • That’s a truth with serious modifications: You don’t technically need to know any of those things: Most hosts provide one-click installs of WordPress, and managed hosts keep your application up to date and (relatively) secure. Your arguments are less about WordPress than the infrastructure of the web. The reality is WordPress ha brought the barrier to entry for web publishing down to a level where most people with an internet connection can build a website. That is an important step on the path to web publishing for everyone, and that’s what we should continue focusing on.

          As for PHP versions, WordPress has the power to move the whole web community forward. The challenge is to do so in a responsible way. Simply writing off anyone unlucky enough to be on an older server is not in line with our philosophy, but neither is sitting back and letting the web get stuck in the past.

  17. I think there is a kind of US vs THEM, but everyone of US can become part of THEM, and that’s what matters in my opinion. A sentence often heard and read among Core contributors is “Decisions are made by those who show up.” – there has to be a dedicated group of Core developers (“them”) who manage the project because if everyone interested (“us and them”) could drive the project in their direction, it would lose its focus completely.

    I think many developers who wanna get into Core contributing face frustration because they are not familiar with the philosophies of the project or do not comply with them. This is not an accusation – I initially had this problem when I started contributing. The set of philosophies is what makes WordPress stand out in its own way and makes it what it is. These will not just get thrown overboard. For me it was quite a process, learning that these are the rules that we should play by – and as of now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If you don’t agree with these philosophies, it’s probably not the right project for you to contribute to; that shouldn’t come over harsh to anyone – there are probably other projects that are a perfect fit for you.

    Which leads me to the next important factor: language. Written language, especially if short and precise, can easily be misunderstood in so many ways. Like other commenters stated before, everyone should try to assume the best intentions in everyone else. There is definitely room for improvement on how some Core developers shut ideas down – that is mostly verbally though, not technically.
    This frustration we get when a ticket or patch of us is shut down, it’s just natural. Really, when I think about Core developers, quickly some come to mind that I like and some that I don’t like so much. But then, stepping back a little and observing my thoughts, in most cases I figure, why the heck? These people have done nothing bad, they’ve just told me that my idea does not suit into WordPress Core. Some of us feel attacked easier than others – I think everyone should try to address this, both in tone and in reflecting our initial impulses.

    If you want to be among the decision-makers, start contributing to Core, regularly. As far as I experienced, Trac is not something for “I want this in. Here it is. Thanks. Bye.” – of course sometimes that happens, but if you wanna be a more important part of the processes, participate more – in tickets, patches, tests, Slack meetings, bug scrubs etc. There’s also some kind of trust level around (as is in every community) – when you become more known among contributors and have proven that your ideas, mindset and code comply with the project’s goals, it will be easier to push bigger initiatives – possibly those that were initially shut down. While that somehow limits the openness of the team at first glance, it is there to ensure the quality and focus of WordPress. If you face frustration along the way but still think the project is a fit for you, shake it off and continue – you will get there. And that’s what I meant when I said everyone of US can become a part of THEM.

  18. First time commenting. Long time reader.

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this – it’s long overdue. WordPress has been my career and chosen journey since I was 16 years old and now I’m going on 23, so I’ve seen it change as I’ve changed.

    In the beginning, the changes didn’t matter so much to me as I was just trying to provide enough value to my clients to pay the bills. Now that it is basically my career I have taken more notice of the hierarchy and bureaucracy within the core team.

    WordPress is no longer just a means to an end for me, but something I wanted to contribute to. Not just to make my life better, but my clients also. I have already written custom plugins, themes, and even built custom API’s out of other technology stacks just to achieve client goals and happiness, but I have not contributed to core.

    After visiting a WordCamp or two in Florida with my previous team I had decided it was time to learn how to contribute to core and how to be a good committer. I knew of a few tickets I wanted to tackle that were well within my comfort zone. I mean I had already fixed it in a few of my local installs just to see if I could do it. Now onto committing the actual fix – this is where things get shady.

    I had been lurking in the WordPress core slack for a while and decided to reach out for help to see if someone could point me in the right direction. I was looking for something along the lines of, “Go read this document on how to get started with patches for the software that runs our ticketing system…”, but instead received the opposite. The questions I posted in the slack room must have rubbed someone the wrong way because one of the core committers asked, “Do we have to slow down every time someone wants to learn how to get started?” Wow. I was drawn back back this and wasn’t sure what to think. This was also around the same time all the drama between law suits, public ass showing on Twitter, and much much more WP Drama was ensuing. I wasn’t sure what to do about this, but I just slept on it and hoped it would blow over.

    The next day I had a PM from a different core committer who had told me the software that runs the ticketing software and exactly how to create a patch from within phpStorm. Perfect! That was exactly what I needed, so I showed him my gratitude and thanked him for his help. I also asked him if I was the only victim of being attacked when trying to help start my journey into core contributions & his response was what made me decide to not contribute to core.

    Yes, this is only one persons opinion combined with my own personal experience, but if this stuff happens publicly in Slack, then there is no telling how it is behind closed doors. Suffice it to say, I will NOT be pursuing my goal to contribute to core before the end of the year and wish the team all the best in their endeavors and will continue to appreciate all the hard work they put in to it. Maybe developers need a public relations person in there to field outreach.

    Thanks again for writing this and I hope it sheds some light on what the hell is going on inside core because from what I can tell, they aren’t “us.”

    Edit: After reading some of the comments, it looks like Robert had a similar experience to me. I 100% agree with his remarks. If you want to make a difference, then do it from your own custom plugins and help others out in different outlets like Stack Exchange.

    • The questions I posted in the slack room must have rubbed someone the wrong way because one of the core committers asked, “Do we have to slow down every time someone wants to learn how to get started?”

      I just searched for this in Slack because I wanted to know who to avoid and warn other people about them, but nothing like that shows up anywhere. There aren’t even any messages from you at all. What gives? Are you talking about a different Slack?

      • I wish I could give out names, but I don’t see anything good coming from that. Everyone can develop their own personal opinions of others based on their experiences with them. I left the .org Slack long ago. I just re-joined it to search for it and I couldn’t find any of my previous messages in any of the channels – not sure what’s up with that.

  19. Beware of the noisy minority.

    Some of us are fairly happy with the core team overall. I often hear from people who seem to be particularly paranoid about their place in the community; sometimes being ignored is just a sign that your opinion is not rated very highly.

    • Some of us are fairly happy with the core team overall. I often hear from people who seem to be particularly paranoid about their place in the community; sometimes being ignored is just a sign that your opinion is not rated very highly.

      You make that sound like it an acceptible practice. It’s not, no one’s oppinion should be ignored. That’s not how a thriving community should be.

      I don’t know if the WordPress leadership realizes this, but it’s not the core developers that made WordPress the most used platform. It the rest of the community that has sang it’s praises all these years. Without that community behind WordPress it would have been just another blog system.

      If the core team keeps treating the community like they do, something will eventualy break. Either a lot of them will jump ship to another platform or some developers will fork WordPress and build a new community out of the disenfranchised community members.

      • you need to learn to prioritize on listening to those comments. some are more important than others.

        Let’s say Ryan sends an e-ail to Auttomatic about a security issue on core and I send them a request to send me a photo of Matt Mullenweg in a speedo. which one should be dealt with first? Ryan’s e-mail of course.

    • …sometimes being ignored is just a sign that your opinion is not rated very highly.

      Beware of the noisy minority.

      Wow! Just WOW!

      That type of attitude is what’s kept WP from reaching its full potential for years.

      I think it’s time people with this attitude to grow up or step aside.

  20. sometimes being ignored is just a sign that your opinion is not rated very highly.

    Struggling to find merit in a comment like that frankly, so what we’re actually saying is that there are those who are supercilious in attitude, if that’s so and and sadly likely it is those people need to step down or aside and learn a little about leadership and management positions and that it is entirely unacceptable to ever have that sort of attitude!

    Sadly is all about egos and jostling for some sort of position to promote oneself from, it’s a pity as those are the wrong reasons to gain prominent positions that can hold sway over others hopes for inclusion and mentoring.

    These tediously cyclic wp dramas really need to be sorted, all they do is drive good sorts elsewhere to more mature projects less afflicted with peoples insecurities and fragile egos. WP needs to grow up it’s been a prissy pouting teenager for far too long, you’ve left school and have to make your way in the big bad world so start acting like a flipping adult!

  21. Someone above (too lazy to scroll) said that Automattic should fork and focus on business.

    my questions to you:

    1) Why don’t YOU fork it? you can do it
    2) Why should WordPress focus on the business side and ignore the $7.27/month adsense revenue. If you want WordPress to focus on something, then install the appropriate plugins for what YOU want. I am not a $7.27/month adsense. When I had adsense I was making $3,000 on a few sites I owned.

    I will install the plugins appropriate for MY sites. everyone should. I a ok with WordPress focusing on “general” features and people who want niche features, they install plugins.

  22. First of all, Jeff, thank you for writing about this. A good deal of comments and frustration was shared in the comments by some community members.

    I would like to take a different approach here and instead of answering the questions being asked, I would like to talk a little more about empathy, compassion, communication, and understanding.

    I think your comment below is insightful enough:

    On the surface, we discuss compassion, empathy, and understanding but down at a personal level, there are grudges, alliances, and interactions that are the complete opposite.

    But this applies to both sides, doesn’t it? “US” & “THEM”, both need to show compassion and empathy. Is that too remote of an idea?

    If I may be as bold to say, that one could easily categorize me in both minority and diversity related groups when it comes to the core contributions and anything related to the WordPress community.

    That goes to say, I belong from PK, and I don’t know about any other Core Contributor from my country (which at some level might mean that I am the only one, but I hope so it is not the case ? … anywho), I have been contributing since 4.2. WP 4.6 was the 4th major release with minor contributions from my end.

    Now we have established the fact that I belong to a minority group, it’s safe to assume diversity considering the difference in our cultures, the languages we speak, our values and more stuff like that (did I mention no WordCamps so far?).

    Then there is what we call “the communication gap” and “wrong expectations.” Many folks have the wrong set of expectations. Add to that, the communication gap that DOES EXIST and we have an “US” vs “THEM” problem.

    I for one, have a major issue with the categorization i.e. “US” and “THEM”. You see, WordPress is open source, and we can all contribute to it. In nine years that I have spent with WordPress, I have never experienced — not even a single instance — where I was ever told not to contribute. I was a USER, then I became a DEVELOPER and now I CONTRIBUTE. (Been there done that ?)

    On the other hand, it’s quite common for me to read stuff like “Why don’t THEY remove this feature?”, “THEY need to think before pushing an update, screwed up my site”, “How hard is it for THEM to realize what’s wrong with this component”, “This is a quick-fix, no-brainer why don’t THEY fix it?”.

    Careful there, I am not biased, I am only writing about my personal experience. Which could very well be different than yours? And that’s OK.

    I have seen people disagree with and disgrace contributors for all the work they’ve done. Component leads and meta contributors being dragged into heated argument where the bad experience of one turned into an abusive comment for other.

    Seriously, I don’t get that. If you have a problem with a feature, it means you need to contribute. If you cannot contribute, you can pay others for their time to contribute on your behalf (many WP businesses are doing that). Complaining about stuff without even being a participant sounds pretty absurd.

    That said, I have also been a victim of bad communication myself. You are not alone. I have been told that a plugin I submitted had a “stupid” name. Yes, exactly that! I did feel bad about that. How can someone call my effort (that’s completely free and meant to help people) “stupid”. I once wrote three paragraphs long feature proposal for a minor core feature and all I received as a response from the release lead was “No”. Not even an explanation about why not, or what’s wrong with the idea, a straight up “No”. (Again, careful there. I am not complaining. Sharing two bad experiences that I had as a contributor).

    At that point, I did feel bad and I was pissed off. But you see, you can only clap with two hands. There had to have a mistake on my part as well. If I think there was a mistake on their part, before making them realize that mistake, what I needed to work on was — finding out where did I go wrong. More often than not, I discovered that the more value you add, the more right you have to ask questions, submit proposals and expect a response in full.

    So, instead of holding a grudge, I think the better way to move forward was — Empathy! That is, if I expect them to be empathic, passionate, and humble towards my suggestions & contributions, I can also do the same if their response does not meet my expectations.

    That’s the point of this whole comment. Empathy, compassion, and humbleness should come from both sides. Expecting one group to have these qualities, is a wrong expectation. Managing your expectations can be very helpful in this kind of a scenario.

    Both of these groups need to co-exist. If you expect a release lead to show empathy. Maybe you should put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from their point of view. Try to validate their expectations, try to factor in that at the end of the day, we are all Humans. We make mistakes; we have mood swings for a lot of reasons and not just a few lines of code.

    Maybe your pull request was rejected not because you weren’t good enough but just because the maintainer had a bad day? We cannot shut down the human nature, only because some of us have more responsibilities than others.

    Perhaps, even if you are busy and if you think you have done a great job as a leader, — you still need to do MORE, and that you need to be MORE? Maybe now since you have a big responsibility people expect MORE? And maybe if you could just give THEM more time, explain things in a better way, and realize they are just like you, maybe you can get what want?

    • I agree with all of this.

      I think a prevailing dynamic that leads to us vs them is the idea that the users are customers and that whoever makes WordPress in the mind of the user resembles something akin to the ‘company’. And extending that, it’s the notion that the ‘company’ is there to serve the customers, and when it doesn’t it is being self-serving and ignoring loyal customers and the sky is falling.

      It’s not a strange notion to have given that most products we use on a day to day basis do have this customer-company dynamic. But WordPress is just very different. The users are the developers, the supporters, the contributors, they all come from the same pool. There is no specific elite group of lead developers that are making decisions unilaterally. Someone who has been just been an end-user and nothing more can become a core contributor in a matter of a year if they really put in the time.

      WordPress is something users develop. So when I read users complaining about ‘them’, it is often stemming from a poor representation of how they perceive the project to be run. When unhappy about the state of affairs, it’s just easier to think of this small disagreeable elite group of people running everything in a hostile way. It fits the narrative better, especially when you’ve had bad experiences or things you’re bitter about.

      But this is just so silly. Every release has different users contributing, it’s always rotating. And every single contributor is not perfect and makes imperfect decisions. And collectively not every choice is perfect either. This is where compassion should come in. But everyone can become a contributor in some way, there is no real demarcation that separates users.

      When people rail on the more involved contributors and put them in an ‘elite box’, they are not just randomly generalising from experiences they have happened to had, they are signalling to others how they might be boxed in as well if they become involved contributors. And that’s just depressing and incredibly counterproductive.

      • I am sorry you feel that way. I have never had any bullying intentions ever. I hate that behavior myself. Could you provide me with an example or link to where you think that I bulied people? I will be more than happy to clear up the confusion.

        Looking forward!

  23. After reading most of the comments I decided to also leave my reply on this as I expect people would already waited for that one ?. But to me serious, I have been a really active contributor and I assume my situation are above the average here. So I thought about sharing my opinion on things.

    So as some of you people already know, my history with WordPress hasn’t been always the good. Something that changed after 3.5 where I had a difference of opinion on how to deal with something. However I never saw it as US vs THEM. That is something I find unhealthy and never give you the right solutions.

    I may have taken things personal as well as the people dealing with me. In this case I spent around 200 hours of my own time on that release. I felt I wasn’t heard and keep bringing it up a few times. It is something I have learned to deal better with in the recent year.

    And this is something that we all including the core team should not forget as well. Peoples expectations and experience aren’t the same as yours. And to have a talk with someone earlier in the stage will prevent major issues later. Not saying it would be for me but saying thing direct towards me is better then avoiding to talk about it. But this is a culture thing in the end as this will be the opposite of other cultures.

    Last example, in November I got uninvited to the WordPress community summit but it was restored and I got invited again. Also some people from the core team said that they felt sorry about the situation. Which is good to hear because it does help to reflect the idea that it is US vs THEM.

    I always keep contributing back some of my time except I missed 4.6 ? and I keep contributing more of my time now again. I surely disagree with things some of the people have done. And that is totally fine as you simply can’t agree with everything but as long as the discussion is a healthy one, to me that is not #wpdrama.

  24. Semi-related comment: In the past, I would have expected this post to explode in a stream of fury. There was a lot of anger in the community in the past, but I feel there is a lot less of this now, which I think is very productive. Because of this, it’s much easier to have a conversation with those further up the food chain, and subsequently much easier to instigate change. For all the WordPress communities warts, I feel things have significantly improved for the better over the years.

    • My guess is, that “the others” (like me) take this (article) not as a serious effort or have just given up, doing their own stuff and ignoring this or any other kind of “coreish” platform.

      Personally, I lean towards the latter. Prolly gonna give up on trying to involve myself and stop reading here, too. Too much effort, too much wasted lifetime. Setting everything on my big fat PLONK list, end of story.

      cu, w0lf.

    • There has been vast improvements in how the WP Core team works. There is much more transparency now and its easier to follow the progress of things. On the other hand I think the outside of WP concerning WP folks(or any folks in OS and else where) has changed for the worse. People have become overly sensitive about political stuff and also the whole stupid behavior of “protecting” people with safe spaces, don’t read the comments remarks and so forth. But that is not a WP Core issue that is a societal issue.

  25. To a degree, having for-profit companies so closely tied to a non-profit open source project is problematic. I think it easily lends itself to a lot of conspiracies being developed. This idea of a ‘secret room’ where Automatic, 10Up and HumanMade huddle around, decide what they need, and then make it so, is very easy to dream up. When there are companies whose profits could depend on specific needs, those needs could easily be pushed to the top of the pile [cough Calypso cough]. This is not to say that those needs will not benefit everyone in a remarkable way. But it ends up seeming like the power structure can quickly get stacked in a ‘non-open’ way.

    WordPress powers so much of the web, it needs strong leadership to help filter out the things that would break it. It needs people to say no to the daily ‘let me tell you how wrong you are about meta’ proposals from people who are thinking about an issue from a single usage/system/technology standpoint. Or to tell someone who wants to rewrite the entirety of WordPress by themselves not to waste their time. For every one beneficial idea that makes its way into core, I’m sure there are 20 proposals from the internet version of a man protesting in a H&R Block parking lot. It needs a top level group of decision makers to filter what benefits all over what benefits a few, and make sure it works for everyone.

    To that end, a project of this scale needs to have vision. And maybe the issue is that the vision is seeming a little blurry at the moment. Or that the vision is in the hands of specific people/organizations/companies and not the greater ‘open’ community.

    The solution may be a matter of increased transparency. Maybe a voting system ala the StackOverflow moderator idea. Release-lead nominees make a case for what they want to include, what their intentions and experience are, how it will tie in with existing release schedules, what they see as the future of WP, etc. The community votes, leads are chosen. Repeat four months later.

    Just a thought. It’s obviously not that simple – people would have to be vetted somehow (minimum Trac involvement, signed petitions, etc.), proposals would have to be vetted to make sure they are attainable, etc.

    But some form of transparency/public discussion/documented vision, rather than just a lead announcement at WCUS, could be very beneficial.

    I should note, I’m typically a lurker and never a commenter. So I feel bad just jumping in on this post, and just want to say that everything about this project is amazing. It’s free, it’s incredibly extensive, people are pouring ideas and sweat into the project from everywhere in the world, and that is absolutely incredible!!. Thanks to everyone who has put a moment of thought or a keystroke into WP, and thanks to core devs/commiters/leads for dealing with 25% of internet users.

    • I think this was really well put. I like the idea of more transparency.

      To a degree, having for-profit companies so closely tied to a non-profit open source project is problematic.

      It can be, but I’m not convinced it’s the case currently at all. I think these companies contribute to the wellbeing of the project in ways that sustain the entire project. I think that with the leverage they have (and they do have special leverage over competitors) they compensate with a larger, more burdensome role in terms of their contribution.

      I’m not completely convinced about the need to have a very fixed vision laid out, or about having some user voting system for ideas involving everyone in the decision making. I like that the people who contribute the most and have the best feel for the project have the most influence. I think that leads to better decisions. If you start developing based off on a popular vote for example, you run into separate issues.

      Also, there is something to be said about not planning a very specific long term plan. Kenneth Stanley has very interesting thoughts on this:

    • This idea of a ‘secret room’ where Automatic, 10Up and HumanMade huddle around, decide what they need, and then make it so, is very easy to dream up.

      I wish that were the case, then I’d be able to get the stuff I want into core. :) (Not really; I think the project’s needs should always come before commercial interests.)

      At the end of the day, contributions are made by those who are able to, which is why a lot of it is concentrated in a small group of companies. Contributing to open source is expensive, and not everyone has the ability or means to be able to.

      I agree with your other points on more transparency and openness, although not sure on the voting idea. Would be great to explore this though.

  26. The status quo is the status quo.

    That’s why they call it the status quo; get it?

    Stop flapping your gums.

    Contribute your way to the top table.

    When you get there you can change it to be how YOU want it to be.

    So either put up, or shut up.

    End of story.

    • Good response.

      In the context of this article, I took the “them” to mean either the core team (if you are not already a member) or to mean everyone outside of the core team (for those in the core team).

      Your post reminds me of when I was doing scientific research and explaining some stuff to my Dad. He kept saying “Why don’t THEY do X” or “Why don’t THEY find a way to do it better”. I kept asking him who “they” were, but he could never answer. It took me a while to finally convince him that this mystery “they” he was referring to, was actually me, which is how we ended up in the conversation in the first place :P


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