WordPress Support Team Seeks to Curb Support Requests for Commercial Plugins and Themes

WordPress’ Support Team contributors are discussing how they can curb support requests for commercial products on the official WordPress.org forums. Users sometimes seek help for commercial product upgrades on the forums of the free version, not knowing that the moderators’ official policy is to refer them to the extension’s commercial support channel. In other instances, it is not immediately clear whether the issue is with the free version or a paid upgrade that the user has installed.

“This has come up a few times the past weeks, mostly in relation to plugins that have a free base product on WordPress.org, but sell addons on their own site, and where the line is drawn on who can get supported where,” WordPress contributor Marius Jensen said during the team’s most recent meeting. “Authors are not allowed to support their paid products on WordPress.org as is, but where do you draw the line, for example, when a base plugin causes issues with a paid addon, should then support be allowed for the base product on WordPress.org, since that’s the root issue, or should it be shipped off to the author’s own site, since it affects a paying user?”

This type of issue is common among products where WordPress.org is the main distribution channel for a popular free theme or plugin. The support relationship between the free and commercial products often intersects in an ambiguous way.

“The goal is to ensure that paying customers and free users get the best support they can, from the ones that can give it,” Jensen said. Volunteers do not have access to the commercial products, nor is it their job to support them. This is the crux of the matter.

“It’s an unacceptable misuse of volunteers time to support a product someone else has been paid to support,” Jensen said.

Contributors discussed how they can handle different scenarios where it’s unclear where the root of the problem is, in order to move the burden away from the support moderators, allowing the extension’s author to discern if the problem is with the free version or commercial add-on. Volunteers should not have to familiarize themselves with the minute distinctions between the features that are offered for free or as an upgrade.

On the other side of these support scenarios, where it isn’t clear where the problem originates, plugin and theme authors can be inconvenienced when support topics are hastily closed.

“It’s just that the closing of topics seems counter productive for those (users and devs alike) that get it wrong,” plugin developer Arnan de Gans said. “Since plugin/theme makers do not have any control over these forums we can’t do a thing after topics get closed. Which works against the user experience by creating confusion.” He suggested the team consider a grace period where the developer has a day or two to respond.

Ben Meredith, head of support for a freemium plugin, chimed in on the discussion, urging the support team to consider how closing issues can sometimes create a bad user experience:

An issue related to premium products is raised, and summarily closed by forum mods for being about a premium product. This creates a “googleable” record of the error message/problem that then attracts other visitors. Once the issue has been closed, we get copy-cat issues “I am having the same problem (link to closed post)” We get those replies in both followup forum posts and internal tickets. To the layperson who has no idea the distinction between “WordPress core volunteer” and “Company I just paid money to,” this creates a bad experience all around.

Premium users are treated like second-class citizens on the forums. They don’t know the guidelines, and reached out for help. This may be their first interaction with the WordPress community, and sometimes a well-meaning forum moderator can come across as wrist-slapping the exact people we want to give white-glove service to (they just paid us!).

Michelle Frechette, Head of Customer Success at GiveWP, also shared this sentiment regarding the user experience.

“Something I’m not seeing addressed much here is how alienating it can feel to be corrected by the mods (or even the plugin authors) to be directed from the forums back to the paid support page,” she said.

Ben Meredith said that despite sticky posts telling users not to post questions about commercial products, notes in the readme file, website notices, and canned replies, users will inevitably end up posting in the forums anyway. Steering them away to commercial support channels should be done in a way that does not make seeking help on WordPress.org an unwelcoming experience.

“I want for the forums to feel as welcoming as a WordCamp,” Meredith said.

“The current enforcement of the ‘premium plugins can’t get support here’ is not in line with that overarching goal: users using and enjoying WordPress. Currently, premium users (who are potential community members and community leaders!) are getting a first impression of the community that is ‘You’re doing it wrong!’

“I’d rather their first impression be ‘Happy to help! heads up, for questions like this in the future, we need you to go here.’”

In trying to ease the burden placed on volunteer support forum moderators, it’s important to consider how any new policy might also negatively impact developers hosting their plugins and themes on WordPress.org, and what kind of vibe the response gives to users in search of help. There are more suggestions for solutions in the comments on the post, and the discussion is open until Saturday, September 12, 2020, 07:00 PM CDT. The Support Team is seeking to get a wider range of viewpoints from plugin and theme authors before making a final decision on new guidelines for addressing requests for support on commercial products. Make sure to jump in on the comments within the next week if you have something to add to the discussion.


16 responses to “WordPress Support Team Seeks to Curb Support Requests for Commercial Plugins and Themes”

  1. I think it’s really difficult to find a balance between being supportive to users needs, whilst not becoming a free support service for premium products. A grace period to allow premium product authors to respond is a great idea though.

  2. IMO, the crux of the problem has always been the forced use of the WordPress.org support forum. What I’d like to see is support via the plugin README to have the support tab take users where I want them to go. Even for free plugins it’s preferred to have users open up issues at the plugin GitHub repo.

  3. My recent experience of the wordpress.org forums tells me the mods dislike anyone but plugin authors offering plugin support. The support forum is moderated to the point of obstruction.

    Is the .org plugin support forum there for the userbase to support one and other or is the support forum there for wordpress.org to decide who can and who cannot offer help? If it’s the former then wordpress.org should instruct forum mods to let people offer support for both free and premium plugins. If it’s the latter then wordpress.org should disallow replies from all but plugin authors and thread starters i.e disallow wider community input.

    A few years back we could all chip in to help WordPress users who request help in the .org forums. Nowadays those of us who try to offer support get our replies deleted by mods for spurious reasons.

    I would be interested to hear from others who also have their helpful support forum replies deleted or all their support forum posts held in moderation prior to deletion.

    Personally, I no longer feel welcome to offer help in the forums. I’ve worked with WordPress for over a decade. My discomfort with the support forum is true whether I wish to help end users who are stuck with a plugin bug or to offer plugin developers a patch for faults within their plugins.

    WordPress needs to have a wider discussion about the .org forums. A discussion that covers a) the purpose of the .org support forums, b) whether to lock threads to OP and plugin author, c) the role of moderators in policing those forums, and d) whether to institute a satisfaction survey/poll for forum users to upvote/downvote mods.

    • I think the issue is sleazy plugin authors with paid extensions trying to make money while offloading support for the plugin to the community and any willing volunteers. Most paid plugins are not like that of course but premium plugins should offer their own premium support. If they’re unable to support something they’re selling then they shouldn’t be selling anything at all.

    • Hiya,

      As one of the moderators on WordPress.org, I can tell you that we want users to help users, it is a big part of the whole community aspect of things. We even encourage users to help others in their favorite plugin or theme support areas.

      I will say, however, that a suggestion of a system to rank moderators is just outright cruel, and isn’t something we will even consider.

      The moderators role is to uphold the guidelines to ensure a safe space for all users, and to moderate in discussions where things get heated, the outcome of that moderation depends on the scenario unfolding at the time.

      If a post has been removed, it would have been for violating the guidelines in one way or another, or because it was outright spam. On the bright side, if it wasn’t spam, it is never deleted, we just archive it, so moderators can check up on any such claims, so feel free to reach out on Slack and I’d be happy to take a look.

      One of the moderation tools we have is the ability to flag an account, if they are found to be in violation of guidelines, and we suspect it is likely to repeat it self. In such a case, one of the volunteer moderators will have to manually approve any topic or reply made for a period of time until we feel confident you can follow the guidelines. If this is the case you would have received notification of why you were flagged, and any posts made after that are unacceptable would be archived, instead of shown publicly.

      • This is a lengthy reply, Marius. I hope you read it to the end.

        “I will say, however, that a suggestion of a system to rank moderators is just outright cruel, and isn’t something we will even consider.”

        You need to explain your objection to the introduction of a feedback mechanism that will help improve the quality of .org’s support forum moderation.

        Feedback is important when user satisfaction is important. We are not talking about ranking mods but about ensuring end users feel comfortable in the .org support forums and that they are content with mod behaviour. Votes can be kept confidential and still be used to inform business decisions.

        “The moderators role is to uphold the guidelines to ensure a safe space for all users, and to moderate in discussions where things get heated, the outcome of that moderation depends on the scenario unfolding at the time.”

        You might believe that. You might be one of the mods who follows the rules without being trigger-happy or power-mad. I assure you that many mods do not apply reason and common sense to their logic w.r.t. the removal of contributions from the forums.

        “If a post has been removed, it would have been for violating the guidelines in one way or another, or because it was outright spam.”

        Big assumption there. I forgive you.

        The forum guidelines issued to mods need to be changed.

        Any set of guidelines that includes ‘Thou shall not contribute to an open thread’ is poorly considered. It allows overeager mods to exclude user contributions for reasons such as, to paraphrase the various excuses I have received: 1) ‘Do not post new issues under existing threads’ given when the issue is (or issues are) clearly the same or related, 2) ‘Do not offer alternative [free and in the WP Repo] plugin recommendations’ given when a plugin with faults is no longer maintained, 3) ‘Do not link to patched versions of plugins’ given when the WP Repo plugin is unmaintained, 4) ‘Send patches directly to plugin developers.’ without first asking whether this has been attempted etc.. etc.. etc…

        I expect many .org mods would see the above paragraph and respond with ‘I see a number of violations in your examples.’ The irony of that response would be lost on them; attempts to fix a broken system being met with cannon fire i.e. the guidelines used to justify a problem rather than inspected to find error in the guidelines.

        “On the bright side, if it wasn’t spam, it is never deleted, we just archive it, so moderators can check up on any such claims, so feel free to reach out on Slack and I’d be happy to take a look.”

        Dress up a gloomy experience as much as you will but there is ever dwindling sunshine in the .org support forums.

        The forum mods must respond to complaints openly within the support forum under a ‘Mod Complaints’ board or use an open complaints procedure elsewhere.

        I have neither wish nor desire to create a Slack account (nor remember my existing login) just so I can raise complaint about the behaviour of .org support forum mods. I have enough accounts to work with as it is. If the .org support forum is too moderated to allow an open complaints board then I recommend WordPress use GitHub, where WordPress has an open presence. Complaints about forum moderation, as well as responses to complaints, should be in the open so we can all review the mod team’s behaviour and recommend changes where needed.

        “One of the moderation tools we have is the ability to flag an account, if they are found to be in violation of guidelines, and we suspect it is likely to repeat it self.”

        No wonder many of us feel harassed by .org forum mods. Do you think this might be the problem; that this sets up a realm of unintended vindictiveness?

        Flagging accounts in secret, and doing so without a proper and open review system, has potential to promote a default response from some mods who might see contributions from flagged accounts, see the flag and think ‘Uh oh! Trouble maker here; better not allow this post: what excuse can I use?’ It creates a negative team culture.

        Not telling contributors their accounts have been flagged serves to create a feeling of alienation in affected contributors. This behaviour increases the likelihood flagged contributors will walk away from .org without ever raising complaint because they are unaware they need to do so in order to defend their account from mod harassment sanctioned by virtue of their account being flagged. An unintended consequence is still a consequence to be dealt with.

        Marious, I appreciate your attempt to justify the behaviour of .org support forum mods but you have only given more reasons for .org contributors to question mod behaviour, mod attitude toward contributors and the suitability of mods to reliably fulfil their task fairly. There is clearly something very wrong with the .org forums.

        You might be one of the good mods who applies common sense to decisions. Experience tells me this would make you one of the gems in the pile of rotten apples. In my recent experience, not many .org forum mods pass the commonsense test. Mods of the past were much better suited to the task.

    • I can relate to what you’re describing. I too had my help moderated on a few occasions. It’s really off putting in spending more time giving back to the community.

      Of course mods are only people and can make mistakes as well. But some of them seem to have gotten a bit radical and authoritarian throughout the years. Makes me feel like an intruder of a clique and unwelcome. But luckily not all mods are like that.

      I also know that many contributors have been calling and made proposals for a code of conduct for some time now. Not sure on the status though.

      • Should a code of conduct be authored let’s hope it is reasonable, sensible and fair to the needs of forum contributors.

        One of the annoying aspects to this issue, and it is a growing issue, is that the complaint response is either ‘Well, this is just the way it is.’ or ‘Join us on Slack to argue your case.’; re the latter see comment left above by a support forum mod.

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Bianca.

        • Yep, I’ve had the Slack argument as well once. I’m not on Slack nor am I planning to join just because.. It’s an extra barrier and I don’t play.

          If my help does not comply by the rules (or better the rules as interpreted by the mod in place) well fine then. Plenty of other stuff to do. It’s such a shame that there isn’t a real dialogue, just we are right and you are wrong.

          Some mods really lack reflective skills, self doubt and perspective if you ask me. But again not all of them.

  4. I haven’t used the WP forums. I have used the support forums of some of the plug-ins that I use.

    For some background I started developing/designing my site about a year and 1/2 ago with no prior knowledge for how to even start. Google has been my friend. I ask Google my question and I get directed to a treasure trove of assistance. I’ve learned the artful science of finding the useful info. sources.

    Professionally I have worked in support and installations for a couple of software companies for many years of my life. I’ve worked with a lot of people in that capacity. Some people have a gentle approach, others not. People seeking help need to be taught how to get help and how to learn from that help. Sometimes a swift kick in the arse is needed to get them off of the entitlement mindset.

  5. Commercial themes/plugins should have their own forum on their own site. I bought a few themes and plugins on themeforest…I shouldn’t be going to wordpress.org forums for help for those themes/plugins from themeforest.

    Now, when I download a theme/plugin from wordpress.org/plugins or wordpress.org/themes then yes, support should be handled there.

    It’s a simple concept.

  6. As an end user, I understand there are moderators in a public forum to prevent spam and other stuff that is irrelevant to the plugin/theme in question.

    But what’s the problem of providing support for a commercial addon/upgrade of an otherwise free plugin on the WP support forums? Why is it not allowed?

    The support is provided by the developer and other helpful people who use the plugin. Nobody else is required to help.

    I think it’s very inconvenient that there are multiple places to get support for anything around WordPress. It means having different sites, different systems with a different login for each plugin/theme you use. It would be so much easier if all support was handled on a single system that works the same for every plugin and theme, where I have all my support cases in a single system.

    I do understand though that the larger vendors will want to have their own support system, because the WP support forum is a just a simple forum, not a full fledged support system. However, most plugins in the repository are from small developers who created a plugin to solve a problem and decided to share it for free. If they come up with a paid addon, then why would they have to get their own system if the WP support forum works for them?


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