The beauty of WordPress is that anyone with the skill and desire can extend the content management system (CMS) to suit their needs. And it’s possible to make a pretty good living doing so. The software provides an open door to entrepreneurs of all stripes.
Much of what happens within the theme and plugin ecosystem is up to individual developers. Some guidelines need to be met for getting a product listed in the official repositories. However, there’s also plenty of freedom in what is built and how it’s implemented.
This had led to some amazing products – both free and commercial. But it has also brought its share of issues. Combined with the major shifts in WordPress core, it has some people questioning whether the platform is still right for them.
The past few years have yielded plenty of discussion regarding the changes in core. But what about the ecosystem? It may be just as (if not more) responsible for the challenges that WordPress faces. As such, maybe it’s time we put this major component under closer scrutiny.
WordPress Leadership Has a Limited Role
When we have an issue with the direction that WordPress is heading, our criticism tends to be aimed at its leadership. That makes sense, as the proverbial buck stops with co-founder Matt Mullenweg, among others.
Yet neither Mullenweg nor the project’s contributors control every aspect of WordPress. While they provide the framework for others to build upon, they aren’t responsible for what theme and plugin authors ultimately do with it.
WordPress may aim to be the “operating system of the web”. But unlike Android, iOS, or Windows, there is no official app store. The products we use to enhance WordPress aren’t subject to the same strict standards for security and scope.
The bright side of this hands-off approach is that it fuels creativity. And it has helped propel the CMS to the top of the market. After all, how useful would WordPress be without third-party themes and plugins?
Plus, it allows the team of contributors to focus solely on the core software. This helps to keep those limited human resources from being spread even thinner.
This arrangement has been a boon for most, if not all, users and entrepreneurs. At the same time, this does place some responsibility on the shoulders of developers to act in good faith.
Some WordPress Authors Don’t Play Nicely
That some developers have gone too far shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s spent time working with WordPress themes and plugins. But reading Mark Zahra’s recent piece on deceptive marketing practices within the ecosystem was an eye-opener.
Zahra dissects several instances of bad behavior (while acknowledging his own past transgressions). Everything from never-ending sales to obfuscating pricing terms is present. And that’s only scratching the surface.
That doesn’t count the littering of the WordPress dashboard with junk “notices”. Or the misleading user interfaces that can trick you into taking an unwanted action. And we can’t forget about the nagging messages that keep popping up – no matter how many times we dismiss them.
It should be noted that these practices do not represent all WordPress authors – not even a majority of them. Seeking to monetize a product is not a bad thing. And there’s a big difference between run-of-the-mill marketing efforts and those that use dark patterns.
Still, enough big players in the market are active participants in this madness. The result is a tarnished reputation that sweeps up the guilty and innocent alike.
Accountability Is Lacking for Commercial Products
When companies do pull such stunts, what can be done? If it relates to a free product in the official WordPress theme or plugin repositories, filing a report is a possibility. There is the potential for having the product removed if a rule violation is found and not rectified.
Commercial products are another story. And this is where a frustrating lack of accountability comes into play.
There isn’t a governing body to tell the offending party to “cut it out”. WordPress leadership may lament a particular practice, but it doesn’t have any say in how a third-party entity behaves.
Once again, there are positives and negatives. WordPress is an open-source platform and is free for anyone to use or extend. This philosophy has served it well. So, becoming more insular isn’t a realistic answer.
At the moment, it seems that a public calling out from community members is the best option we have. Zahra’s call in particular may carry some weight. As CEO of RebelCode, he’s a producer in this space. Thus, his thoughts could gain more attention from fellow WordPress business owners.
Web designers and users can vote with both their wallets and voices. By refusing to purchase products associated with these practices, we’re ensuring that our money doesn’t reward bad behavior. But that alone won’t create change.
We can also share our opinions with these companies. Direct feedback from current, former, and potential customers could lead to a change of heart. It’s worth a shot, anyway.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The WordPress ecosystem ultimately relies on people. And it doesn’t take an expert psychologist to point out that some of us are more honest and empathetic than others. WordPress theme and plugin authors are just reflections of that fact. No industry is immune.
As much as we might hope, there is no superhero coming to clean up this mess. Therefore, it’s up to us as a community to create accountability and demand better. That won’t completely stop deceitful or annoying practices – but it’s a start.
On the whole, most companies are looking to do the right thing. Some may not realize the negative impact their practices have on WordPress. Thankfully, we have the chance to gently point them in the right direction.
That being said, it’s going to take a concerted effort. That’s OK because WordPress as a platform and a community is worth defending.