Respecting the plugin author: It goes both ways

Bicycles both ways

I’ve seen a lot of responses as a result of this post by Tom Ewer on ManageWP blog: Is WordPress SEO by Yoast broken?

One of them includes this reflection by Alex Moss on SearchEngineWatch: Free WordPress plugins: Respect the plugin author

Being a pretty successful plugin author myself (I stopped counting after 20+ of my free plugins and 3,000,000 downloads) I want to give my opinion on the topic.

  1. Tom’s original post had a single point of failure and that was that he did not contact Yoast right before publishing it. Tom explains it with unsuccessful attempts to contact Yoast previously, but I think Yoast would have risen an eyebrow if he had seen the title of the post Tom was about to publish and would probably give Tom his attention.
  2. Ultimately I do not think the post hurt anyone. Especially Yoast was doing pretty good PR for himself, patiently responding to many comments that popped on the post. That was absolutely the best thing he could do and if he looked at this post constructively he probably got a ton of gold information – like what are the biggest concerns of his future premium customers.
  3. I absolutely agree that as Alex pointed out, plugin authors should be respected.

Here is the bombshell. We, the plugin authors, are by default also expected to respect and honour the community. Do not get me wrong, this is me saying that the road does not end with providing the free plugin. Writing good and secure code, useful documentation and dealing with support is entirely in our hands.

I myself am (or more accurately was) in Yoast’s shoes with the enormous success of my free plugins. I tried everything – supporting everyone by email, creating a forum, even paying some people to do support of my free plugins! When things did not work I decided to release the premium plugin.

This instantly solved all my problems (and made me $80k $100k in the process). If people wanted support they had to pay for it and the terms are very clear to everyone. I placed a notice on the plugin page, support questions dropped to couple an emails a day and when I do get one I can simply reply that the support is only available to the users of the premium plugin.

Yoast has an incredibly popular plugin with over 5,000,000 downloads. And he obviously has problems supporting it. ┬áBut I do not see anywhere on the plugin page on or on the plugin home on his site a simple sentence stating that “This plugin is not supported as we simply can’t handle it, sorry.”. I think that that one line would instantly solve all problems.

Why doesn’t this line exist? I would argue it is because Yoast simply wants as many people to download and use his plugin (whether for future monetization, glory, or something else it is really not important ). But he is certainly working really hard to dominate first ten results for “WordPress SEO” on Google, and hats off for the effort and results. Placing that disclaimer on the plugin page may (or maybe not?) affect the download numbers.

If the support is the main issue, and if you do not clearly say that you can not handle support, then you will be confronted with the user expectation that you will provide support. As a plugin author you can not by default expect that the user will see or understand that you have 5,000,000 downloads and that it is not physically possible to offer support. It will not happen.

So a little transparency both ways does the trick. More so, if I may, defaulting to transparency in every occasion usually has this magical feature of solving everything.


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