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.  But I do not see anywhere on the plugin page on WordPress.org 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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10 Comments

  1. Jul 18th, 2013 8:18 PM

    If the support dsn't exist plugin will die. The end. Then some people buy supported plugins, others install new one and other forget about

  2. Jul 15th, 2013 2:00 PM

    I agree with the post in its entirety Vladimir. Upon reflection I acknowledge that I should have contacted Joost first; even accepting that I did not expect a response and was working to a close deadline.

    That said, I do find it surprising the reaction of many people. There's the usual accusations of link bait and so on -- people don't seem to recognize how huge a fan of SEO by Yoast I am and how much I have promoted it in the past. It's not about link bait; it's about raising legitimate questions about a hugely popular plugin that is suffering from a woeful lack of support (whether or not their *should* be support is another discussion entirely).

    I think the post needed to be written and I'm glad I wrote it. I personally cannot see why Joost didn't release a premium plugin a long time ago (I'm sure he has his reasons). I'd be one of the first to publish it if he does release one.

    Cheers,

    Tom

    • Jul 15th, 2013 7:17 PM

      That should say "Purchase" rather than "Publish"!

  3. Jul 15th, 2013 12:11 PM

    Then perhaps we need to define "support" here...

    What if there's a bug that you were unaware of? Will you fix it if someone emails? To me, support deals with conflicts and incompatibility - and solving those issues. Anything extra for me I consider a request.

    I wouldn't submit a plugin to the repository only never to update it unless I felt like. This to me goes against the community we're supposed to respect

    • Jul 15th, 2013 12:33 PM

      I am still fixing the security issues and making the free plugin compatible with current version of WordPress. Everything else is reserved for the premium version.

      • Jul 15th, 2013 7:23 PM

        To me this seems less "community-like". So it's wrong for Joost to not support less than 1% of queries; but it's perfectly ok to release a plugin, wait until it becomes unmanageable and then charge for the support that was most probably there in the beginning?

        • Jul 15th, 2013 9:44 PM

          Alex, I am not proposing charging for support is the way to go. I am saying that if you can not support the plugin adequately, you should state that on the plugin page. Otherwise you will create unmanageable situation.

  4. Jul 15th, 2013 11:58 AM

    @AlexMoss

    No, I simply stopped supporting the free plugin - and made that very clear as you can see for example here http://prelovac.com/vladimir//wordpress-plugins/seo-friendly-images

    I am offering the solution to the support scale problem - be transparent about the ability to support the plugin.

    • Jul 15th, 2013 12:03 PM

      Understandable, however, does that not bring another problem by releasing a plugin and not supporting it? As a user I may be less inclined to use it - or be forced to purchase the premium.

      • Jul 15th, 2013 12:06 PM

        If you are clear about the fact that you are not supporting it, I do not see a problem as the user is then given a choice - use an unsupported plugin and live with it, purchase the premium one or use another one.

        Problems arise when you give a certain expectation to the user and then not follow it through.