Remembering Community in the Face of Negativity (AKA When .Org Users Attack!)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that WordPress is actually a community. I’m easily reminded of the community aspects when I look at my Twitter feed–where I can catch up with awesome WP community members quickly, jump into conversations, or just revel in the many indispensable links shared by any number of said community members.

What I’m talking about, though, is when you actually get to work developing and designing sites. At times, it may be easy to get lost in the work that you’re doing. You know you need a plugin for a specific function and, lucky day, someone actually made one! You click download, you pop that puppy into your /plugins/ directory and everything is right as rain.

Many times, that’s where it ends. You get this fabulous plugin or theme and then it just exists. You see notifications when updates are available, so you get those updates and move on with your day. On your end, as a user or a developer, it’s pretty automated after you install and setup a plugin. Updates come and you apply them and then test test test. Do things still work properly and look cool? Awesome! Then let’s move on to the next task.

Before you know it, this kind of becomes your life. For the times when you don’t need to write a custom piece of functionality, there are plugins available to help, and it’s so easy to just snatch up that gravy and be on with your day. But what about the people behind those plugins?

Remembering the little people

As important as it is to know that you can find an awesome plugin to do an awesome thing, it’s also important to know that the people producing these plugins are putting their time, energy, and love of all things open source into their work which is nothing to sneeze at especially when said plugin is available as a free download. That was a long sentence with a lot of “P” words in it. Sorry if I took you on a bit of an unexpected journey there.

This mindfulness of “Hey, there’s a person behind that plugin!” didn’t really occur to me until it affected me personally, as I think is the case with a lot of things in life. When it did affect me, though, I was caught completely offguard. I received a harshly negative review from a user (who shall remain nameless), as well as a 1-star review on a plugin I (and a few others) have worked hard on. Not only that, but the claims in the review were completely unfounded because the items about which they were complaining were absent from my plugin were, in fact, not absent! What the frak!

YOOOOUUUUUUUU gotta stay positive!

Now, I’m typically a pretty positive guy. What’s that thing they say about being like a duck? Let things roll away like water off of a duck’s back? I’m usually very much like a duck. I also like bread and yelling, so maybe I’m realizing some personal information here that will better saved for a later blog post.

Nonetheless, I do try to stay positive and stress-free as much as possible in my work-life and my life-life. This, though…this situation had me riled. RILED I TELLS YA. How could someone so blindly leave such a terrible review? Hadn’t they taken a moment to actually look at the settings of the plugin, wherein the “missing” details about which they complained sat very clearly labeled? Hadn’t they considered what a 1-star rating could do to a plugin?

Your average serial negative rater/complainer
Your average serial negative rater/complainer

After doing some research, it was very clear that yes, this user had certainly thought about all of these things. This became obvious because the user in question was on a 1-star-rating, negative review-leaving rampage. It was evident from their initial reviews and the plugin author’s responses that they had clearly not understood some aspect of the plugin and that their complaint was totally unfounded. They were just leaving negative bombs all over plugins because, I guess, they hate good people doing good things.

Finding all of this out was like eating a bunch of uncooked rice and then having my stomach explode due to the expansion of said rice in my stomach (reminder: I am a duck in this scenario). Except instead of my stomach exploding, my brain was exploding and sending signals down to my fingers.

Oh I tell ya what, I clicked reply and I really let this user have it – with a fully reasonable and friendly response letting them know where exactly they could find the information for which they were asking as well as offering to help with with any additional inquiries they may have. I felt good. Great, even! With such a carefully worded and friendly reply, they’d be sure to realize the error of their ways and apologize, acknowledge their mistake, and maybe even change their rating from 1-star to whatever star they feel the plugin actually deserves.

I was so wrong. What followed was yet another antagonistic and unhelpful quip. Then things got interesting.

The part where “community” comes into play

My very good buddy, fellow Team Scream lead and all-around great guy Justin Sternberg, stepped in to offer some third-party advice on how to cool the situation. Maybe a third party is just what the situation needed? Not the case. According to the user, this was an A and B conversation and Justin should C his way out of it.

After yet another terrible response from the user, people I had never interacted with before began to leave comments in my defense. Whoa! I didn’t expect that at all. Here I thought I was fighting a losing battle against a serial negative reviewer, forgetting for a moment that there was an entire community of people on my side–people for whom this may be an all too familiar experience.

It was only a couple of people, but I was really taken aback by this show of support. So much¬†that it really opened my eyes and led me to writing this blog post–a post for which I had no solid topic when I woke up this morning. I had stopped keeping all of this in perspective: the community of WordPress and how it reaches far beyond conversations on Twitter, presentations at WordCamps, or the books sitting on our shelves.

There is a heartbeat here. Something unable to be retweeted or shared on Facebook. Something we can not download and install. It’s something intangible that may be easy to miss or even forget when your day-to-day is looking at client requests and problems and then finding the solutions to those requests and problems. It’s something that is always there but may require taking a minute or two out of your day to fully realize.

Keeping community in perspective

Barbara Kruger Don't Be A Jerk, 1984
Barbara Kruger
Don’t Be A Jerk, 1984

So, take this as a lesson. Maybe you’re also so engrossed in what you’re doing that you haven’t taken a second or two to remember that we’re all people and we’re all in this thing together. Negativity is completely unnecessary here, but when it does crop up it’s nice to know that there are others in the community (some of whom you’ve never even met) who will come to your aid.

Remember that behind every plugin or theme you love (or don’t love) is a person or group of people putting in the effort to produce a product to fit some kind of need or desire within the community and that leaving terrible feedback and ratings on their products could potentially do more harm than you could fathom. This isn’t just a silly bit of fun we’re having on these websites; for most of us, this is a part of our careers and livelihood. And even if WordPress doesn’t play a major part in your life and you’re just making plugins and themes as a hobby, there’s still no excuse for being a jerk to a stranger even if it’s easy to do so from the comfort of your keyboard.

While I will not mention the name of the user who inspired this post, I will thank a few folks who jumped in to help here:

  • Justin Sternberg for stepping in and trying to set the discussion on the right path early on
  • Eric Holmes who I don’t know personally, but also jumped in to lend his support
  • Nick Haskins who, again, I don’t know personally but also jumped in to help and has an incredible beard
  • Mika Epstein for lending some behind-the-scenes support very, very quickly with this whole silly situation


2 thoughts on “Remembering Community in the Face of Negativity (AKA When .Org Users Attack!)

  1. Great, heart-felt post! Reminds me that we need a “Plugin Appreciation Day” where we 5-star those faves that so many of us use and love and just don’t get around to thanking. Dilute the haters. Community ftw.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! It definitely is great to go out of our way to thank plugin developers, as the amount of work and effort they put into an often free product is immeasurable. If anything, this experience has shown me that the WordPress community will come together pretty quickly to dilute the haters and feed positivity into an otherwise negative situation.

      Thanks again!

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