It was not my best day.
I engaged a few influential WordPress geeks, but ran afoul, it seems, of “the rules”. Now, just as the idea “it’s not personal, it’s just business” is one of those things you need to find a middle ground with if you wish to maintain any sense of humanity, the next thing I have to say also requires some careful navigation.
Business Has No Rules.
Wait; let me say it in a more specific way:
Business Has No Rules, Not Even in ‘The WordPress Community’
Of course, business does have rules, but we’re living in an era when discerning what those rules are feels more and more like an exercise in futility. Respect reasonable hours of day? Call versus write? Be polite? None of the above apply any more, until someone tells you they do—often, right after and then again before they’ve ignored the very rule they’re quoting at you.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s WordPress Community fiasco, I wrote “An Open Letter to The WordPress Community”. Here it is:
Wow. Isn’t this page ugly?
We know it’s ugly. It’s ugly because we’re hosting it from an IP address rather than a domain name/full web site, and because this page, like this one, was thrown together quickly, under circumstances I didn’t see coming.
In a few days, we’ll be launching The WordPress Helpers. TWPH is something new, both because … it’s new, and because what we have planned at The WordPress Helpers is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Seriously.
That means I’m in full-blown, pre-launch promotional mode. And on December 29 2014 I decided to reach out to the folks on a list of Influential “WordPress People” that was published at a “WordPress Magazine” a couple of weeks ago.
The nerve of me.
I worked my way through the list, looking for the best way to contact each of these folks. By “best” I mean “least intrusive”. And the path I took was simple, and consistent; although the referral points for each of these people started at Twitter, I used Twitter contact as a last resort. Why? Because on Twitter you can’t reach out privately to people you’d like to contact and I didn’t want to seem like a big, ugly junk-mail sender. So if I could find an email address I started there. If not, but I could find a form submission/contact page on a web site, that’s where I went. Only after working through that chain would I fall back to reaching out via Twitter.
Here’s the note I sent. Whether via email, form submit, or on the twits, it was always personalized with the first name of the recipient. I did this manually, laboriously, and I believe respectfully, over the course of several hours:
Hi, Jeff. Is it OK if I introduce The WordPress Helpers, please? http://goo.gl/2NJA64
And then, it hit the fan on Twitter.
Several of the people who I’d reached out to decided I was doing two naughty things.
- (heavans, no!), I was “spamming” them. I DISAGREE. And because the word “SPAM” has so many not-related-to-canned-meat meanings I don’t expect to convince anyone I’m “right”, but I’ll explain my perspective: if I haven’t dumped a message en masse on a bunch of people, I haven’t sent SPAM. And by the way, Twitter has a filter in place that would have flagged me if I was sending too many messages too quickly—you know, a SPAM filter—and I didn’t get flagged.
- The WordPress Helpers has the consecutive string of letters w-o-r-d-p-r-e-s-s in its domain name. The WordPress Foundation, owner of a trademark on certain uses of certain expressions about the product for which they are named, prefers that people not do that. I use the word “prefers” for various reasons, not the least of which is that I won’t discuss something so dull and nebulous as trademark rules here.
The SPAM thing is unsolvable. I receive over 1500 pieces of SPAM every day, and many thousands on the other web sites my company runs. We deal with it. We wish we didn’t have to—and so we don’t ever wish to be seen as the originators of SPAM. But if you go through my steps above you realize that I tried very hard not to offend in this way.
Meaning that by the time I got to the point where I contacted people on Twitter I had already reached the point in the carefully thought-out business process I was following that I’d had to decide between taking the path I chose and accepting that these people, with public profiles on which many of them had bragged about being on the very list where I’d found them, AND WHO ARE MEMBERS OF THE SAME WORDPRESS COMMUNITY I CONSIDER BOTH MYSELF AND THE WORDPRESS HELPERS TO BE PART OF were simply unreachable until they decided they wanted to reach me.
Which of course is ridiculous, and as a business person unacceptable. (Duh, right?)
The trademark thing is tricky, and as was pointed out to me is likely to bring about an interesting conversation between The WordPress Foundation and myself. For the people who simply advised me of that eventuality I say here as I did there: thank you.
What amazed me (and in a way this is a good thing) is that these members of The WordPress Community care so very much about WordPress that they take the time to play amateur attorney on WordPress’ behalf. As a member of The WordPress community I too care very deeply about WordPress. But as someone with more than a bit of experience in trademark and other intellectual property issues I say: things aren’t always as they seem.
And almost nothing “just is”. You know, unless you write code; Zeros and Ones always behave as you tell them to, and will behave as you expect them to as long as you are specific enough. But very little else in life is that cut-and-dried.
Bringing me to the mission of The WordPress Helpers
As amazing as WordPress is … and let me be clear that WordPress is genuinely amazing both for what it can do (and how “easily”), and because somehow this little piece of code has managed to become the environment presenting 23% of all web sites and 50% of new ones, it has problems. And that’s fine; everything has problems. But the problem with WordPress is that it’s reached critical mass—meaning that there are a lot of people who are at the end of their ropes.
What does that mean? It means that there’s a reason I put the word easily in quotes a moment ago.
WordPress isn’t easy.
- It isn’t easy for users who buy a theme and then are faced with something that looks nothing like they thought they’d bought.
- It isn’t easy for developers who are trying to make a living and hitting their heads against rules that change daily and are managed by people with (difficult a job though it is) what seems like no real plan.
- It isn’t easy for business managers who are trying to decide where budgets go and what precautions need to be taken against security breaches
Mostly, WordPress isn’t easy because these groups have different agendas and no meaningful understanding of each others’ positions. And so at The WordPress Helpers we’re planning to address that problem.
To anyone who found me having the nerve to contact you even though you were planning to stay tucked into your insular little subcommunity offensive, I’d apologize—except, no, I do not. If that means I’ve ruined any chance I had of being friendly with you I guess I need to accept that. On the other hand, if you’ve gotten through this and I’ve managed to impress upon you that I really am trying to do The Greater WordPress Community a solid and you want either to be involved or follow along just in case one day we say something useful to you, that’s great way better.
That’s it. Reach out to me, follow us below, watch us suspiciously, whatever, but … whatever you think you see here, get ready for something cool.
If there’s too much in there for you to process, let me simplify: my point—the real point—is that without re-thinking pretty much everything you’ve ever learned about business, you’re going to start encountering a lot of difficult issues moving forward as we get further and further separated by the tools that are supposedly pulling us closer and closer together.
And that might seem like a rough way for me to cap off my year here, but … consider it from a more optimistic standpoint:
You’re here, and we’re here to help.