Great Explanation Of Community

January 5th, 2009

Just over two weeks ago, the community was abuzz about the disappearance of 200 to 300 themes being removed from the theme repository. During that blip of time, there were many posts dedicated to covering the subject of not only the theme removals, but of community, GPL and much more. Andrew Rickmann who I consider to be a ‘thought leader‘ within the WordPress community published an excellent post which has had my head churning through thoughts and ideas ever since I read it. The article goes into detail on what the point of community is.

However, despite the overall article being a great read, question number five that Andrew raises is the one that continuously has me thinking. In question five, Andrew asks what is it that you value? He then gives eight different perspectives which I find to be very interesting. Here is one of them:

Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?

Just that thought alone was enough to stop me in my tracks and really think about it. I wanted to share this article to the WordPress community because I think Andrew did a great job raising some interesting points worthy of more discussion.




  1. Wesley (13 comments.) says:

    End users also have access to those thousands of plugins. So what’s the difference between a plugin author and a normal end user then?

    • Andrew (31 comments.) says:

      I take it from your response Wesley that you do not agree that a plugin author is appropriately compensated?

      Do you think then that plugin authors should charge for their work? or alternatively that they should be able to choose to make them available only to those people who have also created plugins?

      • Jeff (27 comments.) says:

        Plugin authors should be able to charge, but obviously that shouldn’t be a requirement. I only use free plugins, but I’ve sent money to authors I appreciate.

        I think we’re all living in the real world, and that requires money. Sorry folks.

  2. Otto (215 comments.) says:

    Hmm… To answer a question with a question, why do people think that writing a plugin is an act worthy of compensation? Maybe that’s not clear enough though. I can’t really word that properly. I’m not saying that plugin authors don’t put a lot of work in or anything, but I’m looking at it from a standpoint of copyright.

    See, a lot of people think that if you write something, be it a book or a script or a piece of code, then you own it and are entitled to make money on it. This has been the case for so long that it’s grown to the point where it’s really built-in, when it fact it doesn’t really make any sense when copy costs reduce to zero.

    When a thing can be copied infinitely for no cost, then where does its value come from? The answer is that value is clearly not the value of the work itself, but in the application of that work.

    As a professional programmer, I write code pretty much all day every day. I get paid a salary to do so. Once I leave, I don’t expect to continue to get paid for the code I wrote during the day. I’m being paid for the act of writing it, not for the code itself. The notion that you can create a thing once and continue to get paid for it is silly on the face of it. It only works in cases where reproduction of the work has a real non-trivial cost. And even in those cases, the continuing payment methodology is an intentional act by society in general, in order to encourage new creative works. It’s not an admission of ownership by society, since creative works have always really been considered to be owned by everybody. It’s only copyright law that creates an artificial value due-to-reproduction on those works.

    So, in general, I’m against the notion of anybody getting paid without working for it. That’s why I’m against copyright, and why I’m against the notion of “compensation” for writing a piece of code one time. If somebody wants to be compensated, then they need to find somebody willing to pay them to do what they want to do.

    • Jeff (27 comments.) says:

      So…. your code is worth money, but code from these authors aren’t. you talk like a socialist, but apparently live like a capitalist. :)

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        No, my time is worth money. I give away my code, under various free licenses.

        • Jeff (27 comments.) says:

          Then we’re just talking about how you get paid for your work, not if. We don’t all have patrons.

          (I’m not a plugin author, just a user)

          • Otto (215 comments.) says:

            No, I was talking about *if* as well. I don’t receive any monetary compensation from the various WordPress plugins I’ve released, and all the work I do over at the WP support forums is voluntary. I take donations, but I think that has added up to less than $80 over 2 years. ;)

            I have no problem with people getting paid for their time and effort. I expect it, in point of fact. I am definitely a capitalist in that respect.

            However, the idea that a creative work can be “owned” is a new concept, recent to even the last 150 years. I don’t really agree with it, because ownership of creative works stifles creativity in the long run. Even the creators of “copyright” knew that, and made copyright a limited time engagement. The continual expansion of that time to near infinite reaches is stifling society and pushing us backwards. It has to be stopped, before the notion is so pervasive that creative freedom is stamped out completely.

          • Otto (215 comments.) says:

            Sorry, I missed the “we don’t all have patrons” comment, and had to add this to respond to it.

            If you don’t have a patron, then get one. Or find another way to get paid. In this world, getting paid is your own problem. That’s the essence of capitalism. Expecting society to pay you for doing nothing is pretty far the other way, don’t you think?

          • Jeff (1 comments.) says:

            Now that I understand your income stream, I can’t call you a socialist, true. :) I’ll also agree that copyright durations are vastly inflated, but I’m not prepared to flush the concept of intellectual property quite yet. Somewhere between (per-use licensing AND overblown drm) OR (advertising-encrusted websites AND digital piracy) is the truth. We just haven’t found the right formula yet.

    • Moyo (1 comments.) says:

      Otto, I really value your strong opinion, but respectfully, I believe almost the opposite:

      The true value of these plugins isn’t represented in the zero-dollar copy costs, it comes from the time that each person is saved by applying the plugin for their individual use. Think about it, if WordPress didn’t have plugins and but you still wanted to create all the added functionality provided by your current plugins, how long would it take you to research, write, and apply code to perform the same task? A long time in some cases.

      Since each time, someone is saved an enormous amount of time/effort by avoiding having to program functionality themselves, authors do indeed deserve payment each time. Remember time=money. This is based off of the concept of “Opportunity Cost” (applied to programming):

      The amount of money you could have earned working on something else instead of spending time writing a piece of code for yourself

      Usually, the amount asked for by author is far less than the amount of money that you would have earned had you not been spending time writing code to accomplish the same task as the plugin.

      But with that being said, I’ve coded a lot for free — I just take a lot of joy from seeing my works in action. However a good model might be to give value-added features on top of a very functional piece of free code, and charge for the additional value.

      Lastly, we think we don’t want to pay for things, when in reality, we tend to value something much more when we spend our hard earned money on it — I know I do. Just my 2 cents :-D.

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        Otto, I really value your strong opinion, but respectfully, I believe almost the opposite:

        The true value of these plugins isn’t represented in the zero-dollar copy costs, it comes from the time that each person is saved by applying the plugin for their individual use.

        … If you think that’s the opposite of what I said, then I’m fairly sure you missed something. ;)

  3. xxxevilgrinxxx (4 comments.) says:

    Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?

    It SHOULD be compensation, yes. It doesn’t hurt to get donations for doing something though, am I right? But the spirit of the thing should be what drives it. To give, to be part of the community. Maybe I’m a cock-eyed optimist :D

  4. Lisa says:

    As an Internet marketing professional, I’m confused by the idea that the WP core and the site are somewhow required to facilitate plug-in and theme author businesses.

    Sure, if you write a great plugin, or a great theme, and want to charge for it, you should do so. However, expecting or even demanding that a community site allow you to include your commercial products without compensation seems a little odd.

    In any other business, you would pay for the advertising of commercial add-ons. Why are plugin and theme authors who want to sell their goods through’s repositories, or provide updates to commercial products through the WP core expecting this service to be provided to their businesses for free?

    • Jeff (27 comments.) says:

      I hate to keep agreeing with people, but here I go again… While authors should expect to be able to charge for their work, they also shouldn’t expect a promotional free ride.

      I waded into this because I was reading that plugin authors don’t deserve compensation if they ask for it. I still feel that’s wrongheaded, even if most authors seem happy to give their plugins away. I like free, as in beer, but I can’t morally require it.

  5. Barry (33 comments.) says:

    “Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?”

    In short, no. How they should be compensated though I’m still not 100% sure. I write code for my own use, some I package up and release as plugins, some I don’t.

    Everynow and then I write a fairly complex and very useful bit of code that I think would benefit a lot of site owners, but it doesn’t get released because I don’t have the time to “tidy” it up into a pluginable form, and because I don’t have the time to support and maintain it beyond my own needs. A plugin without support isn’t much user, but users seem to expect support even for free plugins – which takes a lot of time (which according to @otto is what he expects to be paid for).

    If I felt that there was more incentive for me to release this code, then I would certainly do so.

    @otto: “When a thing can be copied infinitely for no cost, then where does its value come from? The answer is that value is clearly not the value of the work itself, but in the application of that work.”

    Surely then, for the application of a piece of work to have value, then the initial piece of work must also have value? Or to use an english phrase “you can’t polish a turd”.

    @Lisa: I agree, in one sense. I wouldn’t expect a site or community to promote my work, free or otherwise. However, I’m lost by your mention of commercial products demanding promotion, as I wasn’t aware that there were any.

    • Otto (215 comments.) says:

      Mythbusters proved that you can, in fact, polish a turd. :)

      I write a lot of code as a proof-of-concept type of thing and then give it away through various channels. Occasionally, somebody picks up one of these pieces of code and uses it, then has good ideas on how to expand it. Quite often, I’ll get emails to that effect, and then either expand upon it myself or what have you. This sort of thing actually landed me my current job.

      See, unlike you, I release almost all of the code I write for myself. Even if it’s a one-shot. Other people can polish it up if needed, or maybe it gives them ideas, or what have you. I sometimes pick up other bits of code this way and polish them up myself, if they’re useful.

      The application can have value even when the work itself has little or none to start with, because the application is an idea, a concept that can be expanded upon.

    • Otto (215 comments.) says:

      Additional: I figured a quick example might explain well. Back many moons ago, I got an iPod before iTunes was available for Windows. I hated the software they used, and wanted to use my own. So I tried looking for the file format specs, found very little on the topic, and had to reverse engineer it. I wrote a simplistic library in C++ to deal with these file formats. I posted it up here and on the Hydrogen Audio forums. It took a while, but several other good authors picked it up, we started documenting the formats, and now, several years later, most music programs support the iPod.

      Apple never has released solid specs on this, all the current iPod support comes out of that first library I wrote and the documentation I began. I know of at least 2 projects using a vastly expanded version of my library directly, and 3 more that ripped up that code and used pieces of it indirectly. The fact that I can now use any of dozens of music programs with my iPod is pretty decent compensation for that rather hobbyist work, I think.

      But that original library was, in fact, a turd. It was unpolished, supported very little, used weird structures, and so on. It worked, but only just. The main thing it did was to explain the file formats in a coherent way, which made it simpler for developers to understand how iPod’s worked. And that was all that was needed. I’m quite proud of that little bit of crappy code, it went a long way.

  6. Ed (1 comments.) says:

    This depends on the user and the author. If a plugin or theme author is willing to offer it free, then he (or she) should do so. If they feel they have an audience that would be willing to pay for it, then they should pay.

    Likewise, if a user has a need that is only fulfilled by a plugin that costs money and is willing to pay for that fulfillment, then such is appropriate. However, if the fee is too much or totally inappropriate, then the market itself will correct this.

    There are a few “needs” that I myself have that I have (and willing to do so again) paid for. Typically, these are specialized needs that I lack the knowledge to do. Of course I could learn the code and eventually crack it… but so could any of my web design clients… they could all learn how to create websites like I did… but then what would I do?

    I am all for “premium” plugins and themes… however, I do agree with the comment above that says these authors that charge should not EXPECT that WP will advertise their products freely. That being said, why would WP not have a paid ad spot here and there? lol

    My 2 cents.

  7. Matt says:

    The whole philosophy behind WordPress is open source. Should Mullenweg and all the folks at WP start charging? I agree, it is up to the author. However I think it goes against the grain of why WP is so important and I don’t think that people should write WP plugins as a source of sole income. Do it for the community and the growth of the whole and if you make a few bucks here and there, cool.

    • Barry (33 comments.) says:

      “Should Mullenweg and all the folks at WP start charging?”
      They do already for services built around WP (Domains, space, css editing, vip blogs, akismet keys, etc).

      “Do it for the community and the growth of the whole and if you make a few bucks here and there, cool.”
      Unfortunately that argument is lost on the cashier in the supermarket.

  8. Greg (1 comments.) says:

    There are obviously two sides to this argument and thus there will be two types of plugin authors.

    1) Those that do it for the community as a sign of goodwill and in turn wants recognition and authority. Usually pioneers.

    2) Those that do it for compensation.

    Both are acceptable and should be encouraged. It would be nice to see wordpress include a section for commercial plugins!

  9. Onedia says:

    Well, my husband who used to be a developer for biz sites laughs now at the reversal of roles as he buys power shop tools and exotic wood, regularly points out that he and his colleagues used such things as writing plugins and other opensource apps as a way of showing prospective clients and employers their skills. It is a form of resume. For others it is just fun and is great when someone uses the app. Still others view it as a source for additional income. The people who are in the biz of selling online software decide to charge for their plugins then that seems reasonable to me but I expect a first class plugin. \

    Bottom line is that each person must decide what he/she wants from making a plugin or theme available but the market will ultimately determine play out. I use both free and for fee apps and themes depending on the need and what is available. Most of the work I do is not for profit including sites I develop as a volunteer so what I pay is based on funds available.

    For people who use plugins and earn money from the sites they use it on it would be good to donate something but it all comes down to a personal decision.

    Is that all wishywashy enough?

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