I both love and loathe my inbox. On the one hand, it gives me a constant stream of information and instant access to my friends, old college classmates, and current colleagues. I can send a message to a mailing list and have 20 quality replies in just a few hours. This never-ending supply of information could easily keep me busy all day if I had no other source of entertainment.
On the other hand, it gives me a constant stream of unnecessary clutter and white noise generated by the instant access my friends, old college classmates, and current colleagues have to me. Without sending a message to a mailing list, I have more than 20 frustratingly off-topic replies in a few hours. This never-ending supply of borderline spam could easily keep me irritated all day if I had no other source of work-related stress.
Yes, I’m talking about the WP Hackers mailing list.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this list since I first learned about it about two years ago. I subscribed to the list because someone told me it was the best way to get involved with core WordPress development. After two months of mindless debating over function names and plug-in requirements, I unsubscribed so I could focus on real development.
After I saw a few patches committed to WordPress core with little discussion on Trac (but heavy references to WP Hackers threads) I decided to give it another try. That lasted a whole week before I unsubscribed again.
Currently, I’m a member of the list once more, and I’m much more active than I used to be – but the list is no more productive. This weekend, someone asked a seemingly innocuous question about strategies related to protecting premium plug-ins (open source systems that you have to pay for initially) from un-wanted redistribution.
I was very excited because this is a question I’ve wanted to ask for a while … but haven’t quite known how. Well, the conversation started. And kept going. And took a few twists and turns. And, as of last night, we were still discussing it … I think.
Actually, the conversation derailed somewhere, and we once again got hung debating the WordPress Matrix Easter egg.
Andrew Nacin summarizes my exact sentiments about this frustrating redirection:
It took you guys four days to jump from premium plugins, to GPL, to obfuscated code, to the easter egg. You guys are slacking. Six months ago you would have made those jumps in a day, tops.
Also, major props for having the most productive conversation on the list for the last few months only days before the least productive conversation on the list for the last few months. Surely one might have gotten the wrong idea about wp-hackers after the version control thread, but you guys took pains to set the record straight.
Just last week, we had a fairly long but education debate on the merits of using Subversion versus Git in WordPress development. The >140 email thread was a lot to follow, but I know several people learned a lot and we settled a few development disputes in the community. (And no, WordPress isn’t moving away from Subversion … yet.)
But now, we’ve taken a great question on best practices, devolved into a debate over the GPL as applied to obfuscated code, and descended once again into an argument over an Easter egg in the software. shoshanna dresses
This entire conversation, though, encapsulates my longstanding frustration with the majority of the WordPress project: our general inability as a community to stay on topic.
When I started working with WordPress, it was very clearly a blogging platform. Every feature spoke to the idea of blogging by creating posts and curating comments. Pages and supplementary features were entirely ancillary (and I couldn’t even figure them out at first). Over time, though, everyone argued that WordPress had evolved into a full-fledged content management system (CMS).
We started adding new features, and shifting the focus from blogging to more ambiguous “content.” I started consulting and selling the idea of using WordPress as a serious corporate CMS to my clients.
Then, newer versions came out that, once again, shifted the focus back to blogging. The upcoming release of WordPress 3.1 introduces post formats – a fantastic feature if you want to build a Tumblr-style blog (and I’ll probably use them personally) but needless clutter if you’re running a corporate website or e-commerce portal.
Don’t get me wrong, I think features like post formats are great (I’ve even contributed to developing it), but the constant shift away from and back to blogging as WordPress’ core mission is distracting, confusing, and driving away potential users.
This week’s activity on the WP Hackers mailing list shows that this trend is unlikely to abate any time soon, though. Which leaves me asking, what can we do to narrow our focus and stay on topic as a community?