Is the WordPress Community Supportive? My Journey into the Heart of WP
WordPress is known as an open-source resource; a wonderful tool that can be put to good use to create any kind of website you can imagine. A major part of using it involves relying on the WordPress community at large.
These folks consistently work hard to develop and test new core features, perform bug fixes, and generally make sure the latest update or release is top-notch. The community is also available to developers who need a little help. The support forums are always bustling with activity, after all.
And while WordPress has this tremendous reputation as friendly to beginners and being consistently helpful, I had to wonder—how much of that is assumption or hype? Can the WordPress community really be as good as everyone says?
I decided to put those claims to the test.
In order to see if the WordPress community really lived up to its reputation, I needed to come up with a plan. How would I test the community’s effectiveness as a resource? What would I do to gauge this across multiple sites? And what specific sites would I test?
So I first put together a list of criteria I would judge each community resource by. After some brainstorming, this is what I came up with. Each category is rated on a 1-10 scale (1 being the worst and 10 being the best):
- Responsiveness – Did the community respond to my question? If so, how long did it take to receive a response?
- Activity – Is the community very active? Did several people respond to my question or just one (or none at all)? Beyond my question, are the members consistently engaged in discussion?
- Effectiveness – Were the responses useful? Did they help me solve the problem? Or did they just have me running around in circles?
- Attitude – Were community members helpful, or did they at least try to be? Were they polite and friendly? Or did they make me feel out of place, unwanted, or even stupid?
With these criteria in hand, I approached the resources with an open mind.
The Test Subjects – and the Results
While there are many forums and blogs out there dedicated to WordPress, I wanted to keep things simple here and stick to those that WordPress users would gravitate to the most. I’ve included both WordPress-specific communities as well as social media communities to prove a fair assessment of how people who use WordPress interact with one another and support one another.
Twitter is a broad social resource. People discuss every topic under the sun on this platform, which is why you have to use hashtags to get your queries seen by a relevant audience.
To test Twitter as a community resource, I asked a specific question of my followers. I used relevant hashtags like #wordpress and #webdesign:
I did receive at least one response to my question, which offered some insightful feedback. However, I ultimately didn’t get a solution to my problem and had to look elsewhere. In all honesty, this test doesn’t accurately portray the usefulness of Twitter (or the members of the WordPress community who are on it) very well. The number of responses I received had a lot to do with how many followers I have and how engaged I am with WordPress experts on this social site. Only those who previously followed me or who were searching the WordPress hashtag that day saw my posts. That’s a pretty limited audience.
Basically, Twitter can serve as a great WordPress resource if you’re already fully engaged with people there. If you have a large following and contribute to WordPress-related discussions on a regular basis, you’re much more likely to get something useful out of your interactions there than those who only post when they need help.
In terms of how Twitter functions as a part of the WordPress community, how did it fair?
- Responsiveness: I posted my question at 1:24pm and received a response by 7:26pm. Not the best, but certainly not the worst, either. 7/10
- Activity: Only one person responded to my question, but you can find a ton of discussion about WordPress on Twitter. 6/10
- Effectiveness: Though the feedback I received was helpful and positive, it ultimately didn’t provide a clear solution. 6/10
- Attitude: Can’t complain. All discourse was friendly and to-the-point. 10/10
Facebook is about more than just posting pictures of your kids, especially when you dive into the world of Facebook groups. There’s a group for everything, it seems, and when it comes to WordPress, there are tons of groups out there to consider. Of course, some are better than others.
I targeted two groups that had a lot of members and activity and were recommended across several different blogs. I posted questions on each. My experience with these groups follows:
Since the question I posed to Twitter was a bit complex, I decided to dial it back a bit and ask a truly simple question here. After all, this group does promise help to beginners, so I needed to interact accordingly.
At 5:47pm, I asked if anyone could recommend themes that’d be great for a site about comic books. My first response came in at 9:22pm. It didn’t offer any concrete suggestions, and rather said I could use plugins to get the comic book-specific features I needed with one of thousands of different themes.
Which is fair enough. But a theme suggestion or two might have been helpful here. Especially if I was a true blue beginner and didn’t want to fiddle with multiple plugins to build the site I wanted.
- Responsiveness: It was fairly good. I received a response within 3 1/2 hours. Not fantastic but at least it was the same day and for a group with over 1,200 members, that’s not too shabby. 7/10
- Activity: Hit and miss. There’s typically a question or two posted per day here, with several responses for each. There’s a good amount of discussion going on just not on a million different topics at once. 6/10
- Effectiveness: Though the feedback I received wasn’t the most helpful in the world, the member did make a legitimate point. Also, responses to other questions are quite useful and explained in such a way that a total newbie could understand. 9/10
- Attitude: Largely positive. I didn’t experience any snark and didn’t see any on other people’s posts. All in all, this is just a group of people who love WordPress and who want to help other people out. 9/10
The Advanced WordPress group is designed for those who have moved past the basics and actually develop sites for a living. Discussions center around code tips and tricks, troubleshooting, and more general questions about how to run a business. I asked the same question of this community as I did Twitter and the responses I got were pretty interesting. Although, this author tried to go back the day after posting to take a screen cap and the question had been removed altogether. Maybe my question was considered too basic? It’s not clear.
One person was very helpful and offered concrete advice—even linking me to a resource for further info. While he didn’t walk me through what I needed to do step-by-step, he did offer me a few more ideas of what to search for and included a link to the Google Custom Search Engine as a possible solution. He didn’t have a definitive answer for me, but it was definitely helpful advice.
Another individual questioned why I’d want to populate a page with search results for a preset query in the first place. Fair enough. But generally, when I see someone asking a question I assume they have a good reason to be doing what they’re doing.
- Responsiveness: Lightning quick. I posted my question at 2:50 pm and received my first response by 3:07pm. Totally, completely impressed. 10/10
- Activity: With over 14,000 members, this group is super active, not just with new posts and questions but with responses. Each new post gets tons of replies. 10/10
- Effectiveness: I was offered useful advice that showed me a perspective I hadn’t yet considered. However, the lack of step-by-step instructions means I’d need to put in considerable legwork to get the answer I needed. 7/10
- Attitude: For the most part, positive. However, there was an air of curtness with one reply. Perhaps I didn’t elaborate enough in my question. Perhaps it was too rudimentary for the audience. Still, being polite never hurt anybody. 7/10
I actually posted to the official support forums last. You’d think that would’ve been my first choice, but since I’d never posted there before, I opted to check out more familiar territory first, a la social media.
So, once I got to posting my question to the support forums, I’d learned from the experience of posting elsewhere.
That is, I’d honed the phrasing of my query. I’d already figured out what kind of questions elicit the best answers and what simply garners a snark-filled response. I’m telling you this, because it might just go to show that reworking your questions over and over again can sometimes improve the quality of help you get. Just some food for thought there.
My experience with the WordPress.org forums began on the Hacks sub-forum. After mulling it over, that seemed to be the most appropriate spot for my question.
- Responsiveness: I posted my question at 11am on a Monday and didn’t receive a response until Tuesday evening. While many other threads got immediate attention, mine wasn’t addressed right away. That’s okay though. It’s just the luck of the draw sometimes with these things. 6/10
- Activity: Abundant! The official support forums are always bustling with activity. Which makes sense since they’re located right on WordPress.org. I only received one response but I’m not going to let that ding the forums’ score too badly here. 9/10
- Effectiveness: The support forums as a whole are pretty dang effective. True blue experts post here all the time and collaborate on problem solving. Hot threads are particularly fun to watch as users troubleshoot together. Now regarding the effectiveness of the responses I received, I was a tad disappointed. The one response I got didn’t exactly address my question. Again, I might have just phrased it wrong or something, but I wasn’t really provided with a direct solution to the problem I had. 6/10
- Attitude: Good for the most part. But don’t be caught posting a newbie question in the wrong place. Some folks are keen to jump all over you. Of course, the lack of patience makes sense when tons of people are posting in the wrong place or posting without searching the forum first on a daily basis. Occasional snark aside, the forums are friendly and helpful. People hang out here because they truly love WordPress. 7/10
I turn back to the question in the title of this post: Is the WordPress community any good? And my answer is this: Yes. Yes, it’s good.
People are passionate about this CMS, which means they love (LOVE!) to talk about it. And because they love to talk about it so much, communities develop around it to foster these discussions. Whether that’s on Twitter, a Facebook group, or even the official WordPress forums, it doesn’t matter. The discussions involve WordPress diehards who like to help out other people.
Will you run into the occasional person with an attitude or who seems to get a thrill out of making others feel inferior or dumb? Yes. But that’s true of any online community. There’s also going to be a sour apple in there somewhere. My advice? Don’t let them get to you. Rather, ask your questions*, review the feedback you receive, engage in the discussion, and thank those who took the time to help you out. Follow these instructions and you’ll reduce the likelihood of getting any flack from other developers and you’ll get the help you need.
*You should always Google your question and/or search the support forum for an answer to your question first. Failure to complete this step is a rookie mistake and will result in an (often quite curt) response that reads “There are tons of threads on this already,” or “You could easily find out how to do this by searching the web for it…”
The aspects of the community I found to be the most helpful were the Facebook Groups. This might have just had something to do with the questions I was asking but the quickness of the responses and their quality were both head and shoulders above the other resources I put to the test. Obviously, I can’t speak for all WordPress Facebook groups here, but the two I used offered a largely positive experience.
Do you make use of the WordPress community? What has your experience been like? Did you find the help you needed or did you end up still having to figure it out for yourself? Please sound off in the comments.
Image source: Dennis Hamilton