Thanking and Donating to the Developers Who Make Everything Possible

A few weeks ago I read with interest the post “Is WordPress A Thankless Community?” and my immediate reaction was “probably so, but no more than any other.” Then I lamented my cynicism and remembered my own hypocrisy. It wasn’t a good day.

I promise this isn’t going to be a “kids these days!” post, but I do think there’s a generational aspect to all this. We read lists like Wired’s “100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About” and the annual Beloit College Mindset List that lists the “cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college” for that year. At least I always read that list because I often teach freshmen and need to know how many of my jokes are going to fall flat that semester (answer: most of them).

But the point of bringing up age is to note that in the U.S at least (and this info is from a Pew study), Generation Y (18-32yo) is the largest group of adults online (30%), and somewhere around 90% of all people aged 12-24 are online. That 12-24yo group accounts for most of the activity in Web 2.0 and social networking spaces—using tools, creating blogs, customizing their internet experience. [alert! grand sweeping generalizations follow!] For those 12-24 year old users—a category which I should note that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg fit into until a few months ago—this stuff has always been free, they don’t have the same sense of the history of the web and the developer ethos that some of us have, and the dot-com boom and bust pre-Web 2.0 is nothing but a Wikipedia article and certainly wasn’t something they lived through as working adults. This is the age of user generated content, consumer generated media, and crowdsourcing; remember that the 2006 Time person of the year was “You.”

So it comes as no surprise to me that “You” (or “Us”) sometimes forget—or maybe never realized—that the tools that enable us to do all those things online, customized the way that we want, are created by individuals.

In the article that got me thinking about all this, the author (who is probably part of the demographic I’m talking about, which should tell you something about generalizations and avoiding them) noted that developers reported to him that “end users demand more features, demand better support, and in the end, have this feeling of entitlement even if the plugin is available without a price tag.” In brief, he says “very rarely do they ever get a donation let alone a Thank You for releasing their work to the public.” I believe it, especially because I almost never remember to donate to a plugin author until a few months after I’ve been using it and then I run through the list plug-ins and browser extensions that I use every day and kick some cash to people. I also believe it because of my own experiences in the past nine years as a book author, and demands and interactions with users, but that is a different topic for a different day.

So, is the WordPress community—or the Mozilla add-in user community—a thankless one? Like I said originally, I don’t think so per se, but I think that the vast majority of users tend to forget about the individuals who make the tools to enable what we do, expect everything to be free because for the bulk of the time they’ve been online things have been free, and don’t take the extra time to seek out the various donation methods that developers do provide. That’s why I think the Mozilla pilot project for contributions to developers is a good idea, and more WordPress extension developers should put a Donate link in the readme.txt file so that is shows up directly on the WordPress extension page. In other words, do what you can to make it easier.

Making it easier to donate doesn’t solve the “people” problem, of not being thankful in the first place, but I certainly don’t have any ideas about that except we should all be better people. I feel comfortable in my assertion that open-source developers of plugins and extensions do not have “make money” as their primary goal. Donations are always a nice by-product, and simply being thanked or publicly acknowledged is a nice touch. It should be the norm.

Use a WordPress extension or theme and like it? SAY SOMETHING. Blog it, tweet it, whatever. Have five bucks earmarked for coffee? Drop it in the developer tip jar if one is available. Or, better yet, take a moment to see what the developer wants—such as comments, bug fixing, and so on. For instance, the Adblock Plus developer tells us “please don’t look for a way to donate money—there is none. Money is nowhere near as useful as the points listed above.” Those points include reporting bugs, testing builds, helping others, spread the word, and so on. Better still, take a look at the FireFTP donation page and you’ll see that half the proceeds go to orphanages in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia. Orphanages.

Bottom line, let’s remember that there are people behind the tools we use, and every once in awhile remember kick some cash their way or do your part to publicize their work. [I just realized I used to do this on my original blog; I found extension round-up posts from July 2005, December 2005, and June 2006]

These are the WordPress extensions or Firefox add-ons that make my online life better in 2009:

WordPress Extensions

Firefox Extensions

  • Adblock Plus for ad blocking
  • Firebug for quickly debugging CSS/HTML/JavaScript
  • FireFTP as my primary FTP client
  • FireFTP button (it might seem ridiculous, but I like the little button in my toolbar)
  • ForecastFox for the weather forecasts and quick doppler radar for my area
  • Google Preview so I can see page previews in my Google searches
  • LinkChecker to check links on web pages (if using FF 3.5 check the comments for a link to an update)
  • ReminderFox for scheduled tasks and events, although now I use the sticky note app plus Google Calendar on my iGoogle start page
  • Update Notifier so I know when themes and extensions need to be updated (note: this extension is part of the Mozilla Contributors pilot program)
  • Zotero for collecting and managing research sources
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