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WordPress Growth and Potential Death

Like a developing country, WordPress has been growing at a phenomenal rate. I would liken the current WordPress community to the USA of the 1980’s. While there were issues, just as there are in the WordPress community today, the world watched as the USA became entrenched as the predominant power of the entire world. It’s military power was unmatched in size at the time.

But like most developed countries, something shifts, and their population contracts. Look at countries like Germany to see this effect. It isn’t a death of the economy by any stretch of the imagination, just a change that can have startling effects on the citizens over the longer course of time. For some, this can be the beginning of the end, which I would liken to the Roman Empire.

I have been giving much thought regarding the success of WordPress and if we can expect it to continue its current growth curve, and immediately, just like countless civilizations in the world have done through time, I expect that WordPress will hit its peak, plateau and eventually start to decline.

The decline phase might not be as pronounced as other blogging platforms have experienced, but it will come, and I believe that most of it will be due to the fact that the WordPress community can no longer cater to its “rockstars”.

Back when WordPress was younger, you would develop a theme or plugin used by maybe a few hundred people. Out of the users, a small percentage would need your help and support, and that would take a certain amount of time.

For example, let’s say that the average plugin and theme received five support requests per month, with each request taking five minutes from start to finish. That was around half an hour per month of support for something that was freely created, freely distributed and the community repaid such people by making them into their own Internet celebrities. People like Alex King, Michael H***, and many more were people that WordPress users came to trust, and befriend.

While I can’t say that the plugin and theme authors that made it to “rockstar” status felt they were being reasonably compensated through community credit and clout, there still was a transaction being made.

Today, if you release a good plugin or theme, you can expect thousands of downloads, all the way up to hundreds of thousands of downloads. I have no doubt that some of the more popular plugins receive hundreds of support requests every single day, but say for the sake of argument, that the average theme or plugin only receives ten times my first example, or fifty requests a month. At five minutes per request, we are asking plugin and theme developers to dedicate upwards of four hours per month on helping WordPress users with their problems.

This isn’t a small time commitment, and unlike the yesteryear, the community doesn’t recognize people the same way that they used to. I’d be hard pressed to name the authors of my favourite plugins today, where I visited, each and every day, most of the blogs related to my favourite plugin authors only two years ago.

Of course people will say that these developers and designers can charge for support, but most people know that it can be a death knell for all but the most popularly marketed brands from A-List developers and designers. Essentially, those that are working on WordPress today, aren’t able to extract the same “value” as those that were pouring their time into the platform long ago.

This will lead to an exodus of highly talented people in the next two or so years, as they move on to other platforms, or give up on developing and supporting their plugins. Of course the WordPress community will adapt to these losses, and only old guard like myself will notice the loss, but each time this occurs, the community is somehow diminished, leaving me wanting for a new, better platform.

Categories: WordPress News

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Comments

  1. Todd ) says: 2/18/2009

    I understand where you’re going, and I’m not sure you’re wrong, but it seems like it’s possible for the community to rise up and support each other with the most popular themes and plugins. Even going so far as continuing the development and upgrades. While the decline is not impossible, I’m not sure we’ll a Roman-Empire end for WordPress.

    At least I certainly hope not.

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  2. Idealien says: 2/18/2009

    How is it a bad thing when EVERY theme / plugin isn’t celebrated as a substantial thing? The tools (and documentation on how to use them) are getting easier by the day. It is the commodification of what was once a niche industry. If you look at it from a sociological standpoint – Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs perhaps – you’ll see that people aren’t fighting with basic level needs (hosting, configuration, publishing process) and can work on higher order concepts like writing great content such as you have done here.

    However, your logic about the time for support is only accurate IF a developer does not plan for success. If they answer support questions asked of them in an open fashion (forum, blog comments, posts, etc) it means that a high percentage of users who have trouble can find answers without having to bother the developer.

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  3. Andrew says: 2/18/2009

    Part of the problem is that WordPress.org is adding features to cater for users that a few versions ago would have been much better suited to WordPress.com. While that isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that when things go wrong explaining how to fix it can take many many times longer if it is possible at all.

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  4. Susan says: 2/21/2009

    I’ve been seeing teams of plugin publishers forming to handle the amount of requests for support. In addition, most questions are moving to forums. While WordPress.org and .com will slowly taper off some time in the future, I don’t think it will sharply decline but maybe plateau for quite some time…unless they keep coming out with neat things like wordpress.tv.

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