Workbox’s WordPress video gallery plugin accumulated over 10,000 downloads last month. We launched this plugin a little over two years ago and have been amazed and humbled by its popularity (particularly since we really don’t promote it) – thanks for trusting us, WordPressers!
By supporting this plugin, we’ve experienced some of the good and bad of the open source community, and learned a lot about software customer management, the software industry and ourselves.
1. Users are your best testers.
Since we launched the plugin, we’ve had about a dozen or so users tell us about real bugs. We try to immediately find the bugs and fix them, and we are grateful to all users who tell us about them.
They discover issues in situations that we didn’t anticipate and in use-cases we didn’t imagine. They help us make the plugin better.
Conclusion: Encourage users to find and report bugs. Your software will be better for it.
2. Users are not mean, they’re just overworked and underpaid (like everyone).
First, it’s wonderful that users will actually take the time to tell us about problems. They could just as easily leave a nasty note, but for the most part, they’re pretty nice. Second, they’re looking for a solution and get frustrated when things don’t work as they anticipated, so they can be terse or impatient.
Imagine this situation: a WordPress builder or amateur wants a gallery of videos on a page or post. They look through and test several plugins. They stumble upon ours and install it. Then they find a bug. Ugh, just what they didn’t need! So, they’re frustrated.
But, if we solve their issue, they are usually surprised and delighted that we’d take the time to support a free plugin.
Conclusion: Delight users by responding quickly.
3. Big software vendors mislead customers.
This may sound heretical, and to many it isn’t exactly news, but Google, Salesforce, Adobe, etc., have created a legion of frustrated, irritated users. Why? Because they say their software is easy, intuitive, fast, integrated, etc., etc. Baloney. Sure, the products and services work pretty well on basic tasks, but once a user tries to do something beyond the basics they run into trouble. Expectations are not met.
WordPress issues: Script conflicts. Plugins not working after upgrades. Basic HTML stuff. The vast, vast majority of our plugin’s issues are not truly bugs. Many users simply don’t understand the implications of edits they make. This isn’t necessarily WordPress’s fault; users make edits and install plugins, since they’re told it’s easy, then quickly find themselves over their heads (and their sites are a mess).
Google may be the most misleading of all. Here’s a literal quote from a CMO about AdWords: “I just spent $10,000 and I don’t know where it went.” This person was NOT an idiot, he simply believed he’d have the time or already had the knowledge to figure it out. We hear stuff like this all the time.
Here’s the deal: if software has an “ecosystem,” it means service companies like Workbox can make their customers happy, but at the customers’ expense. However, the great thing about WordPress and other freeware is that it often has a dedicated community of developers who help for free.
Conclusion: You can be the hero if you are patient and solve users’ problems. Customers have been promised the moon and stars – but they’re often getting a MoonPie and a cubic zirconium.
4. Users can make your day.
We launched our plugin as an experiment, and people seem to like it. And, in truth, in the WordPress universe, 10,000 downloads really isn’t that notable. That means support for the plugin hasn’t been too demanding; however, it has required our attention and pulled us away from billable work.
So, why do we continue supporting our plugin?
First, supporting the plugin has made our team more skilled at working on WordPress. We also believe that interacting with users who have complaints has honed our marketing and management skills.
Additionally, it feels like the right thing to do. We use freeware all the time and by giving away our plugin, we are paying back the developer community in our own little way.
Also, if you look at comments on our blog posts, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback – all unsolicited. It’s very rewarding.
And, other developers do help – for free. For example, Andrew Kurtis (http://www.WebHostingHub.com) gave us a Spanish translation of our video gallery plugin and only requested acknowledgement. Very cool!
Finally, you would not believe the trust we have gotten from users with issues. They often literally give us administrative access to their sites to determine and fix issues for them! Perhaps they’re naïve, and sure, they’re getting some free work out of us, but it’s usually quite minimal on our end. We believe they trust us because we treat them honestly and quickly, and their gratitude is, well, quite gratifying.
Conclusion 1: Yes, the cranky comments can be discouraging, and you need to try to remember that 1 negative post equals 10 un-written compliments, but the kind words and knowing that you’re helping folks makes it worthwhile.
Conclusion 2: You improve your programming and marketing skills by supporting a WordPress plugin.
Please let us know your thoughts and, if you’ve published a free plugin, what your experience was like.
Also, stay tuned – we’re planning on launching a new plugin soon (related to SilverPop)!
Here’s the WordPress video gallery plugin: http://wordpress.org/plugins/workbox-video-from-vimeo-youtube-plugin/
Thank you, Eric Weidner and the whole Workbox crew!