, LLC.

The Charity  Dilemma

WordPress & The Expectation of "Free"

GiveFor the past 4 years or so I have been sharing lessons I learn in my day-to-day work here at Sharing my experiences working with WordPress and other open-source web technology is something that I truly enjoy.I am grateful for the fans I have gained, arguments I have sparked, and people I have helped. Sharing my knowledge freely to others that are willing to learn is my small attempt at giving back to the wonderful WordPress community. The team at Automattic, and the community of talented theme and plugin developers, has given far more to me than I can ever give to them.

Unrealistic Expectations

Over the years I’ve learned a few harsh truths about the WordPress community, and open-source communities in general, for that matter. There are hordes of people out there who have unrealistic expectations about what to expect when they receive something for free. WordPress is incredible software that has undoubtably taken thousands upon thousands of hours to develop.

Astonishingly this is provided to anyone free of charge at, yet there seem to be neverending criticisms about issues specific to individual environments, custom setups and out the box scenarios. It’s not uncommon to see “bug” reports in the support forums. Quite often these “bug” reports describe “missing” features.

This ungrateful behavior continues to bewilder me, and I have amazing respect for the WordPress plugin and core developers who deal with it day in, and day out. How can people be so critical of something they didn’t pay for? Especially when the opportunity exists for them to fix it themselves, or hire someone who knows how to.

Comparison to Everyday Life

Let’s take this out of context for a minute. For a moment, pretend that you’re looking at purchasing a new home. You’ve outlined what you want, and have found a few good options. You approach a realtor and they offer you these two deals:

Which one would you choose?

  1. A house with everything you want, except a garage, completely free.
  2. A house with everything you want including a garage for the fair market value.

If you’re of sound mind you would probably choose option #1, right? Let’s assume that it costs about 1/8th the cost of the home to build your own garage and attach it to the house. Even though it may cost you money to build the garage you want, overall you’re still getting an amazing great deal for your money.

If you hire a skilled contractor to build the garage, you’ll probably get something that lasts longer, requires less maintenance, and is well-built. If you hire a very cheap, unskilled contractor, don’t be surprised if the garage collapses and destroys your car.

“Free” Immediately Lowers Expectations

Compare this example to the many people out there using WordPress, and it should match up, but quite often it doesn’t. I understand that there are many free themes and plugins available, but labor isn’t free. If you need a customization I believe it’s fair to expect that you will have to pay for it. In many circumstances the amount of money that you invest will often have a direct effect on the quality of the outcome.

Plugin Development & Tutorial Writing is Charity

People need to understand that plugin development and tutorial writing is, for the most part, charity work. Now, I know what your thinking: What about premium plugins and themes like Gravity Forms or PageLines, or paid authors that contribute to online magazines like Smashing Magazine or WPTuts+. There are always exceptions to a rule, but in general the vast majority of resources available to the WordPress community are free. I have found that there is an enormous community of developers around the world who are sharing their knowledge freely, for no apparent capital gain.

These generous individuals who choose to donate their time, knowledge and code to help others learn or solve a problem have a limited amount of time. Quite often these individuals make a living with WordPress or another related technology, and are paid to develop, design or plan solutions for businesses. If you expect someone in this position to develop a custom solution to solve your custom problem, don’t be surprised or frustrated if it costs something. It should.

Final Thoughts

If you were starving and the red cross came to you with a bowl of white rice, and you asked for steak instead, would you be surprised if they said “No”? Probably not. This may be a drastic comparison, but in theory the same concepts apply. If someone provides you with something for free, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t solve all of your specific needs. If you need something that does solve your specific needs don’t be upset if they expect something in return, it’s the way of the world. We all need food and a place to sleep, and the last time I checked that stuff costs money.

Meet the Author

Kevin Leary, WordPress Consultant

I'm a freelance web developer and WordPress consultant in Boston, MA with 16 years of experience building websites and applications. View a portfolio of my work or request an estimate for your next project.