“Whatever your determination or will power, it is foolish to try to change the nature of things. Things work the way they do because that is the way of things.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artistโ€™s Book of Five Rings

Closed Open Source


I am a fan of open-source. This started with WordPress and is gradually expanding to cover almost all of my information needs. I am writing this post on an old latpop I resurrected with Ubuntu and purely open-source solutions. In some cases, such as Open Office, I have had to surrender many niceties and make do with simpler and more limited tools. In other cases, such as Firefox, I have found a better overall solution and even some new useful features I didn’t have before.

Open source generally suffers from a poor user-experience. This is an issue for most software tools and developers, but commercial solutions have an upper-hand in this domain. They can afford to make design efforts to either make their products better or at least make them look cosmetically better.

Open-source is rooted in a passion for developers to express themselves – to create software the way they think it should be (technically -and morally). Open source is therefore dominated by developers. Most of “open-source” is hidden from end-users – it is a highly technical environment and social process in which developers in remote locations work together to create software – it’s a pretty amazing process. Though it’s called “open” it’s actually a very private party – you need to have a developer state-of-mind and technical capabilities to participate. This pretty much closes the door on many other disciplines that are essential to making good software.

For some time I’ve been wanting to partake and contribute to open-source products. I have some experience in product design and user experience which I believe are greatly missing from open-source. So far, all of my attempts to help have failed. Actually they haven’t actually failed – I never even got through the door. Actually, it feels like there isn’t even a door for me to knock on.


WordPress is a wonderful tool. I’d like to see it evolve into my one and only home on-line. I’d like everyone to be able to get a WordPress website as an alternative to Facebook (and I think BuddyPress is the wrong way to do it). I think that one of the greatest obstacles to moving in this direction is the complexity of the administration interface (which is one of the best in the open-source world) – which is way more then what many non-technical people can handle. WordPress has actually been able to bring graphic designers into an open-source development process – but I don’t think that nice icons or a color palette are enough to make WordPress more accessible.

In this video (3:38) Matt speaks about what he feels is the greatest misconception about WordPress – and he points out that people think it’s only for professional bloggers – when actually much work has been done to make it accessible to everyone. If a lot of people are thinking it, maybe it’s not a “misconception”?


I don’t know what the solution is – but I have some ideas. I’d like to be able to present those ideas and discuss them with others. I’d like the WordPress developer community to be open to product, graphic and user experience designers. But even that is something I don’t know how to do – it’s a great challenge.

I care, I want to contribute, I want to participate, I want there to be a dialogue. I’d like to have an opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas. I don’t know of a place for me to do this, and all my attempts to reach-out so far have met thin air.

Mozilla Raindrop

This recent initiative from Mozilla Labs is exciting. I have been wishing for something like it for a long time and it’s even a part of my vision for WordPress. After reading what information was available about it – my mind begin churning and I began looking for a place a discussion can take place. The Raindrop Community page offers several options:

  • Design is a collection of screen-shot images on Flickr – which I really can’t see as a place to converse and innovate.
  • On Get Satisfaction I asked where I should post my thoughts
  • I was referred to the Ideas section (all the rest are technical/developer oriented spaces) – where the most popular suggestion is about a missing icon.

So again I was left scratching my head. I continued to collect my thoughts and reflections but I don’t know where to share them with the community – which has left with me a feeling that maybe the community doesn’t even want to hear about it.

It’s a frustrating experience –ย  I haven’t given up yet. I’ve been thinking about this post for some time – a post I read today at Weblog Tools Collection finally prompted me to write it.

This entry was posted in Open Source, outside, Tech Stuff, Wordpress. You are welcome to read 6 comments and to add yours


  1. Posted April 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi there,

    I think you've raised a very good point in a non-confrontational sort of way. What does a graphic / UX designer do when they can't code, in order to participate in an Open Source Project?

    Unfortunately, there isn't really an easy answer. Because the actual development work is done by people who can code, they, by default, have power over what goes in and what doesn't – and what the tool looks like. You can't really work around that.

    I think your best bet is to meet people who CAN code, and convince them you have something useful to offer, in a way that doesn't antagonize them. You'll have to find someone open to conversation, and open to new ideas, and willing to do lots of "extra" work to make something look right.

    Are you coming to WordCamp in SF? I'm a sometimes developer with not enough UX skill, but I'm looking to make some improvements to the WordPress Dashboard, independent of the core development community. I would love to chat with you.



  2. Posted April 16, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    It's interesting you saying you wanna contribute but you can't.

    WordPress has one of the widest options for community participation: forum, mailing list, IRC, blogs, trac… and each of them behave differently, they aren't only more of the same!

    Have you searched, or just faced a dead end and gave up? ๐Ÿ˜› I've recently read a nice article in one of Automattic devblogs saying they acknowledge the community is somehow disorganized and they are missing the opportunity to hear ideas, there was a time they created a forum topic where we could post our ideas about features that should be implemented. But it really seems they've not been able to handle the community growth and "doors" are not "opened" accordingly.

    The problems you point to open source is that these projects don't profit directly from users, we users get the software for free! So, they indeed want the user base to grow, but their income doesn't grow proportional to it directly, so sometimes they just can't handle it.

    In a proprietary paid software, each new user is a new paying customer, and if they have an at least fairly organized business model, if their user base grows they just hire more employees for their support team, hire more developers, and keep growing. Now in an open source project, if the user base grows they keep the same, but they must pay more for hosting, and depend even more from voluntary community members to handle support needs. Generally they just get a forum where more experienced members help each other, and core developers get close and unaccessible because "they have work to do".

    If you wanna help, the fastest way is to get a beta or svn version of WordPress, go to trac and get a ticket that has a patch and test that patch, or search for a knowing bug and try to add more info about it, or simply report a new bug. If you can develop a patch and fix a bug, much better.

    To add new features it's a bit harder, we are hardly able to all by ourselves add a complete new feature that adds/edits a few functions to core and have it commit. That would need a lot of tests, and as I've seen trac is very low on testers! A better shot would be develop a plugin and offer it, and maybe request in trac for new filters and actions that are missing and your feature requires to be attached. I've done that and I was successiful. We are hardly able to add new small features to core without the help of members that have been on it for years and contributed a lot, and bigger features are only added when core developers point they should or many contributors decide to work together on it.

    And, to suggest new features ideas… well, testers availability in trac is inversely proportional to suggested ideas being presented ๐Ÿ˜€ Pratically every WordPress user has a need of a feature that is not available yet, I myself had to develop almost 10 plugins to have some features I needed and weren't available even we having a few thousand plugins out there!

    If you have a feature idea, you should really develop it yourself instead of just suggesting it (what in practice is request some developer to do it for you), and if possible share it so that other ppl with the same need can get helped. We shouldn't see WordPress as a complete product, it's more like a base engine where we can develop enhancements over.

  3. Posted April 16, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink


    Thank you too for the time and attention you invested in reading and commenting.

    This post was written ~8 months ago and I'm still at it… I haven't given up… but I in a more relaxed mode… kind of fire and forget interaction ๐Ÿ™‚

    Your words demonstrate exactly what I feel. Your bottom line is this: "If you have a feature idea, you should really develop it yourself"… this condemns WordPress to growing only in the direction that developers can take it… and to me that is a shame… and what makes it, in my eyes, a closed community.

    I've said it many times and say it again – PLEASE read this book:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0672326140?ie=UT

    Just as there are "core" developers there can be "core designers". BUT this is only relevant if you feel that designers can make a worthy contribution… a contribution that can't be provided by developers or community ideas.

    I may try to harness the energy of your comment into drafting my thoughts of how design may be introduced into the WordPress developer community.

    All Things Good

  4. Posted April 16, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Your words demonstrate exactly what I feel. Your bottom line is this: "If you have a feature idea, you should really develop it yourself"… this condemns WordPress to growing only in the direction that developers can take it… and to me that is a shame… and what makes it, in my eyes, a closed community.

    Well, what makes it advance is developers, if features aren't developed they never exist. What makes a software be real is it being developed… u can't escape it. You'll never see a software advance with no developer.

    I've read about wp-hackers being split into another mailing list where designers talk about admin layout, because their talk was getting big and developers weren't interested in it :p You sould search for this mailing list and join them, or join any other channel.

    In most softwares ppl don't bother with admin pages layout, it's always neglected. But the frontend can be made anyway we want with themes.

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