June 19, 2014

Getting WordPress Plugin Help

If you’re a WordPress user, the chances are that you’ll have to interact with plugin developers at some point. It can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing when a plugin goes awry, especially if it has a significant impact on your site’s functionality or even stops it working altogether. On many occasions, I’ve seen WordPress users vent that frustration at plugin developers. As satisfying as that might be in the short-term, it’s not helpful.

Developers work on free plugins for a variety of different reasons: to give back to a community from which they have benefitted, to publicize a premium version of their plugin or some other service, or simply as a hobby. If you’re using a free plugin on your WordPress site, you’re getting something for nothing from a developer who is probably very busy putting food on their table with a full-time job in addition to working on the plugin. Developers don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with rude, demanding, or uninformative users.

To help you deal with plugin developers in a way that’s likely to have a positive result for both you and the developer, it is helpful to keep a few simple guidelines in mind.

Realize That Software Is Complex And Will Go Wrong At Some Point

No software is perfect. Developing software, including WordPress plugins, is a highly complex endeavor, especially when you consider the number of potential combinations of plugins, themes, customizations, and sites that a WordPress plugin has to work with. All software goes wrong at some point, it’s just a matter of time. Expecting free software to be perfect and feeling aggrieved when it goes awry is likely to result in an unhelpful approach to interactions with developers.

Think About Your Issue As Contributing To The Community Development Effort

Open source software development should be thought of as a collaboration between users and developers. Developers want their plugins to work, but they need feedback from users to discover and iron out problems. If you think of your issue as an opportunity to contribute to the development process by providing useful information, both you and the developer can benefit.

Google It First

Developers are busy people and free plugins are usually worked on by a solo developer or small team. They haven’t the time or the resources to answer elementary or easily researched questions. Before asking a developer for help you should ensure that you have exhausted other sources of information, including Google, WordPress forums, and the plugin documentation.

Submit Your Support Request / Bug Report To The Right Place

I’ve often seen users railing against developers in the WordPress support forums because of a lack of responsiveness. Sometimes developers are just too busy to answer quickly (and you’re not paying for support), but in many cases they have provided a project-specific support forum or bug tracker for the plugin and don’t use the WordPress.org plugin support page. Find out where the developer prefers to handle support and contact them there.

Be Polite

This shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately a small proportion of users are rude to developers. If you are using a free plugin, you are not entitled to support and have no grounds for demanding it impolitely. Most developers will do their best to help in a timely fashion, but they are not obligated and users are not entitled to their time.

Provide All Necessary Information

There is an art to making support requests and “HELP!! MY BLOG STOPPED WORKING!!!” is not useful to anyone. Take some time to think about exactly what the problem is and the best way to concisely express it so that a person who is not familiar with your specific situation is given the information they need. On the other hand, don’t write a thousand-word essay.

Tell the developer what the specific issue is, how it impacts your site, and the steps they would need to take to reproduce the problem. Be prepared to provide more information if requested.

Ask Questions The Smart Way

There is a classic guide to asking questions the smart way by legendary open source developer Eric S. Raymond. It’s a little dated, but well-worth reading for anyone who interacts with developers.

If You Don’t Get A Response, Find An Alternative Plugin

Sometimes, you won’t get any response even though you’ve followed the suggestions I’ve offered here. Perhaps the plugin is no longer actively supported, perhaps the developer is busy with her day job, or perhaps they just aren’t prepared to support their plugin. If you can’t find someone else in the community to help or another source of information, it’s more than likely that there are alternative plugins that provide the same functionality.

If you follow these simple guidelines, then your interactions with plugin developers are likely to be friendly and fruitful. If you’re a developer and have something you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment.

Image Credit: Vtdainfo


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