Who should decide what features WordPress gets next?

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I commented on a post over at WPTavern last night, about the quite-delayed release of version 3.6 and it got me thinking about who should decide what features get included in the next version of WordPress.

WordPress 3.6, for those of you who don’t know, was supposed to be released at the end of April. It’s now nearing the end of June, with no mention of when we can actually expect to see 3.6.

As some of you may recall, a Post Formats UI update was supposed to be the flagship feature of WordPress 3.6. It even led as the most desirable feature in our own poll of the most anticipated features in 3.6.

On May 29th, after much whimpering from the community, Mark Jaquith finally announced that the planned Post Formats UI upgrade would not be included in core and would instead be released as a plugin.

I don’t think the debate here is whether or not the post formats UI refresh was ready for the primetime (though, in my opinion, it should absolutely be included in core, for the sake of standardisation), but it’s why we even got to this point?

You’ll have to forgive my ignorance here, because I am not close enough to the development process to know how it works, but it seems as though the public, who are the end users should have some input as to what features they’d most like to see in the next iteration of WordPress.

It’s hard not to think that the development team (whom I admire and love dearly by the way) got a little too far into their box and decided on a feature set that they thought the community would like without actually consulting them and marched on with countless hours of development, only to have large swathes of people turn their noses up when they saw it coming together.

I applaud Mark for stepping out and making the hard decision to do a U-turn and remove the Post Formats UI refresh from core. After all, the idea of seeing the fruits of your labour smashed in front of your eyes is disheartening, but he heard and he listened and he took action.

And that brings us to here. Near the end of June, without version 3.6 and without its flagship feature. So what do you think about how the features for WordPress are selected? Would you like to have more of a say? Or do the development team generally get it right and this is just an anomaly?

18 thoughts on “Who should decide what features WordPress gets next?”

  1. MaAnna says:

    I’d definitely like to see them poll more users, designers, and developers before they dive into a major undertaking like this. I just made a post today on how excited I am for the inclusion of HTML5 in the core and what that means for SEO. I know Custom Post Types were going to be part of that. So, understand their let down. But, theme developers would have told them that they would have liked to take care of that at the theme level anyway. Just include more HTML5.

    1. curtismchale says:

      There are lots of opportunities to jump in and say what you want. Have you showed up to the IRC discussions? Comment on any of the make.* blogs when they talk about new features (weekly posts). Get on Trac tickets with comments?

      I really don’t think there is a reason at all for anyone to not get input. You just have to take a step and go to where they are discussing it.

      1. Piet says:

        With all due respect I think that for the average WP user, Trac and the IRC discussions are pretty intimidating. These are meant for developers at least that’s the idea I get of them.

        I think what MaAnna meant with her comment that it would be a good idea to do a little bit more research over a larger community instead of deciding on features blindly.

        1. curtismchale says:

          They post weekly on blogs about features. There are no blind decisions. You can comment on the blogs.

    2. Chip Bennett says:

      But, theme developers would have told them that they would have liked to take care of that at the theme level anyway.

      Just to clarify: it’s Post Formats, not Custom Post Types. And that confusion is part of the issue. What was added – and subsequently removed – along with the UI improvements was the standard schema for storing post format data. Without standardization, Theme developers are left in a wild west of ad hoc implementation of the Post Formats feature. Leaving implementation at the Theme level is exactly counter to the stated purpose of the Post Formats feature, which is standardization of certain post data, to facilitate portability among Themes.

      The UI was slick, and a nice addition; but the far greater benefit – and thus, now the far greater loss – was the back-end code changes that would establish that much-needed standardization.

      1. MaAnna says:

        Thanks for catching that, Chip. Yes, post formats is what I meant. Was working on a custom post type for a client at the time I took a break to read this blog.

  2. curtismchale says:

    If you’re not putting time in to building the core software, I think your voting power should be pretty low. It’s great to say that you want a feature, then do nothing to help it happen.

    1. Well, that has some validity, but at the end of the day, aren’t they trying to build something for the benefit of everyone? If they’re building stuff that people just don’t want, isn’t the project losing its way? Who contributes aside, it’s clear that what the users want/need should be at the top of the list of what to build, unless the developers have some insight into why what they’re asking for isn’t sensible and/or feasible. I think that kind of mentality leads to a “us and them” segregation, which I’m proud to say does not exist in WordPress and I’m sure no one would want either.

      1. curtismchale says:

        I’m not trying to say that users shouldn’t have a say, I just get tired of people who could contribute code complain. We all need to be careful that if we complain, we also take steps to fix the issues that we are having.

        The post formats team did a bunch of user testing, and it just wasn’t right. Users were confused about what was happening. I will miss post formats but I don’t think that it was worth holding up 3.6 any more with a feature that had no real ETA in site.

        1. I agree with you – it was the right decision to remove it, but I too was really hoping that it would be there.

          And, also, please understand that I am not complaining – it was a shame to see it happen and the holdup is always unwanted, but the dev team do fantastically in my opinion and I truly appreciate them.

          Even as someone who is mildly immersed in the WordPress community, I’m not aware of how new features are decided upon, and while I’ve made the odd comment here and there on make.*, I would never even consider getting on an IRC chat. Just think how much less likely the average user is going to do these things.

          I guess I’m curious more than anything in trying to understand how these decisions are made, especially since it seems to most people that it happens behind closed doors.

          1. curtismchale says:

            I was not intending to imply you were complaining. I see the post/comments as opening the discussion (which is a good thing).

            Maybe I’m just a bit testy since I’m just starting coffee 2X.

          2. Well, good, that’s exactly my intent – to create the discussion where people can learn a bit more about how these things work and perhaps consider how they might be improved moving forward.

          3. Otto says:

            especially since it seems to most people that it happens behind closed doors

            Except that it doesn’t. “Seems” is the operative word here.

            Sure, some discussion does happen in person, at WordCamps, at meetups, etc.. Lots of people know other people on a personal level, and yeah, they talk about what they are doing and what they know.

            But at the same time, I’ve been sitting in rooms with most of those people and watched them having conversations across the room in the exact same ways that they do when they’re continents apart: IRC, Trac, the make blogs, their own blogs, and everywhere else.

            Anything can “seem” like a closed door process when one doesn’t bother to poke one’s head in the door and take a look around. Yes, okay, you do have to take a bit of effort and get involved in the conversation to contribute in a meaningful way. But the effort is quite minimalist, IMO.

            That’s not to say that there aren’t better ways to solicit input and feedback and get more people involved, but at the end of the day, if somebody don’t speak up, nobody else can hear their ideas.

            BTW, I first used IRC back in the mid-1990’s, and stopped using it around 1999 or so, after I left college. So yes, the idea of chatting on IRC strikes me as very “retro” and weird. Still, I try to leave my client open in the dev channel most of the time. I’m pretty bad at that, but I do try to pay attention and participate in that general discussion, in my own minor way. And yeah, that’s where planning sessions happen. And, they’re all logged too, if you need to go back and refer to something.

          4. You’re right. I’m not implying that these decisions are intentionally made without the input of a large sect of users, but just perhaps that the ways in which these forums are run, are more “developer-oriented” (e.g. IRC) and aren’t places that the average user would even contemplate going near.

            I guess the message is that for people who want to have to say, to make more of an effort to make their voices heard, and perhaps for the development team to consider being a little more gregarious in seeking public opinion.

    2. Chip Bennett says:

      I fundamentally disagree with this sentiment.

      It is incongruous for a project to say that it makes decisions based on what is best for 80% of its users, but at the same time says that those decisions can only be made by the 0.0001% of the user base who are developers.

      It’s just not possible for such a small segment of the user base (totaling more than 60MM users) to know what the vast majority of non-developer users want, unless the non-developer user base has some way to express its needs and opinions.

      As a decision-making matter of “one person, one vote”? I agree: contributing developers should weigh more individually. But that doesn’t mean that the collective voice of non-developers should not wield significant weight in decision-making.

      But as phrased, If you’re not putting time in to building the core software, I think your voting power should be pretty low is exclusionary, condescending, and portrays a sentiment that only the voice of contributing developers is welcome.

      “Patches welcome” is great for the developer community; but it is lost – and sends a message that I believe we don’t actually want to send – to non-developer users.

      As Otto says, I do believe non-developer input is solicited, and welcome. But there’s room for improvement, both with how we solicit and use that input, and in how we portray a willingness to receive that input.

    3. Curtis,

      As somebody who has worked on open source projects and CMS systems in the past in varying capacities (from end user, contracted developer to core developer) I’d have to disagree with you. At the end of the day, the software exists mostly for the end users. While some projects are born out of necessity and or general frustration with the lack of present options I’d say very few are developed just for use of the developer/author. I think that is even more true when you have a massive project that is in use by as many people as WordPress.

      While it’s easy to take that attitude, even more so if you’re actually a core developer of WordPress. It’s not wise to bite the hand that feeds, while it’s free software at the end of the day. Many people make a living or at least something working with WordPress or at least using it to power the website that the run.

      When you take on that attitude your users start to pick up on it. It’s kind of like the girlfriend that gives you a back-handed compliment, says thanks for the great suggestion sarcastically and tells you she’ll consider it. Eventually (if you’re smart) you’ll wise up and find someone whom treats you better.

      End users and software is very much like a relationship in that respect.

      I don’t know how long you’ve been in the CMS/Open Source Game but if you get bored, try looking up PHPNuke and see what happened to that project/author.

      At some point the author charged money for licenses, tried to close the source to some degree, enforced copyrights to be displayed in the footer and the list goes on..

      Chips on your shoulder, developers who in-fight, and politics is the death of many great projects/forks. I’d hate to see something like that happen to WordPress, because the users are ignored… (I’m not saying that I feel that’s happening in this instance)

      I would love to see PostFormats included in the core, I think it would cut back on issues across the board moving forward if it was part of the core vs a plugin. FWIW

  3. Wouter says:

    I would love to see a better media interface. For instance, the ability to group certain images and / or add categories to make it easier to find them afterwards.

  4. Len says:

    Thank you David for this article. I would love to see polls where users can discuss or have input. Overall, I have been happy with many of the upgrades. My favorite is the way I can insert an image from my image library. Thank you again.

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