I’ll be Darned! This Thing IS on!

Microphone - Is this thing on?We’ve all seen instances where large corporate entities seem to ignore or dismiss the complaints or suggestions of their users. Naturally, the more justified we feel our position is, the more difficult it is to accept dismissal. And unfortunately, dismissal or meaningless lip service are so commonplace these days, that it’s often the response we most expect.

Such trends create opportunities for those companies that are prepared to put their customers first on their list of priorities. Perhaps the scarcity of top-notch quality service is what makes it stand out  when encountered. And of course, the unwritten rule seems to be that the larger the company, the less important the customer in the day-to-day business decisions. Actually, that’s not unreasonable, to some degree.

A Mom & Pop business that ships a couple hundred products per month can offer free shipping on all orders for two to three thousand dollars per month, and perhaps see it as a cost effective marketing ploy. A large corporation that ships 1,000 orders per day may find it hard to justify absorbing $300K per month, however – particularly if they have to justify it to their stockholders.

Nevertheless, some large corporations manage to cling to their values and maintain a high level of customer service; the benefits of doing so have been shown many times. Depending upon the market, this can spell the difference between dominance and invisibility.

Recently, Vernessa Taylor posted about a WordPress issue that raised quite a stink among users of that platform, myself included. Simultaneously, Gail Gardner posted on GrowMap on the same issue. Comments were overwhelmingly negative on WordPress’ decision to release its Jetpack plugin suite in an opt-out mode for a number of features that many felt should have been opt-in.

To WordPress’ credit, and in particular, Matt Mullenweg’s, the ruckus didn’t do unnoticed, and wasn’t ignored. I received an email from Matt two days after the posts in question, with a detailed explanation of the why and how the Jetpack plugin was implemented. He jokingly entitled his email, Jetpack’s Plans for World Domination.

My main point of contention was that it was opt-out, rather than opt-in. Matt stated that it really never seemed likely to him that people would install Jetpack without reading the documentation. I think he may have underestimated the confidence that has grown around WordPress’ efforts to ensure functionality and security. For my part, I confess that I did not read the documentation. Had it been a plugin offered by one of the many plugin authors represented on the WordPress.org site, I would have given it the customary perusal. But I trust WordPress, and this was offered by them, so I never harbored any doubts.

This was Matt’s response to the concerns that Vernessa, Gail and I voiced, along with many commenters:

“On WordPress.com we have tens of millions of users interacting with over a half a billion visitors every month, so we test the heck out of new features and between usage data and user feedback we have a pretty clear idea of what features people want the most and what’s going to increase the traffic to their blog the most. (Not snake oil, real data with millions of people already using features.)”

No surprise there… WordPress certainly has an adequate user-base to allow for some decent samples. ;) He continues…

“ON THE 1.2 RELEASE:

Email subscriptions, and their integration with comments, were the headline features of the 1.2 release. We told people in the blog post, emailed our subscribers, promoted it in the upgrade notice (as you had a screenshot of), and noted it in the plugin changelog. It never occurred to me that anyone would upgrade and be surprised by the inclusion of this feature. We don’t think of Jetpack modules as opt-in or opt-out things, it’s just us responding to feedback and demand from our users for what they want to see next.”

Okay, point taken, Matt. My bad! I just HAD to be one of those that managed to miss all the notices. Like I said… I trust you guys! On opting out of individual features, he had this to say:

“That said, every module in Jetpack can be activated or deactivated without having to use a bootleg “lite” plugin that’s going to be out of date and buggy a month from now, the controls are in the learn more section. After you upgrade it’s literally two clicks to turn anything you don’t like off.”

Again, very true. My response to him was that those two clicks would also be all that was needed, had Jetpack been released as an opt-IN plugin. That would undoubtedly have eliminated much of the ire on the part of many users.

Another complaint, voiced very strongly, was that Jetpack routes subscribers off-site to sign up. I am not a list-builder, but I certainly can understand how this would upset you if your subscriber list translates to your main source of income. Usurping control of your subscription form and subscriber registration, is, in my opinion, totally unacceptable. Even in the face of multiple announcements and extensive testing, I can’t imagine how Matt’s team could think that would be okay.

In response to my email back to him, Matt said this about the opt-out:

“Yes, I think the reason we didn’t think of this is that the more-than-2-clicks process of upgrading the plugin would presumably be done with some intention around the new features in the upgrade. Explicitly installing the new version of the plugin is opting in to the things that version offers. However I think more people than I expected upgrade without reading the notes or anything whenever there is a new version available.

“I don’t mind this in theory, because it’s great for people to be on the latest versions of things, but our approach with Jetpack is a complete hassle-free collection of constantly-updated and expanded functionality, so it’d be awkward to ask people who just explicitly upgraded to a version to jump through more hoops to activate the things they presumably upgraded to get, especially when it’s probably a minority that don’t want it.

“What we are doing is making the “turning off” of modules a lot more apparent than it is now, so people don’t think they need to trash the whole plugin to just avoid one piece. People have complete control over their experience, including the list-building folks who probably already have their own more robust solutions for subscriptions.”

So, as I read it, Matt is saying that he doesn’t agree with making Jetpack purely opt-in, but he does intend to ensure that there is greater visibility of what is activated, and how to deactivate unwanted aspects. I also interpret it to mean that the list-builders among us needn’t be concerned about seeing our subscribers taken off-site for registration.

While I don’t feel that we’ve achieved everything I would have liked (frankly, I’d have loved to keep WP Stats, eliminating the need for a bloated plugin), I think it’s important to note a couple of wins here.

First of all, Matt’s organization noticed and paid attention to, our issues. We all know that with large corporations, that’s very much the exception… not the rule. Kudos to the WP team for that.

And I’ll go out on a limb and assume that Matt isn’t a regular subscriber to our blogs. I know his name doesn’t appear on my subscriber list. So it stands to reason that someone within his organization escalated the issue to Matt’s level. To me, that means that he has sent a very clear message to his team that he wants to be kept informed of such issues. Kudos to Matt for that.

Then, he took the time to personally communicate back and forth, demonstrating that he was aware, interested and willing to give serious consideration to our concerns, as well as take some action on them. More kudos.

I’d add, this is not the first time that Matt has taken the time to personally respond to me over a specific issue. Rare behavior for a fellow in his position.

Matt MullenwegIn short, he is an anomaly. With many millions of users out there using his platform, he was concerned about three bloggers and a handful of their followers. He proactively reached out to us, explained his side of the issue and made the adjustments that he saw as appropriate.

And corporate attitudes start and end at the top.

I bet Bill Gates and Larry Page are real nice guys, too. But I’m not going to hold my breath ‘til one of them emails me about one of my blog posts. ;)

Conclusion:

In an earlier post, I recommended removal of Jetpack. I’ll recant on that now. My revised recommendation is to read the documentation carefully, decide which features of Jetpack you want to make use of, and deactivate the rest. I’m still concerned, but at least I’m not as angry about it now.

I would warn against falling into the same trap I myself fell victim to in this instance:

We all tend to be extremely distrustful of the large entities we see trampling on some segment of their users every day. Past actions by Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, Google and others have put us in a defensive stance, wherein we’re quick to unfairly paint any giant with the same brush. However, I think that Matt’s personal involvement in, and handling of, this issue is evidence that WordPress doesn’t deserve that paint job. Personally, I’m impressed and hopeful. Dialogue is the important first step, and that alone constitutes a win, in my opinion.

I’d also love to get some feedback from anyone that’s still running Jetpack.

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Comments

  1. “Jetpack’s Plans for World Domination.” Are you sure he wasn’t joking?

  2. Hi, Jeff-

    I specifically said that he WAS joking. He said as much in his email. ;)