You Can’t Be Everything

There’s no app out there that does everything.

A lot of you just said ‘I know.’ but did you ever stop to think about why that’s the case? After all, some applications do everything you need them to do, and some you don’t, so who gets to decide what is and isn’t needed? When I talked about how WordPress was just fine on it’s own, without any plugins, people stepped up and said “But Ipstenu, I really need XYZ.” Heck, Lorelle said she needed Akismet.

Learning how to separate your personal needs from the needs of the masses, when writing software, is a full-time job, and many of us come at it from a slant-wise point of view. In fact, writing core code for WordPress is in diametric opposition to why we write plugins! While I’m going to talk about it from a WordPress point of view, the concept holds true to any application that has ‘add ons.’

Plugins are written, by in large, to solve a specific problem. They’re not ‘fixing’ WordPress, they’re expanding. Remember, your iPhone wasn’t broken until it had Angry Birds, nor was your iPad incomplete without Twitter. Those are things you wanted, and solved a problem for you. The base tools, in and of themselves, address a broader group of people, with a diverse set of needs, and have the option of being everything or nothing.

The best tool, WordPress, your computer, etc, are built to be extendable. They’re built with the innate knowledge that the users may want things they can’t forsee. Five years ago, how many of you thought Google+ or Twitter would be a ‘thing’?  Let’s take that further. You know how when a new video game comes out, sometimes you can’t play it on your older computer? That’s because it wasn’t built with the new game in mind, so it’s just not capable. And that’s why computers generally let you upgrade memory, CPU, and hard drives. They are built to be extendable becuase they know they can’t know the future.

Bringing it back to WordPress, it was built to meet a need. People wanted to blog, they wanted it to be easy and they wanted it to just bloody work! So the Matts said ‘This is what we want’ and built it. Thankfully, they understood that people wanted to extend WordPress. But not at first. Oh you didn’t know? Back in December 2003, a ‘new feature’ was introduced called my-hacks.php, which let you put a file by that name in the root of WP, and it would treat it like a functions file. In fact, that’s why I call my non-plugin code ‘hacks.’ Heck, we didn’t get pretty permalinks until January 2004 (then called ‘cruft free’ URLs).

The point of this is not to expose the funny looking beginnings, but to demonstrate the nature of the software. As it grew, people had needs, and instead of writing everything into core, they cleverly changed WordPress so it was extendable and let people grow as they needed. So when we talk about things like needs and wants, we do it in the understanding that we write our software to fill a need, and we make add-ons to fill wants. Sounds like double speak, I know, but that’s why I said plugins and core development are in direct opposition.

When I want to add things to core, I want them to be useful to everyone, so I’m forced to remove my ego from the equation. Looking at the (few) core submissions I’ve made, I carefully thought them out beforehand. I looked at places were the user experience was inconsistent or diminished. When I make suggestions or offer commentary to what I think could be better, I try to show my passion without acting like a teenager’s first big crush, or a screaming fangirl meeting her heroes.

This isn’t to say I don’t think passion is a part of the driving force of any product, but that it must be tempered and controlled in things like WordPress core. We know that we can’t make WordPress core do everything, and we know we shouldn’t. When things are extendable, we utilize that and demonstrate our fire. When they’re difficult to extend, or kludgy to implement, we come back and say ‘You know, it would be nice if we could…’ But at the end of the day, when WordPress tags your trac ticket ‘wontfix,’ it’s because they know, being unable to be all things, that they must limit the things they are.

If you haven’t yet, take the time to read WordPress’s Philosophy.

Aaron Jorbin - Haters Gonna HateWhen I usually talk about divorcing my ego from a project, what I mean is that I don’t let my passion cloud my better judgement. One of the lessons I’ve learned in nearly 20 years of active fandom is that when you love something, you get fired up about it, and you tend to view peoples opinions and actions as a personal attack when, in fact, they often aren’t. Yes, there are idiots and trolls and people who hate-monger, but in general, people actually aren’t dicks. They’re selfish and self-centered, but that’s just human nature. Part of designing a project means you have to let go of your personal attachment to your baby, and understand that haters are just gonna hate, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This also applies to using a tool, though. People mock the evangelists, and we all hate the extremists, and certainly no one actually supports those who are outright malicious. But all those archtypes come part and parcel with a system, and are all aspects of the simple problem that no one product can do all the things. We want things to be a silver bullet, to fix everything we, personally, have a problem with, and we’re totally unrealistic in wanting that.

Mark and I were talking recently, and he pointed out that WordPress was once 230kb. It’s now 3.8megs, even zipped up. Part of this is because it all grew and became more, but if you ask the old-timers, some will complain that around the 1.5 days, WordPress just became too big. It does too much! And those people say we should pull things like the importer out of WordPress. After all, you’re going to use it once, if at all. Core plugins would get pretty big too. Jetpack is 2.4megs on its own, zipped up. By trying to be everything, maybe we’re making things a little worse.

So the next time someone gets their panties in a bunch at you for not doing everything, tell that it’s by design. Do what you want with your code, make it easily extendable for the next guy (or forkable), and carry on. They’re not getting that unicorn.

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