Normally I do a lot of contemplation while riding my bike. This week, it happened while mowing the lawn. I was thinking about Chris Lema’s post about commercial WordPress plugins being too inexpensive.
Strangely enough, it got me thinking not about commercial plugins, but about free plugins. Everyone wants free plugins. WordPress is free, BuddyPress is free. There are several great free plugins out there that will make WordPress do strange and wonderful things.
While some of these plugins grew out of one developer’s desire to accomplish something for his or herself, there’s another way to create free plugins which may seem backwards.
Clients can pay for plugins
Sometimes the fruits of custom website work can produce useful free plugins. I’m not saying that businesses should give away all of their secrets. At 9seeds we might not sign your NDA, but we do understand that there may be some secret-sauce to your business.
More often than not, it’s the people behind the business and their personal drive, not the technology or the recipe. Example: many craft beer brewers give away (gasp!) their recipes at home brew stores with all the ingredients you need to make it yourself at home. But are you going to start brewing Surly Furious and sell it as Surely Curious? Doubtful. You’re more likely to enjoy and appreciate the original product that much more.
We get that the world of open source does take some closely held business ideals and turn them on their head. We’re not telling you to give away all your secrets, but sometimes there’s one feature or aspect of your website that may be useful to the community. And by making it public, your business stands to benefit as well.
If you’re a developer, you probably know if a certain feature of a client’s custom website would be useful to the community. Hopefully you had the foresight to build it as a stand-alone plugin. Ask your client if they’d be willing to make that small piece open source.
If you’re a client, why would you even bother? Well, there are several reasons:
- While the plugin will be open source, you paid for it. Your company deserves to be listed as an author and you may get some SEO value out of being listed on wordpress.org.
- The more people that use your plugin, the more robust it will become. Bugs will be found faster.
- New features will probably be suggested, and if a different company uses your plugin, they may pay their developer to enhance the plugin and give back to the community. You just got extra features on another companies dime!
So my advice is: start small. Open source is not a panacea. Developers should earmark one or two small features in a big project that may be useful to the community. They should be obviously useful outside of the scope of your clients site. Approach your client about making it open source. Some clients have very specific needs and if nothing stands out, don’t make something open source for the sake of open source.
Clients paying for development should listen with an open mind if your developer suggests something become open source. WordPress is open source and that’s what brought you to us. Why not give a little back? You may find it will pay you back in the future.