24

I think that after fair amount of time (well over a year) and discussion it is clear that "Woo issue" is not going away.

However after spinning it in my head for a while I think we might be having case of fixation on a tree instead of a forest here.

Platform Plugins

I foresee that one of the outcomes of whole "application platform" thing, WP is getting into, is core fading out of focus in many such use cases. It is something that WP fights tooth and nail (personally I attribute many decisions on admin/interface side to it) however it cannot not happen, since WordPress is not:

  • ecommerce application
  • form processing application
  • elaborate data input editor
  • genealogy research solution
  • bunny farm management app

Plugins that run on WordPress are.

Questions about such plugins are quickly becoming akin to asking about WordPress on Server Fault. Because it runs on top of web server, right?

And Their Authors

While extensions for a long time were part of vision for WPSE scope (such as seriously pondering promoting it as additional kind-of-support channel for extension developers) it failed to produce any positive results whatsoever.

I know that this keeps circling back to Woo because:

  1. woocommerce is giant in ecosystem
  2. they publicly and rudely (IMHO) disowned their non-paying users
  3. the link thing exploded big time on already fertile ground of negative feelings

Well, it's not about Woo. Or just Woo. It's about extension vendors not interested in productive relationship with WPSE.

And really they don't owe us any relationship. Stack Overflow has some wonderful examples of cooperation with seemingly eager vendors. We don't and we need to deal with it.

And Our Experts

As current situation goes - we are getting a lot of competent experts getting pissed at poor questions.

This is deadly dangerous situation since we are historically struggling with volume of experts (as echo of general proportional lack of expertise in WP ecosystem).

We simply cannot cater to extensions at the cost of losing core expertise. Even if we attract woocommerce (substitute with any other platform plugin) expert... If it cost us losing core expert (or even half, or third of core expert) - it is bad trade.

Plan of Action

Currently I see no better solution than reinforcing and upholding our scope of WordPress development. The poor questions are already poor and primarily already fall out of scope. We only need to enforce that clearly and better than we are doing now.

I propose that:

  1. Down voting and close voting on out of scope questions is cranked up to 11, especially for extension-specific ones. They are not wanted here, they are getting toxic to community and their levels must go down.

  2. Extension-specific tags (such as plugin-*) are eradicated. They serve little purpose and send wrong message about what is welcomed. I have seen "there is a tag for it so I am right to ask whatever I want" line of reasoning too many times.

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    We simply cannot cater to extensions at the cost of losing core expertise. Exactly that! – userabuser Nov 15 '13 at 10:51
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    Won't count me to the group of experts, but l am in the group of "pissed by poor questions" ... – ungestaltbar Nov 15 '13 at 11:29
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    I define SE expert quite loosely as "has a pulse and points". – Rarst Nov 15 '13 at 11:35
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    Some of our experts have points but no pulse. – userabuser Nov 15 '13 at 11:44
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    I define those as monsters. – Rarst Nov 15 '13 at 11:55
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    When we start to off topic all woo stuff? Now? I can? Really? – gmazzap Nov 15 '13 at 14:32
  • @G.M. don't offtopic it for woo, off topic it for not in scope when it deserves it. hard. :) – Rarst Nov 15 '13 at 14:35
  • Ok, before to vote I'll ask myself if woo questions will deserve be off topic or not. I bet I'll answer "yes" to myself a lot of times :) – gmazzap Nov 15 '13 at 14:48
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    perhaps the answer is in building a wasteland on SE network "WordPress Plugin Recommendations and Tips" and we can port everything we don't want there. like what stackoverflow does to us. – GhostToast Nov 15 '13 at 14:57
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    I'm not certain of your premise - are you proposing to outlaw plugin-related questions on this site? It seems to me that while yes we can do with more core-centric questions and answers, you can't really have a focus on WordPress without also pulling in one of its strengths - extensibility and the ecosystem. – Grant Palin Nov 15 '13 at 19:47
  • @GrantPalin I am proposing that plugin questions especially which are already commonly not in current scope (as not specific enough to WordPress or of general poor quality) to be dealt with much more aggressively – Rarst Nov 15 '13 at 20:30
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    We really have other questions/answers here in Meta discussing WPSE scope and Plugins. Suffice it to say: a Plugin can pretty much include any code conceivable, and do anything imaginable. The Plugin API and other APIs are certainly in-scope for WPSE; but what is done with those APIs, generally speaking, is not. It's just not feasible. – Chip Bennett Nov 16 '13 at 2:50
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    As a seasoned Wordpress developer, I understand the need for quality questions. However, I also understand that 99+% of Wordpress installations use at least 1 plugin. Having a place to ask questions related to Wordpress plugin development seems necessary. I agree with the use vs. develop answer that questions related to usage and not actual code should be off-topic. But I've seen many questions marked off-topic that are about code implementation and include code examples. Since the code applies ONLY in Wordpress, it would seem that this would be an appropriate place to ask such a question. – codescribblr May 30 '14 at 18:06
15

I personally think about this problem a little differently. I think it's not a question of plugins vs. core, but only about use vs. develop.

There are large plugins that could be called Platform Plugins that I feel are constantly getting interesting questions I like to read & answer. I could also imagine that there are a lot of hypothetical woo questions that are interesting and worth to answer like:

I'm using Woo and I have this custom build functionality (no copy & paste from site X without understanding ....) how can I integrate it in the Woo process?

But in fact we don't get a lot of these questions. We only get questions that come down to:

How can I use/configure plugin Y in a way to make thing X happen?

Which have absolutely nothing to do with development or where the questioner clearly is not looking for a development solution, but surely for a plug&play solution.


My personal bottom line of this whole discussion is:

The site has a lot of bad questions and most of them are about plugins.

But we shouldn't mix up cause and effect. Plugin context questions aren't bad. Woo questions aren't bad. They should still be valid. Basic usage questions are bad. No matter if plugin or core.

We need to get rid of these questions that absolutely belong to the first-level support of the plugin authors. The people that are actively answering questions here are mostly code-centric. They don't like to answer/read questions that are not connected to development in atleast a theoretical way or have a strong technical background.

Like the Wordpress Support Forum is the place where you should ask questions about Wordpress usage, plugin author support channels are supposed to answer plugin usage questions.


PS: I'm sure the new site name is a good first step to get rid of this issue. :-)

12

I would like to see a rather soft rule for this: If the solution for a plugin specific problem can be abstracted, so it applies to other plugins or general WP development, it is on topic.
If the solution is very specific and will never work in any other context, it is off topic.

Examples:

The soft part of this rule is: When someone knows the answer for a plugin specific question, we should still allow it. We want to help each other after all and not send people away to SO too early. Sometimes it might be hard to see the difference, we should default to on topic then, if the question matches all the other criteria for a question on our site (research efforts, focused, easy to understand).

  • "...if the question matches all the other criteria for a question on our site (research efforts, focused, easy to understand)." - and there's the rub. The problem is, many of these questions are poorly written, so it is difficult for the average WPSE member - especially one not intimately familiar with [plugin] in question - to glean the WordPress-specific nature of the question. – Chip Bennett Nov 20 '13 at 18:59
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    @ChipBennett There is always a gray area. We should leave some room for human judgments. – fuxia Nov 20 '13 at 20:24
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    I often see questions that aren't exactly WP-related but since the person is diligently trying to figure out their issue within the WordPress context I feel good about answering them here, rather than send them away. That's where the "gray area" comes in, but I like to err on the side of having a teachable moment rather than telling someone to scram and risk losing them as part of the larger WordPress community. – Morgan Estes Nov 22 '13 at 22:29
8

One of the biggest problems at this point is that we have plenty of WPSE members with close-vote privileges, but either not enough currently active or else not enough willing to use their close-votes en masse to help deal with this issue.

Just in casual, anecdotal observation, most off-topic close-votes come from a group of about 6-7 WPSE members. We either need to change the culture such that more members are more willing to use their close votes, or else we will have to rely on the moderators to play clean-up.

But the moderators, for better and/or for worse (perhaps appropriately under WPSE moderation standards) seem to want to eke out any modicum of relevance for these kinds of questions. I think we need to change that approach, and put the burden on the person asking the question to:

  1. Clearly explain how the question is in-scope for WPSE
  2. Write a high-quality question according to WPSE standards

It gets tiresome trying to hand-hold so many question askers through remediating their questions so that they meet both of these criteria. Especially when 80%+ of [Platform Plugin] questions are inherently off-topic, and pretty much all of the remaining 20% are poorly written and do not conform to SE question quality standards.

I believe we have reached the point where we're spending more time on remediation for [Platform Plugin] questions than answering high-quality, relevant questions. I would rather we simply close such questions with prejudice, and move on to doing what we're here to do: answering WordPress questions.

On-topic, high-quality questions will be inherently apparent, even if they exist in the context of [Platform Plugin]. Let's let those questions rise to the top, and stop wasting time on the rest.

  • Moderators do often non-act in line with moderation theory of minimizing their involvement and I think this does contribute to the issue. I think adjusting this to be a little more heavy handed about situation is very much included in action point (1). – Rarst Nov 15 '13 at 18:51
  • If you are proposing to be more stringent with plugin-related questions then I agree. Browsing some of the plugin tags has revealed some cringe-worthy questions. Perhaps we should organize a plugin cleanup drive on this site. I'd vote to close if I could, but I'm a long way from gaining that privilege. I'll keep looking, editing, upvoting, and downvoting as needed. – Grant Palin Nov 15 '13 at 19:52
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    Not sure if I agree with the numbers you drop, but the ratio on platform questions definitely isn't optimal. I absolutely agree with the point that there is way too much educational effort involved, instead of expecting people to educate themselves. I absolutely overdid it today on a question, having this whole discussion in mind. I especially think, WPSE should make quality a mandatory necessity. For platform plugin questions that means make sure you explain your problem even better and have a solid feedback to core to be on topic. – Nicolai Nov 16 '13 at 16:42
  • The numbers are anecdotal, not scientific. I actually thought the percentage of off-topic questions would be higher, but a couple weeks ago, Toshco and I examined the latest 50 WooCommerce questions, and found 10 (at most) that were on-topic. Thus, the 80%+ number. – Chip Bennett Nov 16 '13 at 19:17
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    Thanks for clarifying the numbers, I guess I just wasn't sure if they are prejudiced or not. It's a shame, notably because it doesn't has to be like this. I'm convinced that many of the platform plugin questions could be good quality wise and most importantly moreover could be linked back to core functionality. Maybe this has to be clarified better, because - for example - the »it's only in wordpress context« argument isn't very specific and often a bit misleading and potentially wrong too. Then close rigorous and point to how it can be done right. – Nicolai Nov 17 '13 at 14:37
4

Does this pretty much mean that all plugin questions will be off-topic? I'm just curious where to draw the line. I don't mind a good WooCommerce question, the problem is that so many are absolute crap... which is why I support minimum competency requirements before users can post.

But I'd also support being able to close stuff more quickly. Is there a level at which mods can close with a lone vote? Leave closing by committee for certain rep users (as currently exists) but let a few of the mods close automatically. Coupled with better close reasons that eliminates the hand-holding and puts the onus on the user to write a better question if she expects any help. I still prefer this happened before the question, but a single close-vote is a decent alternative.

  • This is just to emphasize already standing point that plugin question can easily have nothing to do with WordPress development. Moderator close votes are binding (that is instant close regardless of other votes if any), always have been, that is why we tend to stay out of it and not impose on natural close voting. As I commented on other answer - I think we do need to close harsher (for a while) to deal with this. – Rarst Nov 17 '13 at 7:42
  • Ok. Maybe some kind of other plugins-related stack will evolve in the future. I definitely support faster closing. If the mods have that power, go for it. – helgatheviking Nov 17 '13 at 9:22
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    If only there were an SE site dedicated to general programming questions. That would be SO awesome. ;) – Chip Bennett Nov 17 '13 at 13:50
  • Touché :) Personally, I don't feel quite at home at SO because it feels over my head. Plugins still exist in a WordPress environment, so I feel like I have a better chance at understanding them. – helgatheviking Nov 17 '13 at 14:57
  • Voted to close a few WooCommerce questions today. Whoa. Still seems like it'd be more efficient if the mods used their binding close votes. – helgatheviking Nov 18 '13 at 12:46
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    FWIW: there's a queue where any post with at least one close vote will end up. If it starts to back up a bit, it's not a big problem for moderators to sweep through it and clean it out - so if you see something that shouldn't be here, vote or flag and trust that it'll be handled one way or the other. – Shog9 Nov 18 '13 at 18:18
  • Do moderators check that queue frequently enough to avoid close-vote expiration? – Chip Bennett Nov 20 '13 at 19:00
2

Just to reiterate on the point, I was thinking about this over the last week, extensions that are very popular, Woo being a great example, can muddy the waters of anything WordPress specific for WPSE.

It's just not a great fit, it's bad for the end-user and annoying for the experts. Most devs are very familiar with core but how can anyone expect plugin expertise given the sheer amount available?

+1 for your suggestions, not directed at just Woo, they just happen to be the catalyst of a larger problem.

1

As a rarely active member , I couldn´t agree more .

I Honestly rarely come to the site ( well, because I have a life and work outside of WP .. ) , But when I do come, I try to answer questions , but find myself "skipping" one after the other , for .. ( in lack of better word ) well - Boredom. ( .. and in the specific case of the keyword "woo" in the title - I find myself on automatic skip mode - not even finishing to read the title )

I ( want to ) believe that many of the so - called "Experts" do come to answer questions for the simple reason that they know that answering other people´s doubts is sometimes the best way to learn and UNDERSTAND something yourself . Or in other words - seeking some kind of ( intellectual ) Challenge.

The above mentioned "Boredom" Vs. "Challange" is a key , IMHO , to keep the "Experts" and such questions as " How do I Put my name below a Blue Product on my Kitchen utensiles page " really do not help.

The problem IMHO , is not the "woo" as per se, but the fundamental difference between a "user" and a "developer" .

In this sense , this issue might be related to THIS thread, in a sense that if this site is title is "WordPress Development" than all the rest would be much clear.

When the title is "Wordpress Answers" - it might be difficult to sustain and obtain the goals of the OP without creating a ( somewhat understandable due to the title ) public out-roar .

But .. ( And I am talking to myself here ) Caution should be taken with these issues , as one must understand or accept that there is a very big difference between a "developer" and an "expert" , and under such note - to examine if "simple" or "boring" questions might be truly valid ( Css-classes ?? HTML markup ?? Layout?? ) even if not hard-core wp related.

On the same note - one must remember that only questions of type "triple query loop excluding 2 custom-post-types and filtering 4 custom-taxonomies with 5 SQL queries on multisite network" might be intimidating for first-time users, which I believe the community wants and needs ( because we all were first-timers once ) so a place must also be kept for simpler ( read boring ) questions..

Under this context - coming back to the "User"Vs. "developer" issue - In comparison to a simple any-other-software , it is clear that there is a big distinction between the "API" and the "User Manual" - and I think that this might be a valid criteria for one ( Read - Myself ) to Evaluate a question.

I am by no means suggesting to rename the site as "WORDPRESS API" ( I think that "Developers" is much more adequate , and such was my vote ) - but I do think that the word "API" can really be a criteria for selection and closing ( or "Seek and Destroy" ).

One issue, though, remains open - and it is the obvious overlap with the "stack-overflow" site wordpress tag . What questions should remain there, and what questions transferred here ? Where would a simple "user" question will go ( How to add a widget to my site .. ) ?? and what is the line that defines a clear distinction between the two sites ( applied only for certain types of questions of course ..) ??

As a semi-conclusion - The human factor and judgment must be applied and understood at each step - and sometimes question that are poorly written are actually a "hidden gem" simply becasue the novice user did not had enough knowledge to find the right terms to phrase the question..

Just my 2 cents. It was supposed to be a comment/vent - but too long. Ignore at will.

-2

I think there are alot of great points made here and i agree it should be about context of the question, but think that to really fix the issue means that an authoritative source needs to be made when it comes to plugins, which I will get to below. I don't think that if a wordpress plugins stack-exchange was made, that it would honestly get rid of questions about plugins.

I think a great quote is: "it's bad for the end-user and annoying for the experts". I think when you define WordPress as a content management platform, then by design plugins fall under that whether you like it or not. Yes core should be a main area of focus, but how many plugin creators really know the core? To a degree the core is so powerful and expansive that few could honestly say they are experts. More importantly plugins on any system, not just wordpress is an environment where people don't need to understand everything about the core to develop; and isn't that the point?

To get the user up and running with a base site without understanding anything at all? If you look at the roots to WordPress it was started as a blog wizard, and not so much a platform. I think to a degree there is a huge cultural shift going on and this is where those crossroads meet.

Here is how i could see regaining control of the anarchy going on:

1.) Get rid of wordpress.org/plugins since anyone can throw what they want into the wild. Create a authoritative source based around trust/trust points. For example, authors who update plugins often, have super responsive support, and who follow best practices (yes this would mean having experts review plugins committed to the mall, and preventing bad plugins from even being published) get trust points for quality. if plugins are not updated every 6 months to stay abreast of core changes, then they fall out of plugin search and go to an archive part of the site. If you did this then only good plugins bubble to the top of your search and inferior ones fall away. This means over time fewer questions about obscure plugins ends, and the ones with questions about known plugins find their answers easily (no repetition of the same questions on SE). Right now if you wish to add a plugin from within wordpress admin, and search for something like "image cleanup" you get old, new, abandoned plugins and some of the old ones have 5 star ratings because at some point they worked well but now are so far behind core they just outright don't work; and of course users don't even bother to leave a review or rate the plugin. What this means is a crap shoot which of itself is annoying, but also that those who don't know better break their site and then come here.

2.) The codex needs to be more organized and/or needs more content. Alot of the codex discusses the minimum steps to get something functioning, with maybe a small blurb or warning about best practices or of what not to do. I would like to see some better examples on there.

  • 3
    wordpress.org and codex kinda have absolutely nothing to do with WPSE however :) – Rarst Nov 22 '13 at 19:25
  • Sure, but my whole point is that you need to cleanup the root causes of why bad questions occur, in order for them not to occur here. – Shawn Nov 22 '13 at 20:01
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    "You" who? There is very little overlap between wp org decision makers and WPSE decision makers (both in individuals and approaches). It is rather meaningless to say here what should be done there. Just the way things are. :) – Rarst Nov 22 '13 at 20:11
  • Agreed :-D. Basically it comes down to if the platform supports plugins then expect those questions. I was just throwing out ways to curve bad practice in the community of "wordpress" at large; in hopes it would start a movement or discussion. – Shawn Nov 22 '13 at 20:35
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    Just to reiterate: WordPress exposes 16 different APIs (at last count). Anything having to do with implementing/using those APIs is in-scope for WPSE. But what is done on the Plugin end of the API is out of scope. Why? Because anything at all can be done from the Plugin-end of an API. We are WordPress experts, not any arbitrary PHP/JS/HTML/CSS code experts. Those questions would be better served at the SE network sites to which they are most relevant. – Chip Bennett Nov 24 '13 at 14:37
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    @ChipBennett - Like I wrote in my answer - the issue of the overlap with other SE network sites ( mainly stackoverflow but also server fault for example ) has a lot to do , IMHO , with the definition of the site which is embedded in a poorly chosen name . ( which is also why the name you suggested hits the nail on it´s head. ) – krembo99 Dec 8 '13 at 3:20

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