Responsibilities of users, developers and intermediaries

Tidbits from my podcast appereance on @dariobf's show

Last week @dariobf and @jdevelopia invited me on their podcast to talk about the interdependence between software developers, end users and the intermediaries in between. As an example, we analyzed who is responsible in cases where updating a plugin generates conflicts with other plugins – especially if the update “causing” the conflict seems to be a bigger player in the ecosystem, like WooCommerce or WordPress itself.

If you understand Spanish, you can listen to the podcast on Dario’s page.

The team behind WooCommerce (just like the community behind WordPress core) is invested in informing about upcoming changes well in advance. Blogposts on the WooCommerce blog as well as on other specialized blogs are the norm. There is always at least one beta version available for testing, followed by one or more release candidates, and a very extensive change log. Any developer, any end user, any site building or maintaining person has all the information needed to run appropriate tests on their websites, checking plugins and themes to decide whether anything needs updating. As an example, WooCommerce follows a long-term strategy explaining what changes are being worked on. Theoretically, no one should be caught by surprise.

Of course, reality looks very different. Some developers love to wait and see if something breaks before getting to work. Site builders use abandoned plugins that have not been updated in years. Site owners update their websites without creating a backup first (or they don’t know if the backup is intact – the so-called Schrödinger’s backup) and without testing the updates on a test site (staging site). The result may well be that the simple click the “update now” button renders a store dysfunctional.

The easy thing is to blame the main software component (WordPress or WooCommerce in this case). Of course, in the short term, everyone’s life would be easier if nothing ever changed. There would be zero maintenance for your website. No developer would have to update their plugins. However, in the long term, there would be no innovation, no improvements in performance, no new options, no security solutions, no GDPR compliance. Instead, we innovate, we change, and we communicate as much as we can – with the support team as the buffer and bridge between the software reality and the customers’ reality.

The support team is there when something goes wrong. The WooCommerce Support team in particular is there to help finding the plugin responsible for any conflict, to help restoring a lost site, calming the panic generated by a website that has stopped working. We can’t do magic though. And we need customers and developers alike to work with us to detect the problem. Our self-service guide is there for a reason.

If you do not speak Spanish (or don’t have time to listen to the entire podcast), remember these recommendations:

  • Create a backup of your site and know how to restore it (the easiest option is Jetpack Backups). Schrödinger’s thought experiment about the cat who is alive and dead inside a box is only fun as a thought experiment. You don’t want to discover your backup is corrupted upon unzipping the file.
  • Remove the plugins that you no longer use. Deactivate and uninstall them. If any plugin hasn’t been updated in a year, look for an alternative.
  • If a plugin works for you, leave a comment in the corresponding WordPress.org forum. If it doesn’t, do the same. Include which WP and WooCommerce version you are using when making that assessment. Developers (and other users) need this feedback to make appropriate decisions.

If you do understand Spanish – you can listen here. 

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