Plugin Authoring Motivation

The “Brian’s Threaded Comments” plugin has become popular beyond my wildest intentions or expectations. I think the install-base numbers in the tens of thousands.

I’ve never really taken a look around the internet to see what people were saying about it, partially because I have other things to do, but also because it didn’t really occur to me until recently how popular the plugin is. I’ve done so over the last few days. Not surprisingly some of the recurring themes are “not well maintained” and “difficult to install”, which is entirely accurate and fair.
Sometimes people have asked inquired petulantly why I don’t do a better job of maintaining this plugin, when I obviously have time to do other things such as take vacations.

I figured it’s time to give my users an answer.

I originally wrote Brians Threaded Comments for myself. At the time I was using my own blogging system. When I switched to WordPress, I decided to make the threading functionality into a plugin, so I could nicely integrate it with my WordPress blog. The fact that I made it available to others was an afterthought.
I was pretty satisfied with it’s functionality after the first plugin release, but I still took some time to make it a bit easier for people to install.
As for compatibility with new versions of WordPress and other plugins, the As long as I was working on this blog, there was a natural stream of updates.

At some point, comment spam became prevalent while I was extraordinarily busy at work. My blog turned into a chore, and as a result I hardly put any time into it. My WordPress install slipped several releases behind.
When I finally sat down in my spare time to work on the plugins (due to inbox pressure), I had to start out by manually backing up my blog, installing the latest version of WordPress and so on. This kind of chore-before-the-chore instantly killed my motivation, and I rarely made it to the actual plugin work.

I’ve spent a lot of hours on the plugins, and more than I intended on other peoples support questions.
More than a year ago I figured I’d add a way to make paypal donations on my site, knowing other people who have made a bit of money this way. I figured it might be a source of motivation if I had a small trickle of money coming in.
To this date, I’ve received 2 donations totalling $23, since the plugin came out in 2004. This is by no means a complaint, but just to head off any ideas people might have that I have indirectly been gaining anything but recognition from my plugin’s prolificacy, while resting on my laurels.

I have never really expected to gain anything from my work on the plugins, but I also never intended to spend any more time on it than I wanted.

Recently, I have regained a bit of interest in blogging for various reasons.
I went through the rather large chore of cleaning up the server side of I had every website and web-experiment I ever made on this URL dating back to 1999 lying in a big mess on the server. I backed up what I wanted to keep, deleted the rest. Then I did a database dump which was over half a gigabyte. I deleted all the tables I didn’t need anymore and cleaned out the wordpress spam comments. After that the dump was 7 megabytes.
Then I added the entire site to source control, which I have wanted to do for years now, but always shied away from due to the huge mess I had to clean up first.
This allowed me to safely upgrade WordPress.
I then wrote test and deployment scripts for my plugins, and created a solid testing environment.
As a result, I finally got some updates done to Threaded Comments, and I’ve cleared the path so it wont be such a chore in the future.

I’ve also decided to try and push the donation angle a little harder, once I release an update that I think is worth donations.
I am planning to make a proper product page for the plugins (something that has been long overdue), rather than a stream of blog posts. When I do this, I intend to respectfully glean a page of the playbook for Alex King’s nice wordpress plugin page (thanks to Alex Sysoef for the tip).
If I can actually turn my plugins popularity into a small revenue stream, I will most definitely be more motivated to take better care of my users in the future.

It would seem that I am back from the dead, also in regards to plugin authoring.