Blogging is difficult. Blogging technical content for a technical community, while maintaining quality, is extremely difficult. There are numerous types of bloggers in the WordPress community. Let’s profile a few types of bloggers, and then discuss some specific criticisms against some blogs I’ve been seeing in the WordPress community:
The “aha” blogger
The designer or developer that figures something out while working on a project, and blogs about it. They don’t have any real consistency, and aren’t really trying to monetize their blog. They’re just sharing the solution to the problem. They write great content, but it could come once a month or once a year – you just never know when you’re going to get it. I believe this is the most typical type of blogger in the WordPress community.
The fed up blogger
The designer or developer that continuously sees a bad practice pop up and finally gets fed up and writes a post either a) bitching about it, and / or (hopefully not just or) b) describing how to avoid said bad practice and instead how to do something the right way.
The side blogger
I fit myself into this category. I don’t blog full time, nor do I blog for any real money. I try to write consistently, and manage to do so between here and WPCandy. But I’m doing it mostly because a) I truly enjoy writing, and b) I enjoy any exposure that I can gain in my industry by blogging regularly.
The periodic exposure to a greater WordPress community is nice, but I’m not sure how effective it is. There are plenty of people that don’t blog very often and have a great deal of exposure through their product, going to WordCamps, or other means that are (in my opinion) less time consuming than blogging.
I think the average person in this category is like myself – they make their living using WordPress, is passionate about the platform, and wants to share things they learn. Many Automatticians, freelancers, web agency employee/employers, or product makers probably fit into this category.
The side blogger plus
Some bloggers don’t make a full-time living from blogging, but they do utilize writing about WordPress as a source of side income. That income may be from affiliate marketing on their own blog, blogging on other networks, promoting their product via their blog, or a few other ways I can’t think of right now. These people are basically the same as the people above, but go a bit above and beyond the previous category in their commitment.
In my opinion, this arena is where some of the best of the best WordPress bloggers come from. Tom McFarlin, Siobhan McKeown, Paul Underwood, Sarah Gooding, Pippin Williamson, and many others are people I consider in this category. They’re making a little money (or maybe a decent portion of their income) blogging, but it’s not what I would guess is their primary source of income. And they’re definitely not in it for the money – they are talented enough to have other avenues to make much more bang for their buck – but making some money on the side can help justify the time spent blogging.
The professional or network blog/ger
This is the category of blog/ger that probably stirs the most controversy in the WordPress community, and the one I plan to spend the bulk of this post discussing. These blogs are usually individuals or companies that make considerable amounts of money from blogging. They tend to get quite a few critics because they can be viewed as just wanting to push new content out the door, sometimes at the expense of thorough research or accuracy of the written material.
There are countless blogs either in this category or that want to be in this category (new “I’m going to get rich blogging about WordPress / web design” blogs are a dime a dozen). Some of the biggest names you’ll see in the WordPress community are Smashing Magazine, wpTuts+, WP Beginner, WPCandy, WP Lift, and WPMU.org. I’m not even going to get into all the generic web design / development blogs that periodically do WordPress posts. There are so many.
Anyway, these sorts of blogs sometimes come under fire, at least when they publish tutorials.
I know if you’ve followed WordPress-oriented blogs you’ve seen more posts like these than you can count:
- “Do [x] without a plugin”
- “[n] beautiful [category] themes”
- “[n] handy snippets for your functions file”
- “How to create a [some jquery thing]“
Some of the blogs I mentioned above don’t do these sorts of posts that often (like WPCandy), but others are well known for such topics. These posts are sometimes written in house, and other times freelance writers write them for these blogs. Network, or multi-author blogs like the WP section of Smashing Mag, wpTuts+, and most general web dev blogs are those that (based on my judgement) most frequently utilize outside, or freelance, authors. Some of the best authors for these sorts of publications are the “side blogger plus” category I described above.
Of these, Smashing Magazine is (generally) regarded as a thorough, high quality content producer. And in the relatively small, inner-circle, WordPress community (Man, I know that sounds awful – but you know, the few thousand people that care enough to complain about crap tutorials – I’m writing to you, so that’s what I mean. Sorry it sounds bad.), I believe that outside, non-WordPress-centric blogs are generally disregarded when they produce less than stellar tutorials.
Therefore, once you filter down to high profile blogs that product mostly tutorials that are all WordPress centric, you basically end up talking about wpTuts+.
wpTuts+ is part of the Envato Tuts+ network, which also owns the Theme Forest theme marketplace. Just as wpTuts+ gets considerable criticism for historically producing poor quality tutorials, Theme Forest has gotten plenty of similar criticism re: themes. I’d guess that many people have a perception that Envato will just do anything to make a buck off of the enormous WordPress community.
But I think the critics are wrong.
There was a time where I cringed with every tutorial I read on wpTuts+. I’d see authors recommending query_posts() where it’s completely innapropriate (ie anywhere), not giving a second glance to security, scalability, or WordPress coding best practices, etc. But the truth is that Envato has made enormous strides to improve the network.
I recommend reading Collis Ta’eed’s (founder of Envato) recent editorial on WPCandy about the state of WordPress themes. Much of the sentiment can be translated to their efforts on wpTuts+ as well, especially the hiring of Japh Thomson. The quality on the wpTuts+ blog has noticeably increased, and Japh is super responsive whenever someone points out any issue.
And I don’t just think that recent hires and extra investment are an effort by Envato to save face to growing criticism. I believe that Collis genuinely wants his company to be a shining example of doing things the right way in the greater WordPress community. Hell, unlike I previously thought, apparently the entire Tuts+ network is a huge loss leader for Envato:
Surprised to discover that the Envato Tuts+ blogging network makes a loss of $1mil a year.
— Gilbert Pellegrom (@gilbitron) September 26, 2012
Yep, they lose a million bucks a year writing tutorials for people to learn. Here’s an image with the excerpt from Offscreen Mag that Gilbert was referencing. Pretty unbelievable. So if nothing else is proof that Envato is truly interested in educating people about the web, that’s it.
And all this time so many people thought they just wanted to make another dollar on those tutorials.
In fact, what started a big debate on the Twitters was my sharing of a post on wpTuts+ asking for people to apply to write regularly for the blog.
— Brian Krogsgard (@Krogsgard) October 3, 2012
In my opinion, their $150 per post starting rate is very competitive, and another testament that they want quality writers. Sure, it’s not going to pay the bills full time. But if you read over my profiles above one more time, I doubt many of the “aha” or side bloggers would mind a few bucks in their pocket for the time they spend on their posts. I know I wouldn’t.
Between some hiring they’ve done, their recent involvement in core, involvement with the WordPress theme review team, and responsiveness to criticism regarding Theme Forest themes and content on wpTuts+, I believe Envato genuinely cares about the WordPress community, and I’m quite pleased that they are around.
Say what you want about @envatowp (I certainly have before). They’re dedicated to improving and investing in quality writing. Mad props.
— Brian Krogsgard (@Krogsgard) October 3, 2012
And I promise, I used to be a big critic.
But as I started this post – blogging is hard. It’s just difficult to be right all the time. I’ve not published quite a few tutorials for fear of offering bad advice to readers. Publishing accurate information ideally comes by having a highly qualified source of writers, a team of specialized editors, and a lot of attention to detail. It’s what’s made Smashing Magazine so successful. And even they screw up sometimes.
How the state of WordPress tutorial writing can improve more
Envato is actively looking for people to help them create better content for a very large community. And I think it’s something we should all consider. Many of the “aha” bloggers and side bloggers I describe above could reach a much larger audience and make some extra money by periodically writing for wpTuts+ (or other popular blogs of course) instead of their own. If the post is useful and high quality, putting it on a blog like wpTuts+ will help ensure as many people as possible can read it and learn. And of course that’s Envato’s goal.
So I’d like to challenge those of you out there that are critics: get involved. Write a post for Envato. Teach their large user base one of your skills, or a trick you keep in your back pocket.
“Yeah, right.” Well, before you say that – go read Tom McFarlin’s post on why he contributes to wpTuts+. Maybe it will help change your mind if I haven’t.
And I’m going to take my own advice as well. I’m planning a couple of posts to submit to Japh that I think other people can learn from. Let’s make the community better together rather than just complain. Be the change you seek.
PS: I apologize if I unfairly pigeonholed anyone with a blogger stereotype in this post. I was just attempting to make some sense of different types of people and their ambitions for blogging.