Lesley Sim thinks special badges on WordPress.org could incentivize core contribution if they earned developers a boost in plugin rankings.

In this episode of Post Status Excerpt, David continues a conversation with Lesley Sim to pick her brain about some ideas she has for rewarding core contributors to WordPress. Last month on Twitter and Post Status Slack Lesley floated the idea of special contributor badges on WordPress.org. These badges would give developers who earned them a boost to their plugin and theme rankings. The goal would be to encourage new contributors to enter the WordPress ecosystem and recognize those in the community who are doing typically unpaid work that carries the project forward.

Why This Is Important: Improving the contributor onboarding experience will help WordPress gain more core contributors. Some ideas going around the WordPress community involve additional sponsorships, new sources of funding, and public recognition. Some ideas will never make it off the ground but might lead to better ideas that do take off. We should never stop thinking about how to make the human factor in contribution to the project better for everyone. Maintaining a commons, like WordPress as an open source project, is a constant challenge for the WordPress community, as Lesley recently wrote for Post Status.

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Conversation with Lesley part 2

David Bisset: Just repeat what you just said, because I want my wife to hear this

Lesley Sim: nice haircut

David Bisset: because she’s the one that gave it to me.

Lesley Sim: Oh, cool. Yeah. Yeah. On your anniversary

David Bisset: In another six months, I’ll look, I’ll look like a normal human being again. How about you? Wow. You have an impressive microphone.

Lesley Sim: It’s it’s new, new wish to see you on

David Bisset: that.

Well, you’ve been doing a lot of podcasts lately, so you need a good microphone. Yeah. I’m still waking up and your probably heading into the night. W uh, well, first of all, let’s confirm again, where do you reside?

Lesley Sim: I live in Singapore. Southeast Asia is UTC plus eight on a Steve. You could spend the entire recording, listening to me, complain about people not using the UTC type standard.

David Bisset: It might offend some horrible at math. So I had to ask you to translate probably for me two or three times to book this, but so what time is it over there?

Lesley Sim: It is 9:30 PM for me.

David Bisset: There’s been a lot of stuff to talk about actually in the WordPress community. I thought January is usually a slow time. And I guess maybe we make up for if at all these acquisitions and our attention has been focused, but when December, January are quiet, we kind of make up our own stuff to talk about. There was lots of been talking about contributions and boy that is just a long string of dominoes. I mean, this talk has always gone on, but from the log four scene to a Joomla, to other things that have been happening, comments and so forth.

And even recently about, I did a podcast about documentation team about how that’s underpowered and they need more sponsored contributors and all of that. And then Matt state of the word.

Lesley Sim: We have three now, right?

David Bisset: I think so. Yeah, but that can obviously change at any time. And we, you know, we’re throwing out ideas on Post Status slack.

I think that’s a really great environment to throw out ideas. And I’m really glad we do because some of these ideas, I think we know will probably never come to pass, at least in the way that we’re sharing them. But. They do present interesting things to think about and maybe lead to some, even better ideas.

And you actually brought one of those up in terms of contributor badges. So did you, did you want to kind of like take it from there?

Lesley Sim: I can’t remember what led me to them. It’s probably some kind of just being on the Post Status slack a lot, um, talking to people, um, and it’s like, you know, just this kind of iterative process, um, which incident incidentally, I think is a really important part of the WordPress community and like how it stays healthy and like, you know, like the disagreements and the sharing of ideas, even if they never actually get made. I think all that stuff like, so that as new people come in without years and years of context and background, like they kind of see the bigger picture as well.

Um, so I’m a fan of all of that. The contributor badges idea. Maybe I should talk about what it is first. So

David Bisset: Those who think we don’t need those badges, yes we do.

Lesley Sim: Um, so the idea is like, I, I’m a huge fan of nonfinancial incentives. So a lot of people like to talk about, you know, oh, we don’t have enough country contributed to is it’s because we’re not paying them enough.

So like here’s. Here’s a million bucks at like that’s materialized these contributors out of thin air because now we have a million bucks to, to make it happen. Um, and I don’t think it works that way. And so, like, I kind of like coming up with ideas that are more status oriented or like more fulfillment oriented and that’s where the badges come in.

David Bisset: Ego oriented?

Lesley Sim: So my idea for, sorry. Yeah. Ego. Yeah.

David Bisset: I couldn’t hold that one in, sorry

Lesley Sim: Ego in a good way, I think. So the idea is that you would go through different levels. And so, um, you know, a level one contributor doesn’t necessarily even have to. Um, put anything in GitHub or like any of that stuff, or maybe level one, contributor could just be competing something from Learn WP not WordPress.

Right. Um, and that just kind of ensures that they know how to write code in the WordPress way, or they know how to answer support tickets in the WordPress way and things like that. And it goes, you know, up and up from there and you get the badges and the badges then give you, then allow you to rank higher in the WordPress directory.

So for example, you know, if, if Yoast, like let’s say Yoast is a huge company they’ve been contributing for years and , let’s say if you have a level 20 badge or something like that, that gives them a boost in the WordPress directory in comparison to me, you know, cause like I came up with a SEO plugin yesterday. I don’t know anything about coding on WordPress.

Um, and so like it only makes sense that my slightly dodgy plugin that I only made yesterday doesn’t um, get the same level of, uh, authority as someone with a level 20 contributor badge. Um, and I think like that works on many levels. So from a contributor point of view, um, it works because. You know, the badge and the authority and the status and all of that.

Um, it helps their business because if they rank higher than people would download their plugins. And then presumably if they are trying to sell plugins, they, you know, get more sales are, if they’re not, then they just kind of like having that status that, that works well as well. Um, it works from the WordPress open source project perspective because now you’ve got lots of contributors who are incentivized to contribute.

And that kind of gives like the long tail of contributions, which I think is important and it’s kind of, what’s missing right now as well. Um, and then, sorry, one last one.

David Bisset: We edit all this out. Anyway, my interruptions,

Lesley Sim: um, it also helps the users, the end user, because the end user who’s going on the dark shoes, obviously wanting to use, um, SEO plugin.

They don’t want to use the buggy one that I made yesterday. And so by being able to see the contributor badges, it kind of helps them make. Slightly more, um, thoughtful decision. Um, and also, you know, , uh, one of the high contributor badge is ranked higher and then that also kind of helps surface the right plugins at the right level.

Um, and you know, like, as I’m saying is I can kind of already hear what the oppositions to the idea would be that, you know, it’s unfair someone, you know, you’re just kind of like giving more advantages to. Someone with like lots of resources to even have a contributor level 20 badge in the first place.

And that just like widens the gap and it makes it impossible for someone new to catch up. Um,

David Bisset: so what would, what would be your response to that? Because like Yoast would have, like, their people would have all of the badges, right. Or like all of the top badges. So what, what would be your response to that?

Lesley Sim: So, so my response would be not the response that most people want to hear my response is firstly, this is something that has to be worked out. So, you know, these ideas don’t emerge in the world fully formed. They are kind of, it comes out and then, you know, people argue about it. We iterate on it. Be like lunch, a version of wine.

It falls flat. You know, people say it’s awful. They hate it. They’re leaving WordPress. They write blog posts to heat it up, right? Yeah, exactly. That’s the first thing. Yeah, that’s the power.

David Bisset: Why can’t I use this for good.

Lesley Sim: So that, I mean, that’s, that’s honestly the first, the first thing and that, you know, that’s the reality of how these things go.

Um, but the second is like, you know, the nice thing about contributor, badgers, like, oh, I’m all the things that I’m seeing. These are just kind of ideas of how you can incentivize. But the underlying kind of concept is to do the sort of intrinsic motivation type stuff, or like this like status badges type stuff.

Um, you know, whether, whether it’s someone gets me, maybe the badges aren’t even seen on the front end. So like as a developer, you can see the badge, but then as a user, you can not see the badge, you just, um, your, your. Um, plugin just gets ranked higher or something and that’s the only outcome. So all of this stuff can be tweaked in a million different ways.

And, um, I like thinking about this kind of stuff. So I think that could be pretty cool to figure out. Um, but it’s kind of, I guess, similar to how Google and back links work, you know, like that kind of works as an authority thing as well. So like, if you have a backlink from a high authority site, you get ranked higher.

And so this is kind of the same thing. I mean, Google has clearly made it work. Although some people argue that they haven’t, but, you know, um,

David Bisset: has anybody really, is there anybody really that has, is there anybody really that has nailed this open source or not in, in, in tech as far as your concerned. Has anybody nailed this concept or concept of just awarding badges for things?

Or do you think there’s always going to be some problems with this idea?

Lesley Sim: I mean, so I think that, um, this is, I guess, kind of a philosophical take, but I feel like there’s always two sides of things. So like what is problematic to one person is going to be advantageous to the other person. So I don’t think.

You know, binary sent, see, has anyone nail this and made it 1000% fair in every single way. And nobody, once

David Bisset: you bring the F-word into it, once you bring the F word into it, fair, I don’t, you know, it’s all out the window from here, but I mean, let’s, I mean, there are badges. I mean, wordpress.org has badges.

Right. And I would say they’re almost like, um, Oh, I was never a boy scout in the U S and I don’t know what the equivalent is outside of the U S but girl Scouts and boy Scouts. They have these patches on the sashes that of once they’ve accomplished something. And I guess maybe some, some countries militaries, too, they have pins or markers denoting, their rank and their accomplishments or maybe awards that they’ve been given.

So it’s a, it’s, it’s a fairly well-known concept. And you’re looking at the badges in terms of ranking, you know, like a leaderboard type of a thing. I, it sounds like to me, um, yeah, the other is an incentive for continuing to contribute. And because like you said before, if you have a million dollars, that’s I think Matt said this before.

It’s kind of hard to distribute that evenly and fairly in that I, you know, there I am using the F word again. But I th would you agree that there is also just me be as much about it’s op it’s about as much of recognition than, than, than anything else, or is at least partly because of recognition, um, respecting people’s time and effort, all the blood, sweat, and tears that they put into it.

Not just respect from say automatic or the WordPress community, but respect from. You know, you’ve worked something for really hard on something and it gets, it gets very harshly criticized, maybe in their opinion. What do you think, do you think badges would solve this? Um, would solve some emotional hole of people that think they’re not being recognized for their work?

Lesley Sim: I think so. Probably, um, again, like the answer is, it depends, um, Honestly, I think that when it comes to recognition, it’s not, it’s, it’s so difficult because people don’t actually want to be recognized by, or don’t necessarily want to be equally recognized by, you know, 5,000 different people. They want to be recognized by like the one or two people that they really look up to.

And then maybe like, 10 people within their, um, social circle and then maybe like very, very broadly 5,000 people. Right. Um, and so like all of those dynamics come into play as well. So I’m not sure that like just the badges themselves. Yeah would necessarily mean anything. Um, if you had just kind of going go all out or recognition, I think like part of why I’m talking about tying the badges to some kind of incentive is, um, specific to the idea of getting more contributors.

Um, so I think like when it comes to contributors there. There are a couple of now a couple of, um, problems, but they arem’t the problems that people think they are. So like, it’s definitely not a matter of just like let’s throw money at the problem, which is often what the problem people think. Oh, the, what they think is the problem.

So it’s often it’s not just throw my money at the problem. You don’t have enough money.

David Bisset: Um, cause you want to compensate people because just to pause there, you want to compensate people for their time because they’re doing this not, we’re not talking about the sponsored people. We’re talking people that are volunteering their time and they obviously, if they’re not being compensated in some way, it’s harder.

Lesley Sim: Getting more of those people on. Um, so, so I think like there’s like a long tail of contributions that needs to happen. So, um, I think WordPress now is already getting pretty good at this like whole concept of sponsored contributors. There are a lot of, um, companies that are doing that increasing increasingly, and I think that’s really, really awesome.

And like another, the model is kind of there and has been proven out, I think. Very short, like in like one or two years, this will not be a problem anymore. They’ll just be lots of sponsored contributors and it’ll be fine. So like, I think the problem is actually the long tail of contributors. So, you know, you were talking about the documentation team, right?

There’s not enough people there. And I know having three full-time people dedicated to it is great, but then you also need like 500 people to. Do you know, to look at typos, to do the translations, to do the super tiny documents, which are really important, but no one really wants to write because they’re kind of boring and blah, blah, blah, blah.

Or you need someone to like go through, you know, documents from 2007 and update screenshots, right? Like that’s the long tail of contributions. And I think like having some kind of incentives to allow for that kind of work. Like someone can just come in, spend half an hour, get some screenshots, you know, get bumped up another badge level and you’ll go about their day.

Like, I think that kind of thing would be really cool.

David Bisset: It’s like experience points too, if you’ve ever played the old.

Lesley Sim: Yeah, exactly.

David Bisset: I don’t know. Is it RP? No, it’s RPGs. I forgot what they’re called. Um, I’ll edit in whatever it is the later, but I remember playing old computer games where he had so many experience points in the more experience points you get you level up and you get, I’m not sure though what, what, you know, besides just the bragging rights, what you would get, uh, out of more points, but you definitely would be able to be recognized if, for example, like, let’s say post status integrated some sort of little badge thing into your profile or something like that now. No, both you and I have badges already on wordpress.org. Um, repo. Do we, I think we do at least I do. I’m pretty sure you do. I just automatically assume you do because you have a plugin and you’ve contributed before as well.

Um, so they have a number of badges for like plug-in team and theme team and, you know, translations and all of that. I, for some reason, I think the translation team does a pretty good job of incentivizing people. They seem to get a lot of non-English speakers involved with that. Maybe eventually that’s something that we look down, but, but yeah, I, I think, I dunno, we’re in, in, in, in our world, there’s, there’s a.

Incentive for us to keep contributing. But like you said, you want to bring in new contributors in a new contributors would love to be recognized for their initial work. There is also, um, so what, what would be an example just to kind of wrap up this a little bit, uh, and then moving on, what would be an example of a badge that you think would be a good badge to have?

Um, or how would that work? Like, for example, If I’m, if I’m making certain number of contributions, what would that badge look like? Would I have more than one? Would it just be one badge? And I just keep changing it out or what? I collect a series of badges in your, in your, in your idea.

Lesley Sim: I feel like that’s too specific.

I can’t answer that.

David Bisset: No problem. What I was thinking, what I thought was a pretty good badge when I was listening to your idea was like my first commit back. Or a first flight. Uh, and it’s usually like, it’s usually the easy ones, you know, how we in WordPress tag the easy, um, issues for beginners.

So if they can get that and then get a badge real quick, that would be an instant gratification. And then kind of maybe move on from there.

Lesley Sim: I think, I think if you call to have, for someone to map out, where are the typical. So I think of contributions, the contributor journey kind of as like a marketing or sales funnel.

Um, and once you do that, um, a lot of the problems you can kind of frame the problems in a more easy to understand or well known kind of way. And then, you know, like a lot of the vague problems, like suddenly like kind of cooking to pace. So if you think about it from a contributor fan or like a contributors journey. Um, and you think about, you know, where the, um, common drop off points in that funnel. Um, you can actually kind of like put badges strategically in those pieces to incentivize people to kind of go over the hump. So for example, um, one of the one, like in my very, very limited experience, um, one of the difficulties is actually kind of wrapping your head around.

Um, contributing to begin with works. Um, there isn’t really a good way to, to understand this a site from, um, going on mate, make wordpress.org. Um, and then from there they kind of like direct you to the slack. And then it’s like really tricky to even get onto the stack in the first place. And then you get on there and it’s just like a whole bunch of texts and you have no context or anything and it’s overwhelming.

Um, so like, Again, this is like completely just an idea, but like, given that, you know, this, uh, is like, uh, um, identified common exit point. What can be done around there to both like, make that better, that, you know, um, iron out the, the huddles there, but then also on the users and other contributors and.

Give them a badge. So like that’s how you get your level one comtributer a batch, for example, by, uh, I dunno, taking ticketing and a test that proves that you understand it. Are you not taking a test because everyone hates that, but you know what I mean? Right now, would you

David Bisset: support some sort of, um, certification process?

Lesley Sim: Yeah, for sure. So I think that certification should be a part of the badgers. So like, you know, if you pass five tests, you get to level five and you know, that already should bump you up in the directory because they see you’ve, you’ve done a bunch of tests proving that, you know how to write a in well, properly security, then you should get like, 1.2 X the ranking versus somebody who hasn’t taken any of those tests and maybe writing a really crappy plugin

David Bisset: sounds like we need to create like a role-playing adventure.

Just, just make it all, make it all contributor, you know, contributors and experience points and leveling up. And instead of getting a sword, I just get a better editor, but I really appreciate what you do. And we are sharing your opinions, especially in post-data slack. So, uh, look forward to seeing.

Lesley Sim: Yeah, same.

Thanks, David.