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A few bad apples

One or two bad apples may not spoil the whole bunch but they sure do make a foul-tasting pie

I've built, from scratch, a few useful Drupal contributed modules for my own use, and shared them via the contributed modules system. I shared them as my way of supporting the Drupal community (since I benefited from the freely-available Drupal core and other contributed modules).

While the vast majority of users have been polite and reasonable, and a few have offered support, on the whole I find that the majority of users seeking help or reporting bugs do so without offering much in return. Most of the time it seems like a one-sided relationship.

I do appreciate the information most issue reports have to offer but I am unable to respond to all requests in a timely manner. I've been very busy with other priorities over the last year or so, so I've not had much time to dedicate to maintaining the modules I've contributed. The support requests and bug reports have been piling up. As a result I'm seeking new maintainers for all of the modules.

Further, I've decided that I will think twice before sharing future custom Drupal modules via's contributed modules project hosting.

Why? There are a variety of reasons but it comes down to effort vs. reward, and time commitments. It's pretty damn difficult to keep up with the ongoing support load, and port the modules to each new major version of Drupal. And, in my experience, the issue management system does not offer module maintainers sufficient control over issue status and assignment, and I don't have the time, patience, or expertise to help the maintainers improve their system at this time.

The real kicker is that every once in a while, someone will come along and brighten my day by acting as if members of the Drupal developer community have a personal duty to provide free support and answers to all comers, and if the developer doesn't provide a satisfactory answer, the user unloads a barrage of insults and ad hominem attacks. Great motivator. Way to go.

This happened to me yesterday. The attitude shown by the module user was completely over the top, and in my opinion completely unwarranted.

Going forward, I may develop modules for my own use and to my satisfaction; I may even share them in some form or another at some point.

Oh, and thanks to all the module users who offered support and encouragement in any form over the past few years.

Edit 4/12/2009: Clarification: I do not mean to imply that this sort of thing is limited to Drupal. I'm sure malcontents exist, in similar proportions, in any software ecosystem.

Edit 4/25/2009: I've re-enabled issue tracking but disabled email notifications, and updated this post to reflect that.

Edit 12/29/2009: Most of the Drupal-hosted modules I created now have new maintainers. I'm glad to see that there is enough community interest to continue development without my direct involvement. Thanks to all who stepped up to the plate!

worthless software

Well, people expect their software to work. The fact that they aren't paying for it is irrelevant. A supposed benefit of open source is being able to give feedback to developers. If the developers feel resentment towards users because they don't pay, then they've got problems and probably shouldn't be doing open source projects.

Worth every penny the user paid

The software does work, at least well enough for the vast majority of users. Are there bugs? Sure. Have I been slow to respond to some support requests? Yes. As I acknowledge, in the last year and a half, I've not had sufficient time to support the modules properly. I'm trying to remedy that.

Worthless? Well, then, the user got exactly what he or she paid for. The user flew off the handle because of a perceived slight in my response to the support request. I can assure the world that I intended no insult.

The 'user' asked for help with an issue that was, based on the initial request, clearly unrelated to the module in question; I provided what help I could, then directed the user to other resources, and asked (politely, I think) that the user seek help in more appropriate (meaning, topically relevant and likely to be helpful) venues. The user's response was to unload a barrage of emotional garbage and ad hominem attacks on open source Drupal developers -- calling them "uppity Unix geeks", and demonstrating clearly the user's own 'issues', which were completely unrelated to the software in question.

I have no resentment towards users who don't pay; I have no patience with users who act as if open source developers are defective human beings because they don't provide prompt, unlimited support for every question, even if the original request appears to be unrelated to the author's module. And I certainly have no time for people who hurl personal insults when they are frustrated.

The fact that users aren't paying is very relevant. Since they aren't paying, they are (if they use the software) receiving benefits of the work of others. If the module doesn't work for them, they have several ways to deal with it, and here are some that come to mind:

  1. ask politely for support (free or paid),
  2. fix it themselves or have someone else fix it for them,
  3. not use the software, or
  4. insult the software developers.

If a user wants free assistance with free software, but doesn't get the answer he or she wants, then flying off the handle doesn't solve the problem, does it? Unless the real problem is that the user just wants to unload their emotional baggage on other people, that is.

As to my problems -- yes, you are correct, I have problems, but they're not the ones you suggest in your comment.

My main problem is that I've got much more rewarding and pleasant things to do with my time, so I won't be contributing much to open source projects in the future, at least not in that venue.

Looks like you're not alone.

I fear there’s been a misunderstanding.

Judging from your comment, I see that you [read my email/looked at my source code/downloaded my library]. I’m glad to hear you’ve taken an interest in what I’m doing: it means that I’m probably doing something interesting or useful, which is good. But the [demand for a fix/unconstructive feedback/derogatory discouragement/flame] you sent me implies that you don’t really get our relationship.

Now, I don’t want to go all Zed Shaw on you, but the way you’ve come at me is like a girlfriend who’s asking me to fix her stopped-up toilet. The reality is that you just took the toilet I set out on the curb with a “FREE” sign, installed it in your house, discovered it’s stopped up, and now you’ve come back and asked me to fix it like I owe you something. You’re not my girlfriend: you’re someone who took my free toilet. Plunge it yourself.

A bit of a follow-up

This is the author of that blog post. A bit more reasoned discussion of what's going down can be found in my Consumer-Developers and Contributor-Developers posts.

I agree with your categorization.

Consumer-Developers vs. Contributor-Developers: It's not the split, or the relative proportion between the two groups, that is the source of the tension. It's that some people seem oblivious to the basic relationship between open source developer/maintainer and the 'consumer', as you so aptly summarized in the 'free toilet' post.

People who take without offering anything in return beyond bad attitude will have a tougher time than those who recognize that the maintainer is providing something of value (usually without compensation). If there is no value to the consumer, then he or she is free to move along if that seems more productive.

Poisoning the well seems like a very poor way to get what you want. Unless you just like to poison wells.