May 142004

There’s been a flurry of interest in Word­Press ever since it was announced that Mov­ab­le­Type will be mov­ing to a fee-based mod­el. There already was a sub­stan­tial amount of interest in Word­Press. That’s because the people run­ning it (mostly, from what I can see, Matt Mul­len­weg, and there’s a longer list at About Word­Press) did quite a few things right. So here’s Lauren’s Pro­duct Man­age­ment 101, using Word­Press as the example.

It’s easy to find out what the soft­ware does

This should be obvi­ous, but it isn’t. All pack­ages on source­forge, fresh­meat or wherever should include a 2 or 3-sentence descrip­tion of what they do. This isn’t mar­ket­ing, it’s simply telling people what they need to know. Word­Press spends a page on this inform­a­tion, with screen­shots, which is more than neces­sary.

It’s not just open source soft­ware that’s guilty of not say­ing what the pro­duct does. It’s amaz­ing how often mar­ket­ing depart­ments in com­mer­cial soft­ware com­pan­ies try to make the soft­ware engin­eers cre­ate a pro­duct they can mar­ket, instead of mar­ket­ing the pro­duct the soft­ware engin­eers cre­ated.

If there’s an install­a­tion pro­gram, repeat what the pro­duct does in the splash screen. My IBM laptop came with CDs that I assumed were use­ful, but there was no doc­u­ment­a­tion, the install pro­grams didn’t say what was actu­ally on the CD, and to make it all worse they couldn’t all be installed at once without want­ing to unin­stall each oth­er. All install­a­tion pro­grams should say what they are actu­ally installing and how much room it might take.

It does what it claims to
Another one of these “should be obvi­ous” pieces. Don’t release overly buggy soft­ware. People will nev­er try it again. If you want to get feed­back on a design, use screen­shots. Make it clear which are the nightly builds for the brave and which the stable releases. Word­Press does this right.
It looks like people still work on it
One of the reas­ons I didn’t stick with Grey­mat­ter was because it isn’t really being main­tained, and I wanted a blog­ging sys­tem that is. If your pro­ject hasn’t been updated recently because you’re work­ing on a big new ver­sion, say so some­where. Again, Word­Press does this right.
There’s some hope of get­ting help with prob­lems
Help with prob­lems can range from reas­on­able install doc­u­ment­a­tion to sup­port for­ums. The install doc­u­ment­a­tion doesn’t need to be over the top, but it should be cur­rent. If some­thing is broken in a par­tic­u­lar ver­sion, say which ver­sion it is broken in. If some part of the instruc­tions is only for older ver­sions, say so. I know keep­ing doc­u­ment­a­tion up to date is not as much fun as cod­ing, but if you want people to use what you’ve done, they have to be able to install it! Sup­port for­ums also help and Word­Press does an excel­lent job here.

Four basic rules. Word­Press gets them right. Oth­er products do too, even when they don’t have the same amount of sup­port from a user com­munity. Call it Pro­duct Man­age­ment 101.

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