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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