This is a follow-up to the forking of Jigoshop by Woothemes which created a new project: WooCommerce. If you’re not familiar, I encourage you to read the article on WPCandy. The following thoughts are my own opinions and observations based on my experience in e-commerce and developing WordPress themes and plugins as owner of UpThemes.
My Thoughts on Forking Jigoshop
Forking the Jigoshop plugin doesn’t bother me tremendously. It’s a great idea for Woothemes to have their own plugin that they can really tweak and modify to work well within their own themes and build WooFramework-specific functionality that would have a slim chance of being implemented in the Jigoshop plugin. The credit for Woocommerce ultimately goes to Jigowatt for building something so well that an established company would want to use it as a base for their own e-commerce product. Woothemes offered to pay for the rights to it, which is flattering, considering they could have just forked it and went on their merry way.
Now, for my concerns.
Should an Active, Growing Open-Source Project be Forked?
Typically, forking is a good solution when there is an abandoned or neglected project (see b2/cafelog) that has loads of potential or is extremely useful but is unstable. In this particular case, the potential exists for a disruption in the space time continuum which could result in a universe-ending cataclysmic paradox if the two plugins ever meet in real life. Or maybe that’s just how it works in Back to the Future. But still, it causes some issues.
By contributing to an open-source project, especially to WordPress core or a plugin, you help improve it for the good of everyone. By forking one, you introduce new complexities and nuances that may cause confusion or conflicts moving forward. Does it use the same theme files? template functions? naming conventions? Can they be run simultaneously? Do they use the same database option names? Same post type slug?
I think their reasons for forking Jigoshop were valid and hiring the two primary developers was a logical investment for Woothemes. One of the biggest factors when forking a project is feature development. They could have submitted features to the Jigoshop plugin, but there was no guarantee that those features would have been included in the plugin and they may have forked the plugin at that point in time. I think that would have been a better way to go about it, but either way, I’m positive it would have been done anyway.
The Community Was Told One Thing, and Received Another
Members and customers of Woothemes have been hearing for months about how great Woocommerce is going to be and that it is “coming soon.” Except, there was a problem. The product they were developing never materialized which ultimately left Woothemes to find another alternative, eventually settling on Jigoshop as a replacement.
Under any other circumstances, forking the Jigoshop plugin is a great idea – but my issue is that the Woothemes community was told repeatedly that Woocommerce was going to be a game-changer and that they had plans for this and that. They were hyping up a product that didn’t exist and stringing people along with promises of innovation. I understand the “hype machine” game. I, too, run a business and understand the marketing tactics at play here. You have to be enthusiastic and over the top to make an impact and bad news isn’t really something you want to advertise if you can avoid it.
It was a risk to hype up a product that never existed, and I think that’s what a lot of woocustomers were disappointed with. It wasn’t the fact that Woo forked Jigoshop and hired away two of the lead developers. It was that a trust was broken where they thought Woothemes would innovate in the WordPress e-commerce space and were let down by a brand they trusted. Personally, I’m hopeful that Woocommerce will take the Jigoshop platform to a new level. My hope is that both plugins mature more rapidly as a result of this.
Experience in E-commerce IS the Product
This comment from Dan Milward of WP E-commerce really sticks out to me as being the best example of why WPEC is one of the better e-commerce options out there. They’ve cut their teeth, had their diapers soiled and have since grown out of their pull-ups. They’ve gone to Kindergarten and learned the school rules. What’s left for them now is to keep learning and keep improving a stable, secure product.
It doesn’t matter how many developers or ideas you have, the experience you’ve gained through developing a commercial product defines the product. Just ask Dan. It’s taken years for them to get to where they are today, but they’ve earned the position they’re in.
Words of Caution for Woothemes
My biggest concern moving forward is the fact that Woothemes has little experience building advanced plugins for WordPress. Some of you may disagree by saying their themes essentially ARE plugins but with CSS and images. Sure, whatever, you win. That’s fine. My point isn’t that they can build things for WordPress, it is that building and maintaining an open source e-commerce plugin used by thousands of people is an extremely large task.
Just thinking about security alone, it now becomes an essential component of the Woothemes brand to make sure Woocommerce as secure as it possibly can be. In the times where it becomes exposed, they need to address vulnerabilities and bugs quickly and fully. They now take responsibility and ownership of any and all flaws in Woocommerce.
One of the rumors floating around WordCamp SF a few weeks ago was that one of the more popular shopping cart plugins had a security vulnerability that allows someone to change the price of a product and continue on to check out. I don’t know if the issue still exists but those types of issues are nightmares that brand managers lose sleep over.
If I Were in Charge of Jigoshop
I would make sure that implementing Jigoshop into themes is “so easy a caveman can do it,” similar to plugins like Gravity Forms and IntenseDebate. If you can build an e-commerce plugin that requires little-to-no effort to style and doesn’t require page templates within your theme, that would virtually guarantee my support and the support of other theme developers.
Disclaimer: I haven’t taken a look at Jigoshop to see how easy it is to use, but that would be one of my goals regardless.
My second order as CEO of Jigowatt would be to build a theme marketplace to showcase themes that have special compatibility with Jigoshop and use the affiliate programs for each theme company to help support the project. By encouraging a Jigoshop-centered ecosystem, you help build a report with not only users of your product, but with developers who want to build on your platform.
Oh, and let’s see some official badges that say “This theme is compatible with Jigoshop.” I’d be absolutely proud to display that alongside our themes at UpThemes.
The last thing I would do is make sure every employee contract includes a non-compete clause. Some folks say these do not hold up in court, but if you do some research, they most certainly do, especially in cases such as these.
So What Does Woocommerce Ultimately Mean?
It means more competition for Jigowatt, Instinct, Shopp, Cart66, and other e-commerce platform builders – which ultimately helps increase the quality of the entire WordPress e-commerce ecosystem. It also means I have more platforms to build e-commerce themes for. That excites me because I know the market for WordPress e-commerce themes is growing quite rapidly and we’re positioned well to move into that space. We are currently working on offering advanced compatibility with multiple e-commerce plugins within the SimpleCart theme to ensure our customers can use the plugin that best suits their needs, which can vary greatly from project-to-project.
I’ve been involved in e-commerce for years and have been waiting for a great solution in WordPress. Soon, I have no doubt we’ll have plenty of stable, secure options to confidently build all our e-commerce websites on WordPress.