Today I took my dedication to WordPress to another level. As I have indicated elsewhere, I am incredibly thankful for the work that the WordPress Foundation [1, 2] does to produce a for-the-people self-publishing platform. It is wonderful that the best tool for putting your ideas on the web is also the most democratic, pro-social, and altruistic in nature. I will not go deeply into the details here, but WordPress is produced by a small army of volunteer software developers who work to continually improve this self-publishing platform. Anyone can potentially become involved in making WordPress better, because anyone can make a plugin or suggest improvements to future versions of WordPress.
We are all used to getting things for free from the internet. Almost no one pays for music anymore because it is easy to violate the intellectual property rights of artists by illegally downloading songs. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are all free too, so long as you do not count all the data and advertisement exposure time you freely give to them as payment for their services. But WordPress is a different kind of free: it truly is free, no strings attached. Others have provided their work and you can use it for free. Along with other projects like the Wikimedia Foundation, WordPress is what I consider part of the “free internet” — where free means “liberated” — and stands in stark contrast to the gated internet communities past and present (for instance the AOL of old, and now Facebook).
As someone who studies cooperation and altruism, WordPress represents the most difficult conundrum of cooperation to explain, because it is based upon behavior that is hard to see as selfish in any way. This is not standard reciprocal altruism, where the hard work of software developers is directly rewarded by users. Although one could say that developers gain a good reputation for their work, this reputation is mostly valuable within a narrow social circle, whereas the benefits of their work are spread among a truly massive global population. The only way to really explain this altruism is through network reciprocity, a form of reciprocity in which individuals distribute their altruism throughout a social network, and receive benefits only through the good work of other individuals and not necessarily through those who directly benefit from their altruism. What a massive form of network reciprocity WordPress represents: total strangers help other total strangers a world away.
I cannot directly contribute to the altruistic efforts that make WordPress possible because I do not possess the skills necessary to develop such software. So how can I contribute? How can I plug my own altruism into the network of reciprocal good work represented by these projects? I can only do what I have the expertise to do, and when it comes to WordPress my only expertise is in developing my own site using this tool. So in the spirit of “passing good deeds forward” that inspired the creation of WordPress, I decided to share my love of this tool with my community, that of Pratt Institute. So today I hosted a “WordPress Workshop” designed to provide potential users with an overview of why WordPress is so valuable and how one can implement it as a self-publishing platform. Below is the presentation that I used to frame my workshop:
This was a bit of a daunting task for me to take on because while I know a little bit about WordPress and a lot about teaching, that does not necessarily translate to knowing how to teach others about using technology, which I have discovered is a very specific and difficult-to-acquire skill. A big problem with technology teaching is that people come to you with radically different technological aptitudes, especially at a general introduction like the one I presented. I think that it went well, in large part because I allowed the audience to dictate how much time we spent on different aspects of setting up a WordPress site. I plan to expand this workshop and offer it again in the future in conjunction with Pratt’s Faculty Technology Studio.