Care and influence: a theory about the WordPress community

Many people find that the structure of the WordPress community is ambiguous. While there are Team Handbooks that address contributors, the way different groups influence and support each other can be unclear. The duty of care is the responsibility of one group to avoid decisions that harm another group in an organization.

I learned about this interesting progression of care and influence recently from Josepha Haden, and wanted to share what I thought was a brilliant way to communicate this. She explained it to me and a group of other contributors, by showing us this flow. 

Like all great sticky notes, there is no clarity without explanation. I would like to shed some light on my understanding of how the WordPress community works, and see if these ideas resonate for other people, the way they did for me.

The five sticky notes above are the 5 groups of people within the WordPress ecosystem.

  • Visitors
  • Users
  • Extenders
  • Contributors
  • Leaders

Duty of Care

Examining the graphic below, the duty of care from the left extends to all groups to that particular group’s right. For example, an extender exhibits a duty of care toward both the users and the visitors while a user’s duty of care is primarily toward just their visitors.

Levels of Influence

Each group directly influences those adjacent to it via feedback loops and meeting their needs. Groups to the left influence groups to the right, while feedback from the right directs what is needed from groups to the left. 

For example, a WordPress user is affected by both visitors and extenders. Imagine a content creator that shares their passion for photography through a WordPress website. This photographer may have visitors that need to purchase photos. In response, the user now has a need to make it possible for visitors to purchase photos on a site. 

  1. The extenders build the pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the Plugin Directory or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party that supports the need.
  2. The user installs it on their site.
  3. The visitors can now purchase photos. 

The groups


Visitors are the people that arrive at a WordPress site to gain information or engage in an activity. These people may not be aware of the groups, or even that they’re using WordPress, but they do care about their task at hand. Their needs can directly influence the user’s website.


Users are people who use WordPress as their CMS. These range from website builders, to website designers, to small businesses, or content creators. They are affected by their visitors, and care about what happens when people visit their site. Users are also affected by the extenders, who build things that add new functionality to WordPress.


Extenders include those who extend WordPress through the creation of themes, plugins, blocks, and more. They are also people who teach WordPress to others through WordPress podcasts, newsletters, and tutorials. The WordPress ecosystem is enriched by a large number of extenders. 

The extenders are affected by both the users and the contributors. Users determine the value of their plugins and themes. Contributors directly impact their work by creating/maintaining the CMS and providing ways to distribute quality extensions, like the plugin or theme repositories. Extenders also care not only for the users, but also about the users’ visitors. Extenders know their product’s success relies on both the WordPress user and the website visitor. Extenders also benefit from the success of the WordPress platform.


Contributors are the people who contribute to the open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. software (OSS) and the infrastructure that supports the project. These include contributor teams and other volunteers who give their time to the project itself and not necessarily just the extended ecosystem.

Contributors are affected by both the extenders and project leadership. The extenders’ needs are often considered by the contributors, for example with regards to backward compatibility and enabling 3rd party integrations. Project leadership influences the contributors by communicating  vision and future goals for the project.

The contributors make decisions that demonstrate their care for each group to their right: the extenders, the users, and the visitors. If they did not care about the visitor, they would build software that would not help users meet their goals. If they did not care about the user, they would build software that lacked an ecosystem, because no one would use it. If they did not care about extenders, they would not build an extensibleExtensible This is the ability to add additional functionality to the code. Plugins extend the WordPress core software. product.


Leadership is a very small group. It includes currently Matt Mullenweg (Project Lead) and Josepha Haden (Executive Director). These two help drive the vision and strategy for WordPress.

They both are directly affected by contributors, because the contributors are the people building and maintaining WordPress, and the community surrounding it. Project leadership relies heavily on the ability and skills of the contributors to ensure the project’s goals are met.

Project leadership carries a duty of care that encompasses every level of WordPress. They work hard to avoid decisions that explicitly harm the other groups. No doubt there will be people who will be affected negatively by a decision, but the decisions at this level are made to support and benefit the majority.

Moving through the groups

Because these group relationships can be ambiguous, it is often unclear how people move between them. In fact, moving between the groups often happens unintentionally, and as the result of expressing more care toward people within one’s own group.

One example is the move from extender to contributor. An extender primarily cares for their own extension product (ie. a plugin), which benefits their users and visitors. At some point, an extender might run into an issue, or innovate on a solution, that can help all extenders. By sharing this solution with contributors and helping to implement it, the extender contributes to the coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. software, resulting in a better experience for all other extenders. Their level of care expands through their desire to contribute in a way that benefits others.

Users often become extenders when they can not find the extension that suits their needs. The user, when a solution is not provided by existing extenders, might decide to create their own extension (ie. a plugin) to meet their need. When the user shares their product, they have just become an extender, and their level of care expands to include all other users who might find their product a necessary solution for their own sites.

Overall, WordPress group dynamics generally depend upon the duty of care and levels of influence. The more one cares about other groups, and those in one’s own group, the more likely that person will influence the community in a positive way.


Thank you to @chanthaboune @andreamiddleton for their feedback on the content and phrasing of this post!


What do you think about this theory of how different parts of the WordPress ecosystem connect and relate to each other? Does this description sound mostly right to you, or do you have an experience or perspective that conflicts with this set of ideas? I’d love to know your thoughts!