Just few days ago during WordCamp Europe, Matt Mullenweg got asked by our developer Maja Nedeljkovic how much should companies contribute to the WordPress project. Matt responded and later expanded that a good rule of thumb would be 5%. This seem to have produced a lot of interpretations and a massive stir in the community (prompting some to grab popcorn and watch #wpdrama).
Let me get back to the diversity of the community. I think that it is important to acknowledge that many companies and members of the community are at various stages of their life in the community.
For example I got engaged with WordPress in 2007 and started my career as a developer. I proceeded to contribute over 30 free plugins which millions of users proceeded to use on their WordPress sites. I wrote the book on WordPress development in 2009 and still get thanks from people whom the book helped start their careers. This in turn helped me start a business, but I think that it is important to recognize things like these as a contribution to the community (not just mine, but I am speaking about thousands of developers and designers that went though a similar process contributing in any way), even if they made money out of it (and by all means they should and better did!).
Then came ManageWP and my life cycle in the WordPress community was reset. It was a period in life when I was less active in the community simply because I had to learn things like how to run a company while building something that will again become a contribution to the community. Few years fast forward, this year I felt that I (more accurately ‘we’ in the context of ManageWP) ‘exploded’ again – we gave the community managewp.org – the non-commercial ‘reddit for WordPress’, sponsored two largest WordCamps in the world as well as other WordCamps around the world and are thinking about becoming WordPress global partners. That is a big stretch for a company that is not as large as Bluehost or GoDaddy (two current WordCamp global sponsors) and it took time and energy to get there. That is a point where ManageWP is now, some companies have reached before, and some will in the future.
Because the community is so diverse, we are not at the same moment in time in our life cycles, both business and community contribution wise as Matt. Sometimes a leader can get so far ahead in his thoughts that they would stop, turn around and wonder why isn’t there anyone around?
If you make money you are not contributing?
What got me engaged was Matt’s view that “The one thing I wouldn’t count fully [as contributions] is WordCamp sponsorships, which are fantastic but essentially advertising and I have their own direct ROI. ” As if somehow if you are making money out of it you are not contributing.
IMO having people and companies making money with the project is not only something that should be celebrated but one of the prime drivers of its growth (I would argue that if everyone engaged was making money from WordPress its market share would skyrocket).
In the case of sponsoring WordCamps, I agree that there is some business benefit but if you ever did so you know that from a strictly business perspective the ROI is very poor.
So from my perspective a company does not sponsor a WordCamp to earn money, it does so primarily for altruistic reasons, at the very least to help the project that is helping it earn money.
Even if Matt thinks otherwise, it just does not seem to be a productive way of communicating things. We just stepped out and in last 30 days gave over $10,000 to help WordCamps. I feel great about that, please do not ruin the joy of giving.
Complex situations are… well complex
Another point was raised when Matt was asked how much does Automattic “contribute” back to PHP, and his honest answer was nothing.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) October 1, 2014
But he said they contribute to jQuery and Apache. That is fantastic and I didn’t know that. So clearly, things aren’t that simple.
You also probably didn’t know that ManageWP contributes 10% of its monthly profit to charity, and we started doing that every month since two years ago. So should we now contribute 5% more on top of these 10%? And why do we do what we do? Nobody had to ask us for it, we do it to help the world we all live in, in similar ways I think that everything anyone did as an individual and continues to do as a company in the WordPress ecosystem helps the WordPress project that we are all a part of.
I think that with the size of WordPress today, and the diversity of its community the things are complex. Marko Heijnen gave an interesting idea that perhaps empowering the tens of thousands WordPress freelancers to contribute 5% could be a better way to achieve the results. Power of the crowds, similar to what I proposed in the open letter to the community regarding WordPress security few weeks ago.
Or perhaps the solution is in the “reform/evolution of governance of the project” as Ben Metcalfe proposed, curiously noting that “Our little WordPress has all grown up … Now is the time to democratize the democratization of publishing“. (update: I gave analysis of that proposal in What if WordPress had an advisory board? post)
What if paying for a Superbowl WordPress ad is the way to go?
Whichever way is right, I’d like to see us all stick together, under trusted leadership, respecting the great diversity of the community.