Five for the Future

On Sunday at WordCamp Europe I got a question about how companies contribute back to WordPress, how they’re doing, and what companies should do more of.

First on the state of things: there are more companies genuinely and altruistically contributing to growing WordPress than ever before. In our ecosystem web hosts definitely make the most revenue and profits, and it’s been great to see them stepping up their game, but also the consultancies and agencies around WordPress have been pretty amazing about their people contributions, as demonstrated most recently by the fact the 4.0 and 4.1 release leads both hail from WP agencies (10up and Code for the People, respectively).

I think a good rule of thumb that will scale with the community as it continues to grow is that organizations that want to grow the WordPress pie (and not just their piece of it) should dedicate 5% of their people to working on something to do with core — be it development, documentation, security, support forums, theme reviews, training, testing, translation or whatever it might be that helps move WordPress mission forward.

Five percent doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly. As of today Automattic is 277 people, which means we should have about 14 people contributing full-time. That’s a lot of people to not have on things that are more direct or obvious drivers of the business, and we’re not quite there today, but I’m working on it and hope Automattic can set a good example for this in the community. I think it’s just as hard for a 20-person organization to peel 1 person off.

It’s a big commitment, but I can’t think of a better long-term investment in the health of WordPress overall. I think it will look incredibly modest in hindsight. This ratio is probably the bare minimum for a sustainable ecosystem, avoiding the tragedy of the commons. I think the 5% rule is one that all open source projects and companies should follow, at least if they want to be vibrant a decade from now.

Further reading: There’s been a number of nice blog follow-ups. Post Status has a nice post on Contribution Culture. Ben Metcalf responded but I disagree with pretty much everything even though I’m glad he wrote it. Tony Perez wrote The Vision of Five and What it Means. Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, pointed out his essay Scaling Open Source Communities which I think is really good.

I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.

— Ernest Hemingway to Arthur Mizener, 1950 Selected Letters, p. 694.

I got it from Hemingway on Writing which is a short and pleasant read I’m going through right now. It turns out Hemingway was 64 years ahead of me in his advice about who to write for.

During the development of most any product, there are always times when things aren’t quite right. Times when you feel like you may be going backwards a bit. Times where it’s almost there, but you can’t yet figure out why it isn’t. Times when you hate the thing today that you loved yesterday. Times when what you had in your head isn’t quite what you’re seeing in front of you. Yet. That’s when you need to have faith.

Jason Fried writes Faith in eventually. Good to share with anyone who’s been working on something for a while.