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.

34 thoughts on “Five for the Future

  1. Hey Matt,

    Totally agree with you. We need to invest in the platform that we’re all building upon even if we don’t “have” to. At WooThemes we’ve tried out a company wide WordPress hack day which was pretty successful. I like the idea of having a full time employee that works on WordPress core but I think I’d rather have everyone on board and contributing 5% of their time. What do you think about that?

    1. Any percent that people can pitch in is fantastic! Some tasks divide into smaller pieces better than others, I’m sure over time you’ll find the balance that maximizes your impact. That actually brings up a good point, it’s good to look at what impact you’re having — I’ve seen companies dedicate a person full-time that hasn’t really had a big impact, and people working just a few hours a week that have had a big one. Look at the outcomes and results of what you contribute objectively, and if it’s not working try something different.

      1. This was definately something from our internal discussions of your article; “What is a contribution”? I commend you for stepping out on a limb and presenting a measurable success metric of giving back.

        I agree more-so that it’s about people, having an impact, less about businesses dedicating dollars. Its a goal, not a mandate. Surely your words are meant to inspire PEOPLE to be actively & intentionally involved. I know that I want to make a difference in the WordPress community, and I evangelize community involvement at every event I attend. For me its about spreading the word of “WordPress”, which I don’t measure in %’s or dollars, but as you said, I measure the impact I have.

        Matt, if I haven’t already, thank you. WordPress has come to be quite an amazing tool and it wouldn’t have been born without you.

  2. Another way to calculate that 5% contribution might be in hours per week per person. Given a “normal” 40-hour work-week, that would be about 2 hours per week. But, in an organization like you describe, that would be 2 hours from *everyone* per week. Though, I might amend that to be just the technical staff.

  3. “dedicate 5% of their people to working on something to do with core ”

    Hey Matt, I just wanted to clarify – are you asserting 5% of their people full time?

    1. For Automattic we’re pretty much completely a WordPress-based company, and the things we want to contribute tend to take bigger chunks of time, so full-time people make sense. Others it might make sense to take a little bit of a lot of people’s time rather than all of a few people’s time. It’s a rule of thumb that I’m sure people will interpret differently, what really matters is the impact.

  4. Thanks for the post, Matt.

    For those who aren’t swayed by language like “altruistically” and “the mission” and “should”, I’ll be presenting a set of arguments at my WCSF talk that are motivated by practical concerns rather than ideological ones. Different side of the same coin.

  5. That’s indeed a great news Matt. I will definitely talk to my management about dedicating at-least person to contribute in core. We have two WordPress community managers working with us right now and they would be highly interested in working this capacity. Cloudways is always be there whenever you need us.

  6. Totally agree with you.
    I am not a freelancer, not startup and not receive any income from WP( I mean having a WP maintenance company, WP hosting) but I contribute to WP community every day. I am learning a lot of stuffs and at the same time I help others to sort their issues out.
    This is mi WP profile: (as you can see, 90% of my answer conclude with – Topic Solved, that’s amazing for me). So, I think if someone contribute at least 30 min weekly will be useful for the WP community.

  7. I agree Matt and am glad that you are sharing this and encouraging all of us to do our part. I am certainly looking for ways to contribute more personally and through my business.

  8. Gah.. I wrote a comment and realized I had JS disabled, then thought I saved, and I didn’t.. how annoying.. :).. life is hard as a security guy..

    In any event…

    Wanted to stop by and say, nice post..

    It was interesting to see the thought mature between the time it was asked and the time you wrote this post. That’s such a beautiful process.

    It will undoubtedly be interpreted a number of ways, some will take it as gospel, some as recommendations, and yet others will dismiss it outright.. such is online life I suppose..

    I like it though because it’s thought provoking. As someone that runs an organization that supports the community, I can’t say it’s dependent on it. If it were to fail, users would adopt another platform and that platform would be supported. Very similar to non-WP centric hosts (e.g., GoDaddy, etc…). That being said, your post makes me wonder, what could we do more of?

    It’s an interesting predicament though, the more we do, the more it directly impacts the business, and the more clouded things get. And so you find yourself in this odd place trying to figure out where everything fits…

    In any event, apologies for my random thoughts… it’s just something you got me thinking about, so thanks for that.

    Take Care


  9. Hello Matt,

    Greeting from Nepal. Awesome Five for the Future. I am so impressed. I am from CatchThemes and we are using this. We have been contributing in theme reviews, theme developments and helping in WordCamp Nepal and WordPress Meetups. It’s really wonderful sharing and helping each other. I am so thankful to WordPress Foundation and the community all over the world.

    I am so much encouraged to contribute more after reading this post. We will try to contribute more and more.

    Thanks and have a nice day.


  10. The interesting thing about this post is that you mention “5% of the People” which I automatically translate in “5% of their time”. I understood Automattic was a distributed company of another kind where actually, especially due to its distributed nature, it was not so much “time” that was the measure, but “impact” or let say “value” (e.g. value that they deliver, not value that they cost on the payroll) .
    (This is by the way quite intriguing and remarkable to finally be able to run a company this way on such a scale, curious if you can scale it one more digit.)

    But then I think you must have in mind “5% of their value” or “5% of their impact”. Very hard to measure, drive and manage for most organizations…

    Also, another comment that comes to my mind reading this: giving people time where we tell them to contribute and only contribute (translates in – forcing them to contribute) sounds a bit contradictory with the original essence of contribution to an open project. Should it not be more to leave 5% (or more) free time to developer people and letting them contribute to anything they want (kind of back to the Google 20% thingy…). If they are working in the WordPress ecosystem, and if they potentially have value, they will probably pick to contribute to WordPress (and not to Drupal to just name another). If not, they will probably contribute to another component of your stack. It seems to me that this 5% statement “for WordPress” at the organization level goes somehow against freedom at the individual level.

    Just rebounding 🙂 Nice to read you as ever!

  11. Agree. We use it, we will give back.
    We do this, like to pay the time of our developer for work on core and work on community.
    Currently we give time for issues, patches and also much more, like the time from “ocean90” for contribute the core and get time for meetings with the core team. Also is time for the community, translations, a good part in my eyes. We speak on WCEU with a lot of people, there work in companies, there work with WP and the different views was interesting.

  12. I agree. We get so much from WordPress and its community and we should give something back to help other people. But I think we should not limit the contribution to the coding or core contribution. Writing blog posts, teaching people, translating WordPress or themes/plugins into other languages, answering questions at support forum… are also good ways to give back to the community. Everyone can give back to the community, not just companies.

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