How should we fund WordPress?
A major theme this year has been the steady beat of acquisitions in WordPress. Off the top of my head this year we’ve covered: Prosspress, CoBlocks, Zero BS CRM, Caldera Forms, Tumblr (!), and I’m sure there are more. The comment at the end of all of these is always: there is more money coming into WordPress than ever before, and there will be “winners” and “losers” from this.
We’re starting to see this play out; the tension between the money, and WordPress as free, open source software built by a contributor community. Here’s a quote from the Tavern article I’ve linked above, by Feross Aboukhadijeh, the maintainer of StandardJS. Feross was in the news for ending a funding experiment which saw ads inserted into the terminal whenever Standard 14 was installed:
“The dirty secret of open source is that much of it is powered by maintainer guilt,” Aboukhadijeh said. “A lucky few manage to land day jobs that allow them to work on open source. But most folks have to be more creative – squeezing in time after work, secretly doing open source maintenance at work, or opting out of normal society completely.”
For some, contributing to WordPress is part of a job, or something that can directly financially benefit them. Yet, for others it’s not. A frequently cited post on this is Daniel Bachhuber’s 2016 WordCamp Europe talk: “My condolences, you’re now the maintainer of a popular open source project”. In this, Daniel talks about the burden of maintaining a popular open source project. It’s demanding, and people don’t really thank you for it. For some, something like this can turn into financial opportunities – but for others it won’t. This is the tension we’re seeing here, and this tension will become more prevalent as some parts of WordPress receive ever-more funding.
We’re also seeing more discussion of “who can afford to show up” being important. This was seen most clearly in the response to the proposal to auto-update old versions of WordPress (Tavern coverage here). This is a wider discussion about privilege, and what users consented to when they installed WordPress.
The proposal has the honourable intention of updating those on versions of WordPress with known vulnerabilities, with the intention of avoiding the sites becoming hacked. But, those arguing against it cite the lack of consent from those site owners to auto-update – something which could break their site. The proposal has an opt-out rather than opt-in, which really isn’t getting consent from the site owners. Those site owners will be notified to their admin email, but many commenters note these emails realistically won’t be looked at.
Dare I suggest, a lot of the criticism stems from people saying “no, this is the context in which you end up with an out-of-date site”. And, a lot of the alleged faults come from not understanding the context those WordPress users are in. As some of the “winners” from the changes in the WordPress ecosystem get rewarded, they’re more likely to continue to contribute in the long term. That’s fine and good, but the community may lose some of the valuable input from people with totally different situations and perspectives. That may result in poorer decisions being made, and that’s sad. I really don’t know what the solution is, but this is one example of the impact of funding WordPress, and it won’t be the only one. - Alex.