Open Source and how we sustain ourselves

The title of this post has been edited, due to feedback that the terms originally used were causing folks not to be willing to read the post.

In 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., we aim to make our projects more sustainable and make sure they survive and thrive long after we have stopped being there for them. It’s an immense and wonderful responsibility, and a complicated one! In discussing how to future-proof WordPress, we cite two economic problems as a shorthand for the open source problem we see: the Tragedy of the Commons and the Free Rider Problem.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked about these two theoretical problems a lot, and there was something I noticed in each conversation. The folks I was talking to would advocate for two opposing solutions, sometimes in the same breath, and at the same time I could identify how those opposing solutions could work/do work in WordPress. 

To figure out what might be behind that, I spoke to a doctoral professor of economics and he clarified that these two economic problems are distinct but related, and apply to two different situations. Even though both of those situations exist in open source, we sometimes use the terms interchangeably to illustrate a single problem—which can cause confusion.

Some Quick Clarifications

The Tragedy of the Commons is the most recognized economic problem we discuss in open source. It uses the example of a public pasture to demonstrate what could happen if one group sent all their sheep there for the best grass without doing anything to make sure the grass remained the best and greenest for other sheep.

The Free Rider Problem is discussed less, but is one of the harder to solve problems of tending to the commons. It deals with public goods that have the same quality no matter how many people use it, or how many times. This results in a lack of urgency and priority for supporting the public good.

Take for example, public media. Everyone can listen to public radio stations, almost without limit, regardless of whether or not you contribute. That *could* lead to underfunded programming, relative to what would benefit listeners (and other free riders, like news sources that reference the station), resulting in  a reliance on unpaid interns and a more limited information network. So, while a public station is able to operate and produce a good product, programming could be better or more plentiful if they had more resources.

What Does it Have to do with Open Source?

The Tragedy of the Commons is specific to a resource that can be used up and so needs some way to watch after equitable access and long term maintenance. The way it shows up in open source is when we’re looking at contributions.

Contributing requires time or money and frequently some specialized knowledge, and there are limits to how much is available. Unlike the software, we can never treat a single maintainer as an infinite resource. As WordPress scales, having a little structure and support for contributors can help keep any one contributor from being overloaded. Mostly what is important to know is that this is considered a solved problem if you use Ostrom’s 8 Principles. I can cover that in a separate post if folks find it interesting!

But the Free Rider Problem, since it’s specific to resources that can’t be used up and therefore don’t need anyone to watch after their equitable distribution, shows up when we’re looking at the WordPress software.

No matter how many new sites are launched using WordPress, the coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. software does not become any worse for wear, and there is no end to the available “seats.” Access to and use of the software is wholly unconstrained and any advancement to the software benefits everyone equally regardless of the size of their company or contribution.

So how is the Free Rider Problem solved?

It is possible for an open source project to suffer from the free rider problem, but it depends on a clear understanding of the point at which it actually could become a problem. The Free Rider Problem doesn’t assume that ALL free riders are inherently bad. In WordPress’ case, we want a vast number of our users to be able to access the software (and hosting, training, information, etc) at remarkably low cost. The free riders that pose a problem are frequently those who get disproportionate value compared to what they contribute.

It could be argued that organizations like public media, WordPress, or Wikipedia have overcome the Free Rider Problem by effective use of social infrastructure and by being available to a large enough community that the support is sufficient. Alternatively, it could also be argued that all of those organizations are actually under-supported relative to what would be best for our communities, therefore requiring them to limit the programs and services they offer.

I believe that the crux of the discussion should be this:

The builders and extenders of WordPress are invested in this software being the best for everyone using it. Collectively, we support the creation and maintenance of WordPress through our community of contributors. How can we rebalance the tenacious need for contribution with the immense benefit WordPress brings to everyone, including our free riders and contributors?

Updates on the Five for the Future program, and proposed improvements

Thanks to some great input from contributors and partnership with team reps, the MetaMeta Meta is a term that refers to the inside workings of a group. For us, this is the team that works on internal WordPress sites like WordCamp Central and Make WordPress. team has added automated recognition for a number of non-code contributions!

For example, WordPress.org profiles will now show contributor activity such as:

  • Translating and reviewing strings on translate.wordpress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/
  • Publishing lesson plans, workshops, and courses on Learn WordPress
  • Publishing handbook pages
  • Mentoring a WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more.
  • Manual props received in the #props channel in Making WordPress

All new updates, and upcoming plans for automated recognition of contributor activity are tracked in GitHub. If there are other activities you think we could auto-magically record, please share in the comments below!

Trialing inactive pledge notifications

Capturing all this great contribution activity also means inactive pledges are more easily identified. There are a number of reasons that a pledge might be inactive: it’s not a great time for that company or individual to contribute, it’s an aspirational pledge and they don’t know how to contribute just yet, or perhaps they aren’t interested in contributing anymore. It could also be that what they are contributing isn’t being recognized yet! 

Whatever the reason, knowing which pledges are active is helpful information for Make Teams working on big projects that need contributors. Knowing which pledges are inactive also gives us an opportunity to reach out to see what support those pledges might need, and a chance to connect. The notification process intends to help Make Teams and contributors with these areas. 

This is not to remove or erase contributions – in fact, pledges that don’t get any response after a grace period will simply be deactivated, and can be reactivated at any time. All contributions will continue to be displayed on .org profiles, regardless of if the pledge is active or not.

For all teams

To start, the Meta team is exploring sending an email to any contributor who hasn’t logged in for three (3) months. This email will check in, see if the contributor needs some help in connecting with a team, and ask that they log in within the next 30 days. If the contributor does not, their pledge will be deactivated. 

Testing a future notification system

To test a notification process that will best support the future of Make Teams and contributors, the Meta team has been exploring options with the Training and Polyglots teams. These teams will trial a more comprehensive, automated notification system for pledges. 

For starters, this notification system will notify pledges to those teams without any recent contribution activity. Similarly, they will be offered support and given a grace period before the pledge is deactivated. This proposed schedule and notification system is currently being discussed in issue #205.

The Training and Polyglots teams have offered to help by giving feedback on these notification systems. Based on feedback received, the Meta team will make iterations before rolling this notification system out to other Make Teams. 

How you can help shape 5ftF

If your team would like to participate in email notifications, please voice your interest in the comments below! The Meta team will connect with you to help you get set up.

Another way is to help identify other contributions to recognize. A lot of time and effort is given to the WordPress 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. project every day. As Josepha recently said on WP Briefing, “Building our culture of generosity helps us to better recognize and celebrate each other for all of our contributions… if we see more and more of the same type of contributions being celebrated, then we can also work toward automating those as well.” If you see those contributions, say it! The Meta team can look into automating recognition of that contribution, to start. 

Last but not least, share your thoughts on the suggested notification system. What’s missing? What would you change to better support active and inactive contributors? 

X-post: Announcement: Incident Response Training

X-comment from +make.wordpress.org/updates: Comment on Announcement: Incident Response Training

Request for feedback: Recording Five for the Future contributions

Have you kept up on the latest updates to the Five for the Future (5ftF) program? In addition to addressing spam and dormant pledges, @josepha has proposed a definition for 5ftF pledges and contributions. Most notably:

Participation in Five for the Future means consistent effort by an individual or a company via a Make WordPress team to directly support the WordPress 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. project and the project’s current big ideas, rather than the sole benefit of a company or individual.

Another important iteration to the 5ftF program is identifying and recording contributions made; this will help Make Teams follow activity and progress (dashboards, anyone?!) and support all WordPress contributors to recognize all the great work achieved.

Upcoming improvements for the 5ftF program are tracked in GitHub. There are a number of suggested contributions to record that apply across Make Teams, such as props, HelpScout activity, or attending a Make Team meeting. There are also suggestions for Team-specific contributions to record, thanks to input from the Training, Documentation, and Community teams.

Of course, there is much, much more activity to celebrate. This is where I would like your input. Based on the definition we now have of 5ftF contributions, what other activity, specific to a Make Team or across multiple teams, should be recognized and recorded? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

#5ftf, #five-for-the-future

Discussion: Contrib Handbook, Part 3

It’s time for the next round of discussions (check out the #handbook tag if you’ve missed the others)! Today we’re opening comments on a code of conduct. Please share your thoughts on what works, what could be improved, and what needs correction.

In coming weeks, I’ll also share a Conflict of Interest Policy and Code of Ethics for your input.

Please share your feedback in the comments of the documents!

#code-of-conduct, #discussion, #handbook

Defining Five for the Future Pledges & Contributions

After reading through some of this post’s comments, I think it might be useful to re-articulate the hopes behind the discussion.

The end goal is to find ways to automate contribution props, so that no one has to either spend huge amounts of time before their contributions are noted or find ways to contribute to the most time intensive props opportunities, major releases and major WordCamps. The end goal is to distribute props more equitably and more consistently by taking out the subjectivity of human review, not to make individual contributions somehow less valuable.

The first step for automation is, of course, documenting what you have and what you mean, hence my use of the word “define.” ~Josepha

In recent months, the Five for the Future (5ftF) program has improved to make it more reliable and useful when it comes to tracking impact and success. An example of this is the work being done to reduce the number of spam and dormant Five for the Future pledges and give more credit to non-code contributions.

To support such efforts, it’s also important to build a shared understanding for how the Five for the Future program works.

The WordPress project thrives because of the generous contributions in time and resources from people and companies across the globe. A portion of contributions are made in the form of Five for the Future pledges from individuals and organizations. They commit to giving back to the WordPress project by contributing a goal of at least five-percent of their time (or resources) consistently via the Make WordPress teams. By joining together in giving, we make WordPress stronger.

Participation in Five for the Future means consistent effort by an individual or a company via a Make WordPress team to directly support the WordPress 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. project and the project’s current big ideas, rather than the sole benefit of a company or individual. Simply put, Five for the Future exists to collaboratively invest in the health of the WordPress project, ensuring its long-term sustainability and success.

What makes a contribution a 5ftF contribution?

Some contributions are easy to sort through and agree on; we see them happening, props are given with them already, and we understand how they help make WordPress better. Contributions of code to CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. or the apps, translations through Polyglots, forum management with Support, organizing WordPress-centric events, and many other main focuses of Make WordPress teams. 

But other contributions are in a grey area. For those, it’s important to look at not only whether they move WordPress forward, but also whether it helps the community of contributors work in a sustainable way and whether the contributions can be done consistently over time.

Some examples of grey area contributions that do fit the 5ftF definition include: maintaining WordPress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/, WordCamp.org, or Rosetta networks; adding or editing official WordPress documentation, training, or communications; speaking at WordPress Meetups and WordCamps; and maintaining or moderating official repos (plugins, themes, photos, WPTV, et al).

Examples of grey area contributions that do not fit the 5ftF definition  include: creating WordPress websites, creating WordPress themes, plugins, or blocks (including those that are listed in WordPress.org), and providing support solely to third-party WordPress themes or plugins. These activities are critical to extending the reach and utility of the WordPress project, but they are not considered part of making Five for the Future commitments. 

There are many important efforts and lots of incredible work performed outside of WordPress.org and Make Teams. While these are indispensable activities that further the WordPress ecosystem, Five for the Future is about ensuring that the WordPress project continues to be a fertile foundation for WordPress extenders and users.

What do you think of this definition? Share your feedback in the comments below. 

#5ftf, #discussion, #five-for-the-future

Discussion: Contrib Handbook, Part 2

It’s time for the next round of discussions (but here’s the first round if you missed it)! There’s just one section today, but like last time the comments are open. Please share your thoughts on what works, what could be improved, and what needs correction.

In coming weeks, I’ll also share a a Code of Conduct, a Conflict of Interest Policy, and Code of Ethics for your input.

Please share your feedback in the comments of the documents!

#dei, #discussion, #handbook, #wpdiversity

Discussion: Contrib Handbook, Part 1

My timeline here got very off track but, in the spirit of better late than never, here are the first two handbook sections for discussion. Each section is in a different document and both are open to comments. I’d love if you would share your thoughts on what works, what could be improved, and what needs correction.

In coming weeks, I’ll also share a Diversity and Inclusion Policy, a Code of Conduct, a Conflict of Interest Policy, and Code of Ethics for your input.

Please share your feedback in the comments of the documents!

#accessibility, #discussion, #handbook, #privacy

Removal of the Zamir Plugin

Earlier today, I was alerted by contributors and community leaders to a 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 WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party in the WordPress ecosystem that violated community guidelines. 

I believe that WordPress is made stronger by its vibrant and global community of contributors, users, and extenders. It’s important that folks showed up to hold ourselves accountable as we strive to create and maintain a safe space for our collaborators to gather.

The plugin in question, Zamir, was reported by contributors to promote an icon that is rapidly becoming known as a symbol of support and promotion of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Many contributors reached out to share additional cultural context around the symbol. WordPress guidelines call for all community members–including plugin authors–to “be kind, helpful, and respectful.” An icon that is connected to an ongoing war and humanitarian crisis upholds none of those values.  

The plugin’s description, “Shows the Z symbol to support Russia,” eluded initial plugin checks. While it is true that there is no current plugin guideline barring plugins that “support” political leanings, this icon symbolizes something more complicated than that. Contributors were right to report this and, with their help and the help of WordPress community members, the plugin has been removed from the directory. 

All contributors, community members, and extenders should feel safe and free from harm in the WordPress project and ecosystem. Neither WordPress, Matt, nor I stand for symbols of hate or violence. WordPress is a community made stronger by global contributors—and we remain committed to building an inclusive community in alignment with our values. Today, we’ve collaborated with contributors to remove a plugin that did not meet those values. I’d like to thank the community for quickly rallying together to engage about upholding our community guidelines and how we hold one another accountable. 

I am aware that this issue leads to natural questions about clarifying our plugin policies moving forward. I’ll work with the community to explore our guidelines and create a clearer framework for how plugins can be evaluated in the context of current events.

X-post: In last week’s Meta meeting,…

X-post from +make.wordpress.org/meta: In last week's Meta meeting,…