Discussion: Ending the Eternal September

As part of our ongoing discussion around improving the contributor journey, I recently asked a few folks their thoughts on Eternal September 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.. More specifically, I wondered:

  1. What makes it difficult for our seasoned contributors to mentor new contributors in the open source project?
  2. What happens for existing contributors when we have an influx of new contributors?
  3. Where are the pain points for existing contributors when we bring in new contributors?

Some Initial Thoughts

There were a lot of interesting responses, but there we a few common threads I heard:

Lack of Clarity

It’s hard for existing contributors don’t know a new contributor is in their onboarding, and therefore also hard to see if they are stuck or what could get them unstuck.

Lack of Skills

The primary work for teams is focused, i.e., marketing, coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress., etc. Welcoming and teaching new contributors is a different skill set from those specific focuses. And ever after accounting for that skills gap, there are unspoken cultural norms to get work looked at and moved forward which takes time and observation to learn, rather than task-oriented training.

Lack of Certainty

No matter whether a new contributor makes a single contribution or returns regularly over the coming months, the time required to make sure they have their bearings is the same. This creates tension among team members/existing contributors—they wonder whether they should prioritize existing work (new contributions) or training/support for new contributors.

What do you think?

I’d like your thoughts on the questions I posed above, but I’d also like you to consider this:

If we believe that speed of feedback on a contribution is key to helping a casual contributor become a regular contributor, then what would a good first contribution experience look like for a mentor?

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

Request for Feedback: How can we Improve the Five for the Future Contributor Journey?

The WordPress project has made great strides this year thanks to its contributors. As WordPress enters an exciting new era of growth in 2023, it is time to examine how Five for the Future can best support the project and the people behind it. 

This post shares research on the contributor journey for individuals and organizations committed to the Five for the Future initiative. Your feedback will be valuable in further refining the contribution experience for pledged contributors. 

Self-sponsored Contributors and Pledging

At this time, individual self-sponsored contributors can edit their 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/ profiles to update and share the number of contribution hours per week towards their chosen contributor teams. However, after pledging contribution time towards their respective teams, the onus is on the contributors to follow up on their commitments. Below is a flowchart representing the current contributor journey for self-sponsored contributors in Five for the Future.

A flowchart depicting the contributor journey for individual self-sponsored WordPress contributors in relation to Five for the Future.

As depicted in the flowchart, many contributors pledging their time to Five for the Future tend to drop off. Based on conversations with contributors, I identified some reasons why this may be happening: 

  • Self-sponsored contributors do not get any direction on navigating the project or identifying contributor teams.
  • There is no onboarding for self-sponsored contributors pledging their time to the Make/Teams of their choice. 
  • Making the first contribution can require a lot of coaching and guidance, which is currently not available to self-sponsored contributors.
  • Pledged contributors frequently do not get any additional guidance or support on making ongoing contributions to the project. 
  • There is a lack of clarity on what constitutes a Five for the Future contribution.

When a contributor making a recurring time commitment to a big project like WordPress lacks guidance on how they can honor their commitment, their contributions could stagnate. In other words, at this time, the journey of a pledged contributor is not very much different from a non-pledged contributor.

Companies and Pledging

Companies have a more nuanced relationship with Five for the Future. They are listed on the Five for the Future website with dedicated profiles, which include lists of the Make/Teams they contribute to, linked contributors, and the total number of hours pledged. However, like individual contributors, once a company commits time and resources to Five for the Future, they frequently also lack direction or guidance on contributing. 

You will find below a flowchart representation of the current contributor journey for companies. As you can see below, in an ideal world, when a company pledges to Five for the Future, they should go on to make ongoing contributions to WordPress and build a mutually successful relationship. At this time, companies have to figure out the nuances of contributions themselves and put in extra effort to provide ongoing contributions to the project. If they are unable to get that support, their contributions could stagnate.  

A flowchart depicting the contributor journey for companies pledged to WordPress through Five for the Future.

Companies and organizations that have grown alongside WordPress or that already have experienced contributors may be able to navigate through the process more efficiently. However, many companies in the program (especially newer companies) could have a tough time figuring out WordPress contributions. Some of the issues faced by Five for the Future companies include: 

  • Lack of guidance on the next steps after pledging (Ex: How can a company start contributing to a Make/Team – example, Make/CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. or Make/AccessibilityAccessibility Accessibility (commonly shortened to a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accessibility))
  • Missing direction for companies navigating their Five for the Future contributions (Ex: How does a company build a Five for the Future strategy? How do they effectively make contributions as a company? Are contributions aligned with company goals and WordPress project goals?)
  • Significantly less ongoing support for their contributor journey.
  • Little or no awareness of how companies can benefit from Five for the Future 

These issues could potentially lead to some companies reducing the quantum of contributions or even dropping off the program. 

How Can We Improve the Five for the Future Contributor Journey?

As @chanthaboune mentions in Episode 35 of the WordPress Podcast, Five for the Future intends to foster “generous collaboration toward the long term health and stability of our project for the future.” While the program has made great strides since its formal launch in 2019, starting the journey to the next iteration of Five for the Future will make that vision a reality. With improved onboarding and better cross-team communication between companies and contributors, that reality will also enjoy an unmatched contributor experience that benefits both the WordPress project and contributors alike. 

  • What do you think about the existing contributor journey? What are our successes and pain points?
  • How can we improve the contributor journey for Five for the Future contributors and sponsoring companies?
  • What more can Five for the Future do to help its contributors?
  • How can Five for the Future contributors best support Make/WordPress Teams? 

Please share with us in the comments on this post! Your feedback will go a long way in shaping the contributor experience of our favorite 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. 

Additionally, if you are an existing WordPress or Five for the Future contributor or work closely with Make/WordPress Team, @angelasjin and I would love to chat with you. Please express your interest in the comments of this post, pingPing The act of sending a very small amount of data to an end point. Ping is used in computer science to illicit a response from a target server to test it’s connection. Ping is also a term used by Slack users to @ someone or send them a direct message (DM). Users might say something along the lines of “Ping me when the meeting starts.” @angelasjin or myself (@harishanker) in the Make/WordPress SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/., or simply drop a mail to getinvolved@wordpress.org so that we can schedule a conversation based on your availability.

#five-for-the-future #5ftF #discussion

This post was jointly written with @angelasjin.

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

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

Suggested iterations for the Five for the Future program and tool

The Five for the Future site and tools launched at the end of 2019, and then the pandemic hit. It’s been difficult to make time to iterate on the program, but eventually the window of opportunity for changes will open, and I wanted to collect my suggestions here, in case they will be helpful in the future.

The program has a few major challenges that have kept it from reaching its full potential. Here’s my take on those problems, and how they might be resolved:

Spam or dormant pledges

The program runs on the honor system, and it wasn’t clear how much of a risk that would be, at launch. Two years later, there have certainly been more “spam” pledges than anyone would want, and surprisingly (to me) few reports of fake or spam pledges. What that tells me = either people don’t go surfing around in the pledge lists, checking for accuracy, the Report feature is too hard to find (unlikely), or people don’t really care whether pledges are accurate or not.

I do think that a substantial number of false/fake/spam pledges are a problem, because they depreciate the value of the sincere/active/real pledges. If we never intend to clean up the rolls, then we should probably consider shutting down the program or putting more disclaimers on the site. 🙂

I don’t think it’s time to get that drastic, though. Here’s what I think could work, to increase the signal to noise ratio in pledges, in no particular order:

  • Share the list of pledges with leaders on each contributor team, asking them to mark the contributors they’ve never worked with or seen participate on the team.
  • Send the “absent” contributors a friendly email, letting them know that we’re cleaning spam pledges from the site, and asking them to confirm that their pledge is not-spam. Share the names of those who confirm not-spam back to contributor teams and encourage them to reach out to that list with opportunities to help work on things.
  • (This will depend on each team being able to provide a list of ways to contribute. Worse comes to worst, I suppose we can send pledgers to each team’s handbook page that talks about how they can help.)
  • For those who do not confirm within a reasonable time period, remove their pledges from the site, and email them with a friendly message that we have been removing apparent spam pledges. Let them know how they can re-pledge if they simply missed our previous message asking for confirmation. It would be interesting to know if people who only come back once we’ve removed their pledge, actually become active or not. I’m not sure what will happen there.
  • Institute a biannual 5ftF spam-check, following the above process. Maybe that’s too often — maybe only once every year?

Disconnect between contributor teams and pledged contributors

For whatever reason, the outreach that I imagined would happen, between contributor teams looking for help and the list of pledged contributors that was added to every sidebarSidebar A sidebar in WordPress is referred to a widget-ready area used by WordPress themes to display information that is not a part of the main content. It is not always a vertical column on the side. It can be a horizontal rectangle below or above the content area, footer, header, or any where in the theme. on the Make network…. never really came to pass. I’m not sure if that’s because contributor teams don’t feel comfortable pinging someone out of the blue and asking for help (it’s very likely that I have less shame than most, in my recruitment work), or if that *has* been happening, but just hasn’t been productive.

I was talking to Courtney Engle Robertson about this a little, this week, and she mentioned the idea of a tagging system on Make blog posts, that could automagically alert pledged contributors of posts that included opportunities to help out. I think we’d need to add some opt-in steps there, for privacy reasons of course, but I think this idea has merit.

When contributors re-confirm their pledges, they could be asked to click a box on their Profile page if they want to be emailed posts from Make blogs with a #5ftF tag or something, and maybe even specify which blogs they’d like to hear from in that way.

Another idea in this vein = inviting people to mark what kind of work they’re interested in doing for WordPress, when they make their pledge. I’m envisioning options like:

  • administrative (answer emails in a queue, take meeting notes, etc)
  • feedback (review and comment on blog posts,
  • testing (CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. betaBeta A pre-release of software that is given out to a large group of users to trial under real conditions. Beta versions have gone through alpha testing in-house and are generally fairly close in look, feel and function to the final product; however, design changes often occur as part of the process. testing, contributor tool beta testing, pre-beta testing for new features, etc)
  • writing (write new or update old documentation, revise contributor team handbooks)
  • and the like.

Then contributor teams could get a regular report that (for example) 24 people have pledged 2 hours per week to their team, and 10 of them are willing to write or edit documentation. This could aid in the outreach/recruitment that contributor teams do, when they need to find people to work on a new or dormant project.

Train the pledgers, train the recruiters/onboarders

Another thought I had, about how we don’t seem to see a strong connection between pledged contributors and the teams they’re pledged to, is that not everyone knows how to effectively recruit people to contribute — even if they’re “qualified leads” (which is what I’d consider pledged contributors).

And not all people making pledges, necessarily know how to *find* the pages that tell them how to get involved.

So I think a two-pronged approach could help here. We write some docs or a training on how to recruit (and onboard?) contributors, and then we alter the email that pledged contributors get when they pledge, to include links to the onboarding docs for the teams they indicated. That’s work, y’all! But I think it would have a positive effect even beyond this program.

Discuss!

What do you think of these ideas? What ideas do YOU have for making the Five for the Future program more reliable and useful? Share your ideas/feedback and discuss in the comments, below!

#five-for-the-future

The Metrics of Contributions

When the Five for the Future (5ftF) program was proposed, one of the big questions I found myself considering was how to reconcile participating in a team with specific outcomes and expectations for work when that team contributes to a larger organization that has impact as one of its coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. values. It can feel like impact should be the primary consideration, but for those who are employed, there is always the pressure to quantify contributions over time.

The following notes are from a two part session with current sponsored contributors, to discuss how this tension appears in their day-to-day and how it balances over time.

General Thoughts

  • High impact contributor work in the project usually gets defined and clarified over time (e.g. the reiteration of priorities, the WordPress North Star, posts that outline goals).
    • Is it OK to have aimless or agenda-free contributions?
    • What is the difference between aimless and agenda-free? Or agenda-free and agenda-aligned?
    • If a contributor’s agenda is too clear, that doesn’t feel right—it is in direct conflict with “agenda-free contribution.”
  • Early contributions can be tricky for sponsored contributors as there are expectations from employers, project leadership, and casual contributors.
    • Goal alignment can be a struggle. What is valuable to the company may not be impactful for the project. 
    • How do you balance and align those expectations and responsibilities?
    • How do you reset expectations with casual contributors who become sponsored?
    • Should we have a different or more explicit onboarding process for company-sponsored contributors vs. self-sponsored contributors?
  • Sponsored contributors ensure that someone will track and execute the operations and administrative side of the project.
    • Does anyone even know about this type of work in the project?
    • Do we need a way to identify those who can do less desirable tasks?
    • Should sponsored contributors have an 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. mission statement that makes the project’s internal goals visible to impactful work
  • WordPress project onboarding necessarily has friction, which is a good thing.
    • A clarifying example is that you don’t hand over the keys to the first person who walks into the Red Cross and claims to have the solutions to all the problems.
    • The friction is going to exist if there is growth and transfer of knowledge. 
  • Being a sponsored contributor tends to come with a change in how volunteer contributors perceive you and your work.
    • The weight of your vote can change as goals align more/less over time.
    • Invisible work becomes your responsibility, but is rarely easy to point to let alone quantify.

Question to Contributors:
What are the things that changed when you shifted from a contributor to a sponsored contributor? Answers anonymized. 

  • I am now more willing to take on the less glamorous (administrative) tasks.
  • I am now expected to take on dropped tasks that are important to goals.
  • As a contributor, adding to the project made me feel empowered, and I think even more so now as a sponsored contributor. I felt like I was mainly guessing, whereas now I have familiarity and context. 
  • Sponsored contributors have more direct interaction with project leads, and extra vision and foresight setting than regular contributors have access to. 
  • When you can work full time on the project without the distraction of other work, you can see the patterns and projects more clearly. That exposure comes when you have a lot of time.
  • I started on the fringes, but saw that the onboarding to the space was steep and I didn’t have the time to invest in that. Having a buddy/guide helped.
  • Once you show up more frequently, people are more willing to offer help and guidance.  

Final Thoughts

It comes down to balance:

  • Aimless contribution vs agenda-free contribution (& if working toward goals works against that)
  • WordPress goals vs Company goals (& when they don’t match)
  • WordPress needs vs Company value (& when they don’t match)
  • Project work vs admin work (& setting expectations w/ contributors)

Resolving these conflicts is multi-tiered. We need to get better at welcoming organizations into a Five for the Future arrangement where the stakeholders, impactful work, and responsibilities are made clear at the start. We need the information to be clearly received by 5ftF contributors, while also making sure the same information is readily available to any contributor.

Five Proposed Solutions (+ pros and cons)

  • TagTag Tag is one of the pre-defined taxonomies in WordPress. Users can add tags to their WordPress posts along with categories. However, while a category may cover a broad range of topics, tags are smaller in scope and focused to specific topics. Think of them as keywords used for topics discussed in a particular post. sponsored contributors.
    • We have this tag but it’s unverified (honor-system and self-selected).
    • Can it be reframed to the lens of a contributing vs staff writer.
    • At what point should there be a closed selection component to contribution? 
    • Cons
      • It would be easy for that to carry too much weight/power.
      • We can’t opt-out of certain contributions.
  • Clarify the difference in the expectations. 
    • What are the differences and how do we keep people accountable?
    • When you are clear about what you are doing, it’s easier for people to work alongside you.
    • It can bring stability to sponsored contributors and level set their own expectations.
    • Cons
      • Could alienate other contributors.
      • That level of clarity could feel antithetical to OS methodologies for all contributors. 
  • Clarify the steep learning curve and trust-building for this type of team
    • The work of building trust, context, and rapport should be explicit to support personal and organizational expectations (6-12 mos).
    • Being sponsored does not immediately mean we are trusted with a decision.
    • Cons
      • No cons found.
  • Dedicated 5ftF onboarding process
    • What does that look like?
    • Do we change the metric from hours to perhaps contribution or event participation? 
    • Automated greenhorn system for SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/.?
    • Cons
      • Could alienate other contributors.
      • That level of clarity could feel antithetical to OS methodologies for all contributors. 
  • Should we have a specific 5ftF mission statement?
    • Having one could clarify the expectations for sponsored contributors.
    • Does a mission statement make it clear who can work on what, or is it divisive?
    • Current 5ftF White Paper

But there are so many questions

You might have noticed that there are twice as many unanswered questions as there are answered thoughts in this discussion. And these aren’t even all the questions I have!

Yet, the most important thing to me is how the project can support sponsored teams (and how those sponsored teams can support the project) transparently and with as much care as possible.

#5ftf