What Does “Open” Mean?

I’ve been an Open Source advocate for about 10 years now, and this has been something that determined me over the years. If you start applying Open Source to your life, suddenly everything changes. Completely.

Contributing to WordPress

Marko and I led a workshop on “Contributing to WordPress” for my CMS students last year at “Telerik Academy”. I didn’t expect anything particular back then, mostly because of the fact that all of them were looking forward to their first jobs and were only interested in learning enough in the tech field to land their job, start earning some money and improve their life style.

While working on my slides I found an incredible image regarding the Open Source culture:


Turns out that Open Source could also be applied to your culture, networking, and everything you do. Try this for yourself. Try this while communicating with your friends and family, keeping everything open. Living without secrets may be hard at times, but it’s so relieving and comforting.

My Open Source past

Over the past 10 years I’ve been involved with several open communities. The Linux one, the Java one, some time with Python, and several years in smaller PHP-driven communities. I’ve been sucked into the WordPress community at last by the look of everyone, spending so much time building stuff pro bono for the sake of the users, sharing knowledge and everything.

It’s been magic.

And while I was involved with Java, CodeIgniter, CakePHP or even Python, all of my small contributions have been noticed – by business partners, other developers, and clients. The technical community is grateful and appreciative when it comes to that, and I’ve seen fellow developers being saved or “bought” in times of trouble.

The WordPress Process

Matt has been playing a key role in the WordPress development. By registering the WordPress Foundation and keeping the WordPress trademark out of trouble, he has proven himself trustworthy when it comes to relying on said platform.

Not to mention the contributors at Audrey and Automattic – massively contributing and spending dozens of hours every week in order to make the platform and the community around it stable, reliable, healthy. There have been small dramas here and there, but that’s normal – especially for a platform running 23% of the World Web now.

Major companies in the US have been “buying” contributors and significant rock stars. Human Made also does – and that’s great, my only non-US example though.

It’s interesting what contributing looks like.

Contributing Formulas

There are two types of contributing:

  1. Working as a full-time Open Source contributor (that role being a unicorn with only a very few representatives in the industry)
  2. Working something and spending the “free” time contributing (the other 99.9999% of the people)

I’ve seen quite a few successful multi-million dollar businesses around other platforms, and some huge companies dealing entirely with development on top of an open platform. Research studies estimate about 9 million Java developers, compared to several tens of thousands of WordPress developers, if we take a look at the annual surveys.  And Java doesn’t power 23% of the web, even if you can program your microwave, build a website or play with Raspberry Pi. Yet, there are very few large WordPress agencies (fairly small, compared to most enterprise companies), and most projects are built by students, inexperienced contractors and first-time learners.

Experts, Consultants, Business

Showing a GitHub portfolio to your WordPress client is far from impressive.

The number of well-paid WordPress consultants I’ve been following on Twitter and reading about online is lower than the wealthy Ruby or Node.js people I’ve met in person (and I don’t know many of them).

Actually, if you were a client – like the one you work with – how would you search for WordPress developers for your project, and what would you look for while searching: portfolio, community involvement, cost?

I’ve seen several cases of almost full-time WordPress contributors, not working for any of the top companies sponsoring WordPress, asking for projects during their holidays or after quitting their jobs – getting almost or absolutely no replies and help from clients and companies.

There are very few examples of successful plugin businesses or even theme markets, and we could easily name all of them.

The ecosystem is somewhat prepared to accommodate freelancers and small agencies, yet projects tend to either fall  into the “$500 websites” group, or WordPress.com VIP clients, working with the 10 WordPress.com VIP providers.

I see a weird gap somewhere in-between, somewhere into “resolving the Open Source contributions” back to “appreciating the contributors”.

Theme Reviewers Team

“WordPress themes” is the most popular subject in Google searches if you check with the Keyword planner, yet until a week ago there were no paid contributors to the WordPress Theme Review Team. Lots of people haven’t been noticed at all there, despite of the facts that millions of websites run the themes they have reviewed and polished in order to reach to the point that they actually work.

Tension has been growing when it comes to footer links, or rewarding reviewers, or fixing the problem with themes waiting in the queue for months.

I get more leads for CodeIgniter or CakePHP work on a monthly basis from my three very small non-WP plugins on GitHub than from my 20+ GitHub plugins or WordPress.org profile.

Again, I know that there are few happy bunnies out there, working for top notch companies that allow them to contribute back and pay decent salaries. I get support from SiteGround for Core work and I’m very happy for being able to help, too.

But… What if three hundred of the top 2K contributors were backed up this way? How would that reflect to the code quality of the themes and plugins out there, and the overall ecosystem? Would it make any difference?

Who knows…

Your thoughts?