Earlier this week a member of the WordPress community, Jacob Santos, aired his concerns with WordPress' decision making process on the oft distracting WP Hackers mailing list. His argument, in response to a WordPress.org forum thread regarding 2011 roadmaps, comes from the idea that WordPress development is not driven by community input.
On the one hand, I agree with him...
First, a little history
I started blogging in 2003. At the time, my blog was hand-written HTML built in FrontPage and uploaded to a shared server at my college. It was a pain to build, even more of a pain to maintain, and eventually died under the weight of its own overhead. I took some time off from blogging until 2007 when my career coach pointed out how invisible I was on the Internet.
Despite fears of reprising my 2003 attempt, I waded back into the world of blogging and discovered WordPress.
After getting a basic site set up, I started to get antsy and began poking at WordPress to make it do exactly what I wanted. I built my own theme and wrote a couple of custom plug-ins to extend its functionality. My career coach was so impressed that he hired me to build his website, too.
I built up a subscription-based video management site, mostly by hacking core files because we needed some specialized registration processes. It took a while, but I was able to eventually port these hacks into a plug-in and released it to the community as RegLevel towards the end of 2008 - RegLevel allowed us to create custom landing pages for registration so we could group new users based on the affiliate who'd sold them the package.
Working with WordPress was fun, straight-forward, and the way I learned to love building websites and writing code. Since it was an open source project, I desperately wanted to get involved with core development. I didn't have time in my day to attend IRC chats, so I mostly sat in the forums answering questions and parked myself on Trac to look for a ticket I could help with.
After a while, I finally found a ticket that had promise and submitted my first patch to WordPress core one year ago today. It wasn't committed for more than 3 months, though, and I had actually given up hope at that point of ever being involved with core development.
So instead, I started working with members of the business community, teaching them how to use WordPress and developing websites. It was a thin substitute for what I really wanted to do, but it meant I could still use WordPress as frequently as I wanted and could act as a champion for the brand at the same time.
Not much has changed in the past year, unfortunately. I still consult with private businesses (and a few politicians) on using WordPress to drive their websites. I still write plug-ins. I still build themes. I still search Trac for "blessed" tasks that don't yet have patches and try to submit code (I submitted my second patch last month!). I still pass through the forums occasionally, but I've shifted most of my support focus to the new WordPress Answers StackExchange; the Q&A format works better for me.
I still work full time, so I'm not supposed to attend the dev chats on IRC ... but I try to keep a window open in the background so I don't miss anything. But, thanks to Twitter, I'm a lot more conversational with other WordPress developers now than I've ever been. I've troubleshot bugs on Twitter, debated feature enhancements, and even offered plug-in support ... all in 140 characters or less.
So is there really a problem here?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, I agree with Jacob. For a developer who has to split their focus between WordPress and other (paying?) projects, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to establish yourself in the meritocracy system. I've been working with WordPress for 3 years now, writing plug-ins for 2, and submitting core patches for just over a year and I still feel shut out of the process. So for Jacob, who's written countless more patches and been involved on a far more intense level, it's easy to see why he'd feel disenfranchised.
The fact is, neither of us is active enough or in a big enough way to deserve a seat at the table with the core leadership team. The hardest thing about that fact, at least for me, is that I'm powerless to change that situation - there are only so many hours in a day, and submitting code to core doesn't pay the bills ... at least not for most of us (I envy those of you at Automattic every day of the week).
On the other hand, I disagree with Jacob. Yes, I'd like to be more involved. Yes, I'd like my opinion to carry weight when we discuss feature sets and roadmaps. But, as Jane Wells pointed out at WordCamp Portland, I'm really just a user. Users' input is important in the decision making process, but there are 20 million of us ... so one voice amidst a sea of noise can't carry more weight than the others without causing further disenfranchisement elsewhere.
So to wrap up, here's the video from Jane's presentation earlier this year at WordCamp Portland regarding the actual decision making process of the core development team with WordPress. I wasn't able to catch the presentation the day of (I was in the other room for another, equally interesting presentation), but it's still what I consider required knowledge for anyone working with WordPress. Enjoy!