Yesterday, someone made the argument that the WordPress Foundation’s stance on the GPL helped demonstrate the spirit of WordPress’ mission to democratize publishing.
If you go after a split license, which legally still puts you in compliance with the GPL, you will not necessarily be welcomed with open arms into Foundation-driven events like WordCamps.
The Foundation only chooses to endorse fully-GPL products and businesses. While you’re still welcome to attend, you can’t speak, sponsor, or organize an event because that level of participation would be seen as endorsement by the Foundation.
The idea behind WordPress is to democratize publishing and make it available to everybody … Everyone gives the Foundation a lot of grief for enforcing those rules and what not, but it’s important that we maintain that spirit. As WordPress continues to become more mainstream, the spirit of WordPress can become diluted.
I’ve always agreed that WordPress has been focused on and is making great headway in democratizing publishing. But given the context of the above, I’m not so sure these kinds of behaviors are necessarily in-line with the “spirit” of democratization in any market.
WordPress and Democratization
The WordPress community has many different facets; it would be folly for me to address each, or even every dimension of just a few. Instead, let’s focus on just a handful of elements of a handful of the pieces that make up this thing we call “community.”
First is core development. While we say WordPress’ mission is democratization, there is no where that rings less true than core development. The core team is not a democracy. It’s a meritocracy.
These are two very different forms of governance. In a democracy, the most popular ideas win out. There’s often a vote. The leaders of the community change somewhat frequently as the direction of the community changes.
In a meritocracy, power is held by a smaller set of individuals who have earned their voice and way in to the inner circle directly through the merits of their contributions. The most popular ideas don’t always win. There’s rarely, if ever, a vote. The leaders of the community are a pretty steady list of names.
This is not a bad thing.
This is the way things are done in the WordPress world and is the primary reason the software has achieved so much success. The leaders of the core team are incredibly passionate about their work and do an outstanding job at guiding the rest of us to build a cohesive, robust, consistent product.
It’s also a key example of how WordPress does not embrace the spirit of democratization.
If anyone thinks hard enough, they can come up with an example or two of a way events in our community have dredged up ire against the WordPress Foundation. I’ve been around long enough to remember the days before the WordPress Foundation, and can tell you from experience that events in our space were very different.
The Foundation was established primarily to protect the WordPress (and others) trademark. Its duties have expanded to helping shepherd various WordCamps and WordPress meetups. These are often very complicated endeavors, so the assistance and experience the Foundation lends are invaluable to organization efforts.
They also cause significant problems.
Once, while moderating videos for WordPress.tv, I came across a fantastic video of a developer explaining resources for newer contributors to get involved. Among books and blogs and podcasts, he mentioned a few websites budding developers could turn to for inspiration. One of which was a theme marketplace that, until recently, was considered taboo in our community because they allowed for split licensing.
The less-than-a-second mention of just one potential resource among many led to his video being blocked on WordPress.tv, lest someone accuse the Foundation of endorsing said marketplace by allowing the split-second statement in a 45-minute video to air.
Add in the kerfuffles we’ve had with organizing larger events like
WP Weekend Phoenix WordCamp Phoenix, and you’ll see a trend of the Foundation policing not just the events we can hold within the community, but the content we can exchange at those events.
Unfortunately, like the core development team, the WordPress Foundation is not a democracy. It’s a foundation established by an individual that currently has a handful of employees, does not conduct votes, and does not change leadership when the sentiments of the community it represents change.
Another example of how WordPress does not embrace the spirit of democratization.
My goal is not to sling mud on the core team or on the WordPress Foundation. As I said above, both groups are doing an incredible job standing up for and helping to further the vision of WordPress.
My goal is to point out that, as much as we say the aim of WordPress is democratization, everything we do within the community says the opposite. Actions speak louder than words, and no amount of screaming will hide the meritocracy of contribution or the bureaucracy of the Foundation.
Nor will it silence the way plugins, themes, and contributors in general are denied participation in community properties like WordPress.org unless they follow “the WordPress way.”
Do I believe in the idea of democratizing software and publishing? Absolutely. Does WordPress have a role to play in furthering both? Absolutely.
Does WordPress – and the community around it – really embrace a spirit of democratization? Let’s see if we can answer this question in 2015.