Contributing Back to WordPress

Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov
Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov

During a session at WordCamp Europe, Matt Mullenweg was asked how companies contribute back to WordPress, how they’re doing it, and what companies should do more of. He responded to the question in-depth in a blog post entitled Five for the Future. In the post, he outlines 5% as being a good rule of thumb to avoid the tragedy of the commons. The post ignited a healthy discussion throughout the WordPress community.

While his post is more about WordPress organizations, companies, and agencies and how they can grow their part of the pie and WordPress as a whole, I’m going to focus on individual contributions.

What is a WordPress Contribution?

Contribution Box
photo credit: Chrstophercc

The definition of what classifies as a contribution to WordPress is subjective. In the broadest sense of the term, I define contribution as anything that furthers the WordPress project. I seperate contributions to WordPress into two groups, direct and indirect. Direct contributions are those that deal with the core of WordPress such as patches, leading a release, and commits. These have a direct impact on WordPress and the millions of people who use it.

Indirect contributions are those that further the project without using code. Examples include meetups, WordCamps, and tech support. These are what I think make up the vast majority of contributions to WordPress.

Contributing to WordPress Without Realizing it

As I thought about the 5% goal and whether or not I meet the criteria, I had an epiphany. Thousands of people likely contribute to WordPress everyday without realizing it.

  • A friend emails you and needs WordPress support. You help fix their problem.
  • Someone needs a particular plugin to fulfill a need and you offer a suggestion that works.
  • You’re at a local meetup and help someone figure out how to use a particular feature in WordPress.

All of the examples above are indirect ways of contributing to WordPress but are things millions of people do everyday. In these moments, users are helping each other while in the background, they’re contributing to WordPress. This is important because it means a lot of individuals are probably closer to the 5% goal than they might realize.

The Impact of Contributions

One of the first comments to Mullenweg’s article is a question asked by bftrick, “I like the idea of having a full-time employee that works on WordPress core but I think I’d rather have everyone on board and contributing 5% of their time. What do you think about that?” Mullenweg’s response is as follows:

Any percent that people can pitch in is fantastic! Some tasks divide into smaller pieces better than others, I’m sure over time you’ll find the balance that maximizes your impact. That actually brings up a good point, it’s good to look at what impact you’re having — I’ve seen companies dedicate a person full-time that hasn’t really had a big impact, and people working just a few hours a week that have had a big one. Look at the outcomes and results of what you contribute objectively, and if it’s not working try something different.

I find it fascinating that some companies devoting time and effort to work on WordPress can end up having little impact. Mullenweg’s comment is a good reminder to look at the impact your contributions are having.

The Value of Contributions

Value Of Contributions

After years of being involved in the community, it’s my understanding that every contribution counts no matter how small it is. In December of 2013, I explained with the help of a few mentors, how I contributed to the core of WordPress for the first time. I corrected a typo inside the default theme. I’d almost classify this as an indirect contribution but since it deals with the core of WordPress, I consider it a direct contribution. Due to the typo I fixed, my name was added to the credits page of WordPress 3.8.

There are hundreds of ways for people to contribute to WordPress but few that receive public acknowledgement. This is one of the reasons why badges have been added to user profiles.

wordpress-profileIf you’ve organized or have spoken at a WordCamp, which I classify as an indirect contribution, you’ll be publicly acknowledged with a badge.

On the surface, all contributions to WordPress no matter how small appear to be valued equally. However, WordPress is code that is written and maintained by humans. If direct contributions from volunteers decline to nothing, all of the indirect contributions become a moot point. While I think writing about WordPress is definitely a worthy contribution to the project, the reality is, code is what gets the job done.

Contributing Back to WordPress Just Makes Sense

While Automattic makes a significant contribution to the WordPress project, I’d hate to see it become the only large contributor. Development of WordPress 4.1 is being lead by John Blackbourn, who is employed by the agency, Code For The People. It’s the second release in a row to be lead by an individual not employed by Audrey Capital or Automattic. This is a welcome trend and something I’d like to see continue into the future.

For companies, agencies, and anyone else who rely on WordPress to put food on the table, contributing back to the project seems like common sense. WordPress is 11 years old but if those with a vested interest don’t contribute back at least 5% as suggested by Mullenweg, there’s a chance we might not be able to celebrate WordPress’ 21st birthday.

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