New Private Slack Channel Created for Full-Time Sponsored WordPress Contributors

As part of an experiment designed to improve coordination of contributor teams, WordPress has launched a new Slack channel for full-time sponsored contributors. Josepha Haden Chomphosy, the project’s executive director, announced the new closed Slack channel on Friday evening in a post that drew critical feedback from contributors who pushed for more clarification.

“2020 was filled with hardships for many of us in the WordPress community, and we saw a predictable downturn in the level of volunteer contributions,” Haden Chomphosy said. She noted that during difficult times WordPress relies on these company-sponsored contributors to keep the project going:

In the near future, you will see a few more sponsored contributors around to make sure we are keeping up with the necessary tasks, from marketing professionals to backend developers. To assist in coordinating, I have created an experimental Slack channel for contributors who are sponsored for 32 hours or more. 

Haden Chomphosy hints at more sponsored contributors being added to the pipeline but didn’t specify where they are coming from. The announcement did not identify a specific reason for the formation of the new channel but briefly outlined its purpose as follows:

It is primarily an opportunity for those who are contributing full-time to WordPress to gain valuable knowledge of how we lead with a global mindset and how WordPress applies open source methodologies in a broader context than software development.

Since the new channel is limited to full-time sponsored contributors, the enculturation process she described would exclude those who are not fortunate enough to be sponsored by a company. Traditionally, the WordPress community has worked towards transparency in decision-making as much as possible and in all aspects of development. This channel has the potential to create an imbalance between those with full-time status and those who can only volunteer part-time.

“It can be difficult to not start making decisions wherever there is a discussion while working on WordPress,” WordPress core contributor Jeremy Felt commented on the post. “In some ways, every decision made in private can make it harder for future contributors who were not able to see the conversation. We are historically (core team, IMO) not good about documenting the—high bandwidth, in person—decisions that happen at WordCamps and other meetups. I think we can sometimes also be not so great at more permanently documenting decisions that are made in public chats.”

Felt suggested WordPress consider making the channel read-only for non-participants or publish the chat log as a way to improve the documentation for private discussions.

Joost de Valk requested the goal be more specific so participants can understand what falls within the scope of the private channel vs a discussion that should be public.

“I’m honestly kind of radical about transparency and think there’s too much secrecy already, but I also understand the need to be able to discuss without being interrupted,” de Valk said. “It’s a hard balance. I wish Slack had the equivalent of ‘voice’ of IRC, so we could make some of these types of channels public but not allow everyone to post in them.”

The most critical feedback on the announcement came from WordPress Community Deputy Timi Wahalahti, who said he doesn’t necessarily oppose the experiment but felt strongly that it was “a bad call to start the experiment with just notification without any prior public discussion about it.” He also said the explanation in the announcement doesn’t adequately justify the need for the channel.

“Where was this proposed and discussed?” Wahalahti said. “To my knowledge, WordPress as a project lives from proposals, discussions and transparency. I’m quite sure it’s not the intention, but the project executive director making this kind of big decision that potentially impacts the transparency without transparent proposal and discussion looks like disparaging the project principles.”

Wahalahti asked what kind of discussion Haden Chomphosy envisions for the channel. He suggested that since these contributors already belong to multiple teams in the project, it might be “more important to improve the conversational connection between sponsored and volunteer contributors,” instead of focusing on strengthening the bond between full-time sponsored contributors.

The matter of hosting the experiment seems to be settled already but Haden Chomphosy is open to circling back to review the channel’s efficacy after the next major release of WordPress.

“I will revisit the implementation post-WP5.8 to make sure it’s useful, focused, avoiding black box decisions, and committing to transparency,” Haden Chomphosy.

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5 responses to “New Private Slack Channel Created for Full-Time Sponsored WordPress Contributors”

  1. Carl Hancock says:

    Introducing private Slack channels for paid contributors to an open-source project doesn’t send a strong signal of transparency. In fact it smells like pay to play. Not a good look.

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    • Hey Carl, thanks for sharing your concerns. This is first and foremost an experiment to align the efforts of sponsored contributors in a way that offers consistency to a global community of contributors. In the past, I’ve coordinated with them via DMs which on the one hand does limit the potential that anyone would feel excluded, but also does severely limit the opportunity to hold each other accountable for making decisions outside of those DMs.

      As I mentioned in the post, I have not been a supporter of private channels in the past, and continue to approach this with a healthy level of skepticism.

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      • Carl Hancock says:

        To be clear I do not think there is ill intent here. I have no doubt what you are trying to do is coming from a good place.

        My concern is the optics and implications that introducing private channels like this could have in the future and lead down a path towards more gatekeeping. I really hate the term slippery slope but this is an example of one.

        From a WordPress business standpoint I can see how it can be beneficial. One of the primary reasons we haven’t sponsored someone full time on the project is it isn’t clear what that means nor how to have them be productive and actually contributing vs. simply trying to contribute.

        The problem of paying someone to randomly try and contribute and get their foot in the door in whatever it is they would bring to the table vs. paying someone that is getting direction from someone within the project and able to contribute in a beneficial way so that the work they do actually gets used and contributes to the project.

        So for that reason if it helps the paid contributors to be more productive and get more direction so that their time is better utilized by the project I understand that problem.

        But from an open-source project standpoint typically private backchannels introduce an issue of transparency which isn’t a good thing. There are a lot of people that aren’t paid to work on the project that contribute a ton of their own time and the optics of this are that the paid contributors are getting something they are not despite the fact they are arguably sacrificing more as they aren’t being paid to work on the project.

        So it is a tough balance. I don’t envy the decisions you have to make. I hope it accomplishes what you want it to accomplish and you are able to strike a balance between addressing needs and being open and transparent.

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  2. I don’t assume anything bad or shady happening in the channel like some others might do. It’s more about the process of how it was formed, the greater community informed about it and the reasoning provided to support the creation of the channel.

    If they were to build some private “pay for play” group, I think the post wouldn’t be there in the first place 🙂 So it’s good to see some level of transparency here, even though I personally think the level wasn’t just enough.

    From the Community Team’s experience, a private channel to discuss sensitive matters has proven valuable and has replaced multiple DM groups we had previously – which helps with making more things visible to the whole deputy team. So if that’s the case, I really understand where this experiment is coming from.

    I think it also comes down to leading by example. Project leadership should be extra cautious about doing something that affects (or can be assumed to do so) the transparency of the project. If leadership does not follow project principles, why would other contributors do that?

    Having public discussions is slow. It’s sometimes annoying. Sometimes you need to reconsider the proposal and reasoning. But it also relieves the stress of misunderstandings. The formation of the private Community Deputy channel did take two lengthy discussion and four months before the private channel was actually created.

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  3. Sally G says:

    I have a problems with this, particularly as implemented without discussion, and also, in response to this:
    “. . . so we could make some of these types of channels public but not allow everyone to post in them.”
    That is definitely possible—there is one group that I have joined on slack that has an announcements channel that states “only some people are able to post to this channel”—though anyone can comment, so maybe that is not quite what is wanted.
    And of course, AFAIK at least, private direct-message group conversations can be started by anyone at any time, so I guess it did not even need to be formally announced.
    The more I consider, the more confused I get.

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