WordPress Governance Project Flagged as Unsanctioned, First Meeting Set for January 15

The WordPress Governance Project is a new community initiative, led by Rachel Cherry and Morten Rand-Hendriksen, that will host its first meeting Tuesday, January 15 2019.

The purpose of the project is to address two objectives:

  1. The governance of the WordPress open source project and its various community components, and
  2. WordPress’ role in the governance of the open web including representation in forums where decisions about the web platform and the Internet are made.

Hendriksen advocated for open governance when he introduced the project at WordCamp US in his presentation, Moving the Web forward with WordPress. He discussed how the decisions made for WordPress’ future affect a large portion the web. The project will first look at WordPress’ internal governance structure and then move into the second aspect of getting WordPress a seat at the table in important discussions affecting the broader web.

Contributors on the project are aiming to propose a governance model for WordPress at or before WordCamp Europe 2019 or the Community Summit, if one is planned for 2019. The group plans to research existing governance models from corporations, government, and the open web community and submit their proposal to WordPress’ current leadership for consideration.

WordPress Governance Project Seeks to Change Leadership Structure, Rand-Hendriksen Says Status Quo is “Not Tenable”

The governance project has piqued the public’s interest but some have found its objectives confusing. It is not clear what actions will be within the realm of possibility with the current benevolent dictator model WordPress has used. Part of the scope of the project is to “propose a leadership and governance model for the WordPress open source project and its communities.”

The idea of governance means different things to audiences across cultures. The second aspect of the project that aims to get WordPress a seat at the table seems more feasible and more likely to be well-received by the project’s leadership. It might make more sense to split up the two objectives into different projects. WordPress’ internal governance and its role in the greater web are very different topics, but the project’s creators seem to view them as inseparable.

Matt Mullenweg hasn’t joined in the Twitter conversation about governance but he did address the topic on a recent Post Status podcast episode.

“When he was talking about open governance, my take was that he was talking about getting WordPress a seat at the table, and discussing these regulation changes and et cetera happening,” Mullenweg said. “I think the example last year was that there was this meeting at 10 Downing Street. Who was there? Was WordPress represented?

“And he started talking about the Web Foundation, and I began thinking, “Wow, WordPress only represents a third of websites, and not even, really. It’s a third of the top 10 million. Another foundation like the Web Foundation actually might be a better vehicle to try to advocate on the open Web as a whole, versus just the people who happen to be using a single CMS.”

When asked more about WordPress’ leadership structure, Mullenweg reviewed the different approaches he has taken with the project. In 2018, the expression of his BDFL-style leadership was manifestly more overt than previous years, which may have influenced or even inspired the creation of the WordPress Governance Project.

“There’s been a lot more leaders, but I would actually argue the point that WordPress has always been sort of my vision being set, or even my direct leadership,” Mullenweg said. “There was a good four or five years there where the leadership structure, because we’ve experimented with lots of different – we don’t call it governance – but essentially leadership structures in WordPress. For a while, we had kind of the … It wasn’t a committee approach, but essentially like the lead developers consensus approach. We did that for a few years.

“Even from the beginning it wasn’t just me. It was me and Mike Little, so it’s never been solo. Then we went to where the release lead was the final decider, including over me, so that was probably, I don’t know, 3.9 to 4.7 maybe, that included overruling me as project lead for what was in the release or not, and that was to try to give a little more autonomy and flexibility to release leads. But the big change was a few years ago I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to take back over core WordPress development,’ and that was to try to make some of these big changes happen. So right now it is much more of a benevolent dictator model, although both of those words are questionable. But, I don’t see that as the permanent forever structure.”

Mullenweg may not be able to sustain this level of involvement in core leadership indefinitely, with all of his other responsibilities at Automattic. He said he is open to WordPress empowering other leaders in the future.

“I’m not saying it always has to be me, but what I want is a strong, opinionated, thoughtful leader setting a bold direction, taking experiments and being willing to fail, comfortable with failure, is I think what you need to create great software,” he said.

Brian DeConinck, a WordPress developer who has recently been a vocal critic of the project’s leadership, called for more transparency around the decision-making process in his initial thoughts on the governance project.

“Matt is the central figure of the WordPress project,” DeConinck said. “He’s been a guiding force since the beginning. Without a doubt, he’s an important and valued member of our community. I don’t imagine governance as a means of usurping him.

“But should there be a single human face at the head of a project and a community at this scale? When people are critical of decision-making, having Matt at the center makes it easy to make criticism needlessly personal. This dynamic is hard on Matt and others in the project leadership, and ultimately toxic for the community.”

DeConinck said in order for the governance project to be successful he thinks it needs to be international, multicultural, and multilingual, with diverse voices, as well as clear mechanisms for WordPress users to provide feedback. He outlined a detailed list of success criteria that hasn’t officially been embraced by governance project as it has yet to hold its first meeting.

DeConinck’s suggestions are incompatible with the current BDFL-style leadership, as he claims that “feedback from a community of millions of users can’t adequately be processed and acted upon by a single individual listening and making decisions for the project.” WordPress has risen to become a dominant force on the web during the past 15 years under this style of leadership. Any meaningful proposal of change to the leadership structure will need to demonstrate how the new model can continue to enable WordPress to make rapid progress and maintain its relevance on the web.

WordPress Governance Project Flagged as Unofficial and Removed from WordPress.org

Earlier this morning, WordPress Community Team representative Francesca Marano posted a notice on behalf of the governance project’s leadership to announce that the project has been removed from WordPress.org.

“Concerns have been raised about the posting of news about the WordPress Governance Project on make.wordpress.org and use of the #community-team Slack channel giving the impression the project is sanctioned as an official WordPress project,” Marano said. “It has not received such sanctions from WordPress leadership.”

“We went through what we believed were the appropriate channels for launching the project through the Community group (ie speaking to group members, asking for access to the Make blog, coordinating with the team and others to find a meeting time which didn’t collide with others, etc),” Morten Rand-Hendriksen said. “We were later informed the project was not sanctioned by WordPress leadership and therefore cannot use the Make blog or Slack.” He would not comment further on what transpired or the communication his team received.

For the time being, it looks like the governance project will need to prove its worth independently before being officially adopted by WordPress. Many other community-led efforts and tools have followed this same process before coming under the umbrella of core.

The project now has its own dedicated website at wpgovernance.com and a Slack instance at twgp.slack.com. The first meeting was set for January 8 but has been postponed to January, 15, 1600 UTC to allow participants to sign up at the new Slack workspace.


21 responses to “WordPress Governance Project Flagged as Unsanctioned, First Meeting Set for January 15”

  1. As much as I respect Rachel and Morten, and the commitment towards open governance, I’m certain Matt won’t give up control of the project. It’s directly connected to his business goals.

    The ‘unsanctioned’ response is a defensive move.

    Just remember, when you see the word “leadership” leveraged in org’s communication, it means Matt, andpaid lip service by any other definition or maneuver. Hope I’m wrong, but this was a calculated response.

    • So you think it is ok for a couple of people to change the “leadership” because they don’t like what Matt is doing?

      A tiny fraction of the WP Community is vocal about things, go to WordCamps and even comment here.

      Look at many of the comments here on WPTavern, it’s full of devs who don’t like change and they wine when change happens and go on how the whole community will abandon WP because of the change. Not just Gutenberg.

      Look at many of the WP Communities around North America and some in Europe, it’s always what is easier for the organizers of the monthly meetups, and even WordCamps who are organized by those organizers, it’s always their friends and a lot of those organizers rarely accept different points of views?

      A Huge chunk of the WP Community so called voice is really the voice of a tiny % of it’s members. That tiny % drowns out the majority.

      Rachel and Morten have absolutely no right to “take the reins” of WordPress, two people?

      If those two (and rest of WP Community organizers) actually cared, they would ask what do YOU want, to the community. Not just to the few developers who don’t want to change and learn something new and all they care is to make money from a free software (WordPress).

      Are Rachel and Morten going to do the same thing most WordCamp and WordPress monthly meetups do? Dictating/Deciding the agenda of the “governance meeting” on January or will they ask the community what they want?

  2. “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

    This gets said so much in WordPress. I don’t know if governance project is productive or practical or will go anywhere at all or anything.

    All I know that two community members (respected, productive, well–meaning community members) showed up to do something.

    And got, what… un–showed–up?

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t dangle openness and ownership of the project in front of community to get free work out of it and yank it away when community “trespasses” on inconvenient things.

  3. The walls in Matt’s panic room is getting very close by now.

    For all that is holy, look at the explosion of negative feedback after the 5.0 release and Gutenberg. How are you missing or discarding those? The only thing this comes down to is bad leadership. The signals was clear well before release.

    There is NO official place to discuss Gutenberg and the future of WP. All channels are effectively closed down as soon as anyone tries to start a discussion.

    Like stated before, WordPress is no longer open source! That’s just an illusion.

    • Seconding this.

      My observation of the Gutenberg team was “Hey, pretty please, rather than just acting upset, can you give us useful details that could improve things?”

      Some people didn’t or just whined more, others contributed.

      Here’s the rub, though: if you don’t want a vocal minority controlling things, BE VOCAL yourself. The other 90% should say something, not be upset that things are moving in the way that the 10% who offered something suggested.

      But it really didn’t even play out like that. Things didn’t get fixed or responded to for months on end, if at all. Which, hey, you can’t take everyone’s advice and you definitely can’t make everyone happy (especially when different people want different things).

      But the silence was to the level of ignoring, even if they did respond by offering feedback, and worse yet, more so than any “professional” team I’ve seen in a long time, there was a lot of rudeness and negativity. Again, it happens and it’s human and they were getting rude flak from other immature people. But it doesn’t belong in the process. I even saw repository/forum mods having to tell them to stop antagonizing people and stay focused. Wild.

      It wasn’t even a couple months ago we were told that v5 wasn’t been held up just for an event, and then the release got delayed from the holiday….to be released the day before an event.

      Nobody’s asking for their way or total domination. They’re asking for opennness and transparency and being treated like adults.

  4. I for one wouldn’t mind if there was a community council in place. A few examples of Free Software and Open Source Projects that run this way.

    Canonical and Ubuntu have a community council
    SUSE and OpenSUSE has a board
    Fedora Project has a council

    Drupal and Joomla! both have boards

    At the very least this ideal should be considered for the benefits it could bring our community. We talk about democratizing publishing and the four freedoms. However, the direction the WordPress.org could better reflect it’s mission at https://wordpress.org/about/

  5. This is an attempt at a coup. I might not always agree with Mullenweg’s methods but WordPress is his. We choose to use it. We choose to develop with it. We choose to suggest changes to it. We choose to help develop it. But it is his. To try and steal WordPress from Matt is disgusting and smacks of disrespect for his rights over his project. Want something different? Create a fork. Don’t steal or usurp someone else’s business, project or hobby.

    • Actually WordPress belongs to a nonprofit corporation. If anyone owns WordPress, it is the state where WordPress.org is incorporated. There are strict laws governing the use of the assets of a nonprofit, especially where a related for-profit venture exists.

      • More precisely WordPress brand belongs to the nonprofit foundation.

        WordPress org the site belongs to Matt through one of his less known companies (afaik).

        WordPress the code base ownership belongs to all code contributors. That is if you want to make a change to code base, not covered by GPL, you would need personal permission from everyone who ever put a line of code in.

      • It is this intermingling of assets and power, and the lack of independent governance, that could place major components of the WordPress community in legal jeopardy. A good start might be for Matt to appoint a few additional, truly independent board members to the nonprofit corporation. They might still come to the same decisions as Matt, but at least there could be fewer conflicts of interest.

  6. All I can say at this point is… sigh. The governance project actually gave me some hope that after the mess with Gutenberg, we as a community would make some steps towards actually being the open bazaar of ideas we talk so much about.
    Strong leadership is not necessarily a bad thing. For one it allowed WordPress to move forward with more speed and determination than many other open source projects. But strong and open are not mutually exclusive things. Being more open and transparent about this would probably make us even stronger.
    And for someone comparing this to a coup – two active, productive and important members had an initiative and tried to be as open and inclusive as possible, going through all appropriate channels and procedures. This is just telling them – door is over there, openness and transparency do not have a place in this open source project.

  7. I do think it’s slightly amusing that the project has all of a sudden been shut down in a sense because of it’s so-called ‘unsanctioned’ approach. I must admit, I was skeptical when I first heard about it and I don’t see how it’ll change anything within the WordPress project itself.

    The project belongs to Matt as far as I can tell, so I doubt he’ll just give up the reins so easily. Furthermore, the quote from the Post Status podcast mentions leads from a release point of view which this governance project isn’t talking about. The governance project is talking about actual leadership of the whole project.

    Whilst Matt may have been silent and to the side for many releases, ultimately it’s his project and he’s never given up the ownership and power he has over the project. I don’t blame him. It was his idea to fork WordPress in the beginning after all.

    I think Morten and Rachel need to rethink their approach to this project as well anyway. I’m getting emails from them recently with no way to unsubscribe about a project I don’t even know much about. They need to set out a clear vision and prove to the unknown leaders of the WordPress project the worth of the idea. Which is hard enough as it is.

    I tried to get a new team started to help on-boarding people to various ‘Make Teams’ and that got shut down too. Think about how hard it’ll be for them to try and convince the powers that be that they want to take some of that power away. It’s probably not going to happen.

  8. The governance and ownership of WordPress looks like a very complex topic but, as the originator and being very much involved, it is very much Matt’s domain. That doesn’t mean that he sould be immune from criticism, for where we are at with the new block editor. As paying or non paying users, we do have to deal with the shortcomings of the software.

    Ironic that 10 Downing St. is part of the story. A home for cluster shambles these days. Admittedly the Brexit one is far more shambly that the WordPress one where, a little imagination and small changes would make the new editor acceptable.

  9. It is of enough importance, for me, that this initiative makes clear what is, after all, “the WordPress Community”, who and how the project is managed. Although the aim is, I believe, to improve the legitimacy of the WordPress Community on the wider stage of the future of the web, it is a fact that collaborating for the WordPress project has become less gratifying for many people, due to the lack of transparency and the abuse of leadership.

    I am not confident, to be honest, that there can be significant changes. (And this unnecessary and unhappy occurrence is just another example of this.) But at least it is something done in the clear, with acts and effects that can be observed, recorded and evaluated, and not a private channel where only the chosen have a seat.

  10. The fact that there are different ideas in these comments about whether who ‘owns’ WordPress is the reason why the Governance project started. To be clear and as i get this; it’s not even about ‘owning’; it’s about more transparency and getting the good partners in the room when decisions are made. The word ‘coup’ is absolutely nuts. And we need more transparency for sure. Did you remember the quote: “learn javascript deeply”. That was before we even heard about Gutenberg, although it was behind the curtains in progress.
    So where was the transparency here?

    Side note: i’m always found this bizar: Why did WordPress never had a good detailled roadmap page?

    And i can understand why some ‘untransparency’ can be handy as Matt stated on WCUS. But i -personally- would be more relaxed if those
    decisions are made in a broader panel – even if they are untransparent to the public audience-. So, yes i like the idea of an advisory board as mentioned above in these comments. It would be healthier for the WordPress project and certainly for the community.

    In the end: I really do believe Matt and Automattic will benefit from the outcome and ideas of this project while remaining the main ‘stockholder’ of the WordPress project.

    And the reason why the Governance Project is kicked off wp.org and WP Slack is not important for me what so ever. And from another point of view it’s understandable at this moment. So, rest aside and move on within a positive debate elsewhere.


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