WP-CLI Contributors Work Towards a More Sustainable Future for the Project


Last month Daniel Bachhuber, maintainer of WP-CLI, opened up a discussion on how to create a more sustainable future for the project. He asked users the following question:

How do I reduce WP-CLI’s bus factor, and more generally lay a foundation for WP-CLI’s long-term organizational stability?

The bus factor is a term sometimes used in software development that refers to “the number of team members that can be unexpectedly lost from a project (‘hit by a bus,’ as it were) before the project collapses due to lack of knowledgeable or competent personnel.”

Bachhuber, as the sole maintainer of the project (which doesn’t currently have any governance), said he believes much of its success has been due to its non-commercial nature. Despite being used by thousands of developers and incorporated into the business process of many companies, the project has managed to stay community-oriented and free of commercial concerns. He asked contributors to weigh in on how donations and sponsorships might affect the project and whether it could benefit from a legal organizational structure.

In a recent tweet, Bachhuber referenced an article where npm CEO Isaac Schlueter describes the dangers of too much corporate involvement in an open source project:

When a community project is driven by a corporate entity, there is often a temptation for the corporation to leverage its position to make changes that are not in the interest of the broader ecosystem. In the long run, this damages the project’s credibility and reach.

Even if the corporate stake-holders avoid the obvious pitfalls (and very few do), just the appearance of preferential treatment can be the seed of FUD in the community.

Funding an open source software project in a way that it can thrive without becoming entangled with corporate interests is an exquisite challenge. As WP-CLI is a mostly volunteer project, Bachhuber is seeking to ensure that it has a healthy future serving its community even if volunteer time were to dry up or major contributors became otherwise unavailable.

After discussing with WP-CLI founder Andreas Creten over breakfast in Vienna, Bachhuber summarized their conclusions in a new post on the project’s blog:

“Based on our conversation, we think the most important task is to reduce WP-CLI’s bus factor and onboard one or more additional maintainers to focus on a few non-code roles,” Bachhuber said. These include:

  • Documentation – Help ensure WP-CLI’s documentation is world-class.
  • Marketing / community management – Help spread the word about WP-CLI.
  • Support – Help WP-CLI users where they’re asking questions, whether it be GitHub, WordPress.org, Stack Exchange, or elsewhere.

They also concluded that the additional operational complexities of establishing a legal organization for the project outweigh the benefits. Bachhuber is not seeking donations but plans to launch Kickstarter projects for specific goals, like improving WP-CLI branding.

“While many companies and individuals want to donate to WP-CLI, introducing money always has the possibility of causing more harm than good,” he said. “Instead, we’ll use Kickstarter to fund larger endeavors (e.g. a logo and website redesign) on an as-needed basis.”

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10 responses to “WP-CLI Contributors Work Towards a More Sustainable Future for the Project”

  1. Very interesting look behind the scenes, Sarah.

    A broad assortment of donors would not compromise the integrity of the project. As long as wp-cli remains completely free and open source without software as a service built-in, taking money should not corrupt the project. Daniel is right to worry about investors though.

    I’d be delighted to send a $100 Daniel’s way for his hard work as soon in exchange for a clear roadmap and an easy framework to send it with a legal receipt in return. I’ll look out for Daniel and Andreas at WordCamp Europe.

  2. Thank you, Sarah, for letting us know about this development. I believe a substantial amount of the community would be willing to donate both straight to the overall project and to specific projects. WP-CLI is an indispensable part of my routine and although not all of us may be able to donate $100; if the majority of us donated $5-10 that could add up to a lot of money.

  3. If there is a bus factor after so many years of the project then either the code is bad or not many actually need it. If the code is ok, the only thing actually needed is to be able to manage the site and such.

    wp-cli should probably be run by wpengine or other hosting company as they are most likely the biggest users.

    • The point is that WP-CLI stays open source and independently maintained by the community. That does not mean WPEngine (a commercial host/corporation) or any other host should “run” it. Also WPEngine currently does not even offer WP-CLI to all their customers.

      • well, “community” very rarely actually writes code, and someone in the end needs to invest the time and money to do that, and it is better that it will be someone that actually uses it in real life. (and obviously WPE is part of the community as anyone else).

        In addition “offering” something is not the same as using it.

        • Actually, we host a lot of site owner/devs that use it, and prefer it over adding the umpteen tools and plugins it replaces with all the added downside of going that route. Think you’re missing the added benefit pretty much across the board here.

        • Sara, John, I think you both missing my point which is that whoever should run the show with the wp-cli should use is daily. Hosting companies, whether they are providing the “metal” or just wordpress installation and maintenance are the obvious candidates.

          Anyone can run a project but if he doesn’t bring any added value with a real world usage experience it will just hurt the project.

  4. Well, considering the amount of support Daniel received with his crowdfunding campaign earlier this year where he requested $17.5K and received over $30K, perhaps the crowdfunding model is the way to fund everything else in the project. I mean, some of the comments here by people show they are willing to give Daniel more money.

    One of my concerns is that I don’t know how reliable or consistent the crowdfunding model will be in obtaining necessary funds for the project. I guess we’ll see.

    • Often with these crowdfunding campaigns, the teams try to go for the hole in one with really high financial goals. I like this idea of more modest crowdfunding shepherding a project through stages ($17.5K target). At that point, Daniel could go back to his backers with a second crowdfunding effort (but on an open platform again) with the next set of goals and likely succeed.

      Within a company it often works that way as well. You have a larger idea and make an investment for three or six months. At the end of the initial period, you re-evaluate and decided to invest further. Or perhaps you’ve accomplished the goals for that project and it only goes into maintenance. Could also happen with WP-CLI: that WP-CLI does what it’s intended to do, does it well and it doesn’t need further development for awhile.


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