The Joomla! Community Magazine™

Push me, pull you...

Written by | Sunday, 01 May 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 May
Joomla! is free and open-source, but it is also a huge commercially driven multi-million dollar ecosystem. The majority of Joomla! volunteers have strong commercial interest in Joomla! and have their own personal motivation when it comes to Joomla!. This is not a bad thing but managing all these “forces” pushing and pulling Joomla! in “different” directions is a challenge. Here are my thoughts on a different management approach that could help our project overcome these challenges.
Push me, pull you... illustration by: Yepr

I gave a presentation at last year’s UK Joomla! day event. Well, it was more like an interactive discussion with very few real slides. The room was filled with all sorts of Joomla! “professionals”, ranging from the president of Open Source Matters down to the first time Joomla! user. I would say around 70 people were in the room.

I started the session with a question: “Please raise your hand if you are directly or indirectly making money from or with Joomla!.” Every single person in the room raised his or her hand. Some raised both hands. I was expecting many hands to be raised but not every single one.

Although I am not aware of any report or survey regarding Joomla! related business evaluations, I think it is safe to say that there are millions at stake.

The first point I would like to establish in order to continue is that: “Joomla! is, among other things, powering a multi-million dollar ecosystem.”

The discussion continued and we attempted to identify various “business groups” and their relationship with Joomla!. I recall that we identified the following set:

  • Web-designers using Joomla!
  • Developers handling Joomla! related projects
  • Third-party organizations marketing Joomla! related add-ons
  • Training organizations providing Joomla! related training
  • Documentation and Book authoring
  • Professionals using Joomla! in their work environment (this includes students)

Finally, we must not leave out the category that represents people interested in Joomla! because of a personal project/hobby need. Many of us got started like this and have since migrated to one of the above categories.

My point is that everyone involved with Joomla! has a personal motivation drive. This is true in most aspects of our life. Time and effort investment is almost always associated with personal motivation and gain. Even volunteering for social work has a motivation and a gain. People do it because it makes them feel good.

People involved with Joomla! for a “significant” time period also have a personal motivation factor. Most have their own “internal vision” about Joomla! and would like to see Joomla! go forward according to this vision.

Designer groups want more tools and progress that would make their “day-jobs” easier and more prosperous. Developer groups would love better API libraries. Third-party add-on organizations think that backward compatibility is more important than new features and that the core product should stay as lean as possible. These are just my own interpretations of course, but any open-minded person can see the argument here.

Point #2 is that: “Joomla! is supported by individually motivated indirectly compensated volunteers that have their own internal vision regarding the future.”

I would like to repeat once more, that I do not see this as a bad situation. It is very logical and it is a good thing. People making money from Joomla! want to see Joomla! go forward because it will indirectly or directly benefit them. These people will support Joomla! progress whether through volunteer work or through donations and financial support mechanisms.

Why is Joomla! so popular?”, was my next question for discussion. After some debate, I believe the majority agreed that the number one reason is the ”ease of use”. With Joomla! someone can get a website on the air literally in minutes. But, those of us that have been around know that, this was already the case with Mambo and Joomla! successfully protected (and perhaps somewhat strengthened) this concept.

One of the major (imho) innovations of Joomla! is its framework which was introduced with version 1.5. This was the internal vision of one or more of the core developers at the time and Joomla! has benefited from this (although the Joomla! framework is still very much under-utilized) .

After Joomla! 1.5, we see (imo) a period of “slow progress” to finally reach the Joomla! 1.6 era which boasts as its main accomplishment the addition of more granular Access Control Level. A feature that has existed in Drupal for many years already.

The Joomla! 1.5 and 1.6 examples are not meant to criticize or reward any specific team or individual associated with these efforts. I am just trying to highlight the challenge that exists as stated below.

How does an organization like Joomla! manage these often anti-diametric forces and establish a forward looking path that takes advantage of these forces and the energy that drives them and produces the optimum result for everyone?

So far we have established two points and a challenge concerning “Joomla!”. But, “who is Joomla!?” I don’t really expect a direct answer to this question. Let’s assume that my previous points are accepted and that most (if not all) individuals involved with Joomla! have a serious stake in Joomla!’s health and progress.

Assume you are a “widget-x” crop producer and you get your “widget-x” crop seed from an international seed producer named “Cropla”. Each year “Cropla” magically gives you as many seeds as you need and the seeds are free. You take them, plant them, nourish the offspring and harvest your fields and sell your individual produce your way to your clients.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I would go out of my way to contact this great organization and see that it is healthy and will continue supplying me with the seeds I need to continue my business. I would get involved and support it because it supports me. I would find the “Cropla” offices, call them up and make an appointment. I would ask to see their business plan, their resources (staff) and see how I could help them improve and sustain their growth.

Also, should I be concerned that my bread and butter supplier does not have any staff and depends 100% on volunteer work?

Hopefully, it is obvious where I am going with this analogy. Joomla! doesn’t have a physical office (I believe). No secretary I can call. It has hundreds of “self-motivated” volunteers who help on the forums, on the committees, on this magazine, organizing Joomla! Days world-wide, contributing code, testing, arguing, discussing how things should or should not be. Lots of energy here but most of it is spent counterproductively.

Once again, I reiterate that I believe it is great that so many people are involved in so many different ways, but in many cases the end result is stepping on each other’s toes or not being able to make a decision, or making wrong or arbitrary decisions.

Volunteering is great, but it is also a dual edge sword. A volunteer can leave at any given time and create chaos. There is no hand-over process where volunteers are concerned (compared to what happens with real company employees). A volunteer by nature is not accountable. Perhaps a more politically correct statement is that volunteers are accountable only to themselves. It is something that is done on a free time permitting basis.

Also the “tolerance” level of a volunteer is very low. There is no motivation to handle conflict and mistakes are often put aside and attributed to a “hey, what do you want here, we are just volunteers” attitude.

Joomla! is doing great. It is popular and has a huge number of dedicated followers. But the questions one must ask are:

  • Can Joomla! do better?
  • Can we improve our processes?
  • Can we manage the different “individual-vision” forces in such a way as to produce a good resulting force that takes Joomla! forward?
  • Can previous questions be accomplished only with volunteer work?
  • Should Joomla! have employees? How many and in which positions?
  • How do we pay?

Well, these questions really did stir-up interest and debating during the presentation as I anticipate this article will also inspire similar reactions.

Ryan Ozimek, the OSM president — who by the way is doing a great job keeping things open and transparent and is an excellent listener — was very interested in this discussion. One of the comments was: “we don’t have the budget to have employees”.

My response to this was that funds could be raised if a specific business plan was prepared. No real company starts with an argument like “we don’t have the budget”. Companies prepare business plans with specific goals and targets and then seek investment funding.

We are all investors in Joomla!. There are many Joomla! ecosystem businesses that would be willing to fund a clear business plan with specific goals.

As I was writing this article, Joomla! 1.6.2 was released, breaking many third-party extensions. The effort wasted to identify and manage the implications on forums, support tickets and trackers was substantial. As a member of a third-party team I would pay good money to not have to go through this wasted effort in the future. I must, however, give credit to the PLT for their quick release of 1.6.3 to address those issues.

Again, please do not see this Joomla! 1.6.2 example as (just) a criticism. The point is, that I, (as many others) have a vested interest in Joomla!, and suffer when things go wrong. This suffering costs money and many would fund any effort that helps to avoid similar situations in the future. And let’s not kid ourselves, similar events are bound to happen again unless we learn from our mistakes.

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers. I only have questions. Questions that generate discussions and opinions. Discussions that reveal intentions and perceptions.

I guess one of the underlying questions is if Joomla! is ready to take a step in this direction. How would the community react to Joomla! employees? And please, let’s not take the extreme position here. I am not proposing to have an army of employees doing development and marketing.

But, we have to start somewhere, so I will give my initial proposal, if only to solicit feedback and kindle discussions. My proposal is to define two full-time positions: an “Administrative Assistant” and a “Technical Project Manager”.

The Administrative Assistant will have duties to document specific activities and serve to quickly get new Joomla! teams up to speed. Someone to be able to handle inquiries from real people and funnel the request to the best “volunteer” person there is and follow-up if for some reason the assigned person cannot follow-through. This person would also be key in bringing new teams up to speed when team successions occur. Simple things in the beginning.

The “Technical Project Manager” does not have to be a super-duper-guru. He, or she, can rely on specific outsourcing projects to fill in the gaps. Of course, clear project goals must be established to begin with. I can even see this Technical Manager overseeing and managing the technical roadmap and the quality goals of each release to begin with and, given time, to create a Technical Contribution guide that can be used to assist code contributors to quickly and productively assist the project.

With experience, these roles may evolve, and perhaps new roles will be added. The idea is to start somewhere. Perhaps the two role proposals given are not the appropriate ones to begin with. Maybe other positions are more important.

The important thing here is to decide if “all together” we will take this next step in the Joomla! project, or not. Let’s discuss, argue, propose, counter-propose, dismiss, etc. With this article my intentions are to spark discussions, reveal perceptions, raise awareness, measure maturity and help assist our Joomla! Leadership.

Thank you for reading. What are your thoughts on these ideas? Please leave a comment below.

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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris

Nicholas G. Antimisiaris

Nick, an Electrical Engineer and Computer Science veteran with extensive experience in the Telecommunications / Software industry in US and Greece, has been involved with opensource projects since 2002 and is loving it. He is a member of the Community Builder team on Joomlapolis as is known as nant in the Joomla universe.

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