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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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Sunday, 01 May 2011
I would like once again to thank Paul, Dianne, Yepr and Babs for assisting, reviewing, discussing and contributing to this article.
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Dianne Henning Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Always a pleasure, Nick, thank you for your great articles!
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Thanks Nicholas for a great thought provoking article... Lots to discuss, think about & act upon.
Philip
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Wow, this is fabulous way of discussing the fact of any product and coming up with new enhancement in any product , i could really appreciate this kind of website which will give you platform to known our feedback this way ..............
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Jamie Robinson-Woledge (elemen Monday, 16 May 2011
Good article Nicholas, I hope it prompts some positive actions.
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very well thought out and written. thanks. i hadn't thought about it like this. i wonder if joomla could learn from how wordpress project is organized. i have no idea how it is organized acutally, but i do know their updates seem very well organized and architected (ie not done by committee).

as any project/product gets more and more users and features and a longer legacy... it's hard to keep moving forward with the extra weight. but the 'weight' is also resources... but i agree with nick, the resources should be organized somehow.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
@barry: I agree looking at other similar organizations is also a good start - not needed to duplicate but learning from others is the point!
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Is us, this small agency in Nicaragua (the poorest country in the continent), are willing to donate and contribute to see joomla grow, why not think bigger?
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
@Manuel:

Wow - that's so cool!
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Good frank analysis and discussion. It would be great if some of these ideas/suggestions got traction within the community and especially the "leadership". My 2c worth: As with any organisation, politics and personal agendas may impede, but with sufficient groundswell even this should get swept aside. I think the challenge is in triggering and feeding the groundswell and organising it into a real movement. I think that takes dedicated leadership. Good article, thanks.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
@Nick Weavers:

Yup - idea behind the article is to give "our leaders" some indication of how mature (or immature) things are so they can "act" accordingly.
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Dear Nicholas,

Of course, you are right: an organisation like Joomla! deserves employees who guide the communities work in the good direction.
Although, I do not think that 2 full-time employees will do.
Secondly, the community is build around non-profit organisations or small companies who do not have the necessary fundings (otherwise they should support Joomla! more already). F.i. I volunteer for a local brass band who have 450 followers. Their money goes to training new, young musicians. I used Joomla! in combination with CiviCRM to set up a new web-environment for them.
We can hardly sell our soul to major companies (like Microsoft, Google or whoever will be interested), the community would not allow it.
But the solution might be in finding funding within the European Commission. One of their tasks is to support local (regional) development of cultural and sports networks. These are the basic 'customers' of Joomla! So, the European Commission has an interest in supporting Joomla!
Thus, in my opinion, what Joomla! needs is a lobyist who can raise the necessary funding at the European Commission.
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Excellent thoughts.....thank you for the presentation...
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Paul Van Lil wrote:
Dear Nicholas,

Of course, you are right: an organisation like Joomla! deserves employees who guide the communities work in the good direction.

I agree of course.
Although, I do not think that 2 full-time employees will do.

The number 2 was just an initial suggestion. As things evolve so should this count...
Secondly, the community is build around non-profit organisations or small companies who do not have the necessary fundings (otherwise they should support Joomla! more already). F.i. I volunteer for a local brass band who have 450 followers. Their money goes to training new, young musicians. I used Joomla! in combination with CiviCRM to set up a new web-environment for them.
We can hardly sell our soul to major companies (like Microsoft, Google or whoever will be interested), the community would not allow it.

True. Each organization has different capacity to help.
But the solution might be in finding funding within the European Commission. One of their tasks is to support local (regional) development of cultural and sports networks. These are the basic 'customers' of Joomla! So, the European Commission has an interest in supporting Joomla!

That is an excellent suggestion. I am also experienced with EU funding. A good proposal with a solid "business" plan could bring in good funding from EU (and other) sources.
Thus, in my opinion, what Joomla! needs is a lobyist who can raise the necessary funding at the European Commission.

Could be one of the "job description items" for a new employee position!

Thank you for your comments!
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Robert Anthony Pitera Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Nick - As usual, you have your finger on the pulse. This was a thought provoking article and well thought out. As one of the masses who go back to the Mambo days, I have a vested interest and would be willing to donate time or money (or both if I can afford to) if, like you state, some kind of business plan was offered. I think your timing is perfect; at this stage of the project we should be asking such hard questions.

I think your proposals are a great starting point.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
@ Robert A. P.

Thanks for your comments.
Hopefully Joomla "leaders" are monitoring this ...
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Good points. If you haven't been accused yet of sowing "conspiracy theories" that's progress.
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The problem I can see, in particular with the position of technical project manager, is the danger that such a person would end up unduly influencing the development goals of Joomla and deciding arbitrarily in favour of one particular development path rather than another etc. However I can see that a Technical Contribution Guide would be extraordinarily valuable to the development of Joomla in a certain respect, and a clarified roadmap for development would certainly lead to a shorter time in developing each new release. However only a Technical Contribution Manager with the neccessary human skills and understanding to be a true ´benevolent leader´ would be properly placed for this kind of role, which could quickly lead to many new responsibilities and conflicts particularly given the fact that it is a big change in the basic structure of the Joomla development team. Will everyonebe happy about this change, will there be any very skilled volunteers lost?

Furthermore, I see one final point which cannot be ignored. Volunteering and Open Source seem to go ideally hand in hand. As soon as money comes into a equation, many complexities also appear. Therefore I feel that perhaps it would be most wise to have neither of this members of staff employed on a financial salary, for this may end up being a quite well-meaning act which in the long term becomes sabotage for the whole project. Member of staff paid today, tomorrow; "Joomla Bought By Microsoft - Now $100 Per Site License". Best to stay pure, and wholly democratic.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Dan wrote:
Good points. If you haven't been accused yet of sowing "conspiracy theories" that's progress.

lol - not yet anyway ...
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Callum Shaw wrote:
The problem I can see, in particular with the position of technical project manager, is the danger that such a person would end up unduly influencing the development goals of Joomla and deciding arbitrarily in favour of one particular development path rather than another etc.

Good point. Idea is that Joomla goals, vision and way forward need to be clearly established first and then employees have to follow this path.
Callum Shaw wrote:
However I can see that a Technical Contribution Guide would be extraordinarily valuable to the development of Joomla in a certain respect, and a clarified roadmap for development would certainly lead to a shorter time in developing each new release. However only a Technical Contribution Manager with the neccessary human skills and understanding to be a true ´benevolent leader´ would be properly placed for this kind of role, which could quickly lead to many new responsibilities and conflicts particularly given the fact that it is a big change in the basic structure of the Joomla development team. Will everyonebe happy about this change, will there be any very skilled volunteers lost?

Idea is that skilled volunteers should become more productive - this way they will not suffer from quick burn-out (something that many very qualified people experience rather quickly).
Callum Shaw wrote:
Furthermore, I see one final point which cannot be ignored. Volunteering and Open Source seem to go ideally hand in hand. As soon as money comes into a equation, many complexities also appear. Therefore I feel that perhaps it would be most wise to have neither of this members of staff employed on a financial salary, for this may end up being a quite well-meaning act which in the long term becomes sabotage for the whole project. Member of staff paid today, tomorrow; "Joomla Bought By Microsoft - Now $100 Per Site License". Best to stay pure, and wholly democratic.

I could add eBay to your argument also. The thing is that people doing real work need to get paid and if so its best that the project pays them and not some third party.

Thank you for your good comments and opinion.
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I think Redhat is the first of such ventures that comes to mind, where companies who are making money can pay for professional support. Sometimes the standard responses on the J forums don't help and the common response is nothing or have you checked the forums for this answer. Working in the IT profession we'd get the same question many times and in fact from the same people and albeit frustrating that is our job to support such people. Would paid J support be prepared to field such questions for a fixed fee?

Personally I see a business model in Joomla and each and every extension, which could co-exist with the the open source model, providing value added support and direction when required.

Think not for profit and maybe business and open source can find some common ground.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Thursday, 19 May 2011
andy wrote:
I think Redhat is the first of such ventures that comes to mind, where companies who are making money can pay for professional support. Sometimes the standard responses on the J forums don't help and the common response is nothing or have you checked the forums for this answer. Working in the IT profession we'd get the same question many times and in fact from the same people and albeit frustrating that is our job to support such people. Would paid J support be prepared to field such questions for a fixed fee?

Personally I see a business model in Joomla and each and every extension, which could co-exist with the the open source model, providing value added support and direction when required.

Think not for profit and maybe business and open source can find some common ground.

Pro support is certainly an option for income.

Please note that non-profit does not mean free - people should get paid for their work. Non-profit organizations have many paid employees.
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Nice to read your articles Nichola.

I just wanted to underline the pros and cons of your suggestion.

The Joomla has to rely on the volunteer work. This is the power of that cms. That everyone can participate in the project in his own way.

From core development to writing to forums and offering his ideas.That is why it is growing so fast.

On the other hand i think that there should be a long-term strategic plan in multiple fields. E.g. Project's goals, JED and Forums policy, Marketing etc.

These principals should be the base for every movement. So there should be some persons that preserves them and protect them for a long.

I would prefer them to be full time employees and dedicated to the project.

Otherwise we will have examples such as Virtuemart which has lost his way when some basic members of the team left.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Sunday, 22 May 2011
@Sakis: Thanks for feedback!
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Adrian Sutton Sunday, 22 May 2011
I am new to Joomla and "joined" as 1.6 was released, there was a lot of criticism at the time about the lack of documentation and the bugs etc, never the less I like the wonderful team who created it can look back with some pride at what they accomplished. "No pain, no gain" Compliments to all of you I have a site that I feel gives my business the flexibility and that I can control without having to fork out huge sums of money or rely on third party developers. This is priceless! thank you all
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Peter Schmid-Meil Thursday, 26 May 2011
Excellent article! I've been at the JandBeyond conference just three weeks ago and this was one of the most discussed points.

A lot of small agencies or freelancers depend on Joomla! and even we as a german publishing house earn some good money with our publications about Joomla!.

Joomla! has to evolve in a way that business can work with the system on a stable basis. Ubuntu has a nice approach, releasing a supported version once a year - as far as I know. Perhaps a 18-months-rhythm would even be better.

Referring to money: Could Crowd Funding be an idea, using plattforms like flattr? In my opinion this philosophy fits to the principle of Open Source.

Peter
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Friday, 27 May 2011
@Peter:

Thanks for feedback.
I am not aware of Crowd Funding but I am sure that in the long run money will not be the deciding factor...
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I thought we already had people being paid.
I feel that it is vital to have people whose actual job is to manage the project.

Volunteers are great and certainly valued, but a project can not rely on volunteers. Volunteers can leave at any time, depending on their lives. There is nothing motivating them to stay. They are not responsible for staying.

That is NOT an attack on any volunteers, nor saying that responsible people do not volunteer. Hardly. The volunteers are truly dedicated, but 'responsibility' in terms of making decisions to move the project in the 'correct' agreed upon direction. That should go to someone who is paid for the responsibility.

We do not question anyone working at the Red Cross, do we? Should all of those workers, doing so much, be asked to volunteer all of their time? No.

I find the current state of the project, uh, um, not clear.
Having a clear business plan, with clear goals, with a clear person in charge would go a long way in moving forward.

Also, I would go as far as to say that each team have it's own 'paid to be a target' leader.

Money is not evil. And everyone's time is valuable. How many of us would do our day jobs for free?
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Monday, 30 May 2011
@Brian: thanks for feedback and opinion.

Yup money is not always evil and its better that the project pays people to do what the project needs instead of other companies paying developers to support Joomla.
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I think the basic principle of having 'some' full time dedicated staff to joomla would help its stability and perhaps make better use of the volunteers. It might also take some stress of those coders who do not want to spend there time organising stuff when they could be doing what they enjoy, programming.
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Nicholas G. Antimisiaris Monday, 30 May 2011
enter your message here...
shoulders wrote:
I think the basic principle of having 'some' full time dedicated staff to joomla would help its stability and perhaps make better use of the volunteers. It might also take some stress of those coders who do not want to spend there time organising stuff when they could be doing what they enjoy, programming.

Excellent comment - I agree that coders should not have to be involved with other matters as it clearly distracts them from what they do best.
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What does OSM do in all this? Do they have paid employees?
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