Making a safe space for all in Joomla
To misquote Jack Swigert, “Okay, Joomla... we've had a problem here.”
We have tried to address this problem over the years, and it continues to be a problem in our community.
Making Joomla a safe space for all has proved challenging; we still have members making others feel threatened and intimidated.
But we must not give up; all together, we will make Joomla a safe space for all.
Let's start with examples of the problem, then look at how widespread it is, and then some solutions that could help resolve it.
Asking the community: what's stopping you from getting more involved?
So far, I have managed two in-person events this year, Jday Netherlands and DACH in Austria.
At both events, I had people responding to the question, “Is there anything stopping you from getting more involved?”
The answer was always the same: there was a common pattern.
The person would contribute to the Joomla code, usually on GitHub, add a pull request or post to a discussion, and the response would be harmful, discouraging, and sometimes rude. Their idea would be blocked by individuals who considered the contribution ill-informed or pointless but would do it from a condescending and unhelpful perspective.
Rather than a collaborative debate, which would inform and enlighten the participants, it would demoralise and deter to the point that they didn't want to contribute again.
What stunned me was the calibre of those that were put off. Not newbies, but seasoned individuals of the community who have been in teams and even leaders of teams.
I then spoke to some extension developers.
I was shocked; one was the lead developer of one of the largest agencies producing great code for Joomla, and another CMS that would remain nameless.
He outlined his bruising experience at the hands of the same individuals I had heard mentioned by others.
His agency had discovered several issues in the Joomla core that needed fixing to make their product work correctly and benefit all Joomla users, those who used their product and those who didn't.
They were greeted with a brick wall, a dogmatic response that left them feeling helpless to improve the CMS.
It was disheartening to hear such comments.
I asked most of those who said they had had issues if they had tried to talk to those who were making them feel so bad. I had an enlightening conversation with one member of the community, a person who is known for being friendly and polite. They said that they had tried to hint to the person involved that some might be discouraged by a particular behaviour and hoped that they would realise that their own behaviour was being mirrored in the comments.
But the individual brushed their concerns off as not being correct or true, that such just does not happen in Joomla!
I was fascinated by such comments as I, too, had had a similar conversation with someone reported to me, and I wanted them to realise how their behaviour might be perceived. I was also given a similar brush-off that I didn't know what I was talking about and that it just didn't happen in Joomla.
What exactly are we talking about?
Those at the sharp end of such encounters can summarise them as follows.
You put pull requests and get comments not just about the code but your coding, that it is rubbish and that you should know better. Well, if this is your first attempt, as it was with mine when I put in my first pull request, it was certainly bruising.
You are new to the terminology, convinced that one mis-click could wipe out the entire internet, and you get hounded, made to feel like a fool.
I sometimes get shown dialogues in GitHub and see colleagues in the community posting comments, statements, insults and assumptions about people's intellect, nationality, and competence, all because they disagree over code!
But like the aggressive idiots shouting at a partner in the street, they don't look big or clever. They look out of control, unable to behave in a civilised way.
There are less extreme forms of this bullying behaviour, and I can give a few examples.
Making yourself look important at someone else's expense
There is a release and an article is published or some other place of public code or writing and in the Mattermost Town Square or on Twitter/X.
Shortly after, somebody posts a message that states that there is a big end of the world mistake, an apostrophe is in the wrong place, a typo in the version number, or some other thing that to the poster is a heinous crime. They lord it over all that they have spotted the misdemeanour; they have been the important person responsible for discovering this faux par extraordinaire.
A side message goes from a reader of this to the person who can fix it or who originally did it and they then fix the issue.
There is never a “thanks” from the person basking in the glory that first spotted it; they are too busy preening themselves.
And so the person who has actually put in hours of work for free and made the one mistake feels deflated, demoralised, and not looking forward to doing the job again for the next release/event.
Now, if the doer of the article decided not to do it, I doubt that the very important person who did all the screaming would step in and take on the responsibility. Their self-appointed role seems to be chief demotivator, not the reliable doer.
It could be so much better; imagine if the person finding the issue simply messaged the person responsible for the article and said. “Hi, thanks for all the hard work you put in doing the article on, or the release for, blah blah. I did find one typo on line 23. If you could change Joomla 3.4.3 to Joomla 4.3.4 then all should be fine.”
Or if they didn't know the person responsible, simply posted in Mattermost Town Square, "Does anyone know how I can get in touch with the writer of this article?"
No public shaming, no grandstanding, and the person who puts all the work and effort in comes away feeling that people are actually reading the articles/releases and are happy to make the change and correct the typo.
Rage quitting then spinning what happened
This is one form of behaviour that I have personally seen and also had others report.
Someone joins a team, and then when there is a disagreement, the person rage quits and then posts elsewhere what “happened” according to them.
On two occasions, the rage quitting has happened when the bully is picked up on how they talk about others' work or other teams. They then lose it and post that they were the victim. They were the offended party.
This is difficult to address as bullies often don't like being challenged. They don't like to have their aggressive assertions questioned.
We also do not want them to stay in a team and continue to upset and demoralise the team. But they shouldn't have the choice to come and go.
They also should not have the right to post their view of what happened unchallenged.
A solution to this is to say that anyone leaving a team does so on the understanding that they do not post about the events surrounding their departure elsewhere, in Mattermost or in public.
Remember, it is not just the team you have left who you will make look bad but Joomla itself. Joomla should not be brought into such a harmful and damaging way.
We are all representatives of Joomla and as such should remember that in our daily communications and in the way we talk and speak about the community at large.
Protect Joomla; we are all ambassadors for the project
Whether a team member, an extension developer, a site builder or a user group member, we are all responsible for how the public perceives Joomla. We have our part to play in nurturing and using the project to our benefit.
So it amazes me when extension developers or those who provide other services for Joomla publicly denounce members and the core developers, harming their own market and the project as a whole.
Marc Dechèvre summed it up nicely in an online post where he said
- to say the positive things publicly
- to say the negative things privately to the concerned person(s)
It is not that the problem we have, bugs and issues to be fixed are not to be said; it's how you deliver the message and how you treat your fellow contributors.
What is the Open Source Matters (OSM) board doing to help change behaviour?
OSM is discussing ways we can manage conflict and bring about better outcomes with external parties. It is early days, and there will be lots to feed back to the community, but we are putting time and money into this issue and hope that over the next few months, we will be better skilled to deal with the conflicts that arise. We will have professional help to make a real difference.
There will be more on this and our progress in future articles.
What can you do to help stop the bad behaviour?
We all have a part to play, and some will feel they can do more than others or are in a position to do more, but we can all help to change the culture.
First, the way to deal with the bullies
I ask myself, why would we carry adverts on Joomla sites for developers who openly denounce members of the community or the product we put so much love and care into producing?
In my view, we should stop taking their silver coins and just ban their adverts from our real estate.
Personally, I think we have been tolerant of such bad behaviour to the point that the bullies have the feeling they are untouchable. We need to take on some heat and remove them from all areas of Joomla. They should not be allowed to use our site traffic to sell and promote their products.
Block from all Joomla communication platforms. So that's GitHub, Mattermost, the magazine, our Facebook and Twitter/X accounts.
It will take some patrolling, and more help from members with such reporting and upholding of the rules would greatly assist the project in policing such behaviour.
But they do so much for the project
Sure, but unacceptable behaviour is unacceptable from all. Just because someone puts in a lot of code, is popular or is a great speaker does not give them a license to make others feel small.
They are and have also put off other great talent, which the project could really do with embracing.
Support the whistle-blowers
You can help by lending your support to the people who stand up and face up to the bad behaviour, who call it for what it is.
With your support, people will feel more agency to deal with the rotten few.
What if you see examples of bad behaviour and need help to address them
You can bring them to the board. We are happy to listen to people's concerns and issues.
That is one reason we started the Ask OSM Anything channel in Mattermost and why both the President and Vice President now take the time on the 1st of every month to be in an open meeting room where you can bring any concerns or issues. If it is something you want to touch on privately, then feel free to message me directly, either in Mattermost or to my Vice President address:
What can you do to encourage good behaviour and uplift the community?
A simple thank you is often enough to help lift someone up after a hard day.
A new version of Joomla has come out, and a lot of people have put many hundreds of hours into making it happen. You update and use the enhanced security and the new features, and your customers pay you - but did you ever stop to just say a simple thankyou to the release manager, the CMS release team, the maintainers, the marketing team, the document writers and social media team who all came together to make it happen?
A personal message could really boost someone's confidence.
It takes just a minute and will make a difference.
Join a team and help lessen the load for others. Log in to GitHub and thank the people coming up with the features you want to see and those your site benefits from having.
These are all positive things you can do, but if I have missed any, then please do post them in the comments below.
We are all responsible for the culture we allow and develop. All together, we can make a safe space for all where working on this amazing project is fun and enjoyable.
Thank you for this courageous and loud message, Philip.
The problem you perfectly describe is getting bigger days after days and I'm happy to see the Board taking it in consideration seriously with real actions.
I've personally left almost all the Mattermost channels - except JCM - to protect myself from these unacceptable behaviours and I confess to be scare to post something on GitHub for the same reasons you describe.
Fear must change sides.