Forum for the Future: where are we now?
You may have heard of it, read about it, or maybe even been there: in the beginning of 2020, Joomla’s Forum for the Future took place in Marbella, Spain. You might be wondering what happened there, what happened after, and where we are now.
JCM looks back on the event and reflects, together with the Board Members who were on the Board at the time and still are: Brian Mitchell, Hugh Douglas-Smith, Jaz Parkyn and Luca Marzo.
Friday January 17 2020, 9 am, the main conference room of Hotel Vincci Selección Estrella del Mar. About 80 people are waiting for things to come. We are a very diverse group of people from all over the world: Joomlers, ex-Joomlers, even an occasional member of Team WordPress. What do we have in common? Our goal for this weekend. Although we don’t know exactly what that goal is... but we're about to find out.
Luca Marzo: “The main goal of the Forum for the Future was to gather people together to discuss the future of Joomla. There hadn’t been global events such as JWC in a while, where people could spend time together, discussing the status of the Project and trying to define the road ahead. Needless to say that in a Community-led project, having people together in one place, to discuss things can bring a huge amount of work done in a very concentrated timeframe. When this event was discussed, it was clear that the formula of ‘mega-sprint’ would have been much better than a ‘classic conference’ setup, having in mind the London Super Sprint held in Jan 2017 and the JWC 2017, with their Pros and Cons.”
How is Joomla doing?
At this moment, it’s pretty clear that something needs to be done for Joomla to be ready for the future, or even survive. Looking around the room, I notice that, although we are all happy to see our Joomla-friends again, not everyone seems excited about the future of Joomla. Some people look worried, some sceptical, some maybe even angry, or at least agitated. Of course everyone has their own reasons for that, and most reasons have something to do with the stage Joomla is in at the moment.
Brian Mitchell: “The Forum for the Future happened at an interesting time in the history of the Joomla project and for the world business community. Brexit was the dominant story in Europe and everyone was scrambling to assess its impact on everything including international projects like Joomla. Talk of a Joomla World Conference earlier in the year had been shelved partly due to all that uncertainty.
The uncertainty wasn’t just external. Internal to the project there was a sense that we needed focus to get Joomla 4 to the finish line. However, it wasn’t just production that was lacking clarity. There was a strong sense that Joomla would benefit greatly from gathering as many significant stakeholders as possible to assess where the project stood at the time and where it needed to go to be successful moving forward.
It was determined ahead of time that there would be strategic conversation around the areas of technology, volunteer engagement, marketing, and professionalism with the project. So ultimately the goal was to discern a shared vision about how to improve each of these areas within the project followed with time bound action plans to proactively attain that vision.”
Luca: “The lack of ‘gathering opportunities’ and sprints, and the uncertainty on the release date of Joomla 4 made several people think that the project was stagnating. In my opinion there was a real need to get people together to analyse the current status and bring proposals and suggestions for the future.”
Mass sprint? Really?
Okay, so face to face communication might be what we need right now. But is this really going to happen this weekend? Well, you bet it is! After starting with a kick off meeting in the main room on day one, we get four streams to choose from: Market, Community Re-engagement and Re-igniting, Technology, and Professionalism. The group divides into streams and break out rooms, and the mass sprint weekend begins. For three days we analyse, discuss, sometimes argue, vent out frustration and worries, laugh, share, think, suggest, talk, listen... and we work. Together. As teams. And by the end of the weekend, we have strategies, plans and goals, and a lot of new and returned volunteers.
Luca: ”These days have been really productive and increased the engagement of many (already active) volunteers. In terms of achievements, honestly, what I consider as a success is the realistic analysis of Joomla and the market that has been done. I also had the chance to see a lot of progress in the professionalisation of the organization, with many proposals of improvement in processes, tools and management. Finally, it re-ignited the passion for Joomla in some former volunteers that came back contributing and this is a success.”
Hugh Douglas-Smith: “Joomla was getting stale and in my view needed some face to face interaction to reinvigorate it. FftF provided this very effectively and when you look back, it happened at just the right time, just before the lockdowns around the world caused by Covid-19. It was an important event that allowed a large number of members to come together and exchange ideas and bring new energy to the community. Having not had a JWC event for 2 years prior, this was vitally important and very much succeeded. Without it and with the benefit of hindsight, I think, had it not happened, we would have been very much behind where we are today and facing serious questions as to how or if we might continue, the energy that was injected at that event has given us the strength to survive and prosper over the last 6 months. There is a lot more to do, but we are heading in a far better direction.”
Jaz: “People are the lifeblood of Joomla, and revel in the ability to see each other at events. Whilst local Joomla Days took place in the year prior to FftF, they miss the global aspect of the larger events, namely JWC and JAB where the larger Joomla family comes together. I believe that people missed the joy of these larger events, and when combined with the uncertainty of the Joomla 4 release, desperately needed something to bring them back together again. The FftF filled this gap well and reignited the enthusiasm of many volunteers, both current and returning.”
Nine months later
Let’s make a giant leap in time: today it’s around nine months later, and we’re really anxious to know how the Board Members feel about Forum for the Future now. Time for some reflection! First of all: the event itself, the organisational aspect and the overall vibe.
Luca: “Let’s start with a fact: everything can be improved. In my opinion, the organization could have done better in terms of sharing the goals and objectives of the event in a more clear way to all participants. This would have helped achieving better results and reduce the waste of time to a minimum. The location was fantastic and I found it productive to spend time with proud Joomlers.”
Brian: ”Joomla is this amazing blend of personalities, passion, and differing perspectives. It is like lightning in a bottle. Scratch that. Often there is no bottle, just raw energy. There is a constant challenge to harness that energy into consistent and productive action. We handle that challenge online through our many different communication channels. When we meet together it is a pretty intensive experience.
Every Joomla event leaves me deeply impacted by conversations and ideas that are shared. It was especially true of the Forum for the Future as we were not discussing details of a keynote speaker or some workshop. Rather, we were discussing the very nature and future of Joomla. These conversations hit at the core of what people value most about Joomla. That is not always the same for everyone. So, the discussion was especially charged. It was an exhausting, but gratifying experience.”
Jaz: “Being able to talk about all things Joomla and seeing the faces of those that I hadn’t seen in a while made the weekend memorable for me and I’m sure for many others. The event achieved many great things in such a short period of time - the schedule was packed, and was more grueling than what I’ve experienced at Joomla events over the years. However, I do believe that we could have shared goals, plans and ideas in a clearer way before the event so that everyone knew the general shape of the event and benefit from this on the first morning.”
And the outcome?
So although communication upfront could have been better, during the weekend we experienced conversation, discussion, arguments, exhaustion, gratitude and collaboration. But what about the outcome from each of the streams, and the weekend as a whole?
Luca: “Here we could have done better. The four streams, practically working groups, analysed and worked on different areas and objectives and those streams appeared to be a bit ‘disconnected’. We had some cross-pollination sessions and they were amazing, but we missed the ‘synthesis’. We could have merged the ideas, the proposals and the action items from each stream into a shared roadmap. Nevertheless I have seen progress in several areas throughout the Project.”
Jaz: “I agree with Luca here - the four streams were fantastic and achieved some amazing things, but would have benefitted from more connection with each other and with those who joined the event virtually. Ideas adapt and become stronger when shared and combined to ‘complete the picture’. Despite this, each of the streams achieved great things and many concepts from the event have now been brought to fruition within the Project.”
Any visible results?
Ah. We could say the machines started rolling again, and all in the same direction. That would mean Forum for the Future was really a turning point for Joomla as a project. Are there visible results to back this up?
Hugh: “I was one of the co-leads of the Professionalism Stream at FftF and I felt that in many ways it acted as a turning point. We tend to think of Joomla very internally as a community, when to the outside world it is the 2nd largest CMS and powers millions of websites. One of the key benefits of the event was the way it brought people together and reinvigorated the community with new energy and provided a series of goals. Sadly since then we have suffered the disruption of Covid-19 but that has brought to us different ways of working and ways of becoming more productive. Highlights since that time must be the release of J4.0 Beta and its continued progress. I have switched roles within the board to Legal & Finance DC and am now bringing much of what was discussed within the Professionalism Stream into that area within the board. One item which has become clear since the event is that our 6 monthly cycle of elections on the board and the rotation of roles on an annual basis means that there is little time to implement new strategies and as a result the first quarter is spent understanding what has gone on before, then putting plans in place and then facing the next election cycle when someone else might be taking over. One of the things I and the current board are focused on is finding ways to make this work effectively by putting in place policies and procedures to enable board members and newcomers to take up roles effectively and efficiently.”
Luca: “It has been a turning point for several teams and areas of the project. I heard and saw very good ideas and the passion of our volunteers was tangible. Some of the streams have been ‘absorbed’ by existing teams, so can’t wait to see progress and the implementation of all the ideas and plans done at the event.”
Jaz: “FftF brought people together at a time when it was most needed. Some of the ideas and concepts from the event have been taken on by various teams, and have been expanded on and brought into life. I hope that more concepts will develop over time from the ideas that started during the event. Given the current global disruption that we are experiencing, the concept of virtual Joomla Days has proven to be timely and vital to our community in the months following FftF.”
What is happening now?
Let’s elaborate a little on those results. What is happening right now (October 2020), apart from this wonderful Joomla Community Magazine, flourishing like never before? Are things going as we hoped they would? Any surprises here?
Luca: “Pandemic had a double effect on Joomla. From one side it stopped all in-person gathering and events, from the other, it facilitated online gathering and this led to the PBF @Home initiative that allowed the J4 development to achieve a great progress in recent months. It’s physiologic that not all the volunteers that attended the event aren’t committing to the project, also because of the difficulties that this new health emergency put in place. But I’m optimistic and I believe that when Joomla 4 will be released there will be a new hype in volunteering.”
Jaz: “The global pandemic certainly changed what we all thought the following months would hold, and yet we haven’t allowed this to make us lose strength or momentum. New concepts have been born because of this, including online 24 hour video broadcasting events and weekly bug squashing, as Luca mentioned already. People will continue to adapt to the changing situation around them - we need to work together to help Joomla to do the same. Bring on Joomla 4!”
Brian: “There is always a tension between evolutionary and revolutionary change. Those close to the project know all of the many debates and challenges around Joomla 4. I think the Forum for the Future was a chance to acknowledge that those challenges extend beyond the roadmap for the software.
We have this concept of ‘feature lock’ leading up to a major release. It is strange really. As we prepare for the most significant changes to the software we actually pause the innovation. We gather ourselves, take a deep breath, tidy things up as best we can, and prepare to launch into the next major phase.
The great surprise for everyone is the environment we find ourselves in coming off of the Forum for the Future. Oddly enough I think this time of pause and reflect has worked to our advantage. I am seeing it across the entire project. People are tying up loose ends, addressing long neglected problems, re-organizing and tidying up. It feels both orchestrated and spontaneous. Some of it is a result of the Forum. Some of it is who we are now and who we are becoming.
This might be more of a response to the turning point question. The Forum for the Future helped lay some crucial groundwork, but I have a strong sense that Joomla 4 is both the substance of and symbol of a significant new phase in the life of the project as a whole.”
What's on the wishlist?
Apart from what is happening already, there is still room for improvement. What else would our Board Members like to see happening?
Luca: “I would like to see people honoring their promises and commitment, this would have a huge impact on the progress of the Project. We have a complex structure with many teams and roles, but we’re like a big machine… it works if every piece, every single gear, does its task. There is room for improvement in the Project and we need motivated people to continue thriving.”
Brian: “I spoke earlier about the incredible energy that we have within the community. I am always looking to raise awareness of how much good that energy creates.
I think we are a community of problem solvers at heart. We are very good at identifying problems and debating problems and trying to solve problems.
I am not naive about those challenges, but on a personal level I am motivated by gratitude. Gratitude is not passive. I experience the people around me working incredibly hard to make great things happen and it is inspiring. It makes me want to do more and to do better.
We are often so focused on the problems that we miss the gratitude. What are the words and approaches we use to inspire and motivate those around us to share the best of what they have to offer?”
Jaz: “I would like to see more ideas from FftF come to life, and for new ideas to be developed. These are things that need people to deliver on their promises of commitment, but also to work together with each part of our community, and most importantly to listen to others and to truly evaluate something before setting the wheels in motion. Many things can be learnt by listening to those who have tried similar things before and better things can be achieved all together.”
And now: the future
Let’s take another leap in time, after all this weekend was called Forum for the Future. Has Joomla’s future become brighter, or at least clearer? How do our Board Members see the future now?
Hugh: “I have always strongly believed that Joomla has a good future for some significant time yet. It is however important that we plan towards that by understanding who our customers are, where we are going and what we should be focussing on. I am pleased to say that as a direct result of the FftF, we now have a detailed roadmap in terms of our development and production are working hard in delivering to that. We have seen an increase in the number of candidates in this round of board elections which in my view demonstrates a renewed interest in the project as a whole and provides an opportunity for growth and new ideas.”
Luca: “As said, I’m optimistic about Joomla and its future. Joomla has existed since 2005 only thanks to its Community and its wonderful supporters, users and sponsors. We need to take a moment to reflect about that and start celebrating what we have done in all these years and where we are in a very competitive market, where the big players are all backed by multimillion-dollar companies. We, as Community, have a responsibility towards all the Joomla users, to continue thriving and providing a robust, modern, efficient and Open Source Content Management System and a welcoming environment where to contribute.”
Jaz: “Joomla’s future is bright and strong. We have a responsibility to ensure that it not only continues, but also thrives. People have always been at the heart of Joomla and the community has achieved amazing things over the years. As with any journey, it is important to look behind to help us understand where we need to go. I look behind and see all the amazing things that our community has achieved, the hurdles that we have overcome, and the strength that we have gained. I look ahead and can’t wait to see what unfolds in the coming months and years.”
OK guys, let’s wrap it up with a statement from our President!
Brian: “Joomla turned 15 this year! I had visions of some kind of quinceañera to celebrate. We have just gone through those awkward early teenage years. There was a lot of uncertainty, some social challenges, and more than a little soul searching. Who are we really? Who or what do we long to be? Those are still important questions to be asked and answered, but I think we do so with more confidence moving forward. More maturity.
As we have worked through those challenges there was often a sense of concern about the future. Would we fit into the world that was quickly changing around us?
Now more than ever, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘YES!’ If you don’t believe me, attend one of the virtual events.
Joomla has always had this strange middle ground. It is more than just another website builder and less ambiguous than the framework du jour. We have looked above and below ourselves on the complexity scale for years. If you look closely, the predominant business models and technology stacks are diffusing at the edges.
Increasingly Joomla represents the more expansive middle. We are growing drag and drop page builders on one end with dramatic improvements to core for media and content management. We are growing possibilities for headless CMS and alternative front ends on the other with an underlying API and workflow innovation in the core.
It has been an amazing 15 year journey. As I reflect back on the Forum for the Future and look forward to walking the ground that it prepared, I am convinced now more than ever that the best is yet to come.”