WordPress: The Vision of Five And What it Means

I was in Europe this past week for WordCamp Europe. I was accepted to speak about security, go figure… :)

Of the several talks I sat in on, the one I found most fascinating was the interview with Matt Mullenwegg ( WordPress Co-Founder, Head of the WordPress Foundation, CEO / Founder of Automattic). I am not sure why, I have often found myself in the crowd listening to Matt give a talk of some kind, whether it’s in a Town Hall setting or an interview.

I have crossed verbal swords with him on posts and twitter, extending and interpreting his words based on my own personal biases, etc… This time however, for once, I just listened and tried to really appreciate what he was saying.

Sometimes when you shut up, it’s amazing the things you really hear…

One of the questions asked in the crowd was about the contribution organizations should make to the platform. That’s when he clearly stated he wasn’t sure, but that 5% sounded about right. Today he wrote an interesting post, Five for the Future. In it he spoke to what he felt would be an interesting mark for companies to strive for. Admitting in his post that his own company, Automattic, has not hit the goal but it was something he would work on:

As of today Automattic is 277 people, which means we should have about 14 people contributing full-time. That’s a lot of people to not have on things that are more direct or obvious drivers of the business, and we’re not quite there today, but I’m working on it and hope Automattic can set a good example for this in the community.

Matt Mullenweg

I read this, and I can find a lot of respect in the vision.

A Vision

As to be expected, there will be several posts on this matter in the coming day / days. Because it’s thought provoking. The first one I have read so far was from Ben Metcalfe, in which he asks the question — What exactly do they get for their 5%?

He raises the question about the specifics of the 5%, talking specifically to the economics of a business and the implications of contributing those kind of resources. In the process though he’s taking a lot of out of context and providing a lot a noise to the idea. His points are not bad, but they are highly biased and skewed.

However as the figurehead of WordPress, Matt has the enviable position of being able to set such a lofty vision. It’s the rest of the ecosystem that has to translate that into something operationally feasible and financially viable.

Yes, that is right, he does have that position, it’s his position as the leader of the project and community. This is what leaders are supposed to do, provide a vision, no vision leads to chaos and lack of direction.

There is also no argument on this fact:

5% of head count will require more than 5% of payroll $

But it’s also very skewed, the argument is about a senior engineer costing $130 (fully burdened) and a web-host with 200+ employees, and ofcourse the implications of 5% to the various other functional areas of a business. All the while, interpreting Matt’s vision to be one where he must contribute 5% of senior engineers. I don’t think this is what was implied at all. This is where the argument and drama ensues, bloating the economics of the argument to an unaccountable overhead of $1.25 – $1.5 million a year.

In plain mathematics, Ben would be right. But in practical application he’d be wrong. Again though, it comes down to interpretation. The problem with the argument starts with the emphasis on the idea that the 5% should be senior engineers, but that’s really not true at all, even to Matt’s own thoughts on what it looks like:

…be it development, documentation, security, support forums, theme reviews, training, testing, translation or whatever it might be that helps move WordPress mission forward.

Looking past all the noise in the post, Ben makes some good points and some bad ones. The bad ones all start with bias and his interpretations, and not necessarily reality or what was said. I can appreciate this approach, I myself have done it before, which is I write this post now.

I guess the counter-argument I would have is that 5% is achieved in a number of ways. For instance, my interpretations, as someone running a business, wasn’t that I should go out and hire senior engineers, but maybe I should give more thought to how we could contribute. I would probably venture to say, that while 5% is a nice goal, Matt would likely be happy to hear that because of that statement, more organizations will like start thinking to themselves, “What can I do to be a contributing member to this community?”.

If he’s achieved that mindset, then I’d say the vision is a success, no? Does not more contributors, whether 5% or 1% still achieve progress and establish the foundation the project needs for the future?

What does Contribution Look like?

As I was giving this some thought I saw an interesting thread where Brian Krogsgard, of Post Status, and Magnus, Co-Founder of WooThemes, exchanged a few tweets.

In it Magnus said:

This is a very interesting point.

I can definitely see the point of contribution coming in various sources. For instance, many could in fact argue of the value a resource like WP101 brings to the ecosystem at large. There is even the contribution that comes from the hours folks spend organizing events, whether it be Meetups or WordCamps, or even the time it takes to travel and present at them. I would imagine that each of those are some form of contribution to the project, and likely something that could expand that list already provided.

I tend to agree with Magnus in his comment, good services and products do speak volumes to the promotion of the platform and community, specifically it’s extensibility and robustness, but rarely is it recognized as a good contribution. That I think is worth some more thought.

And so I would challenge, what does contribution really look like?


  1. Ben Metcalfe @dotBen on October 1, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Interesting counter perspectives, Tony, and yes thought provoking.

    I guess I would retort with:

    1). Yes, I am biased in that “yes, I’ve been there and done that and seen what this looks like from the inside of a real company” (albeit my views are my own, not of that company etc)

    2) I dont think $130k, with overheads, is a senior engineer wage. I concede i come from the frothy startup world of SF, a world I’ve decided to return to where engineers at Facebook (the main poacher of PHP talent) make $250k salary plus RSUs plus benefits.

    3) The main thrust of my argument, which maybe got lost, is reform/evolution of governance of the project. We can agree to differ on what contribution looks like but that’s sadly part of the problem. The community ends up focusing on achievement of that aspect of the equation, as per Matt’s vision, and not on what the consequences should be of that vision.

  2. Angela Bergmann on October 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    I think you’ve touched on one of the things that most gets to me in discussions like this: speaking and organizing are always left off the list. But they are a huge way in my mind to contribute to the community. Those of us that run local Meetups and WordCamps and travel to speak at others, spend a ton of time helping build up our local communities by educating and spreading the love of WordPress and we are so often left off of the contributor list. We are a local, face to face support forum and we very rarely get that recognition. It would be nice if we’d be added to the list when it comes to contributing to the WordPress ecosystem.

    • Alex J. Vasquez on October 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      While it’s not as sexy as core contribution organizing meetups and plain community building are absolutely critical, as you know. One of the things that keeps bringing people to WordPress aren’t the impressive number of commits against core day in and day out. At least not from the folks I talk to. It’s the community. Yep. The community. Angela, if you’re out there organizing WordCamps and Meetups, I’d personally like to thank you for making WordPress better, as a whole, on the whole, for everyone.

      Tone-loc, good post.

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