Why I’m Not Sold On ‘Five For The Future’

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There has been a concerted effort to promote WordPress’ “Five For The Future” initiative in recent times. According to

Five for the Future encourages organizations to contribute five percent of their resources to WordPress development.

Lately however, it’s been less “encouraging” and more “demanding” and slander campaigns against those who don’t hit that mark. As much as WordPress does need active contributors to ensure the project continues to thrive, I’m not convinced Five For The Future is the right way to support WordPress.

Matt Is Building The Wall And The Community Is Paying For It

Matt Mullenweg owns WordPress, he is the benevolent dictator for life after all. Although the trademark is owned by the WordPress Foundation, which Matt runs, and the software is largely maintained by Automattic, which Matt also runs. It’s Matt’s project, whichever way you look at it. The Gutenberg project was his idea (an excellent one at that, unfortunately hampered by serious flaws in the implementation). He is the only person who self appoints themselves as a release lead, and conversations around a governance project are regularly censored and shut down. We all need to clearly understand that WordPress is not a community driven project, it’s a dictator driven project. That’s not nessecarily a bad thing (so are all mine and many other successful open source projects), but for that dictator to demand people build their software for them is a ludicrously entitled attitude. It sounds, to me at least, awfully reminicent of a certain American president demanding that Mexico pay for a wall they intended to build. This is especially so when you consider that the same dictator also runs one of the largest, if not the largest commecial entity in the WordPress space. It’s entirely inappropriate to continue increasing the amount of control you have over the direction of a project while also demanding everyone else increases the amount they contribute to it.

WordPress Is Not As Important As You Think It Is

Many people claim to make their living using WordPress. I could probably say the same thing, but I won’t, because that’s not the whole story. I’m a web developer, and WordPress is just a tool that I use. I’ve worked on websites using other CMSes like Joomla and Magento, and plenty of static and custom setups as well. Likewise a blogger with a WordPress site doesn’t make their living off WordPress, it’s just the tool they use to write their content. There are plenty of other ways to blog on the internet. If for some reason WordPress disappeared tomorrow, I’d still have a job. My employer would still run a profitable business.

This lack of perspective was blindingly obvious during Matt’s recent tirade towards GoDaddy. GoDaddy existed long before WordPress, and I’d dare say WordPress will fade into obscurity before GoDaddy ceases to exist (in some capacity at least). If WordPress went away tomorrow, GoDaddy would still have a business too. Rob Howard from MasterWP highlights this well in his recent piece:

Web hosts… are not selling WordPress to customers… they are responding to market demand for WordPress because customers have already determined that WordPress is better before they start shopping for web hosts.

Much of the argument around GoDaddy has focused on how many employees they have compared to the hours they contribute. Is it reasonable to expect the members of their accounting team to be contributing 5% of their time to WordPress when they’re unlikely to even know what WordPress is? Many people appear to be arguing as much. You could certainly make the argument for freelancers, but applying that to a corporation with a variety of departments is just ludicrous. The lack of sense this argument makes was highlighted by Ben Metcalfe way back when Five For The Future was first announced.

Not only that, just imagine if all GoDaddy’s employees were expected to contribute that much to every open source project thats used on their hosting. There wouldn’t be any time to do the work they’re actually employed to do. Sure WordPress is the most popular CMS, but it’s hardly the only one, and one could argue it’s not the most deserving of our contributions.

WordPress certainly helps pay my bills, but it certainly isn’t the reason, and if WordPress went away tomorrow, I and many others would not be affected considerably as much as some would like to believe.

Contribute. Wait, No Not Like That

Five For The Future has a strict, although not entirely confirmed, definition of being purely to a Make team. This means that a vast number of various contributions to the project, involving both time and/or monetary contributions, are explicitly excluded. Some significant examples include:

  • Developing free themes and plugins that are available on
  • Translating those free themes and plugins
  • Providing support in both official avenues ( support forums) and external (StackExchange, Facebook groups etc)
  • Organising events such as meetups and WordCamps
  • Speaking, facilitating workshops etc at events
  • Volunteering as a non organiser at events
  • Any involvement with an event not directly under the governance of the Foundation, such as a WordFest Live or LoopConf
  • Reporting on WordPress related news via articles, podcasts, video etc
  • Official sponsorship of an event, Foundation affiliated or otherwise
  • Sponsoring attendees to attend, organise or volunteer at an event
  • Sponsoring news sources such as blogs or podcasts

And this is hardly an exhaustive list. Some of these are undoubtedly just as important than contributing to a Make team, and certainly some of which have contributed more to WordPress’ growth than the work of some of the Make teams.

I certainly believe that contributions to core and contributions to the community should be considered differently. While you could make arguments for some things being included that aren’t, I think Five For The Future is mostly correct in a lot of it’s definitions of what counts as a contribution. However the rhetoric that is being presented more and more is that if you’re not contributing in this specific way, you’re not contributing at all. This is incredibly disrespectful to the many people who contribute to the project in ways that don’t “count”, and this toxic attitude will only dissuade them from contributing at all.

‘Us’ vs ‘Them’

My experience with attempting to contribute to WordPress core has been less than ideal, to say the least. I’ve so far opened two tickets to report bugs on trac. The first took almost a year before it was even acknowledged, and the response was “Thanks but where’s your patch”. The second was met with “Why would we want to fix this” and then “We won’t bother fixing this until a future release” when more members of the community pushed for it to be fixed.

In both instances, these responses came from sponsored contributors.

Was my contribution valued less because I wasn’t sponsored? I won’t make that accusation, but it certainly could be insinuated. When a non sponsored member of the community attempts to contribute and is met with complete apathy from sponsored contributors on multiple occasions, it can’t help but raise the question.

I’ve discovered other bugs with WordPress core, but I’m hesitant to open another ticket in case I get the same dismissive response yet again from yet another sponsored contributor. Five for the Future is running the serious risk of fracturing the community into a ‘Sponsor vs Volunteer’ contributor battleground. Well if it wasn’t fractured already, the recent article labelling those not involved in Five For The Future as “free riders” certainly did. This fallacy was very easily debunked by Joe Casabona in his excellent analysis. It’s hypocritcal to brag about your marketshare that’s made on the backs of so called “free riders”, while simultaneously disparaging them for being such. Good luck getting to 50% of the web without them.


Rob Howard from MasterWP makes a number of good points in his article Toxic Scorekeeping: The case against ‘Five for the Future’. And while I agree with his perspective for the most part, I don’t think we should do away with recognition completely. I’ve been around long enough to remember when an article criticising the exclusivity of WordCamp speaker dinners went viral, and still disagree with the idea that people who contribute extra shouldn’t receive unique recognition and reward. That said, the element of scorekeeping certainly creates an unhealthy area of comparison that we’ve already seen weaponised in the GoDaddy incident. Much of the argument revolved the ratio of hours to employees, rather than actually appreciating the contribution they make, which in raw hours is more than a lot of companies they’re being compared to.

While I’m sure GoDaddy has the capacity to contribute more, there are certainly some companies and freelancers who margins are so small that it’s not feasible for them to even contribute 5%. Are they too going to be witch hunted for not meeting the 5% benchmark? To that point, Josepha Haden Chomposey came out with a WP Briefing episode claiming that 5% is “aspirational”, which is great, however this contradicts the entire argument that was made against GoDaddy being that they should be contributing more. If 5% is only aspirational, then there’s no way anyone could claim that they should contribute more than they already do. WordPress either needs to decide if 5% actually means 5%, and if not it needs to drop it from the name. Call it “WordPress Future Invesment” or something.

In Summary

Despite what the title may suggest, I don’t think Five For The Future is all bad. The intentions are undoubtably noble, and the qualifying contributions, while extremely limited and exclusionary, is largely correct when considering the core software. However the inflammatory attitude of those not involved being “free riders”, as well as setting scorekeeping benchmarks that are being weaponised against those who don’t contribute “enough” or in the “right way”, are fracturing the WordPress community. Five For The Future serves a neccesary purpose, but is in need of a serious change of image before the toxicity it’s breeding turns people away from WordPress for good.

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