Paying WordPress contributors

Welcome back to the Matt Report, where we continue our special 2-part series with Josepha Haden Chomposy.

If you haven’t listened to the previous episode, I suggest you go back and learn what the WordPress Executive Director does on a day to to day basis.

Today, we’ll be exploring some meatier topics that come up in the community like contributor compensation and Five for the Future. If you didn’t already know, Josepha leads a podcast of her own. We’ll find out why Matt Mullenweg nudged her into that journey.

Thanks to folks over at Malcare for supporting this episode of the Matt Report. If you want to support me, you can buy me a digital coffee or join the super-not-so-secret Discord group for $79/year at

Episode transcription

[00:00:00] Matt: my words, not yours. , the bottleneck at mid-level management. Is that because most, if not if, if, because most of them are volunteers. 

[00:00:07] Josepha: I, in my copious research about this. Last I took any, any kind of canvas of it was that in-person events. So 2019 in my research about this, there are a number of things that do this for one, when you are a contributor and, and it’s clear what you’re supposed to be contributing to, you can submit your changes and then something else helps it get done.

[00:00:34] Something else helps it get into core or to get into the handbook or whatever it is. It’s really difficult to know how complicated that that middle area is. And so it’s a little bit that the it’s a bunch of volunteers and, and I hate asking them to do that kind of work because it’s hard and in a lot of cases, The community of users is mean to you.

[00:01:02] So like who does want to ask volunteers to do that? But it’s also a little bit that there is some sticker shock. When you, when you get there, like you have shown up as a contributor, you have just kind of low access, low knowledge. You don’t really know what’s going on, but you’re ready to give back to this thing that made your business possible.

[00:01:19] And like the more that you learn things, or the more that you gain trust in the ecosystem, there is this moment. That’s like a cliff where you’re just like, okay, now we’re going to talk about conflict resolution. And people are like, oh, no, 

[00:01:36] Matt: yeah. Right. 

[00:01:38] Josepha: like there’s the step between between really active and valuable contribution and helping to keep WordPress moving is, is quite steep.

[00:01:50] And so it’s a lot better.

[00:01:51] Matt: Some of the topics that I’ve heard people talk about myself, included on con contributors or, or folks who are not just contributing to core, but writing support docs, answering questions, helping with the learn team. So on and so forth is the the idea of some form of compensation.

[00:02:08] And I’m curious if that ever gets talked about in any, any meetings ways to compensate. It doesn’t always have to be, I guess, money but a trade a coupon, Right.

[00:02:18] To a learning, a learning curve or something for thanks for your time. You get this and I’ll say I’ll preface this with yes. Contributors are taking the heat for things that they’re just given their time.

[00:02:32] Like, why are we yelling at them or the real extreme sides we’ve seen with folks who are on like and plugin, repo and theme repo who actually get threats. And I say look at that level, we should actually have employees who are in the way of that kind of communication who are getting paid to deal with some of this stuff.

[00:02:55] Not that anyone should be dealing with it and any of that stuff, but folks who are, Hey, we’re [00:03:00] getting paid to do this, and we’re going to shut this person off. Have rules, have channels, et cetera, et cetera, on the topic of compensating contributors. Has that ever come up? And is there anything we can 

[00:03:11] Josepha: Oh, constantly. It comes up constantly. It’s a good question. 

[00:03:15] Matt: Get an NFT? 

[00:03:18] Josepha: everyone gets a word press coin now. So there, there are two things I want to address here. And the first thing that I want to address is only semi-related, but it’s short. There is a misconception about what I hope five for the future.

[00:03:33] Company sponsored contributors are offering to the project in that it’s like doing all of the things that just, I don’t know, Google wants our automatic wants. And that’s like, that’s, that’s not the bulk of the work that I want those contributors to be doing the bulk of the work that I want those contributors to be doing.

[00:03:54] Is that kind of really not glamorous fully in service to self sponsored, volunteer kind of actions that we have to take to make sure that everything’s moving forward. And so like, I agree that in the cases where we have people who are actively getting harassed or receiving threats, like that should not be a self sponsored, volunteer every single time.

[00:04:18] That should be somebody who is sponsored in full by a company. And I, and I will believe that forever. And so there’s that blanket statement. I know that there is a lot of, of mistrust of my many years running a call to increase the fight for the future program, but it’s not a nefarious call for me.

[00:04:38] It is to cover situations like that. Absolutely. Every single day. That’s why I want that program to be bigger. So period, 

[00:04:46] Matt: And nefarious in what like that fight for the future is just to give back to go upstream, to. 

[00:04:52] Josepha: yeah, go upstream to automatic or to have an unnecessarily large voice for corporations because if you’ve got. 10,000 contributors who each can give one hour or 10,000 hours, which are in 40 hour chunks.

[00:05:11] Like you can accomplish more in a 40 hour chunk of time for a lot of reasons for one, because like it’s just been 10 years, since one person could see everything that was happening in WordPress all the time. And, and probably longer than that before, since you could just be like, I have an hour, so I’m going to go research the history of this, write a patch and submit it to be committed and get that done in an hour a month.

[00:05:38] Like that’s like, there is an imbalance in that. And so there is a healthy distrust of that, of that reality, which I understand, and there should be. And I never tell people to start. Asking me those questions, because it’s important for everyone to feel like they can help [00:06:00] provide checks and balances for, for their leaders.

[00:06:03] I think that’s true. But anyway, I got really sidetracked on the question of compensation. Yeah, it comes up basically every year and has come up basically every year since I started doing this work. And, and I don’t ever have a good solution and, and the primary solution that people offer to me every year, which is a fine solution at a specific scale is to just like, make a.

[00:06:30] And give money to people and yeah, I appreciate it. That’s a great suggestion at a specific scale, and that’s not necessarily the scale that WordPress can function at at this point. Like there probably was a time when that would have worked for WordPress, just like it works for various other open source projects that, that handle supporting their contributors that way.

[00:06:51] But if you look at WordPress like estimating and, and I don’t have much in the way of data because we collect almost no data on anyone, but estimating based on the number of, of contributors that we list per release. And also the activity of contributors that I see on the make network of sites in slack, things like that.

[00:07:13] We have probably 15 or 1600 active contributors over the course of the year. 

[00:07:18] Matt: Yeah. 

[00:07:20] Josepha: And that includes also the, the teams who are sponsored by companies. But that’s a tiny fraction of them. If you’ve got 150 people who are sponsored by companies and 1600 active contributors over the course of the year, like, yeah, that’s a teensy teensy group and there is not a good way to manage a program like that at a global scale while also paying attention to all of the rules and regulations that exist in the world.

[00:07:48] Like we would need to have a WordPress HR department, which we don’t have 

[00:07:53] Matt: Right. 

[00:07:54] Josepha: is no one is here that way. And so like, yeah, it. It’s a good idea. I want it, I want more companies to, to sponsor more people and I don’t have a sustainable way to do that for WordPress as a project from a WordPress back to entity.

[00:08:16] Matt: Yeah. 

[00:08:16] Josepha: That’s a good answer, but it is the true answer.

[00:08:18] Matt: listen, so as more and more. That I talk to more people outside of like the WordPress entrepreneurship bubble. There are folks that, like you said, let’s just use the number 1600. Not everyone wants money.

[00:08:32] Number one, like that’s not what they’re there for. Two you probably couldn’t pay them enough anyway. It’d just be like a nice little thing and you can, oh, here’s a Starbucks card. Great. I don’t even have Starbucks in my country, 

[00:08:43] Josepha: Right,

[00:08:44] Matt: right.

[00:08:44] Okay, great. So there’s that, that thing. And like not it’s difficult.

[00:08:48] I get it. I, I also look as as the repo anyway, as a way that, that. a ton of money. If it were a true marketplace, like a ton of money, [00:09:00] because there’s billions of dollars or a least a billions, a billion of dollars that, that actually funnels through that by, by upgrades and upsells.

[00:09:09] So if there was a 20, 30% tax the foundation could have enough money to employ people is one way is, is how I has as I, how I would approach it. But to maybe there’s something there where folks can be recognized, which I, I, again, I also know is very difficult. And I don’t want to simplify it as like, Hey, there’s a leaderboard, but if folks could get recognized for their efforts in some kind of way, then we’d all see. Or have the ability to shine spotlight on people who are contributing their time that don’t want to be paid, but they’re like, Hey, I wrote 15 documents this month. I’m winning the document leadership, round or whatever, something like that, that shines light. And like I said, it doesn’t have to be here’s $5 for your contribution.

[00:09:51] It could be you get a Skillshare as the first thing that comes to my head. Like you get a free Skillshare account, Matt knows the CEO and hooks up, a hundred free accounts for people, right. And they get to learn and educate and make improve themselves. 

[00:10:04] Josepha: yeah.

[00:10:04] Matt: So, again, I also know it’s, it’s insanely difficult to, to rally that together, wrangle 

[00:10:09] Josepha: worth, when I’m going to tell, I’m gonna tell all y’all listeners, cause like, I’m sure you have hundreds of thousands of people. So when the fight for the future program, 5,000 episodes, that’s really good. When the five for the future program, Was was being architected. So like Andrea Middleton and her team were the primary drivers in that one of the, so they did a bunch of research by going out and looking at how other open source CMS is like ours.

[00:10:40] We’re not necessarily incentivizing their contributors. But certainly how they were recognizing them if there was an incentive involved what sort of alternative economies were available in there and how it compared to WordPress. And one of the suggestions that that team did bring forward at the time was like, what if we had a leaderboard where every month we could just like snapshot the top 10 contributors on the thing.

[00:11:07] And. I don’t recall why we didn’t move forward with that at the time. And I will have to see if I can go back through my thousands of pages of notes from, from working with WordPress and see if I left myself a breadcrumb anywhere. But that was at the end of the day, something that, that was decided against.

[00:11:30] I know that Drupal does that and at their Drupal con they’re US-based Drupal con I think every year when they have the DreeZ note, they put up the leaderboard for who was the best this year. And, and we, we decided to go against it. I think it’s a little bit, because like, there’s this feeling of excessive.

[00:11:50] Competition there that we don’t necessarily, we don’t want to instill in the community. Like we want co-op petition where we make [00:12:00] each other better. 

[00:12:00] Matt: Right, right. 

[00:12:02] Josepha: but not necessarily people being like I have a thousand hours to give to WordPress. I’m just going to make a bunch of tiny polar requests and get to the top of the leaderboard.

[00:12:10] Like, I don’t know how that would work, but yeah. 

[00:12:13] Matt: Not, not easy for sure. Wrapping up I want to talk quickly about the podcast that you do. How do you fit that into your crazy schedule? What do you record fortnightly? Is it, 

[00:12:22] Josepha: Yes. Yeah.

[00:12:24] Matt: Is that one of your initiatives? Was that something that somebody was like, Hey, you should really do a podcast.

[00:12:28] And you’re like, eh, okay. I guess I’ll try it. Is that something you’ve always wanted to do for, for the WordPress, 

[00:12:32] Josepha: I’ve never wanted to be a broadcaster. It seems so hard.

[00:12:37] Matt: One day, Matt was like, come on, just do this podcast. And you’re like, you do a podcast. He does. It’s called distributed. I can’t wait to be on it. 

[00:12:44] Josepha: He does. Yeah, he actually is the one who suggested that it would be useful. And a good thing for me to do for the project. And he was right. But at the time I was like, oh no, I don’t want anyone to see me. And I don’t want them to be looking at my work. And, and like knowing how hard it is. I don’t want them to know how hard this is, which is not fair.

[00:13:03] Like people should know how difficult it is to manage a project of this size because it is incredibly difficult. But yeah, I just, I don’t, I, I worried a lot at the start that it was going to look like this vehicle for me to use WordPress’s success to my advantage. And, and I just struggled so much with that.

[00:13:25] It took 

[00:13:25] Matt: Why not everyone else does it. 

[00:13:26] Josepha: Not everybody else. Wouldn’t be holding themselves to their conflict of interest, internal policy that I hold for myself. 

[00:13:33] Matt: True. 

[00:13:33] Josepha: But yeah, it actually took me like six weeks to really commit to doing this. Like he suggested it, he, he made an excellent argument for why I should, and I was like, okay, but I’m going to make it, you and me.

[00:13:47] And he’s been on it with me twice, but he was like, sure, make it, you and me just slowly boiling this frog of not wanting to do podcasts, but to answer your question of how I get it all done. Obviously it’s quite short, but. I sit down at the start of the year and map out the most likely major conversations that are happening in those moments across the year and do light outlines and also make notes for myself at the start of the year of the events and, and likely incidents that I should probably look to to inform that particular podcast.

[00:14:23] And then I take about 30 minutes, write it down and record it in about 17 minutes. So, yeah. 

[00:14:31] Matt: Cool. Yeah.

[00:14:32] it’s great. I, I tune in as I, as as I do. And as I mentioned before, I’ve, I’ve clipped, you have quoted you a on the WP minute and I appreciate the fact that you do it. I’ve said it for, oh, I say, I say a lot of people have said it that they’re, that they’re should have, there should be another vehicle for communication coming out

[00:14:50] Because your average user, the thousands of people I’ve helped get online before with WordPress are not logging into slack. They’re certainly not going to make that [00:15:00] Good luck getting them on a newsletter. Maybe they’ll listen to a podcast. Where are you going to do all the things to reach, all, all the people, 

[00:15:08] Josepha: Yeah. I used to be in marketing, as I mentioned before I got here. And, and one of the guidelines at the time was that, like, you have to say things to people seven, seven different ways or seven different times, depending on who you’re talking to before. 

[00:15:28] Matt: so well. 

[00:15:28] Josepha: Exactly before, like they’re ready to give it any attention and, and WordPress.

[00:15:36] Has always really thrived on, on word of mouth marketing, but you don’t have any opportunity to like put forward your best foot as a product when you’re just like, Hey, tell your friends what you love the most about us. And it could not possibly be 100% of the time. The thing that I love the most about WordPress, cause you’re a different person.

[00:15:59] Like I, there are many things that I think are the best parts of WordPress that probably half our users don’t even know exist. 

[00:16:07] Matt: Yup. 

[00:16:08] Josepha: And so like, I don’t want to say that, that maybe I just shouldn’t say it if I don’t wanna say it. I think that WordPress as, as an entity, as a community of contributors and also users.

[00:16:23] They’re they’re owed a bit more dignity than to have people say, like WordPress is my least favorite thing, but users wanted, I guess, so I guess I have to use this stupid software. Like there’s so much more dignity to what these contributors are enabling in the world. Then, then those people that benefit from their time are willing to comment on either because they don’t know that these 1600 strangers made sure that we patched the latest vulnerability or built the future of content management or whatever it is.

[00:16:56] Like they maybe don’t know. But even when they do know it’s the same sort of problem with helping people move toward a different type of leadership in an open source project. Like you think, you know what it is all the way until you move the curtain aside. And then you’re like, oh no close that up.

[00:17:13] It’s not what I bought it was. And then it’s, it is. Really, it’s a really big problem, I think that can be solved by having more vehicles for WordPress to say who it is and who it wants to be. I think this is all in my opinion. Anyone can have a different opinion today. But yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s more important for the world to know what these great group of volunteers and contributors are doing.

[00:17:42] Then, then for me to be an important person of WordPress. And so like around the whole, like, did you always want to do a podcast? No. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Why did I do it? Because I know that these people deserve more than just a stack exchange, [00:18:00] a survey that says we suck every two years or whatever it is.

[00:18:04] I don’t mean to call anyone out.

[00:18:05] Matt: Yeah.

[00:18:05] You’ve got to, you need to write because a Wix is going to hire a Kevin Hart to do a commercial at the super and Squarespace is going to pay every YouTube personality to advertise Squarespace. So there has to be they, you just have to, you just have to kind of make that effort to be everywhere and everything. 

[00:18:24] Josepha: And from a final philosophical thought on it, like the freedoms of open source and of WordPress and the open web. Are are there within everyone’s rights. And it doesn’t matter whether people know that or recognize it. They still deserve to have that. And the rights of anything, the rights of any one person that they should have that are inalienable to them, only matter as much as they can apply them.

[00:18:52] And so like, just because WordPress believes that there is a bill of rights that exists for the open web and for anyone who wants to use our software and are willing to fight about it only is as important as, as getting people to come to WordPress, for whatever reasons they have. Like, they don’t care about the overall philosophy of open source and they don’t have to in order to be able to take those rights that exist and apply them in their own lives.

[00:19:25] And I think that that’s why we have to do that.

[00:19:28] Matt: A hundred percent, a hundred percent last question of the interview comes from it comes from the WP minute, comes from a producer over the WP minute, Michelle for chef, actually what, what also happens over at the WP minute is we syndicate content from around the community and actually have coming up next week.

[00:19:46] How a Shaya talking about the, how to get involved, how to contribute and she can, as she contributes to that that theme a one minute clip once a month. It’s pretty awesome. Okay. Michelle.

[00:19:59] for shit asks, would you consider starting a taskforce for engaging a younger demographic and using, and contributing to words? 

[00:20:10] Josepha: I have tried test runs of that in the past. Yes, I would.

[00:20:15] Matt: He started, he started a Fortnite league and you say, Hey, jump in with me. Have you heard of this thing called WordPress? Do you have a blog blog? I’ve 

[00:20:24] Josepha: What is that? So yes, I, I want that actually aging, aging out and age-ism in general was one of the first questions that I had when I came to automatic in 2015. Like, do we have anything on our radar about that? Do we have any concerns? Is there a reason to be concerned? And I was told at the time that there wasn’t, and, and it may be true that there’s not.

[00:20:47] But I, despite being told there wasn’t I have done two or three pilot programs, one directed by somebody else. And one that I [00:21:00] directed where we got into middle schools one in a high school, one just kind of like a community space and then one in a college where we. People from, from the, open-source group go out and like teach these kids and teach these students about what it is to be a good citizen of the web.

[00:21:23] And also how WordPress can help them build skills for the future. And also how contributing can help them to learn things passively or learn things actively, depending on what’s happening to kind of build the 21st century skills that everyone needs now in order to be an excellent employee. But certainly in the current context, things that, that are wildly important for people who are learning to work remotely for the first time they did not necessarily turn out the way that I, that I wanted.

[00:21:54] Like I didn’t meet any of those metrics in the, I. I was directed to run about four of them. And then I directed someone else to lead the fifth one. None of my metrics landed where I wanted them to. And so I didn’t, I didn’t feel like I could continue and say like, okay, let’s give it a second try. Cause I didn’t necessarily have the skillset to make that more fruitful in those, in those environments.

[00:22:18] The collegiate one actually went really very well but was so much time from the person who was managing it on our side, that it basically was a second job. And like we really just needed them to be able to do their job of working on WordPress. And so yes, I’ve entertained it over the years. I have tried a few different configurations.

[00:22:39] We as a group have tried a few different configurations and nothing that I feel really. Made the impact that I wanted it to make. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying again in the future. But I, I don’t know that I, I could confidently say that I would know what that needs to look like, especially right now with a lot of distance learning happening.

[00:23:00] So did that answer it?

[00:23:02] Matt: maybe some blue hats to say, like make blogging. Great. Again, that’s a terrible idea.

[00:23:06] Match. Jesus. Why would, why would we do that? Although, what you could do is. you could get Matt to say, Hey, maybe we introduce Gutenberg to tumbler and maybe make Tumblr more of a social thing for fun in young kids and be like, oh, what’s this word?

[00:23:18] What’s this Gutenberg thing, powering tumbler. And maybe that’s the gateway drug, huh? Tumbler. Oh, 

[00:23:25] Josepha: I went on record somewhere that I have never been able to find again, saying that tumbler was the last bastion of the indie web and, and we should be good stewards of the platform. I can’t remember where I said that or why.

[00:23:39] Matt: listening to a three doors down album while you, while you said that Joe Joseph, a Hayden chump, Posey Joseph, thanks for hanging out today and talking about what you do as an executive director. Where else can folks go to say. 

[00:23:54] Josepha: They can find me on Twitter at Joseph Hayden. You can also find me over on my blog where I talk [00:24:00] mostly about leadership stuff often in the context of WordPress, but general leadership knowledge to [email protected]. And of course in slack where I have a screen name, John to Boone, which is very difficult.

[00:24:13] But if you look for Joseph you can probably find me I’m waving from a presidential thingy. What are these podium? Yeah. 

[00:24:20] Matt: And everybody else, Matt mat Shout out to Jeff. Who also asked the same question we were talking about paying contributors. That was his question from the w P minutes go to the WP Listen to that five minute weekly WordPress news, and don’t forget to support WordPress news [email protected] slash my report.

[00:24:41] Thanks everybody for listening. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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