I often work while sipping some coffee at Starbucks. The coffee is admittedly expensive, but pretty decent to get work done. Mainly because they give decently fast WIFI and also they get the lighting right.
Once such day, someone approached me. He was wearing a “something very nice about Open-source” t-shirt. He introduced himself and asked if I worked remotely. He handed me a card very formally, told me that his wife runs a co-working space in the same building and I could check it out.
I took the card and later visited their website. Reserved-Bit came across as a very hacky, open and friendly space to co-work in. So I signed up.
Many days months later, I have had several good discussions with them over politics, feminism, equality, education and most often on open-source culture. They revealed to me later, the reason they approached me in the cafe was because I had “WordPress” stickers on my laptop.
The stickers meant I was a fan of “WordPress” and by extension possibly a fan of open-source. Long story short, the kind of people they wanted to co-work with.
During a WordCamp in 2015, I remember someone being praised for contributions to the community.
The person who received the compliment made the appropriate right noises but added “I do not expect anything in return, it was simply a way to give to community.”
The man wore benevolence quite splendidly and that is where I felt he was wrong.
No, if you are making a career out of WordPress or any FOSS platform/product, building a company on it, you are doing this because a lot of people before you wrote the code and contributed.
And they did not do this because they were benevolent masters of the the technology world, but because they wanted to improve and nurture something they felt was important and useful to them. In the end, almost everyone who contributes to open source projects like WordPress, ultimately does so because they have skin in the game.
Better Software = Better Society
Okay, volunteering your time for better software is not exactly comparable to volunteering time for a better society. Writing code for a FOSS project gets you a lot of credit and improves the software you use to make a living. This cannot be compared to basically volunteering time at a homeless shelter or teaching under-privileged kids at a school. Anyone who compares the two is being conceited.
That said better software can greatly facilitate a better society.
A free open internet, will help democracy in the true sense and societies will greatly benefit from the feedback loops and organisational power technology gives the users. Millions today use the web to connect, to write opinions (including what you are reading now), to interact, to collaborate, to plan and to demand rights and change policies and hold each other and also the might governments accountable.
And such an internet should support freedom (ie: open source architecture, software and in general its philosophy), it should allow you to transfer your data from one place to another and definitely should not be a walled up garden.
This is why, people who make a living from open source software, should contribute to it in anyways they can, and not smugly say they do not expect anything in return. We have received plenty already, it is time we realise we are very privileged. It is time to stop calling contributing to something that benefits ourselves as charity.
Think about a large corporate company. Such a company is structured, systematic, primed to do things that experts around the world are hired to do to perfection. People come and go through revolving doors, experts are hired and fired or retired. CEOs are hired and fired. Many get jobs that are monotonous, mere cogs in a machine. The company is a machine, it is relentless and untiring. The financial resources it controls and sits atop of are enormous.
Now think about a village or a small town. It is exactly what a company is not. It is not really as super efficient, it is very informal in terms of how it grows or develops. Inhabitants often are poor or do not have the best education but usually have a lot of involvement in their society around them. They have skin in the game. It is a bit chaotic and when it comes to financial resources, it would never really be able to compare to a large powerful multinational company.
But tiny villages do outlast companies. Large powerful multinationals do meet their end, over decades or over a century. Villages grow like the weed, almost seemingly by chance and randomly into cities at times and survive for centuries and in some cases thousands of years. They survive earthquakes, droughts, floods, economic crisis and several other disasters. They survive because they are not machines, they do not break down completely, they adapt and survive.
Now think of several hundred such villages, towns and cities. What we have, is essentially a living civilisation!
Wait what does this have to do with open source?
Well, an open-source project is a lot like that village. It is like a living organism, it survives because it engages with people, it is not a machine that can break down.
It can grow pretty relentlessly but in unpredictable ways. For example, Unix and Linux as projects which many an expert thought would not be able to survive the might of Microsoft, today powers 67.0% of the web servers.
I have been involved over the past 3 years around community building around WordPress – an open-source project in Mumbai and lately in Pune. So I am more tuned into WordPress community and news around it.
Today, the WordPress CMS is used on 26% of websites that are out there. Not bad for a CMS ridiculed of being just good for blogging. Maybe it is because it was just that, a good blogging software, not pretentious and easy to start using than others, but that can be another post someday.
This happens because the community around WordPress or Unix (mainly Linux) is alive, is a living organism and it is so very deliberately – so that it can adapt, absorb and outlast all machines out there by centuries.
So open-source is a philosophy?
Yes. In many ways it is. In technical terms, the source code of the software is made open. So you can play around with it, customise it, rewrite it – no questions asked. But it means very little, without a sense of culture around it.
A culture to share expertise, make it accessible and easier to use for others. A culture that is not just about learning something and becoming an expert to get paid gigs – but a culture that nurtures understanding and expertise in others and you.
The software would not last too long without a culture of freedom and openness around it. This is why it is called FOSS – Free and Open Source Software.
Code contributions, free plugins and themes, free tutorials, free support over forums, free volunteering of time and effort to write content, translate content for the WordPress project, free time and effort to organise local meetups and WordCamps, all are many different ways we can contribute to the culture of WordPress.
It is what will keep WordPress more like a living organism and less like a machine!
Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond – A great book that explains how this culture of community feedback and contribution works better against a more streamlined, structured style of development. The book will give you good insights into the history of FOSS movement.
Revolution OS – A documentary that starts with the GNU movement and is great for understanding early days of Linux growth and its blossoming.
The Story of WordPress – A book that is hosted on Git. Its free and open for anyone with internet to read up. It will take your through a through history of WordPress and its growth and breakthroughs.
PS: Thanks Saurabh for telling me about Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond during a conversation.
When I started Bombaypirate, it was without any thought or goal. The idea was to just write things I would like to write about. I ended up writing about people, society, my views and even movies. Yes, it was a post about a movie, that got me a job at rtCamp, and I was suddenly a professional blogger, who was managing Devils’ Workshop and other blogs in the network.
That is where I came into contact with WordPress as a blogging platform. Not being a developer, I had a tough time figuring out some of the minor details of WordPress. I could not really mess around and experiment on one of India’s most popular tech blogs.
Many reasons from being comfortable with it and to finding it a better platform than Blogger. But, the main reason was “It was time”.
Let me first start by thanking Nitun Lanjewar who helped me with the migration from Blogger to WordPress and to Rahul Bansal for introducing me to the world of blogging.
Final note: If you are looking to move you blog from Blogger to WordPress, I recommend using BloggertoWp.org