Right or Wrong, Open Source Needs Opinionated Leaders15
There is a lot of debate going on right now in the WordPress world about the WordPress Foundation barring all ThemeForest/CodeCanyon (Envato really) authors from speaking at WordCamp events.
I don’t want to rehash the argument here; the best place to get it is in the original post, and the comments on it.
Instead, I want to make a different point: Regardless of whether he is right or not, it’s good for WordPress that Matt makes these bold choices.
Open source projects benefit hugely from having a spearhead. In their early days most of all, it takes one or two people with drive to get the project off the ground. Then as it grows, dozens of people may contribute to each iteration of the project, but it takes an even stronger leader now to martial that effort together and drive it in the right direction.
And that problem that grows with size. If your project has 4 or 5 contributors, it’s easy to explain to each of them what you believe is best for the project, and to help them see why you believe that. You have the time for that, and the odds are that the small group who liked your style enough to join your fledgling project probably have similar opinions to you anyway.
When your project is WordPress and thousands of people contribute to it, that’s no longer possible. You can’t have 1-to-1s with everyone, and the community is so diverse that you’ll never convince everyone anyway.
Instead, you have to draw your line in the stand and stand by it. Matt has drawn his. If he wants the WordPress community to have the GPL at its heart, then he needs to be the staunchest supporter of it. Sometimes that means going further than what might be considered reasonable. That’s just part of the deal though. If he compromised more, then the emphasis on promoting the GPL would be lessened.
That takes me back to the title of this post. Matt takes a very hard line on the GPL. A lot of the time, he’ll be in the right, but not every time. The project still needs someone to consistently take that stance though.
There are plenty of examples of this. David Heinemeier Hansson created the massively popular Ruby on Rails framework, and his strong opinions annoy people all the time. Linus Torvalds is hardly one to mince words either.
Without strong leaders, who knows what will happen though? Decision by committee? One of my favorite open source projects used to be phpBB, until they took the decision that the next version should be rewritten from scratch… four years ago. A good leader would never have let that happen (Unless of course he wanted it to, in which case he’d have seen it through).
So to sum up; what I want to say is that regardless of your stance in this particular argument, it’s worth remembering it’s good that people get this fired up and they’re willing to stand their ground.
If enough of the community truly believes that the leader makes too many “wrong” decisions, then all it needs is a new opinionated leader to drive a fork. That’s what Matt did after all (Update 26/1/13: As pointed out in the comments, Matt forked it not because he didn’t like the current leader, but because he had vanished and the project needed a new leader. Sorry if this read misleadingly!). And just because the original project is already huge is no reason that a fork might not surpass it one day.
PS – For what it’s worth though, my opinion on this one is with the developers caught in the middle, which is best summed up by Pippin’s comment.
Most of all though, I think it’s mind boggling that one employee took it on themselves to pick out one individual developer, and hit them alone with this, right out of the blue. That’s one place where Matt really should get to the bottom of what went wrong.
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