What Are The Main Opportunities & Challenges That WordPress Faces in 2022?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy Executive Director, WordPress project | Open Source Division
Josepha Haden Chomphosy has been the Executive Director of the WordPress project since 2019. Her work to coordinate and guide volunteer efforts spans 21 teams and involves thousands of volunteers. She is sponsored by Automattic, where she leads the open source division that focuses on all aspects of open source contribution, including design, development, volunteer engagement, sponsorship relations, and the health of the overall WordPress ecosystem. Josepha is well-versed in conflict mediation tactics and knows how to explain complex topics clearly and respectfully.
Main Questions of The Interview
#1 – I personally get the feeling that the WordPress project is facing a critical period (18 months) that will see either a semi-rebirthing of the project or the start of a significant decline; what are your own thoughts; and do you feel that I might be onto something here?
#2 – What do you see as some of the significant opportunities and challenges that WordPress is facing at the present moment?
#3 – Do you feel the present leadership structure at both WordPress and Automattic is up to the challenges that the project is facing at the present moment?
#4 – Matt Mullenweg, “your boss,” has declared publicly that he sees himself as the “benevolent dictator” of the WordPress project. I know I and many in the WordPress community that is deeply unhappy with this particular statement and philosophy however we don’t want WordPress to be managed by a committee is there an effective middle way?
#5 – I’m frustrated with the Gutenberg project. I can see all the promises and opportunities that will come from a semi-finished and improved WordPress editor and website builder; however, the whole process has been painful and extremely slow. Do you feel lessons have been learned, and how can we together improve the situation?
#6 – What personally excites you connected to being a key team player in the WordPress project, and what has it been like working closely with fantastic entrepreneurs and visionary like Matt Mullenweg?
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Sensei LMS: Sensei LMS
WS Form: WS Form
Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS podcast, where Jonathan Denwood interviews the leading experts in WordPress, eLearning, and online marketing to help WordPress professionals launch their own SaaS.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back to WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS; it’s episode 719. Yes, that’s correct.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: 719.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, Josepha. We have a really special guest; we have Josepha, she’s the executive director of the WordPress project. I’m not going to attempt to pronounce her surname, and I pre-warned her; I’m going to let her do that because I will just destroy it as I destroy every guest’s surname that comes on this show, seemingly. So, I’m not going to embarrass myself. I have my great co-host, Andrew, as well. So, Josepha, would you like to introduce yourself quickly to the tribe?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah. My name is Josepha Haden Chomphosy; I nailed it. I’ve been saying my name all my life, so don’t worry, I had a lot of practice.
Andrew Palmer: It’s amazing. It’s amazing.
Jonathan Denwood: Today’s amazing.
Andrew Palmer: I think we can get to know Josepha a little through this interview, but my name’s Andrew Palmer; I’m with Bertha AI. We help you write where you work. That’s it.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. And before we go into this great interview, I have a few adverts from our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. Just want to point out, tribe, that we have some great special offers from our sponsors, some great WordPress recommendations, plugin services. You can get all these goodies by going over to wp-tonic/recommendations, and you can consume them all their, tribe. So, let’s go straight in it. So, I feel that WordPress is, kind of, really, at a crossroads, I just sense and I just want to see if you feel like this, that the next 18 months are going to be a, kind of, semi-rebirth of the WordPress project, or it could go into a slight terminal decline. I don’t know why I feel that, but I do.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Slight and internal have never been used together in a sentence before.
Jonathan Denwood: So.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Slightly did.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: No, but what, sorts of, things are on your mind that make you think that, first off?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I just feel that the Gutenberg Project has enormous possibilities, but also, I think it hasn’t, really, gone that well, but it’s spilt milk, so I don’t want to become a pain in the posterior attacker of it, but also, the reality is the reality. I also feel that the contradictions of what wordpress.org might want and what Automattic might want are, really, in their head, but on the same path, they’re always being to a wind to some degree.
So, I think there are a number of issues that need clarifying and if they are clarified, the projects can move forward, and also COVID and the way that affected WordCamps and the community in general, so there’s a lot in the witch’s brew. I don’t know if you see it that way.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: So, I work on almost no projects that are small timelined, right? All the projects that I ever work on anymore are, at minimum, three years to accomplish. And so, I have a, really, different perspective than a lot of people on those things, but, as far as, what is to my mind, the most pernicious problem, the biggest problem that we have in the next 18 months, is 100% the problem of getting everybody back to our in-person events.
Our in-person events are the thing that makes sure that people know how to use WordPress once they’ve inherited it, or once someone has asked them to do it, or once trying to learn a new skill set, it’s where we get people aware of the community and who’s here and who’s here for them as they’re working through stuff. And so, do we have a moment where we’re like, this could make or break how we’re going to get things done in the future?
I think that biggest problem is going to be around getting all of those people back together in the way that we like people to get together in WordPress in that, kind of, inspire and contribute and build something cool and be good to each other, kind of, way, as opposed to in the, get in there and get swag, kind of, way, which is not my preferred reason to get everybody together. But, yeah, I do think that there are some big questions that are going to, really, press us in the next 18 months, but I think it’s mostly around getting everybody back with us
Andrew Palmer: I’ve always felt that WordCamps have been aimed at developers more than the user, if you like, because WordPress has still got the DIY, they spot it and they see it and they say, okay, well, I can use that. And there are loads of free themes and loads of free plugins, and I can start my blog or I can start my shop with WooCommerce and things like that. I think what Jon’s pertaining to is, and you have, actually, answered this question a couple of weeks ago, five for the future, the confusion around that, about the fact that you’re, actually, paid by Automattic, you’re sponsored by Automattic to be the director of WordPress, right?
So, the conflict of interest around what Automattic are doing, what wordpress.org is, what five for the future is, basically, asking volunteers or companies that make money out of WordPress to contribute. And excluding, we have Bertha, and Bertha is a free plugin in there, I have another free plugin there, 50,000 users, we’re quite a, as far as I can see, a contributor to WordPress, but not in five for the future terms. And it’s those, kind of, things, the new design of the make.wordpress site, where the first kind is from Matt saying, basically, this is a waste of time, what are you doing it for and all that, kind of, stuff.
So, you were trying to find in our, as members of the community, and I attend as many WordCmps as I can; I was in Serbia, Berlin, US and Lewis, all that, kind of, stuff, so I like to go to the WordCamps, mainly, for networking and meeting up with people and doing business. And that’s what I want to end the confusion of; actually, we are all in this business to make a profit, one would hope.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I will give you a general heads-up that the conversation around Five for the Future is, really, heartbreaking to me right now, and so I get worked up about it. So, I’m going to let you know that in advance.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah. Well, I’m cool with that. I’m just going to say one more thing on that.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah.
Andrew Palmer: I think your answer was the most appropriate, there’s no blowing smoke going on. You address that in a, really, good way, a community manager’s way. And that’s it; it’s an aspiration, and with Five for the Future, I think that should be the mantra, it’s an aspiration, so I don’t mean to cause you offence and I understand that it’s a difficult one.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: You are not causing the offense, I am just heartbroken because it’s a, really, complicated conversation that is being made into a simple discussion, and that’s what I find super heartbreaking about it. So, I understand that there’s a lot of concern right now around Five for the Future, what I mean, what Matt means, what WordPress means, what it should mean. I get that. And I also see that everything that moves someone forward into using WordPress or makes their use of WordPress easier is a contribution to WordPress’ continued success, I know that, I think everyone knows that.
And the part that I have been trying to express recently that I think is getting turned into just this, really, flattened conversation, is around the programs that have been built in service of that Five for the Future call. There is a general philosophical call, give back to WordPress, if you have gotten anything from WordPress. And I think that’s beautiful and I think it exists forever and always should just be that big aspirational call.
But the programs that are built in service of come together and make WordPress better are built to recruit and train and retain contributions from contributors that are knowledgeable and expert and have enough time and availability to help make sure that this gigantic project.
Andrew Palmer: Sure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Is moving forward well and long into the future after we are not there for it. And so, there are a lot of conversations around, how am I defining an economy? I talk a lot about, I mention a lot, rather, I don’t talk about it a lot, because it’s scary, but I mention a lot, the alternative economies of WordPress and how we are investing in those and what that all means, and the conversation that happens around how we entice and elicit and support future contributions to WordPress is the conversation I want to have.
I don’t want to be having the conversation around; do you believe that people who use WordPress for free or cheap matter? Yes I do. I want 98% of people to be able to use WordPress for free or cheap.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Forever. And so, I feel that conversation’s getting, really, kind of, it’s being made into a simple thing when it’s very much not, and so that’s what I mean by, I get heartbroken by that conversation right now.
Andrew Palmer: The whole point behind WordPress and the whole point behind the repository and everything is that it’s free at point of entry, right?
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I have some more questions, Andrew.
Andrew Palmer: Very well, Josepha, thank you very much.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Sorry.
Jonathan Denwood: We have, obviously, some challenges, but we also have some great opportunities, I think at Porto, WordCamp Europe, you clearly saw the internationalization of WordPress and do you see some of the biggest growth being outside the traditional markets of North America and Western Europe? Because one of the things I observed at Porto, was there was people from all over the world and that, really, is one of the great opportunities and strengths of WordPress, isn’t it?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yes. Yeah. I do think there’s opportunity for growth outside of those traditional markets. I hate to call them traditional markets because, surely, the US is not the only folks who have commerce and need websites and stuff, but, yes, I agree. I agree, there’s big opportunity for growth there.
Jonathan Denwood: Right. So, how do you see the relationship between wordpress.org and Automattic, and do you feel in the coming 18 months, two years, there has to be, how to put it, a more clarification, a more open discussion about how that relationship can benefit both and be more clarified, is that making sense?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: You’re asking, what is the relationship? Okay.
Andrew Palmer: Let me put it in a slightly different way.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Okay.
Andrew Palmer: We have wordpress.org, we have Automattic. We have the word WordPress project, basically, Automattic is the main sponsor of WordPress, the person in charge of Automattic is also the person in charge of WordPress and the number of other products, stuff like that. So, I think what Jon is hinting at is, should there be a clearer separation between .org and .com? And then, how do you think that ambiguity affects the WordPress project going forward?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah. So, we’re asking about, specifically, wordpress.org and wordpress.com. I do think that there’s a lot of confusion there and I think that everybody agrees with that.
Andrew Palmer: Sure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I think that what we don’t agree with is that Automattic gets a disproportionate benefit from that confusion. I think we don’t, necessarily, agree with that confusion at all times, if a user, if a customer of WordPress is joining wordpress.com or .org with the expectation of having the other one, that’s not a good user experience.
Andrew Palmer: No, right.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I don’t think that anyone would fight with that sentence. But does it make sense to have more clarification around what one is versus the other? I think it always does, because it serves our users better. So, yes.
Andrew Palmer: But how’s that going to happen, because it’s still, I have clients, I have a little agency as well and they say, oh, you’re using WordPress? So, they immediately said that, a couple of clients, literally, more than a couple, just set up a wordpress.com account because I said, yeah, we’re going to be using WordPress. And I said, well, you didn’t, necessarily, need to do that because we’re self-hosted WordPress, and whereas wordpress.com is a hosting service as well as you can build a website on there, but there are certain restrictions.
We can’t use certain plugins and all that, kind of, stuff and whatever, so there is a definite need, some clarification from a user perspective, not a developer perspective, a user perspective, of what’s the difference between wordpress.com and what’s the difference between WordPress the project. Where you can just go into any host and install a WordPress website.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah.
Andrew Palmer: And that’s the confusion, and also, you have VIP as well, with wordpress.com.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Right.
Andrew Palmer: You have different offerings, we had some pricing confusion about three months ago, which now has been reverted back to what the pricing was.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I’m just going to give us a real clarification here; I have no involvement with wordpress.com, I do not.
Andrew Palmer: No, I understand. But I’m just asking.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I’m not able to, necessarily, answer how they are going to clarify their/
Andrew Palmer: How do you think that should be addressed, though? Do you think that should be addressed or it’s just a no comment situation from where you’re sitting?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Well, it’s not that I have no comment. It’s that I, specifically, focus on WordPress and self-hosted WordPress, and so I can’t, necessarily, speak correctly about what it is that’s happening inside.
Andrew Palmer: It’s fine. It’s fine.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Those Automattics brands.
Andrew Palmer: Because we ask ourselves those, kind of, questions all the time, we can’t answer those questions either, because we’re just WordPress developers and we build websites, so, yeah, that’s fine.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m not.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Never say just. Never say.
Andrew Palmer: Just.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. But just to comment. I think that is the crux of the question, really, you’ve just pointed it out. That’s what we are trying to get some insight about, your own thoughts about this, because, obviously, you are the public face of wordpress.org, not Automattic, but in reality, to say the two are not totally to some degree intertwined, in my opinion, would be slight, I won’t say misleading, but.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Okay.
Jonathan Denwood: More.
Andrew Palmer: Confusing? Confusing?
Jonathan Denwood: Yes. Confusing.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Does this need to be, I wouldn’t say cleaned up, but clarified in a much more coherent way of, what is Automattic’s domain and what is wordpress.org’s domain?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I know that I tell people this all the time and I think it’s, really, hard to hear, I have a high expectation for myself to have a separation of any, sort of, interest in Automattic’s products versus WordPress’ features. And I know that people really, really feel I must be lying, but I’m not. This is as true as I can get.
Jonathan Denwood: I feel that’s a very strong, you don’t strike me as somebody like that at all. Obviously, you have to be very diplomatic. Obviously, you are a very diplomatic person. Obviously, you have to be. So, that’s why I’m asking very broad questions, because to ask you to give specifics on a podcast, in front of me and Andrew, would be ridiculous, you’re not going to do it. I’m just trying to get.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I did do, those are the specifics.
Andrew Palmer: No, Josepha, you have definitely answered the question. Let’s move on to the next question, if it’s appropriate. But you’re walking a tough line, right? Because you represent thousands of people, thousands of contributors.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yes.
Andrew Palmer: Of developers on the wordpress.org side, it’s a, really, tough situation and you are sponsored by Automattic, so you can see where if you’re a guy on the street, like me, walking up and down the street, thinking about what’s the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org; that question has to be asked. It doesn’t, necessarily, have to be answered.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Here’s the thing, it would be inaccurate, for me, to say that I do not have any concern about what happens with the products of Automattic, because Automattic, of course, pays my bills, but I think what’s, really, important to remember here is that Automattic also, provides a majority underwriting for the WordPress project to make sure that it remains available for free on an infrastructure that is up 99% of the time.
Andrew Palmer: Sure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: And, in a way, that brings a diverse group of people into the space of having a changed life pattern. WordPress enables opportunity for people.
Andrew Palmer: Sure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: And as Automattic sits as the primary underwriter of being able to offer that freedom to hundreds of thousands of people across the world at all times. Yeah, I am always concerned with how Automattic is functioning or not, how Automattic’s businesses are doing. But, it would be false to say that I don’t have concerns because I care so much about what WordPress represents to the world and to the people that get a benefit from us, that don’t know that I even exist, that don’t know Automattic exists.
And I think that there’s an extent to which it is a bad faith argument to say, how can I make it clear that I don’t care about Automattic? Of course, I do. Anyone who is working with WordPress and beliefs in what it can do for other people should care about the group that is providing its entire infrastructure, because would they pay for all the server space? They do all of the things that make WordPress forever available to people, and I think that matters.
Andrew Palmer: I agree. Totally.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I don’t know that I answered anyone’s questions right now so much, or I just said a bunch of stuff.
Andrew Palmer: No, you definitely answered the question, it’s a tough question to answer and it’s a bit of a drive-by shooting, to be honest, because.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I agree.
Andrew Palmer: We have to be cognizant of the fact that you are in charge of wordpress.org and a load of people and the volunteers and the people on the forums that answer questions and the moderators that control how plugins are presented and renamed and copyright, I came a cropper the other day because one of my plugins had a trademark before it, and it’s okay to have the trademark after it because it’s for this, particular, thing. So, we were taken down for a day until we fixed it, so that was fine. And it was, literally, a day, you know? So, that shows the proficiency of the system. Do you see what I mean? So, you’re doing a great job.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Right.
Andrew Palmer: So, that question was a drive-by shooting and I understand how difficult it is to answer in any way, whether it’s correct or incorrect or unbiased or biased, it’s one of the most difficult questions you’ll, probably, have to face. So, let’s move on to the next one.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. We need to go for our break and give, Josepha, a little break.
Andrew Palmer: A little time to think.
Jonathan Denwood: From our interrogation. We will be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. Me and Andrew have been put in our place, we deserved it, though.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: No. Because people are going to believe you all.
Jonathan Denwood: Funny English, I’m only kidding.
Andrew Palmer: We’re only kidding.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m only kidding. It’s English sarcasm.
Andrew Palmer: I’d rather have a cigarette.
Jonathan Denwood: So, before we go into the second half of this great interview, I just want to point out that I write a weekly newsletter, you can go to wp-tonic/newsletter. We discuss all the Friday stories that we discuss, plus I do an interesting editorial and you can get all that by going there and signing up. So, we had an interesting first half, so I think, just to comment, basically, this is an open-source project, obviously, this is a tricky beast.
This isn’t a commercial company because you’re dealing with an open-source project, so if you are dealing with just a normal commercial enterprise of the size of the WordPress eco system, it would be complicated as it is. But then, when you add-on the layer of an open-source project on top of it, we’re dealing with a complicated beast here, which you are well aware of. So, for a long time, there are different icon buckets, there are different people in the game, as I call it; you have the hosting companies, you have Automattic, you have wordpress.org, you have the WordCamps, it’s all in the brew, as I say.
And what I think is happening is, there are different forces trying to move things in their direction and there are counter-forces wanting to move it into another direction. And if there isn’t any real vision or any real structure where we’re going, you just get disharmony and you just get different forces that want to go different directions. First of all, do you agree with which I just outlined and have you got any insights about how more harmony can be imposed upon, imposed is probably the wrong word, but encouraged?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: So, in theory, you just posed a theory of, if people do not have some concept of where we’re going, if people do not have a vision, they can’t get to the vision. Yes, I agree with that. I agree with that, for sure. I feel WordPress, at the moment, does have a clear vision. It sounds like you don’t agree with that statement.
Jonathan Denwood: No, I don’t. I think it’s a bit of a ship without a captain to some degree.
Andrew Palmer: Well, Josepha’s the captain. Actually, this is my job; I think he’s referring to Automattic rather than that, so ignore that question.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, I am.
Andrew Palmer: wordpress.org, definitely, has a direction to go in; you have the Gutenberg Project, you have the community building, the diversity, which I know that you’re, really, interested in making sure that we are a diverse community and acceptance of that as well, from every single aspect that you can think of diversity. We have the accessibility issues as well, I know that you’re concentrating on trying to get everybody accessible, it’s difficult to make WordPress accessible, because you have users using it, so that can take away the accessibility in a heartbeat, and all of that stuff.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: It turns out when you introduce people to anything, it makes it complicated.
Andrew Palmer: Well, exactly. So, yeah, yeah. If you ask humans and the world would be a much better place without us, to be frank. There would be no global warming for a start. But, anyway, the point is, what direction are we going with WordPress? As director of WordPress, what are you focusing on, as you say, for your long-term projects over the next three years, where’s that going to take us?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah. So, I put up our big picture post for the year. And I think that there are two things in that post that people lose track of. So, for one, from a technological standpoint, obviously, we’re still in the middle of the Gutenberg Project, which is a lengthy project and was designed to be so. But the other two things that are just, kind of, big picture elements that I didn’t want to get too prescriptive on because I believe that the community is closer to all of these things than I am, and so, therefore, can advise me the best about what to do next.
One, is making sure that we have everything that someone might need, who is starting with WordPress and wants to build a site, have everything that they might need to get that going available on wordpress.org, the website. And so, we have Openverse in there, the photo directory in there now, the plugin and theme repositories that are getting some sprucie updates to their.
Andrew Palmer: Patterns.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah, the pattern directory, all those things. That is a big picture goal, for me, is making sure that whatever you need to get your website running is available to you on wordpress.org, the website; so that’s the number one thing that’s very important to me. And then, the other thing that is important to me as well is, putting a little bit of care and attention into the tools and infrastructure that we offer to our community of contributors.
There are pockets of our community, who’ve been saying for years, our tools aren’t what we need to get this done, if we had this, it would be better, if we could do this, it would be better; and we are making those changes. So, there are a bunch of changes coming to the tools that the polyglots’ team uses, we just finished a bunch of changes to the way that the theme repository is able to check themes for their excellence in the repo and working on the same thing for the plugin directory as well.
So, making sure that whatever it is that our teams of contributors are doing to make sure that our WordPress users of the world can have excellent resources with all the open-source freedoms available to them on the site as easily as possible, those are the things that we’re working on this year. And so, that’s my goal for the next two or three years, apart from Gutenberg, which I realize is not a flashy exciting thing, but for me, it is very much aligned with making sure that people who use WordPress have what they need to make sure that WordPress.
Andrew Palmer: Well, don’t you feel it’s more like fine tuning the engine, right? You have to make sure that the battery’s working, the spark plugs are working, the tires are of legal depth and all of that, kind of, stuff, because, otherwise, the infrastructure will fall apart. So, you have to make sure, and it is boring, and none of us like to look back and say, we have to get this infrastructure right.
One, it’s expensive to run. Two, there’s technical legacy debt there as well, which one of the things that has helped WordPress, definitely, has been the backward compatibleness of it; a lot of other CMSs, well, I can think of three CMSs that have lost massive market share because of their lack of ability with backward models, and then, that’s why we’re using WordPress, because we know that it’s being worked on of all the time. 6.1 is out already, and 6.2 is coming around the corner and all of that, kind of, stuff. But how much of that are you involved in on the development side of say, a new WordPress version, a 6.1 or 6.2 or whatever, are you involved in that at all?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: The features that are going into it, timelines, or part of that?
Andrew Palmer: The issues managing of it, the people reporting to you to say how it’s going, organization of the contributors, I think six was a hundred percent women, wasn’t it?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: 5.6? Yeah.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah. So, 5.6, right. So, you have all of those.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Women and non-binary, yep.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah. So, you have all of those things to think about as well. So, I think your role is partly politician, definitely, partly CEO, you give the direction and people have to report to you, partly CFO because you must have a look at the cost as well. So, you’re, basically, running a multimillion-dollar business.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yes.
Andrew Palmer: Every single day of your life and you have to forward-think, and then, you have to put up with guys like us asking you awkward questions; I get your is pretty tough, right? Anyway, moving on, Jon, you have any other questions, apart from three or four, I think five?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, kind of, obviously, one of the aspects of this interview and this discussion is, and I was there when Matt made the statement that he saw himself as a benevolent dictator of WordPress
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Which, for the record, is not a Matt coined term. That is an open-source term that he didn’t come up with.
Jonathan Denwood: I know. I have to be honest; he didn’t go down very well with me. But on the other hand, he’s a great man. The aspect of this, which Andrew’s just pointed out, that other open-source projects have, for various reasons, have, kind of, imploded, and the history of open-source projects are a bit like that, they get to a certain stage and then they just implode. So, what I’m getting to is, I won’t want to see WordPress being managed by a committee because I just don’t think that works, but on the other hand, I’m not keen in the title of a benevolent dictator. Is here a middle way?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah. So, for what it’s worth, there is structure in the WordPress project. There is a bit of structure because, of course, no one person can keep track of everything that’s happening in the WordPress project and that has been a true sentence for, at least, the last 17 years. It has been a very long time since one person could track everything that was happening, and also, make sure that the resources that we need to keep investing in WordPress exists.
And also, that the technical forward-thinking is occurring and that the ecosystem maintenance is happening; no one human being can track that anymore. And so, there is structure; I don’t want people to think that I’m just some brilliant wunderkind, who figured out how to do all this by herself.
Andrew Palmer: Why not? Why not?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Well, because it’s not fair to the role, number one, I think. I don’t know that any leaders in the WordPress ecosystem, period, agree with what I’m about to say, so I’m just going to own this. I believe that an important part of my leadership tasks, and this has been true for my entire leadership career, is to make sure that the organization that I am guiding can survive after I’ve stopped guiding it. Because if I don’t do that, it means I didn’t trust enough in the organization or that I didn’t believe enough in its long-term value to bother to figure out how to make it sustainable past me.
And so, I know that someday WordPress will no longer be willing to be led by me, the reason that I am able to lead WordPress is because WordPress wants to be led by me, that’s it. And, at some point, they will not want to anymore. And I would hate if what I did in my time being a leader for WordPress was make it so that I could never be replaced, and so to tell people that, by myself, I’m managing everything and I see it all and you should too. Means that no one will ever be willing to join me in learning how to do this work long-term, and so that’s why I don’t want to say it.
Andrew Palmer: I get that, that’s management 101, isn’t it? The sign of a good manager or the sign of a good leader is that they can be made redundant and it wouldn’t, actually, make any difference to the organization, apart from people prying a lot. But I’ve always said that as a consultant, when I was running companies as interim MDs, my job as a consultant was to make myself redundant as quickly as possible. One, to save the company money. And two, to save the company, you know?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah.
Andrew Palmer: So, I think that’s a given. Do you think you’re doing a good job? Let me qualify that by saying, I think you’re doing a good job, it’s a tough job to do, but do you think you’re doing a good job?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Of working with WordPress? Of guiding WordPress?
Andrew Palmer: Yeah. What could you do better, do you think?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: So, for general context, I think that my body of work stands for itself. I have done a lot to make sure that WordPress has some way to remain long-term sustainable from all of the things that need to be sustainable for WordPress. I’ve done a lot of research around what worked and didn’t for other open-source projects, both that define themselves the way that I define us and those that don’t, the way that we function, similar and not similar; I’ve done a lot of work to make sure that I understand what we are doing as people in open-source and, especially, WordPress.
And so, yes, I do think I have done a good job of making sure that WordPress is more structured now than it was before, more documented now than it was before, more open now than it was before. Absolutely, I think I’m doing a good job of that. Do I think I could do a better job? Always. But that’s because I am my own harshest critic, If anyone were to look at not only all of the changes that I have helped guide this project through, but also all of the work that went into preparing for that, because none of it happened on a whim.
I don’t think that we’re going to find a lot of people who are like, oh; I could have done that better, faster, and with half as much upset. I’m not sure that we could find people who would agree with that statement, if they knew the full bulk of the work that’s happening.
Andrew Palmer: Sure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: And so, what is the thing that I would do better if I could? The thing I would do better if I could is make sure that people see that the types of functional groups that the teams for the WordPress project fall into, while they all are interconnected and related and important, I wish that people saw more readily that accessibility is an overarching issue, but 100% lives and breathes inside core. It should be a core concept. Design applies to everything, but 100% should be inside core as the thing that has the lowest common denominator and can affect the most change in the most places.
I don’t know any way to help people see, these are our smallest common denominators that make the most change for the most people, with the least effort; it’s still a huge effort, but the least effort from any group of people. I don’t know how to help people see that because it feels uncomfortable in open-source to talk about an organization as, kind of, a businessy thing; it feels, really, unsettling. And so, I don’t have any way to help people see that more, but I wish that they saw how much their work affected one another so that they could see where their duty of care rolls up into the space.
Andrew Palmer: No, I think that’s a valid argument. That, basically, it is a business, whether it’s open-source or not, you still have to have a structure to it, so I think that’s a fair thing, and, maybe, the way to do that is just to tell people about it. This is how we’re structured, this is the structure.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: People are not interested. They shut down when I start talking about my work and I get it, my work is hard and complicated. I know. I know.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah, I wouldn’t like to be you. I wouldn’t like to run the WordPress project.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: I hear that every day.
Andrew Palmer: It’s a tough [Inaudible – 43:07].
Jonathan Denwood: Well, it’s interesting, but I wouldn’t be up for it, I just couldn’t cope with all the politics and trying to keep all these people happy. I’d just implode, to be quite truthful about it; my patience would be stretched, to be quite truthful about it, but, at least, I know that. Are you okay to stay on for another 10 minutes for our bonus?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Or do you, that’d be great. We’re going to end the podcast part of the show, because we like to keep it around 30, 35 minutes.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Okay.
Jonathan Denwood: So, how can people find out more about what you’re up to and what you’re thinking at the present moment? Have you got a blog or a, particular, URL you can send people, they can find out more about your thoughts?
Josepha Haden Chomphosy: Yeah. So, you can read everything I’ve ever written about leadership on Josepha.blog/, no, yeah, it’s in the leadership section, but josepha.blog is where you can read everything I’ve ever written about leadership. You also can read a bunch that I’ve written, specifically about the open-source structure inside WordPress and how it applies to WordPress on make.wordpress.org/updates, everything in there is just an exploration of what I’ve seen and what I believe.
And then, make.wordpress.org/project, a newer site, and it exists so that when I talk about leadership or structural things that are specific to maintaining the project as a whole, it’s in specific project spaces. And so, that’s where people can see everything I’ve ever thought about open-source. Don’t be scared, everyone, it’s okay.
Jonathan Denwood: We’ll be over then, after the interview. Andrew, can we peer into your mind and into a similar scale?
Andrew Palmer: I’ll tell you what, how to feel inadequate; you can go to thisisandrewpalmer.com and find out all about me on a plugin developer and investor in plugins as well. And you can find me at arniepalmer on Twitter. That’s it.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. Josepha, you’ve been brilliant; thanks for putting up with my nonsense. But you can watch the bonus content and the whole interview by going over to the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. Josepha has agreed to stay on for a little while; I know she’s a busy lass. We’ll be back next week with another great interview. We’ll see you soon, tribe. Bye.
Outro: Hey, thanks for listening; we really do appreciate it. Why not visit the mastermind Facebook group and also keep up with the latest news? Click wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
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