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The Joomla! community

Published on Monday, 30 July 2007
Community matters. People who use the products of Absalom Media to increase the value of their online presence are respected. That does beg the question, however. What is the Joomla! community ?
What is the Joomla! community ?

The Joomla community are the end users of Joomla!. The moderators and Core/Devs, are, by and large, not the main user base or clientele of third party work. The Official forums - running on SMF - aren't even bridged. One of the Joomla! project managers only got himself a Joomla! based website in the last six months, and that was only because he ended up being part of a larger consultancy.

Rob Schley, project manager of Joomla attempted to explain the Core's understanding of the Joomla! community, as part of his statements from the official Joomla! blog:

Within the context of Free and Open Source Software projects, a community is another way of describing the collective body of individuals that contribute to a project in a positive way. Membership within the community is conditional and is earned through contribution and commitment. The Joomla! community is an amazing group of dedicated, knowledgeable, and highly skilled individuals that give their time and expertise to the project freely, without strings, and without the expectation of reward or reimbursement. Joomla! is a great project because of the contributions that these people make and it would not be the same without these people. They have each earned their place, their voice, and the respect of their peers within the community through their contributions and dedication.

As an end user of the Joomla! project codebase, membership is not conditional, nor should it be. You either use the software or you don't. As soon as you use the software, that means you become part of the wider Joomla! community.  Using the software makes you a community member, regardless of whether or not you agree with the direction taken by the Core Team, OSM or Community Oversight Committee.

Limiting the understanding of the community to "those who like us" or "act the way we want them to" or "follow our marketing without question", whilst being positive experiences of validation for those on the Core Team, will not suffice. Such experiences lose efficacy and consistency of a commonwealth (i.e. for the common good of all), leading to situations where the Core Team might see themselves as some form of 'rock stars' of the CMS world. This might end up with the Core treating anyone around them as lesser / groupies / dead weight / hangers on, harming the project and the internal dynamic of the Core Team. This sort of groupthink mentality is unfortunately reflected in Rob's post.

Recognising that software needs to be designed to interact with the human psyche on a functional level, to limit the community to what Rob Schley defines also stops innovative design changes within the software product. All factors of HCI, user experience testing, usability, web accessibility and the like are removed from the perspective of the developers because the community vision of the Core Team does not include the end users. As the Core Team may be developing 'blind' in terms of CHI/UX/UI principles, the software they will end up creating will meet their needs alone, and not the needs of the end users.

As Rob's statements are a reflection of the current perception of how the Core see themselves, it would not be so far off the mark to consider the 'rock star' perception is currently in effect.

How are extensions created for Joomla! ?

Extensions are legally considered to be artistic works. Artistic works1 are designed and developed by third parties, most being commercially recognised, legally accountable businesses. These artistic works fall under many varied licencing arrangements ranging from free open source to commercial, encrypted, single site licences. Most releases on JED, however, are GPL-compatible.

Why are extensions created?

Extensions are created to meet the needs of the end users when the core GPL extensions within the Joomla! package falls short, remains incomplete or cannot meet the needs of the end user.

To quote from one of the current Joomla! Foundation Working Group / Legal team members:
However, the thing that really takes me aback is the comments by Lobos, and a few others, that Joomla! is a poor quality program. If it is so bad why use it? In addition I have read comments from folks talking about how proprietary software is good quality, and GPL software is poor quality. Again I ask, if it is such poor quality, why are you using it? So the thing that disheartens me with Lobos' statements, are the combination of all of these factors.

GPL software, by itself, cannot meet the demands that the end users require. Businesses require customisation and branding. Personal sites need to reflect personality and social networks. NFPs need a simple way of managing online donations and 'stock'. Merely because the quality of GPL-based extensions and support isn't up to scratch (i.e. poor quality) doesn't stop 3PDs developing/designing new artistic works to meet the needs of the end users.

This is why comments from the Joomla! moderation staff such as this:
If you don't care about Joomla! then you don't care about the Joomla! community. Your previous statement that you and most developers only care about the userbase is a perfectly reasonable statement.  It is honest. The userbase is what you care about it. There is no community involved and that is fine.

fall far short of the truth.

Business is about supply and demand, even within the open source bazaar. The userbase is the community, because it is the community who are utilising these extensions in their own sites, or within their client sites. The end users define the artistic works created by the 3PDs, which in turn flow into the needs of the core product.

Where is the community in commercially licenced business?

The bazaar is where the community is located for any commercially licenced business. The bazaar expects third party work to meet the demands of the end users with supply of goods. Currently within Joomla!, around 99% of the supply of goods is carried out by the third party developers. The 1% is the Joomla! package itself.

To quote from one of the key documents within the Open Source movement:

The bazaar method, by harnessing the full power of the ``egoless programming'' effect, strongly mitigates the effect of Brooks's Law. The principle behind Brooks's Law is not repealed, but given a large developer population and cheap communications its effects can be swamped by competing nonlinearities that are not otherwise visible. This resembles the relationship between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics—the older system is still valid at low energies, but if you push mass and velocity high enough you get surprises like nuclear explosions or Linux.

Joomla! has experienced this explosion, but it has not even come close to 'egoless programming' from those inside the Core. This explains why certain developers feel offended by the prescence of non-GPL work. This also explains why a Joomla! project manager feels the need to publically blog that the end users of Joomla! are not part of the Joomla! community. End users do give harsh criticism of a product when the product fails to meet their needs and if the Core Team is unable to deal with that criticism in a professional manner, they might need to restructure themselves in order to get better management.

If they were truly open source advocates, as per the title of the organisation that pays them monies to attend conferences (Open Source Matters), they would recognise that their personal opinions of third party work, aired in various official and non-official channels, are actually a blight to the principles of open source development in general.

It is for this reason that the community, being the third party developer userbase, is primary to function for the success of Joomla! as a whole.

What is the success of Joomla attributed to?

There are two key factors contributing to the success of Joomla as a framework2:
  • The open source CMS 'explosion' as reflected of in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, quoted above[/li]
  • "The most important strength of the project is the volume of third-party extensions – both commercial and open source. On the flip side, due to its absence of workflow and inability to define custom content types, Joomla! remains weak for traditional enterprise scenarios." CMS Watch, CMS Report (p. 524)

Without the extension architecture and the freedom to create extensions under any potential licence, Joomla! would not have this review by CMS Watch.

How was this success measured ?

This measurement was seen in the initial fork from Mambo to Joomla as it meant the commercial businesses built up to support Mambo also moved to Joomla! as part of the fork, [b]taking their users with them.[/b] This provided a solid foundation for a community to be built, for without the users of third party extension work, the fork would have not survived as the community and third party developers would have been frozen out / experienced a greater loss of control.

The core members of Joomla! forked another CMS who had a very strong giving community and strong commercial proprietary 3pd's. These were very loyal  to the core members they trusted and because of that, they were able to take these with them.

What must be done to restore trust in the community?

In leaving both the fork decision and the GPL "voluntary compliance" decision to drag out over many months, still without a clear legal position currently for the latter, this has meant the community has experienced stressors that are not their fault or responsibility.

The fact the Core Development Team's actions have meant the third parties and subsequent community/userbase have experienced two significant stress events (fork, "voluntary compliance") does highlight the [b]lack of freedom[/b] and amount of implicit control that handed over to the Core. This may explain why the Core suffers from ego driven programming in spades.

In order for sanity to be restored and trust to be restored to the community, the balance of power needs to be shifted away from the Core, diminishing any effect they may have regarding their ego/opinions.

Can the balance of power be shifted?

It currently cannot, as OSM is under the direction of the Community Oversight Committee (COC). The Committe does not provide open elections, reporting or accountability to the wider community. Neither OSM or the COC provide the correct legal requirements for privacy of individuals and businesses dealing with them.

Without a revolution by the wider community against the behaviour of COC/OSM in regards to these two stress events, Joomla!, as a project, will not be accountable to the community, nor will it be driven by the community.

How do you know this position reflects the community ?

The original petition regarding this issue has over 700 signatures. Taking this into account with normative behaviour across the Internet, this petition represents the 1% in Neilsen's 90/9/1 rule of participation inequality. The people who put their name and comments to the petition are the active contributors, primarily being developers or associated with the third party development community. As they remain the active contributors, the other 99% are being spoken for in absentia by these active contributors. Having over 700 signatures and comments reflects a community voice of 70,000 people in step with this. This means over 50% of the wider community / end users (70k out of a potential 120k of users) may be opposed to the changes done by the Joomla! project management.

However, the Joomla! project management seems to see things a little differently:

Firstly, "everyone" is not complaining at all.  In fact, lets look at some numbers. Joomla! has been downloaded over 1 million times from our forge since mid-march.  We have over 120,000 registered users on this forum alone.  The petition that was pushed out via several mail blasts and linked to on nearly every blog post surrounding the Joomla! license was signed by a little over 700 people.  Even if we were to assume that all of those are legitimate signatures, we would not arrive at "everyone".  Then lets look at responses on our forums.  There were an awful lot of people who came to our forums to post their concerns.  Most of them were asked to do so via mail blasts and blog posts presented the author's skewed view of the situation.  Still, if we were to look at real numbers of now many came and did that we would still be talking in the hundreds, not even thousands.  Next, lets look at the email received at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it which is where we directed people to send their thoughts on the matter.  Last check (it is not my job to read all of this email and process it) showed a majority of people supporting our decision and not wanting to post those thoughts to the forum for fear of "retribution" by those that were so angry.  Even still I don't believe the responses reached the thousands.  So, to suggest that "everyone" is complaining is either misinformed or disingenuous.

Having over 1200 responses criticising Joomla's positions on the Official forums over a 3 month time span also reflects the wider community / users losing their niche products which make their site unique. In business terms, the direction the Core Team has taken is to remove distinctive competence and competitive advantage from any business site using the Joomla! package and any non-GPL extensions.

What benefits are there for the end users in Joomla's current management?

It is also interesting to note that the Joomla! project management in the same post do not provide a benefit to the end user for Joomla or the new direction Joomla! has taken. This says something regarding customer service principles not being in effect, again suggesting the 'rock star' perception of the Core Team regarding themselves.

Customer service principles:

  • A satisfied customer may tell 3-5 people about their experience.
  • A dissatisfied customer may tell 8 - 10 people about their experience.
  • The average business never hears from 96% of its unhappy customers, similar to the 90/9/1 rule of participation inequality seen in Neilsen's research. This is reflected in the small numbers of petition signatures regarding Joomla's direction and management.
  • For every complaint received the average company in fact has 26 customers with similar complaints, 6 of which are serious problems.
  • Of the customers who register a complaint as many as 70% will do business again with your organisation if the complaint is resolved effectively.  That figure goes up to a staggering 95% if the customer feels that their complaint was resolved quickly.
  • It costs 6 times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer.
The real cost of poor or non-existent customer service:
  • 1 complaining customer & 26 other dissatisfied customers = 27 unhappy customers.
  • 27 complaining customers tell up to 20 others = 540
  • 540 people may have heard complaints about your company and it doesn't stop there!

1. The correct US legal term for any software development/design work in accordance with the US Copyright Act
2. The framework is the core web application, including the installer architecture without the included core developed extensions.
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