This post spends a lot of time analyzing and referencing two other blog posts. Excuse me for that, but also be sure to read both, as they are relevant for this post and also interesting in their own right.
Matt Mullenweg wrote a blog post called Five for the Future yesterday that advocates his belief that WordPress-centric companies should aim to utilize 5% of their company resources toward contributing back to the project.
He noted in the post that Automattic isn’t quite to this point, but that they are working on it, and describes why he believes it’s important. He closes with this:
It’s a big commitment, but I can’t think of a better long-term investment in the health of WordPress overall. I think it will look incredibly modest in hindsight. This ratio is probably the bare minimum for a sustainable ecosystem, avoiding the tragedy of the commons. I think the 5% rule is one that all open source projects and companies should follow, at least if they want to be vibrant a decade from now.
This was followed up by one of the co-founders of one of the very hosting companies Matt partially referenced in his post — WP Engine’s Ben Metcalfe — who responded with a blog post of his own: WordPress: What exactly do they get for their 5%?
I think I was immediately thrown off by Ben’s post title, but so many times throughout reading it I was shocked at how he made assumptions of Matt’s intentions or missed what I would call “the point”.
5% is not a decree
Obviously, Matt is not speaking from the mountaintop with a proclamation of law. This is his recommendation — one that he believes will reward the firms that strive for it.
I believe that the community has already shown us that those that invest into WordPress are rewarded from it. We improve our understanding of a foundational software of our careers, improve our skills, are more marketable, more attractive to employers, and create natural opportunities for developing industry relationships.
How should 5% of “people” be defined? I’m pretty sure Matt would agree that 5% of people or 5% of revenue toward people doesn’t really matter to him; yet Ben makes a continuous sticking point about the cost of — and need for — engineers.
Additionally, while Matt utilizes full-time employees, the same (or better) effect could be had with shared time from more employees.
I’m not big into absolutes, so it’s important to remember that while I’m advocating that Matt’s recommendation of 5% time, I think it’s simply a good recommendation. This is a free economy and companies can do what they want. But I think in the current and long term, contribution will be key to greater corporate success for those that choose to do so.