Recently, I nudged governments to get more involved in fixing accessibility issues in Open Source projects. Getting governments to do anything can feel like a monumental challenge. Maybe we need to build better alliances and then collectively lobby the governments to change how they approach Open Source.
Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, recently published a blog post titled, "Balancing Makers and Takers to sustain and scale Open Source," and while reading it I wondered, “Are we approaching the problem of sustainability too much as developers? Should we step back and look at the challenge of sustainability from a business and political perspective?”
Is changing an Open Source project's license going to change how other organizations contribute to Open Source? Changing the licensing is a different approach. The recent "Open-source licensing war" felt like a few individual companies are trying to make a significant shift in Open Source, however lacking a unified front. If Open Source companies are going to take on Amazon, they are going to have to do it together by building alliances.
The definition of alliance sounds very much like what happens in Open Source communities.
An alliance is a relationship among people, groups, or states that have joined together for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out among them.
Political alliances (a.k.a. parties) are what powers most governments. The scale of some open source projects has required better governance. In Dries' blog post, he spends time exploring how organizations use Open Source (a.k.a. Takers) without helping to build the software or community (a.k.a. Makers). His post ends with three valuable suggestions that are focused on appealing to organizations and rethinking how the Open Source software is shared. Maybe we need to rethink how Open Source communities and organizations work together.
Are there other opportunities to work together?
Deciding and maintaining a local development environment is a challenge for every developer. In the Drupal community, each hosting company is developing its own Docker-based local develop environment. Wouldn't everyone benefit from one collaborative Drupal-specific local develop environment? Competitors can work together for the common good, primarily when everyone benefits from the collaboration.
The Drupal community does work well together - we know this. A few years ago, Drupal got off its island and started leveraging other Open Source projects including Symfony. There is even an implementation for WordPress' Gutenberg page builder available for Drupal.
Besides sharing code across Open Source communities, we need to start collaborating to improve sustainability.
Open Source is about collaboration. The problem of Open Source sustainability is going to be best solved by improving and rethinking how we collaborate.
We need to collaborate to get the organizations that rely on Open Source to contribute more.
Onboarding new contributors to Open Source is a critical process of building sustainable Open Source communities. Aside from emphasizing the importance of onboarding individual contributors, we need to also look at how we onboard new organizations and encourage their collective effort to help sustain the software they need.
Drupal's Getting Involved Guide targets individual contributors. For example, nowhere on the Events page does it say, "Organizations can get involved by sponsoring an event." If the Drupal community wants bigger contributions and a more sustainable ecosystem, we need to target organizations. If one fortune 500 company decides that content moderation and workflows are essential for the future of their organization's business and contributes this code back to the Drupal community; this makes a huge difference.
For the past twenty years, Open Source advocates had to be evangelists preaching the value of Open Source. Open Source is here to stay, and most evangelists are now preaching to the choir. Even this type of blog post is preaching to the choir of people who care about Open Source and sustainability. I am not ready to state that Open Source needs to go on a crusade to solve the challenge of sustainability. Dries' blog post explores how Open Source has become a public and common good with different types of governance for Open Source. Maybe we need to embrace the inevitability that governments gradually have to get involved in some aspects of Open Source.
The scale at which Open Source software is impacting our society leads to governments needing to get more involved in coordinating and supporting. As I stated in my blog post governments should take responsibility for the accessibility for the Open Source projects that their constituents rely on. Similarly, the usage and success of self-driving automobiles is not going to take-off until a centralized shared open network of information and software is created to coordinate millions of self-driving cars, trucks, boats, and planes. The misconception in my blog post's statement that "governments should do this or that" misses the reality that governments need to be pushed and lobbied to take action and make changes.
Lobbying, persuasion, or interest representation is the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of officials, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies
Security and accessibility in Open Source are two big digital concerns for governments that they should help support and address. Governments want to build secure and accessible digital experiences; they need guidance on how to properly do it. For example, the U.S. government's Healthcare.gov website faced numerous issues during its launch and it needed a lot of help getting it right. The same administration also passed a policy demanding 20 percent of federal code be open source. Maybe the next administration should pass a policy or create a department to address accessibility and security in Open Source software. Most governments understand the value of Open Source, and they need help becoming better members of the Open Communities.
Who should persuade and help the government to contribute more to Open Source?
I chose not to title this post, "Drupal, WordPress, and GitHub should lobby the government" because it’s not realistic to expect an Open Source community to lobby governments. Open Source communities are still working through the challenges of self-governess. I chose to call-out three companies, Acquia, Automattic, and Microsoft, because they are all major contributors and drivers to Open Source projects in different ways. Acquia supports Drupal, a Content Management System (CMS) used to build enterprise digital experiences. Automattic supports Wordpress; the most popular CMS and blogging platform used by 33.5% of all the websites. Finally, Microsoft is the largest contributor to GitHub and now they own GitHub. It is also important to note that Microsoft knows how to lobby the government. Microsoft could pave the way in convincing the government of the importance of contribution.
All three companies are paying teams of developers to help contribute, build, and maintain Open Source projects. I see in the Drupal community an assumption that Acquia is or should be doing most of the heavy work within the Drupal community. An Open Source project is not going to be sustainable, assuming one company can keep hiring full-time developers. At the same time, of course, these companies need to continue to invest in their respective Open Source software and community.
As I have written about Open Source sustainability, I keep returning to the proverb.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Companies like Acquia, Automattic, and Microsoft, which are valuing and contributing to Open Source should step-back and teach (or nudge) other organizations to start contributing to or to contribute more back to Open Source. Secondarily, businesses and Open Source leaders need to collaborate to make all off Open Source more sustainable.
Open Source began with evangelists converting developers building proprietary software to share and collaborate their ideas and passion.
Open Source evangelists may need to become lobbyist who persuades the 'Takers' of Open Source to contribute something back help sustainable Open source software.
Generally, I don't directly want to ask someone to take action in the Open Source community. However, I am invested in its continued growth and I know from experience we have amazing resources within our existing (and growing) community. Frankly, everyone in Open Source, including the leadership, has contributed more than their fair share. I am nudging the leaders of Open Source projects to look at the challenges they are facing in their community, to approach the problem differently, and take a different action. Maybe working together to lobby governments to fix accessibility issues in Open Source would be an excellent place to start to improve Open Source sustainability.
When I watch the below video, it is clear that the project leads for Drupal and WordPress are passionate and committed to Open Source. They share a common ground and would be able to work together - I am confident of this.
Microsoft may seem like the odd-man out. Years ago, Microsoft even lobbied against Open Source. Microsoft decided to change their approach and invest in Open Source. Now, Open Source communities and their leaders need to change their approach and collaborate to make Open Source sustainable.
Everyone understands why organizations should contribute to Open Source. The question is how can we persuade (a.k.a. lobby) organizations to contribute. Together, I know we’ll find the answers.