Morten vs Mullenweg

WordPress Governance

As I spoke about briefly here, at the end of the “State of the Word” speech at WCUS in December, Morten Rand-Hendriksen questioned Matt Mullenweg about who the “We” were that decided to release WP 5.0 and with it, Gutenberg.

If you watched that part of the video carefully, you will see that Morten talked about the future governance of WP. Well he and Rachel Cherry have made their move, and it has not gone down well.

Morten has strong views on the power and freedom of the internet and how organizations such as WordPress can influence how it works for millions of people. He says that because WP represents over 30% of websites, changes they make to how it functions creates a ripple effect across the internet as a whole.

One example was when WP first introduced responsive images. At the time, no one had thought much about it and didn’t see the need for them. Of course we now realize how important they are, with so many users viewing content on mobile devices. You can see his presentation about this here.

So Morten chose WCUS to publicly confront Mullenweg about the seemingly unnecessary decision to release Gutenberg on the 6th of December. It is the time when everybody is busy preparing for the holiday season and wouldn’t have the time to work on customer’s websites. In particular, he asked him who the “We” were that made that decision.

This led on to Morten saying there should be some sort of governance set up to control WordPress, so the drama over Gutenberg never happened again. Most people either missed the significance of what Morten was trying to achieve, or forgot about it. So it was no surprise to me, when he and Rachel formally made their move.

You can read about what happened at WP Tavern, but I’ll summarize it in this post.

Morten called it “The WordPress Governance Project” and started discussing it on and the #community-team Slack channel. This didn’t go down well with WordPress Community Team representative Francesca Marano, who said it gives, “the impression the project is sanctioned as an official WordPress project, it has not received such sanctions from WordPress leadership.”

When confronted about his reputation as a “Benevolent, dictatorial leader”, Mullenweg replied by saying,  “I’m not saying it always has to be me, but what I want is a strong, opinionated, thoughtful leader setting a bold direction, taking experiments and being willing to fail, comfortable with failure, is I think what you need to create great software.”

Apparently Mullenweg doesn’t see Gutenberg as a failure, or if he does, is not going to admit it. He is just going to be “comfortable” with it being one. This sort of impasse is exactly why Morten wants to set up the Governance Project. But it is plain that the “WordPress Leadership”, whoever that actually is, is not going to officially recognize it.

Consequently, a new website has been set up and their own Slack channel. Their first meeting has been scheduled for the 15th of January.

As I have said before, I think the whole issue of redesigning WordPress to work using blocks for both editing content and theme elements by default, is going to be a turning point for users. It has gone way past the option to be just a plugin. For some people, this may not be a problem. But for others, especially businesses, it may mean they cannot work with WordPress.

Whoever the “We” are, have set in motion something that is going to split the user base. There has never been a stronger need for forks of WordPress than there is now. The pressure will be on those forks to provide a product that is capable of attracting and keeping those users who cannot work with a block system.

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