Last Wednesday, I attended a supersecret meeting in Leipzig that dealt with the forming of a brand new Magento Association. And here is a public blog about it. Supersecret? No, of course not. The Magento Association is there for all of us.
Fear of missing out, fear of being left out
After a meeting in Chicago, a few weeks back, there now also was a meeting with various community members in Leipzig - right after the end of MeetMagento Germany. The mentioning that various community members were invited did raise obviously some eyebrows. Why invite one and not the other? This conundrum comes right out of the nature of having a meeting behind closed doors. I'll respond to this in a bit.
Also, in advance, I talked to some people that were eager to hear about what the Magento Association was planning, what it was about and what the future plans are. This blog is meant to take away some of the fears.
What is the Magento Association?
First of all, what is the Magento Association? Surprisingly, this question is hard to answer. The purpose of the Magento Association is to formalize the open source community of Magento, solving various issues, improving communication in the network, etcetera. What this practically will mean is something that will need to be determined along the way? It is a process, not a fixed ready-made solution.
Presented by ... Magento Commerce
Earlier, Magento wrote a blog announcing the Magento Association, plus a so-called Commmunity Insider Program. I'll comment on this Community Insider Program further down below. But it is interesting that the idea of an association is presented by Magento Commerce, not Magento Inc. In other words, the company driving Magento (both Commerce aka Enterprise and Open Source aka Community) now labels itself as Commerce (only the commercial parts of Magento).
I'm not sure if this is a flag to show that on the long run, the company doesn't want to mingle with the community projects anymore. Is the Magento Association taking over all open source development in the future, while the Magento company only cares about cloud? I don't know.
Behind closed doors
The meeting was behind closed doors. It was a decision made early in the process. However, the whole focus on the Association is on the community. How can you speak for the community if you do not involve the community? It was a question I also had.
However, it made sense. Imagine a public meeting where you need to cover all kinds of aspects of a to-be-formed entity - philosophy, strategy, finances, marketing. And then imagine 100s of people attending such meeting. It is inefficient. Inviting some members but not all is a logical thing. It is a challenge though: How to guarantee that the Magento Association represents everyone, while not involving anyone? Hopefully, there will be more public polls to involve everyone.
During the meeting, Matt Asay was present - mainly taking notes and studying the interaction: He's new, so it makes sense that he stays low to get to know the community first. I had a cold and sat next to him. If you will not hear from Matt in the upcoming week, it might be because of me.
The meeting was tight but included a lot of abstract thinking. I think of it is as a day of brainstorming. Covering things like what the goals of the community are, thus what also the goals of the Magento Association should be. What kind of entities are there in the community?
The day seemed productive, as in a lot of brainstorms were held and a lot of things were written down. One of the key discussions was what the community actually is. What kind of roles are there? What kind of people is part of the community? And everybody agreed that in the community the merchant should remain at its centre.
Current problems in the community
There are issues as well in the current community. Localization is often a mess. There are too many events in the community worldwide (with a lot of competition between MeetMagento, MageTitans and other events) - an event saturation so to speak. And, while we say merchants are in the centre of the community, they are barely attending events and often feedback that it is hard for them to find information or use Magento properly.
The Magento Association is meant to address these problems.
Work in progress
The meeting felt productive. However, nothing was decided yet, nothing is fixed, there is still a long way to go before the Magento Association is finalized. Nothing was said about the financial and legal parts of the association. Most importantly, it all is work in progress.
But with everything that is not finished yet, you can already start complaining about it. Maybe it is too early for critical notes. Maybe it is good to receive early feedback. Anyway, because of talking to various critics as well, I felt I should add my own critical notes as well.
Critical note: Commmunity Insider Program
Magento introduced a Community Insider Program. I don't have a clue what it is yet, but it feels like a marketing gimmick. And it makes use of a buzzword community which might not be entirely correct. What is a community? How to become an insider? Is this determined by the financial benefits offered by a company? Or do you become an insider by contributing? Is the community actually a container-word to include everyone worldwide that is using Magento, with or without the involvement of the commercial entity of Magento Cloud?
My personal definition of Magento is that it is an open source product. This product is gracefully developed by a commercial company Magento Inc. However, it is also open source, meaning that developers can build on top it, improve things - this is the core of the community. In my opinion, merchants are vital for the community, but they are not the core. Developers are the engine, merchants are the fuel. However, if we talk about the vehicle, you can take away the fuel but not the engine.
Claiming that you own the community (even though it is not even your intention to suggest so) is dangerous. You don't need to be involved with any kind of program to actually become an insider of the community.
Critical note: Which events?
At the meeting in Leipzig, various MeetMagento organizers were invited, plus all Magento Masters. However, of all the masters present, only Miguel was not affiliated to any event (but he's a weird guy anyway). It really gave me a feeling that the Magento Association its primary concern was to run events.
However, a critical note would be to ask why not all other non-MeetMagento event-organizers were invited. I heard that the team of MageTitans UK was invited (but could not make it), however, there were other people to invite as well. I was missing the macaroni-talk of MageTitans Italy organizers (aka It4Mage) or organizers of MageUnconferences (like Firegento). Sonja as a master was representing Firegento partially (and I later heard that Carmen was invited as well), even though both could have been as masters as well. I had the feeling that some MageTitan event organizers were present, but that they were invited as masters, not as event organizers. Likewise, Guido represents MeetMagento and Dutchento and the Dutch unconference. But it simply felt to me as if other events were not represented enough.
When the Magento Association is going to focus upon community events worldwide, it would be a good idea to include specifically It4Mage and Firegento in discussions at an early stage as well. Otherwise, events are bound to be fragmented even more.
Critical note: Commercialization or voluntary work?
Following from the notes above, one of the main questions that keep returning in open source communities (not just Magento) is whether the focus should be on commercialization or the opposite. A lot of the work that volunteers put in Magento is made possible because those volunteers are commercially connected to Magento somehow - employees, freelancers, extension developers, solution providers.
However, not everyone is in it for the money. Once you start thinking along the line of business aspects of the community, you are bound to bump into issues with volunteers. As I see it, the only way to survive this is to approach a business with open source ideals - open up all meetings, speak about finances freely, involve as many as possible. But also realize that this is a human experiment. I've added this idea to my own business model as well and have failed to realize it so far. Keeping community and businesses apart is actually easier.
Critical note: Influencing the community?
I was planning to write this blog as a sum up of the meeting so that some people that are in need of an update are getting an update. However, I also talked to quite some critics. And before I started to write this blog, I read through the post of Rico Neitzel (and was moved by his mentioning "I don't fit in this event anymore"). I'm definitely not saying that Rico is the source of all this (he is just a German guy that messed up his jeans by acting responsibly) - what he wrote down is actually the experience of more people in the community. The community shows cracks (but nothing is perfect).
If the Magento Association tries to bring solutions to the community, a major question needs to be asked: Is such a solution aiding the community (#realmagento) or the Magento Association? Is the association influencing the community or is it only influenced by the community? Because, if the wrong ideas are pursued for the right reason or the right idea for the wrong reason, the cracks might become bigger. It is highly important for everybody involved in the Magento Association to realize that ideas like "business" or "commercial" might actually not aid the community but be against its nature. I'm not saying it is an impossible task, it is just really really hard to do it right.
Breathe, Neo, breathe
That being said, the Magento Association is not evil. It is involving already some great community members and its ideas are solid. There are issues in the community that need to be addressed. And they can't be addressed by a commercial Magento company, they can't be addressed by separate community projects either. There need to be coordinated attempts and this is where the Magento Association might be able to play a healthy important role.
So, don't hold your breath. Just keep breathing, because nothing has changed yet. And because everything is still open, we all have the chance to determine our future. Except for Miguel.
MageTitans, unconferences, Reacticon, MageTestFest
I sat there as an event-organizer and a master. One of my questions was whether I could continue organizing my own events (Reacticon, MageTestFest) when the Magento Association formally exists. I've not got any impression that it would be impossible. There was only just an early invitation that I (Yireo) would be welcome to the Magento Association if I wanted to.
The same counts for other events like MageTitans, unconferences and local meetups. We can do our thing, nobody is going to stop us. It is just that the Magento Association might be able to help out somewhere in the future.
You can't kill it anymore
Community is a vague difficult-to-understand concept, assuming you are not using it as a marketing term. It involves democracy, which is also hard. It involves focus: But the focus is already there - it is Magento. And Magento Open Source will remain open source. Hence, that part of the community can't change, even though some people were scared that the Magento Association would endanger it. You can't kill a community. You can only weaken or strengthen it.