Joomla’s Biggest Threat

This post is an opinion. It has no technical information whatsoever. Just a heads up in case you wanted to read this post because you thought it was about securing a Joomla website.

We love Joomla. We make a living out of it, it puts bread on our table, it feeds our precious babies, and if we see something wrong with it, we feel that we should mention it so that corrective action can be taken.

Recently, we are noticing an ever-growing – and dangerous – issue with Joomla: the divergence between Joomla’s core developers and the Joomla community. We have started noticing this issue back in March, during the LGPL discussion of the Joomla framework. Joomla developers insisted on changing the license of Joomla from GPL to LGPL, but the majority of the Joomla users were against it. At the end of the day, the decision was to move to LGPL, leaving a sour taste for both the developers (who thought they had the right to do that change anyway without consent from the community) and the users (who thought that their voices didn’t count).

It has been downhill ever since, with some prominent Joomla core developers publicly accusing users of “holding Joomla back” on various social platforms (mainly Twitter). These developers also claim that the Joomla community doesn’t have any rights to make any decision concerning the future of Joomla, simply because the community is not involved in the development.

We think this is wrong. One of WordPress’ strengths is that they listen to the community and they act upon requests from the community, and we’re not talking only about bug fixes, we’re talking about features. Most of WordPress features actually stem from the community. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Joomla where most of the new features are initiated (and later implemented) by the developers. In fact, some features which were used and loved by Joomla administrators in Joomla 1.5 were removed from subsequent versions of Joomla (including, but not limited to: XML sitemaps, PDF generation, and a few useful modules).

What’s surprising is that Joomla’s core developers are becoming more and more oblivious to the role of Joomla’s community in determining the future of Joomla. Even if Joomla is the best CMS in the world (and it might be), if no one is using it, then it has no value. In fact, we are tempted to say that (some) core Joomla developers have a certain disdain for the users, after all, users are not entitled for anything because Joomla is free.

Joomla is free, but that doesn’t mean that the core developers are not making money out of it. In fact, all of them have some serious consulting businesses built around Joomla, and the more users are using Joomla, the more money there is in supporting Joomla and developing for Joomla. How come core Joomla developers are not grasping this simple and very obvious business concept?

If the situation remains like this, then we suspect that a backlash by the frustrated Joomla community will be imminent, and that backlash can take only one form: massive exodus to another CMS, possible WordPress. We don’t think this’ll be in anyone’s interests, especially for the Joomla core developers.

But that’s not Joomla’s biggest threat…

Joomla’s biggest threat, in our opinion, is the lack of leadership, which results (in addition to the above) in the following:

  • Constant bickering between Joomla core developers: Checking github and Google groups discussions will give you a clear idea on how the Joomla core developers are split into several warring factions, leading to serious losses in productivity and botched releases. Additionally, this constant bickering has a very negative impact on the perception of Joomla as a reliable CMS. If those working on the project can’t seem to agree over anything, then how can people trust Joomla?
  • Rushed updates that lack the necessary quality control: The latest Joomla releases (for both 2.5 and 3) are a proof of the minimal testing done before releasing updates for a very important CMS.

  • Inflated ego amongst developers: This issue is growing and is intimidating new developers from joining the development team. We don’t like to say this, but some Joomla core developers are just plain rude (believe it or not some brag about being rude), even to those who really want to help making Joomla better.

  • Multiple visions/no clear vision for the future: What should Joomla be? Should Joomla remain as an easy to use CMS that anyone can use, or should it be something else, something more (or something less)? The lack of one clear vision is also obvious in github and Google groups discussions. Yes, there is a roadmap, it just seems though that not everyone is on board.

  • Lengthy decision making process for simple issues: This affects many areas in the Joomla ecosystem, including, but not limited to: adding new features, fixing bugs, approving extensions, etc…

  • Lack of transparency: How are extensions approved/rejected (we don’t like to say this, but we seriously question the extension approval process)? Who approves them? Who approves/rejects those articles posted on the Joomla magazine? What are the standards for having an article posted on the magazine (sometimes it seems that the standards are really low, and sometimes it seems that they are quite high)? etc…

  • Ambiguous hierarchy: Who reports to whom? It seems to us (and we might be wrong) that all the developers are at the same level, which means that developers are only answerable to themselves, which is not a good thing.

So, is the future that gloomy for Joomla? Is there no hope?

There is hope, there is always hope! But some drastic changes must be done within Joomla’s development community. The developers must put aside their differences and must all make some serious concessions and choose a leader (not a leadership team, but a leader): someone who has the experience and the vision to take Joomla to the next level, someone whose decisions are respected by everyone, someone whose authority is unrivaled and unquestioned. The first task that the leader should work on is creating a clear hierarchy and assigning key Joomla people to different roles. Those key Joomla people will then create their own sub-hierarchies to support their roles. Conflicts between different roles in the hierarchy should be resolved by the leader, conflicts within a single role should be resolved by the role leader.

But even if a leader is not chosen, there is still hope. There is still hope because there are people like us who believe in Joomla, who will work very hard, day and night, to see Joomla thrive. Joomla’s success is critical to our business, and that’s why we treat it as our product. As long as there are people like us, you can rest assured that Joomla is here to stay!

3 Responses to “Joomla’s Biggest Threat”
  1. Comment by John Coonen — July 30, 2014 @ 10:02 am

    Agreed that leadership is much needed. It’s NOT that we in the Joomla community don’t have leadership talent, WE DO! WE DO! BUT it’s that the current structure of the project does not allow leadership and its community to properly interact.

    The Joomla Project is like a toddler business still – stunted in growth – it never took the necessary step years ago to go beyond forming the OSM Board, charged strictly with legal defense of the Trademark.

    So now, It’s better LATE than never, to form a membership organization to:

    1) Legitimize a leadership hierarchy and decision-making process; and
    2) Engage the community of contributors in an organized manner.

  2. Comment by Fadi — July 30, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    Hi John,

    I think you hit really hit on the nail when you said that the current structure does not allow the leadership and it community to interact.

    We really need that leadership hierarchy you’re talking about. Joomla cannot survive on the long term without it. Nothing serious is getting done and a lot of productivity is lost because there is no focus and there is no consensus on anything.

    This post has generated some aggressive tweets on Twitter hinting that itoctopus is not grateful to the Joomla developers. This is not the case. This post doesn’t question the excellent work that the Joomla developers do, but this post questions the attitude that many Joomla core developers have towards each other, and, more importantly, towards the Joomla community. They seem to think that Joomla can survive without a strong community. There are hundreds of CMSs out there, some of them are even better than Joomla, but a few people use them. These CMSs die usually after a couple of years, when the main developers give up on them. Nobody, unless those with hidden agendas, want that to happen.

  3. Comment by Andrew Eddie — August 1, 2014 @ 4:53 am

    I don’t agree with everything you’ve said, but I share most of the sentiments. The LGPL debacle was due, in my opinion, to a misinformation spread because of a lack of information (learned that the hard way). But it’s a problem with the UI users having a greater say in low level development matters than the developers, and I think this is a fundamental problem for Joomla.

    One of the things that I’ve found so refreshing in the NodeJS community is that it’s developers driving development for developers. Mambo used to be like that – yes, there was always a sexy UI on top of the code but it was about making code that was easy for people to pick up and extend (and the eye-candy was a bonus). Joomla was like that for quite some time, but now not so much. It’s not attractive, or friendly, to senior developers that want to write code that oozes amazing.

    You’ll find the bickering anywhere, and to be fair it’s probably less offensive than the PHP internals list. But it’s still discouraging and has certainly made me lose interest in the community as a whole.

    Quality control and documentation is a huge problem. While the rules have tightened only recently (unit tests and documentation must be provided with contributions now ), it’s too little too late. I’m vexed as to how to solve the problem of so few contributing vs so many consuming without contributing to the core software that actually supports their livelihoods. Not a unique problem, but was is unique is that Joomla does not have a benevolent company that keeps things rolling in a sustainable way (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Symfony, et al) and make up for the shortfall. Joomla, I think, has gone well passed the peak of what it can achieve without commercially supported development. Of course, that’s controversial and people are prepared to stop such things are any cost.

    The rudeness has reached new heights of late. Yes, I’ve certainly regretted losing my cool but the number of people feigning personal offense, not to mention discrimination on truly unbelievable grounds is wearing. What absolutely floors me, however, is how your place of employment is a measure of how trustworthy you are and raises suspicion of your motives at every turn. That really is the darkest and most despicable side of the Joomla community.

    Vision is a problem, I think, not because I don’t think we have good leaders – we do – but those leaders do not have the time it takes to shepherd the flock, nor the empowerment from the community to actually cast a vision (let alone support for it to be carried out). Something has to give, either new people or you put on staff to, at the very least, herd the community and find out what’s really going on. Volunteers have neither the time, and generally neither the inclination, to keep that going year after year after year. One can be cheeky and ask what are “you” doing about it other than writing a blog about how bad things are :)

    Lengthy discussions are a fact of life. Easy to point out but what is missing from articles like this are practical solutions to make decision making shorter and fairer and keep everyone happy. Try driving in the front seat for a while and you’ll realize it’s not as easy as you think :)

    The reporting structure is average, but you’ll find that amongst many projects. Once again, pointing out a problem without offering a reasonable alternative is exactly the problem we face in this community, as do many others. You’ll find that if you dig into it changing the existing structure will have little effect on the day to day dramas you’ve pointed out.

    I think Joomla’s “hope” is mixed. The reality is, I think in my opinionated way, is that Joomla will continue to chug along for many years, but only in maintenance mode over which time the user base will dwindle and move to WordPress – point is it won’t grow or do anything particular memorable as was seen in the Mambo and early Joomla days. I do think something like a professional developer guild is needed to a) move some of the bickering off site, and b) apply pressure to both users and developers that are resisting necessary change for no good reason (thus helping the leaders cast their vision). Obviously that comes with its own warts but the status quo is not a pleasant place, so what is there to lose (or, what is to be done to lose the least).

    The most hopeless aspect of Joomla is that it is losing developer experience faster than it is being replaced. That’s going to affect brand trust and we already see many of the huge companies that circle Joomla diversifying to support WordPress and Drupal among others (templates, training, etc). Sure no single person is or should be an island, but there’s a point at which you’ve got to admit something is terribly wrong when you look at who has left and on what terms. As of today, there is only one co-founder of Joomla left that could be said to be taking an active roll in the community.

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