AN INSIGHT INTO THE CREATION OF A COMMUNITY-DRIVEN SOFTWARE PROJECT

By Peter Russell

More than ten years ago a handful of people banded together to kick off the Joomla open source software project.

Like moths to a flame more and more users gathered around a forum website to express their ideas about forking from Mambo to Joomla.

Definitely controversial at the time but necessary for some reasons. The project was in danger of losing its way.

During that time we attracted developers, administrators and a range of professionals - some from the UK, Europe, USA and Australia. People picked up responsibilities and did their best to keep the project alive.

While the core team was working through all of the issues involved both legally and rebranding, a virtual BBQ campfire was established on the forum. Rather than people complaining or panicking, the posts were mostly about hanging out.

There were jokes and yarns and all sorts of fun. It kept people "altogether, as a whole" which became the mantra for the project in transition.

Core team names like Andrew Eddie (Australia), Johan Janssens (Belgium), Emir Sakic (then Sweden), Louis Landry (USA), Brian Teeman (UK), Peter Russell (UK), Mitch Pirtle (USA), Alec Kempkens (Germany), Arno Zijlstra (Holland), Jean Marie Simonet (France), Brad Baker (Australia), Shayne Bartlett (Australia), Troozers (UK), Andy Millar (USA), Marco Smuck (Germany), Trinjie Wanders (Holland) and others (including me) were driving the movement hard. Our evenings were not our own. Every night there was mailing list discussions to attend and decisions to be made.

What this group, with the support of a healthy community, was doing included fighting a legal battle behind the scenes. Fortunately, the US-based Software Freedom Law Center came to the party pro bono, initially.

Rochen, a UK-based hosting firm came to the rescue to support the project, and to this day it is still a major sponsor.

There was a real danger that disputes could arise over Mambo code due to an attempt to claw it back and "sell" its community list to a search engine company. Imagine Mambo with a proprietary search engine in it by default, and you get the picture.

International phone calls, Skypes and eventually self-funded trips to Australia were taken to negotiate our project out of a legal minefield. The uncertainty upset a lot of people. They knew we were working on a fork but were worried the project would be damaged beyond usefulness.

Initially, branding was paramount, and a successful naming process with the help of a brand essence method returned the Swahili word Jumla, literally meaning "altogether" (as a whole). The logo of joined hands from all colours followed, and the rest is history.

The core team, with the help of a board, navigated through the troubled waters and eventually version one of Joomla appeared. Now well on the way to version 3.7 Joomla is used by corporations through to home users in the millions. It powers a big chunk of the Internet.

Key players like the European United Nations office were keen supporters. Phillipe Chabot did much to promote Joomla within the NGO circles and we love him for that.

Brian Teeman organised the very first Joomla event in Leeds, UK. It was awesome to meet people from all parts of the world who had very similar needs and goals. This is the engine of the real power of the project. Over time the Joomla events have continued and gone global.

It won awards at trade shows, online awards for popularity and grew organically due to the plug-and-play ability to change templates and insert components.

Joomla had established itself as a major player very quickly, and this was largely due to those who first sat around the virtual BBQ and spread the news.

For a long time, there were those of us who fought the suggestion that the CMS was not a product; it was a project. This, we found, was difficult because in America, in particular, the mindset at the time was largely commercially focussed and how to use it to make a buck.

The core team finally got together in one place, again thanks to Brian, in the Windsor area to discuss progress and solidify intent. It was loads of fun and full of controversy as people got to trust each other. There were quite a few alphas in that group, and they all wanted the driver's seat.

As a distraction, I ran a personality profiling workshop to give everyone the opportunity to understand the broad differences of the group.

But things worked out and a drunken night around a real campfire, making up songs about the "war" between Mambo and Joomla was penned. "We took the high road, and Mambo took the low road ..." Something along those lines.

This is a very rough brain dump, and I apologise if I've left things out; left people out but it was more than ten years ago now. But, for me, it was a life-changing event and, I'm sure, it has been for many thousands more.

To this day, Joomla stands as one of the few successful fork/rebrands of open source software and is hailed as a model for many that followed. It would not have happened without the core team who gave up thousands of hours. And the volunteers (special mention to Jennifer Marriott and Wendy Robinson) in the background who also created a working online environment for users to thrive.

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