Last month, OSS Watch delivered a series of sessions on communication and participation with open source communities at the TYPO3 Developer Days event in Eindoven.
One of the sessions in our series looked at the theory of communities, the varieties of the communities we form and the motivations involved in each. The core message of the session is that a FOSS community should be a community of interest, with the interest being the problem solved by the community’s outputs. While many people in a FOSS community are developers, it’s wrong to view it as a community of practice, since other skills are required for a sustainable community.
What’s unusual about the TYPO3 community, is that while it is presented to the world as a single group, the brand actually encompasses 2 distinct groups. One group produces the TYPO3 CMS system, while the other produces the TYPO3 Flow framework and the TYPO3 Neos CMS.
The original development of Flow/Neos was funded by the TYPO3 Association as the “next generation” of the TYPO3 CMS. Indeed, it was originally called TYPO3 v5. However, after the initial development of v5, TYPO3 v4 usage and development continued. When it became clear that v4 wasn’t going away v5 became TYPO3 Neos, and the next version based on the v4 codebase became TYPO3 CMS v6.
The situation now stands that the TYPO3 brand is used by 2 distinct projects which have different development teams, different stated values and different cultures. While the TYPO3.org website makes the history of the project and the branding guidelines clear, I feel that the TYPO3 community as a whole still has an issue to address.
The Sakai community (now part of the Apereo foundation) experienced a similar situation not long ago. A sub-group of the Sakai 2 community decided it was time to produce a next-generation system, and called it Sakai 3. However, it soon became clear that many institutions funding Sakai didn’t agree with the goals of the Sakai 3 project, which created a rift in the community.
Several key partners withdrew their funding for Sakai 3 (which was rebranded Sakai Open Academic Environment, now called Apereo OAE) and continued to use and develop Sakai 2 (rebranded Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment, now just Sakai). The 2 projects now co-exist within the Apereo Foundation, a foundation created to foster software projects which support the goals of higher education. While the projects have survived, the community suffered.
When a community moves from being a single-project to a multi-project community, as both Sakai/Apereo and TYPO3 have, it’s important that the resulting community identify what key commonality make them a single group. A FOSS community should be a community of interest, and if projects are to share a community, they should have a shared interest.
Apereo has identified its shared interest in software that supports higher education, within which Sakai and Apereo OAE can now co-exist. With this identity, they’ve now taken on additional projects such as Matterhorn and uPortal, with an incubation programme foster new projects in the future.
If the TYPO3 community doesn’t identify the shared interest of TYPO3 CMS and Neos/Flow, they risk suffering further turbulences as Sakai’s community experienced several years ago.
Fortunately, the TYPO3 community are not blind to these issues. Members of the TYPO3 projects have formed a Community Working Group to look into the issues discussed here and steer the community towards a positive future.
It’s my hope that by learning from Apereo and similar multi-project communities, TYPO3 could become a successful umbrella organisation in its own right.
For more on the history of Sakai and the Apereo OAE, check out the “Sakai” tag in Michael Feldstien’s blog archives from 2010 onwards.