The day I asked Matt Mullenweg (WP founder) for 100.000 USD

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Few days before WordCamp Europe 2015 I wrote to Matt asking for 100.000 USD and telling him I’d be in Seville, venue of the WordCamp 2015, hoping to discuss my request in person there.

This was completely out of the blue (but hopefully not the reason why he showed up in Seville with a new greyish hair look). Matt and I had never met in the past nor had common friends that could introduce me to him but he is known to be approachable so I thought it was worth a try. And indeed, after his Q&A session, I was able to have a chat with him.

Did I get the money? Answer at the end but first things first, let me explain you what I wanted the money for.

My original email request

Dear Matt,

I’m Jordi Cabot, a Research Professor in Barcelona with a research focus on software engineering and, in the last couple of years, a special interest in software analytics. I´ll be at WCEU giving the talk Looking at WordPress through the eyes of a Software Researcher (current version of the slides)

What is my goal?
I want to use software analytics’ tools and techniques developed by myself or other researchers to improve WordPress. By “improve” I mean both, the code itself and the the way the WP community collaborates to develop that code. 

What I want from you?
You may be wondering why I can´t do that on my own given that WP is open source. Good question indeed. I have to answers:

  • I need access. To the people (e.g. for interviews) and “admin” access to some of the tools (e.g. Trac) to be able to get all the data I need for the analysis. This is not just about the code. 
  • I need money. As you may know, we, researchers, are always begging for money to fund our investigations. Similar to the Google awardsIBM awards or Microsoft fellowships programs, I´d like Automattic/WordPress Foundation to fund this research by covering the costs of hiring one graduate student to work full time on this project for one year. That’s around 100.000 USD.  

What do you get?
You get to make WordPress better or, at the very least, understand it better so that you can make more informed decisions in the future. You also get to see what is like to partner with a university team to do joint research on WordPress. I can´t promise you’ll like it but , if never done before, can be a useful experience in order to consider putting in place a “faculty program” later on. 

What do I get?
I´ve had been a researcher for a long time (12 years now). At first my focus was on publishing as much as possible (publish or perish) but now I´m more interested in making sure that my work (and that of my colleagues) has some value. Applying our work on WordPress goes in this line. So, I won’t get any money out of this, but I hope to learn a lot, contribute to the OSS community, have some fun and yes, still manage to publish something out of this experience.

Why WordPress as a target of the study?
Beyond obvious reasons (e.g. impact of WP), I’ve been involved in WordPress related businesses/services like Nelio A/B testing and Migrate to WP (see also this old interview at WPEngine ). While this proposal does NOT have anything to do with my business interests in WP, it does mean that I know well the WordPress community. This is extremely important to interpret the data we get when analyzing WordPress. 

What´s next?
Hopefully, I´ve managed to pique your interest. At least enough to make you want to know more. If so, I could expand on the research proposal itself plus answer all questions you may have by email or schedule a meeting with you (or somebody else if you prefer to delegate this matter). If the latter, I´d love to meet you in person in Seville. Needless to say, this is not a closed proposal so I´m fully open to shape it together to make sure we’re all happy with it.

Regards,

Jordi Cabot

(For a better context, you can check below the slides of the talk I mention in the email, the video of the talk is also available)

Matt’s answer

So, did I get the research funding I was looking for? The short answer is “No way”. But it was more of a “keep working, try again” than a “don’t even bother to contact me again”. Sure, it could be just him being polite (after living two years in Canada, I know all about politeness) but I do believe he gave me some valid ideas/pointers to follow:

  • Be more concrete on the actual benefits for WordPress itself
  • Involve other core members of the WordPress community and ask them to contribute and validate/endorse the proposal
  • Contact companies making a living out of WordPress (like WP hosting companies) and ask them to fund the initiative as part of their Five for the Future contribution. This would count as part of that 5% since it would tackle core aspects of the WP platform.

Where are we now?

I’ve been the last couple months extremely busy moving my family from France to our new home in Barcelona (with everything this implies, new schools, new day care, visits to IKEA,…) and getting my new research group up to speed. I’ve also stopped having any business interest in WP which clears out as well any potential conflicts of interest, I’m now free to wear only a researcher hat when interacting with the WP community.

So, the plan is now to write a more detailed proposal covering both 1 – why I believe WordPress needs to have a closer relationship with researchers/faculty members in Software Engineering and related topics and 2 – How my own team could contribute .

How can you help?

In case it wasn’t clear enough yet, let me repeat once again that I’m hoping to make this “WordPress Research initiative” a collective effort. If you’re a researcher let us know how you think your techniques/tools could help to improve any aspect of WordPress (as I already asked for when preparing my talk). If you’re a WordPress contributor let me know if you’d be interested to chat about what you’d like us (the researchers) to tackle. If you’re a company, let us know if you’d be willing to (partially) sponsor this initiative.

And even if you’re “just” a regular WordPress user do not hesitate to share your thoughts. Any input/help is more than welcome!

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  1. David
    • Jordi Cabot
  2. mgarfath

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