Episode 4: Introduction to the economic pillar of sustainability

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Sustain WP
Episode 4: Introduction to the economic pillar of sustainability

Welcome to Sustain WP, a limited podcast series about digital sustainability and WordPress. I’m your host Nahuai Badiola and in this episode I will be talking about the economic pillar of sustainability with 6 amazing guests.

In the previous episode we introduced the social pillar of sustainability from different points of view and we will do something similar for the economic part. 

As it was highlighted on the the previous episode the social and economic pillars are tightly intertwined so we will touch some common ground and but also add some new ideas.

All the guests were already introduced on previous episodes so I’ll just mention their name. Remember that you can see more info about them below.

I start talking with Tim Frick who links the economic sustainability to having a fair living wages, sharing the benefits of digital products or having access to internet and how these things go hand by hand with the social aspect.

Hari Shanker also mentions how closely related are the economic and social pillars, highlights that we should keep in mind that there are limited resources and suggest to have an economic support that allows the things to keep going. 

After these more general views the nexts guests reflections are more focused the role of the economic part on Open Source projects. Juan Hernando mentions the importance of volunteer work and how the “work for free” it’s not always sustainable, specially when the contribution goes above a significant number of hours.

Adam Silverstein also talks about Open Source maintainers and how some of them are not properly funded.

In other hand, Nora Ferreirós reflects on how she has been lucky enough so the economic pillar it’s fairly new to her but she thinks it’s important to lower the entrance barrier for other people so they can have a voice in the conversation. 

In the last part of the episode we will hear from Richard Littauer who it’s  not part of WordPress community but he is in contact with other Open Source Software projects, so I think we can learn a lot from his experience.

I started asking about the main struggles for Open Source Software projects in his experience.

I continued asking him about how we can get more companies to give back to the WordPress project.

I ask if visibility it’s one of the benefits we could “sell” to companies.

Lastly I asked Richard for things we should take into account if we want to ensure an Open Source project longevity.

That was pretty interesting, wasn’t it?


Once again, the guests opinions were really interesting and covered several points so I’ll try to summarize the main points.

We started talking about the basics of economic sustainability like promoting fair living wages, sharing the benefits or having access to internet to everyone.

Then we focused more specifically on Open Source projects. A common point mentioned by the guests was the importance of supporting economically contributors and maintainers. Which if you remember it’s how the previous episode ended. That’s because the social and economic pillars really go together in this case.

Also, removing (or lowering) the socio-economic barriers could allow more people to join Open Source projects which can be highly beneficial both for the individuals and for the project.   As we mentioned on the previous episode, having a diverse group of people contributing it’s key for ensuring the longevity of WordPress project and any other Open Source project for that matter.

We also talked about how we could increase the involvement of companies. Some ideas went in a direction of changing a bit usual the narrative. Maybe we could change or complement the arguments of “giving back” or “having visibility” with others like “increase talent retainment” or “or increase the profit”. In this last case, the argument would be that the project could gain market share thanks to a well economically maintained contributors.

We will talk more about closing the gap between contributors and WordPress centred companies in the next episode.



Audio transcript


00:00:12 Nahuai Badiola 

Welcome to Sustain WP, a limited podcast series about digital sustainability and WordPress. I’m your host NahuaiBadiola and in this episode I will be talking about the economic pillar of sustainability with 6 amazing guests. 

00:00:27 Nahuai Badiola 

In the previous episode we introduced the social pillar of sustainability from different points of view and we will do something similar for the economic part.  

As it was highlighted on the the previous episode the social and economic pillars are tightly intertwined so we willtouch some common ground and but also add some new ideas. 

00:00:46 Nahuai Badiola 

All the guests were already introduced on previous episodes so I’ll just mention their name. Remember that you can see more info about them in the show. 

00:00:59 Nahuai Badiola 

I start talking with Tim Frick who links the economic sustainability to having a fair living wages, sharing the benefits ofdigital products or having access to internet and how these things go hand by hand with the social aspect. 

00:01:17 Tim Frick 

I think you know there’s you’re right on on the economic side that there’s a lot, there’s a lot of check boxes there tokind of go through. But you know really thinking about, you know, fair living wages, thinking about sharing the benefitsof digital products and services. 

00:01:33 Tim Frick 

Thinking about, you know, breaking down the digital divide between those who have access to broadband and whothose who don’t, those who have access to digital skills and those who don’t, you know, those are all economicquestions and and, you know, organizations, nonprofits, government agencies and companies make decisions. 

00:01:53 Tim Frick 

Around that all the time. And so it’s really important to start helping people understand that, like when they makechoices around whether they do or do not share the economic benefits of their work, for instance, or whether thepeople that they hire, if they’re not paying them a living wage. 

00:02:11 Tim Frick 

You know that those things also impact sustainability. They impact the Internet, the quality of the Internet, they impactthe Internet overall, but they also really impact people and and that touches directly on the social stuff we just talkedabout too. 

00:02:24 Nahuai Badiola 

Hari Shanker also mentions how closely related are the economic and social pillars, highlights that we should keep in mind that there are limited resources and suggest to have an economic support that allows the things to keep going. 

00:02:41 Hari Shanker 

Finance or economy is a big part of the world that we live in, and going by the same example we we only have limitedresources to live in. So to ensure that we use the resources that we have in a way that supports or in a way thatsustains the growth or in a way that keeps the world. 

00:03:01 Hari Shanker 

Doing I think that’s what economic sustainability means. I think economic sustainability is in a way very closely linkedto social sustainability, but what differentiates it is it is that it ensures that the finances, that it’s and it’s again not justabout finances, finances just one part. 

00:03:19 Hari Shanker 

Of it, but I think it’s all about how really we have an economic support that keeps everything going. So because we livein a world where money is essential, the finances are essential, or to use a different term resources, we need all theresources that we could get to keep things going. So for me. 

00:03:39 Hari Shanker 

Economic sustainability is. 

00:03:41 Hari Shanker 

A situation where everybody who works on whatever they they do, I mean in our case, in this case I I work for theWordPress project. So for the WordPress project, ensuring that the projects gets. 

00:03:53 Hari Shanker 

You know. 

00:03:54 Hari Shanker 

If the necessary resources meant in terms of supporting contributors or beat in terms of supporting the project itself orI mean you can apply this to any situation, but making sure that. 

00:04:05 Hari Shanker 

Any project or any anything that happens around the world, has all the necessary resources with the backing of theright finance to keep it going. So that in my mind that is what economic sustainability looks like. 

00:04:20 Nahuai Badiola 

After these more general views the nexts guests reflections are more focused the role of the economic part on Open Source projects. Juan Hernando mentions the importance of volunteer work and how the “work for free” it’s not alwayssustainable, specially when the contribution goes above a significant number of hours. 

00:04:41 Juan Hernando 

In every open source project you have many contributors that love what they are doing. 

00:04:48 Juan Hernando 

And they start. 

00:04:50 Juan Hernando 

Working for free and they spend 2 hours a week. Then it’s 4 hours a week. Then it’s lots of hours a week. They havemore responsibilities and mostly. 

00:05:04 Juan Hernando 

This this will ends up with them burning out, disappearing or having like mental health issues, which is cool that nowit’s something that we talk about, not not in the past and and most of the time it’s because of the economic. 

00:05:24 Juan Hernando 

Pillar here because they are not supported. 

00:05:29 Juan Hernando 

There are still people that think that you if it’s open and free, you have to work for free because it’s how it’s alwaysbeen done and then we go back to to this. We need to change things. And I mean, I’m a. 

00:05:48 Juan Hernando 

I’m a contributor in the Community team and. 

00:05:52 Juan Hernando 

I started with small contributions like almost local and I really wanted to do more and they asked me, hey, you’re doingit well, why don’t you help here on there and at some point I said I can’t because I’m already spending like 6 hours a week. 

00:06:13 Juan Hernando 

Yeah, I start doing more stuff. It’s going to be 12 hours a week or 20 hours a week because I really love helping and like you have to pay your bills. You have to eat every day. You have to pay rent and that’s not sustainable. 

00:06:21 Juan Hernando 


00:06:28 Juan Hernando 

All. Yeah, we really need to talk about this. It’s very cool that there are companies that understand this and help peopleand hire people to do this kind of work. But also there is this. 

00:06:47 Juan Hernando 

Big amount of freelancers that really love what they do as a freelancer, but also they want to help and. 

00:06:55 Juan Hernando 

It’s important that they they they feel that economically it’s a thing that they can keep doing, so we need to talk with thepeople, with the money. 

00:07:08 Juan Hernando 

For for this. 

00:07:09 Nahuai Badiola 

Adam Silverstein also talks about Open Source maintainers and how some of them are not properly funded. 

00:07:17 Adam Silverstein 

But I you know, I am, I am also. 

00:07:18 Adam Silverstein 

Interested in the? 

00:07:19 Adam Silverstein 

The sustained personal sustainability part of it, because like I think in in general and open source, this is a like a a longterm issue. 

00:07:28 Adam Silverstein 

Not just in WordPress, but I’ve seen other projects one recently that I can think of is the Wappalyzer project which I love and the maintainer of that decided to make it closed source recently because he wasn’t getting enough support. Essentially all these people using his product, I think open source maintainers WordPress, we’re we’re fortunate tohave many people contributing to the project. 

00:07:48 Adam Silverstein 

But you know, I do know of individuals who contribute A tremendous amount and aren’t aren’t supported enough tomake that viable for them long term. And and I’m talking about critical people who maintain critical parts of ourinfrastructure and nonetheless, we’re sort of letting that situation flounder. So I think. 

00:08:06 Adam Silverstein 

There’s clear room for improvement there figuring out and we have. It’s not that we’re not trying. We haven’t reallyfigured it out, but we are trying to figure out, you know, how do you support contributors to an open source project whoaren’t sponsored by a big company? You know, I’m very fortunate in that I I do have, you know, my my employer doessponsor me for my time. 

00:08:26 Adam Silverstein 

The spending poor, although I also contribute a lot of my own personal time, so it’s it’s a balance, but there’s a lot ofpeople out there who are really important who don’t have that kind of support and trying to figure out how they can manage to be maintainers of open source is is really challenging. 

00:08:40 Adam Silverstein 

So I’m I’m definitely interested in that challenge as well, and it’s personal for me too, because I I do like I said, I knowpeople individually who who have tried to be big contributors, who are important contributors in WordPress and nonetheless haven’t found avenues to have adequate support for their work. 

00:08:55 Nahuai Badiola 

I In other hand, Nora Ferreirós reflects on how she has been lucky enough so the economic pillar it’s fairly new to herbut she thinks it’s important to lower the entrance barrier for other people so they can have a voice in theconversation. 

00:09:10 Nora Ferreirós 

The economic pillar for me is the last one. I begin to to think about because yeah, I’m a person who has, who is luckyenough to don’t have to worry about this. 

00:09:16 Nahuai Badiola 


00:09:26 Nora Ferreirós 

And this I I realize it’s important because economic. Yeah. Yeah, financial topic. It’s something it’s a barrier for manypeople. So if you have a barrier for people you have many people that is not telling what they need or don’t give in their point of view. So there is no. 

00:09:47 Nora Ferreirós 

You can if you cannot. 

00:09:51 Nora Ferreirós 

Include everybody because you don’t know how to be sustainable for everyone. I mean, so I realize the financial partis. 

00:10:00 Nora Ferreirós 

Yeah, that very that, that, that, that. 

00:10:03 Nora Ferreirós 

Makes lot of people a huge amount of people being out of the party. 

00:10:14 Nora Ferreirós 

Yeah, we have to take into account in the products we we make because if I make product that claims that it wants toprove people life, but it’s too expensive, you can only prove. 

00:10:29 Nora Ferreirós 

A few people, yeah. 

00:10:31 Nora Ferreirós 

Right, not everybody but in communities. 

00:10:35 Nora Ferreirós 

Financial topic. It’s about let people get into the community, say their opinion and helping one to become more sustainable in a a broad. 

00:10:50 Nahuai Badiola 

I In the last part of the episode we will hear from Richard Littauer who it’s  not part of WordPress community but he isin contact with other Open Source Software projects, so I think we can learn a lot from his experience. I started askingabout the main struggles for Open Source Software projects in his experience. 

00:11:11 Richard Littauer 

It depends on who you’re asking. So mm-hmm. If you’re asking me, I I I don’t really know. I mean. 

00:11:17 Richard Littauer 

Maybe it’s. 

00:11:18 Richard Littauer 

Maybe it’s capitalism. Maybe it’s that people don’t really like each other very much, but if you’re asking so someoneelse, right, like a maintainer. The main problem with maintainers is that they don’t get funds to do their work, which isreally important for them to continue doing their work. 

00:11:33 Richard Littauer 

The main problem for a community is that some people are funded and other people aren’t funded, and it’s veryunclear how that works and governance is always an issue where one person normally has more power. 

00:11:43 Richard Littauer 

Power, which may be the funded person, may not be, and other people have less power and it’s very difficult toequalize in a way that’s healthy for the community. If you’re asking someone who uses open source software theloudest people who use open source software are corporations, and for them the biggest issue is security. 

00:12:03 Richard Littauer 

They don’t want something to break. 

00:12:05 Richard Littauer 

And so it’s it’s it’s, it’s kind of depending on where you’re framing that lens. 

00:12:12 Richard Littauer 

It’s a good question. 

00:12:14 Nahuai Badiola 

I continue asking him about how we can get more companies to give back to the open source projects. 

00:12:23 Richard Littauer 

There’s a lot of ways to manage that. It’s a really difficult problem and I think one of the most difficult problems is that ifyou’re using open source, you’ve given away your product. 

00:12:32 Richard Littauer 

For free, it’s it’s been given away. It’s just it. You can’t charge people for it. And so this is continual thing. I gave itaway. Maybe you should help me anyway you can. 

00:12:41 Richard Littauer 

Come back, you. 

00:12:41 Richard Littauer 

Know come. But it doesn’t really work that way. And so the number one thing you have to think about when you’retalking to potential community members, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re particularly. 

00:12:52 Richard Littauer 

Field individuals is what’s in it for them. 

00:12:56 Richard Littauer 

And how can it benefit them to do this work and you have to make sure that it affects their bottom line that they have todo this work. I just saw the most amazing description of technical debt from a children’s books by Richard Scary, which shows this guy named Hamish. And Hamish has a hole in his roof. Sorry, Haggis Haggis has a hole. 

00:13:17 Richard Littauer 

In his roof. 

00:13:17 Nahuai Badiola 


00:13:18 Richard Littauer 

He doesn’t fix it on days when it’s wet because it’s too wet to work and he doesn’t fix it when it’s sunny. 

00:13:23 Richard Littauer 

Because it doesn’t, it doesn’t need fixing when it’s sunny, it’s it’s a nice bowl, right? And this is like all technical debt. But it’s also applies very well to open source projects. Why would I fix it when it’s working? Oh, it’s not working. Fix itnow, but I I can’t. 

00:13:36 Richard Littauer 

Fix it. You have to fix it and so trying to explain to companies and to users of open source software that investing in thelong term maintenance of their technological stack in ways that are useful. 

00:13:47 Richard Littauer 

If you can track that easily, is really helpful to them. That’s the problem you need to solve. It’s not necessarily we wantyou to give time away for free. That’s never going to work. No, it has to be about incentives. 

00:14:03 Nahuai Badiola 

I ask if visibility it’s one of the benefits we could “sell” to companies. 

00:14:10 Richard Littauer 

I would say visibility is a proxy for something else because companies don’t actually care about visibility. They care about staff retention and they care about selling their product. 

00:14:20 Richard Littauer 

Right. And so they care about upskilling the people who are working with them so that they don’t lose them so thatthose people are able to do their work faster so that they save money. 

00:14:28 Richard Littauer 

Or they care about using that visibility as a way to get more possible clients, or to sell more products. 

00:14:35 Richard Littauer 

Visibility is just a proxy for those things, and so instead of figuring out OK, you’ll be on the flight for the. 

00:14:37 Nahuai Badiola 


00:14:40 Richard Littauer 

Future page they. 

00:14:41 Richard Littauer 

Don’t care about that unless they’re in the. 

00:14:42 Richard Littauer 

Business of like literally. 

00:14:44 Richard Littauer 

Unless they are fight for the future as like a company, right? What they care about is, oh, it says something. 

00:14:51 Richard Littauer 

That where we have good developers on it and that we like those developers and we have the smartest people here. Therefore you want to come work here too and you want to come work for wages that are lower than other people butfor higher skills, right. Like again it’s it’s a capitalistic issue and so try to focus on. 

00:14:57 Nahuai Badiola 


00:15:07 Richard Littauer 

I would say in my experience, instead of focusing on large scale, trying to gather attention, which is impossible in theattention economy because we’re all burnt out and tired. 

00:15:17 Richard Littauer 

Just everything’s oversaturated. Instead, focus on. Well, how does it? 

00:15:22 Richard Littauer 

Matter like why? Why does it matter to that company that they’re seeing? And if you can answer that question, you’remuch better off. Again, I think this should be boring. The problem shouldn’t be something that someone has to thinkabout. It has to be a very simple. 

00:15:30 Nahuai Badiola 


00:15:38 Richard Littauer 

Oh yeah, no, we do that at my company. It’s just like we have a janitor who cleans on Saturday. We love that guy, right? I don’t know his name, but if he’s not here, we notice real fast. But it’s boring. We don’t have to talk aboutjanitors. We just have one. The same thing should happen with developers. Ohh yeah, on Fridays they do theirjanitorial stuff. We don’t like to talk about it, but because of that, they become better people. 

00:15:58 Richard Littauer 

And because of that, we’re able to retain them longer. So yeah, why would we even why we still talk about this, right? That’s what we. 

00:16:04 Richard Littauer 

Want to get to the level of? 

00:16:05 Nahuai Badiola 


00:16:06 Nahuai Badiola 


00:16:07 Richard Littauer 

It’s mercurial and Machiavellian and mean, but that’s also what companies are right, like the entire point of a companyis to have a group of people who. 

00:16:17 Richard Littauer 

Work for less than their worth, so that money goes to the top so that the people at the top can make more money, right? It’s it’s like it’s not hidden. It’s right there in the system. We all we all know that’s the case. I just think that askinglike ship. 

00:16:33 Richard Littauer 

I think that framing all of these sponsorship badges, framing things like events hey, be a silver sponsor and have yourlogo here. 

00:16:42 Richard Littauer 

Here kind of misses the point. It works at times, but it doesn’t work at all in a declining economy. Right now, we’reseeing a lot of projects just slice off their open source program offices and really cut their budgets to open sourceecosystems. And it’s because they figured out, well, it doesn’t directly affect the bottom line. We would, we know it willin the future, but it’s not like immediate. 

00:17:03 Richard Littauer 

For us. Yeah. And so the question for us isn’t to how do we repeat that and make it easier for them to have more visibility is to say, OK. 

00:17:10 Richard Littauer 

Why was that able to be cut in the? 

00:17:11 Richard Littauer 

1st place because we know this is necessary as engineers and so we’re not selling it to management correctly. So wehave to figure out how it’s really important for them to have someone who understands how Redis works becausethey’re one of the main maintainers or something similar, right? And that helps a lot. Does it help with small open source projects that are made for art? 

00:17:31 Richard Littauer 

That are really fun. 

00:17:32 Richard Littauer 

No, and that’s what kind of sucks about work and labor. But hypothetically, a lot of the open source ecosystems thrivesbecause it’s been injected with goodwill and effort from people who are interested in having their products work in anindustrial setting. 

00:17:46 Richard Littauer 

So we’re talking about just getting money in. You have to go where the money is. Makes sense. 

00:17:51 Nahuai Badiola 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it does. It does. Lastly I asked Richard for things we should take into account if we want to ensurean Open Source project longevity. 

00:18:02 Richard Littauer 

I think one of the most important things to take into account when you think about longevity of an open source projectis retention of the maintainers, the people who have most of the knowledge you have to make sure that the peoplewho built the thing or the people who understand how it works stay there. 

00:18:20 Richard Littauer 

Or you have to make sure that they’re allocating your efforts towards future projects that will solve the problem in a better way, which also happens. Not every project needs to live forever, and most projects shouldn’t live forever. I’mreally glad we’re not still coding and cobalt, I think that’s awesome, right? Like it’s a great programming language. 

00:18:40 Richard Littauer 

You know it’s it’s great to have those things, but you know ES6 is better than ES-5 and so I’m really glad that peopleworked on that. 

00:18:48 Richard Littauer 

So retention is really important. 

00:18:52 Richard Littauer 

Another thing that’s really important is documentation and community management and facilitation, because it’simportant to get diverse perspectives on your project. Otherwise it ends up dying because people don’t want to be in places that are monocultural because they turn into sinkholes of no fun. 

00:19:09 Richard Littauer 

Right. They want to be places where they’re able to learn effectively and where multiple people are able to share theirbrilliance in ways that are easy. And if you’re excluding the majority of the population because it’s only. 

00:19:21 Richard Littauer 

You know, middle class rich white American dudes like me. That’s not helpful to the overall strength of the communitybecause we’re not an important group. We’re only important historically, right. And so building good documentation, building welcoming practices helps lead to a more diverse user set in the long run. 

00:19:42 Richard Littauer 

One of the problems is that you have to focus on in the long run, and capitalism always wants short returns. And whenI say capitalism I mean a company. I’m not trying to be Marxist here. I I just. I’m just speaking the language of of what I know and what I’ve. 

00:19:57 Richard Littauer 

So I think that’s really important to think about. Another thing to think about is that we’re talking about environmentalsustainability, the third pillar. 

00:20:06 Richard Littauer 

The long run is definitely part of the picture, but it’s also part of the short run right? A more diverse community leads tobetter code, better code runs faster. It takes less resources. That’s great, and that affects the bottom line for somepeople. For a lot of open source stuff that has to do with like. 

00:20:23 Richard Littauer 

You know. 

00:20:24 Richard Littauer 

Mainframe usage or memory usage, reducing the runtime of programs is is like you have less bills than Heroku. That’sgreat. Let’s do more of that. So trying to bring those things together can be difficult, but that’s another thing we’refocusing effort really, really helps. And because it’s a throwing problem, you might be able to bring people in. 

00:20:45 Richard Littauer 

Who normally have bigger hats or sit in wider seats? 

00:20:49 Richard Littauer 

And it’s also good to have them involved. 

00:20:52 Nahuai Badiola 

That was pretty interesting, wasn’t it? Once again, the guests opinions were really interesting and covered severalpoints so I’ll try to summarize the main points. 

We started talking about the basics of economic sustainability like promoting fair living wages, sharing the benefits orhaving access to internet to everyone. 

00:21:11 Nahuai Badiola 

Then we focused more specifically on Open Source projects. A common point mentioned by the guests was theimportance of supporting economically contributors and maintainers. 

00:21:23 Nahuai Badiola 

Which if you remember it’s how the previous episode ended. That’s because the social and economic pillars really gotogether in this case. 

Also, removing (or lowering) the socio-economic barriers could allow more people to join Open Source projects whichcan be highly beneficial both for the individuals and for the project. 

00:21:46 Nahuai Badiola 

As we mentioned on the previous episode, having a diverse group of people contributing it’s key for ensuring thelongevity of WordPress project and any other Open Source project for that matter. 

We also talked about how we could increase the involvement of companies. Some ideas went in a direction ofchanging a bit usual the narrative. Maybe we could change or complement the arguments of “giving back” or “havingvisibility” with others like “increase talent retainment” or “or increase the profit”. In this last case, the argument wouldbe that the project could gain market share thanks to a well economically maintained contributors. 

We will talk more about closing the gap between contributors and WordPress centred companies in the next episode. 

00:22:39 Nahuai Badiola 

Thanks for listening. I hope you found the episode and our guests opinions as interesting as I did. You can find all theresources mentioned during the episode in the show notes. You will also find more information about this episodeguests. 

00:22:54 Nahuai Badiola 

I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. For that you can leave a comment on the website. You can go tosustainwp.com/forthe. 

00:23:04 Nahuai Badiola 

Or share it in the social media platform. You are more comfortable on. And if you think that this episode could be interesting to our best colleague, please share it in the next two episodes. We will use the length of the three pillars totalk about how we can improve the sustainability of WordPress in the next one, we will focus on the CMS. 

00:23:25 Nahuai Badiola 

And in the following one, we will tackle the events. I hope you join me there. Bye, bye. 

Nahuai Badiola Avatar


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