Ben Werdmuller

@benwerd

An open letter to Elgg

September 29th 2016
Logo by Pete Harris

Hello. It’s been a while.

Dear all,

First: although I’m the technical cofounder of Elgg, I haven’t been a part of the community since 2009, and much smarter people than me have taken on core code management since then. This letter is meant with love, but I don’t presume to have any say.

Still, I was forwarded Elgg at a crossroads, and while comments on that post are closed, I couldn’t not weigh in. In that post, Steve Clay says:

Personally I really enjoy working with Elgg’s contributors and don’t want to stop, but for my career’s sake I can’t focus on reworking 2008-era APIs much longer.

If those APIs are 2008-era, they’re also actually 2006-era. That’s a full decade of web technology ago.

If I thought a global open source community was going to be holding to my API decisions a decade later, I might have thought harder about them.

Elgg was born in another world. Our press called us “MySpace in a box”. MySpace! Back then, a social platform had profiles, a feed, blogging, photos and tagging. To be sure, it was a simpler time.

A decade later, we have Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, and so on and so on. And Medium! More people access the web through a mobile device than anything else. Teenagers listen to music on YouTube. HD videoconferencing is the norm. We’re in the age of real-time context, mobile, bots, live video, and ubiquitous connectivity.

There’s no good reason to keep backwards compatibility with the older era. That’s never been how the internet has worked. And the idea that you’d want plugins from 2008 to continue to work, or to continue to use Elgg 1.12, is ludicrous. I can’t speak for Dave Tosh, my cofounder, but I’m pretty sure he would have some choice words about that. I do too. I’ll leave them to your imagination.

I started writing the first version of Elgg in 2003. Three years later, we decided we had to create a completely new version to progress, and we did — without backwards compatibility. There’s no reason not to do this again.

Open source is amazing. If you do want that stuff to work, you should fork the code and work on it yourself. Anyone can. (Confession: I thought about forking Elgg, too, six years or so ago.)

But the core developers should always be creating something new. They’ve given so much of their professional lives to the platform — it’s only fair that the platform be allowed to represent the best of what they can do. In turn, that’s a gift to the community, and to the web. (Another gift: the ability to make a living working on it. The comments to the post hinted at people who don’t think anyone should make money with open source, and I believe that attitude is incredibly harmful.)

Please don’t let my ancient decisions hold you back. You should be having fun making new things that push the social web forward.

And please accept my apologies for rudely wading in.

Love,

Ben

Team Elgg, a decade ago, L-R: me, Dave Tosh, Misja Hoebe.
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