Together as a Whole: How a Non-Profit Organization and Unpaid Volunteers Made Joomla! Into the World's 2nd-Largest CMS

Together as a Whole: How a Non-Profit Organization and Unpaid Volunteers Made Joomla! Into the World's 2nd-Largest CMS

TL; DR: Joomla, the open-source content management system second only to WordPress in terms of popularity, has paved way for other platforms with a passion for coding from the grassroots level. With a global base of more than 500,000 active contributors — and downloads of more than 68 million — Joomla prides themselves on extendability and continually engaging users through a new volunteer portal and professional certification program. With support from the non-profit Open Source Matters, Joomla avoids serving corporate interests by simply enabling motivated users to create the product that best meets their needs.

In the early 2000s, Sarah Watz and her digital agency Pixpro were besieged with clients asking to add or edit the content on the websites Sarah and her team were making.

Products like Adobe Dreamweaver weren’t meeting her needs, and Sarah decided it was time to try a content management system, Mambo, she had read about in an article. A major TV station in Sweden had recently made a site with Mambo, so Sarah and Pixpro gave it a spin before switching to a closely related platform called Joomla.

“My clients were over-the-top happy, and moving to Joomla was not a hard decision at all,” Sarah said. “We’ve evolved our company with Joomla. Most of our clients are global, and they demand internationalization and globalization in their platform. Joomla makes that really simple.”

Joomla was a fork of Mambo that was taking off at lightning speed by committing to open-source coding and an inclusive community of users and contributors. We spoke with a few of the most influential contributors — Sarah, Mike Veeckmans, and Mike “Demo” Demopoulos — to learn about their experiences with the platform and how the thousands of volunteers work together.

Photos of Sarah Watz, Mike Veeckmans, and Mike Demopoulos

Sarah Watz (left), Mike Veeckmans (center), and Mike Demopoulos (right) all started with Joomla as volunteers.

Pixpro switched to Joomla in the early 2000s and has stuck with it ever since. Smitten with the system, Sarah started a Joomla user group, hosted workshops, and spread the word at conferences throughout Europe.

Eventually, the non-profit that provides organizational, legal, and financial support to Joomla contacted Sarah and asked her to serve on their board. Then, Open Source Matters asked her to be President.

One of Joomla’s earliest fans, Sarah has spent more than a decade extolling the virtues of the community-driven CMS — but she’s not alone. Her story is similar to thousands within Joomla, a content management system made for the people, by the people.

Joomla’s Journey from Mambo to More Than 68 Million Downloads

Like Sarah, Mike turned to Mambo more than a decade ago when his clients at Joombiz wanted to take a more active role in their website’s content.

Around the same time, a group of Mambo developers created Open Source Matters to advocate for community-based coding and promote their new platform. The developers asked their followers to suggest names for the fork but ultimately picked their own: Joomla, an anglicized spelling of the Swahili word, jumla, that means “together as a whole.”

An early demonstration of Joomla’s openness was becoming the first CMS to offer multilingual support built into the core, a feature Mike appreciated as a developer in Belgium — a country with three national languages. His websites need to include content in Dutch, French, and German.

“The main reason I recommend Joomla to my customers is its flexible solutions and extendability,” he said. “If the company grows, so does the CMS software.”

Screenshot of Joomla's top features

Joomla’s most-loved features include multilingual support, extendability, and content management and editing.

Mike, now Marketing Team Leader and part of the Community Leadership Team for Joomla, also depends on core features such as banner and contact management, access control list, and frontend editing.

Whatever features aren’t currently supported in the core are usually met with one of Joomla’s nearly 8,000 extensions. Here, you can boost security, add calendar functionality, create an online store, increase your marketing, or update a design.

Run From the Bottom Up: Volunteers Drive Decisions and Development

Demo, a Senior Digital Services Manager for MVP Marketing + Design in Minneapolis, followed a similar path to Joomla.

“I was on PhpNuke back in the day, and I wasn’t enjoying it,” he said. “On cPanel one day, I just started installing CMSs until I came across Mambo. It really clicked. When Joomla was forked, it was the best CMS choice at the time.”

Like Mike Veeckmans and Sarah, Demo took leadership roles in Joomla as Treasurer and Organizer of Sponsorships for the Joomla World Conference.

At the Helm: Open Source Matters Avoids Corporate Interests

Demo said he’s most proud of Joomla’s ability to survive financially without being swayed by corporate interests. Open Source Matters remains a non-profit organization, while Acquia and Automattic, the groups respectively overseeing Drupal and WordPress, are private companies.

“Those are valid business positions, but it’s just a different philosophy,” he said of Drupal and WordPress. “I really like the open-source, volunteer community that Joomla brings. We’re fully volunteer driven and we really move forward in the best interest of the platform. I haven’t had a client tell me ‘no’ yet.”

The Open Source Matters volunteers must sign strict conflict of interest policies, and the organization relies on sponsorships to cover costs such as events or legal fees.

“We’re purely reliant on partnerships to run a really large organization without any revenue stream,” Demo said. “It’s not like we have shareholders to impress. We’re purely volunteers.”

Joomla and Users Organize Gatherings on Global and Local Scales

As an organization, Joomla hosts an annual world conference, bringing together developers, designers, site administrators, business owners, and users to network and learn. In 2016, it will be held November 11-13 in Vancouver, Canada.

Group photo of JoomlaDay Russia attendees

Groups of users gather in cities around the world for regional workshops like this JoomlaDay in Russia.

Local groups, however, will band together and organize regional meetings called JoomlaDays. In a 2-week span this year alone, JoomlaDays took place in Germany, Kenya, Israel, and Poland.

“Almost every weekend, there’s a Joomla event somewhere in the world,” said Demo, who organized North America’s largest JoomlaDay last year in Minnesota.

First of Its Kind: Joomla Certification Program Created Solely by Volunteers

When Open Source Matters surveyed Joomla users four years ago, one of the highest-priority suggestions to emerge was a professional certification.

The community wanted a tangible measurement of skills and knowledge to recognize competent Joomla users in the workforce.

After a year of phone calls and discussions on the various components of the certification program, Sarah is proud to see the planning finally come to fruition in another industry first — a volunteer-run professional certification program.

“Bringing so many volunteers together is not as fast-moving as sometimes we would like it to be, but I think we end up with a really good decision because we are so clear and passionate about our different perspectives,” she said. “It’s part of this team of people coming together from all parts of the world, with different objectives, and then making it happen.”

User Groups and New Volunteer Portal Connects Global Community

Now, Sarah travels the world and looks up Joomla user groups wherever she goes.

“It’s really cool to just be able to reach out to someone in the group and see if they’re meeting,” she said. “People are very friendly, and they love that you’re showing up from other parts of the world to be part of that. It’s a cool thing that people come together to make sure the software is really good.”

To help users get more involved and facilitate transparency, Joomla recently launched a volunteer portal to be the go-to source for contact information and team reporting, as well as a place for new volunteers to find opportunities to contribute.

“During the past few years, Joomla has been in a process of merging their 3-team leadership structure — community, development, and organization — into one team. The new structure is based on democracy since the members of the organization are able to vote for their leaders,” Sarah explained. “The goal with the new structure is to have an organization that is decentralized — with clear mandates for the teams that will enable the volunteers to do more together — faster.”

Alexandra Leslie

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