Services · Blog · Demo
Get on the scene
29 Oct 2008 – 10:54 in tagged , , , by Michael Daum
Yesterday, 2008-10-27: 21:00 GMT, just a minute before the regular TWiki release meeting, the company TWIKI.NET announced unilaterally that the best for the TWiki.org project would be for them to take over governance. With it comes a complete lock down of the community site. From that minute on, all long-time contributors have lost access to their code. Counter-reaction: the community has left the building, leaving TWIKI.NET without a contributing community. Question: is it a sensible move for a venture capital firm that depends on a healthy Open Source community to lock it out?
DirtyFork-300.jpg
Access to the site is only granted if contributors agree to a set of newly installed terms and conditions dictated by TWIKI.NET, a company founded by Peter Thoeny 12 months ago. His power to do so grows out of two sources: (a) he is the sole owner of the trademark on TWiki and (b) he is sponsoring the server hardware and thus had root access.

And now he has triggered the trademark gun and fired the TWiki community. He even repeatedly threatened people on the #twiki IRC channel that "[he has] been advised by one of [his] investors, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, that [they] need to protect [their] trademark". Clearly, their VC people have no picture of the situation other than their own return of investment. Sure, protecting a registered trademark is what it is all about. But threatening the community that has been working on TWiki on a volunteer basis for the recent 10 years that way is a bit strong. Too strong for the TWiki community.

If there was ever any hope to re-establish a relationship of trust and faith to create a win/win situation by combining community & commerce, this is totally gone now. Thoeny installed himself as BDFL (Benevolvent Dictator for Life) again, despite being rejected by a community vote during the TWiki Summit in Berlin last month.

During the TWiki Summit in Berlin 4+5 September 2008, it became clear that Thoeny has sold part of his trademark rights to his venture capital funded company. Part of that deal was that while he remains ownership on the trademark itself, TWIKI.NET gained the sole right to exploit the brand on a commercial basis. This created a completely new situation for the Open Source project and all of its already existing commercial eco-system. As a consequence, TWIKI.NET was asked to grant a perpetual license to the community to secure the legal situation for contributors and commercial stakeholders, a license that would only have formalized the way TWiki has been running for more than 10 years with Thoeny promising to "take care of the brand".

As faith in him as a leader diminished over the years, and the foreboding of a trademark problem increased, the community asked Thoeny to write down the rights he has granted orally before. Which he didn't. Instead he pulled the trademark trigger in a move he calls "relaunching the project" to "weed out" the good and the bad. Trust in Thoeny as a leader diminished last but not least when his role as a community leader became more and more mixed up with his interests as a CTO of TWIKI.NET, up to the point where he obviously showed more interest to cement a genuine marketing advantage for TWIKI.NET.

The rise of his newly created company continually eroded willingness to contribute to TWiki as an Open Source project. People were more and more irritated by the changed rules of the game. The community has been watching the actions of TWIKI.NET with a lot of interest, in the hope that they would add significant value to this very successful project. Unfortunately, they took an approach of recasting the success of the product, created with years of volunteer work, as their own success.

That's where Open Source shows its ugliest face. And there's definitely no beauty in this shock therapy, even though Tom Barton, CEO of TWIKI.NET says: "the beautiful thing about open source is you don't need to recognize the authority of TWiki.net". What an irony to close another very sad chapter. The last one for TWiki.org as we knew it before.

The appearance of TWIKI.NET on the scene forced a governance crisis TWiki was not able to overcome, despite the good progress that was made up to a couple of hours before. On the TWiki Summit in Berlin last month, a democratically elected Interim Board of Directors was founded whose sole agenda was to negotiate the conditions under which this governance crisis could have been overcome.

The plan was to create a TWiki Association consisting of a Board of Directors and a General Assembly following the example of KDE e.V. The board itself would have created so called Task Teams that manage the operational part of the project to a finer granularity.

The members of the Interim Board of Directors were in the process of creating the Articles of Association and were prepared for the next logical move in an ever growing project, organizing it similarly to other projects in the Open Source business. This formal body would also have been an entry path for sponsors and other organizations willing to partner with TWiki as a project. No such thing was available before. The only way outside parties could have made donations was to give them directly to Thoeny and thereby TWIKI.NET.

This was the case when Sun donated server hardware to power the TWiki.org community site. Sun sponsored TWiki as an Open Source project, not TWIKI.NET. However, there was no entity other than Thoeny and TWIKI.NET to handle these opportunities and resources. It now is clear that the access to these server resource has been used against the TWiki community itself by locking it out.

The democratically elected Interim Board of Directors of TWiki has been displaced by the trademark holder of TWiki as a final chord on the governance crisis. Now, Thoeny is sending around emails to high profile contributors individually to invite them to come back subordinate to the governance of TWIKI.NET. He obviously seems to be in hope that people will do so once the situation has settled. Quite far-fetched and not very likely to happen. Those same contributors who implemented the features he is praising aloud as the shiny new TWiki, are far too displeased by his hostile behavior to be willing to go back to business as usual.

TWIKI.NET is striving to repaint their move as a "new opportunity". What they don't see is that they have put their own business case into severe danger. They just lost the horse power for a product that they were selling. They have been signaling to the community that they don't have the manpower for certain developments and were seeking for help, even willing to pay work for hire. Another error. Adding money as an incentive to Open Source is changing the game completely. Before, people volunteered as part of an act of free speech. Add money to it and nobody will work for free anymore. This poisoned the dynamics.

The current situation is that all core developers have left the ship and joined a new undertaking with the working title NextWiki. This is a fork based on the current code in TWiki that will soon be released under a new name. The goals of NextWiki are clear. Basically, the plan is to found an Association as a formal body for the project, including the reorganization of its governance down to all operational questions, as was in progress for the TWiki project.

The result will be a much strengthened new player, much more agile as it just got rid of the reason for TWiki's ongoing paralysis.

There remains a message for TWiki's users: no worries, we continue working, faster and more productive than ever before, embedded in a volunteer-friendly environment. Sure, this fork now introduces a new choice that was not there before. Well, it was there before and it was introduced by TWIKI.NET, not those guys that "asked for a fork". TWiki users already had the choice between TWIKI.NET's product (a rebranded version of an old TWiki release, packaged as a VMware image), or Open Source TWiki, most recent stable version. This choice more or less remains available with the difference that you will get the real thing from a new site, reworked to be real Open Source, backed up by a large and highly motivated community as a guarantor for continuity and innovation.


6 Comments

1 MichaelDaum replied 8 hours, 4 minutes later

Slashdotted

Lots of comments on slashdot. … reply

2 Aaron Fulkerson replied 13 hours, 42 minutes later

Hi all. I'm one of the founders of www.MindTouch.com. We make MindTouch Deki (sometimes called DekiWiki). I've been following the coming storm at TWiki for a little bit. Primarily because I've become aware of some core TWiki developers switching their development projects to MindTouch Deki. Secondarily because MindTouch is also open source and we develop a product that loosely competes with TWiki. In fear of stirring up more s**t I want to chime in here.

First let me say I do not know all the details of this mess, but I've met Peter and I think he's a stand up guy who is undoubtedly trying to do what he thinks is best for the TWiki project. Moreover, I think TWiki was way ahead of others players in this space for a long time. So, kudos to all of you.

Trademark aside, who owns the copyright for the Twiki codebase? Does any one entity? In open source, trademark is nice, but copyright is king.

I'm writing because I wanted to make two points.

First. Building a business on an open source project is a balancing act. On one side you're trying to build a sustainable business by creating revenue through customer acquisition. On the other side you have a desire to do what's best for the community of users (distinct from customers), developers, system integrators and VARs. If you're not careful you can put these groups at odds and look like an asshole or even worse, really hurt your business. This balancing act is especially challenging when you're building on a project like TWiki that has been around forever and has had a significant amount, or perhaps even the majority, of development from the community. I believe the easiest way to find balance is to have an open source core that the company(ies) can add value to in the form of development and services or even sell commercial layers of additional functionality on top of this. In this way the devs and users win and also the company(ies) are able to create clear differentiation that helps in the customer acquisition effort. You don't have to look far to see that these are the most successful open source projects and businesses. Apache Web Server is an example of this. So is SugarCRM. In both cases you have an open core that others can build and sell additional value on top of, be it open source, closed source or services.

Second. As previously mentioned there have been many TWiki developers that have migrated to development on MindTouch Deki. I encourage you to take a look at this project and product. It's modern architecture and high quality user experience is being cited as a reason for the switch. http://mindtouch.com/technology is a good resource to learn more about the architecture, http://mindtouch.com/demo provides some demo vids of the platform in action and you may download the FOSS version and source code at the developer community: http://wiki.developer.mindtouch.com

I want to reiterate that Peter and the guys at TWiki.net are surely trying to do what they think is best for the project as a whole. In every case it is true that what is best for the project is also best for the business. And vice-versa. Although sometimes it takes a misstep to realize this. I think it's interesting to juxtapose Acquia/Drupal with what's going on here with TWiki.org/.net. Being on the outside, it's easy to see what was done well and what was done poorly by these two entities.

Best of luck gang and I hope you'll take a look at MindTouch. smile … reply

3 JohnSmith replied 1 day, 7 hours later

Looks like yet another captain has thrown it's Titanic onto iceberg. We all remember Joomla vs Mambo clashing. Now, who cares of Mambo if there is Joomla? Seems to be quite similar case. I hope you will have same success as Jumla did once.. … reply

4 MartinSeibert replied 3 weeks, 1 day later

I did not see any Core developers leave!

Hi Aaron,

I am sorry. But I have been involved in TWiki for quite some time now. I did see all active developers to switch from TWiki to Foswiki (formerly NextWiki). I believe that your post is merely trying to attract our developers.

Please name any developer who changed. That would be really interesting. … reply

5 MichaelDaum replied 3 weeks, 2 days later

Aron, thanks for your warm words about TWiki. We still appreciate it, as we are all still deeply linked to our roots. These are roots that we left behind now as we build up the TWiki successor called Foswiki right now.

Thanks also for offering that we all are welcome to come over to DekiWiki. I really am a fan of DekiWiki and highly appreciate the gr8 work MindTouch does to produce such a high quality product.

However, TWiki somewhat became our second nature, so most, if not all developers stay on course doing whatever we always did, just faster and not threatened by Peter's trademark.

I only wished he would not see a need to turn around and use the trademark against the core of TWiki, its own community. That was not for the best of the project for sure. Peter obviously did not assess the situation clear enough coming to the conclusions and actions as outlined in the above posting.

Most probably, this is not for the best of TWiki.net either, as it might have become "radioactive" for more venture investments. They might milk the open sources for some time but the product already starts to rotten with TWiki.net not able to execute.

Not so Foswiki. The number of people that take part is just amazing as proven by pure number of submissions in the recent surveys to find the new brand name.

TWiki was in the transition from one governance model with a sole dictator to another one with an elected board of directors and an association to promote the project and take care of legal matters. This process failed and Peter installed an even more restrictive dictatorship by ruling the project from within his new company called TWiki.net.

Frankly, we have seen this coming and we tried to keep the project true Open Source. From TWiki's perspective we failed. From Foswiki's perspective we now work unleashed from the curse of a bad governance structure.

Just have a look at http://foswiki.org. This new old community is working like crazy to get the new release out. And we will do it. It will be a much better wiki than TWiki ever was. All of the roadmap for TWiki-5 will be executed on Foswiki. The Foswiki Association, the formal body for this project, will come to live very soon.

So basically, we just get what we want. It only needs a bit more work. All these efforts are more than worth it as the new site already shows. And we just started. This is only weeks ago and look at it…

Note, that these are the same people that have formerly been known as the TWiki community. Just imagine how badly TWiki was managed looking at the unleashed energy and abilities that people can now unfold on the new project.

And we are not done with it. It's renovation & innovation time. … reply

7 Paula Jenna replied 1 year, 2 months later

Thanks

I think im gonna start a wiki for web hosting. Could any one point me at a link for a how to on getting started. Which interface to use ..etc.

Thank you

Paula J … reply

Leave a Reply

You may have to login or register to comment if you haven't already.
r2 – 29 Oct 2008 – 13:24:42 – Main.MichaelDaum
Copyright © 1999-2011 WikiRing Partnership –