SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Open-source software as community builder

Sep 29, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: Jan 5, 2024, 1:14 pm

Attendees gather for the eighth annual Silicon Slopes Summit at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City....

Attendees gather for the eighth annual Silicon Slopes Summit at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY- An influential software expert believes that open-source software has the power to build community. But it is also empowering to individuals, according to Matt Mullenwag, the founding developer of WordPress. At the Silicon Slopes Summit this week, he explained his belief that open-source software provides digital sovereignty to users. 

WordPress is the leading open-source content management system. It makes website building easy, as users don’t need web development experience to successfully build their site.  According to Mullenway, it powers over 40% of websites. 

He told KSL NewsRadio that users should be able to modify and view the software that heavily influences their daily lives.

“I want future generations to grow up in a world with a web that really belongs to the people,” said Mullenwag. He said WordPress is not a company. Anyone who has contributed to the development or editing of the software has ownership of it, according to Mullenwag. 

The Open Source Initiative is a public benefit corporation that works to promote community-building, education, and public advocacy. Its website defines open source software as “[enabling] a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process.”

Mullenwag said that the growth of WordPress, a company he started 20 years ago, is due to the community of creators and their ability to alter the program to fit their needs.  Furthermore, it can run on any web hosting service, such as Bluehost or Pressable which contributes to its versatility.  

“Like Wikipedia, WordPress is put together by thousands and thousands of people,” Mullenwag said. 

Open-source software communities

Mullenwag explained how communities form around open-source software. 

It gets more users, and a small percentage contribute. As it gets better, it attracts more users. 

“That sort of positive flywheel creates a natural … standard,” said Mullenwag. 

He believes that with enough momentum, open-source software can change the way things are done, much like he said WordPress did. The sense of community creates a culture, which drives contributors toward further building. 

Mullenwag was a presenter at the 2023 Silicon Slopes Summit. He spoke about open-source software in his presentation titled “Life Distributed and Open Source.” 

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Open-source software as community builder