Why this fork?
A short overview of events leading up to the split of almost all TWiki contributors from Peter Thoeny/TWIKI.NET in October 2008.
Introducing: the players on the scene
- Peter Thoeny: founder and project lead of Open Source TWiki (since 1998)
- TWIKI.NET: commercial company set up by Peter Thoeny (CTO) in 2007. Initially led by Rod Beckstrom, since 2008 by Tom Barton.
- TWiki Community: a loose collection of developers and other contributors that jointly work on Open Source TWiki
- WikiRing: a network of TWiki consultants grouped by one brand. At the time, all WikiRing consultants were part of the TWiki Community.
Order of events
May 2007: TWiki.net is announced
In May 2007, Peter Thoeny announced that he and others had formed TWiki.net, a company established for the express purpose of commercialising TWiki. The community response is generally positive.
August 2007: players united
The first TWiki summit
is heralded as a great success, with TWIKI.NET pulling out all the stops to make sure the community is welcomed and engaged. Some disagreements followed due to the summit not having a formal mandate to make decisions in camera
that affected the absent community.
January, February 2008: conflicts arise
In January 2008, Peter Thoeny attempted to release TWiki 4.2.0 with a press release that suggested that TWIKI.NET were responsible for the release. This was withdrawn after community protests, and a request for clarification of the governance model added to the agenda for the summit.
At the TWiki Community Summit 2008
in California, further friction was felt between TWIKI.NET, WikiRing consultants, and other TWiki Community members regarding the TWiki brand (usage rights of name and logo) and the way the Open Source project was being led (governance). Rod Beckstrom accused community members of planning a fork and otherwise acting against the interests of the community.
Any decision on the governance model was postponed to the third summit (held in Berlin). Peter Thoeny was to make a proposal on twiki.org, so community members could discuss it in public.
Peter Thoeny wrote a proposal for a new TWiki governance model
. In short:
- Peter Thoeny is a Self Appointed "Benevolent Dictator for Life" (BDFL) -- spiritual leader of the TWiki project. The BDFL appoints members of the Technical Board.
- The TWiki name and brand, as well as the twiki.org domain name, are the property of the project founder Peter Thoeny; he has sole discretion in decisions related to these matters.
This proposal met considerable opposition from the community. It seemed to go against some already established and more democratic decision structures. The role of BDFL met some strong resistance, although some members acknowledged the need for leadership.
The issue on the brand name left quite some independent consultants uncertain if they would be able to continue selling their services using this name. As RafaelAlvarez writes
The community wanted to make explicit the permissions that were implicit before, that is, that the community can use the TWiki (tm) brand the way it has been done before without having to pay or re-license TWIKI.NET. This means that any community member could make a TWiki(tm) package (taking the core, add some plugins and a nice installer on top) and call it TWiki (tm). This means that I could have a company named "Global TWiki Consulting Services" that provides TWiki related services, and that sites like twikirules.org, twikigurus.org and such can spawn.
Today, for all that you need a written permission from the trademark holder, and if there is even the slightest disagreement between you and him, you run the risk to get sued (a site called twikisucks.org could not exists, for example).
In the same vein, a consulting company that is seen as a heavy competitor to TWIKI.NET is not likely to get the permission to have TWiki (tm) in its name.
Alternative governance proposals were then made. The community agreed that a final agreement on the matter would be finalised at the TWiki Community Summit in September.
September 2008: emotions rising, creation of a democratic board
Just before the TWiki Community Summit September 2008
in Berlin, the community learned that Peter Thoeny was not willing to discuss the role of BDFL or the TWiki brand.
Moreover, Peter would not be able to join the summit; instead, Tom Barton would be attending.
At the summit, the attending TWiki community members (present physcially and by conference call) expressed the following:
- The BDFL position is not needed or appropriate for the community. The majority position was that this would not be an acceptable element of governance.
- The participants expressed very strong reservations about TWIKI.NET's control of the TWiki brand whose value, the participants felt, is primarily based on the volunteer contributions of many individuals.
At the end of the day, the group summarized its position on these questions as follows:
- The license on the brand name "TWiki" should be a free (as in free beer and free speech) Public License given to the entire community, without having to sign an agreement.
- Peter Thoeny is considered the Chief Evangelist, but he will not have veto right, nor will he have the right to overturn community decisions.
If TWIKI.NET did not agree with this position, then the community would create a fork
Tom Barton acknowledged that he was not aware of the strength of community opinions on these matters and promised to talk with Peter and provide a response by the next morning.
The next morning, Tom Barton and Peter Thoeny agreed to the community demands (see the community letter and the response from Tom
At the summit, an Interim Executive Board was elected to create a more democratic governance structure. The board began discussions with TWIKI.NET to work out the details regarding the TWiki trademark.
Before the summit, preparations for a fork were set up, but the large majority at the summit felt that a fork would be a loss for everyone, and the idea was abandoned.
October 2008: unilateral change in governance
As a complete surprise, at 27 October 2008, 21:00 GMT, just a minute before the regular TWiki release meeting, TWIKI.NET announced unilaterally
that it would take over governance of the TWiki project, in order to set a broader agenda for TWiki and establish clear project direction (also refer to the IRC logs for the release meeting
. This implicitly meant accepting the new TWiki Governance
came into effect.
TWiki is now led by TWIKI.NET instead of its community; an undemocratic governance model
has been explicitly selected by TWIKI.NET in order to allow TWiki's direction to be managed primarily by its founder. No core contributors have agreed to continue TWiki development under this governance model.
Result: contributors split from twiki.org
Immediately after the announcement, a large group of community members
joined forces to continue development of the TWiki project, under a new name: Foswiki.
The goals of the Foswiki project include the following:
- Found an association as a formal body for the project, including the reorganization of its governance, including operational matters.
- Guarantee a volunteer-friendly and democratic environment.
- Support upgrades from existing TWiki installations to the Foswiki product, maintaining TWiki compatibility for as long as it is practically feasible.
The role of the WikiRing
WikiRing is a shared brand used by a number of independent consultants, when they work together to form project teams to address bigger clients. The WikiRing has always worked with a range of different wiki implementations, including TWiki, and many of its members were also prominent in the TWiki development community. This has led to the WikiRing being branded by conspiracy theorists as the "bad boy" in the events leading to the fork.
However the WikiRing as an organisation has never communicated with the TWiki community. Throughout the governance discussions, individuals who were also WikiRing members expressed only their personal opinions, and before the fork there were some very different views between WikiRing members. This was communicated to all the relevant players on several occasions. In the event the fork was initiated and supported almost unanimously by the active TWiki developer community, a minority of whom were WikiRing members.
You may hear or see statements accusing the WikiRing of having forked from TWiki. These statements are untrue, and are either based in ignorance, misinformation, or are a calculated attempt to spread FUD
The relation between WikiRing and TWIKI.NET
Before TWIKI.NET was even founded in 2002, Peter Thoeny called core developers of TWiki by phone individually to explore the possibilities of founding a commercial entity such as TWIKI.NET. In general, reactions were positive in the awareness of the potential prospects of adding more "commercial power" behind the open source project. It was discussed which kind of benefits TWIKI.NET could offer to the project to accelerate its development.
WikiRing and TWIKI.NET have been working together on various occasions in the years that followed, funding specific developments on the code base. Things first looked all quite positive and lucrative for both sides.
For instance, in November 2007 WikiRing and TWIKI.NET teamed up on a project proposal to install a corporate intranet based on TWiki for Redhat
. This would have covered first level support provided by TWIKI.NET and professional services by members of the WikiRing. Redhat also evaluated a couple of other projects such as ClearSpace (now known as Jive
) and Plone
. WikiRing and TWIKI.NET offered to prove to Redhat that a TWiki-based solution could very well provide a viable option and Redhat agreed to run a pilot taking place in Berlin with members of WikiRing and TWIKI.NET working together to "create something similar to ClearSpace" in a given time frame.
Before that could have happened Redhat stepped back from this offer as they were increasingly irritated by the
the community problems that arose already at that date, finally culminated in this fork, saying: "As an open source company we are very well aware of problems combining community and commerce. Sorry, but please sort this out first and then come back." (telephone call on 18 Feb 2008). TWIKI.NET said this was "not a good day for the [TWiki] community". Both parties were aware that the community situation had to stabilize first before even thinking of taking the next step for a commercial offer of that size.
All of the consultancy market around TWiki suffered from these discrepancies. There were ongoing discussions in the community questioning the role of TWIKI.NET which increasingly were perceived as acting more in its own interest than that of the wider open source community: recoining success of community as their own
, rephrasing trademark notes in code to be owned by TWIKI.NET, unwillingness to transfer it to a neutral entity, etc. Business models of a dozen commercial interest groups were at stake with those problems going on. It was the goal of the TWiki Summit in November 2008 to sort these things out and pave the way to a fruitful future for TWiki and for any commercial offerings all around TWiki. Alas, Peter Thoeny cancelled his visit to the summit short-term. Tom Barton from TWIKI.NET appeared instead, but was totally unaware of the ongoing community crisis. This all suddenly turned out differently.
TWIKI.NET decided it was best to lock passwords of all of the community members, displace the formerly elected TWiki Board of Directors, and basically to run the show by themselves. From there on it was clear that this situation had no base for any further cooperation between TWIKI.NET and the community in general as well as for the WikiRing.
In the following events TWIKI.NET repeatedly tried to paint a picture where the WikiRing was the driving force behind the fork. This not true: both parties had no interest in any fork to happen due to ongoing increasing commercial integration.
open source community would have forked being faced by such rude actions like locking passwords. This was just a logical consequence of TWIKI.NET's own actions, although probably not expected.
From mid-2014, TWIKI.NET seems to have gone out of business with its domain redirecting to http://twiki.org
Follow up: the fork in the news
Follow up: reactions by email
We have received a couple of cheer-up mails, listed at Testimonials