A letter from the Managing Director
Hello, world! My name is Josh Simmons and it is a joy and a privilege to introduce myself as the first Managing Director of The Matrix.org Foundation. While I’m no stranger to open source and I have been a Matrix user for several years, I am new to the Matrix community and so I’d like to share a little about myself and the work we have ahead of us.
Matrix is on a journey, charting a course through technical and social evolution like all the successful open source projects that precede us. Once a project gets traction, the question quickly becomes: how do we sustain this and how do we make collective decisions? And set against a backdrop of an industry where many projects backed by for-profits are ultimately relicensed out of the open source commons, there’s added intensity around the question: how do we protect this public good and keep it in the commons? The answers to these questions evolve as the community grows and the landscape changes, but the seeds of success are planted early.
I step into this role for the Matrix community with the greatest of confidence about our future, based on current conditions as well as the decisions that were made years before the Guardians began their search for a Managing Director. But who am I to make such an assessment?
I am a community organizer, web developer, nonprofit geek, inclusion specialist, and activist based in the North Bay Area. I’m working full-time as the Managing Director of the Foundation, and volunteer as Vice President of Petaluma Pride, organizer of the Public Health Pledge, co-organizer of North Bay Python, and an advisor to Independent Federated Trust & Safety (IFTAS). But most people know me for the six years I spent on the board of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), which I concluded as its President then Chair after running a strategic review process and hiring OSI’s first ever Executive Director. In the past I’ve worked as a Foundations Advocate at Tidelift, helped start the Open Source Programs Office (OSPO) at Salesforce, worked on Google Summer of Code at Google, and did community management for O’Reilly Media, in particular for OSCON (RIP).
Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot of time observing how projects, communities, and organizations change, celebrating their successes and learning from their failures. And my time at OSI was themed by external crises, navigating challenging new social and economic circumstances, and fighting against for-profits that embrace open source only so long as it’s convenient marketing before engaging in open washing and the ‘rights ratchet.’
So when I look at Matrix and say I feel confident, those are not empty words. Why do I feel confident? It doesn’t hurt that there are already 115 million users, or that people and their governments are increasingly fed up with a world littered with siloed communication tools and tech companies that chase short-term gains at the cost of user experience, privacy, and security.
It’s also because of decisions that have already been made around licensing and governance. First, the core assets of Matrix – from the trademark and domain name to the spec and reference implementations – all belong to The Matrix.org Foundation, a UK-based Community Interest Company (CIC) – and cannot be extracted for private benefit. And second, relicensing has been made a deliberately impossible task by allowing contributors to retain their copyrights when they contribute to Foundation-stewarded projects. The one exception is made in an effort to thoughtfully address the power dynamics in the ecosystem: the copyrights for contributions from Element are assigned to the Foundation.
All of this, combined with the existing open governance via the Spec Core Team and the soon-to-come community-elected Governing Board, sets us up for collective success in bringing private, secure, decentralized, open source communication to everyone on the planet.
Granted, the conditions for success isn't enough. We have work to do together in the years ahead, work that will challenge us and require us to summon our best selves.
The journey ahead
We must build the Foundation into a self-sustaining organization through fundraising and staffing. We must increase transparency and actualize self-governance. We must improve the diversity of contributors, both in terms of their lived experiences and who employs them. We must rise to the challenge of robust Trust & Safety on decentralized protocols in a chaotic world.
These are all hard problems, but the solutions aren’t shrouded in mystery. It’s a matter of learning from our fellow travelers, coming together, putting in the time, and continuously building the capacity to tackle these things head on.
We won’t get to where we want to go overnight. This is a yearslong project. But day by day, together, we will accomplish great things.
Our next steps
Today, it is great to see the traction that Matrix has, particularly in open source and the public sector with users including: the United Nations, the Republic of France, The Document Foundation, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Debian, GNOME, KDE, Fedora, Ansible, World Ethical Data Foundation, Free Software Foundation Europe, and Open Source Initiative. However, while this adoption is encouraging, it also puts additional strain on the small but mighty team of paid staff at the Foundation and the countless volunteers responsible for critical work like that of the Spec Core Team.
Last year Matrix's co-founders rang the alarm and launched our membership program. It is my job to finish operationalizing that program, and I'm pleased to say it has brought in some funding. But it's not nearly enough.
In order to avoid being a victim of our success, I have a singular, familiar call to action: provide financial support and become a member. We need your help to ensure the continued development of Synapse and the Matrix Rust SDK, help us fill gaps in Trust and Safety tooling, and nurture the ecosystem for everyone's benefit.
If you are invested in the success of Matrix, in particular if it provides you critical infrastructure or product features, as an individual or as an organization, please, contribute. And if you want to have a hand in shaping the future together, stop by the new Office of the Matrix.org Foundation room and come say hello!
Ad astra per aspera 🚀
Josh Simmons, Managing Director of The Matrix.org Foundation
What people are saying
“I couldn't be more excited to see Josh Simmons chosen for the Matrix.org Foundation's first Managing Director. Josh is a dedicated open source community builder with a track record of personal accountability and integrity. Matrix.org's mission to provide reliable, decentralized, secure communications is a great match with Josh's personal mission to empower and protect software users while making sure that vulnerable communities — for whom privacy is paramount — are fully included.”
— Deb Nicholson, Executive Director of Python Software Foundation
“This is a promising development. When I joined the Open Source Initiative as its first Executive Director, I stepped into an organization with renewed focus and energy thanks to Josh’s leadership. I know Josh will accomplish great things for the Matrix ecosystem.”
— Stefano Maffulli, Executive Director of Open Source Initiative
“I've crossed paths with Josh in numerous ways throughout his career, most recently working with him on the North Bay Python conference and talking to him in his role with the Public Health Pledge. In each case, Josh was thoughtful and productive. I can't wait to see the great work he accomplishes with the Matrix community!”
— Karen Sandler, Executive Director of Software Freedom Conservancy
“Josh is a quick study and a capable organizational leader. I saw him rapidly rise to the challenge for the Open Source Initiative, where he worked to mature the organization and served as a fierce advocate for the Open Source Definition even as industry titans sought to undermine it. Those are leadership qualities I welcome, particularly in the growing community of European open source foundations.”
— Mike Milinkovich, Executive Director of Eclipse Foundation