Words from the CEO for the #15yearsofXWiki party

19 Jul 2019 5 min read

On the 8th of July, we celebrated 15 years of XWiki. In this celebration, we were joined by XWiki Alumni, friends of the company and the Open Source project, and some lovely clients. 

Below, you can find a written version of the speech Ludovic Dubost, the CEO and creator of XWiki, held that evening. Note that the following text is not the exact transcription of Ludovic's speech, but the written version before the actual speech.

This party celebrates 15 years of efforts from all the XWikiers to grow a sustainable company building Free and Open Source software that matters. It means a lot to me and the XWikiers to have you all here tonight.

It is very hard to summarize 15 years in a simple and short speech, and I'm not very famous for being able to keep it short. I'll do my best.

A good approach would be to summarize it by the objective. When I created XWiki, I did not fully know what I was doing. I'm not saying I do know now, but at the time I came out of an experience in the Internet Bubble, working for a company that was successful in the bubble. That success means that today it doesn't exist anymore. The company raised money, built great proprietary technology, went in 15 countries, made little revenue, went on the stock market, and eventually was sold for 10 times less than it was valued before. The technology that we had to build went, in part, to the trash bin.

Free and Libre Open Source Software

 Open Source has been my main answer, knowing that by building our software as Open Source it would still be there whatever happens.

Later, as I built XWiki, I discovered more about FLOSS Software, and participating in this movement has become something very important. Free Software is about control. The movement was created with the objective of users regaining control on software. Today, although we have more Open Source software, the lack of control is still a big concern, as from Proprietary Software companies giving you software that you don't control but that you install in your home or company, we have moved to Cloud companies providing services mainly built on Open Source code, but which you still do not control. While the FLOSS movement has progressed we are still lacking the FLOSS based end services and software that allow us to keep control. What XWiki does today, providing both software and services fully as Free Software is even more relevant and important.

I'm very proud that XWiki is part of an important and vibrant movement in France and Europe, alongside many other companies and organizations. These organizations are important as they show how important Free and Open Source is. Some of them have joined us today: April, or OW2, but it's also worth mentioning CNLL, AFUL, Framasoft, La Quadrature du Net and internationally FSF, OSI or free software events like FOSDEM.

Software that matters

Knowledge: Another objective was to build software that matters. In my previous job in 2001, thanks to Erwan, I discovered wikis and we set it up to share knowledge in our team. I had found software that matters. Wikis matter, because they help share knowledge. Sharing knowledge matters for many reasons. First, it is very important for companies to make them more successful, but it also helps people grow when accessing more knowledge through companies or public wikis. "Knowledge is Power" said Francis Bacon.

 Knowledge empowers individuals and allows them to become team members instead of tasks executors. For us, at XWiki "Knowledge is Power ... so it should be shared"

Going a step forward, we should be proud that XWiki is being used to make knowledge accessible to probably millions of people, inside 7000 organizations that have XWiki installed, and through public websites with tens of thousands of visitors.

Clients and Users: Not only do we build the software, but we also help companies make better use of it and set up knowledge sharing systems. Throughout the years we have been able to work on many great subjects, including Education Knowledge Sharing, Information Sharing for the Public Service (CNFPT), Knowledge Sharing for train repair or answering calls from people having had an accident, lately the Historical Lexicon of Switzerland, MonAvis system for allowing citizens to vote on dematerialized public services. We have also worked on medical wikis such as the CDLS World, community helping parents with sick children or the Children Knowledge Network in Canada. We are also happy to bring knowledge sharing to medium-sized companies with XWiki Cloud and even to individuals with CryptPad. Since we launched these two products we have had subscribers from 20 different countries.

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A big thank you to our clients and supporters who participate in building our Open Source Software.

Privacy: More recently, the subject of privacy has emerged. The Snowden revelations have shown that we don't know who has access to our data and for what. The business model of cloud services has fuelled a surveillance economy that we cannot control anymore, as it has been used to influence elections. The progress of cloud as a more convenient system for users both in terms of usage and price, combined with the greed of businesses fighting for the "winner takes it all" spot, is driving us into a wall.

At XWiki we had the opportunity to do something about it, so we took it: working on our realtime editors, Caleb (Alumnus) found a way to make realtime editing work without needing the server to read the content.
It's worth telling how I almost killed this project. 

 One day I come in the research office and Caleb tells me how he just recoded the realtime synchronisation in Javascript instead of Java. My first question was whether this was really needed. The NIH syndrome is very popular amongst developers.
- Why exactly did you recode it? 
- So I used the blockchain to allow to manage the order of patches and then reimplemented Operational Transform in Javascript, and now the server is only transmitting the data, so we can encrypt. 
Obviously, he knew he was talking to a CEO, and that he would get me with the word "blockchain".

But he got something there. This technology is a breakthrough, allowing new types of applications which are "privacy by default" and "Zero-Knowledge". This gave birth to the Open Source software CryptPad and CryptPad.fr which has more and more users and supporters. 10000 users per week are accessing CryptPad from around the world, 300+ instances are running, protecting users content. Not only are we breaking new technological ground with this project, but we are also trying a new business model, through low-cost subscriptions and crowdfunding. 

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I would like to thank our subscribers for the CryptPad service. Also, to our supporters who have donated, along with BPI France that funded our research project for many years. Of course, I wouldn't want to forget NLNet that is currently funding CryptPad's roadmap, allowing us to actively continue the development of the software and service.

More generally, I would like to thank the public bodies that have funded our research throughout the years: Ville de Paris, Ile de France Region, Agence Nationale de la Recherche and the European Community have been great supporters of this work. I would also like to thank the partners that have invited us on their projects: Mandriva, Nexedi, INRIA, Linagora, University of Catalona and many more. We would not be as far without their funding. 

Giving people more than a job: Another thought that crossed my mind when I created XWiki, was how would I build a company that did not repeat what I didn't like in the companies I worked for as an employee. The answer to this hasn't been to build a campus with beanbags, slides and bikes, but to try to make a transparent and open company, based on general trust. A company where employees have a project they can believe in and focus their work towards the same goal: better product, better services, better us.

In the case of our small business, we aimed to:

  • get people paid for the work they do;
  • keep reasonable amounts of pressure or constraint;
  • make it a successful business that is competitive in our industry;
  • keep the company independent, without raising money, and not end up being sold to the highest bidder;
  • all of the above, without forgetting to provide the code of our products as Open Source, usable for everyone.

We do have a baby foot table though.

Obviously, if you can get the paycheck coming in without any pressure or constraint, it might be easier to have a happy team. But XWiki has not been about trying to solve easy problems. I believe it is important to not stop at easy, especially in the IT industry. I believe that we, working in IT, are privileged today, as we are in a market where the demand is high.

I find that this privilege particularly applies to me, having had the chance to be born and raised in a country and by parents that gave me a lot of security and allowed me to benefit from high-level education. I have learned this is not as obvious as it may seem. I use this occasion to thank my family for this. So, this privilege gives us a responsibility to try to do more. 

Europe & Romania

Another reason we chose to go for Open Source software is that at XWiki, we believe in the European software industry. Even though our industry has become more and more prevalent, it is massively dominated by US companies, today the same as 15 years ago. The French and European software and internet industries are still weak, but working hard to catch up. I've always believed, thanks also to my "European" education, having lived in Germany as a kid, that Europe is highly important for our future and that we need to collaborate more across Europe.

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While I'm proud that we have initially built this company out of France, I've always thought of XWiki as an international company being able to span frontiers.

It's not an easy fight. I wish I could be positive, but unfortunately, we are struggling to get a united Europe. The software industry is not an exception. Europe invests in R&D and we are very grateful for the help, but we do not see an industrial strategy at the European level trying to bring our companies closer together. Investment in startups is national. In France, Startup Nation and FrenchTech are everywhere in the press reinforcing a nationalistic point of view. XWiki SAS is a proud Open Source EuroTech. ????

I'm particularly proud that we have built XWiki as a Franco-Romanian company. I did not know Romania before Sergiu (Alumnus). After being a Summer of Code student, he helped create XWiki in Romania, in 2007. Twelve years later, I discovered a beautiful country with many talents and lots of new friends. I'm very proud of our team in Iasi that has joined us today, and everything they have achieved at XWiki. Also, XWiki has changed the personal lives of quite a few people, including my own. I'm glad that I had something to do with it. If we will have failed everything else, at least this cannot be taken away.

This project is yours

I want to make one thing clear: this is your company and your achievements. It was achieved by the highly talented XWikiers:

  • it is the XWiki Product Squad spending endless hours releasing 12 XWiki versions per year, our QA team running the same tests over and over again, trying to catch bugs;
  • it is the Client Squads, lead by our account managers, spending long meetings with clients to sell projects, and get them delivered;
  • it is the Client Team's architect's and developer's talent building the projects and taking responsibility to make them work;
  • it is our Support Squad, keeping our clients happy, whatever happens;
  • it is the Cryptpad Squad, previously our research team, working hard to get research projects, deliver them and break new grounds;
  • it is our Marketing Squad getting us at conferences and ensuring we have great brochures, flyers, stickers, and tee-shirt for these events, catching our leads, with only a fraction of the budget of the big players;
  • it is our HR Squad getting young engineers to see beyond the size of your logo on the building and keep us happy while making our two offices work smoothly and seamlessly;
  • it is our Community which uses XWiki, makes it known, contributes to our forums and extensions. There are no small contributions to Free and Open Source software;
  • it is the research funding agencies, along with our research partners who allow us to get the necessary funding to fuel our research and innovation process, while building new capabilities and releasing them as Open Source;
  • it is our clients who buy our services, our cloud, our support and are funding the development of these projects and allow this company model to exists.

Thank you for making this possible. I suppose, if we are still there after those 15 years, earning more than we spend year after year, we have succeeded.

You should be all proud of this achievement! This INCREDIBLE achievement!

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Drawing of the evening, courtesy of Bénédicte Roullier

What does the future hold for XWiki

Technology continues to evolve, and XWiki needs to embrace the changes. Virtualisation is an incredible trend, and the browser is the key tool everybody is using now.

With new technologies like WebAssembly, we can expect that we should soon be able to run the Java JVM and MySQL in the browser and, therefore, XWiki itself. If we can run XWiki in the browser, then we should be able to run XWiki inside CryptPad, allowing the combining of our two products and bringing encryption to XWiki.

Well, who knows what can happen in 15 years, maybe it will be possible!

More seriously, in the next 15 years, XWiki SAS will be what you decide it should be. We have created the Squad structure to create team autonomy and make each team focus on its sustainability and its key goals. What XWiki SAS does will evolve with you!

On my side I hope 15 years from now, XWiki SAS will have grown XWiki and made many more knowledge projects, all the while being more integrated with other popular Open Source solutions so that, together, these products can help our companies and countries regain technological independence. XWiki SAS wants to help, but we cannot do this alone. 

On the CryptPad side, I'm confident we will reach sustainability thanks to our users and supporters helping CryptPad spread. CryptPad has enormous potential to change the way software is being built and used, focusing on privacy first. I wish new squads will exist. XWiki SAS should be your home for building great, sustainable free software products. 

To finish I'd like to raise my glass to all those who have helped us, who share our goals and to all our team.

After bragging for an hour about the work we do, I would like to close by raising my glass to the many, inside and outside XWiki, that do even harder and more important work, silently tackle the non-easy tasks, without being in the spotlight. It's not always those of whom we speak the most that do the most important work.

Happy 15 years!

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