joined-up thinking

Matt complains about finding a sponsored link in Barthelme, and asks the managers of theme directories what their policy is on these things.

Well, I imagine the guy who runs themes.wordpress.net is all for it, seeing as how there’s a link to ‘weber poker tables’ in the footer of his theme Water, one to ‘Poker Chips’ in Striped Plus, two more to Seven Jeans … shall I go on, or are you getting bored?

Anyway, sponsored links are apparently evil enough to get your theme banned from wordpress.com, yet not evil enough to exclude it from the official repository. Or indeed exclude you from running the official respository if you insert them in all your themes.

I am trying to find the hidden thread of logic which would make this policy coherent. Can anyone help?

19 Comments »

  1. adam said

    i really can’t help.
    it’s not even that the themes are linkware. they’re not. they’re GPL, just like matt’s always asked for. why then, he makes it a “principle of the thing”, is beyond me. maybe when he’s done throwing his little tantum he’ll change his mind.

    and given that technorati still thinks it’s ok to axe your blog from their listing if you link to your own blog in a footer (despite the fact that google has proved that it’s quite possible to distinguish between footer credits and real links), i really think that linking to someone who’s going to pay you, is quite ok.

    i think it’s about time i got around to removing the link to wordpress from my own footer.

  2. It does puzzle me why they couldn’t just remove the link. The theme’s GPL, it doesn’t have to stay, and even if it wasn’t GPL there’s not a theme developer around who wouldn’t agree to its removal if it meant the theme was going to be adopted as a wp.com template. If it’s a good theme worthy of installing on wp.com, it’s a good theme worthy of installing on wp.com. Don’t deny end-users a decent template because you take exception to something the author did.

    Contrary to popular belief I wasn’t going to drag Spamgate up again, but I will repeat what I said then; the developer is not the end product, and if you disagree with their commercial decisions it takes approximately five seconds to remove the offensive link or slap rel="nofollow" on it. Once the theme’s installed, the presence of a sponsored link ceases to be the theme author’s decision and becomes that of the user. That’s why I can’t get too upset about them; if it squicks you, you nuke it. End of.

  3. Sean said

    There does seem to be a trend emerging. This is the first time I’ve heard about this kind of sponsorship in themes, but I’m starting to see plugins hit the “market” that aren’t free or GPL.

    Really I don’t see a problem. If you don’t like the links, remove them, or don’t use the theme in the first place.

    I also don’t see how this violates the principles behind WP, and themes including links should be excluded from wp.com. Remove the link before adding it to wp.com, sure, but ban the theme altogether? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  4. timethief said

    Too bad these folks were apprehended if not I could have considered approaching them to sponsor The Plaster Ass Not Important Blogger Challenge. We will of course require sponsoring ADVERTISERS and they can have the distinction of being on the uber secret, subtle underground advertisers list *USSUAL*.
    roflmao – This just gets more and more hilarious.

    @adam and sean – I’ll be expecting your entries any time soon. http://bloggersblurt.wordpress.com/2006/09/09/the-plaster-ass-not-a-very-important-blogger-nvib-challenge/

  5. Sean said

    Sorry timethief, I’m using my own hosting service, and not wp.com. So I’m afraid I don’t qualify as Not Important Blogger (well, I AM a NIB, but not as far as wp.com is concerned). :)

    That being said, if any of the wp.com NIBs here want full control over their blogs, I don’t have any problems setting up a subdomain for them under headzoo.com (or 480x.com), and giving full FTP, etc. :)

  6. Scott said

    Well, I should sound in since Barthelme is my theme.

    Matt is asking a reasonable question. In the footer.php of Barthelme, there is a little line of <?php /* ... */ ?> that basically states This is a link from my sponsor. It’s up to you to leave it or delete it. The theme is GPL licensed, so it’s essentially yours.

    Just it the same way it’s up to theme collections to decide which themes they include or ban. The burning question we each have to decide is, “Do I really like this theme or not?”

    Oh! the problems we face in a modern world!

  7. Just it the same way it’s up to theme collections to decide which themes they include or ban.

    So, essentially you’re saying that Thomas has completely free rein over themes.wordpress.net, regardless of the fact that Matt owns the domain, it’s linked to from wordpress.org, and it uses the wordpress trademark and logo? That would deal with some of the incoherency, yes. But we then have to deal with the question of whether that makes the site an official part of wordpress (as all the above factors would imply) or merely a semi-official affiliate (as having different policies on sponsored links would imply), and that’s a whole new can of worms.

    As regards other theme directories: Alex King’s is no longer actively maintained, but as far as I could see, as long he thought you’d released it under a GPL-compatible licence it was in. Emily’s List, as I call it, aims for comprehensiveness rather than political correctness or quality control, so no issues there. wordpresstheme.com is plastered in affiliate ads so they can hardly object, bloggingpro has already plugged Barthleme, and the Codex is of course a free-for-all.

    So nobody else seems to have a problem with sponsored themes; and I’m still wondering why Matt had a problem with yours and not Pressrow.

  8. Scott said

    that girl (again): No, that’s not really what I’m saying. What I’m suggesting is, “it’s up to it’s up to theme collections to decide which themes they include or ban.” Who is behind the decision making process at a site, however, is another question.

    Whether or not themes.wordpress.net belongs to Thomas or Matt is another, albeit interesting, question entirely. If I were Emily, I would decide whose themes I mentioned (a clearer example since Emily is obviously the Emily).

    All my themes are explicitly GPL-licensed. Quite obviously. And the single text link ads in my themes are noted with a line, “Delete this link if you like,” (my paraphrase).

    It is rather odd, especially in the context of Wank’s following post. Sigh. Never would I have thought that plaintxt.org would have “filed under Evil” in its rather short history.

  9. Pissed Off Joe said

    Hmmm… I am reminded of this one time, somebody put hyperlinks to Matt and his groupies in the sidebars on all default wordpress installations, and then made them ridiculously tedious to remove. It gave Matt and the rest of ‘em the high PageRank they have today.

    But if the powers that be do something like that, there is nothing wrong with it.

  10. timethief said

    @wank
    excuse me . This is just to let you know that I have changed the title on my post as I got complaints that the link was too long. It’s now http://bloggersblurt.wordpress.com/2006/09/09/the-nvib-challenge/.

  11. I am reminded of this one time, somebody put hyperlinks to Matt and his groupies in the sidebars on all default wordpress installations, and then made them ridiculously tedious to remove. It gave Matt and the rest of ‘em the high PageRank they have today.

    You raise a good point; even though end-users have the right to remove the link, reader inertia is a powerful tool. Mike Little is still the top result in Google for ‘Mike’ even though he no longer actively contributes and all he posts on his blog these days is birthday greetings to members of his family.

    If it weren’t for the default links to wp.org and selected developers, it’s doubtful that any firms would have cottoned onto the fact that getting your link onto a wordpress theme is a fantastic way of gleaning PageRank. In that respect, the developers only have themselves to blame for this trend.

  12. Matt said

    Honestly I didn’t notice the findcreditcards thing on Pressrow until you pointed it out. The links were removed, but it’s too late to do anything about the theme.

    I’ll look at Barthelme again, but given it uses the template toolkit it might be more of a pain than it’s worth right now. (Themes with configuration options take a lot longer to secure.)

    The blogroll links have been around since WP started and before anyone ever thought of the Google implications. They were there to prime the feature and recognize folks who were selflessly donating their time without expecting anything back. There have been high 6-figure offers to “buy” into that list or the templates, which I’ve always ignored even last year when things were financially rough.

    I have no idea what PIJ means by “ridiculously tedious to remove”, there are checkboxes, a “check all”, and a “delete checked” button in links.

    wordpress.net is for hosting independent but related projects that need some official support, for example if they have extremely high traffic or otherwise would be difficult for someone to support.

  13. 1. You downloaded the theme without knowing where it was from and deleted the link without noticing it? OK. Like you say, too late to backtrack now.

    2. Theme authors are constantly being told that they should put more options in their themes, to make them more attractive to non-tech users like the target audience of wp.com (Lorelle has a post or ten about this); yet when we do so, they get excluded from the theme browser and wordpress.com because the code is too complicated. I wish you people would make up your minds.

    3. Not selling blogroll links was a good call. I think it would have been ethically defensible — everyone would have been able to see exactly what was happening, and, WP being GPL, we’d have been free to remove the links — but it would have split the community in a major way.

    4. ‘Ridiculously tedious’ may be overstating the case, yes, but “check all’ is a relatively new feature. At any rate, it wasn’t in 1.5; people had to go through the list and delete them individually.

    5. Thank you for the wp.net clarification, its status is making slightly more sense to me now.

  14. Matt said

    1. http://www.google.com/search?q=pressrow . I deleted one of the links but missed another.

    2. There are plenty examples of themes with options on WP.com, they’re just more trouble to integrate. What’s the easiest? 1.2-era Classic styles. :)

  15. [...] That said, at the rate of two a week a fair few of these ‘themes’ are going to be stylesheet based anyway. If you want a custom theme without paying $15 or hanging around for the VIP program to start, your best bet is to go here, find something that isn’t too hideous or horribly broken (this may take a while) and send a feedback. Or, better yet, post here so that when everyone whines about its redundancy in the announcement comments they can point to your request and say ‘look! people actually asked for this!’. [...]

  16. [...] More and more, it’s looking like the reasons for matt disliking barthelme had less to do with the link in the footer, than some personal dislike. i say this because it’s christmas. and my brand new christmas theme has a footer link to a very sploggy looking christmas site. the link in my dashboard is a to a subdomain with information about the theme. [...]

  17. [...] the horse is dead i thought we beat this thing pretty good the last time we had it out?  i guess not.  When the producers of halo: the movie hire the skins factory to design them a [...]

  18. [...] apparently using a sponsored theme himself on WordPress.com didn’t post a problem until he got called on it. Now it really could have been an oversight but it’s generally a good idea to always make sure [...]

  19. [...] apparently using a sponsored theme himself on WordPress.com didn’t post a problem until he got called on it. Now it really could have been an oversight but it’s generally a good idea to always make sure [...]

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