here we go again

Late to this one (Christmas shopping, meh), but, yeah, if you didn’t already hear, Matt has, unilaterally and without prior notice, purged extend/themes of over a quarter of its content. As well as targeting premium theme sites, this allegedly includes any theme linking to a site which carries an affiliate link to WooThemes. Whether this ban also encompasses affiliate links to theme sites other than Adii’s, I do not know (though affiliate links to Revolution are presumably kosher, seeing as how wordpress.org was carrying one till they were called on it). How Joseph felt about his theme-vetting skills being publically dissed in such a way, I do not know. What the hell was going through Matt’s brain at the time, I also do not know, but it’s December again so we can’t go expecting too much in the way of rationality.

Somebody in the sacred inner circle really needs to point out to Matt that if he doesn’t let go of his obsession with persecuting theme designers it’s going to start seriously hurting the community. For a start, it should have been apparent to anyone with half a brain that premium themers were going to release freebies and submit them to wordpress.org as a promotional tool; partly for the linkage, partly to showcase their skills. If Matt didn’t want people doing that it should have been made clear at the outset.

Of course, there is no logical reason why he should not want them doing that. A GPL theme is a GPL theme, regardless of who designed it or the motives behind its release. And if it’s been made to persuade you to invest in the designer’s other work, it needs to be a decent one. Free themes by premium designers? What is so terrible about this, exactly? Nobody is forcing people to buy whatever other themes the designer or his/her affiliates has on offer. Nobody is even forcing anyone to keep the link to a profit-making site. The whole concept of GPL is that you can’t enforce these things, that it doesn’t much matter who originally created the code, and that you can take it and make of it what you will. Refusing to distribute a GPL theme (or plugin, for that matter) because you personally dislike what the developer has done with their website pretty much flies in the face of that spirit of openness. The code is rejected because of who made it, rather than judged on its own merits; and end-users are deprived of a free theme.

(Still, let’s face it, it’s a very long time since anyone involved in this endless GPL jihad bothered to think about the poor bloody users.)

People stipulating that you can’t remove their links? Also to be expected by anyone with half a brain. I mean, Michael Heilemann tried that with Kubrick, and that was apparently GPL enough to make it into core. If designers can’t be bothered to ascertain what the licence you’re imposing upon them actually entails, that’s their lookout. My understanding was that in submitting your theme to .org you render your theme GPL, because that’s what you agreed to when you uploaded it. And at this point it ceases to matter what you want people to do (or not do) with your theme. If you still care about things like being credited for your work, and you don’t want your free labour commercially exploited, then the only way to clarify your terms of use is to CC-licence your content and keep the hell away from wordpress.org. Come to that, it would be prudent to steer clear of designing for WordPress entirely and focus your efforts upon a platform that allows you to distribute your work under whichever terms you see fit.

I fully expect that the next offensive will be to ban links to non-Wordpress sites entirely, as was proposed for the abortive Marketplace. That could probably be handled on an automated level, and would prevent chucking the baby out with the bathwater and junking a perfectly good theme because of an iffy footer link. It would also prevent people from gaining any extra traffic or pagerank from designing a successful theme, not to mention preventing end users from following up on a theme they see on someone else’s blog. But then, SEO spamming is Serious Business and should be left to those with multiple PR8 and 9 sites at their disposal.

13 Comments »

  1. Kissing Bandit said

    (Why did Small Potato just cross my mind?)

    Now, I wonder how many designers will continue to produce and release free WordPress themes after getting a whiff of this mess and how many more actual link spammers will start looking for more clever methods for sneaking their links into their theme releases.

  2. Kissing Bandit said

    On another note, I also love when called out publicly, suddenly Matt manages to get in touch and promise the “mistakes [that have] been made” will be corrected.

    Gosh, I want to have BS skills like that when I grow up.

  3. I'm anonymous on this one said

    Apologies for the anonymity, and I’ve done a bit of covering up on IP addresses and cookies in order to make sure I’m not too easy to track down because at the moment I’m debating the approach to take with our WP overlords and given that this blog is on an Automattic service, I want to be careful.

    [long rambling comment removed]

    The short version of what I’ve just cut out is that Matt and his gang of applauding seals have the moral victory… in their own minds.

    Automattic/Matt/WordPress.org need to get over themselves and accept that other people can make money too. At the moment they want the advantages of open source (a legion of unpaid coders, designers and testers) along with the power to shut out companies that could potentially diminish their profits and… well, you can see where it’s going. I’m certain that Automattic has a five year business plan, at the very least. VC of $30m doesn’t arrive for poorly thought out businesses.

    They’re pulling things that they say are not GPL or… in the words of Matt… in the /spirit of GPL/… according to his own definition of course.

    These guys are adopting GPL like a religion. A belief system. And religions, by and large, tend towards concentrations of power coupled with endemic corruption. The leaders believe they are right, and that their interpretation is the One True Way. Of course, it’s not the first project to suffer this, and it’s not the last. What I can predict is that if things continue like this it can cause a dangerous fork in the project, and push away the people that made it a success. I’ve already found myself poking around Habari, Drupal and some commercial CMS’s too. MS are working on something too, and MS, for all their faults, have always had a very fine understanding of the lives of developers and sysadmins and their need to actually make a living – which is why they’re still the big boys in the game and will probably continue to be so even when there’s so much great free stuff floating around.

    These are interesting times.

  4. Kissing Bandit said

    I’m curious, why the hoops to remain anonymous? You haven’t revealed anything remotely damning and you haven’t shared anything that anyone with critical observation skills doesn’t already know. ;) (Not being facetious, either.)

    On another note, I’m certain that Automattic & Co. already accept that others can use WP to make money, they’re just not happy about it and will do whatever they can to stunt the economic or market growth of anyone who seems to encroach on one of the business models they’ve been envisioning for themselves.

    All points above lead me to believe that the theme market place hasn’t died a cruel and horrible death (as many have come to believe), but that it’s been placed on the back-burner. The idea is slowly bubbling to a boil and it may just be time to lift the lid and reveal to everyone what’s been cooking. Hence, they need to squish the competition from existence, or at least make the competition less known, before that time comes.

    Of course, that’s just random speculation.

  5. I think you may be on to something here.

    At the moment, designers would have little incentive to enter Automattic’s theme marketplace; they can sell premium themes on their own site and keep all the profit for themselves. My guess is that the majority of themes submitted when the initial call went out were intended as the same kind of promotional freebies I mention in the post; a GPL sacrifice to advertise their real business. That’s unacceptable to Automattic, who are not interested in promoting anyone’s business but their own. They certainly don’t want wp.com users being tempted outside the walled garden into the world of self-hosting, and spending their money on premium or custom themes rather than wordpress.com upgrades.

    If Automattic want to resell other people’s themes and cream off half the profit, they first need to close off the option of selling your own. So they’re cutting off the oxygen supply by banning not only non-GPL themes but themes with any connection to non-GPL themes from wordpress.org, making it harder for people to find them. They’re sending anyone who wants to pay for themes over to Brian Gardner, who no doubt will also be first in line when they start selling themes on wordpress.com. All very cosy .

    The idea is that everyone else will see the special treatment he’s getting as a reward for being a Good Boy, and rush to relicense so they can join in. But, despite the predictions when Brian made his announcement, we haven’t seen any such trend. Instead, what seems to be happening is that premium theme developers are looking at their figures and saying ‘actually, I’m doing fine without your co-operation, and things are not yet so desperate that I want to hand over half my profits to you’. Or even ‘no point trying to build a business on a platform that’s trying to shut you down, I’m off to Drupal’. ;)

  6. [...] wordpress™ wank: here we go again [...]

  7. It is about power in the hands of the wrong person.

  8. It’s not so much about power in the hands of the wrong person as power in the hands of one person. Even the most benevolent dictatorship will become self-serving and self-perpetuating in due course, because that’s what power does. The community should probably have been more vigilant at an early stage about one individual getting total control (especially given the software’s roots as a one-man-project which stalled for months when its creator did a vanishing act), but then I don’t think there were ever any developers with enough charisma to stand in the way of Matt’s deification. And if there had been, I doubt they’d have stuck around for long.

    Meanwhile, my last comment proves strangely prescient, except that they’re going MT rather than Drupal. I especially love the snarky tweet about how Six Apart ‘love supporting great designers’. There’s life in the old dog yet…

  9. This does raise one interesting problem/ concern/ question/ whatever. What to do with themes that are released as something besides GPL? The Mu installs that I host have been batting this around for quite a while now as someone way back when wanted to add in The Hobbit theme into their install but wondering what to do with the javascript/ links/ whatnot in that theme’s footer. The theme, as far as we’ve been able to tell, isn’t GPL’ed. Are we able to remove them? If you agree with the “All WordPress themes are GPL’ed” camp, it’s not an issue. But, considering that this is a commercial Mu install, it would leave the client open down the road for a suit if the theme developer wanted to follow up on it.

  10. [...] some others like David Peralty (WordPress’ “GPL” and Theme Mess) and that girl again (”here we go again“) weighed in their opinion as [...]

  11. That Girl Again said:
    “But, despite the predictions when Brian made his announcement, we haven’t seen any such trend. Instead, what seems to be happening is that premium theme developers are looking at their figures and saying ‘actually, I’m doing fine without your co-operation, and things are not yet so desperate that I want to hand over half my profits to you’.”

    I don’t think you know just how right you are about this.

    That Girl Again said:
    “At the moment, designers would have little incentive to enter Automattic’s theme marketplace; they can sell premium themes on their own site and keep all the profit for themselves.”

    This is actually a very interesting concept that I hadn’t yet thought of. This is one of my main objections to the dual-loyalties of a single leader, Matt. On the one hand, he has to consider his investors. They’ve invested significant capital in Automattic and WordPress.com. Matt has to do what’s in the best financial interests of his company. That means finding creative ways to turn a profit. Hence the theme marketplace idea.

    But just as the theme marketplace was conceptualized, Brian G. and others began selling themes for self-hosted users, effectively making a theme marketplace idea hard to implement (as proven by the delays in launch).

    But if the self-hosted theme market dries up (or at the very least shrinks to the point of insignificance), then the theme marketplace is back in business.

    I am NOT saying this is the motivation behind what Matt has done, or will do. I’m just saying that by splitting his loyalties between the two entities, it makes one suspect. Which is why I suggested that he let the collective community at WP make decisions like this in the future. It would end all suspicion and create TRUE community and accountability.

    Nathan

  12. Kissing Bandit said

    While we can speculate until we’re blue in the face, I stand by the saying, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it’s likely a duck.”

    The current trend tells me that what’s going on here is likely a duck. (Or, rather, a means to get the whole “theme marketplace” poised for the takeover.)

  13. [...] some others like David Peralty (WordPress’ “GPL” and Theme Mess) and that girl again (“here we go again“) weighed in their opinion as [...]

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