Archive for speculation

end times

And it becomes clear why it was suddenly a matter of urgency to get the wordpress trademark out of Automattic’s hands, not to mention their newfound love for Internet Explorer. (IE? seriously? I remember when promoting open-source browsers was a core feature. I guess it depends who’s paying.)

Strangely, my comment on the latter post congratulating them on officially having sold out failed to make it out of moderation. Am I not allowed to say this until they announce they’ve been acquired?

Still, being eaten by Microsoft is way more impressive than getting swallowed by some random ad company nobody’s heard of. I suppose this means the squirrels lost.

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bbpress dies

bbpress lives? I wouldn’t call being downgraded to plugin status living, exactly, even though I’ve been saying for years that it would work better as a plugin. As forum software it only appeals to existing fanboys who want to display their allegiance to the Automattic brand, and naturally they’re all running multiple installs of WP anyway.

I wonder whether talkpress will ever make it out of beta now? I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea of offering hosted forums has been shelved as being more trouble than it’s worth (illegal downloads and libellous content are far more likely to be disseminated through forums than blogs). Or maybe they realised that Vanilla had pipped them to the post, providing free forums with more features than bbpress could offer. Or maybe it’s going to be buddypress all the way. Who knows? Who cares?

Either way, Automattic have finally twigged that bbpress is an intrinsically second-rate product that is never going to make them any money and it’s no longer worth paying someone to work on it. Took them long enough.

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spinner

More proof, if proof were in fact needed, that ma.tt long ago ceased to be a proper blog and is now a corporate mouthpiece. (I’d have linked to the actual comment, but no, we can not has permalinks.)

wordpress.tv itself is, exactly as you would expect, a wordpress.com blog with a bunch of videos, aimed at getting Automattic a monopoly on video tutorials and driving its rival purveyors of ‘spammy promotional videos’ out of business. (At the time of writing, wordpresstutorials.com is still top of Google for ‘wordpress video tutorials‘ — why else do you think Automattic are linking to this new blog so assiduously? Look at the wp.com version of the announcement and its eight links to the target site, it’s like SEO 101.)

Since I can read faster than most people can speak and am not a raving fanboy, I am not the target audience. Naturally, the only community-produced content is the wordcamp stuff (enough to keep the fanboys happy) and the instructional videos are all produced inhouse so there’s no risk of anyone promoting any themes or plugins that aren’t. I don’t know how much they’ll make out of the Adsense on this one but as many of the users will be totally new to WP and looking for all the information they can find on the topic, I imagine it will be quite the moneyspinner.

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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.

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revolution in the head

Can we expect to see a wordpress.com version of Revolution, then? Because I’m trying to think of what inducements Matt might have offered Bryan to adopt the One True Path — other than access to extend/themes, linkjuice from ma.tt and the withdrawal of his severe disapproval, none of which I’m convinced would have been quite enough — and hiring him to design a wordpress.com theme or two would be quite a good one.

(Well, there’s also ‘join me on the moral high ground so we can spit on Adii people from a great height’, but, again, perhaps not quite compelling enough.)

I actually suspect this was a case of the stick rather than the carrot. It is, to say the least, quite a risky enterprise to try and build a business upon a platform when the owners of said platform are known to be hostile towards your business and given to murmuring about its questionable legality. It would probably only take a couple of WordCamp whispers about Matt talking to lawyers to scare you into toeing the party line.

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fattening the calf

Oh look, they just gobbled up another struggling startup. (I surmise Intense Debate were struggling since a) they’re currently closed to new signups, which strongly suggests recent encounters with the failwhale and b) they’re not Disqus, who were presumably beyond Automattic’s budget.)

I did wonder why suddenly threaded comments were on the roadmap for 2.7 after years of being dismissed as plugin territory, and now we know. It also explains the influx of new staffers on the forums. If this means we finally get threaded comments on wp.com then it is a Very Good Thing, but I still have my doubts about whether such a massive change is feasible. There are a lot of comments to migrate in this system, and if any got lost in the transition people would be cross.

Obviously I do have concerns about Automattic being in control of a centralized comment service, given the way Akismet’s been used to block troublemakers in the past. But then I’m already blogging on a server where they can edit or delete any comments at any time, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference to me.

[edited to add links. I'm getting lazy.]

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jumping the snark

I imagine Six Apart draw considerable comfort from the fact that the Matt/Lloyd tag team still considers them enough of a threat to attack them at every opportunity. Far worse to be Blogger, and too crap to be scary.

But then, Blogger’s not in direct competition. Blogger’s already been bought.

I imagine I am not the only person drawing amusement from the spectacle of Automattic and Six Apart scrapping it out to be perceived as the the most valuable acquisition. I know I shouldn’t laugh. Recessions are not funny. I suppose I’m laughing at the pretence that it’s about who makes the better software. That ceased to be the point a long time ago. And when it was the point, there was a lot less bitterness and fear floating round.

Goddamn credit crunch. You make the snark so much more serious.

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slaughtering sandbox?

There are so many responses by bubel on the forums about how you absolutely can NOT use your own themes on wordpress.com that not only am I now convinced the theme marketplace has finally been shelved but I’m starting to think custom CSS must be on the way out as well :( This user wanting multiple themes on the same blog, for example, could have been profitably directed to Sandbox, where anyone with a fair degree of CSS competency can achieve different looks for different types of pages. If it was a volunteer giving that answer, I’d just shrug my shoulders and assume they didn’t know what can be achieved with the CSS upgrade, but if it’s staff you have to assume that they have some other reason for not mentioning it.

This sucks, as I was seriously thinking of offering custom custom CSS skins for a small fee even though such services are officially discouraged. Ah well. I should really apply my efforts to learning Drupal instead.

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bitchery in slugs

Isn’t it strange how when you write an article slagging off TypePad and praising WordPress you are inevitably ‘honest’ and ‘insightful’, ‘interesting’ and ‘eloquent’, and when somebody from Six Apart tries to make a counterargument they are ‘venomous’ and guilty of ‘falsehoods and misdirection’?

Sadly, my comment on Lloyd’s post is still languishing in moderation. I’m sure this is merely an oversight, since nobody would tell their readers ‘Please challenge me on my views!’ if they were going to censor dissenting comments. I’ll reproduce it here for now, and link to it when it’s published:

I don’t see that Anil’s any more abrasive in his defence than Matt is when people come out attacking WordPress. (That is, possibly a little too forthright, but hey, fanboys are annoying.)

For someone with ‘extensive experience of both platforms’, Michael seemed strangely confused about the distinction between wordpress.com and .org and TypePad and MT, attempting to draw direct comparisons between Automattic’s non-hosted software and Six Apart’s hosted service when it suited him, and switching back to comparing TypePad with wordpress.com when that fitted his argument better.

For example: he thinks TypePad makes it too difficult for people to add third-party widgets, conveniently forgetting that wordpress.com doesn’t let you add any third-party flash or javascript widgets at all. But he thinks it’s cool that wordpress.com won’t let you use Adsense, conveniently forgetting that wordpress.org has dozens of plugins which make it easy.

I’m afraid that by the point where he claimed the separation of WordPress and WordPress MU was ‘a different developmental strategy’ rather than a historical accident I’d lost all patience. WordPress MU isn’t a fork of WordPress; it’s a fellow fork of b2 that got swallowed up by its sibling. Incorporating multiblogs into core would have broken backward compatibility so much it was no longer an option. And it’s not for people who need to run a handful of blogs off a single installation, it’s a specialist tool for site admins who need a blogfarm. It would make more sense to assess it alongside the Livejournal open source code than to pit it against Movable Type. http://mu.wordpress.org makes this perfectly clear, but proselytising fanboys trying to push it as ‘the upgrade to the upgrade’ don’t do anyone any favours.

I left out how he’s praising the 2.5 interface when Matt has already pretty much acknowledged it was a failure. Or how he thinks monthly security upgrades are cool because they’re a ‘a testament to a vibrant developer community’, which comment alone constitutes the loopiest piece of fanboying since ‘the blogging market is c.l.o.s.e.d.’

But no. Mocking the fanboy is a cheap distraction. My point is how nasty things are getting now the market is contracting. I’m not talking about the consumer market so much; people are still starting new blogs, though in the current economic climate they’re going to be less willing to spend money on them and that’s not good for either company. I’m talking about getting more funding, or going public, or finding a parent company willing to take you under its wing and shield you from the hard times ahead. These things are not going to be as easy as they were a couple of years ago. You are competing for increasingly scarce resources. It’s easy to be nice to each other when things are going well, but these days it’s survival of the fittest, and the way these spats are conducted both sides seem about equally worried.

Which would be odd, if Six Apart really were the underdog; but they’ve stolen a march on Automattic by making their anti-spam service free to everyone. Short-term this shouldn’t make too much difference as most paid-up subscribers won’t be interested in switching till they’ve got their money’s worth, but long-term it threatens one of Automattic’s major revenue streams. That’s the real reason the gloves are off again.

And the accusations of being splog-ridden have evidently hit home because they’re, um, true. How could they not be? Akismet can’t hope to catch them all at sign-up and you’re relying wholly on volunteers to report the ones they happen to see. Plus, all reports have to be dealt with individually by support staff, who are generally sort of busy with support. At least they’ve blocked drmike’s wordpress.com account now so they won’t be getting any more of those pesky spam reports from him. That should help with the workload even if it doesn’t help with the splog situation.

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in which i showcase my mad research skillz

Another secret staff member sighted in the wild, would seem to have been in post about a week, CV suggests hired to handle public relations. No trace of her on the forums, so obviously that ‘three weeks in support for all hirings’ policy has been junked.

Another box ticked. They’ve been needing someone to handle public relations for a very long time. Matt has got much better at it over the past few years, true (I remember when he advocated googlebombing a host that complained WP was a resource hog, but hey, he was a kid at the time and he didn’t have to pretend to be professional) but he does have an unfortunate tendency to undo his hard work with the occasional inexplicable freakout.

Yes, I’ve been quiet lately. They’ve been quiet. They don’t want to rock any boats at the moment.

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