where do i even start?

The good news is, theundersigned has updated themes.wordpress.net and is planning to follow through on that appeal for volunteers he made six weeks ago.

The bad news?

uh oh

Actually, I’ve got no objections to Thomas hosting his ads there (and yes, I’ve checked the source and the Adsense ID is the same as on his personal site). If Automattic won’t pay him for the time and effort he puts into running their repository, he’s entitled to seek other forms of recompense.

What I am interested to know is whether he required or sought permission to do so, given that the theme viewer is ‘the official theme directory’ and hosted for free (I’m assuming it’s still for free?) on one of Matt’s domains. Because even though I don’t mind individuals making a personal profit out of community resources, I’m betting that there are some free-beer fundamentalists out there who will.

(Come to that, wasn’t Mark one of those shouting about the general scuzziness of putting ads on a theme repository this time last year? And didn’t Matt appear to agree with him? Still, a lot of things have changed since then. For example, nobody posts chatlogs on Codex anymore.)

Apart from anything else, if you’re letting people run their own ads on a wordpress.net site, people are going to be asking louder than ever why they can’t run their own ads on a wordpress.com site. Especially seeing as how most of us update more frequently than once a month.

12 Comments »

  1. I wrote a mail to Matt about the issue, but after 2 weeks with no response I thought that I would go for it, and see what was to happen.

    In June 2006 I closed down my previous WordPress theme site, “WordPress Theme Park”, this was primarily because I was asked to, because some people were complaining, and because the system used on the theme park “worked as a charm” and I wanted to give back to the community.

    When I moved the theme park system, used a lot of hours on getting everything to work etc., I also said goodbye to the possibility of earning money through the site. Now, people from the community have directly asked me, why I didn’t put a few ads on the theme viewer, to earn a little, and to let me be able to put a little more time into the project.

    So my conclusion: Put ads on the site, see how people react, eventually pull them off the site again? Close down and say thanks for now? Time will tell …

    And yes, the site is hosted for free – my server which handles the thumbnailing does cost a little though.

  2. That’s fair enough. If you tried to get in touch with Matt and he didn’t bother to respond, he’s in no position to object. If you’re putting yourself out of pocket maintaining a community resource and the community isn’t helping you out, why shouldn’t you claw back what you can through other means? At least you’re being upfront about it and the initiative has come from your users, which hasn’t always been the case when it came to monetising wp.org and .com.

    Somebody is bound to suggest a donation drive, but given the general aversion of the WP community to paying for stuff, I can’t see that being too successful. Put it this way — if you did a poll, the majority of users would say they’d prefer the site to be funded by donations rather than advertising, but what people say and what their paypal accounts do are very different things.

  3. engtech said

    Charge for votes in the poll🙂

  4. adam said

    silly as that sounds, micropayments seem to be working for mr. king.

    6 weeks, wow. i knew i’d been waiting a while.

  5. Root said

    I really do wish that the whole WP user community would give up their romantic notions about open source. Open source does not mean free. Automattic is now a dot com monolith – and plenty of other folk are now monetising their operations (or trying to:)). They ran google ads on the forum from the get go. So what?

  6. ray said

    I really do wish that the whole WP user community would give up their romantic notions about open source. Open source does not mean free.

    It’s not just the WP community, it’s the whole Open Source community. Most people will happily vote to eep something at no-cost and will argue very strongly to keep it that way. Of course, very few of those people will actually put their hand in their pockets when the bills come in.

    If you are providing a valuable service to the community and there is no other reliable way of recouping your costs, then I say that ads should not be a problem. Apart from finding a sugar daddy to organise regular payments, there is no other way of getting the money in.

  7. The problem is that Automattic themselves have been largely hostile in their attitude towards community members trying to make money out of their work. Charging for plugins is frowned upon. Charging for video tutorials is ‘snake oil’. Seeking theme sponsorship, ditto. Charging for themes is a mug’s game, even custom work, because the community’s been taught to expect designers to work for free. Ads or multiple affiliate links on wordpress.com will get you banned. Anyone putting a non-GPL licence on their work or attempting to charge for it gets accused of thinking ‘their work is too good to “give away”. (Rather like much of the code in wp.com, then.)

    Basically, your contribution is only welcome if you’re in a position to give your time and skills for free (a lot of the time it’s actually costing those outside Automattic to contribute). It’s very easy to have contempt for those who care about money if you’ve never had to worry about it yourself. One of the issues I have with open source in general is that it poses as free and democratic while failing to acknowledge that it’s built on a foundation of social and economic privilege. That said, it would be hard for anyone to make such an admission, since an integral part of privilege is being blissfully unaware of your own good fortune.

    [sometimes I forget I used to get political about things that matter]

  8. Root said

    Now that WordPress (read Automattic) is fully commercial – a hostile attitude towards monetising WP by users is going to be less and less sustainable. What is ludicrously naive is to believe that because a WP com blog is *free* that it is somehow akin to a charity. It is not. It is big business. It is immaterial whether we know what the dynamics and financing of that business are, or even whether they succeed. Despite that there is often a half hearted apology surrounding Automattic money charging arrangements (frequently described as *offsetting costs*) But here is the thing. Raising money can only be good. Non profit is Un American. But somewhere, someone, has to pay. For something. Half hearted charging is amateurish. Hence the incremental roll out of Ads in blog posts for heavens sake. I am just about to release a commercial product myself. And I refuse to be remotely embarrassed about it. At least not while Matt and the guys are dot comming in Mexico, downloading from itunes on their company funded Macs and chilling in the BBQ area by the pool.🙂 Pretending that they are running some kind of benevolent movement for the benefit of bloggers is farcical.🙂

  9. ray said

    But it’s all bollocks anyway – nowhere in the GPL does it say you can’t charge for GPL’d work. What it does say is that you have to provide the source code on request (which is fine since all the code is in the plugin). Free as in Speech, not as in Beer:

    [blockquote]Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission.[/blockquote]

    So Matt cannot prevent anyone from charging – it all comes down to market forces. If you and I both release plugins that do the same thing, but you charge $10 per download because you think that’s what your rime is worth and I charge $5 per download to cover my bandwidth and storage fees, then one of the paid for plugins will make some money and the other won’t.

    If you really want to feel dirty, go and look at the various arguments held over “should a company be allowed to charge for a Linux distro” – same arguments over a longer period.

  10. It’s the redistribution thing that’s the kicker. I know when I first started designing, I would have been pretty cross to see my work up on someone else’s site for download without my permission. (These days I’d probably be just like ‘hey, thanks for saving me the bandwidth’.) And of course it means that free beer vigilantes can come along and redistribute your paid plugin or theme for free, which does act as a deterrent if attempting to charge.

    None of that is WP’s fault, of course; I know Matt likes to take the credit for WP’s GPL-ness and attribute it all to his passionate belief in OS, but if he’d wanted to use a different licence he’d have had to write his own code from scratch rather than forking b2.

  11. skippy said

    Many “average users” will be happy to acquire the thing they want from whatever source is most expedient. People who really understand, believe in, and follow Free Software will be happy to acquire the thing from the original source.

    There are lots of ways to successfully monetize Free Software. You might only offer support to folks who acquired the thingie from you (which implies that they purchased it), for example. Or folks who purchased the thingie from you might get the first heads-up of a new release. These tactics help mitigate against the “free beer” vigilantes you describe.

  12. icecube said

    Personally, the only themes I’d be willing to pay for would be haute couture ones. Also, because these would be customized to certain sites, they would be much more difficult to blindly copy. Can GPL things incorporate trademarks without messing things up though?

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