nothing I haven’t said before

I got an email this morning from some guy wanting to buy a link on the long-neglected template site. Link was for yet another theme directory redistributing ubiquitous themes with big blue headers and adding clumsy footer links to them. Oh, and the return address was vacation-lets related.

Yeah, somehow I resisted.

I just don’t think there would be anything like the same market for these sites if themes.wordpress.net was still in a useful state. And no, touting themes from the 1.5-era and refusing to respond to takedown requests is not a useful state. Not to mention the fact that some people may actually wish to use tags without having to screw around with the code themselves. (I know, they should so be on wordpress.com so you could monetise their technophobia, but if your affiliates will keep offering these one-click installs…) The war against sponsored links has ended up producing… more sponsored links. Sponsored links on themes that didn’t originally have them. Way to go.

This really only fuels my paranoid conspiracy theory that the war against sponsored links was actually just a Trojan horse for getting control of themes.wordpress.net and killing it. This is a little paranoid even for me, but that’s the way the evidence is pointing.

Also, I was over at Ian’s blog the other day asking to steal his adsense disclaimer, and found this in the comments:

The premium themes marketplace, announced way back in November 2007, still hasn’t happened – yet designers who were up as launch partners such as ourselves were expected to quickly build and submit *exclusive* themes. We did. Then heard nothing. E-mails have gone unanswered. Nothing much appears to be happening. So we have this lovely theme, that cost us two weeks of work, doing nothing but sitting on WordPress.com’s servers, still unused. And there’s no way for us, that we can see, to patch it or update it.

So: they expected you to knock together a premium-quality theme in two weeks and then twiddle your thumbs indefinitely waiting for payday, while they hold your work to ransom? No feedback, no access, no communication? Sounds about right. Personally I’d do what most theme designers do when a custom client skips out on payment: release the work to the public for free. The whole ‘exclusivity’ thing isn’t exactly compatible with compulsory GPL-ness anyway.

This fuels my paranoid conspiracy theory that the marketplace was merely a ruse to get people to submit their premium themes direct to Matt rather than, you know, releasing them and making a profit. (That would never do.) Automattic get a set of nice themes to plunder for their corporate clients (or maybe even the plebs on .com, if they’re really lucky) without having to pay or respect anyone’s copyright.

This is cynical even for me.

What I actually think has happened is that Automattic have far more projects than they can adequately deal with at the moment. There’s 2.5, with its complete admin overhaul and fairly imminent deadline. There’s the day-to-day running of wordpress.com (want to see something scary? Google ‘wordpress.com club penguin’. The place is an illegal creche.) There’s the handling of corporate clients. Akismet. Overhauling Gravatar. Going to conferences. Vetting applications to the plugin repository. Trying to get bbPress ready for primetime so they can get TalkPress off the ground. Anything theme-related is going to be pushed right down to the bottom of the to-do list, somewhere below adding a lastFM widget to wp.com, because anything theme-related always is. They don’t have anyone on board who’s really interested in that aspect of the business (as a quick glance at the theme selection on wordpress.com will establish). Plus they’ve set themselves the task of creating a working SVN repository in a form that your average theme designer and downloader can actually use, which would be difficult at the best of times, but under current conditions is obviously unrealistic.

The trouble is, people haven’t grasped that Adsense widgets and the theme marketplace weren’t announced in interviews for the benefit of those who’d use them, they were being dangled in front of potential investors as potential future revenue sources. The point is not the feature; it’s the promise of the feature. The feature is a kind of optional by-product of the hype. It might happen one day, it might not. It doesn’t really matter.

11 Comments »

  1. drmike said

    Are they taking plugins again for the plugin repository? Last I heard, folks were complaining about that in the wp.org forums and how they were sitting in limbo waiting on that as well.

  2. The procedure for getting a plugin approved nowadays seems to be: apply, twiddle your thumbs for several weeks, then post to wp-hackers asking how to get a plugin approved. If you’re not on the hackers list forget it, Matt won’t want your plugin anyway😉

  3. engtech said

    After playing around with Tumblr more and more… it shows how themes on wordpress.com don’t work.

    PHP do anything themes are great for self-hosted wordpress. But hosted solutions really need a templating meta language that might get converted to PHP when you hit save.

    You can do a lot with CSS, but it’s SO much harder if you want to do something like excerpts on the homepage or change the navbar from pages to tags (two things I’ve struggled with on wp.com).

    A HTML+template markup that gets converted to a PHP theme when you upload would be pretty simple to implement and a good pay feature (to replace the CSS upgrade feature). It would encourage theming because themers could include linkbacks to their portfolio. Right now you don’t get any link credit for releasing CSS-based themes for WordPress.com, and the only way to even have your name show up in the footer so people can find a copy of the CSS theme with hacks that might not work with IE6.

  4. Oh no, I’m a pleb! Actually, I prefer duff blogger because it has more of a Homer Simpson feel to it.
    I’m glad you could find useful fodder on my blog, though I will refrain from attempting to comment on your post. Better to keep mouth closed and appear dumb than to open mouth and remove all doubt…

  5. Kissing Bandit said

    Personally I’d do what most theme designers do when a custom client skips out on payment: release the work to the public for free.

    You stole my sentiments exactly. The WP Marketplace theme designers should hold a public revolt, create their own theme repository and release them all free of charge. That should serve as a wake up call to Automattic. (Of course, it may just be as annoying to Automattic as being bitten by a mosquito, but at least they’ll see that some theme designers won’t stand for their crap.)

    The point is not the feature; it’s the promise of the feature.

    You truly are wise, TGA. I wish more people would snap out of their naivety comas and start looking at things with a more critical eye. WP (both .org and .com) are good products, but things aren’t always managed in the best way. To make matters worse, the amount of spin that’s put on it could easily leave one completely gob-smacked.

    -KB

  6. Kissing Bandit said

    Sorry for a third comment in one day, but I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

    -KB

  7. Personally I’d do what most theme designers do when a custom client skips out on payment: release the work to the public for free. The whole ‘exclusivity’ thing isn’t exactly compatible with compulsory GPL-ness anyway.

    if, as you suggest, the marketplace was a ruse to get “premium theme” designers to release their work to the community (via the GPL), wouldn’t this be more like doing exactly what matt + co wants? Moreover, the makers of these themes thought they’d be getting paid for their work – what motivation would they have for turning around and releasing it for free?

    I would see it more likely that they will release the themes on their own for a “premium” fee, since automattic either hasn’t kept up their end of the bargain, or provided no consideration to begin with.

  8. People releasing custom work for free do it out of spite: the main reason people commission custom work is to have something unique to them, so now they’re going to deprive the theme of all exclusivity by making it available to everyone. It’s more of a means of publicising the way you’ve been treated than anything else.

    I’m not convinced .org users would be willing to pay for such Automattic-commissioned themes; they would lack the advanced features and copious options that people have come to expect. If you don’t already have a name for yourself then your chances of getting people to fork out for a Sandbox stylesheet, however pretty it might be, are not terribly high. (The potential .com market was different; people would be paying for the right to use any theme other than the boring and dated free ones, rather than for the quality of the theme itself.)

    You could always go back to it and work it up into an actual premium theme. There’s still the risk that Automattic will release your GPL’d basic version at some point in the future, but that shouldn’t bother your customers because people buy these things for the functionality rather than the aesthetics.

  9. drmike said

    I wonder if Club Penguin will ever make an offer for wp.com. Didn’t they get a bunch of money from Disney? They have to use it for something.

  10. They’d be pretty disappointed if they did. My theory is that the penguins only blog here because it’s unofficial. Most of their content is about cheats and hacking so if this place was ever taken over by CP they would have to migrate to Blogspot.

    This also means there’s no point Automattic approaching CP with an offer to run an official site for them, though when the idea occurred to me the other day I was dazzled for about thirty seconds by the promise of a penguin-free future.

  11. timethief said

    A penguin-free future is IMO a pipe dream. These kids are the future. They are well schooled in cheating and hackery and they are persistent enough to keep at it no matter what “profession” or “occupation” they take up as adults. Many come from families who will buy them off rather than actually parenting them. Money spent on upgrades, domains, hosting, cell phones, ipods, laptops and blackberries provides parents with the illusion that they have provided exactly what their kids need to become enterprising entrepreneurs.🙄

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