Archive for speculation

radio button bling

Oh, polls. People have only been asking for them for a couple of years. More fuel for raincoaster’s theory that they’re piling on the geegaws in preparation for another date with the venture capitalists.

Also, the forums seem an odd place to put that announcement. Either Mark doesn’t have posting privileges on the news blog or PollDaddy aren’t paying enough to get that sort of linkage 😉

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Flash! Aaaah!

I know that nothing this mob do should surprise me anymore, but when options posted a screenshot of wordpress.com showing Flash ads for Scientology I admit it, I was shocked.

But I see your screenshot and I raise you Scientology Flash ads on an anti-Scientology blog:

Naturally, wordpress.com spare themselves the flash on their tags pages and content themselves with loads of links:

TOM!!!!
angelina

Also, if you’re bored of linking to the last set of splogshots, how about some wildly inappropriate text ads?

yeah, that's appropriate

I don’t know in which universe it’s OK to advertise ‘Hot & Sexy Single Women’ on a feminist post about an alleged sexual assault, but it’s not mine. Nor do I think this guy necessarily wanted ads for used women’s knickers on his site:

yum

Obviously I would have contacted support immediately to demand that the Thetans not be given airtime on my blogs, except oh, it’s Sunday, and even though they hired a bunch of support staff what, five months ago now? support is still closed on weekends. And I can’t post to the forum because I once asked Matt whether his email was down. I did send a couple of feedbacks to Google, though. For all the good that’ll do. At least they pretend to care.

Also of note: Snap = popup ads disguised as a ‘feature’. Anyone know why neither this nor the Flash are mentioned in the tiny little chunk of disinformation hidden at the bottom of the features page? Or why they decided to encrypt the x-noads code that told us why ads weren’t being served on a given page? The obvious conclusion is that they’re tweaking their algorithms to serve ads to more readers more of the time, and they don’t want anyone to realise.

And now? I’m going to clear out my spam, make my regular backup, and see whether anyone bothers coming over to try and spin this one. I wouldn’t, if I were them. If there’s a single issue that’s destroyed my trust in Automattic, I’d have to say it’s their repeated failure to be honest about the issue of advertising. I’m some months past believing a word they have to say on the subject.

Even if it’s ‘sorry’. Actually, especially if it’s ‘sorry’.

Comments (35)

yet another post about ads

Andrew on why the long-promised adsense upgrade remains vapourware.

Here’s what I think the basic problem is. Not all wordpress.com blogs are equal. A personal blog by a housewife or student is in an entirely different league from icanhascheezburger or stuff white people like, and ad revenues will vary accordingly. Automattic are not going to launch any feature which leads to them losing money, therefore the cost of the annual upgrade must equal (and preferably exceed) the annual revenue from the blog. But how do they know the annual revenue? And how do they know what it’s going to be in the future? Your bumpalong bogstandard blog could take off like a rocket overnight. An average figure is going to be far in excess of what the people in the long tail are generating (or willing to pay for), and far below what the handful on the threshold of VIP status can bring in. Pitch it too high and nobody’s going to bother paying up, pitch it too low and you risk losing out. Charging everyone different amounts is an impractical adminstrative nightmare.

On the other hand, the current system is working pretty well for them. People don’t see ads on their own blogs, aren’t informed about them when they sign up, and can blog for months and years in blissful ignorance of their existence. Even if they do leave when they twig what’s going on, Automattic have still profited from the period when they were unaware. In any case, they’re less likely to leave than to stick around grumbling at intervals and waiting for the vapourware upgrade. Far easier just to keep things the way they are and claim to be looking into solutions whenever anybody asks. It ain’t broke. Why fix it?

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the bbPress syndrome

Oh look, my half-baked ideas on default themery have won me a premium theme. Not of course that this was the intention, since I have no use for a premium theme (they are not .com-compatible, and in the event of this particular kitchen ever getting too hot for me I will be going the Habari route) I was just randomly spouting off.

It is true about Kubrick, though. Ever since I was at diaryland, I’ve believed that defaults should be a bit rubbish. It encourages people to branch out. Kubrick wasn’t quite rubbish enough a couple of years ago, which is why WP is still struggling to break free of the iron grip of the BBH. Also, it’s handy to be able to tell at a glance that the site in front of you isn’t worth reading. Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen an interesting blog using Kubrick. Anyone?

Also, here is Matt on wp-hackers studiously pretending that premium themes do not exist. Which is fair enough, since for the purposes of wordpress.org/extend/themes they pretty much don’t, and for that matter wordpress.org/extend/themes pretty much doesn’t exist either.

One day I will be done carping on this, but it will be because I am bored of saying the same thing over and over and over again rather than because anything has changed. Just this. If what is holding the vaporware marketplace up is really the impossibility of importing .zips into a user-friendly SVN setup, or the difficulty of building ‘a scalable payment system’ are these things an issue because they’re intrinsically difficult and time-consuming, or are they proving an issue because of the bbPress syndrome?

If you’ve ever spent any time at all in any WP support forums you’ll probably already have guessed what I mean by the bbPress syndrome. The bbPress syndrome is about not wanting to use anyone else’s code because you think you can do it yourself. I completely get this, because it’s why I have no use for a premium theme. It’s not that I think my own stuff’s better, it’s just that I can make my own themes so I will, even if they’re not as good-quality, or polished, or indeed time-and-labour-saving, as the ones I can grab off someone else’s shelf.

I have a really bad feeling that, rather than hiring or contracting folks with actual experience building scalable e-commerce sites (and, really, it’s not like taking money off people is something that has never been attempted on the internet before), Automattic are still trying to re-invent the wheel, keeping everything in-house and learning on the job. Which is a really great way of doing things, if you’re a hobbyist and the process is just as important as the end result. It is rather less great if you are trying to be a business, with investors and customers and a reputation to maintain. You’re wasting time, you’re wasting labour, and so even though it feels like you’re saving money you’re actually losing it.

I hope this isn’t the case. I hope that the bbPress syndrome was just a passing phase Matt went through on his journey towards being a businessman. But then I look at the forums and they’re still using bbPress. And I look at themes.wordpress.net and it’s still dead.

Comments (11)

my tinfoil hat is compressing my brain

So desperate are these people to ensure that nobody ever uses one of my skins on wordpress.com that they are now testing out a third-party photoblog theme ported to Sandbox. Fantastic!

Since this is clearly a marginally more efficient way of getting themes added than posting in the unread forum threads, has anyone got any requests? I’m already working on a gallery-style skin.

(Occasionally, too, I wonder whether one of the reasons they banned me posting to the forums to prevent me participating in the theme marketplace. One of the entry requirements is presumably the ability to provide theme support, and I had been running around threatening to release stuff for pennies 😉 . But then, this doesn’t fit with my other conspiracy theory that the forums are due to be closed entirely within the next few months. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track.)

Comments (15)

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.

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cruel like that

Two DoS attacks within the week. Lovely. I don’t know why infoworld are running round saying wordpress.com users were informed of the situation by email, since I neither got one nor would expect one. (I’d settle for a status page, as opposed to a sticky post on a forum which is DOWN :roll:) The likeliest scenario is that they emailed the VIPs. If I was paying that much I know I’d expect to be notified. It’s kind of sloppy journalism, though.

There’s not, of course, a whole lot you can do to prevent DoS attacks apart from crossing your fingers and hoping you don’t get another one. (Having two within a week doesn’t bode well, but then I am a pessimist by nature.) You can end up with a bunch of angry frustrated users through no fault of your own. The internet is cruel like that.

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bbpress.com

Well, OK, it’s not going to be bbpress.com. bbpress.com is taken, as is bbpress.net. This is just as well since, let’s be honest, the name ‘bbpress’ sucks almost as much as the product. No, it’s going to be TalkPress, currently home to a delightful phpBB installation, which if nothing else will teach them about COPPA declarations:

i fail to see the irony

This is clearly hyperbole, as phpBB is a bloated piece of crap which is only about twice as good as bbPress, but in addition to COPPA maybe they will be able to figure out stuff like thread-splitting and post counts from it.

This will actually work. If you’re looking for a reliable free forum, you’re not in a position to quibble about features; you take what you can get. Plus of course it will be plugged over here in the manner of signmyguestbook.com on diaryland back in the day, when pretty much every diarylander had an smg account to match. The forums themselves will look like hell, of course, all massive fonts and unnecessary whitespace, but they’ll probably allow colour customisation and custom headers, plus the ads won’t be as conspicuous as on the average free host, so your average Snow Lover will be in clover. bbPress can’t compete on the self-hosted front — it remains a toy for dedicated fanboys and career moderators — so this is a smart move.

Comments (9)

more purges?

Everything on the forums has gone to hell. A whole bunch of people have been marked inactive (lettershometoyou, thesacredpath, carocat, universalgeni, lots of randoms), Trent has been demoted, and I’m not sure I believe this can be entirely due to the botched implementation of the new login page, because why would that screw with people’s status on the forums?

still locked out

(btw, my screenshots look odd because at the point where I was banned I was working on a custom stylesheet to make it look more like a forum and less like a blog. I haven’t bothered to finish it but I haven’t bothered to disable it either.)

I did not have any trouble logging in at all. But then, I was already blocked from forum posting. Make of that what you will.

Comments (30)

vapourised

You know the Adsense upgrade Matt was running around telling the media about last summer without a word to the actual users? Well, their latest member of staff appears to know nothing about it, and a guy asking about revenue splits is being ignored (never mind, eh? at least there’s a ‘better tone’ in there now). And while there are multiple strings relating to the theme marketplace already in the translation system (here, have a screenshot), not to mention an as-yet-unlinked-to page on the news blog regurgitating the stuff on Matt’s blog, on the adsense upgrade? Nothing.

Speculation is invited on why this has been put on hold. Has the second round of investment rendered it unnecessary? Do they now think they can get the revenue from selling themes instead? Have they twigged that ‘no ads’ is such a good selling point (in spite of not being true) that allowing users to display their own ads might actually cost them signups? Are they worried that they’ll make a net loss if people opt-out of having ads on their blogs? (I have no idea whether ads displayed to Google searchers on a moderately high-traffic blog would bring in more than $15 a year, but it seems probable.)

My money is on the first. That is why I put it first. I still don’t feel that theme-selling is motivated as much by money (the market for paid non-unique themes that look and behave like free non-unique themes is really not that large) as it is with gaining leverage over the manufacture and distribution of themes.

Comments (31)

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