Me No Likey This

A couple of months ago, I blogged about some drama brewing over the rise of sponsored themes in the WordPress community. Since then I haven’t really kept on top of the issue as I’ve been busy working on other projects. Well about a week ago, word started circling the blogosphere that sponsored themes were now being removed from the Theme Viewer which came right after the announcement by Weblog Tools Collection that they will no longer be promoting sponsored themes on their website.

I wasn’t surprised. Matt Mullenweg had expressed that he did not like playing host to the sponsored themes on the Theme Viewer and, though he put it to a community vote (roll eyes here) I knew it would only be a matter of time before he just decided to do away with them completely. I’m not criticizing him for this particular move. Matt owns the domain for the Theme Viewer and pays the cost of hosting. Therefore he is free to do with his domain whatever he wants. A lot of people crying foul are trying to say that he doesn’t have the right to do that, however, that’s only because they don’t seem to understand that The One Who Owns The Website has the right to bring the hammer down.

No, my panties are in a bunch because I don’t like the way sponsored theme designers are being treated. It is similar to how Lepers were treated in the Old Testament. Lepers were literally kicked out of the community and forced to live miles away from the main community. Anyone who came in contact with them were hosed down and quarantined for few days before they could rejoin the village. Yeah, the belief at the time was that Leprosy was contagious but, as modern science has proved, it really isn’t.

Likewise many people in the WordPress community has been led to believe that sponsored themes are bad juju and that anyone having come in contact with it will be struck down by the Great Google God because the big G does not like the fact that people are rubbing the same magic lamp that made them all powerful. I understand the concern about the loss of PageRank. However, I feel that PageRank is just Google’s way of parting you with your money (and commonsense) by fostering a false sense of superiority and status in people’s minds. There are always going to be people who go too far who abuse the system and try to ruin it for everyone. Always. But just because you see one or two spoiled apples doesn’t mean the whole barrel is bad. There are ways in which the issue of sponsored themes can be handled that will appease everyone the most effective being End User Education.

These Numbers are Crunchy and Delicious

Now I loved numbers. Math, by far, was my favorite subject in school. I could crunch numbers all day long and, for a brief moment, thought about becoming an accountant before being lured away from that idea by my first interaction with computers. So I get a little testy when people pull them out of their ass in order to legitimize their point of view with official sounding statistics.

Matt ran some queries on the Theme Viewer database and, based on the raw data, came to the conclusion that non-sponsored themes are twice as popular as the sponsored ones which is supposed to prove his theory that sponsored themes were sub par. What he fails to take into account (willfully or not) is that statistics are meaningless without the proper perspective.

All Matt did was tally up how many sponsored themes versus non-sponsored themes there were and how many total downloads each set had. The problem I have with this is that he is conveniently left out the all important element of time. It is easy to say that X theme has twice as many downloads as Y theme and thus X theme is so much more popular UNTIL you reveal that X theme has been available for a year while Y theme has only been available for three months. Paints a whole ‘nother picture doesn’t it? Add to the fact that the Theme Viewer has its share of unscrupulous designers and getting a true sense of what the numbers mean becomes infinitely more complicated.

What Do You Mean I Have To Pay?

Even though Matt claims that he doesn’t mind that people are making money off of WordPress, it becomes apparent, rather quickly, that he thinks anything concerning WordPress, should be created and distributed freely. In the comments section, That Girl Again from WordPress Wank notes that Matt is trying to force designers to put a GPL license on their themes when they submit them to the Theme Viewer which basically turns the theme into a free for all. The short uncomplicated version is that people will be able to download your theme and do whatever they want with it, including remove your copyright notice.

This troubles me, immensely, because as the founder of WordPress, Matt is in a position where he can use his influence on the community to pressure them to conform to his ideals and this, to me, feels like the direction the snowball is rolling. Indeed, Matt started this War Against Sponsored Theme back in September 06 (view here and here) although apparently using a sponsored theme himself on didn’t post a problem until he got called on it. Now it really could have been an oversight but it’s generally a good idea to always make sure that your own backyard is clean before ya go heckling the neighbors about theirs.

His movement then gathered a following of like minded individuals who, like the mafia, begin harassing not only sponsored theme authors but the people who unwittingly supported them. He then sacrifices a sponsored theme author to get his message across to other designers as to what will happen to them if they don’t get with the program before jumping up on his soapbox to announce that there is officially a War on Sponsored Themes and that they will be disarming these Weapons of Mass WordPress Destruction post haste.

I know it sounds like I have a vendetta against Matt. I can honestly say that on a personal level I don’t. I don’t know Matt outside of the blogosphere. I don’t read Matt’s blog on a regular basis and what little I have read does not tell me much about the person. I’m sure he’s a great guy who buys homeless people food and teaches orphans to read in his spare time. That doesn’t negate the fact that, professionally, I feel that his actions to date regarding the sponsored themes issue are doing more to hurt the WordPress community than help it. I do not like it when people use subterfuge and misdirection to sacrifice a whole group of people in order to appease their God (this one too). Nor do I like it when they toss people into the fire pit as soon as they have served their purpose.

You can be passionate about your cause but you cannot make your cause your sole passion otherwise you risk alienating everyone including the people who are trying to help you.


8 thoughts on “Me No Likey This

  1. actually, for what it’s worth removing a copyright notice is illegal, and section 2(c) of the GPL forbids removing it.

    the question of whether a link is considered part of the notice is questionable, although the FSF is quoted as saying it is.

    this does require that you put a copyright notice in your theme, not just a link to your site. wordpress itself has a link, but not a copyright notice.

    fwiw, it was encoded PHP in the footer that brought this to a head for matt (check out the threads he’s replied to on i have no problem with sponsored themes. encoded footer, i too, have a problem with.

  2. Thank you for sharing that link. It was very, very informative.

    I agree with you and Matt about the encoding. That’s definitely bad juju because you are taking control of a portion of the end user’s website out of their hands. However, there are always going to be people who push the envelope right over the edge of the cliff. We shouldn’t be throwing the babies out with the dirty bathwater either.

    Anyway LOVE your website. You are very talented 🙂

  3. Fuzzy Mat(h), yeah. It’s about “All or nothing”, fuzzy logic too!

    Without Matt, we wouldn’t have WordPress, but the others who get “free Dashboard traffic” need to remember that they wouldn’t generate even half as much traffic on their own, without their embedded blog posts that WordPress comes with, or without the thousands of themes that gave them news to write about.

    The anger is not towards sponsors, the anger is towards designers. They are okay with the idea of sponsors buying designer credits and listing themes as themes designed by them. If a designer sells his designer rights to get compensated, he is ethical; if he takes money and claims to be the designer of his own theme, he is unethical. If sponsorship was so unethical, why now, why not a year ago, when WordPress wasn’t so popular?

    In Scott Wallick’s words, “This is a village”, I wouldn’t even say that, villagers have bigger hearts than this.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. There are a ton of Opensource blogging and content management systems out on the market. There were a bunch before WP hit the scene and there will be many more and quite possibly better ones after it dies a long, miserable death due to mismanagement. WordPress just happens to be the most popular one at the current intersection of time and space. Eventually they will be replaced by something else. It’s the circle of life.

    I agree with you that in order to fair about the sponsored links that the ones that come prepackaged with WP need to be cut out completely, including the rss feeds that are piped into the dashboard. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I’m going to post a tutorial up about it so people can have a REAL choice.

    A lot of people have brought up the same point as you did about advertisers purchasing a template from a designer and passing them off as their own. No one on the WP team seems to want to officially tackle this issue. I wonder why that is. Maybe the Google finds this approach to be the lesser of two evils.

  5. this entry from the plugin competition does a great job of making the dashboard components optional.

    it’s code pretty easy to manually remove the planet feed from /wp-admin/index.php.

    and yes, no one has yet been willing to touch the fact that if you cede copyright to a sponsor, no one can tell you that’s wrong, nor can they remove the sponsored link, even if the theme is GPL. (GPL hinges on copyright)

  6. Without Matt, we wouldn’t have WordPress

    Actually we would probably just be using B2 as WordPress was just a fork from it. Folks seem to keep forgetting that. Matt didn’t create the software, he just expanded on it.

    I’d have to go digging for the thread but it appears that he’s also going after plugin authors as well now.

  7. Hey Dr. Mike,

    Thanks for stopping by and nice to see your blog up.

    Now that you mention it, I do remember something being said about WordPress being a fork from B2Evolution which somehow makes this situation worse.

    Going after plugin author? For what? He just did a post some time back about how plugin authors get no love and how altruistic they are because they don’t have the benefits of getting a link back and blah, blah, blah.

    You know when a software developer starts going after their own users there’s something wrong.

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