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 WordPress.com 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.