A story I enjoy retelling is how a friend of mine tricked me into using WordPress. At the time, I was working with him on a career mentorship project. He’d written a book that I was publishing, and we wanted to add a premium video series to go along with it.
We just needed a way to host those videos online.
I was still very new to web development. I had built my own portfolio site in PHP, having learned PHP through a series of emails from a good friend in Arizona. My business partner was excited about the prospect of a dynamic website and turned me loose to find the right tool.
I settled on … not WordPress.
A few days later, he invited me to lunch downtown. Having no real job and, since our project wouldn’t be launched or profitable for a few months, I had no money and was thrilled at the thought of a free lunch. I parked downtown and met at an obscure office building … where the first ever WordCamp Portland was being held.
Spending the day with a bunch of WordPress geeks was fun and excited me about the tool. I switched gears and rebuilt our site on WordPress. I rebuilt my own site on WordPress. I started publishing plugins and a few themes for WordPress. I started contributing code back to WordPress Core.
But I still wasn’t a “WordPress professional.” It was just a hobby.
Software as a Profession
I was active enough in the WordPress community that I could start freelancing and actually earning money with my hobby. I never wanted to be a developer, so it was a bit humbling to admit that I was making more money with my hobby than with my real career in business. That said, I was able to use my WordPress freelancing to build a solid resume and get a job.
Writing code in C#.
I still hacked on WordPress as a freelancer in the evenings and on weekends. I still gave my code away for free, having been inspired by meeting Matt Mullenweg and hearing his mantra of “do your best work, give it away for free, and the universe will provide.” Considering his success, I figured it was good advice and followed suit.
I also kept attending WordCamps and worked my way up to speaking at them. Several people asked me why, despite my passion for open source, I wasn’t working with WordPress professionally. The constant questioning, and direct encouragement from certain individuals I highly respect, lead me to apply to Automattic.
Working with WordPress
I applied to … several positions with Automattic over a period of years. I applied to be a code wrangler. A theme wrangler. A happiness engineer. Whatever position I saw open, I threw my resume at. Every time I got back a “thanks, we’ll be in touch” response.
But that was it.
I have never once actually worked for Automattic. In 2012, I was incredibly excited to accept an offer with 10up where I finally got to work with WordPress full time. I spent four years with that team, building some of the best, most complex WordPress installations on the Internet. I also kept up with my habit of evening and weekend work to help polish and improve the platform upon which we built our products.
That’s also when I noticed a troubling trend …
WordPress is not WordPress
I can already feel the backlash brewing, but there are a lot of problems within the WordPress world. Among the worst of them (from a business perspective) is the WordPress name itself.
“WordPress” is a trademark owned by the WordPress Foundation. Because Matt Mullenweg is the founder of WordPress, the WordPress Foundation, and Automattic, the latter has perpetual and unique permission to use the trademark in ways prohibited to the rest of us. No one else is allowed to:
- Call their product “WordPress ____.” It must be “___ for WordPress” or something similar that explicitly calls it out as an extension.
- Use WordPress in their domain name.
- Use the WordPress name, logo, or in any way suggest an affiliation with a non-GPL licensed work.
One of the consequences of all of the above: Automattic directly and financially benefits from the WordPress name because their flagship product, WordPress.com, is so often confused with it. This is an issue that’s come up time and again, but which Automattic does nothing to combat. In fact, they often encourage it!
It cannot be said enough: WordPress.com and Automattic are not the same thing as WordPress.
The other day, I tweeted my frustration about the ongoing confusion bleeding its way into (and being encouraged by Automattic) radio commercials for the WordPress.com product. A few people challenged me on that, some even going as far as to say it was a good thing. I disagree.
As a volunteer contributor to WordPress, watching a for-profit company benefit directly from my unpaid work is infuriating. Said more eloquently:
The people that work on WordPress put their energy and passion into the project. It’s demoralizing to hear the project referenced as something made by a company you have nothing to do with. (WordPress versus Automattic)
The last time I engaged in this debate was over the mobile apps for WordPress. Again, due to trademark issues and the fact that a business needs to “own” the apps in both the Android and iOS stores, the WordPress mobile apps are listed as being “by Automattic.”
As a past contributor to both, I bristle at the thought of a company with whom I have no affiliation putting their name on my work. As I said at the time, I would have no problems with these apps being “by the WordPress Foundation” or carrying some other affiliation stating they’re community projects and not Automattic products.
I have no problem with Automattic building their business and promoting WordPress.com as a product. It’s solid and solves real needs by consumers.
I have no problem with WordPress.com advertisements on TV or the Radio or elsewhere. They’re great ways for Automattic to build recognition of their product and encourage new signups.
I do have a problem with advertisements conflating WordPress and WordPress.com by subtly suggesting that the “27% of the Internet run on WordPress” is due to Automattic or is somehow because of WordPress.com.
I do have a problem with anyone, organization or individual, claiming to respect and value community contributions or open source who directly uses restrictions like trademarks to financially benefit on the otherwise free donations of that community.