Shelley has a considered piece on the discovery that WordPress, the open source blogging software, has been hosting a link farm on its site. ” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people making money from their art,” she says. But, she adds, “I can also see that there’s been a dimming of the joy of this medium, as more and more people turn to these pages as a way to make a buck.” And she concludes:
Bottom line is: do you like WordPress? Do you like using WordPress? Can you still get it for free? Is it still GPL? Then perhaps that’s what should be focused on, and however or whatever Matt does with the WordPress page is between him and Google; because what matters is the code, not the purity of actions peripherial to the code, or its release.
It’s a forgiving piece — the final paragraph recounts how the Romans would make sure triumphant generals would remember they are mortals — which is great to read. We’re all human. But I don’t think the problem is that WordPress made some money. It’s the fact that link farms make one of our tools, Google, less useful. And it’s the lack of transparency. Of course, you can’t long host a link farm if you’re transparent about it, which is a reason for a legit site not to host one.
But why does WordPress owe us anything? In a legal and formal sense, it doesn’t. But, part of the joy of the Net — and I think Shelley is exactly right to use the word “joy” here — has been the forging of new, personal relationships with the companies that we engage with, whether they’re for free or for pay. I feel oddly connected to Firefox, Six Apart, TinyApps.org, and hundreds of others, large and small, free and commercial, because I feel that they’re doing something for the community first; they’re not in it only for themselves. I trust them to do the right thing for us. When they don’t, I feel betrayed. It’s not that big a deal, and I don’t go all binary on them. But the sense of betrayal demonstrates the depth of the bond.
So, IMO, WordPress made a mistake. The mistake definitely wasn’t making money. It was making money in a way that works against the interests of the Web community. As Shelley says, that doesn’t make the WordPress code any worse, and I may switch from Movable Type to WordPress at some point. Forgiveness is totally in order. Yet the abrading of joy does matter. [Technorati tags: wordpress burningbird google]
Matt’s response to the brouhaha is here.
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