Software Developer

WordPress.com and WordPress.org are in the Same Boat

Some people believe there is a conflict of interest between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Or, between Matt Mullenweg, Automattic, and WordPress.org.

To be clear, I am not here discussing the features of WordPress.com versus WordPress.org. If you’re looking for a comparison between the two platforms, you will not find it here.

I hope to talk here to experienced “WordPressers” who already know the difference between WordPress .com and .org.

I have two points to make:

  1. WordPress.org belongs to Matt Mullenweg.
  2. If WordPress.com loses to their competition, we (.org people) will lose more than Mullenweg or Automattic will.

After I explain those two points, my overall message is that WordPress .com and .org are in the same boat, so people should stop whining that Mullenweg only cares about .com beating its competition.

  1. To me, it seems there is a huge disconnect when people think of WordPress.org. I’ll explain what I mean.

    Commonly, when we think of foundations or charities, we have no problem that the founder is in almost complete control. Nobody complains that Janelle Hail, founder of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, holds the reigns. People also seem to be okay that Bill Gates makes decisions for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The disconnect happens when people think of WordPress.org. People complain when Matt Mullenweg makes decisions for WordPress.org. I’ve read many comments on the WP Tavern blog in which people say that Mullenweg should not make the decisions.

    Maybe those people don’t know that WordPress.org belongs to the WordPress Foundation, and the WordPress Foundation is Mullenweg’s. He started it; it’s his. Do the math.

    People are thankful that Janelle Hail has projects that fund free mammograms for women. People are thankful of the work Bill Gates has done to improve the lives of people in under-developed countries. Then, people see WordPress.org, a repository of free stuff capable of changing lives, and think that Mullenweg should butt out. It seems to me that people should be thankful to Mullenweg because well, he didn’t have to create it.

    WordPress.org is Mullenweg’s baby. Grown, but still.

  2. My second point is that if WordPress.com loses to their competition, we (.org people) will lose more than Mullenweg or Automattic will.

    I will not attempt to list all the ways that WordPress.org is used to improve the lives of people. There are far too many. The people that use .org come from all walks of life. With WordPress.org, there are all kinds of businesses that people can start for free, including selling plugins or themes, selling ebooks, site maintenance services, or blogging for ad clicks, to name a few. Charities use it in different ways to improve the lives of exponentially more people. People use it for hobbies, creativity, story-telling, and connecting with family members.

    There are many more and different ways that people use the resources from WordPress.org. The one thing that they have in common is that the software, and themes, and add-ons, and documentation, and support, are all free on the site.

    But “free” is no good if it’s bad quality. The superb quality of the .org resources is something that many take for granted. We couldn’t do all the things that we do with WordPress if its quality sucked. If the site were a ghost town, if there weren’t new plugins all the time, if no one answered support questions, we would move from WordPress to another platform. Yes, you would, too.

    WordPress.org would be of no use to any of the charities that use it if nobody fixed the security bugs. It would be of no use to businesses if the ability to support plugins were not actively maintained by core contributers. We just wouldn’t use it, the same way we don’t use other abandoned CMS’s.

    Given that we absolutely need the quality of WordPress.org to remain top-notch, we have to accept this one thing:

    The only way to keep the quality up is for the maintainers to be making money, somehow. Think of it, the best supported free plugins are those whose authors are also making money, either from premium upgrades or support. Plugins that are not monetized in any way are given less focus by their authors because the authors have to eat. Non-monetized plugins usually end up abandoned. I always prefer “freemium” plugins because they’re maintained better and longer.

    This applies to every aspect of WordPress.org. Plugin authors, theme authors, code reviewers, general support staff, core code contributers, security experts, documentation writers, and even the guy responsible for renewing the WordPress.org domain (hint: Mullenweg). If we want every area to remain top-notch quality, the maintainers have to be making money. There has to be an incentive. People need to eat. Thankfully, they are making money. Some work for Automattic. Some have businesses related to WordPress.org (plugins, themes, or hosting).

    As long as these WordPress businesses continue to be successful and make lots of money, our free WordPress.org resources will remain top-notch.

    Many independent WordPress businesses may assume that the success of WordPress.com has no bearing on their success. They’re wrong. They may not realize that WordPress.com serves as a funnel for future (.org) customers. Newbies enter the world of WordPress via WordPress.com. Then, they move to .org when they want more control over their sites. I mean, more control other than just customizing the appearance. Matt Mullenweg knows this, and has stated so several times (can’t find the sources now, but I’ve read it on WP Tavern comments and he’s said so in at least 2 interviews). That’s the point of JetPack (to ease their transition into WordPress.org).

    So, WordPress.com is a funnel for future .org users. These are all potential customers for all WordPress businesses. This is money. Many of the maintainers of WordPress.org also make money in one way or another, sometimes indirectly, from the success of WordPress.com.

    Another way we benefit from WordPress.com is that they have the necessary mainstream status to “put us on the map.” People with money and time to contribute to WordPress.org may never have come across it if it weren’t for first running into WordPress.com.

    Some people think that the success, or lack thereof, of WordPress.com can make or break Matt Mullenweg. I don’t think so. People who think that, are not thinking big. Business people have always been known to pick up the pieces after a failed business and start over. If WordPress.com were to fail (it isn’t gonna), Mullenweg would certainly find other business ventures.

    The logical conclusion is that if WordPress.com were to fail (not gonna happen), the biggest losers would be us, .org people.

Oh, the irony.

If that ship sinks, we sink. WordPress.org and WordPress.com, as platforms, are in the same boat.

I just read this comment on WP Tavern:

Squarespace/Wix/Weebly is WordPress.com’s competition and has nothing to do with .org. This is a pretty obvious conflict of interest.

Of course, I disagree with that comment. Because of the points made above, I consider Wix a direct assault to anybody who uses any free .org resources, or who makes money from anything .org-related.

See this recent Wix ad to see what we’re up against.

There is no question that WordPress.com faces competition by Wix and Squarespace. When the bad vikings come to attack WordPress.com, let’s not pretend that we are not in the boat.

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