When the Powerful Pontificate, I Puke

Why the slippery slope argument doesn’t work for theme sponsorships, and why people in power make bad decisions look good

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. When successful and powerful people pontificate about taking the “the high ground” and establish policies based on the good of the community your first instinct should be skepticism, not acceptance. They could be right, but let the rightness of their positions emerge after a skeptical look, not before.

Matt Cutts and Matt Mullenweg are sitting at the top. They’re successful people. Very successful people. They are both worth millions of dollars. Both of them really don’t have a damned thing to worry about for the rest of their lives. They could both buy an island, build a solar powered mansion, and retire. If the United States gets attacked, they both have the resources to quickly relocate to some other country for safety.

Matt Cutts and Matt Mullenweg are not like the rest of us. But they are telling the rest of us what to do and what not to do. A lot like Al Gore (I agree with Al on global warming, but the hypocrisy and standards of living are just puke-wrenching).

Here’s my argument:

Premise 1: There are some very good themes that have been designed under a sponsored-theme model
Premise 2: Some of the best themes on the net have been designed for link building purposes
Premise 3: Some of the greatest works of art and architecture in the history of mankind have been created under a commissioning model
Premise 4: A distinction can be made between legitimate sponsorships and spammy sponsorships.
Premise 5: It is the responsibility of big companies like Google and Automattic to not be lazy (Google should add that to their, don’t be evil motto) if it hurts the little guy.
Premise 6: Failure to meet this responsibility by big companies like Google and Automattic is tantamount to pissing on the little guy (or stomping, if that seems more appropriate)
Premise 7: Pissing on the little guy (and on creative motivation) makes me puke

Here’s the reasoning: If some of the best themes on the net have been created either under a sponsorship or link building model, then the community of bloggers have benefited from the sponsorship model (e.g. sponsorship was productive and a non-zero sum game for bloggers). If a distinction can be made between legitimate sponsorships and spammy sponsorships, then a policy can be implemented to weed out the spammy sponsorships, but keep the legitimate sponsorships. If a distinction can be made between legit sponsorships and spammy sponsorships, while preserving the inherit good of a “commissioning” model to produce quality themes, then it is the responsibility of big companies like Google and Automattic to make these sorts of distinctions. Because Google and Automattic are failing to make these sorts of distinctions, they are effectively pissing on the little guy (and creative motivation). Therefore, Matt Cutts and Matt Mullenweg make me puke.

Well, there are plenty of mistakes here (like equivocating between Matt Cutts and Google, or Matt Mullenweg and Automattic), but the point and the spirit of the logic are there.

I’m now ready to hear your responses.

Comments

  1. Ryan Caldwell says:

    “equivocating” is not the right word here, but my brain is failing to find the right word. any help?

  2. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Instead of equivocating, I’ll refer to it as the “fallacy of identity” – but i take Matt Cutts and Matt Mullenweg to be representative of their larger comnpanies.

  3. nathanrice says:

    Here’s the deal…
    While you’re correct that some great themes have been developed under sponsorship, sponsorship is also responsible for much of the garbage on the theme viewer. It’s really sad to look at that thing lately. I haven’t released a free theme in months, just because I don’t want to compete with a poorly designed theme released in 10 different colors … just so the developer can pull in an extra couple hundred bucks.

    But, that’s a problem at the TV (theme viewer) and therefore that should be the issue addressed. Is sponsorship responsible for the load of crap on the TV? Sure. But why not address the crap themes, instead of using a broad brush that really will discourage people from releasing themes.

    I think that automattic and weblogtools collection could benefit from trying more tentative limitations. For instance, why not limit the sponsored links to 1 per theme? That’s not spammy at all. 1 author link, and 1 sponsor link. Or why doesn’t the theme viewer get better management. I understand these guys are busy, so get someone who can handle the job. Make themes go through approval before they can get a spot on the TV?

    To me, this just seems like a giant overreaction. But then again, I will probably comply and start releasing themes without sponsors. And maybe that’s the effect they were going for.

  4. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Nathan, that’s precisely my point. It is the responsibility of big companies to find solutions in the middle of the slippery slope. Otherwise they are being lazy.

  5. Ryan Caldwell says:

    I should make it clear that cutting down on spammy themes is important, and that “I see both sides” too – I just think you can cut down on spammy themes without throwing sponsored themes out completely.

  6. nathanrice says:

    I completely agree. I think we see eye-to-eye on this. The reaction was completely out of proportion and it would have been much better to address the “symptoms” than to go after the apparent “problem”.

    I really just wish the WP leaders would cut it out. I love WordPress … I really do. But the leaders seem to really make bad decisions sometimes.

  7. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Yep, I think that there’s widespread consensus that Matt Mullenweg can be a real pontificating #%@#$@ – and they can be absolutists of the highest order – the new fundamentalists.

  8. Dunno, but I saw this coming after Matt’s stint in the WP forums, and although it was a quite liquid saturday night, if I remember well I commented here some weeks ago that it may be time to start a new WP tehemes directory (and that I even have the appropriate URL) ;-)

  9. Btw, the benefit of the community is THE MOST HYPOCRITE argument ever, because if Auttomattic would really care, they would create a foundation and hand the TM on WordPress to the community.
    Period.

  10. nathanrice says:

    That’s a great point. It’s BS. This is plain old “it’s the easiest solution” route if you asked me. This isn’t to benefit the community … it’s to benefit the big whigs … plain and simple.

  11. 1-800-HART says:

    .. but, I will never support sponsored-themes. I will support the designer of a theme with a link, but never a link to the body or site who claims to support the designer. Let the designer put a link to HIS sponsor on HIS page – not mine.

    And .. if that sponsor is just looking to buy links around the net .. I hear there is a “comment buying” site that offers cheap links!!

    But, seriously – there’s a lot in the world that is done that I have no control over. If the sponsored-theme model is to survive – it will be up to the designers and sponsors in finding a better way to market this business model ..(I hope with full disclosure and less sneakiness) – maybe creating new joint partnership domain sites to pass on 1 sponsored linked partnership site. That would be better than more or hidden links and probably go under the radar anyway.

    Crying “Foul” about two sites who choose to ban this method is not the way to go about it – i.m.h.o. – If people want it, they will find it anyway .. whether or not I personally think it is evil or not ~

  12. CristianR says:

    I found out that it’s better to go with the flow , although some might argue with me but , this is my personal point of view . You can not swim against the tide , so , the only solution left is to download the template ( with or without sponsored links and do a proper editing , if the theme is released under GPL ) .

    Along the time , i found that this was the best solution . Designers will keep selling link spots in the footers and sidebars of their template designs , because frankly besides the backlinks and possible traffic that those templates will bring them , they can also earn some quick dollars .
    Only a few have sticked to the traditions and still release free non-sponsored templates .

    I totally agree with 1-800-Hart’s point of view , if people want it , they will find it anyway .

  13. Think Like Them says:

    The whole sponsored link ‘solution’ is such nonsense (with WP and Google in general). Banning never really stopped anything from happening, did it?

    Every site on the web will not comply with this foolish new ‘rule’, therefore, the ‘rule’ will fail to matter.

    This will also allow Google to matter a little bit less.

  14. Ryan Caldwell says:

    HART,
    but the fact is that Matt Mullenweg is on a mission, he’s not just implementing a policy on his own sites. he’s preaching.

  15. Ryan Caldwell says:

    “Let the designer put a link to HIS sponsor on HIS page – not mine.”

    “maybe creating new joint partnership domain sites to pass on 1 sponsored linked partnership site.”

    Interesting ideas. But this is the sort of compromising solution that I was asking for in the first place. Not the blanket solution that Matt Mullenweg is calling for.

  16. saloschin says:

    I agree- massive hypocrisy here. I really see it as a “win-win” situation for all concerned, including Automattic. Yes, we are employing precisely this model at Perf. But this is a “free market”- nobody is twisting anyone’s arm to do anything from the moment of creation to the actual use of the theme. Franky- a shameless plug here: we are trying to do just that with freewordpressthemes.com. A work in progress….

  17. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Mark, I’d suggest making sure that each submitted theme at freewordpressthemes.com gets manually reviewed. That’s the most obvious way to weed out spam. Might take a little work, but it could distinguish the site as *the* premier site for free wordpress themes, especially if you only accept themes of a high quality

  18. saloschin says:

    Ryan, that’s absolutely right, thanks. Free “quality” themes needs to be the mantra. Another point- apart from the not insignificant cost of producing “quality themes”, there is the support element. I know for a fact that many designers are pulling their hair out at the hundreds of questions which need to be answered every week. Their time needs to be compensated and the “community” will be worse off if they just give up, as Nathan hinted at. Sponsorship, in a responsible way, pays for the post-design support, not just the design itself.

  19. Brett Bumeter says:

    On the Matt’s, Mr. Cutts represents a monopoly that is single handedly responsible for putting more spam on the internet than any other company. Everything they do is suspect and typically it is designed to maintain their monopoly.

    When will the EFF get on the ball and litigate their anti-trust behaving asses anyway?

    The WordPress guys are just crazy. Maybe eccentric would be more polite.

  20. Ahmed Bilal says:

    Wrote a followup here, but I just wanted to add something here:

    It’s the idealism that everything associated with WP should be free that gets to me. However, instead of cribbing too much about it, we can a) impress upon them that quality themes deserve inclusion regardless of sponsorship and b) use the momentum to set up another themes site solely for quality themes.

  21. Brett Bumeter says:

    As much as I’d like to see these themes listed in WordPress, I suppose that Performancing then comes into play as the site for this

    b) use the momentum to set up another themes site solely for quality themes.

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