Let me do my best to respond to the inquiries have been coming in, only some of these are direct quotes.
There is a shorter version of this available too.
Is this an April Fool’s joke?
Unfortunately not. If I was more clever perhaps I could make it a killer intro for one, but that’ll have to wait for next year.
What was your thinking behind accepting the advertising?
To thrive as an independent project WordPress needs to be self-sufficient. There are several avenues this could go, all of which I’ve given a lot of thought to. One route that would be very easy to go in today’s environment is to take VC funding for a few million and build a big company, fast. Another way would be to be absorbed by an already big company. I don’t think either is the best route for the long-term health of the community. (None of these are hypothetical, they’ve all come up before.) There are a number of things the software could do to nag people for donations, but I’m very hesitant to do anything that degrades the user experience. Finally we could use the blessing and burden of the traffic to wordpress.org to create a sustainable stream of income that can fund WP activities.
But advertising sucks
I’ll be the first to agree, and I’ve turned down a dozen types of advertising offers . We have Adsense on the forums which generates a bit, I can’t say because of Google’s terms of service but it could support a daily coffee addiction. (I don’t drink coffee myself.) It’s the same Adsense I use here and all of that goes toward costs for the servers I run. I’m not wild about Adsense, but it seems to be the least bad of what’s out there. It’s a good month for donations if they go into three figures, and I still hand-write an email thanking almost every person who donates.
The articles hosted content thing was just a short-term experiment, an interesting idea (original and relevant Wikipedia-type content on the site) that was badly implemented. As an experiment it could have been conducted much better than it was. The content should have been more topical to WP issue, I should have kept up with the content that was going up, the links should have never had the overflow CSS, and I should have discussed it with more people. Each was a mistake and they combined badly — I’m very sorry. Originally I wanted to do a poll about it but I never got around to adding a polling add-on to bbPress and thus the poll never happened. In my mind there were more important things to spend time on (the 1.5 release, the plugin and theme directories, etc.) but I don’t offer that as an excuse. I didn’t give the ads much thought after the very beginning until about two weeks ago when I got a few emails about them. I did not know they had mesowhatever/asbestos content on them until Andy Baio messaged me.
What happens now?
In any case everything has been taken down and I’m seeing if I can refund what they’ve already paid for the remainder of the month. I’ve seen some pretty wild estimates about the hosting fee but it’s really about a tenth of that, and obviously not worth it. The remaining money will be used as the Paypal donations are and securing the WordPress trademark and protecting against its misuse, which is very unfamiliar to me and a legal thing and thus I’m worried about its cost. There are other pots on the oven as well, and I can promise that any future actions will get community feedback before we do anything. Life and development will continue as it always has. As of writing this WordPress search results on Google seem to have returned to normal as well.
So this is all about the money?
Not at all, if anyone worked on WordPress for the money they would have quite quit long, long ago. We all have our own reasons, but personally regardless of what happens (or how nasty the personal attacks from the Register and others are) I’ll keep devoting my time to the project because I believe very strongly that WordPress is an important part of many people’s lives and should continue to be Free in all meanings of the word. In my very, very small way I feel like I’m making the world a better place and that’s far more rewarding than anything monetary.
Why not ask for more money?
Honestly because usage of the money that comes in should be much more efficient, and I feel it could be handled better. Donations currently stay in Paypal and I send it out as needed for project-related expenses and other members of the community in need. (For instance when Podz got stuck with a high hosting bill a while ago I sent him most of that month’s donations.) It’s not enough to do anything huge with, but if I can enrich the community with a little bit here and there I’m happy. For example I’d like to be able to give WordPress users I meet at conferences stickers that aren’t crooked because I cut them out by hand. This isn’t to suggest that WordPress is donation-poor, in fact it’s just the opposite, but who could put a price on the hours Ryan and the other developers spend debugging and writing great code or Podz, Lorelle, and Craig spend on the support forums or writing fantastic documentation.
I am acutely aware that this is far from an ideal system and could be a lot better, and we’re working on that. I strongly believe that WordPress can and will be independent in a way that doesn’t involve begging for money, annoying users, or selling out.
WIll WordPress be okay without the income? Should I donate more?
WordPress will be fine, as always. Despite the world stopping because of this and me being offline for an unusual amount of time, development has continued at a healthy pace. We also have fantastic hosting partners. Financially I will continue to cover any costs that come up and ask the community for help if it’s really needed. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can donate any or all of my free time and disposable income to something I believe in, and I will. I honestly don’t mind it at all, if we were in trouble and seriously needed help I would let the community know.
The main impetus behind all of this is increasing the bus factor of WordPress. A bus factor is how many central people are hit by a bus before things get into trouble. The WordPress code is golden because it’s under a license (the GPL) that ensures at its core WordPress will live on regardless of any conceivable situation. My focus lately has been on increasing the bus factor on the community, financial, and organizational aspects of WordPress. This isn’t because I want to stop working on things or mind donating myself, on the contrary I’ve been happier with the project than ever, it’s just that I want things to be stable and redundant just in case something truly tragic were to happen to me.
What about you personally?
I work hard and I’m fortunate enough right now to have a good job — I don’t need or want anything from WordPress. I try to structure things so I won’t be in any tight situations. If I ever am in a crunch first I’d try to work more, second I’d tap into saving, third I’d fall back to my family. If none of those things work out I’m doing something horribly wrong that asking the community for money wouldn’t help anything.
“You fat cat living off your illegal riches in Italy, I hope you choke spaghetti!1” (Actual quote.)
There have been no shortage of personal attacks on me, but this is the only one I’m going to address simply because I feel very bad that I wasn’t connected (no internet, no cell phone) and unable to address this bruhaha when it first came to light. Just to clear the air I’ve been planning this trip to visit a good friend for almost half a year, and I’ve been saving for a few months. If I was going to squander illegal loot I’d do it somewhere with a better exchange rate and fewer tourists. 😉
The timing of you being away is suspicious, is this a Waxy/Six Apart/Google/CIA conspiracy?
I know the people at all those places (except the CIA) and I wouldn’t suspect for a second anything like that. They’re all Good People who do Good Things and don’t deserve those sorts of suggestions. Conspiracy theories may be entertaining but it’s very rude to assume evil or malicious intentions of someone who has been exactly the opposite. Though I chatted with Andy last Thursday I didn’t mention my trip and he’s said several times if he’d known I was offline and disconnected he would have waited on the story.
How are you going to respond to the personal attacks?
I’m not, those people have made up their mind long ago, but I am truly grateful for those who defended myself and WordPress in my absence. You have all the friends in the world when things are peachy, but true character shows when things are rough, and I really appreciate those who have reserved judgment until all the facts are out there. WordPress has been doing extremely well and I knew that at some point there would be some blogosphere drama around things — it is inevitable that some people will disparage anything you do, good or bad. It hurts but I’m developing a thicker skin and at the end of the day it matters what you do, not what other people say.
WordPress appears from afar like an overnight success but in fact it has been a long and sometimes hard road, there have been worse controversies than this in the past and today’s drama is just that, another bump. That’s not to say there haven’t been some very valid criticisms, and I’m reading those and trying to learn what I can from them. I don’t remember who says it, but I think it’s important to “only make new mistakes.” The only thing I can really promise about the future is that some point I’ll make another mistake and royally screw things up and all I can do is be grateful for the people that remember we’re all human and the sooner we can move on the sooner we can get back to work, namely trying to make the best free personal publishing software in the world and giving it to as many people as possible.
Faith in Blogs
That’s the story straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speakl. I have a (perhaps naive) faith that at its root the blogosphere values truth over controversy, even if the mainstream media does not. I will happily update the entry to address any future questions or concerns that are emailed to me. I am technically on vacation through Sunday but that’s pretty much over now. I don’t have a cell phone here but I’ll be checking email regularly from now until I get back. If you have already written about this issue and want to present a balanced view of things to your readers the responsible thing to do is update or point people here. If you come across an article that is incomplete please point the author toward this information so we can have an open discussion of the facts.
Some good questions have come in and it will take a while to address each as they deserve. This will be a conversation that happens over the next few days, I expect to get to most on Sunday during my plane ride back to the US. This is just a way to say if your comment doesn’t show up immediately or I don’t reply to your email right away don’t worry, your question was heard it just needs to be aggregated and considered.