One of my favorite funny graphics from the on-hiatus Creating Passionate Users was this one from the entry Be brave or go home. Because on this entry on my blog a few days ago the part of the blogosphere that makes money from ad-embedded themes has been viciously attacking me personally. Attempted assassinations are never fun, at least for the person on the receiving end, but overall I’m happy for a few reasons:
- Some of the paid links in themes are to the same URLs I see in Akismet, so I know that there is at least some overlap between the people financing these themes and attacking our blogs, and any way we can fight them is good.
- I know that this is something the majority of the WordPress community has voted for.
- I am hopeful we’ll stop seeing threads like this in the support forum. “I installed the ecologici theme found here [link to wordpress.net] I customized it, no problems. I went to add my scripts to the footer and found this code…”
- The attacks sting less when it’s from people who have significant financial interests in seeing sponsored themes continue. They’re just trying to protect their money.
- That they’re making so much noise is an indication we’re doing something meaningful.
- The attacks sting less when they’re from people with questionable personal practices. 
Still, there is a lot of hard work ahead.
 For example one attack post from “Franky” on a blog called Wisdump (didn’t that used to be run by the awesome Paul Scrivens?) I noticed it was loading a little slow, then I saw pingomatic.com in my address bar. I looked at his source and saw he had embedded a 1×1 pixel iframe loading the ping page for Ping-O-Matic on every one of his pages. I must admit this is clever, it utilizes the distributed network of everyone who visits your site to attack Ping-O-Matic and spam the ping servers, and of course IP blocking is useless because it’s coming from the regular folks on your site. But it is also extremely skeevy. (And I believe a little bit of JS on the ping page should fix that right up.)
31 replies on “Love and Hate”
I know its a 800lb gorilla your trying to take on and I feel a little different in that you guys also have all financial benefited being you embed your own links with the default install of wordpress.
the 1px iframe load for ping-o-matic is pretty nasty…
Shoemoney, any financial benefit I have had from my years of work on WordPress has nothing to do with the blogroll. This site has been free from any advertisements for close to two years. The purpose of the blogroll was to provide some friendly defaults to introduce people to the concept of editing the sidebar on the links page. Nothing there was ever paid for, done with the intention of gaming search engines, or for financial gain. Maybe it’s time to retire the blogroll, but that’s a separate discussion and I don’t want to mix people who volunteered their time to create free and open source software for the world with the guys promoting casino sites. I think it distracts from the real issues — let’s deal with the spammers first.
I agreed with you before and I agree with you now. Get those sponsored themes out of here. We have enough trouble with this kind of crap as it is and it doesn’t need to be included is themes as well. Not that it will stop these people from pushing these themes on their own but it might help stop unsuspecting WP bloggers from being the victim of using one unknowingly.
Good going Matt.
Matt, It is hard to do the right thing. I applaud you for doing the smart and honorable thing even if it makes your unpopular. It is because of how you run Automatic that I install so many copies of WordPress for customers.
Eventually everything comes to a head and needs a line drawn in the sand. WordPress community has spoken and I am happy that you are helping to draw that difficult line.
Matt, I’m the ‘franky’ mentioned in your entry. I’m sadly enough just a blogger at Wisdump. If you’d have looked at the footer, you had seen who manages the domain.
I forwarded your pingomatic discovery to our network admin. Thanks for that, but I still defend my entry. 😉
You’re simply offering a new constraint around which these “sponsored themers” will need to design services that offer real value instead of hoodwinking unsuspecting WordPress users. I’m all about an educated populace, but source code is not where that education needs to start; instead it’s with posts like this, discussing the larger ethical issues that are instantly mired in any kind of gray area around allowing certain sponsorship of themes while disallowing others.
Google doesn’t (as far as I know) manually edit its search results for a reason; you shouldn’t have to make judgement calls about good sponsored themes vs bad ones. Banning the practice is the right approach and I’m glad to see it happen.
Paul (Scrivs) sold Wisdump a month or so ago, so I doubt it was something he added into the site (the 1px iframe).
I’ve seen this exploit if you will on a few other sites owned and/or managed by the same group as Wisdump.
Good to know you’ve added in stuff to block it now.
[…] my entry around Automattic, sponsored themes and ethics last night, Matt Mullenweg himself called me out. And I’m glad he did, even it there might be consequences for me after this post. But […]
I do think that the vast majority of WP users applaud the decision to keep the sponsored themes off the community theme viewer. As to the default blogroll links in the WP install, I think that gives newbies a good sense of what sites they can read to learn a lot more about the intricities of WP. In other words, all of this angst will eventually blow over, so don’t sweat it. 😉
[…] them into their themes, and distributed freely across the internet–sometimes, according to Matt, these links are even sold to the same people who spam blogs. Like many of you have heard, these […]
Thanks for taking a stand, and sticking to it—and for the link to the Be Brave or Go Home article, which I really needed today.
Yes, thank you. It really sucks to get a theme and install it, use it for a few days, then you look at the source, and see 4-5 hidden links to adult sites. That’s just not right. One should be able to trust wordpress to release themes free of this stuff, and not have to dig through every line of the template to catch these nasty, sleazy practices.
I will continue to release themes (without sponsor links).
Good job Matt 🙂 I agree with your decision 100%
Just wanted to let you know I sold the site months ago and I have no affiliation with the site in any capacity, but thanks for calling me awesome. If you could edit the entry and just leave that sentence I think it would give the entry more ooomph.
As the owner of Wisdump, for what it is worth- I have no idea what this “pixel iframe” thing is about- but will get to the bottom of it a.s.a.p. and make sure it is done away with. As for the heart of the issue, not all sponsored themes are “spammy” and there should be a policy of differentiating the bad from the good, not just unilateral banning.
Sean- it was Lee Bailey who sold Wisdump. And please let me know what other sites owned by us follow this same “exploit”. I need to know so that I can rectify it.
Don’t take things personally, they aren’t worth it!
If I were you, I’d check my own backyard for the “culprit.” I doubt I’m alone feeling that you’ll find the person who did it right under your nose. And it isn’t Franky.
[…] … quite embarrassing to be called out by none other than WordPress head honcho, Matt Mullenweg in regards to the blog Wisdump (formerly […]
I noticed that nearly all the posts scattered around various places were in support of dumping the sponsored links themes, even if some of them niggled slightly about the details.
What I find heartening here is that you have outlined a problem and within a fairly small sequence of responses, you have clarified who sold what to whom and had people volunteering to eradicate a problem of which they formerly knew nothing.
Now, if this was extended to cover topics beyond WordPress, we could all be solving world problems in next to no time!
Seriously, though, the general thrust of ideas is definitely in your favour and it has been a right and proper decision.
@Mark: You’ve been emailed with more details.
[…] As was pointed out by Matt Mullenweg, there was indeed a “spammy tactic” being employed at this blog in the form of an […]
[…] replies, sort of. To Franky, Matt “calls him out“. Originally I thought it wasn’t like that, but in an attempt to think of another […]
I am not too tech bright, but I did figure out that I was getting a ton of hits for online gambling searches because Sadish had loaded one of his themes with related links….
I always try to drop a few bucks in the kitty, maintain creator links and try to say thanks for all that has been done to create the best platform out there…
Matt, when you get your new Ferrari give SM a ride (and donate toward his grammar re-ed’ classes while you are at it) will ya?
[…] Photo Matt Â» Love and Hate (tags: discussion wordpress sponsored themes) […]
you did the right thing. And your users appreciate you for it.
Is there anyway to automatically notify google of the spammers found through Akismit? Maybe Matt Cutts might be interested in banning spammers? Or perhaps not because of the adsense revenues they provide google.
Keep up the good work.
You’re doing the right thing here, Matt. The WordPress community is lucky to have you looking out for them.
You’ve done the right thing and I’m totally behind you. If I were in charge of the world, the decision would have been done a long time ago and without consultation with the masses – okay, well, maybe. 😀 I’m proud that you let the voices be heard and you are still listening even after the decision has been made.
The WordPress Community (and that world) needs to now have a clear definition of what “sponsored” means. There is a lot of confusion over that.
Thanks. I’m glad you are the strong one in the family.
[…] Even Matt Mullenweg weighed in on this issue, here.Â And on his own blog, here. […]