Vanilla Sponsored Links

Vanilla, the popular open source forum software, is now embedding sponsored links in every download so when you install it they’re on your site. This strikes me as a bad idea the same way sponsored themes are, except worse because it’s in the core code. This and things like the sale of Pligg say to me that many open source web products are having a hard time transitioning to businesses. It also bothers me when people cite “hosting costs” as the reason for doing something like this. Hosting has never been cheaper, there are plenty of free resoures like Sourceforge and Google Code, and plenty of people would donate hosting if it was asked for, including myself.

55 thoughts on “Vanilla Sponsored Links

  1. You would think, given the inevitable backlash that such behaviour brings, people could have the decency of saying “we need extra funding to keep the lights on..” rather bringing out the old ‘web-hosting’ chestnut, doubly so if it’s to disguise a grab for cash.

    The sponsored themes deal is very much the latter – I’d like to think Vanilla are looking at the former, but the cynic on my left shoulder scoffs at that.

  2. I think the problem is people these days will understand paying for hosting, but refuse to believe that artists, programmers and such people actually need any compensation – perhaps one of the downsides of the proliferation of open source.

  3. Andre, I 100% believe in programmers, artists, and creators getting paid, and I think there are thousands of honest ways for them to do so without becoming the web equivalent of a mule.

    I would like to point out that Open Source has been around 20+ years without embedding web spam and has done just fine.

  4. This is saddening.

    The “costs associated with giving Vanilla away for free” read like a murky definition. I assume this means the time spent developping the app and supporting users, but there has to be a solution besides inflicting ads on users”¦

  5. While the sponsored links might be in the core code, they are removable by adding one single configuration line. Citing Mark’s post:

    You can remove them by adding the following line to your conf/settings.php file:

    $Configuration[‘SPONSORED_LINKS’] = ”;

    No big deal, really.

    The ethic side of “paid links” is largely influenced by Google’s attempt to transfer the ownership of their “how to build and run a relevant search engine” problem to webmasters while their ranking algorithm heavily relies on links, plus links, and some more links.

  6. Reading your account of it, one would think that the people at Lussomo are hiding the links, making a play to abuse the trust their community has placed in them or making it difficult for people to remove them.

    And then I go over and actually read the blog post, and you know what it says?

    These little links will end up paying for the lion’s share of costs associated with giving Vanilla away for free.

    Hmmm….no mention of web-hosting – could it be that it’s a way to get funding without giving up control of their software, as opposed to mad dash and grab for money?

    Also:

    That being said, of course there will be some installations where these links are inappropriate. You can remove them by adding the following line to your conf/settings.php file:

    $Configuration[‘SPONSORED_LINKS’] = ”;

    I’m going to assume that people can follow instructions and add that line to the settings.php file if they want to remove the links.

    Unless you come into this with prior bias against paid advertising in software that is ‘supposed to be free’, there’s really no evil here, and no need to paint Lussomo with the ‘evil’ strokes you’ve done here.

  7. Ahmed, he mentions the web hosting in a previous post:

    On the flipside, my hosting costs are quite huge at the moment, and I’ve had a few other advertising agencies contact me about some linking strategies which aren’t as in-your-face as the google adsense, and will also be much more lucrative. Hopefully some of that will pan out in the near future and I can offset some of the costs of running this community and giving away this software for free.

    I connected the dots between that and the sponsored links announcement.

    The person paying for these links is not doing it to support open source software or the goodness of their heart, they’re doing it to get their links on lots of different websites to trick Google and other search engines into ranking those websites higher. It’s naïve to think it’s anything else. By the way, here are the links that have been added:

    <a href="http :// ww w. myhomeloanadvice.com">Home Loan</a>
    <a href="http :// ww w. unitedmortgagerates.com">Mortgage Rates</a>
    <a href="http :// ww w. casinowatchdogs.com">Online Casino</a>

  8. That’s incredibly short sighted of the Vanilla folks and it’s a shame because it’s one of the few pieces of elegant software out there that I and several others would gladly pay for it was a commercial venture. Sad.

  9. Come on… Vanilla is still under GPL licence, you don’t have to keep the sponsor link and they are easy to remove (one line to add into your setting file).

    I don’t think the sponsor links are a great idea or that it will solve Mark’s problems. But you don’t need to smirk at him or be cynical.

  10. When I wrote about this last night, I have to say I felt bad for Mark. Vanilla is nice, and I’d love to see him succeed with it.

    But making is almost Adware? That’s not something I can really support.

    Now if he made it optionally on – in the admin section for those that want to support Vanilla, that would be fine.

  11. Dinoboff, I’m glad he hasn’t decided to relicense the software, but I don’t think that excuses this action. I’m not smirking, I’m sad.

    Like Jason said if he had asked I would have gladly donated money or resources even though bbPress is “competitive” software as I’ve done for other open source projects in the past.

  12. Looks like he’s getting holy hell from his users for it.

    Of course the most adamant Vanilla users in the forum aren’t helping his cause much as they’re returning fire by calling anyone who criticizes the move names and hurling insults.

    Smooth guys, smooth.

  13. Matt, you have your opinion about it and I have my own.. and I don’t agree with you on this one.

    Mark is the developer of Vanilla, its his baby and its upto him what he wishes to do with it. People have no rite to tell him what to do with his own software.

    The sponsored links could be taken off very easily and I think if he chose not to ask for funding but rather go for some revenue via advertising.. then thats fair too.

    It’s his decision and we all should respect that.

    I do have one question for you.. before you made this post did you have a discussion with mark about it? You could have done that, if you really felt so strongly about it.

    Let me end this post by saying I disagree with you on this one.

    -Sid

    P.S: I absolutely love WP and Vanilla too

  14. Matt,

    See the comments on the Lussumo blog. I’m quote the relevant part here:

    “Matt Mullenweg, though, is a two-faced douchebag for his snidey offhanded comments on this, I know he’s young and all, so I guess he doesnt remeber 2 or so years ago when he had cloaked pages on WordPress all for profit.”

    I’m obviously not saying that I agree with either the content or tone of that commenter’s remarks, but do you think the criticism, that you have been rather quick to lay blame at Lussomo’s door when you yourself went through a similar experience a while ago, has any merit?

  15. Martin, just to clarify the mistake I made was on wordpress.org-the-website, never in the software that people downloaded and used. That doesn’t make it any less of a screw-up, and people told me, and nothing like that has happened again, and WordPress.org has flourished without any sort of advertisements on the site or in the software.

    My experience gives me unique insight into why this is such a bad idea, but people who want to attack me will always use that mistake as ammo, just like they did in the sponsored themes debate.

  16. I just left this comment on the site:

    Mark this is probably a tough time for you, and I can relate. As some people have pointed out I made a similar mistake on WordPress.org a few years ago, and I’ve regretted it every day since. That said, the web community can be very forgiving.

    If you decide to remove the spam links from the site and the code I’d be happy to provide whatever server resources you need to run the community and the site, free of charge, with no strings attached or links required.

  17. Good stuff, Matt. I will reiterate that the comment I quoted does NOT reflect my personal opinion.

    I think people are fully entitled to make mistakes (how else does one learn?) – I have less sympathy, of course, for people who make the same mistake twice. With any luck, Mark will realise his mistake quickly (as you did), and take your up on your offer (or someone else’s) of free server resources (does this offer also extend to poor legal academics? 😉 )

  18. The most disturbing thing here is the mindset of the creator of the software – what kind of person will poison his software with commercial ads? and will I trust that person with running software on my website?

    For me personally such action passes my internal ethical limit – and consequently developer of Vanilla looses my respect.

    And yes, I know that he tried to save face by making the ads optional. But the fact is that the majority of users never bother to change the defaults, and such reliance of unchanged defaults is exactly the same as with adware or sponsored themes or sponsored plug-in, etc.

    In the end, nobody’s perfect (*cough* hotnacho *cough* blogroll *cough* browsehappy *cough* 🙂 ), and of course this is probably just a misguided attempt to get some reward for software – but it is a pretty bad incident.

  19. ndre, I 100% believe in programmers, artists, and creators getting paid, and I think there are thousands of honest ways for them to do so without becoming the web equivalent of a mule.

    I would like to point out that Open Source has been around 20+ years without embedding web spam and has done just fine.

    Oh, I’m not doubting *your* commitment to the concept of people getting fair compensation. I also know ‘Open Source’ has been around for a long time.

    The culture has changed, however, and I can tell you there is a real attitude out there that opposes paying for any software. The same attitude that drove people to pirate everything in sight now drives people to demand everything be free. I’m not talking about developers, artists or contributory parties at all, just the must-be-free crusade.

  20. Hey Matt,

    Just came across a comment which spoke about the default link of wordpress install which links to your friends in the blogroll. Arn’t those spam links? Agreed they are not commercial in nature, but they definitely are a pain because most users manually go and delete them. So why not remove them?

  21. First, the links on the blogroll are not bought or sold, you can’t pay money and be on there.

    Second, do you think photomatt.net is the same as myhomeloanadvice.com or casinowatchdogs.com?

  22. Second, do you think photomatt.net is the same as myhomeloanadvice.com or casinowatchdogs.com?

    Excellent point. I don’t think anyone would have had a problem if they added six links to Lussomo related sites.

  23. Still, those links on the blogroll are giving you compensation, it’s not monetary compensation, but as evidenced by this very issue, links themselves are valuable, and an internet currency.

  24. Hey, How do u think about phpBB’s sponsored links? i dont think it’s a bad idea.

    the below is my inquires about text-link AD price:

    The price breaks (USD$) for the text-links (homepage sponsors orsite-wide footer) are as follows: Months – Standard, Favicon, Bolded, Bold+Icon1 – 1200, 1300, 1350, 14002 – 2320, 2520, 2620, 27203 – 3360, 3660, 3810, 39604 – 4320, 4720, 4920, 51205 – 5200, 5700, 5950, 62006 – 6000, 6600, 6900, 7200

  25. Matt, glass houses etc. (I remember…) Your reply above almost implies a technical error vs. an error in judgment. You were given the the chance to redeem yourself. Give Mark his…

    I love Vanilla. Best forum software I ever installed. Small but very active support forums. Solid as a house. No frequent security issues or nonsensical weekly updates making life difficult and causing issues with incompatibility. Very well-coded too.

    Anyway, perhaps a more useful discussion would be how to combine open source development with progress (stages) in life. Wives require money. Children require money. One day you will understand…

    TT

    PS Notwithstanding the aforementioned, I think Mark’s decision was a bad one, but it can be easily fixed.

  26. Tom, it was a huge error in my judgment, I never said otherwise. In this case though I don’t think Mark is going to go back on his decision.

    It’s true that I don’t have any kids or dependents, but the majority of Automattic does, so it’s not a topic I take likely. Selling links might produce some short-term profit, but in the long-term would damage our prospects.

  27. Just one note. Unlike WordPress, Vanilla core code is (was) until *very* recently 99% Mark’s blood, sweat and tears.

    I’m going to try my best to help him find another solution…

  28. I donated money, and will continue to donate what I feel appropriate for my use of the software and will remove the sponsored links for that reason. I feel that is justification enough in my case.

  29. I find it somewhat funny that the developer cited ‘hosting costs’ as one of the reasons.

    Early last year, my firm Fused Network offered Lussumo a free dedicated system in order to assist them in offsetting overhead. The head developer declined at the time, no harm done I suppose!

    We host several other high profile open source projects like e107 & Freeciv, & have previously been responsible for keeping BitComet and even Suprnova online..

    Perhaps it’s time to make the offer again 🙂

  30. Sid wrote: Just came across a comment which spoke about the default link of wordpress install which links to your friends in the blogroll. Arn’t those spam links? Agreed they are not commercial in nature, but they definitely are a pain because most users manually go and delete them. So why not remove them?

    In addition to not being commercial links, they serve as an example for someone new to WordPress — much like the “Hello World” post and the comment on it.

  31. As an observer, only led to this site by the default wp blogroll on my new blog (still on localhost), I felt the need to comment, despite my distaste for what got me here after finding out.

    But since I hate being flamed more than anything, and I seem to attract it with my harsh style of communicating (I sincerely don’t mean to), let me use your words, Matt.

    “First, the links on the blogroll are not bought or sold, you can’t pay money and be on there.

    Second, do you think photomatt.net is the same as myhomeloanadvice.com or casinowatchdogs.com?”
    -Matt

    RESPONSE:
    “The person (putting in) these links is not doing it to support open source software or [for] the goodness of their heart (or even for money, necessarily) , they’re doing it to get their (friends’) links on lots of different websites to trick (people into visiting and trick blog ranking sites,) Google and other search engines into ranking those websites higher. (This will increase their social status -and yours, at least with those friends- and may increase their pay grade.) It’s naïve to think it’s anything else.”
    -Matt (with a few of my own edits)

    I’m not trying to attack you, Matt (even though imao you didn’t keep your left up). I respect the open-source work you do and you seem generous and with good intentions. It’s also refreshing to see a rational argument rather than a flame war. If you had a bunch of flame here, I neither would have read much, nor posted. That said, do you still think the default blogroll thing isn’t spam?

    Imagine the alternative of having random wp blogs selected for each new blogroll (not that hard to do). This would serve WordPress, the overall Worldpress blog community and open source itself much better.

    My suggestion would be to track the top WP blogs based on (votes/traffic) rather than overall votes, disallowing sites like the ones you have been promoting through default blogroll, and having the new default blogroll randomly select 5 from the top (x#) rated blogs.

    If I misunderstood anything in the discussion -I tried to read carefully, but it’s very possible as I’ve been on the moon and am new to the whole discussion, since I only got into this blog thing a week ago- , please comment.

  32. LOL Ma.tt. The *hosting costs* excuse is one of your favourite. And this comment will never pass mod in a million years.

  33. When was the last time I asked for anything to cover hosting costs? I did use to pay a $300-500 a month out of pocket to cover WP.org stuff, but I don’t recall whining about it. Now Automattic donates about a dozen powerful dedicated servers + management to the .org side and we’d be happy to help out any open source projects that need infrastructure, even if they “compete” with WP.

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