I woke up this morning to a lot of people sending me the link to today’s Axios story reporting that Vox Media (which includes The Verge, New York Magazine, Polygon, and many other outlets) is moving from its proprietary CMS, Chorus, to WordPress VIP, Automattic’s open source solution for large publishers.
This is very exciting—not just for the obvious reasons, but because I’ve been a fan and reader of Vox since they started. As a tool-maker, one of the greatest honors is when fantastic people choose your tools to practice their craft. I’m also sure their feedback will make WordPress better! Vox Media folks, if there were any Chorus features you loved, drop them in the comments and we’ll make sure they can become a plugin or get baked into WP core. And if anyone has built amazing features in other CMSes you’d like to see in WordPress, we’re hiring!
As I said in my recent conversation with Dries Buytaert and Mike Little celebrating WordPress’ 20th anniversary, and with a hat tip to Fight Club, I believe that on a long enough timeline, the survival rate of proprietary software drops to zero. I don’t fault anyone for starting a CMS—I’ve been guilty of that myself a half-dozen times, not counting WordPress—but while something custom-built may seem better for your needs in the beginning, that never lasts. Unless you invest heavily in engineering (like tens of millions per year), the steady improvement of a healthy open source community, like the tens of thousands of developers working on WordPress every day, will eventually catch and surpass any proprietary system.
Not all open source projects achieve the famed positive flywheel; it takes decades, and most will fail in the process. The ones that reach exit velocity, though, become part of the fabric of civilization. At that point, it makes more sense to build on top of them rather than recreate the wheel. You’ll still get where you’re going, it’ll just be a smoother, faster ride.
(Midjourney prompt: A chorus of people using WordPress.)
The biggest after-effect of the Thesis license violation episode seems to be raising people’s awareness of alternatives that are both fully GPL and have better functionally too. One theme that seems to be picking up a ton of new users is Genesis. We helped Laughing Squid and Paul Stamatiou make the switch, but Chris Brogan joined the party completely independently. (All formerly in the Thesis showcase. Scobleizer switched a while back.) I’m excited about this because I think Genesis is a better theme, particularly for its advanced support of WordPress functionality like child themes. (Child themes are the only way you should build your site on top of a framework.)
Even though Thesis has done the bare minimum not to be sued for its license violation and the code it copy/pasted from WordPress, lots of folks including myself still have a bad taste in their mouths from the episode, since there was no apology or contrition shown (like a donation to the WordPress Foundation, which would be a drop in the bucket compared to the millions Thesis made while breaking the GPL). But I think it’s best to focus on the positive.
There is a linkbait from a Thesis affiliate going around asking if I favor certain commercial themes — absolutely yes! Is that a controversial question? Themes WordPress lists on its commercial page go above and beyond bare compliance with the GPL and are full members of the community, sometimes even becoming active in core development like WooThemes has done. As a business, I would feel a lot more comfortable building my online presence on a real enterprise like Woo, StudioPress, iThemes, and many more rather than a one-man-against-the-world operation, regardless of how good its marketing is, or how many affiliates it has.
For Automattic’s part, our theme team has been taking the opportunity to update our blogs stuck on Cutline and Pressrow, which were abandoned by Chris years ago and don’t support any of WordPress’s new features. The first iteration of this is Coraline which is aesthetically is similar to Cutline but under the hood is way better, with multiple layout and sidebar options, color schemes, custom background, per-post custom headers, gallery and asides support, and a few other bonuses. (Unfortunately, the switch had a bug that broke widgets for some sites, but that’s being fixed. We’ll avoid that when switching Pressrow.) A lot of this was kicked off before DIYThemes dodged litigation, but it’s important to continue because we’re building better themes for users who honestly shouldn’t worry about this stuff, they should just have theme that’s current, flexible, functional, and beautiful.
Jeff Jarvis is switching to WordPress, assisted by his thirteen year-old son. That reminds me that we need to make the MT import process easier, which is one of the things on deck for 1.6. Hat tip: Dan Farber via email.