Conflicts of interest make Automattic employees play ethical tug of war

Jane Wells: An Automattic Conflict of Interest

by Ben Cook on June 3, 2010

In my recent call for Matt Mullenweg’s resignation I stated Matt’s involvement with both Automattic and the WordPress Foundation constituted a clear conflict of interest.

Not surprisingly, a few of you disagreed.

One comment that seemed to nicely sum up the opposing opinion stated “I would leave the hypotheticals on the shelf for now and speak to the facts.”

That seemed like a fair request so for those of you still skeptical of Automattic employees’ conflicts of interest in regards to the WordPress.org project, may I present to you, Jane Wells.

Jane Wells

As you probably know, Jane is an Automattic employee (her official title on the company website is Master of Suggestion) and works extensively on the UI of WordPress.org.

What may surprise you, is that Jane apparently doesn’t actually work on Automattic projects, at least according to Jeffro’s coverage of her speech at WordCamp Raleigh.

an Automattic conflict of interest

Now, I have to admit I wasn’t at this event and it’s possible Jeffro’s tweets misrepresented what Jane actually said. However, I didn’t see Jane or anyone else take issue with his reporting so I think it’s safe to say they’re at least close to accurate.

If that’s the case, it seems Jane only works on WordPress.org projects, and is actually proud of this fact, using it to illustrate how much of a “wall” there is between WordPress.org and Automattic.

Unfortunately for Jane, that same fact provides a perfect example of the conflict of interest I was talking about when calling for Matt’s resignation.

Employee’s are Accountable to their Company

Jane is an Automattic employee, meaning she was hired to help Automattic make money. While I’m certain that’s not in her official job description, that’s what employees of for-profit companies are hired for.

But apparently, Jane doesn’t actually do ANYTHING for Automattic. She “works purely on the .org side of things” and there’s “more of a wall” between .org and Automattic than people realize.

Now, Automattic may well be a generous company, but they didn’t hire Jane as a charitable act.

If they wanted Jane to work on WordPress.org and didn’t expect any return on her salary, they could simply donate her salary to the WordPress Foundation and write it off as a charitable deduction on their taxes, rather than having to pay social security and all the wonderful fees employers are saddled with.

So it’s safe to say Automattic expects to benefit financially from having Jane work on the WordPress.org side of things. And don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should!

Unfortunately, that makes Jane accountable to Automattic for her work on WordPress.org, NOT the WordPress community.

Financial Incentive = Conflict of Interest

If the judge presiding over a lawsuit happened to own stock in the company being sued, he or she would be expected to recuse themselves because of an inherent conflict of interest. The judge has a financial incentive to influence the trial in favor of the company.

If the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee were discovered to be on Boeing’s payroll, it would be a national scandal. While a Senator’s loyalty is supposed to be to the country and their constituents, the Chairman would simultaneously have financial incentive to award contracts to Boeing, even if it weren’t in the best interests of the nation.

In much the same way, Jane has a clear financial and professional incentive to influence the decisions made about WordPress.org to benefit Automattic. While her intentions may not be sinister, the conflict of interest is just as clear as it is for the judge and Senator.

If Jane only works on WordPress.org projects, she should be a WordPress Foundation employee, not an Automattic employee. Along the same lines, if Matt wants to run the WordPress Foundation that’s perfectly fine. But he shouldn’t do it while still heavily invested in the financial success of Automattic.

image source: robertfrancis & scootie

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Williams June 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I understand the point you are trying to make, but I disagree that Jane is making decisions about the WordPress project to solely benefit Automattic.

You have to realize that WordPress being successful is always going to help Automattic. It’s also always going to help my company and anyone that works with WordPress for a living. It doesn’t have to relate to specific dollars coming in to justify her job. WP becoming more popular is beneficial to everybody involved.

I like to think I’m pretty involved in following the life-cycle of a new WP version release, including attending dev chats (although I typically just watch), following WP Devel conversations, and all of the mailing lists. I can’t think of one instance where I said “Ya know, that decision seems to only benefit Automattic and no one else”

Just my two cents 😉

Matt June 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Should we also remove Ryan and Andrew Ozz? Nikolay on i18n stuff? Andy P on BuddyPress? Automattic has historically donated about 20% of its resources to core improvements and WordPress.org, which works out to about 10 full-time people.

Everyone in the world has potential conflict of interest in everything they do. You should judge people by their actions. I would be happy to stand by any of Jane’s actions. Since she first started working on WordPress with the 2.7 redesign it has been incredibly positive.

Mattonomics June 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Matt,
It almost seems as if you just skimmed the argument here. Trying to deflect the criticism with sweeping generalizations gets 0 points. This type of conflict of interest is substantially more significant than ones potentially encountered in day-to-day life.

Also, of course you shouldn’t remove the developers. They should simply not work for Automattic. Why wouldn’t you do that? Would that really make a difference to Automattic? It seems that to employ them under WordPress.org would deflect future criticisms of conflicts of interest and possibly alter the tax liability for Automattic (in a good way).

Your unwillingness to restructure (or even entertain the idea) suggests an underlying, selfish meaning to Jane et al. working for Automattic when, most likely, there is not. Besides, it just seems like good business that would help Automattic’s bottom line. How can that be bad?

Peter Westwood June 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I really don’t see the issue with Automattic, like a lot of other companies that take part in open source projects, employing people and dedicating some or all of there time to working on those projects.

Would you really expect all those companies like RedHat, Novell to not have there employees work on open source projects?

Mattonomics June 3, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Peter,
If they have employees whose SOLE purpose is working on open source projects, why not employ them under a 501c3 and donate all the resources required? I’m no CPA but it seems like a good argument, prima facie.

Ben Cook June 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

@Matt, if all those people you mention solely work on .org projects, yes I’d argue they should be WordPress Foundation employees, not Automattic if they’re making policy decisions for the WordPress community.

While conflicts of interest are common, there are often written rules about how to handle such conflicts, or methods to remove one’s self from the situation because of the conflicts. When someone (you and Jane) are in a position to make policy decisions, you’re held to a higher standard than the average person. The fact that you both are Automattic employees and thus responsible to them to make decisions that improve the profits creates an inherent conflict of interest that is dangerous and should be avoided.

The simple solution is for you both to only wear one hat, whichever hat that may be.

While people should be judged by their actions, do judges or lawmakers get to say, well sure I had a conflict of interest in that case or that law but I made the right decision? Of course not, and I would contend the same standards apply to you and Jane.

Amanda June 3, 2010 at 5:41 pm

You know when its time to go hunting? When you’re hungry. Until then, its just sport, and pointless.

Are you somehow unhappy with .org? Do you feel that somehow, its getting the shaft? That you’ve been underserved by .org in some way, that it is given not enough resources or has somehow benefited you in less of a way than it should? As a contributor, do you somehow feel abused or under recognized? Because until you feel that way, there just isn’t any good reason to have this conversation.

In other words, who cares? We’ve been gifted this insanely amazing resource that can benefit the community, that is embraced by both the community and a company that by your accounts, is giving resources to the project at its own expense. WHY would you go out of your way to piss on one of the people who tirelessly bends over backwards to ensure a consistent and constantly better experience for users and community members?

It’s not even that your arguments are wholly invalid (not wholly, anyways) but until there actually *IS* a problem… this just seems like a bid for some attention. If there is a problem, why would you make a public call instead of just talking directly to Matt & Jane about it first. Just all around a dick move, IMO. Seriously, if you have concerns, these are still people. Talk to them.

Ben Cook June 3, 2010 at 6:20 pm

@Amanda, I’m guessing you haven’t read this blog much. Yes, absolutely I think bad decisions are being made regarding .org.

While this post doesn’t go into that much (because that’s not really the point) your defense of “why worry about it until something goes wrong” is baffling to me. Wouldn’t it be better to prevent an issue from arising before it becomes a serious problem?

As Mattonomics points out, it would probably benefit Automattic financially (donating to the WordPress Foundation would be a tax deductible expense) unless of course they do like having a large number of the policy makers of .org on their payroll…

Also, this post certainly doesn’t “piss on” anyone other than perhaps Automattic.

And last but not least, these issues have been raised countless times. It’s long past the “be nice & talk to them about the issue in private.” It’s a community issue and needs to be addressed as such.

Adam W. Warner June 4, 2010 at 7:22 am

I dunno folks, the first question that came to my mind when reading this post was “Why does Ben always seem to be complaining about the very software and community that most likely drives a good amount of revenue his way?”

Then it occurred to me…maybe it’s because complaining about WP is the perfect niche for him to drive traffic. Most other WP users are big fans and write about it with admiration and thanks that it even exists.

It just seems like link bait to me. Am I right Ben? At least a little bit?

Ben Cook June 4, 2010 at 8:18 am

@Adam, believe it or not these posts don’t drive nearly the amount of traffic as many of my other posts. So no, you’re not right.

Also did you bother to read my previous post? I do appreciate the fact that WordPress exists, but that doesn’t change the fact that serious issues ALSO exist and should be addressed.

However, your comment leaves me with another question. Why do most other WP users who have “admiration and thanks” for WordPress seem incapable of actually talking about the topic of my posts?

Now, Matt and Peter have done a decent job of at least talking to the points of the post. However, most commentors such as yourself either won’t or can’t address the actual points that I make.

Instead you resort to questioning my motives. What comments like yours scream to me is “I don’t like your post but can’t actually refute anything you say!”

If you (or any other Automattic/Matt/Jane supporter) would like to actually talk about the issues I have raised in the post, please feel free to do so. Otherwise, I’ll be deleting your comments as the needless and valueless distractions they are.

Adam W. Warner June 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

@Ben,

Believe it or not, I didn’t mean to come off as rude. However, after re-reading my comment, it does seem more accusatory than I intended and for that I apologize.

Ben Cook June 4, 2010 at 10:17 am

@Adam,
I appreciate that. That’s been a very prototypical response any time I criticize WordPress or Automattic etc while in fact, I’d imagine I’d be better off (in terms of traffic etc) if I just kept my mouth shut on these issues.

I certainly don’t mind disagreement (I respect your right to be wrong 🙂 ), but I prefer that it actually be about the post.

Matt June 4, 2010 at 10:43 am

I suspect haven’t done these things yourself before? The WordPress Foundation has no plans to employ anybody for the next year or two. Even when it does, as a public charity its funding can not come overwhelming from a single source. The Foundation would have to fund-raise 1.5-2 million dollars per year, assuming low overhead and no fundraising cost. I would like to avoid that.

Also, the people involved enjoy working for Automattic. It’s rare to find a company where you can make money but also affect positive change in the world, both by exposing WordPress available to a wide audience (250 million+ per month) and by contributing to Open Source, a principle everyone involved shares. Why should they leave that? Why can’t a company have a broader purpose and mission?

Finally, not all of Automattic’s open source contributions are to WordPress, there is a whole smörgåsbord listed on our home page. Automattic doesn’t need to donate anything to help out its taxes (a poor reason to, regardless) but I personally support a number of other projects and organizations, including the Apache Foundation.

Ben Cook June 4, 2010 at 11:09 am

@Matt, that’s all well and good, and they should absolutely be free to work for Automattic, my position is simply that you guys shouldn’t be the benevolent dictators of .org then.

You seem well aware that there are conflicts of interest present, you’ve mentioned multiple times the “Matt runs everything problem.”

Your response just seems to be “trust us, we’d never do anything bad.” My point on the other hand, is that you guys shouldn’t be put in those situations. There’s a reason public officials (who make policy for our cities, states, country etc) are supposed to keep themselves free of conflicts of interest. Why should our virtual community be any different?

Austin (filosofo) June 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

As I understand it, by definition for one to have a true “conflict of interest” something must interfere with the performance of one’s duties.

In the case of the judge or the senator in your examples, each is expected to render an impartial decision. If the judge is paid by one of the parties in the lawsuit, or the senator by a potential government contractor, then they clearly cannot perform their expected duty of impartiality.

However, I don’t see how being paid by Automattic interferes with the performance of anything Jane does for WordPress.org. I’m not sure exactly what all her jobs are, but the ones (like guiding UI development) that I know about either align with Automattic’s interests or are orthogonal to them.

In contrast to the judge or senator examples, her job description doesn’t seem to include deciding between competing parties, one of which is Automattic. In other words, there’s no expectation that she be impartial towards Automattic in order to fulfill her duties.

Ben Cook June 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

@Austin, first of all thanks for teaching me a new word (orthogonal) although doesn’t that basically mean perpendicular? I literally just looked it up so if there’s mathematical theory behind it I probably missed it.

In any case, the duty that I view as conflicting with Jane’s loyalty to Automattic is making policies such as the banning of “non-GPL people” from sponsoring, speaking, or organizing WordCamps.

While Automattic employee’s expansive interpretation of the GPL may stem from loyalty to Matt & his vision, I also believe Automattic has a vested interest in expanding the GPL far past where it actually applies.

That however, is a topic for another post and would probably make for a good follow up to this one.

Matt June 5, 2010 at 6:03 am

Austin nailed it, decisions that are made are not zero-sum. If there was a zero-sum decision, I would err on the side of .org because it came first. I can’t think of a time when it’s happened, though.

If it was in the interest of large web properties to contribute the majority of their core platform and IP as open source, then more would do it. I can think of two in the top 100 sites: WordPress.com and Wikipedia. (Reddit is another significant example, but not in the top 100.) In actuality it’s probably harder to do things the way Automattic does things, it would have been easier to fork WordPress specifically for our purposes and not worry about MU or multi-site, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do.

WordPress’ policies around the GPL are actually a very conservative interpretation, following the letter of the license. The GPL basically has one thing that makes it different from all other open source licenses, and that’s the derivative works section. Without that, you might as well be BSD. Our view on how that applies to plugins and themes has been affirmed by organizations including the SFLC whose entire life is the study (and litigation) of the GPL. They would not put their reputation on the line to help a commercial entity.

Finally, WordPress’ policy on plugins being GPL pre-dates Automattic even being a twinkle in my eye, to when the plugin system was first created. Everything new is just an extension of “if you break our license, we’re not going to promote or host you.” The same way if I stole a painting from your house, I wouldn’t expect you to invite me in for tea and crumpets. There was less noise around it, then, because there weren’t people making money by breaking the license and trying to breed fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the GPL to further their ends.

Ben Cook June 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

Matt, if people are breaking your license, wouldn’t your duty as the WordPress Foundation be to put a stop to it?

You used the analogy of stealing paintings. The WordPress Foundation is supposed to be the security guard, no? And yet, you haven’t and wont ever take legal action. To continue your analogy it seems like you’re leaving the door open and letting people come back for more and more of your paintings while you sit and watch. Sure you say mean things sometimes, but you never call the cops.

The only logical reason for that is that you’re afraid you’d lose. Getting an SFLC lawyer to agree with you isn’t all that impressive in my book. They are the Software Freedom Law Center! They’re dedicated to “advancing open source software.” Of COURSE they were going to interpret the GPL the way they did.

But until it has been decided in a court of law, all the opinions in the world are just opinions.

Furthermore, you do much more than enforce the “letter of the license.” You deny 100% GPL themes from the directory if they link to a site that supports perfectly GPL compliant (even by the SFLC’s interpretation) themes that are dual licensed. Everything involved is GPL Kosher but yet you still deny them. How is that the letter of the law again?

Christina Warren June 6, 2010 at 2:11 am

I understand your points Ben, really I do, but I think you’re asking for something that is both unrealistic and completely at odds with how pretty much every open source project (with the exception of Debian) operates. The open source project is primarily sponsored by a commercial entity that also benefits from the project. Canonical sponsors Ubuntu, Apple sponsors WebKit (sure, Google has its own fork but the servers, documentation and majority of full-time employees are all Apple), Red Hat sponsors RHEL and Fedora, Novell sponsors OpenSUSE. I mean, pretty much every single developer on the Linux kernel team is an employee of some commercial company (Linus doesn’t but he did until a few years ago, now the Linux Foundation pays him I think) – IBM, Google, Red Hat, Novell, etc. all employ people just to work on the kernel.

Yes, there are community contributions to all these projects too but historically almost all open source projects are sponsored by one or more commercial companies and then aided with volunteer support. It’s the only way you can get stuff done. Yes, you can be a one in a million like Debian but that’s just not how it works. Sure it’s a potetial CoI, but that’s life.

I think your overall argument would be stronger if you could show one area where Jane has pushed through a decision at the benefit of Automattic and at the expense of the rest of the community.

And for the record — I say this not as any sort of WordPress fan. I like the software OK but I’m far from a fanatic (give me ExpressionEngine any day of the week. Fuck, give Django or Ruby).

Are there

Austin (filosofo) June 6, 2010 at 3:39 am

@Austin, first of all thanks for teaching me a new word (orthogonal) although doesn’t that basically mean perpendicular? I literally just looked it up so if there’s mathematical theory behind it I probably missed it.

Sure, but I meant in its more general sense of “related but independent.” Looking for an example I found this, which puts you in good company.

In any case, the duty that I view as conflicting with Jane’s loyalty to Automattic is making policies such as the banning of “non-GPL people” from sponsoring, speaking, or organizing WordCamps.

Still missing is how that’s a conflict of interest. You would need to show that rapping people’s knuckles over the GPL is at odds with her work on WP.org, in the way that, say, the FCC Chairman’s owning Verizon stock would be at odds with his regulatory duties.

Do you think Automattic benefits from things that harm WP.org? Then you really need to demonstrate that or something like it to prop up the arguments made here.

Rarst June 6, 2010 at 5:14 am

@Austin

Do you think Automattic benefits from things that harm WP.org? Then you really need to demonstrate that or something like it to prop up the arguments made here.

As for me WP.org rejecting GPL contributions for political reasons (“how dares he touch Thesis” and such) can be considered harm.

I don’t see less code available in code repositories beneficial to code repositories. I do see it as beneficial to Automattic (or “WordPress core team”, term I was asked to use for generalizing) vision of WP ecosystem.

Christina Warren June 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Rarst,
(sorry can’t blockquote easily on the iPhone) God knows, I’m not a fan of the GPL (at least not in web apps, as it doesn’t fit with how software is compiled, run and distributed, IMHO), but I’ve always looked at the GPL thing being more of how WP.org influences Automattic and not the inverse. Sure, having access to GPL themes and plugins is good for Automattic to have for its WordPress.com offerings, but this is a company that can (and has) hire out its own comissioned work. They don’t need a GPL-only plugin or theme directory for the hosted offerings to have more success.

I mean, when you look at it, WP.com isn’t competing with other hosted WordPress services, it’s competing with Tumblr, Posterous and Facebook. If anything, Automattic’s decision to be so pro-GPL and contribute much of its .com stuff back is a potential downside. Sure, basically acting as a live test-bed for trunk and getting all the benefits of core and Mu contributions by non-paid Automattic debs is definitely an advantage, it’s a huge advantage, but I don’t think that the advantage would be unrecreatable without the GPL. Again, look at how fast Tumblr and Posterous are iterating. They don’t need the open source community to match and in some ways outpace the WordPress.com offerings. I just don’t see how not offering access to non-GPL plugins overtly helps Automattic.

Ben Cook June 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Christina, actually while WordPress.com is competing with the likes of Tumblr & Posterous, I would also argue that they’re competing with WordPress.org as well. It’s not a direct competition, but .org is most certainly a pool to “upsell” users from.

In fact, with services such as VaultPress, one could argue that Automattic has a disincentive for making .org as secure as possible since a security issue here or there would generate more demand for a service just like theirs.

Now, that’s a bit of a conspiracy theory, but it certainly illustrates (along with Rarst’s examples above) how Automattic’s interest are not always aligned or… wait for it … orthogonal 😀 to the interests of WordPress.org

Rarst June 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm

@Christina

They don’t need a GPL-only plugin or theme directory for the hosted offerings to have more success.

.com and .org are very much intertwined in general perception. Depending on how things go WP.org could (will? 🙂 get a reputation of a “platform where you have to pay all the time” and that is not what “WordPress core team” wants.

At least this is only viable explanation I can think of for episodes of hostility towards WordPress businesses, including those mostly or completely in line with GPL. And yes, Matt called it a conspiracy theory. Didn’t offer better explanation thou. 🙂

It is not question of “WordPress core team” needing GPL. They are stuck with GPL (again something that is changeable according to Matt, but as I understand not without very major code purge).

It is about how they choose to handle that and choice fell down on pressuring for very “free” ecosystem, even if demands go beyond GPL scope.

Overall at the moment it is quite impossible to separate interests of WP.org from interests of “WordPress core team”. WordPress remains tightly controlled product. Short of forking there is no real leverage for things to change (I tend to conclude that arguing does zilch on this one).

hakre June 7, 2010 at 9:56 am

I think the main problem is that it tooks so long until the WPF was founded. I mean you need to give that young boy some time. No wonder if he became overwhelmed from that little script, his live was shaken a lot. Keep that in mind, Matt is not only young but spend the most of his early years of maturity that way he did only because he released some script. Don’t forget to see the person behind this.

So all these important questions of power and governance have not been put on the agenda for a very long time and what is left is the software license in the lack of anything else. And that can not work. Maybe WPF should make a statement on it’s own for which values it’s stand and what the concrete agenda is. Protecting Trademarks does not look that “well-fitting” here. in my eyes. Sorry, folks, marketing-wise there are a lot of mistakes but marketing does not count for .org, you’re sending out the very wrong signals.

I can only loudly warn the core team: Turning every development decision into a political decision _will_ kill this project. The core developers are just doing what they are paid for. Hello colleagues, we have the same job! I get paid for writing free software as well.

I have the feeling that the Foundation has not yet found the time to build it’s own position (For Jane I can only give the tipp, that she should stop to argument everything into a communication problem [“stop talking about communication problems!”], that only lifts the burden but it does not help for the next time). There are tons of open questions and unfulfilled promises over the years and I must admit, when I would really care about wordpress (professionally) I wouldn’t be here any longer, because it’s not a plattform to professional interact with as a developer for a longer period of time. I must say that me as developer I do not find this open source project very open to developers.

And for those who release their derivative works of wordpress not GPL compatible. Even if I disklike it, well maybe some day they will understand what this is about. And if there is a case this is going over the top it can be taken care of anyway. I always ask for “wordpress compability” of commercial themes and plugins for my customers. It’s that easy folks. Voila, you just got free software. Should they sue you, will be fun to see how that turns out.

So it’s nice we have the popularity but we have a bunch of shitty code that some day might break this projects neck than.

So the only fear was that WP could have been forked. Jane just wrote about the ugly thing, “the fork” some days ago again. Like a big, dark grey cloud over their head, the fork (Let’s do a movie on the topic). There are certain pre-cautions made to prevent fork: hardencoded strings, de-modularization, tons of design issues (I do not know any sourcecode (even the linux kernel), that does such simple things that complicated as wordpress, you need to be a ninja-dev to fight through there) – let’s just call that obfuscated code. I think if you know the project a bit you could create your own list here.

So it’s a pity so see that the discussion now falls back on the GPL which looks to me one of the best decisions that project ever has made. Imagine we were at this point now and there wouldn’t be such a clear license at all.

BTW, why not change the license to AGPL on 3.0 Matt? You can stand that , or is there a conflict of interest between free software and wordpress?

Ben Cook June 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

@hakre I honestly have no idea what you said (I blame the language barrier) but it looked like you put a lot of time into your comment so I figured I’d approve it.

hakre June 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm

@Ben: I wish I could write as well as you. It really is a problem to make a distinct point for me and I can shameful sink into the floor when I re-read my comment. Maybe I need to write less:

– You can not run the wordpress.org website on a software license alone. There is _much_ more than that. Probably the hardest part is to find out where the real conflict of interests are to get answers why certain things are and other are just not happening.

– Persons should _not_ blame the GPL for things MATTWPORGAUTOMATTICCOMWPF or what- or whoever is to be blamed for. In the end the GPL turns out pretty well. At least the Choosing of the GPL is one of the better decisions made in the project if you ask me and far away from being the problematic point.

– WPFoundation should make something that is worth calling an agenda (in contrast to “defend trademarks” – therefore is the law folks, no need to re-invent the wheel) and make it visible to everybody. It’s obviously a need to learn faster now since it took too long to get at least some kind of Foundation online.

So for the rest of the comment I hope it’s not too offensive and misleading from what I originally wanted to say. I might start a blog post on the one or other point as well.

Ben Cook June 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

@Hakre,
Dude, don’t be ashamed for sure. I couldn’t write more than 20 words in another language, PLUS this comment cleared it up for me.

You’re right, the GPL is not to blame, it’s just a license. The issue is with Matt, Jane, Automattic’s expansive interpretation of the license that’s the issue.

I look forward to your post on the issue!

hakre June 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm

@Ben
> The issue is with Matt, Jane, Automattic’s expansive
> interpretation of the license that’s the issue.

No, I meant that literally (but it’s good to see that interactivity helps to clarify stuff). My “do not blame the GPL” here includes the action of interpreting it. I do not think that neither the license itself nor Matts interpretation of it (I can no say much about Jane’s expertise about software licensing in general and the GPL in specific) is the problem here.

The GPL is clear and as with any well written license it can be relatively clearly used/applied. Especially when this comes to a scripting language like PHP and the WP-Add-Ons which are not at all edge cases in sense of the license. To tell you my view, Matt does not have an expansive interpretation of the GPL – not at all. I have not fully understood until today how that rumor came to live, the only explanation I have is that this project just has a hand for pushing those away which might come cross a bit. Okay I must admit, that sometimes the project sends the wrong signals out as well and people get angry about the GPL when Jane tries to apply it to persons (when it has been made just for software). But here as well, the GPL is not the fault. Gladly that announcement of Jane has been publicly and validly criticized.

I’m starting to write much again. So I try to summarize and come to an end:

With a software license alone you can not drive a free software project.

Instead of arguing about wether or not the GPL applies it’s much more important to discuss about real matters and conflicts of interest. Because if we all own the code, the software license can not be the problem, right?

hakre June 10, 2010 at 2:07 am

I think it’s somehow an error to believe that Jane would do .org work only, at least she is also taking care of public relations for Automattic Inc, and I must admit that I do not know if she is making the job there out of that what she thinks she is doing for the community or if it’s the other way round:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/new-custom-menus-feature-and-a-few-others/

This Blog Post is about the new menu feature which she presents to the .com audience and where she praises all the great things done.

Mike Schinkel July 17, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Christina makes a really good point; assigning an employee to an open source project is how commercial entities support open source. Without that kind of support, we’d have far less open-source innovation.

I know from reading some of your other posts you have a burr up your saddle WRT Matt, Jane, Automattic et.al. but taking them to task for executing on a best practice (assigning an employee to be solely responsible for an area so as to limit conflict of interest) is really self-defeating to your crusade. You sound a lot like Fox News, arguing against anything that might be considered positive for your opponent’s position regardless of motive or relevance. IMO your complaints would have more credibility if you self-policed them.

And don’t think I’m an Automattic sycophant, I spent most of today calling the question in blog comments about whether in fact Thesis actually has violated the GPL (based on all I’ve read I’m not sure it has.) I’m just simply someone who looks at things pragmatically, and hopefully objectively, and calls out the emperor when he really is wearing no clothes.

Emily December 17, 2011 at 8:21 am

.org powers Automattic’s for-profit projects. If you where running say, a buddypress site and you somehow through smart leadership became bigger-ish than facebook – wouldn’t you hire and PAY someone to contribute to buddypress to ensure its constantly amazing software? i would.

Ben Cook December 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Emily, if I were running a buddy press site and became successful with it I would hire coders to contribute to MY code, not the open source project that would benefit possible competition.

Your statement that .org powers Automattic’s projects is precisely right and that’s why they will always retain control over the community & .org. Not because they are benevolent dictators, but because they can’t risk losing their biggest marketing channel.

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