There’s always something to howl about

The End Product of Appeasing the Collective: Chris Pearson, GPL and Matt Mullenweg

This post contains a Bawld Guy axiom, some tech wank, and more.

For those people that do what I do (what is it that I do–if anything?  I often wonder), there was kind of a big debate this past month.  It involved WordPress–open source GPL software–Thesis, formerly proprietary software that capitulated to no avail.  Matt Mullenweg, an unstable genius that seems hell bent on harming his community (more on that in a moment), Chris Pearson, a narcissistic genius that seems hell bent on blowing a hole in his leg because you can’t tell him what to do.

The gist: the Thesis theme (a theme that I deliver something like 60% of my sites in) was not GPL.  Despite the fact the only lawyers that claimed that it needed to be worked for a free software foundation, AutoMATTic was pursuing them to become GPL. started calling Chris out on Twitter, not suing, no, just acting like a goon.  There was a delightful Mixergy where Chris Pearson and @@photomatt fought amongst themselves.

I love me some good wank as much as the next guy, so I had to chime in.   I didn’t add much new–the whole situation was utterly ugly all around and very unfortunate, but some of the WP types dropped in to comment (and I love posterous for its simplicity.  But I digress.)

Our dear friend WP Tutorial god Ben Cook summarizes it better than I do for those of us  that love a nerd war.

The Point, If I have One: Don’t Comply With The Hive, They Never Stop.

So after a lot of wrangling–and even a Mashable write up, Copyblogger Brian Clark (who dissolved his partnership shortly after this incident) got Pearson to stop it already and adopt GPL–and probably that should have been done to begin  with for practical reasons.  Note: I hate when people try and force my hand.  Huzzah for Harmony, and was initially thrilled.

But not so fast, last week (meant to post this a while ago, left Macbook in Seattle)  opened another salvo against a compliant opponent, and like France in WWI, Matt is  demanding reparations.   This is what happens when you comply with those who try to coerce you, and it makes it completely understandable why you’d fight this battle.  Before I had two kids, the “Click it or ticket” commercials–where cops are cracking down–had the impact of making me go sans-seatbelt for years.  Not because it was in my best interests, but because whatever cops tell me to do I want to do the opposite.  Because I can, and because expressing and imposing my will matters.  Click it or ticket?  Screw that, I’ll drive how I want.

I’m guessing that Pearson/DIY themes went GPL despite and not because of the threat of legal action.   People I’ve talked to that are qualified IP attorneys have indicated to me that it’s a murky fight and that the courts are unlikely to give an outright victory to the “free software” side.  I’m guessing that DIY Themes didn’t want to fight, didn’t want the distraction and thought that they could get this thing out of their hair and move on.

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28,377 people.  Times 87.   That’s $2.5 million, people.  That’s a target.  There’s “social proof,” and there’s “making yourself a target.”  And this “target” caused the green monster to come out in Ma.TT and for him to continue to lie–he didn’t call off his dogs.  The money became a magnate for lawsuits by a guy that was in love with control.

The Bawld Guy Lesson:

I always thought Jeff Brown was a fool for never telling his properties, numbers and anything else.  I always thought he was making a grave mistake.  Now?  Not so much.  You want to keep a certain lid on your success to keep the jealous people away.  People do get jealous in ways that can’t be predicted–and burn up those that dare to not bow to the collective get eviscerated with many and varying justifications.

What you do is this: keep a lid any kind of success that gets beyond demonstrating competence and service–and into bragging.  (Or be ready with a retained attorney that can defend you).  Because when we get past social proof and into bragging.  Don’t brag, keep your head down, and be kind.  Chris didn’t help himself by charging the matador’s cape.

The Upshot:

Long term, Ma.TT’s instability has given me some doubt about the future of WordPress.  If they can act in this way to punish a business owner who organized a community and did a ton for their platform, they can hurt my business for daring to color outside the lines.  I don’t think that this is any short term problem with using WP, but I do think that it’s prudent to diversify in much the same way that I stopped chasing subprime loans in 2005.  I know there will be a chorus of people saying, “it’s fine because it’s open source.”  This is true to a point, but if this platform is heavily influenced by someone that is currently given over to capricious instability and dishonesty, then its got a very serious crack in its foundation. (People have chronicled Ma.TT’s history, including getting WordPress.Com delisted from Google for a while for ad-sense spammy stuff.)

As for me, I intend to grow the pie: goal is to move from 8 thesis deployments per month to about 15.  (I won’t disclose my margins, but I will say that they are coming down a good bit.)  I’m also  adding Headway deployments because 1.7 is a big deal, and a lot of our hyper detail oriented non-coding clients will love it.  I’m adding Genesis as well because I want a fully GPL theme in my arsenal.   But I’m looking around, looking past WordPress for a more business focused CMS.  Right now, nothing’s there, but I’m interested in learning more about what I can make. really hurt his community by prosecuting one of its best contributors and continuing to harm them after they surrendered.   Whenever top producers give in to force, more force follows till the producer gives in.  It often seems like a good idea to appease the barbarians, but it only emboldens them.



3 Comments so far

  1. Mark A. August 16th, 2010 7:57 pm

    If they can act in this way to punish a business owner who organized a community and did a ton for their platform, they can hurt my business for daring to color outside the lines.

    Excuse me. For the record: I genuinely think that there is a difference between swiping WP code for one’s product without wanting to acknowledge that one’s product is now GPL (which hardly qualifies as doing a ton for the WP platform), and, coloring outside the lines.

  2. GenuineChris Johnson August 17th, 2010 12:10 am

    The “GPLization” of the product does nothing for the platform, you’re mostly right. the “ton for the platform” was organizing a community of able bodied turks that can get $#!T done and putting ’em in one place and creating design standards.

    Pearson made it possible for me to deliver websites, and without thesis I would have done something else in lieu of helping a few scores of people be on WP.

    The copy pasta issue is unfortunate, and the blame is Rick Beckman’s as he admits it.

  3. Janie Coffey August 29th, 2010 5:25 am

    I’m not sure how I missed this bruhaha but just found the video Friday with the two of them. I will watch it today. I LOVE Thesis and use it on our blog, and all the future “Story” blogs we have in the works. It is really an amazing theme. We searched for over 6 months to find the right framework and in the end, there was just no competition for Thesis. None! Too bad he acts like that, but hey, with a Theme like that, go ahead!

    Keep on keepin’ on toward that goal of 15 deliverables a month!