Matt Mullenweg has come out against advertiser supported themes for WordPress here.
As much as I’ll always have time for Matt, I don’t agree with him on this.
For starters, the arguments he puts forward in terms of WordPress is free therefore themes should be free of advertiser links is spurious at best. Yes, WordPress is free, but a template that runs on WordPress is a unique piece of code/ design that the author/ coder creates, that legally can be subject to copyright therefore legally can be advertiser supported. If we were to accept the opposite, that themes must be open sourced/ free because they run off WordPress, there isn’t a blog running WordPress out there that couldn’t be ripped or stolen..of course that isn’t the case.
On the logic of it all, Mullenweg argues that there was a strong users community creating themes prior to advertiser supported themes, and there will be tomorrow if its banned. True, but here’s the thing: advertiser supported themes helped take WordPress to the next level. I couldn’t even try and guess how many themes are now available for WordPress, tens of thousands, even more? Every single one of those themes made WordPress that much more appealing to everyone. Variety is the spice of life, choice is the driving force behind WordPress’ resounding success in the DIY blogging game.
And on morals: what’s wrong with someone getting paid for their work, particularly if we (as a community) all benefit from it? I hope Matt’s not going down the hippie everything should be free for the love of it route, if that’s the case perhaps Akismet should be 100% free for all users, and WordPress.com shouldn’t be charging for anything? Indeed, Automattic should be a not-for-profit company that pays no wages 🙂 Advertiser supported WP templates have helped drive choice and variety in a way that everyone wins: the advertisers win, they get their link out there, designers win, they get paid, we (the community) win because we get extra choices in terms of free templates. If Google has a problem with those links, that’s for Google to deal with, not WordPress/ Automattic.
Now having said that, there is some implication that advertiser supported templates are doing more than just a plain ol’ text link at the bottom. If this is the case then I don’t support the other types: most people will happily accept a link to an advertiser in a theme, they won’t accept cloaked links, banners, any other types of advertising that is untowards or intrusive, and indeed I’d be tempted to support a ban on themes that do this sort of thing, but one text link as a swap for a free theme is more than a fair enough trade for me…end of the day, let the market decide, if people don’t like/ want this, they won’t download and install these templates, end of story.
It will be interesting to see how the WP community reacts to this. I’d remind Mullenweg that the freedom the community has had, has all in all been good for WordPress, and that medling in things such as advertiser supported themes runs the risk of upsetting people and tipping the otherwise well working balance. Let history be the guide of what happens when well meaning people interfere in the community only to find people taking their time and effort elsewhere (hint: SA).
Note: I do not own any advertiser supported themes, not do I use any BTW, so there’s no conflict of interest. Tinkering and creating themes though can be fun 🙂