EP484 – Whose WordPress is it anyway?

June 14, 2024

On this episode, Jason Tucker and Sé Reed discuss the concept of who “owns” the WordPress open-source project and the broader question of who controls WordPress, highlighting the tension between the open-source community’s ideals and the reality of centralized control. The episode concludes with a call for transparency and accountability in the WordPress community, particularly within project leadership.


00:00 Introduction and Episode Overview
00:11 Hosts Introduction
01:00 Challenges with the Astra Theme
03:00 Astra Theme Customization Issues
06:43 The 80/20 Rule in WordPress
08:00 Who Controls WordPress?
10:21 Entities Influencing WordPress
12:10 Matt Mullenweg’s Role and Influence
15:14 The Bay Bridge Lights Kerfuffle
17:00 Automatic’s Marketing Strategies
19:30 Conflicts Within WordPress Marketing
22:28 Sponsored Contributors and Their Roles
26:29 Transparency and Accountability in WordPress
30:48 The Impact of Centralized Control
33:20 Matt Mullenweg’s Authority
37:09 The Future of WordPress Governance
41:00 The Role of the WordPress Community
44:00 Ethical Concerns and Accountability
48:02 Sé Reed’s Code of Conduct Report
53:18 The Importance of Community Involvement
57:00 Conclusion and Call to Action


Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Sé Reed: We’re back at it again.

[00:00:11] Jason Tucker: This is episode number 484 of WPwatercooler, whose WordPress is it anyway?

[00:00:17] Sé Reed: Nobody knows. Nobody knows

[00:00:20] Jason Tucker: I’m Jason Tucker. I’m on the internet. You can find me there. You may not be running WordPress.

[00:00:28] Sé Reed: Hi. I’m Sé, and I am sometimes on the internet and whatnot, but this is the world’s most influential WordPress podcast. Our dear co-host, Jason Cosper, is not with us today. But he’ll be back. Don’t you worry.

[00:00:43] Jason Tucker: of podcasts, you can find us wherever it is. You can listen to greatpodcasts and hang out with us in our discord over at WPwatercooler, at watercoolerslack. lol. Hello.

[00:00:55] Sé Reed: Hi. Technically, you could listen to us wherever you listen to bad podcasts.

[00:01:00] Jason Tucker: Yeah, that’s true.

[00:01:01] Sé Reed: I think I’ve made that joke before. Oh god, I’m recycling jokes. So I want everyone in the audience today watching, streaming, listening later to know that I just got into this thing. So as far as planning our shows, I want you to understand that this is from the hip.

[00:01:21] Sé Reed: And from the heart. Because what was I doing? I was fighting with the Astra theme. Oof. Yes, I was. Cause you know how like when you’re a web dev and you have friends and the friends are like, I can’t get my website to work. And then you’re like, I’ll help you. But then you realize that not only have they chosen to build their website with AI, they are also using the Astra theme. I have thoughts about the Astra theme. Main one being, it is the worst form of hybrid theme you’ve ever seen. And my dog is eating something over here. Harry, hold on a second. Harry, this isn’t going well.

[00:02:06] Jason Tucker: Astra is weird though. Cause it has some, has some like it has a bunch of like dashboard sections that are like, you want to build a header? Here’s how to make a header. You want a footer? Here’s a footer.

[00:02:19] Sé Reed: and not only that, but it is currently in a hybrid state. So it has its own theme options panel, its own customizations and settings. It has the customizer settings and it has, only if you upgrade, Site template, like for the page template change, but only on the pro version. So I’m sitting here trying to get a page title to disappear for my friend.

[00:02:42] Sé Reed: And I’m like, I swear I’ve worked with WordPress since 2006. I promise you, I know what I’m doing here.

[00:02:49] Jason Tucker: display. None.

[00:02:52] Sé Reed: And it’s actually funny and this is a perfect segue into our topic today. And actually even talked about that with my friend, she was like I just want to copy this page and I’ll make it all the same.

[00:03:06] Sé Reed: I can just plug it in if I can copy it. And I said hold on, let me get you a plugin to do that. And she’s like what do you mean?

[00:03:13] Sé Reed: Can’t I just click copy? On my other website I can, and I was like, yeah, because you have a plugin that allows you to do that. And we went to the pages, and I was like, see how there’s no copy button?

[00:03:24] Sé Reed: She goes, why wouldn’t that be there? Doesn’t everyone need that? And I laughed so hard, and I was like, no. What everyone needs, Laurenne, that’s her name is Laurenne, What everyone needs, Laurenne, is a duotone filter on their images. That’s what we need.

[00:03:40] Jason Tucker: Yes, we do need that.

[00:03:42] Sé Reed: And I ended up talking to my friend while I’m, I swear I wasn’t stalling, but while I’m trying to go through Astra’s thousand-panel deep menus to try to find why the menu text is showing up as white.

[00:04:01] Sé Reed: No one knows. I said, it’s called the 80/20 rule, and this is a core part of WordPress, is that 80, and it’s still there I’ve checked multiple times, on the the philosophies page unless it’s changed in the past three months or so. Sorry about my dog, by the way. Can you see my dog back there?

[00:04:22] Sé Reed: There he is. I need to stop my dog. So I was like … oh, I don’t, now the dog distracted me. Anyway, the point here is that I have to put my dog outside. That is the point. Hold on a second.

[00:04:36] Jason Tucker: Go for it. Yeah, I’ve I’ve used Astra quite a bit in my different sites that I’ve built and stuff.

[00:04:46] Sé Reed: Why? Why have you?

[00:04:48] Jason Tucker: It’s funky. Cause I try everything twice, if not three times, and sometimes I try something and then I get stuck with it. It’s Oh, this works.

[00:04:58] Sé Reed: That’s actually what I said

[00:04:59] Jason Tucker: I made this stuff already.

[00:05:01] Jason Tucker: It’s pain the ass to move it from one, one theme to the next,

[00:05:04] Sé Reed: that’s what I said. I was like, you should change this theme. And she’s like after this conference, maybe I’ll change my theme. And I was like, you are 100 percent the person who will be like, all my stuff’s in here already, I’m never changing my theme.

[00:05:15] Sé Reed: And that is how Astra gets lock-in and continues to exist because of people just renewing their things, because you can’t, you have to use pro to change anything and then you’re locked in … Just, how is this still a problem in 2024?

[00:05:33] Jason Tucker: You’re supposed to be able to just copy and paste it. Cause it was just a bunch of comments stuck inside of stuck inside the the post. That’s

[00:05:42] Jason Tucker: you highlight everything, make copy, hit paste, and you’re good.

[00:05:45] Sé Reed: Yeah, it’s fine. I actually did end up making her a pattern to copy some stuff. I was like you can make a pattern even though it’s not like in the right patterns place, you can make a pattern, you can do it unsynced. She’s like what are you doing? I was like, it’s just the new WordPress.

[00:05:58] Sé Reed: Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. I was like in the site editor part pages where you have to have a pro version and she’s what is this? I’m like, I don’t know. Just ignore it.

[00:05:58] Jason Tucker: At work, my name is not Mr. WordPress and I did not make this thing.

[00:06:14] Sé Reed: I know. I don’t have any decisions into how this damn thing was made.

[00:06:17] Sé Reed: What an amazing segu.

[00:06:19] Jason Tucker: I know, right?

[00:06:20] Sé Reed: really good. The question I ask myself repeatedly about WordPress is, Who’s driving this thing? There’s this line in this Robin Hood cartoon, and Little John says, Who’s driving this flying umbrella? I think about that all the time. Who’s driving this flying umbrella?

[00:06:43] Jason Tucker: I think a lot of things are driving it. Honestly. I think you got some
theme developers.

[00:06:49] Sé Reed: It’s not.

[00:06:50] Jason Tucker: some plugin developers.

[00:06:52] Sé Reed: I don’t think that’s true at all. It is definitely not 80 percent of the users driving, or the needs of 80 percent of the users driving anything. I would say it’s probably the opposite, in fact, that 20 percent might be influencing what happens in core and what happens in actual WordPress.

[00:07:09] Sé Reed: But the core question we’re getting to here is really, who, whose WordPress is it? Because we’ve all been sold the dream, right? At least I was sold the dream and I believed in the dream. I know the dream was dying. Many people have told me the dream was never a dream or actually it was only a dream. Yeah Morton Morton of the web, Morton Rand Hendrickson whose name I can’t, last name I can’t pronounce.

[00:07:39] Sé Reed: He’s says it’s just, it’s a lie, right? Like the bazaar and the cathedral and the common areas, it’s all a lie. The cathedral owns the bazaar and is the landlord and renting it out. And I didn’t want to believe it for a really long time, but when you get right down to it, and this is actually something that’s been talked about a lot, but we can’t get through this topic without saying the name Matt Mullenweg.

[00:08:08] Sé Reed: So I’m just gonna say it, I’m just gonna put it out there.

[00:08:09] Jason Tucker: Three times though, can’t do it three times.

[00:08:13] Sé Reed: yeah, don’t say it three times, it’s dangerous. I’m not going to say it three times in a row, but it comes down to really one person. And that is really wild. We are all talking over here about, apparently the numbers are going up again, where it was 43 percent of the web, now it’s 43.4

[00:08:35] Sé Reed: Something like that. It was going down, and now it’s gone up again. But so much of the web is being controlled, literally controlled, by the whims of one person. And the whims of that one person influence a lot of other people, particularly people who work for his various companies. But when we’re, if we wanted to really parse it down we’ve got three main, four main entities that are involved in the … not leadership, but are the organizational, what are those things … cornerstones, organizational cornerstones of WordPress.

[00:09:23] Sé Reed: That is wordpress. org slash community services. It’s actually WordPress Community Services, that is a B-Corp that runs the WordCamps and all of that, right? That is actually a B-Corp owned by the WordPress Foundation, which is another layer, right? So it’s another entity, the WordPress Foundation of which Matt Mullenweg is the on the board of directors of three people and is the chair of the board, so has all the power, obviously.

[00:09:59] Sé Reed: Then there is Automattic, which we’re all familiar with. Also owned primarily by Matt Mullenweg, obviously there’s been a lot of investment, B rounds, C rounds, A rounds, F rounds, whatever rounds there are. I don’t know if F rounds are a thing, but I think it was in this

case. There was definitely an F round in there somewhere.

[00:10:21] Jason Tucker: … at some point too, right?

[00:10:23] Sé Reed: yeah that for all intents and purposes, there’s VC ownership, there’s, I don’t know all the percentages of what, who owns what at Automattic, but at the end of the day, Matt’s in control of Automattic, also.


[00:10:39] Sé Reed: And then, we have Matt Mullenweg, the person. Actually, sorry we have five entities.

[00:10:47] Sé Reed: So then we have Audrey Capital. Audrey Capital is a private company, private investment company, owned by Matt Mullenweg. And Audrey Capital employs multiple people who are volunteers for, I say volunteers, in that tone on purpose, volunteers for WordPress core. Some of them listen to the show. They’re probably not here today.

[00:11:13] Sé Reed: Cause they probably don’t listen anymore because it’s stressful. So we have Audrey Capital and that though, a lot of those folks, there’s only a handful of them, but those folks really have the keys to the castle. So it’s not even the Automatticians, the full-time sponsored Automatticians who have the keys to the castle.

[00:11:32] Sé Reed: So we’ve got WordPress Community Services and the WordPress Foundation. We’ve got Automattic. We’ve got Audrey Capital. And we have Matt Mullenweg, the person. Now, Matt Mullenweg, the person, owns wordpress. org, the domain. The actual website.

[00:12:10] Sé Reed: At the end of any of this website, wordpress.org, is essential, and we use dot-org and dot-com to differentiate the project from the for-profit hosting platform, right? It’s really important, the dot-org component of this.

[00:12:25] Jason Tucker: Right.

[00:12:27] Sé Reed: Not just in name, but he actually owns the website, the domain itself, so he has the deed to the castle, right?

[00:12:41] Sé Reed: He has it, it’s his own thing, he never gifted that, he gifted the trademark WordPress to the Foundation, and then the Foundation granted, in perpetuity, a free license to use the trademark WordPress to the company Automattic. That is an unpaid, forever, you can use this, and that is where WordPress.com comes from.

[00:13:09] Sé Reed: … that granting of a license. Now we have five separate entitie that are involved in the organization, the management, the literal administration of WordPress, the open source project.

[00:13:28] Jason Tucker: That’s a lot.

[00:13:29] Sé Reed: Yeah, not only is it a lot of organizations, however, it is also, WordPress Community Services is primarily staffed by Automatticians.

[00:13:41] Sé Reed: And folks, I don’t know if folks actually work for Community Services. I believe they do, which is the Foundation of which, as we said Matt is the board of directors. Matt is the CEO of Automattic. Matt is the owner of Audrey Capital and Matt is of course the king of himself as well. The philosopher king of himself.

[00:14:05] Sé Reed: He can be the philosopher king of himself. I won’t grant the philosopher king of WordPress, but anyone can be whatever they want for themselves. We have five separate entities with different people connected to all of that. Automatticians, some board members connected to the Foundation, Community Services people who do work for Automattic as well.

[00:14:28] Sé Reed: I don’t know how those people even square what company they work for at a certain point. And then you have the folks who work directly for Matt via Audrey Capital. And then of course you have Matt who has his own access to everything. He has root access to everything, all of the accounts.

[00:14:48] Sé Reed: All of the domains, whatever. So at any point, as in last year [spring], when we were talking about all this stuff, he could basically be like, I’m taking my ball and going home. And to a certain degree, that is what is happening. There was this great tweet this week. I don’t know if you can pull it up.

[00:15:13] Jason Tucker: I’d have to log into Twitter.

[00:15:14] Sé Reed: You have to log in. Oh my God, the proprietary web is killing us all.

[00:15:22] Jason Tucker: Let me just get my AOL CD real quick here …

[00:15:24] Sé Reed: Let me try to summarize. And let me tell you, agreeing with someone’s sentiment about WordPress or an individual sentiment does not endorse them or anything that they might do, because at this point I don’t have the capacity to go vet everybody, okay?

[00:15:44] Jason Tucker: right.

[00:15:45] Sé Reed: we’re going to just judge people on the one thing that we’re talking about and not be like that person, blah, blah, blah.

[00:15:51] Sé Reed: Cause I just, I don’t, I can’t, right? Maybe they’re a horrible person and there are definitely some horrible people within WordPress, but considering the low bar of horrible people in WordPress that we’ve set I’m willing to forgive some nuance of not perfect.

[00:16:10] Jason Tucker: All right. We’ll go with that

[00:16:13] Sé Reed: It was from Jason Coleman, he said: I don’t want to engage in any discussion about WordPress in general, or who’s making decisions.

[00:16:24] Sé Reed: Essentially he said, my answer for all of this is Automattic can do whatever they want with their product.

[00:16:32] Sé Reed: Yes. However, that is reductive, because as I just pointed out, there are literally five entities There are that are dealing with this, but what it really comes down to is we all know whose WordPress it is, because last, no, it wasn’t even last fall, it was this spring, in February, prior to the untimely death of the WordPress marketing team there was a kerfuffle, you recall the kerfuffle about the Bay Bridge lights,

[00:17:07] Jason Tucker: Oh, right

[00:17:08] Sé Reed: The Bay Bridge lights kerfuffle where, Matt Mullenweg logged into the official wordpress.org Twitter, wished himself a happy birthday and said that for, in honor of his birthday, we should all donate at least 10 dollars to the Bay Bridge Lights. Which, incidentally, has definitely gone up they’ve gone up now, so good job getting your donations in, and the Bay Bridge Lights now face both directions, so the people in Oakland can also see them, not just the rich people in San Francisco.

[00:17:36] Jason Tucker: Ooh, look at that. Wow.

[00:17:38] Sé Reed: That’s altruism in action.

[00:17:40] Jason Tucker: That was like, that’s like a train track right there. Isn’t it?

[00:17:44] Jason Tucker: It’s like a suspended train track.

[00:17:47] Sé Reed: with lights on it.

[00:17:48] Jason Tucker: Yeah.

[00:17:49] Sé Reed: People on the other side of the train track can see

[00:17:52] Jason Tucker: see it.

[00:17:53] Sé Reed: See that they are on the other side of, so good for them. That must feel

[00:17:58] Jason Tucker: Politics.

[00:17:59] Sé Reed: hashtag politics hashtag socioeconomic problems. That’s … that’s not a fun hashtag. Okay, so back on that day Mr. Mullenweg in the marketing channel, which has since been hiatused said that WordPress is his, and he can do whatever he wants with it, and I have that quoted in my Twitter if anyone wants to see it, and that the animosity surrounding any of these issues makes him want to pull all of his volunteers.

[00:18:37] Sé Reed: Who are obviously not volunteerin, if you can pull them, if you can mandatorily remove them, they’re not volunteering. He can just remove all of his volunteers and see how that would go. Now, not only is that destabilizing to the ecosystem, where someone who is really supporting a good portion, financially supporting a good portion of the development team, if not 95 percent of it.

[00:19:05] Sé Reed: threatens to pull it. That is not a stable environment for other companies to build their businesses on. And now we all know there’s a lot of other companies and I’m not even just talking about the plugins or the themes. I’m talking about the hosts, the big pocket folks wo are also making decisions about where to put their money, where to put their efforts.

[00:19:30] Sé Reed: Do they put their efforts into their own website builders? Do they put their effort into other proprietary systems, do they link up to Squarespace, right? Those decisions are always happening. And so those companies are watching what is going on and making business choices based off of that. Far from being the idle threat of a ruler, this really does have impact throughout the land, the WordPress land.

[00:20:05] Sé Reed: Now, I want to talk for a second about accountability.

[00:20:11] Jason Tucker: Okay.

[00:20:12] Sé Reed: Yeah, cuz far from being held accountable for those statements, or for tweeting things on official official accounts, in that instance, what we ended up doing in order to quell the discussion just to like move on from the ranting, was to change the rules of the WordPress marketing team to add a little caveat that says WordPress leadership can choose to do whatever they want, essentially.

[00:20:49] Sé Reed: They have root access, they can do whatever they want.

[00:20:53] Jason Tucker: That sounds right.

[00:20:55] Sé Reed: That is definitely the situation. Shortly after that, the marketing team was unceremoniously disbanded. Quite similar to how the growth council was unceremoniously disbanded in 2018.

[00:21:16] Sé Reed: Just oh, by the way, we’re not doing this anymore. One might say there’s all sorts of reasons for that disbanding. I would say that the reason for that disbanding is because I, me, Sé, was saying too much. About what was happening in the marketing team. Now, I haven’t talked about this much.

[00:21:40] Sé Reed: I’ve talked about it a little bit on Twitter. And there’s lots of ways to go about this, but essentially something that I discovered was that the folks, the sponsored volunteers who were working on the WordPress.org marketing team, who in fact were leads of the team, managing all of the main stuff and were enforcing the rules of we can’t do SEO, we can’t do XYZ, which was part of the whole kerfuffle last fall, wherein I filed my code of conduct report because I was saying, hey, You aren’t letting us, Matt Mullenweg, you aren’t letting us actually do SEO.

[00:22:28] Sé Reed: So if you, as WordPress.com, are cloning the plugin directory, and then saying, well, just do more SEO, it’s up to Google, but we’re not allowed to do actual on-site, or we could do some on-site SEO, but we aren’t allowed to do the big SEO things that we are able to do to maintain that domain position.

[00:22:50] Sé Reed: essentially, of WordPress.org being the first that comes up. We’re already fighting with WP Beginner, right? Everyone’s got their own stuff, you’ve got your WP beginner, and now you have your WordPress.com, which is now competing directly with WordPress.org. And I said, hey, so that’d be nice if we could actually do the SEO.

[00:23:13] Sé Reed: And that is what spawned the entire kerfuffle back in the fall. So something that is really important to note is that those folks who were on the marketing team, and this information is actually in a GitHub issue we can link to in the show notes … those folks who were on the WordPress marketing team as sponsored contributors from full-time sponsored contributors from Automattic pledged via the Five for the Future pledge as 40 hours a week to the WordPress marketing team.

[00:23:47] Sé Reed: Okay. Right? So when you hear that, you think these people are working full-time on WordPress.org marketing, right?

[00:23:59] Sé Reed: That’s what you know, they’re full-time sponsored contributors, pledged 40 hours a week. Okay, great. They’re working on.org. So my question was, of course, where is this happening?

[00:24:09] Sé Reed: Where is the work happening that you’re doing? Because we’re not seeing it in our repos, we’re not seeing it in our meetings. Stuff is just appearing. And of course, I was like, I believe that stuff’s happening on Automattic’s Slack, and in Automattics repos, and in Automattics conversational points. And that was, that’s true, because that is where that’s happening.

[00:24:30] Sé Reed: But what I didn’t know at the time, and what I do know now, is that those same people were also the full time marketing team for WordPress.com.

[00:24:43] Jason Tucker: Huh.

[00:24:45] Sé Reed: I’m going to let that sink in. I’m going to restate that for a second. So the “volunteer” sponsor contributors who were full-time sponsored contributors, being claimed to be full-time sponsor contributors via the Five for the Future metric and the page it said it. I didn’t write it. I didn’t make it up.

[00:25:02] Sé Reed: I’m not assuming this. That’s what it said. I think they’ve changed it since. They were full time for wordpress.org. Quote, unquote, but they were also the full-time marketing team for WordPress.com. So when we’re up there talking about how WordPress.com is competing with WordPress.org, but it’s the same people who are running both teams and not allowing us to do anything on dot-org, that is because they are trying actively to build the marketing of WordPress.com.

[00:25:43] Sé Reed: And repress the marketing of WordPress.org.

[00:25:50] Jason Tucker: So you difference

[00:25:53] Jason Tucker: So the difference between the two of them by name is that tld. org or. com. Like those are literally like that. That’s the difference. And so you just say WordPress. You’re not lying. Cause it’s just WordPress.

[00:26:10] Sé Reed: The marketing team had people like me over there trying to actually market dot-org, coming up with ideas, different things, like maybe we should do something with the mobile app. Maybe we should have a join page for contributors to try to get people to contribute. I don’t know. Weird ideas like that.

[00:26:29] Sé Reed: But it always felt like a battle, right? It’s like, why are we fighting? Are we not all on the same page? Are we not all advancing WordPress? Why is there conflict?

[00:26:42] Sé Reed: It turns out the reason that there’s conflict is that we’re not on the same team. We were not on the same team, even though we were being told, and everyone was pretending we were on the same team.

[00:26:54] Sé Reed: We were not on the same team, because those folks were working for dot- com, and we were working for dot-org. And I don’t know their official mandate, like did anyone say “make sure dot-org can’t outrank dot-com”, or “make sure no good ideas happen in dot-org”. “Make sure dotorg is not marketed.” I don’t know how explicit those those instructions were.

[00:27:26] Sé Reed: I have no idea, and I am not part of that. I do know that one of the team leads from last year who was pledged 40 hours a week to the team was told that they could only work on dot-org projects for four hours a week. Despite the pledge next to their name that said they worked for the marketing team for 40 hours a week.

[00:27:54] Jason Tucker: Four for the future.

[00:27:55] Sé Reed: Four the future. Just a little bit. Really like just a bunch of lies for the future is what it is. Okay, so that is the situation, right? So we’ve got a big mishmash, where people are not open about their roles, and again, this is just two of those five entities that we’re talking about.

[00:28:20] Sé Reed: Now we tried to get some stuff done in the marketing team for Blogs to Blocks, which was our WP 20th anniversary thing that we did. And those, we tried to be like, Hey, could we get badges for people’s participation, maybe we can make this a thing where people want to participate and be involved because they get a badge.

[00:28:39] Sé Reed: People like badges, right? It’s called gamification. Heard of it? It’s a thing, people like it. Yeah, it’s a thing, right? That was kiboshed by folks who work for Audrey Capital. So those no’s came directly from Matt to those folks. So no, no badges, no gamifying, any sort of involvement. And it’s really, if you don’t understand this underlying context of who’s doing what, in control of these teams of these mandates that people are, all these, of these volunteer contributors, if you’re just like, oh, they’re all, we’re all the same here …

[00:29:19] Sé Reed: … we’re all volunteer contributors, but we’re not all the same. And there’s many sponsored contributors who are given, I don’t know if it’s free reign so much, but it is definitely a broad mandatem like maybe some folks are on the performance team. The performance team definitely has some sponsored contributors where it makes performance better and also sure bring that information back to the company so we can make our performance better, to work better.

[00:29:48] Sé Reed: That is really different than a sponsored contributor working actively against the larger organization in order to benefit a specific company. And honestly, this is part of what that whole existential crisis GoDaddy thing that happened a few years ago it’s like GoDaddy has sponsored contributors and it wasn’t even so much, does GoDaddy have an agenda with these sponsored contributors?

[00:30:22] Sé Reed: It’s just that they’re not giving enough or whatever it is and I think that was the breaking moment where I don’t know, I can only hypothesize about the state of mind of people here. COVID fever, whatever it is, but it was very clear. That Matt–hi Matt–realized that he was not making as much money as GoDaddy was making.

[00:30:48] Sé Reed: I don’t know, maybe someone told him.

[00:30:51] Jason Tucker: Maybe

[00:30:52] Sé Reed: I don’t know his bank balance. I don’t know I don’t know what the impetus was. I have a theory that it was about him not being invited to the AI conference at the White House, but I don’t know.

[00:31:00] Jason Tucker: It’s just really weird to have the product and the product also has a connection to the hosting and the hosting is a competitor to all the other hosts that are in the ecosystem as well. And they’re all named the same thing, and it’s if they if he just named the damn thing, Jetpack and got over with it I think a lot of this stuff would be cleared up.

[00:31:34] Sé Reed: I had the dot-com, dot-org conversation this morning with my friend again, which I’ve had multiple times, and I never want to say that again. I never want to explain that again. But I will. I will. I will explain it again. I think that this is what it comes down to, is that the idea of WordPress that we have all been operating under, is that it is open source software, and that the community owns it, it is open source.

[00:32:07] Sé Reed: And that the foundation is there to oversee it to make sure that it does not become a privatized entity because that is actually part of what Matt said when he set that up or what he has said subsequently about why he set that up to make sure WordPress was protected. Little did we know that it needed to be protected against Matt himself.

[00:32:34] Sé Reed: I think I’ve talked about this before. The idea of Odysseus the Greek myth, right? We might have talked about that before.

[00:32:44] Jason Tucker: Oh yeah, it’s come up.

[00:32:44] Sé Reed: Yeah, so he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast so that he could hear the sirens, but not be not be taken to the sirens. And so he’s like, I know this might happen.

[00:32:59] Sé Reed: I know there might be temptation, but I gotta do it anyway. So hold me back. And that is essentially what the Foundation did. However, now we are in a very clear, undo those ropes, soldiers. Pull those off. I’m going to go jump in and swim to those sirens. The sirens being right,money.

[00:33:26] Sé Reed: In the past six months, year, in addition to cloning the plugin directory Automattic has now just, I think this week, last week, announced two new programs or multiple new programs over the past few months for agencies to have their own dev environments, much like DesktopServer was back in the day, I don’t know what the name of it is but so that the agencies and devs can have a backend version of dot-com.

[00:33:55] Sé Reed: They introduced their, I don’t know if they introduced or revamped or just marketing it now, their affiliate program that if you can now make money for recommending any Automattic product, so dot-com or WooCommerce or whatever else it is. They’ve had that affiliate program for quite some time because that’s how they tried to do the, to work with my company back in 2019, when we were trying to do a pilot program for small businesses, they’re like, Oh, you can get affiliate money off of all of this.

[00:34:36] Sé Reed: I’m like, yeah, this is, I’m not going to develop an entire curriculum, I did develop an entire curriculum, but I’m not going to give you this entire curriculum so that you can give me two percent of what someone might sign up for their business plan or something. That’s bonkers.

[00:34:52] Sé Reed: But anyway, so they’ve revamped, relaunched their affiliate program, so now if you recommend any paid Automattic programs, you can get money. So that’s a strict, you know, like trying to entice people, devs specifically, or freelancers or agencies, to recommend WordPress.com hosting. Or is it WP cloud?

[00:35:13] Sé Reed: Whatever their, all their different services are there, right? So whether it’s VIP or it’s whatever it is, there’s now financial incentive for that. And they have the cloud, which is now, I don’t know how this relates to Jetpack, or where Jetpack or VaultPress fits into the cloud I don’t know, I’m so tired of everybody’s names, but the cloud concept that you could now host, you basically use WPcloud as like server storage, right?

[00:35:46] Sé Reed: So I don’t know if it’s a CDN, I don’t even know. Cosper would know, but he’s not here, so he can’t, yeah it’s like just, there’s a

[00:35:53] Jason Tucker: an S3 thing, maybe who knows.

[00:35:55] Sé Reed: I don’t know. The point is that they’re basically tripling, quadrupling
whatever it is, down on everybody coming home to Automattic.

[00:36:10] Jason Tucker: Yeah.

[00:36:11] Sé Reed: Yeah, at the most recent WordCamp US, not this one that I’m wearing the shirt for, because all my shirts are still WordPress-oh no, it was this one. In Maryland, in Washington. I thought this was San Diego for a second. It is not. During Matt’s talk, his keynote speech for WordPress, the open source project, he announced his WordPress.com hundred year hosting plan.

[00:36:45] Jason Tucker: Oh yeah. I remember that.

[00:36:46] Sé Reed: at that point, like we had, we had all respected the conflict of interest, separation between the two.

[00:36:50] Jason Tucker: separation between church and state.

[00:36:58] Sé Reed: Yeah. And I feel like this was a clear moment in which Matt was like, yeah, that doesn’t exist anymore. WordPress.com is mine.

[00:37:09] Sé Reed: This pulpit is mine. I can say whatever I want because WordPress is mine. And so why shouldn’t I be able to promote WordPress.com in a WordPress.org context. So at that point, he tossed that separation out the window.

[00:37:27] Jason Tucker: Were there stickers for his new thing like on the elevators when people left?

[00:37:32] Sé Reed: Obviously.

[00:37:33] Jason Tucker: did it get that far? It could have gotten that far.

[00:37:35] Sé Reed: Dot-com and all that they’re all sponsors. Jetpack is, I don’t actually know if dot-com is a sponsor. I think that might also be like one of the last, like dot-com is not the sponsor, but JetPack is. Respecting that, that separation again, but I don’t know what’s happening.

[00:37:54] Sé Reed: Maybe it’s WordPress.com now, maybe at WordCamp Europe, WordPress.com has a table. I don’t know. Someone can tell us if they want.

[00:38:04] Sé Reed: So I don’t know how far that’s actually gone, but we know that last year, definitely, the lines were blurred. Now, since then, the plugin repo has been cloned.

[00:38:17] Sé Reed: Since then the marketing team has been disbanded, and in its place was created the Media Corps, which is essentially a public relations team, and that Media Corps, even admittedly in the posts for it, say gosh, these are all Automatticians who are running this team, and that’s just temporary. They did bring in some independent contributors. I’m going to use that word lightly. And I love Bob Dunn.

[00:38:45] Sé Reed: I do. He’s a good guy. He’s got a cool podcast world, Do the Woo, does the WooCommerce thing, tries to empower people. He’s sponsored by Automattic. He gets money from Automattic, and he was brought in as the independent outside contributor onto the Media Corps. So even the independent non-Automattician person on the Media Corps is still, sorry Bob, controlled, owned by Automattic.

[00:39:20] Sé Reed: Yes, he has other sponsors. But he moved all of his, the whole website over to dot-com. It’s all Automattic. I guarantee you all the links are affiliate links using their program. And I’m not faulting Bob for that. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m just saying that is the case.

[00:39:39] Jason Tucker: Right.

[00:39:40] Sé Reed: So we went from having a marketing team where folks, including myself, were attempting to improve WordPress, attempting to figure out our target market, attempting to, really just do basic marketing for the project, which people complain about constantly.

[00:40:05] Sé Reed: Like, why is there not more marketing for dot-org? Why is it that we literally last year put in a link into the admin that brought people to contribute. That didn’t exist. This is 20 years later and it did not exist to say, come contribute or come be a part of the community. Like I was one of the people who put it in.

[00:40:30] Sé Reed: So I know that. So far from trying to expand the WordPress.org footprint, the teams, the non-existent marketing team, the Media Corps team, we are now actively working to compress that world. So it is a much, much more narrow, mandate for the WordPress.org world, right? It’s just much smaller.

[00:41:00] Sé Reed: It’s not like WordPress and you can use it all these different ways. It’s like WordPress is this tiny core thing over here and then WordPress. com is the main thing and that is intentional. Like I will say when things are speculation. This is not speculation. This is real, it’s intentional, right? We’ve got that situation. We have five entities all controlled by one person.

[00:41:30] Jason Tucker: Whose WordPress is it?

[00:41:30] Sé Reed: Whose WordPress is it? Y’all? Who are we all working for?

[00:41:34] Jason Tucker: We’ve only been talking for 41 minutes, but I’m still confused as to whose WordPress it is.

[00:41:38] Sé Reed: Are you confused?

[00:41:40] Sé Reed: Here’s the thing, no matter if that person is in charge of five entities and can do whatever they want, there is the idea, the ideal, that this is a free and open source software, that this is something that we all are contributing to, that this is benefiting us.

[00:42:01] Sé Reed: We’re not even able to, the marketing team can’t even influence anything. We didn’t want product roadmaps, it was all a bunch of crap. No one asked for any of the stuff that Josepha, Executive Director of WordPress.org, who also works full time for Matt Mullenweg, as do all of project leadership said, oh, it was because the marketing team wanted all these things they can’t have.

[00:42:27] Sé Reed: That’s just not true, it is not true. It’s not what we want. No one was asking for that at all. So it’s just there’s a bunch of lying. There’s a bunch of false pretenses Oh, this company over here and this company over here. No it’s all the same entity. It’s all controlled by the same person.

[00:42:48] Sé Reed: And that person has essentially carte blanche in their companies to mandate what they want to have happen. They control Gutenberg. Matt essentially controls Gutenberg, which is, leading, and at a rapid pace, we’ve talked about in previous shows, how people are dropping out of Gutenberg development because it’s A, so fast, B, there’s no documentation for the development components and it’s confusing because it’s just

[00:43:19] Jason Tucker: Documentation is on some other domain, entirely, that’s not even tied into any of this stuff.

[00:43:31] Sé Reed: Yeah. Gutenberg now is … we’ve talked about a lot. Gutenberg is now leading the development. Everything that happens in Gutenberg gets shoved into core. Core is barely doing anything. In terms of new development, all of that’s happening in Gutenberg. And Gutenberg is led by developers who are paid by Matt out of his money, whether it’s Automatic or Audrey.

[00:43:54] Sé Reed: So and it’s not like Gutenberg has, like, open discussions about how we’re doing this, right? We get an admin post that’s 12 pages long that tells us basically what’s going to happen. And maybe you have some feedback that will probably be ignored. This is all old stuff in general.

[00:44:17] Sé Reed: The thing that I haven’t talked about that I want to talk about here now, 44 minutes into the show, so for anyone reading the transcript, this is the part right here that you should highlight. Let’s just stay talking for 44 minutes really.

[00:44:32] Jason Tucker: Or one, two, thrice.

[00:44:38] Sé Reed: For WordPress, there is no accountability in that behavior or In the ethicalness, or the morality, the behavior of Matt, who is in control of all of these entities.

[00:44:53] Sé Reed: As we all know, I filed a code of conduct report last October against Matt. And I have not talked about this publicly. I publicly posted the code of conduct violation that I went through, and then I didn’t publish more because I wanted to respect that process. And originally I published it because I knew if I didn’t publish it, there would be no accountability and that would go literally nowhere.

[00:45:21] Sé Reed: Subsequently, I did not publish the results of that finding because I was really trying to see what would happen, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it here now. The results of that were that the independent committee, and I requested no one who worked for Automattic be on the incident response team that worked on my case because I didn’t want one of his employees deciding the situation.

[00:45:48] Sé Reed: Weird, I know. So the letter of the findings that went from that team to me and to Matt. And I’m assuming to Josepha, but I don’t know that, but I think the Executive Director finds out about stuff, but maybe not. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I know Matt got it, and I know I got it. And it said, unequivocally, it supported all of my assertions in my code of conduct report, and it said that Matt did engage in bullying and harassment of me and others, and that he subsequently continued to harass me after, and bully me, after he was requested by the incident response team, despite the code of conduct request to go no contact.

[00:46:36] Sé Reed: He said he agreed to that, which he did not do. And that was when he did the whole, I want to be in your Discord chat fun time. They said that if he continues his behavior that they will have to suggest stronger action … so they required that he no longer engage in that behavior.

[00:47:04] Sé Reed: I have not been monitoring Matt’s tweets or anything else since then. I don’t know what behavior he’s been engaging in since then, besides doxxing people on Tumblr and whatever else he’s doing, like posting Great Replacement Theory books or whatever’s going on. Fun. The other thing that they asked in that is they recommended, now they didn’t require this, but they recommended, they requested, that Matt offer a public apology to me. Now I would like to tell you here, this is breaking news, that did not happen.

[00:47:44] Jason Tucker: Oh, it wasn’t the lights on the other side of the bridge.

[00:47:46] Sé Reed: Yeah, there’s just more lights. So I waited until he went on sabbatical and he didn’t apologize beforehand. He went on a sabbatical for three months, conveniently timed.

[00:48:02] Sé Reed: I waited. He got back. Still no apology. And not only was there no apology, but then there was the retaliation. The retaliation of, we are going to close your entire team. We are going to take away your entire team that you have been contributing to for the last, I don’t know, what is it, like 12 years or whatever ridiculous amount of time it is.

[00:48:29] Sé Reed: That is the report. They said, yes, he is bullying, yes, he was harassing me, and that he should apologize. He did not. And subsequently, a whole other issue I was having, where I had been issued a correction for my behavior, which was apparently threatening to somebody at WordCamp US in October.

[00:48:58] Sé Reed: Originally I was issued what’s called a correction. And it was like, hey, this was a thing come correct essentially next time, watch your tone. Retroactively, after that was published, they changed that correction to a warning. Now a warning holds more weight than a correction.

[00:49:23] Sé Reed: A correction doesn’t, like, count against you in the same way. A warning, if you get, I now have two warnings. Fun world, we’re not going to talk about that. But if you want to talk to me about it, feel free to message me. I’m happy to share. I have two warnings and they said, Yes, we changed that …

[00:49:43] Sé Reed: … it was our mistake. It was originally supposed to be a warning, not a correction. Even though they linked to it, it was all in my formal letter. And now, if I do anything that is against the … essentially, if I do anything more that would cause problems, for example, publishing a code of conduct report, that I could be banned from WordPress, from the WordPress community.

[00:50:13] Jason Tucker: On the dot-org side or the dot-com side, just curious,

[00:50:16] Sé Reed: Now I can buy as many dot-com things as I want. They’re like, yeah, go for it. I could probably be an affiliate. No problem. You can probably be an affiliate, even if you’re like a total scumbag. That’d be my guess. I bet there’s no vetting there. Anyway … I was really not sure what to do about that.

[00:50:36] Sé Reed: Should I publish this? Should I not publish this? I don’t want to get banned from WordPress. I really love my community. I don’t want to leave. I might want to opt out of being as involved, but I would like to not be banned, right? Like, where they take away your dot- org profile, and they take away your access to everything, and you have nothing left, right?

[00:50:53] Sé Reed: You can’t even be involved. And I would really like that not to happen. I would still like that not to happen. But I am tired of protecting people who are actively causing harm. And this is part of my new approach, I guess one might say, is that if you are actively causing harm, even if it might harm me to say something, if I have the ability to say something or to point out a truth or an issue, I will do it.

[00:51:25] Sé Reed: Because I am in a privileged enough position where Matt can’t call my employer and try to get me fired. Which he has done to people I know. But he can’t do that to me because my clients do not care about him at all. So go ahead and call them, Matt. They don’t care. And I have my own agency, my own company, so I’m protected.

[00:51:47] Sé Reed: That is also part of why we’re having this conversation today, where our colleague, Jason Cosper, who does work at another WordPress company, we don’t want him to incur any wrath. Tucker and I are not owned by anybody, we are not sponsored by anybody, we are not employed by anybody that Matt can touch.

[00:52:05] Sé Reed: Therefore do your worst. And I guess the worst would be banning me from WordPress.

[00:52:12] Jason Tucker: I just like PHP. And then he kept talking about JavaScript and I was like, damn you.

[00:52:16] Sé Reed: Damn it, React is so terrible. I don’t, I love … I don’t even mind JavaScript, it’s just React is really.

[00:52:21] Jason Tucker: Yeah.

[00:52:22] Sé Reed: Okay I guess we should probably wrap it up, because I’ve been talking for an hour, but I did want to put that out there, that this is, so when we talk about whose WordPress … the WPCC just launched yesterday a new program, the WordPress Community Collective, called Incentivizing DEIB in WP … we have a awesome GoDaddy fellowship happening. So the Incentivizing DEIB program, hopefully we’ll talk about it in a separate issue, topic, it is essentially giving stipends to people who are out there advocating DEIB, doing talks, moderating panels, being on panels, who are bringing public attention to DEIB and doing public advocacy of these things, because we want to raise awareness and educate our community on. So I’m part of an organization that is paying people to go to WordCamps.

[00:53:18] Sé Reed: I have a partnership through the WPCC. We have a partnership with GoDaddy to give people fellowships to support them going to WordCamps. We have an Accessibility Fellowship that will be ending soon, which we have to increase accessibility in WordPress. So I am over here actively working to create systems that allow at least some trickle of support to help people do these things within WordPress.

[00:53:50] Sé Reed: And at the same time, I’m just one person doing this. There’s so many people working toward it, right now there’s, what is it? Like 2000 people or something wild at WordCamp Europe talking about how great WordPress is and promoting it and doing all this stuff. But if Matt, and yes Matt specifically, I’m not blaming all the Automatticians, I am talking about Matt- that’s you, Matt Mullenweg- is really just wanting that market share, and is essentially pulling in all the stops, pulling in, calling in all the chips, as it were, So I think it’s really important to have that discussion, and this discussion is very forbidden at WordCamps.

[00:54:42] Sé Reed: It’s really forbidden within the WordPress world in general but it’s something we need to talk about, and we need to talk about it more openly, because at any time, Matt could, in theory, take his ball and go home. Matt owns WordPress.org. He is in control of all of the Slack. Automattic pays for the hosting.

[00:55:01] Sé Reed: I believe that it’s Automattic that pays for a good portion of the systems that WordPress.org uses. It’s not even Audrey. But whether it’s Audrey Capital paying for it or Matt paying for it or Automattic paying for it, I don’t know, they’re very very closed about where that support comes from, where the budget for dot-org comes from, where those monies are coming and going from.

[00:55:27] Sé Reed: So … this is an important question. An hour in, I know the answer of whose WordPress is it. I know the answer of whose WordPress it should be, and whose WordPress we have been told that it is. Which is all of ours, as a free open source software with a robust community. It’s supposed to be ours and not in an open source way because it’s free open source software.

[00:55:56] Sé Reed: This is, it’s supposed to not be owned, right? And ideally the foundation would protect it. But the Foundation cannot protect itself from its own board, from its own board president. The Foundation cannot protect itself from Matt, because the Foundation is Matt. So WordPress, the project, is completely at the mercy of a single individual.

[00:56:26] Sé Reed: And that individual, by the way, he’s not even the only founder of WordPress. He’s not the only one who made it. There’s this other guy, Mike Little, who, by the way, did you know, has been working in WordPress for the last 10 years? He’s still around. I can’t imagine how mind-bogglingly frustrating that is to be like, I’m also the co-founder of WordPress, but you wouldn’t know it because

[00:56:50] Jason Tucker: It was about the PHP and the JavaScript and the J in the CSS and in the database that made it all work. And Matt just ran off and built a bunch of stuff with it.

[00:57:00] Sé Reed: It was Mike’s stuff that was forked to make it in the first place. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it has to be like this. I don’t think it should be like this, but unless we admit to ourselves, to each other, and we essentially call it out, in an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of way, for those of you who are familiar with that story, that fairy tale we can’t all just keep pretending.

[00:57:30] Sé Reed: I know that this is a community effort. Matt has slowly replaced most of the volunteers and contributors on the teams within WordPress.org with paid Automatticians. Paid people. Most back in the day, we needed open source, right? We needed, he needed those people to help build the product.

[00:57:58] Sé Reed: He needed volunteers. He needed the community. Now, he’s got money to be able to hire people and control them. Because that’s the problem with actual volunteers. You can’t control them, right? But, you can control your employees. And that is essentially what is happening. Automattic is essentially putting all of its sponsored volunteers into the leadership positions of all of the teams.

[00:58:22] Sé Reed: And again, it is not the individual people’s fault. They’re, a lot of them are, amazingly good people. A lot of them understand the conflicts and only some of them are acolytes defending the leadership and refusing to acknowledge the reality of it. But I put that upon us. I put that upon us as the community, anyone listening to this, reading the transcript, folks at WordCamp Europe … please talk about this.

[00:58:51] Sé Reed: Please bring this up. Please talk about this with your hosting companies. Please talk about this with your fellow WordPressers. Please talk about this with anybody that you can talk to about it because we talk a lot about what the problems in WordPress are and I’m pretty sure that I know what the problem is.

[00:59:14] Sé Reed: There’s this expression, there’s a Yiddish expression that is, the fish stinks from the head. I don’t know if you’ve heard that before.

[00:59:24] Jason Tucker: I have not.

[00:59:25] Sé Reed: Essentially it’s like, where goes the leader so goes the group, right?

[00:59:32] Sé Reed: Maybe I’ll get banned for talking about this. Maybe I won’t. Incidentally, Matt did say it’s published in public now, so he doesn’t care its public. I have a screenshot of it, so I didn’t violate his wishes in talking about this. Hopefully, we’ll see. But if I disappear, that’s where I went.

[00:59:59] Sé Reed: At least it’s not Boeing, right? And I don’t have to worry about being offed or something. I just have to worry about my dot-org profile being murdered, not my actual person. At least I don’t think so. Anyway, so I just think we need to stop pretending. We need to stop pretending that we don’t see what’s happening.

[01:00:18] Sé Reed: Because we already know what’s happened with Gutenberg. We already know what’s happening with the site editor. We already know what’s happening next with the site admin, right? And the individual Automatticians trying their best to involve the community, I commend you, it is not your fault.

[01:00:38] Sé Reed: But you’re, you can’t … I don’t expect those people to go against the person paying their bills. And giving them health insurance. Just in America anyway. It’s not going to happen. Even if they wanted to support us or be more open, they can’t be. But for all of those of us who complain about WordPress, talking about whose WordPress it is, whose WordPress it should be. Matt’s response to this is always, If you don’t like it, you can fork it.

[01:01:09] Sé Reed: Which is essentially just saying, go fork yourself. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t fork it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t fork it. I’m just saying that there’s a lot of us, and there’s one of him. And I don’t say that as a mob. I say that as a mindset. As a way to understand that WordPress is and should be bigger than this one person.

[01:01:37] Sé Reed: This one person who is not being held accountable, who is not holding themselves accountable, who is not being held accountable by the code of conduct, who is not being held accountable by the rules set up by the marketing team, who is not being held accountable in any form by anybody. I think that the community and the leaders within the community …

[01:02:01] Sé Reed: … should be holding this person accountable and stop enabling this situation. Because otherwise what are we going to go all do go build sites and Wix like we’re just going to … like it’s splintering we all know it’s splintering. If we don’t want it to splinter, if we would like WordPress to continue, if we would like WordPress to maintain its existence as a real community and not just a subsidiary, an open source subsidiary of Matt, then we need to speak up and stop being so dang scared of this dude and his acolytes. Because, if we don’t, he’s already won. And maybe he has already won and maybe it doesn’t matter, but I do know that no one’s holding him accountable and we should. And that is the end of my rend.

[01:02:54] Jason Tucker: Thank you all so much for hanging out with us. We really appreciate it. And here’s our outro. See ya.

[01:03:08] Jason Tucker: You can find us wherever it is that you listen and watch various videos and audios and whatnot. And we’ll talk to y’all later. Have a good one.

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One response to “EP484 – Whose WordPress is it anyway?”

  1. David Avatar

    As a hobbyist that uses WordPress for my cat blog, thanks for the deep dive into your experience in the .org. Can you talk about how we who the masses can apply pressure to keep the .com in check?


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