Freeware author makes bad decision, gets flayed in absentia
March 31, 2005
I’m sorry, I’ve tried real hard not to comment on this, but it just isn’t working out.
Apparently Matt Mullenweg, the principle author of WordPress, has gotten “caught” taking advantage of wordpress.org’s impressive googlejuice (a pagerank of 8) by placing 120,000 articles or so under the site targetting high value phrases and running contextual advertising.
Matt’s side of the story, told very briefly since the people who discovered the thing waited until he was out of the country on vacation (something easily learned by visiting his blog for two seconds) to raise a stink, is that he rented the space out to another company that placed the articles and ads. The money from the space rental was to offset some of the costs of developing and supporting the open-source project.
There was also a rather ham-handed bit of hidden linkage on the main part of the site to get the articles indexed by the search engines.
So did Matt make a bad decision? Yeah, probably, although I wish I had a nickel for every worse one I made at that age (Matt just turned 21). Or hell, even in my 40-something dotage.
In reality, the only really stinky part was the hidden linkage—which G apparently used as an excuse to remove the pages. The rest was certainly taking advantage of the way SEs work, but not really coloring outside the lines.
Of course, if there had been any real blackhat SEO involved, nobody would have ever seen that linkage anyway.
But damn, there sure is a huge amount of high dudgeon among the A-listers. Of course, a snit and a scandel attracts the traffic, and we all have ads to display, right?
Gimme a break. If Matt would have been bit more upfront and a bit more cunning, he could have probably made a lot more for the cause, and never caused a ripple.
Look at Technorati for example. Their much ballyhoo’d new tagging system has gotten them a lot of linkage (we’ll see if it raises their already-7 pagerank when G next updates), with the added bonus that every high dollar contextual ad word that people target generates unique content for them to run their own ads against. And I haven’t heard anyone yet bitching that there are plenty of ads running on pages like www.technorati.com/tag/mesothelioma (one of the more notorious high-dollar words) or www.technorati.com/tag/insurance.
So what was Matt guilty of? As near as I can tell, what he did wrong was mostly being a bit timid about it and leasing the opportunity out to a third party who did things a bit clumsily. If he’d have put up, let’s say, a WordPress Folksonomy system and thrown ads against it, nobody would have likely blinked.
Of course, now that he’s been properly demonized by the blogogentsia, he’ll be watched carefully to make sure he stays on the straight and narrow.
Sigh. Cut him some slack, folks. Matt (and Ryan, and everyone else on the WordPress project) has done a hell of a job providing an excellent Open Source system. No, I don’t run it here, but I do on several other sites, and WordPress 1.5 =rocks=.
The last thing we need to do is discourage people like this from turning out software like this, and a public beating can go a long ways towards really messing with someone’s attitude.
So he made a mistake. Who hasn’t? Give him a break.
For an interesting contrast to the blog-o-sphere’s coverage, be sure to catch the SEO community’s take on all of this over to Threadwatch.