WordPress Plugin Commercialization

I was recently privileged to be sitting with friends and peers at the first private event designed and tailored for the WordPress business eco-system, Pressnomics. Of the various presentations given there was one that was of particular interest, the interview with Matt Mulleneweg. There was one topic in particular that appeared to catch most people’s attention – commercialization of plugins.

Before I start understand that this is all my own interpretation of what was said and in some instances things might have been taken out of context. I also had a follow-up conversation that helped me better understand, I think, the responses given.


Matt shared his belief that plugins that can be commoditized should not be commercialized, but themes are fair game.

He was very clear in the discussion that these are only his opinions and that those opinions are his own and based around the ideals in which he built, and is trying, to build the platform on. I thought over this for a bit and I can’t help but agree, every one of us are entitled to our own opinions and they will always vary based on those things that motivate us as individuals and business owners. I was confused though and so asked for clarification between commercialization of plugins and the products offered by his – Automattic – specifically plugins. I felt it only right to ask, I mean aren’t they commercialized plugins? What was I missing?

The question was simple, although likely a bit convoluted when delivered, and was designed to understand where the division existed:

You state your opinion is nothing more than you opinion and how you don’t believe plugins should be commercialized; yet Automattic, in addition to its hosting services, has a business model built around commercialized plugins. Where do you draw the line between what should and shouldn’t be commercialized?

Most of Matt’s response was what I expected – long, eloquent, yet very unclear or direct. I left a bit unsettled with the explanation and in later discussions realized so did many others, that’s also where I realized how passionate a subject this was.

I was fortunate to have a one-on-one with Matt both in passing and at lunch, that’s where my thoughts are derived from.

Principles and Ideals

I think the crux of the issues most have with this discussion really comes down to two basic things – principles and ideals.

In principle, it really doesn’t make much sense from a business perspective. Any business, small or large, have similarities in the way they were formed – defined a need and built a solution, later monetizing that product, service, etc… It’s the basics of capitalism and one that many take advantage of every day. On the flip side, you have the philosophies and ideals on which the platform was built on. Whether we like them or not, they exist. They are, however, not designed to drive the way we live or run our businesses.

What I understand of the discussion is simple. If a feature can be turned into a commodity then Matt feels it should not be commercialized. If it cannot then it’s ok to be commercialized. These are his founding principles and why you only see certain plugins in the list of Autommattic products. There is nothing wrong with this belief, unless we’re saying that the belief is further exasperated by some unwarranted action, that’d be a different story. But a belief or ideal in it of itself is of not real impact to anyone.

It is one of those things that is engrained in how an individual thinks and in their own beliefs. It’s not really one of those subjects that you can engage in, in the hopes that you will sway opinion. There also isn’t a right or wrong answer to it, only what we take and allow to influence our own opinions and thoughts. So the question that comes to my mind is, why do we care and or allow ourselves to get upset over it? I’m not sure on the answer here. Perhaps some things are best acknowledged and left alone.

On a side note though, on the flight home I was having a conversation with our favorite D to R to E and in it a good point did arise.

Why would you want to build a company around something that can be turned into a commodity? Take WordPress for instance, you build a business around a feature, that feature becomes highly popular and everyone screams for it, that then gets rolled into core. What happens to your business? To say it wouldn’t have an impact on your future projections is unrealistic. Sure, you might keep loyal followers and possibly grow based on some differentiator, but there will be impacts to your future. Then who do you get mad at? Is it the platforms fault that the feature is a commodity or yours that you built a company with a shelf life?

Is that not the beauty of the platform? I am sure Matt has many other opinions around the use of the platform; he’s likely particularly unhappy on how heavily it’s targeted by people to distribute malware or how pedophiles use to easily publish child pornography. These are opinions that most reading this can agree on, I’d say we likely have to learn to appreciate and respect other’s opinions and take them as that, open and honest responses to direct questions. We are our own people with our own ideals, ideals that drive our every-day thoughts and actions.

To commercialize or not to commercialize, that I leave to each of you. I share these thoughts to provoke conversation, not to get into an irrational back and forth on nonsense.