Boo-Hoo: Mullenweg calls foul while continuing to ignore WordPress Automattic Conflict of Interest

WordPress founder and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg has called foul today while dodging issues on the ongoing conflict of interest between his involvement at Automattic and WordPress.

Several sites, including this one, published stories today suggesting that WordPress.com was moving to Microsoft’s Azure cloud hosting platform based on Mullenweg deciding to plug Azure at a Microsoft event. We’ve amended that earlier post, and we are the first to admit that the post was based on false reports elsewhere. I mentioned in the original copy that I hadn’t seen the transcript and in retrospect I should have waited for it, and it was my mistake entirely.

Unlike Mullenweg though I know that I’m fallible and can make the occasional mistake, and I’m happy to admit it. Mullenweg though continues to take a highly hypocritical role between his role at Automattic and his role behind the WordPress open source effort.

For those who aren’t up to speed: Mullenweg has undertaken a jihad of sorts for several years against commercial operators in the WordPress community. Mullenweg argues that anything that links in to WordPress must itself be offered open source (and be offered by extension for free,) a position that has punished unfairly many of the early supporters Mullenweg had behind WordPress in its early days as it took over from MovableType as the most popular self-hosted blogging platform.

In more recent times, Mullenweg has decided to take on James Farmer, one of Australia’s strongest WordPress supporters, and the founder of sites including Edublogs (perhaps the biggest WordPress education blog network) and the WPMU site and related entities.

James’ crime according to Mullenweg is that he both offers money for the development of, and sells (be it via a membership) premium WordPress plugins. We documented part of the spat here, and James has now been completely banned from WordPress.org sites (link.)

Let me make it clear at this point (particularly to the army of Mullenweg fans who immediately comment in his favor anytime I write about this): I have ZERO problem with him making money from Automattic. What I have a problem with is the conflict between him arbitrarily controlling who WordPress.org likes or dislikes based on how open source they are, when negative decisions are often made against competitors to Automattic and by extension WordPress.com.

You can’t have it both ways: either you’re an open source purist who hates commercial applications, or you aren’t. You can’t say you hate commercial operations except where they involve the company I founded off the very same code.

I appeal to all supporters of WordPress: put a stop to this ongoing hypocrisy. If Automattic wants to support the code base, that’s fine. But put the decision making for WordPress in independent hands with people who irrespective of whether they are pro or against commercial use of WordPress at least maintain the same policy for all, not just some. That is the only way that the open source effort behind WordPress can ultimately be beyond reproach.