Point of Community
The hoo hah about themes and GPL and community is still ongoing. I’ve been having a discussion about charging for WordPress themes over at XFEP, but I thought I should explain my point of view. So here it is.
I aim to be very logical and direct in most cases; therefore I will first attempt to consider what I think are the relevant points.
Question one: What is WordPress.org?
WordPress.org refers to:
- the WordPress software;
- the open source WordPress project;
- the community centred around the open source WordPress project; and
- the domain that gives a home to the open source WordPress project.
Question two: What is the open source WordPress project?
The project consists of the management of contributions to the WordPress core code that make up the free (as in money) WordPress software. These contributions are provided by a wide range of individuals who contribute to the project either in their spare time, or as part of their employment with firms that generate an income from WordPress related products or services.
Question three: What is the community centred around the WordPress project?
This is where things start to get tricky, and why this post is titled as it is. This is where people will begin to disagree.
I think we can all agree that: The community is a group of individuals who share an interest in the WordPress project.
I think we can also all agree that: An individual’s interest in the project may be intellectual, personal, professional, or financial.
I have excluded commercial deliberately as I do not believe anyone can have commercial interest in (i.e. own part of) the WordPress project. Note that when I refer to the project I am still referring to WordPress the software, and not the general contributions of the community.
I think it is reasonable to divide the community into two here in order to differentiate between the directly engaged community, that is, the people who blog about WordPress, and contribute to the repositories, and forums, and the wider WordPress community that use it, sell it (such as web designers that base sites on it), or develop based on it. This division is important for my view, but, even though you may disagree with my view, I think this step is reasonable.
So far then I have explained the community, in reference to other parts of the project, in the way shown by this diagram:
For the rest of my discussion about the community I want to exclude the wider community and focus on the directly engaged community (The Community).
Question four: What is The Community?
Here I need to examine what it is that I think any community is. Not just this community, but any community. It is a little theoretical so I hope you will excuse me.
In 1986 McMillan & Chavis put forward a theory of Pshycological Sense of Community. They defined it briefly as:
a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.
More specifically they attributed community to four central elements:
- Integration and fulfillment of needs
- Shared emotional connection
You can read more about the paper and the follow-up here.
So what does this mean?
It means that The Community is, as all communities are, a group of people with similar needs that contribute to the whole in order to benefit from the contributions of others. They give influence over others in proportion to their contributions and likewise expect to have a level of influence that is proportionate to their own contributions. Receiving influence is in some ways compensation for taking less than their contributions.
Within The Community each person expects others to be considerate to them as they are considerate to others; however, this consideration is a matter of faith and so once shaken can result in severe consequences such as significant disillusionment, a feeling that the community no longer supports them, and a desire to retaliate.
The Community is about the balance of give and take. This I think is the crux of the matter.
Question five: What does this have to do with anything?
If you are a member of the community what is it that you value?
Depending on how you view the WordPress community, what you value, and what you view as a contribution will determine whether you think excluding items from a repository for reason X is a good thing or a bad thing. You are likely to feel very strongly about it either way. For example:
Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?
Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by including a link back to his website on every website that uses the plugin in addition to the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?
Do you agree that: A person that makes a plugin freely available is appropriately compensated by including a link back to his website on every website that uses the plugin if he is using that to advertise a paid product or service, in addition to the thousands of other plugins and themes that are available to him for free?
Do you agree that: A person who makes a theme freely available is appropriately compensated by the thousands of plugins and themes that are available to him for free?
Do you agree that: A theme author who makes a theme available is only appropriately compensated by the community by having those individuals that want to use the theme pay for using it, despite the availability of the thousands of free themes and plugins that are available to him?
Do you agree that: A theme author who makes a theme available is only appropriately compensated by the community by having those individuals that want to use the theme pay for using it, and by using the community website as a platform to advertise, despite the availability of the thousands of free themes and plugins that are available to them?
Do you agree that: A theme author who makes a theme available is only appropriately compensated by the community by having those individuals that want to use the theme pay for using it, and by using the community website as a platform to advertise, and by including a link on the website of every person that uses the theme to link back to their own website despite the availability of the thousands of free themes and plugins that are available to them?
Do you agree that: The community receives fair compensation from an individual who releases a theme for free, that puts a link on every page of every website that uses the theme, where that link links back to a website promoting a product or service that the individual will be paid for, despite the availability to that individual of thousands of themes and plugins offered for free by the members of the community?
What I take from this
There are a lot of situations and questions there. They are intended to stir thought, not make a point. My point is simply what I think.
I think premium theme authors, who have put more resource into creating a theme than they can support through spare time alone, deserve to be compensated for that effort above and beyond the content that the community provides, assuming the content provided by the community represents only that spare time, i.e. is of a lesser value than the premium theme author can recoup from the community. They should be able to sell their themes for an appropriate cost to recoup the difference between what the community provides and the extra they have put in. Capitalism will decide how much is fair.
I think that releasing free themes to the community with the intent to advertise, via a link to a website that offers paid services, is reasonable provided the creation of the theme expended sufficient additional resource to equal the value of the advertising provided by the community. Given that this is very complicated and cannot be policed I do not think it should be permitted (from the community repository, but from their own website they can do as they please).
I think that premium theme authors are a valued part of the community and so should be permitted advertising space in order to advertise to the community, but, not as part of any product that is provided through the community, and clearly marked. Theme prices should be lowered accordingly to reflect the value of the advertising that the community is providing.
These are views I have come to by thinking through the principles. I have excluded any reference to the individual’s involved in the premium theme market, the repository, or any other aspect and I have very explicitly excluded any reference to the GPL as I think it is a sofa sized red herring in the whole debate.
Obviously the answers I have come up with a very theoretical as well and certainly wouldn’t be usable in the real world, but by coming up with these answers I understand better where I stand and why it is that I felt that the decision to remove themes that link back to sites offering paid services was a reasonable one in the first place (assuming that that was the intention).