A spat between Automattic's CEO and members of the WordPress.org development community points to a difficult relationship at the heart of the system.
WordPress has an awkward dichotomy at its core. This divide has made itself known in the past few days as a furore developed around the plug-in page on WordPress.com not directing users to the plugin page of WordPress.org.
Why is the lack of a link an issue? It started with a tweet from WP core developer John Blackbourn, who asked: "Why has @wordpressdotcom replicated the entire http://WordPress.org plugin directory on its .com domain name? Searching for some plugin names now results in the .com page ranking higher than .org. F*** the long term health of the FOSS project, let's make some money, right?"
This developed into a discussion around whether any SEO advantage enjoyed by WordPress.com increased the likelihood of those searching for plugins landing on a page where they would have to pay for their use, rather than the free versions on WordPress.org. WP.com was accused of simply "scraping" WP.org for the plugin data.
It was a furore that saw Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com, block WordPress Marketing Team community representative Sé Reed on X after she posted:
"So on one hand we have thousands of contributors across the world wanting to contribute more & improve the #WordPress project, who are literally *not allowed* to do those things (SEO, videos, canonical plugins, apps, etc.) because you @photomatt [Mullenweg] hold all the keys (and the code)."
As a measure of Mullenweg's displeasure, she is the only person he has blocked on the platform. He then proceeded to directly accuse a few WP community posters on X of "slander", getting quite personal with some, and strongly defending WP.com from criticism it was being greedy. Other community developers also came in on Mullenweg's side.
To lay our cards out, GPP is, in some senses, a competitor to WordPress. Various modified and tailored versions of WP compete in the publishing sector, including with us. The genesis of GPP itself was at least partly a reaction to the unsuitability of WP for complex publishing requirements, and the long-term burden publishers take on by having to bespoke WP to work for them.
Despite that view WordPress is still an excellent option for many requirements, and we wish it no ill whatsoever.
In the simplest terms, the fight over the plug-ins is about whether the for-profit WP.com can live alongside the open source project that is WP.org, and whether Automattic sees the open source community as a problem or an asset. Or an asset when they like it, and a problem when they don't.
Who, in essence, is WordPress? And can such a hybrid relationship survive as Automattic looks for ways to make money from a system that still powers millions of sites, and will do for many years to come.
There's further background to this, as community developers have recently again complained about a metric for the active install growth of plug-ins being removed from their view a year ago, a metric many valued.
You can argue that the open source element of WP is a hangover from the past, when tech was was made available by the people for the people on the understanding you'll probably have to do some serious work to do serious things, versus the pay-to-play model that is now far more common than it was. (Beware talk of open source LLMs incidentally: nothing is open source when you need someone's massive stack of expensive GPUs to actually run it).
Subsequently, and what looks like an admission, WordPress.com has updated the plugin page to include a download link for WordPress.org plugins listed in the .com directory.
Is this then a classic Capital versus Labour situation?
Not quite. There's no doubt that Mullenweg lives and breathes WordPress, but then so do many of the community developers, and there's not one fragment of doubt that WP is the thing it is because of all the people who've contributed to it. Alienating those contributors doesn't bode well.