WordPress Followup

I talked to Matt Mullenweg last night by AIM, from a wi-fi connection in Italy. He was just starting to catch up on the story, swamped under a ton of e-mail and interview requests. He wrote something brief on his weblog, and is in the process of composing an official response for the WordPress homepage. Update: Here it is. Please read it! It addresses many questions.

Update: Matt just posted a comment in this thread, addressing some of the conspiracy theories and saying that his response is coming very soon:

Andy did let me know he was working on the article, I was open and answered all his questions however I’d prefer if our AIM conversation wasn’t quoted more just because I don’t have access to it myself and I’m not terribly articulate on IM. It didn’t occur to me that the article would be finished while I was gone and there would be so much feedback. I’m back online and going to be posting a response shortly.

Otherwise, things are settling down from a very busy day yesterday. eWeek, MSNBC, The Register, Slashdot, Ars Technica, and Metafilter all posted articles about it. After deleting the offending articles, Google added WordPress.org back into their search results and reinstated the 8/10 pagerank.

Chad Jones, the creator of Hot Nacho, contacted me and asked me to post this statement. Several parts of his story were contradicted by Matt himself, and I don’t believe it myself, but I’m happy to reproduce it in full below.

Hi, I’m Chad from HotNacho.com. I just wanted to post an explanation to clarify what was going on here. It’s not nearly as devious as people seem to think.

I’m a garage software developer in the middle stages of writing a custom word-processing utility to help authors craft articles which are mildly search engine optimized. Nothing deceptive dishonest or black-hat — just providing authors with information about keyword balance. This helps them to see how a machine views their writing. When my software is ready, I plan to license it to companies wishing to develop website content.

Naturally, this requires an awful lot of testing so I’ve been placing test batches of articles on many website — which has been invaluable for learning about how search engines read pages. I approached Matt several months ago about putting a batch of articles on the WordPress site and he agreed — because he needed the income stream. For my part, I invariably place some advertising on such pages because I’m also not corporate sponsored.

Altogether, I placed a couple thousand articles on WordPress (not 168,000). The results were mixed. Google indexed the pages but they did not catch much Google traffic — which is logical since the articles covered a broad range of unrelated topics. The articles were of varying degrees of quality and covered a half-dozen popular subjects but they were most certainly not spam.

It was a blunder that Matt used invisible links to connect to the Articles collection. It wasn’t necessary and I’m sure he regrets having done it that way. But please cut the guy some slack. A mistake was made and corrected. Matt has given freely of his time and effort for years without remuneration and perhaps the irony here is that he probably hid the links out of embarrassment that he needed to rent out a corner of his website. Sure, it was a mistake, but it was motivated by the fact that he’s a really good guy.

24 thoughts on “WordPress Followup

  1. Now compare all that to Matt’s Record, his humility, and the fact that this article shouldn’t have been released until he got home from vacation.

    Yeah. Unless Matt has access to some kind of publishing platform that works from any Internet-connected computer in the world, we should wait to give him a chance to respond.

  2. So… this HotNacho guy is just writing a link-spam text editor and wanted some place to test it?

    Yeah, I’m doubting that. Even if it were true it’s still unbelievably sleazy.

  3. The response from The Nacho seems reasonable. I like the informal tone. A bit unbelieveable (why wordpress.org?) but reasonable nonetheless.

    re: brian’s comments

    meh. I think Andy did the right thing posting about this, and I think he closed it at the appropriate time. I also think he covered all sides of the story adequately, and gave Matt fair warning about this post. Meanwhile, I do support Matt and feel he made a honest mistake (albeit a bad one). In the end, it hurts him far more than any of us… so I don’t think we’ve anything to bitch about.

    Andy Baio. The next Matt Drudge? 😉 (go get waxyreport.com, quick!)

  4. Brian, you say: “u [Andy] should have waited till he was able to give defense”

    But Andy wrote: “For what it’s worth, I mentioned to him in our chat on Thursday that I was going to write an entry, so he could have taken preemptive action if he wanted to”

    So unless Andy is lying, it turns out Matt had the chance to defend himself. In fact, Matt admitted it would take more than a single person to get him to stop his practice; according to Andy, he said “If it turns a lot of people off I definitely don’t want it.” So now there were a lot of people.

  5. meh, maybe I didnt get it. I guess we dont know the details of the conversation. Plus Im sure matt didnt know exactly what it would be about otherwise he wouldnt have been so suprised like he said in his blog that ‘his heart sunk’ when he heard all the news and reports and how it had circulated so quickly. Im not saying andy is lying, but I would have been able to respect the article a lot more had it been pulled while he waited for Matts return. Not that I dont respect waxy.org, Its all good stuff so far accept the timing of this article.

  6. Here’s the relevant part of the original AIM transcript. Feel free to confirm this with Matt.

    [06:43] waxpancake: FYI, after you respond, I’m probably going to link to this or write a front-page post.

    [06:43] waxpancake: Just so you’re not surprised

    [06:44] saxmatt02: eh, I’d just as soon take it down but they’ve already paid for the month

  7. Pulling the article once Andy realised Matt was on holiday would have done no good at all – the story was already out, and pulling it would just look strange given the circumstances. Here’s hoping Matt puts out a nice, clear statement/apology/whatever he sees fit and then goes back to enjoying Florence.

  8. Gotta agree with Simon.

    By the time anyone realized Matt was away, Kottke alone had sent about 1000 eyes this-a-way.

    If Andy removed the story it would have just made the whole thing look even more scandalous. The appropriate thing to do was close the comments once the mob assembled, which Andy did — promptly.

  9. In some way the damage has been done – no matter what our Code Poet Matt or Mr. Nacho have to say. Bad press and a bad reputation simply won’t go away – even if you really did no evil.

    This should prove as a valueable lesson to all OS projects – that any funding initiative should be made with the community in mind. And such initiatives should be announced to your community/public. If there would have been a public announcement like ‘we put some links on our site to make some bucks to support WP’ some people would have complained anyway – but nobody would have been shocked.

    The biggest damage was done by the U-Boot tactic used by this initiative.

    The inner WP team should take this unhappy event to make some changes. Maybe split the operation into a commercial section (who provide services) and a non-profit part (which holds the rights etc.). Other projects have done this before.

    Also spread the responsibility – it just is strange that a huge community is unable to respond to such a thing because the head honcho is on vacation.

    An a great scale it shows that any cool coding project changes in nature and focus once it gets succesful and a pillar of the blogosphere. Suddenly code and design are not the most important thing – public relations, commerce and support become equally important.

    Blogging is a very personal and emotional thing – so any company/project dealing in that area should always consider people’s emotional attachment to their software as well. Especially when it comes to even more loaded topics like link-spamming.

    As for Matt – I really hope he will recover after this nasty spin in the blogosphere centrifuge. I am sure he has learned his lesson (whatever it may be).

    WordPress will have to live with a bit strange aftertaste to its name.

  10. Andy did let me know he was working on the article, I was open and answered all his questions however I’d prefer if our AIM conversation wasn’t quoted more just because I don’t have access to it myself and I’m not terribly articulate on IM. It didn’t occur to me that the article would be finished while I was gone and there would be so much feedback. I’m back online and going to be posting a response shortly.

  11. A worthwhile lesson from this is that WordPress hasn’t had enough benevolent financial support. Has anybody else here decided to donate to WordPress as a result?

  12. I havent yet, but Its been something on my mind lately considering how much time I have been using wordpress and how good of a product it is. Now seems like a good time for me to put my money where my mouth is and I think I will.

  13. Andy just emailed me the entire transcript. I’m happy to vouch for anything in it, just ask me, I’m just hesitant to have chatspeak directly quoted because reading over it I was pretty tired at the time and some sentences don’t even make sense.

  14. “Yeah. Unless Matt has access to some kind of publishing platform that works from any Internet-connected computer in the world, we should wait to give him a chance to respond.”

    Yes, right, Europe – in particular Italy (Matts destination) and Spain – are well known for their open wifi and numerous internet hotspots, especially over the Easter week when most people are on holidays… 😉

  15. I have read Matt’s reply and he is clearly spinning the core issue. He doesn’t address the fact that this is spamming. He claims it is just an advertisement. No Matt, it is not. It is a malicious way to cheat search engines and more importantly web users like all of us here.

    The fact that some people exagarate the attacks do not mean Matt is right. I am more disgusted with Matt’s answers. It is as if he really does not care about spamming problem on the net and he doesn’t see any problem with spamming. It is just an advertisement to him. I think it is time to fork wordpress and do something about the problem.

  16. I’m trying to give the HotNacho guy the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t figure out how putting ads out offering to pay people to write keyword-rich articles fits into his explanation.

    I wish he’d just stay out of this, he’s making it seem much more unseemly with his excuses and doublespeak.

  17. Jing: In my opinion, forking the WordPress code base would be a waste of human energy and unnecessarily dilute the project.

    Although it’s a little strange that he seemed to defend Hot Nacho’s business practices and never called it “spam,” I still believe he’s on the right path. Matt clearly learned some lessons about transparency here, and it sounds like he has some plans to make things better.

    As for Hot Nacho, I’m sure they’ll never be able to get a Google AdWords account again, which effectively ends their current business model. (At least, until Yahoo launches their AdSense competitor.)

    Again, I’m closing comments on this entry. If you have any news to add, please e-mail or IM me. Thanks.

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