After ThesisWP-Gate It’s Time for the WordPress Foundation to Grow Up

Filed as News on August 12, 2010 3:23 pm

Every WordPress blogger who didn’t live under a rock recently has noticed that there have been many heated debates in the WordPress scene this year:

  1. Canonical/Core plugins
  2. WordCamp to only support GPL compliant events anymore
  3. ThesisWP-gate
  4. And those are only the first three fights which come to mind for 2010

And with yesterday’s switch from Cutline to Coraline on WP.com the debate has been revived once more.
While in the latter case nothing can be done and I will resist to mention that Splashpress Media the legal owner of Cutline is after the theme and its rights were acquired early 2007, it is important to look further and consider what should be next for WordPress.org and the WordPress community. The protests against Matt himself tend to grow every week more, most of all from the commercial developers community. Words such as sycopath, dictator and others are starting to become more frequent when Matt, the WP founder, is mentioned. In Summer 2007 I rallied for the WordPress trademark to be returned to the Community and a WordPress Foundation to be created. I already mentioned then that there was a mixed interest from Matt’s side and I do stand by these words.

Before I go any further it is also important to also point out that Splashpress Media owns several websites with WordPress in the URL, all of which have been validated by Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic – the company then vigilante of the WordPress trademark and let’s also use the moment to clarify the license Cutline was released under by its creator.

So much though to get some facts and disclosure out of the way before I focus on the real topic of this entry.

What Should Be Next for The WordPress Foundation (and WordPress.org)?

When the WordPress Foundation was officially announced earlier this year the blogosphere and WordPress community generally rejoiced although there were some valid questions, many already stipulated in the announcement post or better even: not mentioned. Other than a philosophy there is no official documentation on-site nor does the WordPress Foundation have a publicly known board. When reading the WordPress Foundation news it is safe to decide that the Foundation an enigma is and the Community no step closer to clarity is. This is what I want to focus on here:

It is time for the Foundation to assemble and publicly announce a board and declare its projects, commitments and roadmap/philosophy for the future.

And I’m going to help the WordPress Community and Foundation by proposing possible members for the WordPress Foundation Board. Let’s be clear up front: this is not about finding people Matt would love to see on the Board but about finding a stable and balanced Board, a Board consisting of members who believe in WordPress, open source and the WordPress Community. A board which at times will argue about the future, argue for the better of the platform and the Community. The WordPress Community.

Matt Mullenweg

While I might not always agree with Matt, there’s no doubt that thanks to him the ‘internet has improved’ and I have gone on record saying that I think that Matt a great leader is for the WordPress Community. I still support that statement and we users have to thank Matt for years of dedication to WordPress.

Not only has Matt created WordPress but also his passion for the project and open source in general are beyond dispute and people can say what they want, Matt has grown remarkably as a person over the last years. The rest… live and learn, we all make errors.

Photo Credit/Source: Matt himself.

Mark Jaquith

As a lead developer of WordPress Mark Jaquith does not only take part to the development of WordPress on daily basis but his reasonable tone and willingness to help clarify issues has often been exemplary. The latest proof of this behaviour was Mark’s personal view on why WordPress themes are derivative and thus should be released under the GPL license. While Mark at times might let his passion slightly dominate his opinion he is a great contributor to the Community and a strong believer in open source.

Brian Gardner

Brian Gardner from Revolution Theme and StudioPress fame, has been a very important member within the WordPress Community theme scene. To say that Gardner revolutionised WordPress theming would be discrediting the work previously done by many a designer who already sold pre-made themes/skins for WordPress but Gardner certainly has contributed, arguably even revolutionised commercial theme licensing when Revolution Theme was released under the GPL. During every storm Brian remains calm and continues with his work, defending his believes in WordPress as a platform and the GPL as a license which allowed him to build a healthy business on.

Michael Heilemann

Not only is Michael Heilemann an integral part of the WordPress history thanks to the Kubrick theme which was the WordPress default theme for many years, only to be replaced with Twenty Ten, the new default theme. There is another reason to invite Michael on-board: he has seen WordPress from both sides – from three sides even. First of all as an insider and actively contributing member, then as a ‘leaving developer’ after the the Shuttle admin interface ‘debacle’ but more even, Michael has seen ‘the other side’ as a core contributor to the Habari project.

Photo Source: Michael’s Flickr.

Michael Torbert

Michael Torbert is the developer of the hugely popular All-in-One-SEO-pack plugin for WordPress but that is not the only reason why Michael is selected in ‘my WordPress Foundation board room’. Michael is excelled in supporting his plugin and since quite some time the plugin is also available as a paid Pro version. Knowing both sides of the Community, I reckon Michael would make a great addition to the board, also because of his serene tone.

Jane Wells

Jane Wells’ career within the WordPress scene has been more vertical than the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. While their might be doubts and questions about this incredible rise, Jane has supported WP awesomely with her contributions to the WordPress 2.7 admin redesign.

Some people might raise doubts about Jane and her stellar career but I will not be the one stating these suspicions. Needless to say though that if someone were to raise questions about this, they need to be answered as soon as possible and in all honesty.

Duncan Riley

Many will say that I must be on crack to propose Duncan, the founder of The Blog Herald, as a possible WordPress Foundation board member but the truth is that Duncan Riley one of the biggest defenders of open source software is. Although he has called BS on Matt more than once, and before that on Mena Trott from Six Apart, he also is the first one to defend both. When he thinks they deserve the praise.

Over the last week Duncan also has defended Chris Pearson, mainly via Twitter, because Duncan does believe in everything Chris has done for WordPress and as a business owner.

While Duncan might not be the person Matt would want to see on board, it is important to have a neutral who defends and believes in all three elements: the platform, open source and the possibility for contributors to be supported in their actions. Every board needs a ‘beeyatch’ among the members. Duncan Riley is the right person for this role.

Chris Pearson

In all honesty, everyone who has followed the open source platform WordPress for some years knows that Chris Pearson’s contributions have been numerous and have benefited a huge following. Not only was there the now from WordPress.com janked theme Cutline, but also PressRow (which will also be janked from WordPress.com because Matt Mullenweg “don’t want any of his junk touching our sites” [source], later the Copyblogger theme and now Thesis, a commercial theme now under split license and with more than 27,000 customers.

To refute the importance of Chris Pearson for WordPress would be ridiculous and as a theme creator who now has ‘seen the light’ and relicensed Thesis, Chris certainly belongs on the board of the WordPress Foundation.

What Should The Task of The WordPress Foundation Be?

First of all the future (?) WordPress Foundation Board should define the manifest and philosophy for the Community, avoiding any possible ambiguity and if needed even release the ‘WP-GPL license’.
The Board should also decide over the future of the software platform and be arbiter in situations such as the Capital_P_dangit() debacle or the Sponsored Themes FUD or even which colour the WordPress.org site should endorse. I fully support Brain Gardner if he says that every October WordPress.org should endorse a pink colour scheme.

Let’s not forget that the WordPress Foundation isn’t what Matt wants, what I want, what Splashpress Media would like to see and nor should our believe take over from facts. The WordPress Foundation has to be a balanced vehicle, an organisation representing the whole WordPress Community and all of its users. No matter whether you believe one license might be better than the other.

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  1. By Jeffro posted on August 13, 2010 at 2:39 pm
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    Many will say that I must be on crack to propose Duncan

    Yeah, this would confirm the use of crack. Many times, Duncan would write an article on his site, Inquisitr slamming WordPress or Matt and most of the time, the post would be written as if Duncan was on another planet and had no freaking clue as to what was really going on. Many of his points and arguments are ludicrous to say the least. Keep him as far away from the board as possible.

    As for Chris Pearson, if he were allowed to be on the board, I’d lose all confidence in the future of the foundation. Might as well just flush it all away. If the community could somehow convince Chris to just leave the community and do something on his own either with his own platform or a platform with a less restrictive license, the WordPress community would be better for it.

    Reply

  2. By David posted on August 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm
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    WOW! This is one time where Jeff and I don’t even come close to seeing eye-to-eye. Okay, I’ll give you that Duncan probably would cause disruptions that could slow the boards progress down, but if you removed both Duncan and Chris, who would be the voice of reason? Who would be the person on the board NOT drinking the Automattic/WordPress Kool-Aid?

    Someone needs to point out potential mistakes, and while the others on the board are great people, I don’t know if they would take the risk and go toe to toe with someone like Matt.

    A WordPress Foundation board should be as balanced as possible, understanding both the great strength and issues that its community creates. It should be able to make decisions based on what’s best for as many people as possible, and not just the WordPress fanatics.

    I would want to make sure that there was someone questioning the actions of the board even when they are right. To make sure there is consideration and thought given to all sides of any major movement.

    Reply

  3. By Jeffro posted on August 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm
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    I’d be for someone that swings one way and is able to be swung the other way. Yes, a board full of people that just toe the line probably ends up being bad in the long run but the two members suggested here are on a different planet. Personally, I still don’t think Chris cares about the open nature of WordPress and how things are supposed to work. He likes protection and putting walls around things. That thinking should be kept away from the foundation..

    Duncan on the other hand does a good job spreading mis information and misguided opinions without fact checking.

    These two people don’t even come close to neutral in my opinion. While the WordPress Foundation Philosophy is short and concise, http://wordpressfoundation.org/philosophy/ Chris certainly doesn’t mesh well with it and quite frankly, I don’t know if Duncan understands any of it based on posts from the Inquisitr.

    I would nominate Mark Ghosh of WeblogToolsCollection.com as one of the board member based on all of my conversations with him and his extensive experience in software development.

    As for the other person, I would like it to be someone who cares about the project, who wants to see it succeed, is willing to listen to the concerns brought up by the community whether big or small and has the personal guts to provide that opposition when they feel it warranted. Who that is, I’m not sure yet.

    Reply

  4. By Franky Branckaute posted on August 13, 2010 at 6:44 pm
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    Jeffro, this list is just an idea a concept. What I do think is important though is that the ‘scene’ around Chris, who might have an illegal theme or worse even business built upon Thesis, do find a protective and representative voice in the board as well. If the number of 27,000 is correct that is a huge number and we have to make sure that these users don’t feel outlawed, most of’em probably did not care about license they just like Thesis and Chris’ community.
    Whether Chris ‘has seen the light’ remains to be seen but offering Chris to join on board would be a real way of finding out. If he doesn’t care about the values I’m the first one to say ‘Bye, Chris, at least we did ask you to join and show that you do care. Obviously you don’t’.

    As for Duncan, I think Duncan has drunk more WP Kool-aid than many of us. Duncan was one of the few to label the paid for links on wordpress.org as ‘an error, live and learn’ and has protected Matt in various cases. Duncan does care more about open source software than most people think. But he won’t make it easy.

    A Board should be balanced and represent most user groups, always agreeing on every decision is not a condition. Being not a ‘fanboy’ is though and should apply to 50+1 % of the board members.

    Reply

  5. By David posted on August 13, 2010 at 7:01 pm
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    Jeff – You didn’t mention anyone that would stand up to Matt and Jane though. They have strong opinions, can be very eloquent and would require someone of an opposing view to help keep things working to the betterment of everyone.

    Franky – I get that its an idea. I can’t help but feel passionate about what you’ve written here, and I’m sorry if I’ve sounded defensive in my responses. I’d love to see more people potentially put forward as “voices of reason” when it comes to the community.

    I also want to point out that I feel that certain people reading this might not understand your selections because they haven’t been around the WP community long enough. Many people are like “what have they done for WP lately” rather than realizing that WordPress exists how it is today in large part because of the people you’ve listed, whether or not they’ve done anything pro-WP lately.

    Reply

  6. By Franky Branckaute posted on August 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm
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    David, it was very difficult to ‘restrict’ this list to the names listed. I could have gone on for ages and listed 10 or maybe even 50 more people I deem fit to be on the Board but I went with this list exactly because of what you said: ‘These people all have helped WordPress become what it is today, whether that was several years ago or over the last two years’.

    I hope I did not offend anyone by not listing them but this post IMHO is ‘food for thought’ and a ‘nudge’. I might not seem an active participant to the WP Community but passionate about the project I am and I think this post is the proof of it. I wished I had more time to follow the project more closely and be a pain in the booty at times but I wish to limit my criticism to be (IMHO) constructive and forward-thinking.

    I am happy to see you participate to this thread, maybe it rekindles passion and if it does, you certainly should be one of the people nominated as well if there were a democratic election.

    I would love to list Mark G., but while I know several people in the Community, Mark G. sadly is not one of them. Maybe after this entry I should hit up Mark. :)
    As for Michael H., I think he would be very valuable because of his ‘trip outside of the WP Community’, but in all honesty I don’t know whether Michael would be interested.

    Maybe with the project and Community being as big as it is a board almost as large as the Apache Foundation Board is required. Once more, I would be all pro and I certainly do hope that Matt will some day receive the same open-source award Greg Stein received some weeks ago (Hint: OSCON ;) )

    Reply

  7. By Jeffro posted on August 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm
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    David, when you say voices of reason, I’d like to see you point out examples of both Chris and Duncan being ‘voices of reason’.

    Reply

    • By Franky Branckaute posted on August 15, 2010 at 7:47 am
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      Jeffro, ‘voice of reason’ is not blindly following Automattic, something most people have forgotten. More than anything the majority of ‘pundits’ in the WP-scene have become sheep and blindly follow whatever Matt says.

      If Matt/The Foundation (who else is the Foundation today?) tomorrow decides to retire the name and even the .org site and hand it officially back to Automattic, then you have nothing to say or can’t do anything.

      WordPress the open source platform and Community have become a really large vehicle and it is important that instead of blindly following there is a balance. Right now there is none and it is important that a balanced Board is created, a Board accepted by the Community, in order to avoid that in-fighting might become more prevalent. More than one Community before WP has suffered its own death and almost everyone the person in charge was fully supported by the Community.

      Without ‘voices of reason’ 27,000 users until recently risked to be outlawed. The GPL has never been tested in Court and while that would take many years, including all levels of appeal, it is something we do not want. It might even be better for the Community if the WPF writes its own license and eliminates all possible grey areas that way. Right now the situation at times borders on bullying.

      Reply

  8. By Jeffro posted on August 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm
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    Hey, I’m all for voices of reason being part of the board, I just think Chris and Duncan are the furthest things from voices of reason. Now if you were creating a board of irrational members, now you’d be on to something.

    As for the license, WordPress will forever be GPL v2. Nothing will change that since Matt would have to contact everyone who’s code was committed to core and get their approval first if he wanted to change the license. So people are just going to have to learn the license and either develop alongside of it or do things in such a way where the license isn’t an issue, SaaS for example.

    Reply

    • By Franky Branckaute posted on August 22, 2010 at 7:59 am
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      So basically, because two votes out of all the names I mentioned previously are not to your liking, you already assume that there’s a need to equal this selection with ‘board of irrational members’. 27,000 clients.

      Automattic/Matt as owner of the trademark can retire the name whenever they feel like. They have the monopoly of the name and if that were to happen some day, there’s nothing the Community can do about it. I did not mention ‘relicense’, I did say ‘if needed the Board could decide to write another [GPL-based] license, the GPL which still confuses many people and many an IP lawyer. If that were an option down the line, the board could decide to write the WPGL because now beliefs take over just once too often, beliefs and the ‘Public Voice of The King Inspiring The Followers’ and thus sending the dogs out.

      Sadly your reaction here, and also how you personally handled the Coraline situation on the Tavern forums, totally supporting Matt and even defending him – refusing to see that it *was* a personal thing until Matt tweeted that it was personal, not to mention that you refuse to update the Coraline post with the correct license information about SPM as David previously mentioned on the Tavern entry, is why I did not include you as ‘Evangelist’ because you have become a fanboy, generally defending Matt’s case blindly. The reflexions you make against them/Automattic are nowhere near what one would expect from a neutral observer and just little blips on the radar or less even.

      Reply

  9. By Duncan Riley posted on August 22, 2010 at 8:25 am
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    Jeffro
    I’d be interested in hearing exactly what “misinformation” you allege I’ve been spreading. Vague allegations are wonderful in trying to discredit someone when you don’t back them up as facts.

    Here are some facts: I have long argued in favor of open source. If you check the archives here at The Blog Herald you might find some history. For example you may not appear to know that I founded this site (and it was the VERY first blog founded that covered the blogging industry), it precedes the rise of WordPress, and that I was highly critical of SixApart’s early decisions on MT…to the point that really at one stage I was enemy no. 1 with that company. You’ll might not also know that I championed WordPress for many years in its early days.

    But it is fact that Matt Mullenweg decided to exploit his role with WordPress.org in founding Automattic. You’ll find that when he did so I praised him for it, and to this day I have zero issue with him doing so. Automattic, is on the whole a great success story, and the company does a great job.

    However, as I’ve written elsewhere previously (for memory the first time was when I was writing for TechCrunch maybe 3 years ago…you may have heard of the site…) I called bollocks on Mullenweg’s attempts to attack other companies that also make money from WordPress: and 3 yrs ago, like today, those companies were, and in some cases still are players in the rise and continuing strength of the WordPress code base.

    He was literally biting the hands that helped feed him.

    But lets look at fiduciary and investor duty and Mullenweg’s behaviour. (If I’m inserting u’s into words its because I’m typing in my native English, not US English and I’m on English (AU) at the moment….get over it.)

    Should the WordPress Foundation sue Chris Pearson? Does the WordPress Foundation have the money to do so? Or was the suggestion that Automattic should? Or should Automattic bankroll the WordPress foundation to do so? How is Mullenweg’s personal gripe against others making money from the same code increase value for Automattic’s investors exactly?

    My line has always been the same: Mullenweg did a great job leading WordPress.org, and he’s entitled to make money from it. But his role with Automattic, a company that primarily profits from the same code can, and should preclude him from any ongoing controlling role with the WordPress foundation. If the WordPress foundation truly believes in open source and the fundamentals it believes in, then Matt needs to either be bought under control (through a more representative board), or separated from the process.

    If you’d like to debate this on a podcast, video link, whatever, pick your time and day. I’m 7hrs + 1 day behind the West Coast this time of year, come October that will be 5 hrs.

    I look forward to your response.

    Reply

  10. By Jeffro posted on August 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm
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    Some of the misinformation or misguided opinions I’ve read in the past include the following:

    http://www.inquisitr.com/48394/mullenweg-fails-again/

    Still, Automattic’s and Mullenweg’s hypocrisy when in comes to open source has long been documented: the company likes nothing more than attacking those who dare profit from WordPress code while they themselves act as if they believe that only Automattic alone should be able to profit from it.

    Matt Mullenweg has stated numerous times that he loves seeing businesses prosper because of WordPress. He has also stated that he loves seeing business built on top of and around WordPress so as they confine to the license that WordPress was released under – GPLv2. Matt even came on the line, unscheduled to talk with three commercial theme owners to talk about ways they could help each other out. That statement made in the article is so off base, it’s not funny, it’s damn right upsetting. I don’t see Matt going around to everyone making money off of WordPress and telling them to shut down or else.

    http://www.wptavern.com/wpweekly-episode-94-%E2%80%93-commercial-themes

    The contention either way remains the same: Mullenweg is an open source nazi who stops at very little to cut off or make life difficult for those outside of Automattic who seek to profit from the WordPress code.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Then there is this crap:

    http://www.inquisitr.com/27294/wordpress-tards-wet-their-pants-over-not-much-at-all/

    WordPress.org should be hived off, or alternatively forked off from Automattic. There is a continuing and clear conflict of interest between Automattic’s commercial interests, and WordPress’ development as a free and open source blog CMS. One needs to look no further than how Automattic’s commercial decisions are constantly imposed on the WordPress (.org) community: one minute it’s sponsored links in templates, then it’s trying to force template and plugin designers to release their work under the GPL: it’s the whole the only people who can profit from WordPress is us thing, and that’s why there should be, and needs to be change.

    While there will always be the potential for a conflict of interest due to Matts role with WordPress.org and WordPress.com, I have yet to see that conflict reveal itself as in something pursued or done on the WordPress.org side of things purely for the commercial benefit or interests of WordPress.com. I’ll agree that it’s a risk but there are plenty of eyeballs keeping a watch on things and I doubt the community would allow that to happen without some sort of uproar. But the biggest pain in the ass regarding those two posts is this notion of Automattic not wanting anyone else to make money from WordPress code and it’s a notion that is continuously brought up and reported on as if it’s a fact when it’s nothing but bull crap.

    Furthermore, regarding the quoted text, the decisions regarding sponsored links and plugin developers regarding the GPL have nothing to do with Automattic which makes it clear that you have not been able to clearly differentiate between the two entities.

    By the way, I’ve taken a stroll down memory lane and revisited some of your posts from 2007 regarding Matt and WordPress.

    http://techcrunch.com/2007/08/22/how-grey-is-your-valley-making-money-from-open-source/

    It seems you were confused then as you are now regarding what is really going on.

    As for this talk about the foundation, I was really, really hoping Matt would have taken Chris to court and I was also hoping that litigation would be lengthy so Chris could get a reality check to the head but alas, it didn’t happen. But since none of that happened, it’s all a moot point by now. Considering how well WordPress has matured with Matt at the helm, I have no problems with the foundation being lead by Matt with no board members. If he screws it all up, then so be it. A group of passionate users will fork and they’ll start the process over again without Matt being involved. Pretty nice checks and balances system with WordPress and the GPL.

    How is Mullenweg’s personal gripe against others making money from the same code increase value for Automattic’s investors exactly?

    This is something you’ve been repeating since 2007. After 3 years, I don’t think it’s possible to convince you that Matt has no problem with others making money from the WordPress code base. He encourages it actually. However, he is the gatekeeper for everything on WordPress.org and if he doesn’t want sponsored themes on the repository, that’s what he gets. What’s so hard to understand about that? It’s not like Matt has a strict list of ways that people can make money with WordPress.

    By the way, what does it say to see a company like Automattic be so successful with WordPress.com which is built on pretty much, not exactly the same code base as WordPress? A commercial company that continuously gets venture capital funding yet if anyone had the desire and pocket books, could use that very same code, turn on MultiSite and create a WordPress.com clone with a new name and become direct competition? While I don’t think it’s practical, it’s certainly possible.

    You and I will not see eye to eye on our opinions of both Matt and Automattic. It’s pretty evident by the past three years of content you’ve written about both. I personally feel that the information you continue to write is FUD at best and from someone who has kept a keen eye on the WordPress community and so far, has had numerous conversations with Matt and asked him all sorts of questions regarding the conflict of interest claims and what have you,the claims I’ve mentioned above are nothing short of ludicrous and therefor, I don’t feel you would be a good fit for being a board member on the foundation.

    It’s too bad about TechCrunch, while reading your stuff their, it at least looked like you knew what you were talking about and presented things in an interesting way that generated dialogue. Now it’s all a bunch of trash that unfortunately, some people may take as fact.

    Reply

  11. By Duncan Riley posted on August 27, 2010 at 5:03 am
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    Jeffro
    your propensity to constantly resort to personal attacks vs arguing the points really reflects strongly on the weakness of your argument. I’m not going to dignify it with a full response.

    There’s really no talking to Mullenweg zealots is there? This cult like behavior is everything that’s wrong with the WordPress foundation today.

    Reply

    • By Franky Branckaute posted on August 27, 2010 at 6:22 am
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      There’s really no talking to Mullenweg zealots is there? This cult like behavior is everything that’s wrong with the WordPress foundation today.

      What Foundation? The Matt Foundation?

      That’s why it is extremely urgent to add a Board, especially if even so-called ‘observers’, who love the product, say:

      Considering how well WordPress has matured with Matt at the helm, I have no problems with the foundation being lead by Matt with no board members.

      Wrong, totally wrong. This feeds a possible dictatorship. It reminds me of the Press Attaché in the original V series.

      Reply

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