While doing some research on WordPress, I discovered that the parent, if you will, is actually a company called Automatic. Ring a bell? Yes, I was surprised too. Automatic is the name on the advert I’m fighting.
I’ve been calling the placement of that one, particular advert coercive and the intent of forcing us to pay to be free of ads, stand-over tactics. Yet, lo and behold, Automatic think they’re the best, most honourable thing since Sir Galahad:
‘We are passionate about making the web a better place. We don’t build software for free –– we build it for freedom. Our goal is to democratize publishing and commerce so that anyone with a story or idea can share it with the world regardless of income, gender, politics, language, or location.’
‘Your feedback is how we learn, and we treasure it. This year we’re proud to have delivered happiness to 85% of the users who contacted us.’
‘We’re constantly learning from our users and each other about how we can improve our products and make the web a better place. Our community holds us accountable to our purpose and we wouldn’t have it any other way.’
There’s more, about how nice they are to their employees blah blah, all the current buzz words, and they may well be all those things, but here’s a reality check for Automatic:
- The WordPress.com platform is not a charity. In exchange for providing bloggers with a ‘home’, WordPress, and by extension Automatic, receives billions of words of free content. Think about it. Do readers come to your blog because they’re enamoured of the way it functions? Because they like the colour scheme? No, they come for the content you have written.
- Once the popularity of our content reached a sort of critical mass, it encouraged businesses and people who wanted to monetize their blogs to pay for WordPress.org. WordPress.org is a way of building your own website with your own domain name by using the WordPress engine. This is money coming in to Automatic because of our content.
- All the free bloggers on WordPress.com are guinea pigs for the changes WordPress introduces. We are never informed in advance. We are never given a choice. We are given the changes and then WordPress sits back to see what will happen. If most of its users [us] don’t complain too loudly, they keep the changes which then go on to grace the websites of paid users. If the free bloggers kick up too much of a stink, certain ‘innovations’ are quietly withdrawn and replaced with less obnoxious alternatives. But we have to yell pretty loudly for the developers to decide that something isn’t worth the effort.
- Now we’re into a new phase of experiments in which Automatic/Wordpress place adverts in different, more visible positions on our blogs. Some people have had their actual content obscured. Others, like me, have simply had our ability to attract new followers curtailed. In all cases, however, the aim of the experiment is to see how far the guinea pigs can be pushed before they react.
- As far as Automatic is concerned, no matter which way we guinea pigs jump is going to be a win-win situation. If we upgrade our free acounts to paid accounts – just to be free of these intrusive adverts – they win by gaining an ongoing ‘subscription’ from people who were just ‘freeloaders’. If we accept the situation without much complaint, they get to place paid advertisements where they will be most visible to visitors – on the best parts of our blogs. On the other hand, if we scream loudly enough, they will simply go back to placing adverts after our blog posts while they think of some other way of squeezing blood from a stone.
- The one thing Automatic is not worried about is losing market share. Why? Because they believe the WordPress platform is too popular to fail.
On this last point, Automatic may be right, at least in the short term. Bloggers who have been on WordPress for years, like me, have built a brand here. Search engines know where to find us. Our community knows where to find us. Moving now would mean that most of us would have to start again from scratch. Not a pleasant prospect.
But, nothing online lasts forever. Geo Cities? My Space? Remember them? Those are the only two I can think of from way back when, but at the time, they were huge. What made them fade away? I suspect it was a combination of user boredom, mismanagement and the rise of newer, more exciting, more user-friendly platforms.
Will WordPress fade away like those other platforms? Absolutely. The only unknown is when, and that depends a lot on how greedy Automatic become. You see, if Automatic push too hard they’ll cross that fine line between too-much-to-lose and anything-is-better-than-this.
It can happen with any relationship: inertia holds us in place until misery, and the lure of something better finally galvanises us into action. Bottom line, there are a lot of blogging platforms out there, and they all need our content. Our. Free. Content.
I’m not ready for divorce yet, but the point of no return is getting closer. And no, I’m not a modern-day Donna Quixote. I am stubborn, but the truth is that I simply can’t afford to pay even the base cost of an upgrade package. Thanks to my late parents, I have a roof over my head, but the only income I have is from the ‘Dole’. To earn the Dole, I work over 15 hours a week as a volunteer. For my efforts I ‘earn’ about $270-ish per week [not sure what the conversion rate is to USD, but it’s less]. If I were paid for my teaching, I’d be earning between 35 and 40 dollars per hour. Taking the lower rate, that would be $525 per week. But I can’t get a paid job so I’m trapped below the poverty line, hanging on by my teeth until I qualify for the pension. At the moment, a pensioner receives approximately $100 more a week, plus they can earn over $6000 per year before their pension is reduced.
I hate displaying my financial situation like this, but sometimes only the truth will do, and the truth is that paying WordPress is simply not an option.
I intend to spam this post on Twitter, but I don’t want my blogging friends to feel like the meat in the sandwich, so I’ve turned comments off. If anyone wants to contact me directly, you can find me on: