I don’t have a problem with paying for services with data. I use Gmail, knowing full well there is no way Google would provide me with such an amazing service if they didn’t use my data to create targeted ads. Similiarly, I use Facebook, Twitter, and other “free” services knowing that I am the product that these services offer to their customers.
This is how I “pay” for these services. If they can’t sell ads, then they can’t make money and that, after all, is their objective.
Two WordPress plugins I use a lot, WordPress SEO by Yoast and Easy Digital Downloads, have an option for anonymous data tracking, and I always allow them to do so. I’m happier to be sending my usage data to them than I am to be sending it to Google — which I do without an option.
WordPress itself is a murkier business. I operate a few WordPress sites, all of which are regularly checking into the WordPress.org API, reporting usage stats, and getting update notifications. The ability to get plugin, theme, and core updates via WordPress.org is really convenient.
If installing and updating themes via the WordPress dashboard wasn’t so easy, WordPress wouldn’t be what it is today. I understand and appreciate this.
Here’s the part that doesn’t sit well with me: WordPress.org is collecting data on all of its users (as it should), but this information isn’t available in aggregate form to the community.
I don’t know who owns WordPress.org — the domain is registered through a service that offers private domain name registration. I have heard that Matt Mullenweg owns the site. I have also heard that the WordPress Foundation owns the site. The fact of the matter is that while several of Mullenweg’s employees manage a lot of the site, it is still built by the community.
WordPress is a community-driven project. And, as such, the software, as well as all of the plugins and themes in the directory, are developed and maintained by the community.
I actually am not sure how much data is stored on WordPress.org, but as an entrepreneur in this space, I would greatly benefit from mining that data to help make intelligent business decisions — especially when the data is related to my plugin users.
As someone who writes plugins on WordPress.org, contributes to WordPress core, speaks and volunteers at WordCamps, and is actively involved in the community in other ways, shouldn’t I be able to access this information?
Let’s assume that my hypothesis is true, and that WordPress entrepreneurs would be more successful if they had access to this data. This would open up endless opportunities for contributors to use this information to guide the creation of WordPress products and services that attract and keep users. It also enables contributors to give back to the community and employ others to work on our projects.
Free software doesn’t just appear. Yes, people write free software to scratch a personal itch all the time, but the free software that becomes the foundation of a reliable, long-lasting business has to make money.
For me, the point of business isn’t just to make money. It’s to make more money than I spend and to have fun doing it while empowering others and creating quality free software and educational resources for others to use.
In a free software ecosystem, it is easy to forget that giving everyone an opportunity to make money by participating in the ecosystem is essential to the health of the community. It’s impossible to stress that enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the free software community and forget that our involvement in WordPress is profit-driven and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I put a ton of free software and educational resources out there because that is how I make a living. I love that I have structured my life in such a way that those two things go together.
As soon as that stops being possible, my involvement in WordPress will not be able to continue. This is true for all of us who have to make a living for our families, which describes most people in the community.
Since all of our hard work went into making WordPress.org the great resource, shouldn’t we be able to consider it as a shared resource? In many ways, it is since we all contribute to its content and it hosts our plugins and themes.
One of its most valuable roles is collecting data on the WordPress ecosystem, and that data, with proper safeguards for privacy, is a valuable resource, which should be community property. And I think the same can be said for other data in the community, such as information about attendees of WordCamps.
The more we make this data available to our community members, the better informed our decisions about designing and marketing our products and services will be. And in turn, our ecosystem will be a healthier one.