A few questions on Jane Wells’ revised WordCamp policies

UPDATE: Comments are closed. I appreciate Jane’s response at comment #9 and yes, I give her the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t write this looking for or spoiling for a fight and now that I got a response from Jane that is materially oomphy, comments are closed. Blog about it on your own sites if you wish to continue but in the service to the truth make a note that Jane has responded.

UPDATE 2: Following a real-life conversation with Jane, this post is considered moot and have written a follow-up. This issue is over and done.

The problem with blanket policies [a very acerbic clause was removed on the advice of a friend] is that you end up causing collateral damage beyond what is, in retrospect, necessary to achieve one’s goals. The same holds true for writing policy statements that have wide-ranging effects on a particular activity. This morning, Jane Wells drops a hydrogen bomb on the WordPress community. The first paragraph is pablum, the second is where the bodies start vaporizing. I will scrutinize in a rarely-used format in tech blogging, called “Fisking.” (All emphases are mine.) Here we go:

One thing that we didn’t used to spell out but has become necessary to codify is that WordCamps are meant to promote the philosophies behind WordPress itself. Lately there have been a number of WordCamps accepting speakers, sponsorships, door prizes, etc from people/companies acting in violation of the WordPress license (GPL v2) with regard to their themes/plugins.

What is the tolerance limit here? When you say “with regard to their themes/plugins,” how do you know? What’s the disqualifying standard? Is it: “all themes/plugins made by a speaker/sponsor/door prize provider have to be GPL v2,” or is it “some themes/plugins” or is it “at least one theme/plugin”?

It is the official policy of WordCamp that WordCamps not provide publicity/a platform for such individuals/businesses.

“WordCamp” is an entity now? I understand that Automattic might want to claim the name as a trademark long after the fact, the way a “tweet” has been filed as a trademark by Ev. Ambiguous language.

They are welcome to attend, but WordCamps may not have non-GPL-compliant people as organizers, sponsors, or speakers.

So, there goes Microsoft and their wads and wads of cash that they handed to WordCamp NYC. Too bad it would be nice to court their sponsorship with every WordCamp, but oh well.

Events that want to move forward and include such individuals in these roles may need to use a name other than WordCamp if the appropriate adjustments can’t be made.

This preemptive declaration of personae non gratae is disturbing.

This is because WordCamps are seen as the place to gather for the official word on all things WordPress; providing a public platform and publicity in an official capacity for people acting in direct opposition to the official word just causes confusion.

Individual WordCamps already warns sponsors and speakers that is not “pitch time.” What is this “official word,” and why does the presence of non-GPL “people” assume “direct opposition?” If a commercial, non-GPL plugin or theme developer wants to present at a WordCamp about something that gives them no additional exposure aside from their work being mentioned (e.g. said person wants to present about CSS, or an improved workflow, or wants to share about how WordPress changed their lives) does that make them unwelcome? By Jane Wells’ Standard As Of May Nineteenth In The Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand And Ten, Anil Dash would’ve been unwelcome for the keynote event in WordCamp MidAtlantic 2009.

I have no problem with the last paragraph so I’m leaving it out. Now, a message for Jane. This is going to be stern, but I’ll keep it professional. There is NO room in official policy for “common sense.” It’s for this reason that when you want the top brass of the strongest military in the world to spend a shit ton of money on your brownies, you have to follow a 26-page recipe (PDF) that spells out very specific policy, down to the last standard of what nuts may be used. Official policy statements are like that. Having worked in government sales, and having filled up immigration forms to legally enter this country, ambiguity is the enemy. Now that you are the official liaison for all WordCamp organizing, you’ll learn that while it would be nice to have your word as the Law Of The Land, there will be people like myself who will challenge you to make your statements clearer. I want to organize a WordCamp one day. I do 100% custom work, and the only “theme” I released to the wild is a palette-swap of Classic, back in 2003. I license all PHP in my work under GPL, but not the CSS and images, so my clients won’t turn around and give away a custom work I made for them. Does that disqualify me? Will I have to disqualify someone who made one commercial, non-GPL plugin?

Laying down the law never means having the last word. It means leaving oneself up open to questions. While I may be “just a guy” I know the questions I pose are fair and I would like to get an answer, preferably blogged by Jane on her own site, that more people will see her response.

15 thoughts on “A few questions on Jane Wells’ revised WordCamp policies”

  1. What if a speaker, sponsor or organizer use a non-GPL theme or plugin on their site or one of their sites? Can they not be involved? Are they now blacklisted?

    I don’t mean they sell or develop the non-GPL product, just that if they are using on does that disqualify them? Where does this end?

    The GPL is NOT a philosophy. It is a black and white software license.

    The fact that it has turned into an ideology is disturbing considering they enforcerheir own interpretation of the GPL. If WordPress wasn’t forced into the GPL by b2’s licensing I have no doubt that WordPress would be licensed under it own unique license. Because the GPL isn’t their philosophy, they have bastardized te GPL.

  2. We can also infer, from the wordpress.org/extend de facto policy, that anyone who so much as advertises or promotes a non-GPL plugin or theme will fall under the “non-GPL-compliant person” umbrella.

    (And as I have said, I eagerly await the clarification of the definition of GPL-compliant (or non-GPL-compliant) person.

    I’m not an NBA player (and take my marriage vows seriously), so I don’t distribute myself for free.

  3. While comparing Jane’s words to the firebombing of Dresden might be emotionally satisfying, I do think it takes the point a bit too far.

    As Carl notes, we’re talking about software here and the licenses applied thereto. Reductio ad Hitlerum (or their Allied equivalents, as you have employed) arguments can inherently weaken one’s point and make one seem intemperate, to put it mildly.

    I’ve no sympathy for their stated position — please don’t read me saying that. I think it’s stupid, short-sighted and will further alienate some of the most gifted potential contributors. I’m just saying that I’ve noted a distinct tendency for core team members to get their hackles up and dig their feet in on issues when confronted with even mild-to-moderate criticism. Thus, if you actually want the situation to change, a more reasoned tone might be best.

  4. This is beyond disturbing. I, too, was interested in trying to organize a WordCamp here in the St. Petersburg Florida area. Having attended one in Orlando last year, I saw it as a great way for folks to get together for both learning and teaching. But it’s interesting that some VERY commercial folks presented, including Microsoft themselves. Also, the organizers were a company who did custom client work. Under these rules, both would have been disallowed.

    Also, I take quite a bit of issue with ‘non-GPL compliant people’, since last time I checked a software license cannot be attributed to a person. I am really starting to wonder what the end-game is for all of this. I tend to stay out of the whole political side of WP, but each step they make seems to be in the wrong direction.

  5. @Doug: I’ve been watching The Pacific. Reductio ad Hitlerium was the least I had in mind when I wrote. Might edit for tone.

  6. Why do I get the feeling that the way WP.org handles the GPL whip, reminds me of something…phrases such as ‘mission accomplished’ and ‘axis of evil’ come to mind.
    At least they’re not wearing funny hats.

    Anyway, WP.org have lost their appeal long ago.

  7. @Doug: Reductio ad Hitlerium in no way applies here. The point of the metaphor was not to imply national-socialist intent or action, but rather to compare the indiscriminate actions lacking in apparent regard for unintended consequences to carpet-bombing campaigns that lacked both discrimination in target and regard for collateral damage.

    The tone is fine. The metaphor is apt.

  8. I’ve been to two WordCamps and while I liked both locations, it was very obviously a chance for blogging luminaries to show off.

    Yes, there were plenty of learning opportunities, but always away from the presentation floor. I left after hearing Scott Rosenburg’s “History of Blogging”, a subject best held on to for a sub-101 type class.

  9. @Carl: True. The GPL is a license, not a philosophy. The ‘philosophy’ is respecting the license and adhering to it. Sorry if that was unclear in the post I made on the WC organizer blog. Allow me to clarify:

    If someone is violating the WordPress license by distributing WordPress-derivative works under a restrictive license rather than the inherited GPL v2, that’s not in spirit and would not get official approval, which the WordCamp stamp implies. That’s the gist.

    If people want to tie themselves in knots looking back at every past speaker, sponsor and organizer, wondering who would make the cut, rather than looking forward to how we can make sure the WordCamp label is awesome and inclusive and can bring people together, well, that’s their choice.

    I posted what I did where I did to give a heads up to WC organizers who are in the process of putting together their events that there are some new guidelines coming down the pike that currently are being developed, not to start a flame war among the more vocal WordPress users out there who like to fan the flames, and who are not organizing WordCamps themselves. When/if it gets to the point of there being an official policy with some kind of enforcement, rather than a gentle suggestion to do the right thing if you’re using the official name, it will be posted on wordcamp.org, wordpress.org, and anyplace else I can think of, with specific examples and reasons for the decision. In the meantime, you’re getting upset over something that ought to just be common sense. Not every WordPress-related gathering needs to be a WordCamp, after all. Just ask Mike Schinkel. 🙂

    As always, I encourage people who want to voice opinions to not limit themselves to their own blogs and Twitter accounts, but to engage in the official discussions, where their feedback can be far more useful. I’ll blog about the policies on the official WordCamp.org site when things are fleshed out enough to actually deserve attention and discussion. For now, you’re jumping all over something that doesn’t warrant it, and inferring meanings that were not there.

  10. This is really infuriating, short sighted and a big part of the reason we started OpenCamp (http://openca.mp).

    The way the GPL has turned into an ideology with some people/entities should serve as a harsh warning to a lot of people. It is about community? Sure as long as the community behaves the way a few people want.

    I’m a fan of the Software and love WordPress the product but I’ve about had it with this kind of crap. (sorry but this really gets under my skin).

    Longer term, they are shooting themselves in the foot and asking for a backlash if they keep doing this kind of thing.

  11. @ben:
    Please see my comment above in re: your Reductio ad Bushlerium.


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