Guest Essay

Is WordPress hurtling toward a closed-source future?

How we can work together to reverse the troubling trends of the past year.

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Have you noticed that things feel somehow different around WordPress lately?

Does it still feel like the same sense of wonder, curiosity and open-source community spirit exist… or has something changed?

I’ve been here for 16 years, and in the last year specifically, I’ve noticed a definitive change in the way open source is being interpreted by different members of our community.

Is this just a reflection of WordPress, or part of some greater change in our society?

According to Elon Musk, for example, AI and robotics will soon have an irreversible impact upon our human condition. He says it’s inevitable that we will need to enhance our human bodies with cybernetic parts in order to compete with our new robotic overlords.

After reading this article (and enduring a flashback to a childhood spent watching episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man), I began to ponder the question:

How much modification is required before a human being is considered a cyborg?”

Is it one leg, one eye, one arm, a kidney, a memory chip? At what point does one become more cyborg than human?

A similar question is becoming common across many aspects of our daily lives.

At what point do the actions of one group, with power and influence, fundamentally change the rights and liberties of another group?”

The news is filled with societal battles over religion, gender, immigration and reproductive rights.

It’s easy to see how those with power and influence are reshaping the status quo by willfully and intentionally violating the social norm, and abandoning the societal rules adhered to by everyone else. 

Mayhem ensues.

And similarly, for those of us who make our livelihood in WordPress, I wonder:

“At what point does open-source software become closed source due to the actions of those with power and influence?”

We’ve all seen in the last year how the WordPress ecosystem is morphing quickly into something that it never was before.

Instead of a bunch of geeks sitting around a campfire discussing how open source benefits everyone, things seem to have gone sideways.

We can now see that some folks have started to bend the rules in their favor, or in favor of their financial backers, at the expense of the underlying purpose for which open source exists.

They have started to do things like locking site owners out of their software because a subscription expires, or using “phone home” licensing to lock the software, or slicing the software into part plugin and part SaaS to prevent access to all parts of the software.

These actions change the fundamental nature of open source software into something that is actually closed source software.

At the rate things are going, if we don’t collectively address this issue, we may one day wake up to find that the WordPress ecosystem has morphed into something we no longer recognize – and within which we can no longer participate.

And yet, ironically, there is an easy solution for those of us who want to preserve and protect the open source nature of WordPress. 

I believe that the majority of us operating in the WordPress community can collectively say “no” to the behavior of certain companies and individuals who try to bend the rules in their own favor at the expense of others.

We may do this through customer education, community organization, open discussion or strategic alliances. But most certainly, the fate of WordPress and our livelihoods will be determined by taking action.

For my part, along with several colleagues, I will be launching a cooperative for those who create WordPress products and services. The primary purpose will be to provide a unified voice, and consumer-facing certification, that all participants will abide by both the spirit and the letter of open source WordPress.

We also intend to help single author creators connect with more established strategic partners, align the development and marketing efforts of separate companies, and deliver a more unified and coherent view to the public of what WordPress can deliver than what is currently available.

By delivering transparency and a coherent understanding of the companies and service providers who pledge to honor open source WordPress, I believe we will open the door to a more profitable future for everyone in the WordPress ecosystem, and not just those who bend the rules today for their own gain.

If you are a creator of products and services, a freelancer or an agency owner, I ask you to share your thoughts with me on Twitter as to whether you would join us in such a cooperative.

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Entrepreneur, Attorney, WordPress Strategist & Marketing Automation Expert. Founder LaunchFlows.

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