WPMU DEV Premium and the pay-plugin conundrum

Posted by on June 7, 2010 in | 6 comments

I don’t often blog here about work-related things, but I’m gonna do so today, just this once, to talk about WordPress MU, the blog software I manage to run Gannett NJ’s blogs on APP, CourierPostOnline, Daily Record, MyCentralJersey, and The Daily Journal.

WordPress MU › Blog Tool and Publishing PlatformI’ve been working on MU for a long time, ever since I started blogging at LoHud and helping to administer the blogs there. And while I’m about as big a WordPress fanatic as you’ll find in the newspaper business, few of my colleages (much less family and friends) have an interest in the nitty gritty of how the blogs work.

That said, I wanted to post about MU — and specifically, the WPMU DEV Premium site — today for two reasons:

1. There’s a contest involved, and I’m a sucker for contests

2. There’s been a debate raging for the last couple weeks over on wpmu.org that is really intriguing, and I wanted to give my $.02 here

First, the contest:

WordPress MU plugins, themes and support at WPMU DEV Premium - Plugins, themes, videos, support, forums, scalingWPMU DEV Premium is a coalition of developers who have banded together to create plugins, themes, and other enhancements to MU (the multi-blog version of WordPress) for profit. That last part is key. Whereas most of the open-source WordPress community develops additional features for the blog software for free, WPMU DEV Premium has gone an entirely different route. Their site has a paywall and charges a hefty subscription fee ($79 a month; $419 for the year) to get access.

Now, I’ve been salivating over some of the plugins listed on the site for a year or so. The kind of features they’ve built for MU are fantastic, and often when I go searching for a plugin, theirs are the first I find. A few examples of ones I’d love to use:

  • Set Blog Description on Creation: Simple, yet something that would be totally useful to an admin like me, who seems to set up new blogs by the dozen.
  • Terms of Service: Something I’ve been meaning to add to our themes for ages. This would be an even simpler fix.
  • Blog Activity and User Activity: I do these blog reports from time to time, where I try to tally up how many posts different bloggers have created. It’s a huge, monster pain. I’m literally going through counting by hand. Both these plugins would be huge time savers.
  • Global Posts: This is an example of a plugin that I have (I think), but in an earlier version. I’m not 100%, but I believe this is an update of ITDamager’s global posts plugin, which you can still find floating around the web. It’s a critical piece of code that we use to publish all our staff blogs to the newspaper homepages. But, again, I don’t think it’s been updated to the current version of WP in ages.

OK, so I’d love to have all these. Still, every time I get to that “Join” screen on WPMU DEV Premium, I stop in my tracks. Much as I’d like to take advantage of all these plugins, I can’t pull the trigger.

Why? Well, I’m cheap. There’s that.

There’s also the fact that, as alluded to above, a lot of the plugins are seemingly updates or enhancements to other free versions.

But most of all, it’s the frustration I have that wpmu.org has essentially become the biggest and best repository of code for an open-source software, yet it’s not a fully open-source site itself. Further, I’ve had some bad experience with joining for-profit WordPress subscription sites, only to find out that the themes (*cough* Elegant Themes) or plugins (*cought OIO *) don’t work on MU. And those were both way less expensive in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, if given an account with WPMU DEV Premium, I’d be psyched. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’m writing this, as an entry in their current membership contest.

I realize that by speaking frankly like this I may well be hurting my submission. Still, given the debate that’s cropped up on the wpmu.org site recently — where the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, threw down with the folks at the for-profit WPMU DEV Premium — it’s hard to not be opinionated.

Which brings me to #2:

And this, my friends, is where things get complicated. See, despite all my frustrations with WPMU DEV Premium, when you think about it, the whole WordPress experiment is not all that different from what’s going on with the newspaper industry.

Say wha? Let me explain.

Just as everyone in my industry is working like mad to produce good daily papers and up-to-the-minute websites, we can’t seem to find any way to monetize our businesses online. We’re trying hard, believe me, but it’s a huge challenge. Likewise, WordPress and the developers who work on it have created one of the best open-source softwares on the web, yet few are getting paid commensurate with the time they’ve invested.

In other words, WPMU DEV Premium is sort of like those rogue newspapers that, despite just about everyone’s distaste for pay news sites, decided to throw up a paywall anyway. And the bitch of it is: People are still using them. In fact, a lot of MU developers have flocked to their site.

When you look at the news analogy, they’re sort of like the Wall Street Journal of WP development. (Incidentally, the WSJ does use WordPress.)

Sure, I might not ever subscribe to the Journal’s website, but you can be damn sure that a lot of business people who make their living off the paper do — just as the hardcore MU developers are willing to fork over for DEV Premium.

I completely sympathize with Mullenweg’s position; as the founder of this open-source project, it must be very difficult to see such a big group of developers not obeying the same code of ethics.

That said, everyone has to make a living — even reporters and developers.

I’m not sure that paywall sites are always the solution, but in the case of newspapers and MU, it appears to be one of our best (and only) options.

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