Still not sure what I think of this . . . apparently, all those links to WordPress.org (as seen on most WP-driven sites) create such a tempting PageRank value that the WP developers were approached by someone to host some articles (17) that could leverage that PageRank.
So on the one hand, we have a community building a well-liked product in Internet gift culture mode (7) but with some bills to pay (hosting, bandwidth, etc.). The idea is to get some cash in a way that wouldn’t trash the site (the articles are not linked off the main page). But this is where it gets bit dodgy — the links are obscured by CSS to appear offscreen.
<div style=”text-indent: -9000px; overflow: hidden;”>
<p>Sponsored <a href=”/articles/articles.xml”>Articles</a> on <a href=”/articles/credit.htm”>Credit</a>, <a href=”/articles/health-care.htm”>Health</a>, <a href=”/articles/insurance.htm”>Insurance</a>, <a href=”/articles/home-business.htm”>Home Business</a>, <a href=”/articles/home-buying.htm”>Home Buying</a> and <a href=”/articles/web-hosting.htm”>Web Hosting</a></p>
The Problem. WordPress is a very popular open-source blogging software package, with a great official website maintained by Matt Mullenweg, its founding developer. I discovered last week that since early February, he’s been quietly hosting almost 120,000 articles on their website. These articles are designed specifically to game the Google Adwords program, written by a third-party about high-cost advertising keywords like asbestos, mesothelioma, insurance, debt consolidation, diabetes, and mortgages.
Why WordPress? The WordPress homepage has a very high Google Pagerank of 8, largely because every WordPress-powered blog links to the WordPress homepage by default. The high pagerank affects their ranking in Google search results, making context-sensitive Google ads very profitable. This, in turn, makes WordPress very attractive to advertisers.
I stumbled on this issue from a support topic, which was immediately closed without response by an unknown moderator. (After I pointed it out, Matt reopened the thread to add a final comment.)
So, last week, I instant-messaged Matt to ask him some of these questions. He was very helpful, giving me the full story.
The articles are given to him by Hot Nacho, a startup that pays freelance writers to generate 300-800 word articles about specific topics. All advertising revenues go directly to Hot Nacho, and he’s paid a flat fee for hosting the articles and ad banners.
Matt said he was skeptical at first, but the money is helping to cover his costs and hire their first employee. “The /articles thing isn’t something I want to do long term,” he said, “but if it can help bootstrap something nice for the community, I’m willing to let it run for a little while.”
He added that if the user community didn’t like it, he’d end the program. “Everything we do is user driven. If it turns a lot of people off I definitely don’t want it. At the same time, if you think people don’t care it provides some flexibility in setting up the foundation.”
I think this WordPress user cares enough to want to know what expenses this is supposed to cover and how much comes in as a result: in other words, what price is WordPress (the collective) charging for it’s reputation. I don’t object to anyone making money, but I just want a little more clarity on how projects I support do it. [deletia] Josh points out that WordPress.com and WordPress.org share nothing more than a name: I had been under the impression that an open domain scam using a variant of their name was affiliated: I’ve removed the text (since we are talking about PageRank, after all).
I think an open request for donations would have been a better idea, especially given all the improvements we’ve seen since 1.2. Have I donated? Not yet.
I have a hard time with someone as clueful as Matt not thinking this would have negative karma about it: the fact that the stuff is hidden is bad. I’m still thinking this through. Much depends on how WordPress.org responds.
[updated to incorporate corrections]