Over at Post Status, yes join it, the Slack channels there are full of discussions that you really want to take part in, but I digress, the hosting channel got some solid activity the last few days regarding the hosts listed at WordPress Web Hosting. Why are they there? How did they get there? Rumors? Suspicions?


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A little background, this topic is not new. The whole discussion got reinvigorated because of Tweet by Morten Rand-Hendriksen regarding WordPress trademark utilization. An intermittent comment suggested that trademarks and recommended hosting were tied together and certain firms could ignore the rules. I made a half educated/half flippant remark about Bluehost in this regards (in retrospect much less educated than I hoped). And then the discussion went full steam ahead into the “recommended hosts” page.

WordPress.org/hosting

It has been discussed in private by many people, and relies on a relatively unclear section on the page titled “Be Listed on This Page:”

We’ll be looking at this list several times a year, so keep an eye out for us re-opening the survey for hosts to submit themselves for inclusion. Listing is completely arbitrary, but includes criteria like: contributions to WordPress.org, size of customer base, ease of WP auto-install and auto-upgrades, avoiding GPL violations, design, tone, historical perception, using the correct logo, capitalizing WordPress correctly, not blaming us if you have a security issue, and up-to-date system software.

That copy has literally not been updated in years, in fact nothing on the page has changed since at least 2018. There have been no public indications that any surveys have occurred during that timeframe as well.

The second portion of “Be Listed …” looks to qualify what it takes to become listed. There is nothing here that would disqualify a large number of hosts being included, so why are there only three? Well first and foremost there is a decision process, it’s just not readily apparent. Matt Mullenweg is the sole arbiter of what appears on this page.

When the list is open, anyone can apply. I take 100% responsibility for the editorial, though in the past and future will have people help with testing hosts, and collating all the threads in the forums. I also get a fair number of people emailing me directly feedback about the hosts listed, and how the host follows up is part of my evaluation.” [emphasis mine]

Matt Mullenweg

Rumors

I guess this is the part that drives the discussions and rumors, the subjectivity. There are plenty of hosts that would love to be there because it IS amazing real estate and for sure drives millions in business.

Joshua Strebel, CEO of Pagely, provided some significant commentary.

WordPress is this big feel good open source community with thousands of unpaid volunteers contributing time and energy to the project.

There are also deeply vested commercial interests that contribute time and money as well.There is also this question of Who is WordPress? Is it the community? The major corporations that wield influence? A foundation that owns the trademark and managed events? Or the small set of individuals or singular individual that hold the keys to the project.

The rumors of a pay-to-play around the .org/hosting page have persisted for many years – conversations over cocktails at WordCamps and other industry events – always with the same wink-wink-nudge acknowledgement of an open secret that there is a fee to be listed. Only a handful of people would know for certain.”

Joshua Strebel

Matt answers this sentiment quite emphatically as to why he maintains sole decision making authority.

It’s true the list of hosts hasn’t been changed in a while. The current list is all in good standing. I stand by the long-term behavior and service of every company linked on that page. It is past-due for open applications again, but I have prioritized other work on .org.

No one can pay to be on the page, and there are no affiliate payments made for customers sent from that page. It’s free, opinionated, and editorially driven. I do believe it drives many millions of year in business, which is why the potential for things like bribery or conflict is high if it were open to a larger group deciding who’s on there.

Matt Mullenweg

Final Thoughts

As much as there may have been confusion, and speculation about this in the past, I think we will have much more clarity and transparency about this most valuable bit of internet real estate. And because this all started out with trademarks, let’s close the loop, again directly from Matt Mullenweg:

[A] common misunderstanding is that there is no commercial use of the WordPress trademark allowed. As some know, the trademark was originally held by Automattic, which donated it to the Foundation, and in return got an exclusive commercial license back. That commercial use can be sub-licensed by Automattic, and has been in the past. The ad that is bugging everyone was not approved, as far as I’m aware, and that will resolve once everyone has had a chance to talk to each other. [emphasis mine]

Automattic can lose its commercial license to the trademark if it is not a good steward. This license is a bit of an accident of history, but also an entirely fair criticism of Automattic having a special privilege to commercial use of the WordPress trademark (because it’s true, vs most of what the company gets accused of).

This happened in 2010, and the growth of WP and the WP ecosystem has been incredibly strong since then so I think the idea of a for-profit and non-profit complementing each other has proven successful, and I think better than either would have done on their own. If I could wave a magic wand and go back to 2004, though, it would be nice if .com and .org had distinct names “before the dot,” as it can be a source of confusion.

Lots learned!!!

  1. The hosting page is not pay-for-play
  2. A review of the hosting page should be forthcoming
  3. The Bluehost ad will be addressed
  4. Automattic can commercially sub-license “WordPress”
  5. Rumors quashed!

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