Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

There’s something rotten in the kingdom of Wordpress

Like many in web development, Wordpress has been a semi-regular feature in my professional life and, for most of it, my impression was that it suffered from the usual infighting and mismanagement you see in free or open source software, but that it was otherwise as well run as you could expect of a long-running project built on layers and layers of legacy code.

That impression has been changing over the years. First due to the Gutenberg disaster. Then because I began to hear more and more from people who used to work on the project who began to speak out.

This podcast episode is the latest I’ve encountered and it’s useful in that it pulls together many of the different aspects of the problem.

It has a full transcript, so you don’t have to listen to the entire thing to get the gist:

“EP484 - Whose WordPress is it anyway? - WPwatercooler”

One of the highlights is their quick overview of just how much control Matt Mullenweg has over the project.

  • He’s the chair of the board of directors of WordPress Foundation, which is nominally in charge of the open source side of things.
  • Automattic, despite its funding rounds, is still primarily owned and controlled by Matt.
  • Audrey Capital is his private investment company, and is the direct employer of many core WordPress developers.
  • And, finally, he still personally owns the wordpress.org domain.

That means that over forty percent (40%) of the web is built using a project that is effectively under the direct autocratic control of a single individual.

This would be worrying even if that individual didn’t sound like he was a bit of an asshole.

For WordPress, there is no accountability in that behavior or In the ethicalness, or the morality, the behavior of Matt, who is in control of all of these entities.

And Gutenberg – the block-based rich text editing environment built in React – seems to be a mechanism for asserting central control over the project.

They control Gutenberg. Matt essentially controls Gutenberg, which is, leading, and at a rapid pace, we’ve talked about in previous shows, how people are dropping out of Gutenberg development because it’s A, so fast, B, there’s no documentation for the development components and it’s confusing because it’s just

Yeah. Gutenberg now is … we’ve talked about a lot. Gutenberg is now leading the development. Everything that happens in Gutenberg gets shoved into core. Core is barely doing anything. In terms of new development, all of that’s happening in Gutenberg. And Gutenberg is led by developers who are paid by Matt out of his money, whether it’s Automatic or Audrey.

So and it’s not like Gutenberg has, like, open discussions about how we’re doing this, right? We get an admin post that’s 12 pages long that tells us basically what’s going to happen. And maybe you have some feedback that will probably be ignored. This is all old stuff in general.

Matt himself seems to be a very unpleasant autocratic sort:

For WordPress, there is no accountability in that behavior or In the ethicalness, or the morality, the behavior of Matt, who is in control of all of these entities.

As we all know, I filed a code of conduct report last October against Matt. And I have not talked about this publicly. I publicly posted the code of conduct violation that I went through, and then I didn’t publish more because I wanted to respect that process. And originally I published it because I knew if I didn’t publish it, there would be no accountability and that would go literally nowhere.

Subsequently, I did not publish the results of that finding because I was really trying to see what would happen, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it here now. The results of that were that the independent committee, and I requested no one who worked for Automattic be on the incident response team that worked on my case because I didn’t want one of his employees deciding the situation.

Weird, I know. So the letter of the findings that went from that team to me and to Matt. And I’m assuming to Josepha, but I don’t know that, but I think the Executive Director finds out about stuff, but maybe not. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I know Matt got it, and I know I got it. And it said, unequivocally, it supported all of my assertions in my code of conduct report, and it said that Matt did engage in bullying and harassment of me and others, and that he subsequently continued to harass me after, and bully me, after he was requested by the incident response team, despite the code of conduct request to go no contact.

He said he agreed to that, which he did not do. And that was when he did the whole, I want to be in your Discord chat fun time. They said that if he continues his behavior that they will have to suggest stronger action … so they required that he no longer engage in that behavior.

I have not been monitoring Matt’s tweets or anything else since then. I don’t know what behavior he’s been engaging in since then, besides doxxing people on Tumblr and whatever else he’s doing, like posting Great Replacement Theory books or whatever’s going on. Fun. The other thing that they asked in that is they recommended, now they didn’t require this, but they recommended, they requested, that Matt offer a public apology to me. Now I would like to tell you here, this is breaking news, that did not happen.

Yeah, there’s just more lights. So I waited until he went on sabbatical and he didn’t apologize beforehand. He went on a sabbatical for three months, conveniently timed.

I waited. He got back. Still no apology. And not only was there no apology, but then there was the retaliation. The retaliation of, we are going to close your entire team. We are going to take away your entire team that you have been contributing to for the last, I don’t know, what is it, like 12 years or whatever ridiculous amount of time it is.

Emphasis mine.

Shortly after I posted the link to this podcast episode on BlueSky, I got the following reply:

Screen shot of a post that reads: 'Depending on what parts of WordPress you are dealing in, this isn't new, unfortunately. And it is not just Matt that is the problem, but the people he empowers. Particularly, his lackey, Samuel 'Otto' Wood. Who has been causing problems going back many years.'

Not being familiar with the WordPress scene any more, I can’t vouch for the truth of this statement, but it’s absolutely clear that many in the WordPress community feel badly served by Matt and his cronies.

It certainly is starting to look like WordPress, arguably the foundation of the open web, is run by an autocratic bully.

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky