Sponsored Themes at WordPress.org

There is a raging debate right now about the sponsored themes at themes.WordPress.org.

Given the garbage currently being submitted with up to five credits including anchor text like web directory (x 3), Make Money Online and bid for links (a real single example), this is no surprise.

Matt Mullenweg has come out hard against all theme sponsorship.

Guidelines (strict ones) are what we need here, not an absolute ban.

My recommendations.

  1. Porn and spam and banned sites should not be allowed in as sponsors.
  2. Sponsorship should probably be limited to a single sponsor. At worst two. (My vote is for one.)
  3. Poor quality and/or cribbed themes should be voted down and out.
  4. Some kind of track record of quality and originality should be established for each designer. How to keep order? If a given designer’s submission rankings fall too low, that individual is banned altogether along with all past submissions. Any new submitter is not allowed to submit sponsored themes at all. The designers will be motivated to value their track record. The punter will be saved from endless, repetitive crappy themes.

Sadly, human nature is what it is. Without rules, anarchy.

I find the absolute nature of Matt Mullengweg’s condemnation of theme sponsorship somewhat hypocritical given the preinstalled links in every install of WordPress. In his article Mullenweg does note and repent his first experience with spam advertising but given the unchanging blogroll, I wonder if his change of heart is entirely authentic.

It’s more a case of whose hand is in what cookie jar…

Foliovision have sponsored a few themes for our clients – it’s a great way to help some talented designers build their portfolio while promoting client sites. Within the guidleines above I think theme sponsorship offers a nice synergy between the commercial and the non-commercial web.

But at the end of the day, WordPress.org wants to ban sponsored themes, they are entitled to do so. Sponsored themes will have to onto other different theme directories. Those sponsor friendly directories better do strict policing of submitted themes if they expect to get much attention from people looking for themes. I know that when I am looking for themes, I don’t want to leaf through hundreds of poorly executed clones.

Matt Cutts of Google covers the sponsored links issue as well, taking Matt Mullenweg’s position.

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