The more I think about it, the more that I’m bothered by what Matt Mullenweg and his team at WordPress.com are imposing upon the thousands of bloggers using this hosted version of the splendid WordPress software. As came to light through a posting from blogger Colleen on her weblog, they’ve sent out a letter to their customers warning that any sponsored or paid blog entries are grounds for immediately deletion of their blog and a permanent ban from using the service in the future. [to clarify, Colleen didn’t receive one of these letters, it was forwarded to her by someone who did receive the C&D]
Did I miss the memo that said WordPress was promoted to blog police?
The problem I have with their heavy-handed approach isn’t its intent, which is to avoid having the service overrun by spam blogs (so-called “splogs”) but the fact that the actual implementation is naive, dangerous and doomed to failure.
Before I explain my reasoning and concerns, let me quote the note Colleen published:
– every post that has any connection with PayPerPost is removed immediately
– the blog is removed with no chance of it’s return
If you choose to remove the posts your blog will be checked and if there remains any doubt then we will remove it.
Do not ignore this email.
Action will be taken in 7 hours from the time this email is sent.”
(Seven hours. Sheesh, what if you actually have a life and don’t check your email every three hours of every day? Then your blog vanishes in a puff of smoke and you can’t even get a backup?)
The critical issue here is that monetizing your blog entries is a continuum, not a black and white world, and that rather than try to address the nuances, WordPress is just arbitrarily dropping the axe and likely hurting a lot of bloggers in the process.
Consider: if I have an affiliate link to a product on Amazon’s Associates program, is that legit? What about if I actually dig around in the Associates program, identify the items with the best payout, and consciously blog about those items to try and pull a sale or two?
Some of the programs are overtly dangerous for a “pure” blogging vision (but who decided what that was and what if they’re wrong?) like the much maligned PayPerPost.com, but even there, what if I am blogging about my favorite fast food restaurants and someone emails me that since I’m already blogging about, say, McDonalds (NYSE: MCD), I should go ahead and add a PayPerPost link and make a few bucks off the page.
Because WordPress now deems that bloggers cannot earn money from blog entries on their sites. Period. No question, and if you ask, you’ll be given the boot with just a few hours warning, if any.
I think that this is a splendid reason why anyone who wants to blog, even if you have no plans to do anything to monetize your content, should be hosting their blog on their own server. Do you really want your efforts to be held hostage to the whim of a service manager?
Let me pull that point out:
Today it’s about “sponsored postings” but what if tomorrow they decide that they’ve grown to truly hate a particular religion and are going to shut down any blog that mentions anything to do with that religion, positive or negative, or that they don’t want people linking to SixApart, makers of competitive product Typepad?
“They would never do that!” I can hear you say, dear reader, but are you sure? Are you willing to really bet your online business presence on Matt and his team of idealistic developers?
In a confusing way, Robert Scoble agrees with Matt. On his WordPress-hosted blog, Robert says: “This is a good thing for WordPress to do. Why? It protects its reputation. PayPerPost is a way to game search engines. If you want to do that, take your blog somewhere else and protect those of us who aren’t willing to do that.” But here’s what’s baffling: Robert has Amazon affiliate links on his page to monetize his blog traffic, and that’s apparently not any sort of problem.
I can hear his argument already: “The difference, Dave, is because my blog entries don’t have affiliate links within. The Amazon link’s in the template.” Go and read the WordPress Terms of Service, though. They don’t differentiate, and in fact you can’t use AdSense on your WordPress site either, even if it is in the “template” area, not the individual entries.
Here’s what the ToS specifies, to save you some click time: Acceptable content on your WordPress blog is defined as content that is “… not spam, and does not contain unethical or unwanted commercial content designed to drive traffic to third party sites or boost the search engine rankings of third party sites.” (Unwanted? According to whom??)
Ultimately, WordPress can create whatever random and confusing terms of service it wants. It’s their company, they can proceed as they like. But am I going to recommend that anyone use their hosted service for blogging?
Updated to clarify that Colleen isn’t a WordPress.com blogger and that the email message wasn’t sent to her directly, she just reposted the message when it was forwarded along.