In a recent Twitter storm, Matt Mullenweg characterized GoDaddy as “a parasitic company,” that is “an existential threat to WordPress’ future.” In a series of tweets that were subsequently deleted, Mullenweg contended that GoDaddy is lacking support for WordPress and WooCommerce, relative to how much the company is benefiting from the projects. He also said the company’s investment in proprietary website and store products is at odds with how much it gives back to WordPress.org.
This sparked a heated discussion across Twitter, the Advanced WordPress Facebook group, blog comments, and Post Status Slack. The most outspoken people were those who felt Mullenweg was arbitrarily disparaging one company’s contributions while commending another. There was also a significant group of people who vehemently agreed with his assessment.
“I think parasitic is the right word to apply to GoDaddy,” Boulder WordPress Meetup organizer Angela Bowman tweeted. “Taking something that is free and leveraging it for maximum profits by undercutting the very thing you are selling out of existence. Capitalism at its best, most ruthless, and short sighted.”
Bowman distilled it into a more succinct example:
GD: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
MM: Well, we need to feed and house the cow. Provide medication when needed. Or the cow dies.
GD: How long before it dies? How much $$$ can we make until it does?
I contacted GoDaddy to find out how many people the company sponsors and how much they spend on sponsoring events.
“Our company contributes to open-source in a variety of ways, including through dedicated employee roles, specific projects on which these employees work, and many employees who have a passion for the WordPress community and give back whenever possible,” GoDaddy Director of Public Relations Nick Fuller said.
The company declined to comment on specifics but pointed to its Five for the Future pledge page, which shows that GoDaddy sponsors 34 contributors for a total of 217 hours per week across 15 teams. With 9,000 employees, this amounts to a relatively small number of hours compared to other hosting and product companies, like Automattic (4098 hrs/week) and Yoast (250 hrs/week).
Compared to the other economy hosts listed on WordPress.org’s recommended hosting page, GoDaddy’s contributions are much smaller relative to its size:
- Bluehost (750 employees) sponsors 6 contributors for a total of 102 hours per week across 4 teams.
- SiteGround (500 employees) sponsors 12 contributors for a total of 58 hours per week across 7 teams.
- DreamHost (200 employees) sponsors 3 contributors for a total of 30 hours per week across 4 teams.
While GoDaddy’s contributions may be smaller in terms of work hours, the company allocates hundreds of thousands of dollars for sponsoring WordCamps and related events. After another successful WordCamp Europe in the books, many attendees agreed that the value of these events cannot be overstated. Without corporate sponsors, WordCamps would not happen on the scale that they currently do.
“Beyond contributions to open-source projects, GoDaddy is extremely active at various WordPress events,” Fuller said. “In 2022, our plan is to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on WordCamp and other related events such as WordSesh and WordFest. Many of our employees will be active participants in these community events.”
When asked to comment on the accusations of being a “parasitic company” and “an existential threat to WordPress’ future,” Fuller would not address the complaints directly.
“We all have the same goal, to make WordPress better each and every day,” he said. “Our team is passionate about making WordPress better, both for the community and for our customers, and we greatly appreciate the support expressed by many in the WordPress community in recent days.”
Matt Mullenweg took to Post Status Slack today to clarify some of the opinions he voiced on Twitter yesterday. He hinted at strategies behind the scenes that even employees may not know about.
“Keep in mind that people might not be aware of actions happening in other parts of the company, for example the pressure from their new activist investors,” Mullenweg said. “As an example: I 100% believe the good intentions of the Google folks who were working on AMP, and of course we learned later it was part of a larger strategy they were unaware of that, after being disclosed in litigation discovery, appears malicious.”
Mullenweg also referenced the free-rider problem, a type of market failure where those who benefit from public goods do not pay or under-pay, which leads to over-consumption. This is similar to the Tragedy of Commons situation he mentioned in the past as a fate that WordPress is tying to avoid with its Five for the Future program.
“Failed open source projects usually succumb to the free rider trap — the parasites kill the host, which ultimately hurts the parasites as well but they can’t think beyond short-term,” Mullenweg said. “Successful open source projects escape the free rider problem, as WordPress has so far, largely because of awareness of it and people voting where to invest their talent and their dollars in organizations that contribute to the shared resource in a way that keeps it sustainable.”
If looking solely at the definition of Five for the Future contributions, GoDaddy may constitute a free rider. They are not conforming to what the project has requested from companies in order to keep WordPress sustainable for generations to come. However, highlighting GoDaddy in this fashion may not be the best way to extract more contributions or inspire others to be part of this initiative. WordPress needs to find a better means of dealing with what it deems to be under-performing contributors, because many well-meaning individuals can get trampled underneath the heavy tread of social sanctioning.