GoDaddy’s New Primer Theme Bypasses Theme Review Queue, Highlights Bottlenecks in Review Process

photo credit: pollas - cc
photo credit: pollascc

As part of its new onboarding experience for WordPress customers, GoDaddy has created a group of 10 themes to streamline the process of creating a business website. In order to host updates more effectively, the company is submitting the themes to WordPress.org and the first one is now live after less than 24 hours in the theme review queue.

Primer is the parent theme for nine upcoming child themes, which will be submitted to WordPress.org one at a time. Its controversial fast-tracking through the queue angered and frustrated WordPress theme authors who currently have theme submissions that have been waiting months for a review.

Samuel Wood, who works on WordPress.org but is not part of the Theme Review Team, explained in the ticket why he processed the theme outside of the queue.

“The special case here is that they needed to reuse an old name for assorted practical reasons, and it had to be live to allow the already created child themes to be added to the directory,” Wood said. He had to manually make the theme name available or GoDaddy would not have been able to submit it under this name. Wood had the theme reviewed first and the required changes took three weeks to finalize. After it was finished he was able to transfer it to use the Primer name.

“Timing was important because they made this one theme as a base for a dozen or so child themes, and are deploying this to all their WordPress installs, which is quite a lot,” Wood said. “We’d rather have them updating properly from our servers instead of having them create some wacky solution that updates it from theirs or from GitHub.”

The necessity for administrative intervention in this case, and the resulting frustration of other theme authors who have been waiting, once again highlights how painfully slow the theme review process can be. The long wait times discourage some authors from submitting themes to the official directory.

“I have three free themes on wp.org and one of the most demotivating things, while waiting to be approved, was the wait times,” WordPress.org theme author Tomas Petrašiūnas commented on the related post on the Advanced WordPress Facebook group. “Building a theme in a week and then waiting for a few months to even start the review process – that’s the exact reason why I’ve never bothered to get more themes approved on wp.org.”

Chris Bavota, author of the popular Arcade theme, said he “submitted three themes in February and [is] still waiting on approvals and reviews.”

The WordPress.org theme and plugin directories have historically been protected from commercial interests receiving any special treatment, but exceptions like this one made it difficult for other waiting theme authors not to see GoDaddy’s major sponsorship of WordCamps as the reason for getting a theme fast-tracked.

“As someone who has been waiting months for a simple child theme review and who has been a WordCamp sponsor, this sucks big time,” Stiofan O’Connor commented.

Incomplete Theme Submissions are Slowing the Review Queue

Samuel Wood identified the Primer theme situation as a special case and encouraged theme authors and reviewers who were frustrated to explore new ways of managing the queue. At this time there are more than 600 themes in the queue, an improvement from the 900+ that were waiting a month ago.

Key reviewer Emil Uzelac said one of the main issues that slows the process is incomplete theme submissions, which includes themes that present with more than five errors. Sometimes themes languish in the queue and by the time they are reviewed they haven’t been updated to meet newer requirements. Others include common mistakes like missing translation functions or prefixes, or including custom versions of scripts that are already included with WordPress.

To mitigate this Uzelac said the team has implemented some new policies which he says have helped reduce the queue over the past month.

“We are actually limiting submissions to one theme per author now, and if the theme has five or more distinct issues, we close it as not-approved,” Uzelac said. “It has been working very well. Once we are around 100-150 this will go much faster.” He estimates it will take a few months to get there.

The Theme Review Team is also working on improving automation for routine tasks. Due to the architectural shortcomings of the Theme Check plugin, the team is looking to PHP_CodeSniffer to create a better solution. They are working to add a new WordPress-Theme coding standard to the existing WordPress Coding Standards project, and contributors are building a list of sniffs that pertain to theme review requirements.

58 Comments


  1. I did want to mention something I posted in the Slack channel last night. The TRT has reduced the queue by about 400 themes since implementing the policies Emil mentioned. Going from 1,000+ down to 607 (current number) is no small feat while still getting new submissions every day.

    That’s huge progress.

    Once the new Theme Check/Sniff project is done, it’ll help big time. Theme authors will be able see many of the issues that we currently have to manually search for and point out. And, many of those issues will block submission to the directory.

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    1. Hey Justin,

      I am not saying that things are going better or not, I don’t wanna judge, just keep in mind that how you are measuring success feels wrong.

      Going from a 1000 to 600 queue, can also mean that people lost interest to submit themes, or by forcing people to submit just 1 theme at a time when this rule will go you can see 1000 themes at once, since people kept building stuff .

      I would try to look at themes_made_live per month as a metric for example, is not ideal, but better I think that what you are looking at.

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      1. If you don’t feel like we’re measuring success correctly, be a champion for other policies that you think would work better.

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  2. This is why The Tavern should support GIF comments.

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      1. The `comments_popup_link` function prints full markup for the link- which they put in a link already. So it’s like echoing a link inside a link.

        Classical mistake.

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    1. Valid html is not a requirement. If authors want their (minor) faulty html to go live in the directory it’s up to them.
      We also don’t check spelling ^^. This is typically something the developer should check, not the reviewer. We only note these kind of things in the review if it breaks the theme.

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      1. This is a bit sad, to be honest.
        I’ve read in so many places things like “WP.org repository is not the place for All themes, it’s a place for the best themes” and it turns out that we are not requiring a valid HTML markup.

        IMO this is something that has be to changed. We have some many requirements, but not having valid HTML is a bit strange, doesn’t it?

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      2. There is also no requirement that says the theme should not be broken. It’s just expected.

        (Also you can imagine the arguments concerning what standards and what validator to use, not to mention how much longer the review would take)

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      3. We require valid head tags so themes are not broken from that aspect.

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  3. This seriously does not look good and I would like to see how many theme authors would approve of that “special case” treatment to Godaddy. There are theme authors who have waiting as long as 6 and even 7 months. There is no excuse for Otto or anyone there at the TRT to justify what was done.

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  4. I’ll avoid a lengthy comment here as that’s obviously not complying to the standard regulations (but choosing favorites instead) and clearly defines why the review process is broken – especially with themes waiting for 8 months in the queue.

    I’ll also not point any fingers since the reviewers are mostly volunteers, Automattic isn’t required to hire reviewers on a payroll, and so forth. I’m not going to defend theme markets that are not complying with the GPL constraints either.

    But at the end we should not wonder at all why there are not too many high quality themes in the free repository, why have some theme authors abandoned it due to certain requirement introductions (such as the Customizer options panel) and why do business owners and many freelancers choose low-cost premium themes with poor code quality simply because they have nowhere else to go.

    Waiting for 8 months is a legit enough reason for completely banishing many businesses from contributing themes to WordPress.org, in addition to various constraints (including the strong link policy), lack of sane content requirements for non-blog themes, no previews showcasing a theme’s functionality, limited support opportunities, no multi-author submissions (combined again with the link constraints for teams) and much more.

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    1. Mario many reviewers would agree with your points, but some things are not up to the theme review team to decide.
      We need to rely on and work together with other teams. As a team we don’t work on the previews, the directory or the (support) forum. As individuals we try to help where we can but our time is also limited.

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      1. I think that, in a way, Mario’s comment echoes your sentiment.

        The underlying issue cannot be solved on the TRT level. You guys and gals are doing a tremendous job, but this needs to be escalated and a better way should be found to handle the theme issue. Who, where and how, I have no idea, it’s above my pay grade :)

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    2. Also if you are submitting a theme with multiple authors, then motivate why you need multiple links and ask for an exception.

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  5. I hope the automation of theme review tasks will remove the flaws, reduce the queue and reduce this type of special case approvals.

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  6. Looks like its a good simple parent theme. Will be interesting to see what the child themes look like.

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  7. This does not inspire confidence in the new and small users of WordPress who wants to be a part of the community. This is not democracy. This is not equality and justice.

    Godaddy received special treatment because they have power and money. What about the normal people who do not have any money and power? I believe this does not go with the open source spirit that we revered. And it is demoralizing.

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  8. This is one of the reasons I stopped reviewing themes when this mess started.

    The way Otto says it’s an exception just because they wanted that theme name and updates from .org isn’t good enough and not fair to theme authors and reviewers.

    Anyway, good luck to TRT, there are some awesome people in that team!

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    1. Sad to see a prolific reviewer like you leave, Acosmin!

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  9. While I partly understand why Samuel has pushed the theme live due to the special case, I don’t understand why GoDaddy can’t wait like all other theme authors do as well. Authors who also are WordCamp sponsors, who have hired staff that provides support in the .org forums or authors who support the community in other ways, for example by investing their time to organize WP meetups or else.

    What is so urgent that GoDaddy needs to have the theme available on .org immediately, apart from their commercial interests? Usually any theme author out there who has developed a great theme wants to have the theme released right away, because that is the reward for the hard work that has been invested. But still anyone needs to wait to have the theme reviewed and pushed live.

    So why does that not apply to GoDaddy? I understand the issue with the reserved theme name on .org and the fact that GoDaddy wants to push updates to their users, but that does apply to all other theme authors as well. GoDaddy could have uploaded a ticket to the queue, inform the theme review theme about the naming issue, put a note in the ticket and then wait like everyone else.

    As far as I can see the only reason why this was pushed live is that waiting would conflict with their business goals and that shouldn’t be a valid reason. Waiting for several months is a business conflict for any theme author who submits a theme to .org, and there shouldn’t be exceptions, at least not for business reasons.

    In addition, right after the theme went live, a GoDaddy developer placed a 5 star rating for the theme right away. While I’ve learned recently that this is allowed (for whatever reason – as it’s a conflict of interest), it still isn’t something that should be encouraged. Users should deal with objective reviews and not with reviews from the people who have actually created the theme or who are affiliated with the product.

    However, what has happened is done and it doesn’t help much to point fingers afterwards. But still this doesn’t look good and is very demoralizing for the other theme authors who are dealing with the lengthy theme review process every time they submit a theme to .org.

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    1. Great points, Michael!

      P.S.: I really like your functional themes and I am a happy customer. ;-)

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      1. Hi Sebastian, thanks a bunch for your kind words and I’m very happy that you like our themes. :-)

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    2. +1

      You said pretty much everything I was going to.

      “We’d rather have them updating properly from our servers instead of having them create some wacky solution that updates it from theirs or from GitHub.”

      That can also be said for tons and tons of authors who want to deploy a solid theme to their clients/customers/etc. Many might have to settle for wacky update solutions from their servers or GitHub while they wait for approval. Why should GoDaddy be any different? Given how huge their company is, they’re actually probably in a better situation than most theme authors to come up with a solid solution and deploy it.. especially when you consider they’re a web host. -.-

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      1. I beleive they did it, more, for the users than GoDaddy itself. But that raises the question: Now that “we” know the mechanism, what would happen if (or when) an other Hosting company provides a theme for hundred thousands of users then submits that theme to the repository, will they get a free pass too ?

        As you said, they are a hosting company, they have the means and budget to set up their own update system, so why bear the hastle for them when we all know that it would only increase server load and server costs for WordPress.org and knowing the relative unfairness in regards to the rest of the community and the bad light it would shine on the TRT ?

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      2. If they had not needed to reuse an old theme name, then they would not have needed any help to submit the theme themselves.

        Protip: if you’re going to develop a theme, make sure your name is new and unique beforehand, not conflicting with some other one somewhere else.

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      3. Thanks for replying Otto, I think your comments here and here make it clearer. In reagrds to that, I, now, understand your decision.

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    3. Michael,

      The only reason this was pushed live was because the theme had already been reviewed by a key-reviewer, the issues had been fixed, and I wanted them to be able to immediately submit their child themes for it for review.

      I made the decision to make the theme live. Me. Not GoDaddy. They didn’t ask, and I didn’t confirm it with them either. So, take your conspiracy theories back home. :)

      My question to you is this: What would be the point of leaving the theme in the queue for a few extra months, when it’s already been reviewed and fixed and is ready to go? I mean, I do understand why some would see this as unfair, but waiting extra time for something that is already ready to go right now makes no sense to me.

      The point of the review queue is not to be an arbitrary place to wait. It’s to have your themes reviewed by people who can help fix up the problems with them before they’re released, instead of waiting until afterwards. If the theme is ready to go, make the damn thing live. I don’t really understand why there’s such a wait to begin with. Why are themes waiting 2 months for key-reviewers to hit the go-live button? Have the themes not been reviewed enough or something?

      Frankly, the queue is flat out broken. Anything longer than a month is ridiculous. A theme review should take about an hour, and then it should be live within an hour after that if it has no problems. There is a fundamental bottleneck here, and that is simply that the theme team is looking for perfection. It’s too high a goal, IMO. The standards are too strict.

      Admittedly, the quality of submissions is quite low. Theme authors submit now when the theme doesn’t even work properly, and has glaring and obvious issues with it. Mainly because the queue is so long. That’s dumb. Themes should not be submitted until they’re ready.

      Theme authors should review their own themes themselves, and find their own problems. Every submitted theme *should* pass first try. Next to none actually do. That’s the problem we really need to solve here.

      And no, I don’t think “automation” is the ultimate solution to this problem. Nor do I think it will fix anything.

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      1. Hey Otto, thanks again for the clarification. As I said, I totally understand why you did this (from a technical point of view), so there probably is no need to explain it again as I see that you’re explaining it over and over again, which must be frustrating. :-)

        However, I think the main issue here is that many people don’t agree with the way this has been performed. I also think that it’s quite understandable that other theme authors who are waiting for months to get their theme live have been quite surpised by this move, including some members of the TRT.

        Probably it would have prevented lots of issues with the community if you would have informed the TRT about the fact that you plan to put the theme live immediately and skip the queue. Even Emil (who performed the review) wasn’t aware that the theme will be put live right away, at least that’s what I think he stated here.

        I think a quick notice (before making it live) that the theme will skip the queue for special reasons would have solved many of the issues and the community would have been involved in this decision and possibly agreed. However, what is done, is done and it doesn’t help to point fingers afterwards.

        Regarding the review process in general, I totally agree that theme authors shouldn’t submit themes that aren’t ready and I also think that experienced authors who already have several themes in the directory don’t do that, at least not on purpose. I think the main issues are inexperienced authors and spammers who submit low quality themes just to generate some traction for their websites or else. Education isn’t always easy and spammers are everywhere, so we probably need to live with that.

        I fully agree that the standards are too strict and the strive for perfection of the TRT is part of the issue. There simply are too many restrictions and while this doesn’t only lead to a bloated queue, it also restricts creativity of theme authors as there are too many boundaries. Why not simply check the theme for security issues, put the theme live and let users decide if a theme is good or not? It will manage itself on the long run.

        Of course that will lead to some badly coded themes in the directory, but these themes will suffer, because users won’t rate them well and eventually they will disappear, just like with anything else on a free market. Quality wins and the rest will disappear on the long run. And when theme authors with badly rated themes learn that they have a hard time to compete with authors who actually invest the time to do it properly, they eventually will disappear as well, simply because it’s not worth the hassle. In addition the TRT still has a way to suspend a theme if things go south.

        So instead of spending lots of time reviewing themes (often twice) based on criteria that probably could be reduced, the TRT could instead actively manage the live themes in the directory and get rid of the bad apples to improve the overall quality in the directory instead of trying to review each theme with a lengthy review process.

        However, this just is an idea which of course also is far away from being perfect. But I really think too much regulation always is an issue, for the economy, for society, for states and even for a themes directory. :-)

        The TRT is trying hard to work on the issue (at least that’s what I see when looking at Slack) and the queue has already been reduced by the one theme / author rule (although this of course is just a cosmetic effect) and maybe automation will solve the issues. But I think to automate this will be very hard because there simply are too many factors that need to be considered. But we’ll see how that goes. :-)

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  10. Great to hear GoDaddy’s theme is available in the directory. Not so great to hear the review queue was bypassed.

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  11. While I personally think that security would be the only valid reason of ever rushing a theme (or plugin) through a review process, what mostly bothers me is this:

    “We’d rather have them updating properly from our servers instead of having them create some wacky solution that updates it from theirs or from GitHub.”

    What makes a custom update solution inherently “wacky”? I know he might not be a big fan of git, but I can see several reasons of bundling such a solution with a theme (or plugin). It doesn’t even need to be git. And let’s be frank here, GoDaddy should know a thing or two about seamless deployment, I have a hard time imagining their internal procedures being “wacky”.

    Also, without objecting the takedown, had the developers of Zerif used such a solution, hundreds of thousands of users would still have easy access to security updates today.

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  12. Moves like this are super-disheartening. I hope designers and developers keep submitting themes (I’m personally investing over $10K in two high quality free themes to come next year), but favoritism and exeptions and calling update routes through GitHub wacky all side-step major issues in instilling developer confidence. Fairness is a thing that matters.

    Releasing through GitHub first and then waiting for .org seems like a good solution for fellow makers. Months and months and months just don’t work for long-term ally building, especially when line-cutting, for whatever reason, is approved.

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  13. Simple. Pay to Play is alive and well. It’s the exact same with hosting recommendations on WP.org. It’s rigged for the ones who can most afford it, or who have friends in high WP places.

    For me, I get that companies that can stroke a check are going to get preferred treatment, and there is nothing positive that will result in complaining or worrying about it.

    That’s good old capitalism at work, baby! Maybe soon we’ll see something like PressDaddy?

    But, please continue to support GoDaddy hosting. Next to Bluehost, they are the largest provider of customers for us :-)

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    1. My email address is public. If anybody has a specific problem requiring admin intervention on WordPress.org, then I’m happy to hear you out and try to solve it for you.

      However, I did not make the theme live because they asked me to, nor because of who they are. I was solving a technical problem for them, and the requirement that the theme be made live was dictated by the situation at hand.

      Yes, I’m an administrator of the site. Sometimes I make administrative decisions. I’m sorry if those decisions upset some people, but they still need to be made to keep things running smoothly and sanely for all WordPress users everywhere.

      GoDaddy did not ask to “bypass the queue”, they asked to reuse a theme name. I examined the situtation agreed and helped them do that. That’s all, really. Simple. They didn’t pay for any form of special treatment, and characterizing it as such is ridiculous.

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      1. First, I merely said that pay to play goes on with the org. Matt himself was quick to point out that “donating” to WordPress and other completely arbitrary factors were used for hosting recommendations. My point was that, in my opinion, it’s naïve to think that companies that stroke large checks are not given preference. I was talking generally about this. Your getting defensive, denying specific accusations I never made is what’s ridiculous.

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  14. Are we to seriously believe that GoDaddy was expedited so that they wouldn’t possibly lose their theme name? Really? That’s weak.

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    1. No, that’s not actually what the article says at all. Try again.

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      1. Then please explain what these words mean to you, because that’s what you explicitly stated:

        “The special case here is that they needed to reuse an old name for assorted practical reasons, and it had to be live to allow the already created child themes to be added to the directory,” Wood said. He had to manually make the theme name available or GoDaddy would not have been able to submit it under this name. Wood had the theme reviewed first and the required changes took three weeks to finalize. After it was finished he was able to transfer it to use the Primer name.”

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      2. They needed that name because they created a whole system of child themes using that name, so changing it would have been difficult. I facilitated the name shift, and made the theme live so that they could submit the child themes for review.

        What part of this is causing friction here? I’m happy to explain every detail you want to know. Nothing hidden.

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      3. Personally I don’t care & no friction with me, because I know the theme review process has always been kind of jacked up for years, and if I was GoDaddy, I would certainly appreciate the help out of that entanglement. I get why you made the decision you did.
        But I think others are concerned because there don’t seem to be SOPs in place that are being followed by everyone down the line, when one person can give certain theme submissions what seems like special consideration, especially one managed by such a — let’s say “provocative” owner in the WP world. I think the general WP theme-creator population would rather the theme reviewers spend their time clearing out the jammed-up review queue than looking for special favors to dole out for sometimes unpopular competitors.

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      4. Otto, does this then mean that you will consider my company for taking over a particular theme name that hasn’t been updated in 8 years, the author has gone MIA, and it’s causing tons of issues with our WordPress.com/org users and upgrades?

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  15. Ironically, if I want to register the next great domain name and it’s already taken—I’m shit outta luck. All joking aside, I think I read somewhere on Trac or Slack that GoDaddy could possibly allocate a few resources to the TRT? A 1-off sprint to get the queue down +50% seems like a win-win. #MakeItGoAway

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  16. I am so happy for GoDaddy – its an inspiration to us who believe in “get things done” by putting your case forward. And fortunately TRT has contributors like Otto who actually listens to an author and their reasons, instead of pushing everything down the queue. Surely everything can’t be treated like a “black or white scenario”! On top, if TRT is the judge and jury for theme quality and approval or denial of it, why can’t they make a call on urgency of theme releases?

    Indeed there are authors who submit themes and then wait in silence for 8 months, should one really be inspired it? Because there is a lot an author/contributor can do to elevate the strain on TRT instead of complaining about few who take action against unbearable queue.

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  17. Some (long) years ago, there was this fantastic tune by the ABBA, called…
    “Money, money, money…”

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  18. So my Comment criticizing Otto, Automattic, Matt Mullenweg. Pointing out corruption within WP got censored.

    This site is already compromised.

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    1. It wasn’t censored, it was trashed. It was a long tangent that went into a couple different directions, not really staying on point. It didn’t add much to the conversation either.

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      1. Funny you censor something because you do not like it, then you make a claim it was not censored but “trashed” tomayto, tomahto.

        It was a very long comment going into some of the past accordances if corruption within WP that directly relate to this. Directions, yes coming bash to Topic. Then you claim “It didn’t add much”. Thats a lie because it added a whole lot to this conversation. In fact I bet my ass off it would spark a discussion among lots of commenter’s here.

        Making things up does not make them true.

        You did not even tell my why. I did not break any rule of the comment policy here. I did say I like Matt Mullenwegs fingers to bleed from coding, that was a joke not a insult.

        The only part of the comment policy text I did was

        Stay on point using concise language. If your comment is more than a few paragraphs long, consider publishing it on your own site instead.

        But that is not listed as a point when the comment gets deleted but above it. I considered posting this on my blog, but since I do not have a blog and liked to be read here, felt this suggestion ridiculous I decided to post it here. I mean if you do not want real discussion why not shut down comments? Seriously are we on Twitter? People may have a lot to say … I guess you do not really want true discussion, but some small meaningless tidbits, sad for a WP Blog.

        No wonder Mullenweg bought this site, perfect advertising front for WP.

        Please add “We also ‘Trash’ comments we do not like/dare to have to many paragraphs without giving a reason” to the comment policy.

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    2. S.Seibert,

      I have met Matt Mullenweg in person twice. I never met Otto but we have communicated online via forums, twitter, wptavern and so forth.
      I don’t work for Automattic.
      I don’t work for Matt Mullenweg. I have criticized Matt Mullenweg in the past, he actually replied to my issues.
      I am going to continue to excercize my opinion if I disagree with Matt Mullenweg and even Jeff Chandler.

      I have never met Jeff Chandler but I am sure I’d buy him a beer if we ever meet at a WordCamp.

      However, this is a private site that was started by Jeff Chandler and is now owned by Matt Mullenweg.

      Just like if I were to go to your house and call your wife or mother a whore. You would have a problem with that.

      You know that you can get your own domain and bitch about Matt, Otto, Jeff and others all you want.

      Matt, Otto, Jeff and others don’t have to reply to you what so ever.

      Matt, Otto, Jeff and others who might be involved in WordPress universe don’t have to do anything YOU want.

      If you don’t like how the WordPress universe is managed…feel free to fork WordPress and start your own “universe”.

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