Public response to Chris Anderson’s “Free” on WordPress

I got a tip that Chris Anderson’s upcoming book Free has the following to say about WordPress:

2. Feature limited (Basic version free, more sophisticated version paid. This is the WordPress model.)

  • Upside: Best way to maximize reach. When customers convert to paid, they’re doing it for the right reason (they understand the value of what they’re paying for) and are likely to be more loyal and less price sensitive.
  • Downside: Need to create two versions of the product. If you put too many features in the free version, not enough people will convert. If you put too few, not enough will use it long enough to convert.

This is most assuredly not the WordPress model. Anyone and everyone can go to wordpress.org and download a completely free, completely unrestricted, and completely feature-complete version of WordPress to run for any purpose. There is no feature limited version of WordPress.

Chris might be getting confused by WordPress.com, which is a hosted WordPress solution (the biggest one, but certainly not the only one). It is true that WordPress.com charges money for certain features, such as CSS editing capabilities. But this is completely within the rights of Automattic, the company which operates the WordPress.com service. That one company is charging for certain aspects of a hosted WordPress solution does not change the fact that WordPress itself is free/open source software and has no monetization model and no tiered versioning system.

As we talked about at SXSW, Chris, it is WordPress services that are the “freemium” portion of WordPress. We give the software away, and thus create a vibrant market for third party WordPress services (this marketplace, to quote this blog’s quite literal catchphrase, puts food on my table).

Note that it would be correct to say that this is the Movable Type model, whereby Movable Type Pro and Movable Type Enterprise get features not available in the free/open source version of Movable Type.

Update: Chris fixed this error in the electronic version of Free, and it stands to reason that future print editions will have the correction. Thanks, Chris!

43 thoughts on “Public response to Chris Anderson’s “Free” on WordPress

  1. I think it might be easy for someone to make this error if they don’t do their research well. At the same time, I feel its worth mentioning more often, that, services are the paid feature while the software is free.

  2. Mark is telling the truth here.

    The “software” WordPress is free, and has no limitations that I am aware of. I use it and other people use it with no problems — how many bloggers have complained that their downloaded copy of the wordpress software was feature limited?!

    The “hosting” solution WordPress requires some kind of payment before unlocking some features, I’m sure. But, if you have your own domain and hosting, then this isn’t even an issue.

    Even before the book is published, a second (and corrected) version is already in the works, right? :)

  3. For someone as technologically “wired” as Chris Anderson, that’s a schoolboy error. Way to go on looking a little silly, Chris.

    (And yes, that’s a pretty lame “wired” pun) ;-)

  4. KB says:

    After reading the excerpted blurb, it’s more than apparent that he was referencing WordPress.com and not the actual software. (That’s an error in judgment that Automattic will need to live with for a long time to come, I’m afraid.)

    That said, his statement would be correct if he simply changed “WordPress” to “Automattic” (i.e. This is the Automattic business model).

    The rest of the complaints I’ve seen here are purely semantics.

  5. KB, consider this part:

    Downside: Need to create two versions of the product.

    How does that apply to WordPress.com? WordPress.com isn’t a product with a version—it is a service. There are little individual upgrades you can buy, but there aren’t separate versions of WordPress.com. It sounds like Chris is talking about a WordPress product with a “basic” and a “pro” version.

    It’s certainly possible that he meant WordPress.com, but I hope you can see that those four characters make a good bit of difference to someone like me who has nothing to do with the WordPress.com service but a lot to do with WordPress. I don’t want people getting the impression that we’re holding back features from WordPress core and hiding them in a mythical paid “pro” version.

  6. I think there’s an increasing number of people who use ‘wordpress’ purely in reference to ‘wordpress.com’, many of whom may not be aware that the self-hosted version existed prior to the hosted service and is an open-source community project etc. etc. Your average wordpress.com user just knows they’re on wordpress, and if they’re a bit more savvy they’ll know that wordpress is run by Automattic, and I’d imagine that if they’re aware of the downloadable version at all they think .org is just an Automattic-run offshoot of .com, rather than vice versa.

    WordPress.com, of course, is a fairly decent example of the freemium model, though its a la carte upgrade system is a little more nuanced than the model presented here (which, as you say, sounds a lot like MT’s)

    I have no idea whether Automattic anticipated this eclipsing of the original open-source brand when they decided to use the WP trademark for their hosting service. I’d like to think it was just an unfortunate accident, albeit one that could probably have been anticipated and certainly avoided.

  7. As a professional speaker, author and entreprener, I have a professional responsibility to conduct proper due diligence to reinforce EVERYTHING that we do, present or represent.

    Note that I said “Professional Responsibility”.

    That’s both at KovachCommunications.com and at http://www.yourtradeshowpro.com.

    Every now and then, we make mistakes. When we do, we take great pains to correct them, wth applicable apologies to all.

    It’s funny but I do not see any comments, whether rebuttal or apology from Chris –

    WAKE UP CALL!

  8. I say that it’s fairly obvious that Chris was referring to wordpress.com, knowing more about the content that lies before and after this little tid bit probably clears the air. Nonetheless, I can understand your reinforcement against readers coming to the presumption that Chris is talking about WordPress itself. Ignorance is everywhere, even the gods cannot escape this.

  9. According to Quantcast, WordPress.com has 196m monthly visitors, WordPress.org 2.5m. To the vast majority of people WordPress is WordPress.com. The distinction is (confusing in my opinion and) lost on most people.

    I suggest the author uses the term WordPress referring to the WordPress.com platform. In that case, their comments are spot on.

    I understand that to “us”, WordPress is the software, but I think that all changed to the general public when WordPress.com became so popular. I think it’s absolutely fair to use the term WordPress referring to WordPress.com.

  10. On my blog (click my name) I have pointed out many things that Chris has either gotten wrong or missed the boat on.

    I have to say if this is his level of “investigative journalism”, the rest of his book should be a fairly misleading scream!

  11. According to Quantcast, WordPress.com has 196m monthly visitors, WordPress.org 2.5m. To the vast majority of people WordPress is WordPress.com

    Self-installed WordPress blogs get much more combined traffic than WordPress.com. Just the blogs using the WP.com stats plugin get more traffic than all of WordPress.com!

    Nonetheless, I can understand your reinforcement against readers coming to the presumption that Chris is talking about WordPress itself.

    Indeed. That’s all I want to do: set the record straight before this misinformation spreads.

    I have no idea whether Automattic anticipated this eclipsing of the original open-source brand when they decided to use the WP trademark for their hosting service. I’d like to think it was just an unfortunate accident, albeit one that could probably have been anticipated and certainly avoided.

    I’ve heard several people say that if doing it all over again, they’d want to with a different name. See TalkPress, their hosted bbPress offering.

    I didn’t see the problem until WP.com started taking off, and then it was too late. :-)

    I think it’s absolutely fair to use the term WordPress referring to WordPress.com.

    I strongly disagree. What about the following, which I’ve all heard?

    • “You can’t edit your CSS on WordPress unless you pay.”
    • “You can only use the themes that come with WordPress.”
    • “WordPress doesn’t allow Adsense.”
    • “Embeds don’t work on WordPress.”

    Those statements, which are absolutely true for WordPress.com, are false and damaging for WordPress. I’ve seen people say things like “It’s too bad you can’t have ads on WordPress, I guess I’ll try ExpressionEngine.” That’s a communications failure caused by people getting sloppy and referring to WordPress.com as simply “WordPress.”

  12. it’s definitely NOT a matter of semantics – or wordplay. my first reaction to this was ‘wow, i wonder what all these features are that i could get for a small fee’ somebody to write my posts for me maybe. i use wordpress software on my separately hosted site. i’ve never been charged by anybody for wordpress. if chris anderson meant wordpress.com, or automattic, then he should say so. clearly. you can’t just say ‘well we all know’. leaving your readers to infer what you mean, by talking in shorthand like this is terrible lazy journalism.

  13. As KB wrote, then the only true problem here is that He used “wordpress” instead of “wordpress.com”
    While this might not be correct it is the perception of many people. I regularly meet people that believe wordpress.com is wordpress.

    The big difference in traffic shows how big a difference there is in wide exposure. Here you can’t count the traffic on self installed blogs, because here the readers are not necessarily aware that it is wordpress.

    Besides this I can’t see any problems with the description.

    To your point about whether it is a product or service. This also seems like semantics to me. You can access a large portion for free, and pay to get more. Is that not exactly what he is describing.

  14. Those statements, which are absolutely true for WordPress.com, are false and damaging for WordPress. I’ve seen people say things like “It’s too bad you can’t have ads on WordPress, I guess I’ll try ExpressionEngine.” That’s a communications failure caused by people getting sloppy and referring to WordPress.com as simply “WordPress.”

    I agree that they’re damaging for WordPress the software. I think the responsibility for that damage lies with the confusion created by the using the same name for both the software and the hosted service. I think it’s perfectly legitimate that the author does not understand (nor needs to understand) the technical difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

    I think it is up to Automattic to make that distinction clear to the average user.

    I’d welcome the author expanding their knowledge of the WordPress space and commenting on the contrast between the software and the service. But I don’t think it’s fair to find fault with their using the term WordPress to refer to the hosted service.

    One of the two could always be renamed, maybe as part of the merge of WPMU and WP… :-)

  15. The error has been defended as a common misconception. An apology would probably take the same form. While it is a forgivable error and ultimately the fault is with the naming of WordPress.com, the error MUST be corrected at every opportunity. Saying “it’s not his fault” is stating a truth that doesn’t help the situation.

  16. The error has been defended as a common misconception.

    For the sake of clarity, I don’t think the author made an error. I think he is correct to call WordPress.com WordPress. A company doesn’t own a brand, the public owns a brand. How the public chooses to use a term is the correct usage, whether the business / organisation / software intended it or like it. It is called what the public call it.

    I think I’ve made my point now, so I’m going to shut up unless I have anything substantially new to add to this discussion. :-)

  17. For the sake of clarity, I don’t think the author made an error. I think he is correct to call WordPress.com WordPress. A company doesn’t own a brand, the public owns a brand.

    The Trademark Office would probably disagree. While I agree that a company cannot completely control their brand or their trademark, they shouldn’t just give up and let people sow disinformation. The truth about what WordPress is and what WordPress.com is don’t change just because people sometimes confuse the two. WordPress and WordPress.com are two separate entities. Facts about one are not true for the other. Especially germane are their differences in terms of costs and business models, since those are the topics of Mr. Anderson’s book.

  18. Thanks for making that clear Mark.

    Just remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

    It’s worth noting that wordpress.com does nothing that you can’t do on your own with wordpress.org. In fact you can do more with wordpress.org than you can even pay to do with wordpress.com since even WordPress.com VIP has the caveat: “You can run most plugins (that don’t modify DB tables).”

  19. Don’t be too hard on Chris. He probably just copied that passage from somewhere else.

    Heh. The Jaquiths aren’t cutting Chris any slack this week (Waldo Jaquith, a probable distant relative of mine broke the story about the plagiarism).

  20. S.K SHARMA says:

    Not bad idea about next release of wordpress.If company and Matt is putting efforts to make it better then Why no ?
    They can charge if they are offering the product.

  21. The whole discussion seems just retarded to me. So a bunch of geeks thinks that everyone in this world tried to install the software on server. Majority of people in this world would be OK with wordpress = wordpress.com, since even wordpress.com would be for them only a hardly familiar thing from “the internets”. Discussion reminds me of spiderman vs. superman controversy or some other 7th grade trends (I don’t know what they discuss in seventh grade now, actually, well mostly because I don’t even live in this country). And if you think a little bit – it’s ok for Automatic to have the mixed up brands, since the majority of people would come to wordpress.com and get convinced to spend some extra cash. This is how they pay salary to their developers. Please, don’t be idealistic – sys.admins and webmasters are the minority in the internet. And sorry for calling you geeks but that’s ok since I’m the one myself. I don’t want to sound rude or something, but come on, guys – 50+ comments? Really? Oh, get-a-life.

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