Should Akismet Really Ship with WordPress?

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that, unfortunately I can’t blame the dictators here at WPMU.org for that, although you could perhaps understand if they were in fact responsible. The public outcry on the localization column alone could make a less secure man cry, and make James & Co. looking for a way out. They didn’t, which obviously came as a total shock to me – that was my exit strategy for Pete’s sake!

Speaking of which, who is this Pete? I’ll have to look that one, up, it is just one of those expressions that sticks and gets tossed around all the time.

Oh yeah, this is a WordPress site. I keep forgetting, as you no doubt have noticed. Enter the soapbox and a new potential shitstorm then.

Back in March WPTavern’s Jeff Chandler mused over whether Akismet, the excellent spam stopping plugin and service that Automattic runs, was free to use. The conclusion was yes, it was and is, although just for personal use. Old timers like myself will remember that this has been the case all along, probloggers have been expected to pay for using Akismet’s spam-munching servers all along. Not that I think many bloggers did nor do in any greater numbers, I keep reminding my clients that they need to shell out for these things. There’s the idea that Akismet is free for all, perhaps just because the plugin is.

I’m torn when it comes to Akismet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the service and recommend it (although this post on if it is really needed is interesting), but have done so with mixed feelings all along. The reason: The Akismet plugin ships with WordPress (along with the Hello Dolly plugin, which much like the default theme is meant to be a way to understand how plugins work).

Is it fair that Akismet ships with WordPress? Is it even in the user’s best interest?

I’m giving the WordPress core team, and Automattic, the benefit of a doubt here. I don’t think there is a nefarious plot to make a ton of money by sneaking in a promotional bit of code into the WordPress package.

But I think it’s wrong. Akismet shouldn’t be shipping with WordPress. In fact, I think there’s a problem with Automattic’s services and the open source part of WordPress in general. Look at the featured plugins on WordPress.org, a list often dominated by Automattic plugins like PollDaddy and Jetpack. Sure, they are great and stable, but it makes you wonder whether they’re the best alternative, doesn’t it?

I think it’s great that Automattic, and other companies too, make money out of WordPress in different ways. What I have a problem with is when there are unfair and unclear advantages. Like shipping the plugin for your commercial spam stopping service with open source software, an option I doubt being extended to TypePad AntiSpam and other solutions available.

I do realize that comment spam is a problem, but a much more fair solution would be to offer several alternatives as part of the setup process. Something like the Browse Happy concept but for spam plugins perhaps? That would be a lot more transparent and put some doubts to rest.

Because you know what, there was a company who used to roll like this, leveraging their monopoly position to gain an advantage. They are called Microsoft and the result was years or web browser dominance, despite the fact that their product was inferior.

That’s where that sour taste in my mouth comes from, and although I won’t compare Automattic to Microsoft, others might. All that is moot though, because this is all about doing what’s right and offering everybody a fair chance, not abusing whatever unique position you might have. I’m sure Automattic means well, but I think their position makes them vulnerable to badwill when it comes to these things. That hurts WordPress too.

Oh, and Pete is probably St Peter, used as a variation for “for Christ’s sake”. On that note, let’s wrap this up with Bruce Springsteen’s “Outlaw Pete”.

Spam with bacon image by Paulo Ordoveza (CC) and the spam bus by Jeremy Noble (CC)