Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

The WordPress/HotNacho SEO Debacle

Debate is raging over the “WordPress SEO Spam” issue. Please pay special attention to the disclaimer at the beginning of Andrew‘s post (emphasis mine):

Disclaimer. I’m hesitant to even write about this, knowing the web’s fondness for angry mob justice, but I feel like it’s an important issue that needs to be addressed. My one request: please be calm and rational. WordPress is a great project, and Matt is a good guy. Think before piling on the hatemail and flames.

I originally started this as a comment over on Jonas Luster‘s site. But as it grew longer, I figured it warranted a posting on my own site. Basically, if you ask me, this is much ado about nothing (well, okay, not ‘nothing’ — perhaps ‘mountain out of a molehill’ would be a better analogy). But it’s too late to put out the fire now. We’ll just have to wait for it to burn out on its own.

As far as I can tell, this was just a case of Matt making one bad judgement call. I haven’t met him in person yet, but we’ve had many phone and net conversations, and I feel like I know what his level of dedication is to projects like WordPress. Matt has said time and time again that what makes a project great is its community, and the project’s responsiveness to that community. The perception that he has done anything to harm this community will cut him to the quick.

A project like WP (and his collaboration with me on Ping-O-Matic) has enormous resource needs. Enormous. This is not your average 1000-hits-per-day blog with pictures of kittens and rants about high school homework. This is a project that garnered over 100,000 downloads in just a few weeks. This is a project with around 150,000 posts in its support forums. And that doesn’t even include the 3500+ pages in the Codex, with over a million page views. And don’t even get me started on the storage requirements for all the data that Ping-O-Matic has accumulated across the 79,000,000+ pings that it has served.

You can’t support those kinds of loads out of a $20/month shared web hosting account. And it’s hard to pay the kind of money that it does take out of your own pocket to support something which is, essentially, a hobby (at least in the sense that it’s not a paying job). Personally, I would love to be able to spend more time working on WordPress and adding whizbang new features to Ping-O-Matic. But I can’t. Why not? Because I can’t afford it.

My money is almost completely monopolized by my mortgage, food for my family, car payments, gas for the cars, and all the other usual things. And my time is almost completely monopolized by my day job (which provides the aforementioned money), and my family. WordPress has never bought me lunch. Ping-O-Matic has never paid for my family to go to a Saturday matinee. Not one user of WordPress, Ping-O-Matic, or any other open project that I’ve participated in has ever utilized my Donation Page to send me money or a wishlist item.

I’ve gotten a few “thank you” notes here and there. I’ve seen a few “attaboys”. And those are great, and well appreciated. They make my paltry efforts worthwhile. But they don’t put bread on the table. So I can understand why Matt felt motivated to try an “experiment” which brought in a little revenue without being highly visible. Unforunately, the source of this financing walks the shady edge of what is and is not acceptible to our community. Personally, until Matt returns from his vacation and gives his side of the story, I’m not assuming anything.

But if you’re in the camp of people crying “foul”, consider this: Matt could have put out announcements asking for donations. He could have plastered flashing advertisements all over the WordPress sites. He could have used every available opportunity to “pass the cup”. Instead he chose an avenue which was out-of-sight. And instead of perceiving this as “polite”, people have chosen to view it as “sneaky”. “Et tu, Brutè?”

Update: There are now responses from Matt and HotNacho, the hidden links and content are gone, and Google has restored the PageRank for

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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