2hr Interview With Matt Mullenweg

December 19th, 2008
WordPress Weekly

On Thursday, December 18th, I had the honor of having a fireside chat so to speak with Matt Mullenweg. The chat lasted a little over two hours and then, Matt stayed around after the show for an additional two hours to field questions from anybody that asked them. There are a number of things that I have taken away with this chat with Matt and I’ll be listing those in an article in the following days but without a shadow of a doubt, Matt is a stand up guy. He answered all of my questions, even the tough ones which were submitted by the community. While there is room left to debate the GPL and what is or isn’t compliant, Matt answered the GPL questions to the best of his ability and in most cases, his answers are nothing more than his personal opinion since certain aspects of the GPL would be much clearer if there was a court case to stand by.

I really feel as though this two hour recording is the most important recording I’ve made yet and is the biggest contribution I have made so far, back to the community. If there was one podcast that you should listen to as it relates to WordPress, the GPL, Matt’s involvement with Automattic and the Project, this would be it. Special thanks to Matt Mullenweg for agreeing to come on the show to address all of the issues that were presented to him by me.

To get a sample of the information discussed in this episode, here are the list of questions that I asked Matt. After this list, he took questions from anyone that asked them either by those who called in or sent them in the chat.

Why were those themes removed from the repository and if you look back at the situation now, do you think you made a mistake by not making a public post about the removals?

Can you explain why the new guideline was added to the theme repository?

Why is it that so many people within the inner circle of the WordPress community believe you and Automattic don’t want anyone else profiting through or around WordPress?

In your opinion, do you think that premium themes have actually benefited the community by way of furthering the overall development of WordPress themes?

In a recent conversation, I saw you describe premium themes as propietary and how you felt that was a better word than premium. Why is that?

How many of these debates and the way things are done are a result of their not being a court case to go by?

Does it bother you at all to see countless debates on various WordPress theme author sites about the GPL and what is and not compliant with it?

Drupal and Joomla have decided the commercial stuff is okay but why not WordPress?

In November of 2007 hot off the heels of WordCamp Argentina, news came out about a possible theme marketplace where people sold themes through the marketplace and the theme author as well as Automattic each recieved a cut of the profits. Was that your way of trying to help premium theme authors and has their been any progress on the idea?

The Drupal community has debated this GPL/Premium/Theme issue for a while. And a solid understanding has come from it:

A theme is made up of several files – template files (ending in .php), CSS, images and JavaScript. The template files are considered a part of Drupal, which is licensed under the GPL, which means they are not restricted in their redistribution. You are free to share the .php files so others can benefit from them. However, the rest of the theme – images, CSS and JavaScript – is independent from Drupal and owned by us and licensed by you for one website per purchase. You may not publish or share these parts of the themes with anyone else. Please review our EULA for full details. (Taken from a Drupal Theme Developers page)

When the notion of making money by selling themes pops up at WordCamps, you are quick to explain the business model of selling services and building support/value around the prodcut but this model will not work for everyone. What is a premium theme author to do?

I’ve spoken to a few premium theme authors and they tell me that because of the GPL, nothing stops someone from picking up Brian Gardners themes, changing the footer link and then undercutting his business by selling support at a cheaper price. Is that a valid argument?

Redistributing paid themes for free, which is ok under the GPL thus, rendering the business model of selling themes useless, as I understand it. Yet, that hasn’t happened and I wonder if that is because most end users are not aware of the GPL, all they see is the single-use multi-use licenses attached to themes

Is there a way where premium theme companies such as iThemes and you or Automattic can come to a compromise?

Lets say I have a template generator that outputs GPL themes, but has premium features. It could be used to create freebie themes which would be eligible to be in the repository, but since the generator outputs themes with a link back to my site which promotes the premium services, which in turn may be used for creating themes suitable for the repository, but again those themes have a link back to my site.

Is it true that the notion of Child themes which appears to be gaining momentum can be viewed as a loophole as far as the GPL is concerned considering these are themes which are purele CSS and Image based?

At what point do you stop accepting good themes that comply with the GPL because of a connection an author has with commercial themes. How far does it go.

If is about the community, why are decisions made unilaterally, rather than by the community?

Just out of curiosity, do you get annoyed sometimes by people blaming or mentioning Automattic for the decisions or things that take place for I mean, Automattic and the WordPress project are two separate things.

What is your role with automattic and what is your role with the project and is their ever a conflict of interest between the two?

In your opinion, how far does the GPL go? CSS, images, phpfiles,

Why have you not used the WordPress development blog to bring forth the issues of GPL and various other aspects of the project?

This whole show has pretty much been dedicated to themes but how does all of this effect plugins, the plugin repository and such?

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Length Of Episode: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Download The Show: InterviewWithMatt.mp3

Listen To The Special Interview With Matt Mullenweg:

Chat log from those who participated in the chatroom: Special Interview Chat Log




  1. Wesley (13 comments.) says:

    Any chance of a transcript? (With the answers) Would read much quicker than a 2 hour podcast.


  2. Monika (4 comments.) says:

    Hi Jeff last night I ‘ve tried to understand the interview. But I have to realize I can’t understand Matt – it is hard to understand him – british english is much better to understand ;) I understand the questions but not Matt – he’s voice is not clear – maybe a technical issue. Is it possible to read some of his answers?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one with *not perfect foreign language knowledge* – but I’m sure it is important to know what he has said.

    I hope you see the joke in my words…
    Do you know Muppet Show- Miss Piggy – with her great eyes..
    with this great eyes I’ll try to make eyes on you.. and I have big green eyes … red hairs…

    please write the answers from Matt –



    kindly regards

  3. Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

    Transcribing this interview by myself is a technical feat I am not willing to undertake. However, I will definitely look into paying a fee for a service or a person to transcribe the interview to text format.

    Any suggestions?

  4. Denis de Bernardy (8 comments.) says:

    More important than a transcript, it would be sweet to have some kind of “the gist of what he said is…”

    • Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

      Well, maybe I’ll do that instead. The problem with doing that is I don’t want to have what Matt said misinterpreted because of my summation.

      • Denis de Bernardy (8 comments.) says:

        Well, there is a very real need for someone out there to highlight whatever guidelines were recently made up in layman’s terms. In the past, there arguably have been abuses. There have been retarded moves and guidelines as well.

        Recall that these guidelines are coming from the person who put spam up on and who went after users of the wordpress trademark. I don’t mean to stick an knife in a wound, but it is occasionally worth a reminder.

        Thus, please give it a try. Your blog is no different from others: It’s not worth anyone’s time if one can’t extract the key information in a snap. At the very worst, you’ll get is a disclaimer from Matt, and you’ll update your synthesis to reflect it.

        • Andy Beard (25 comments.) says:

          One of the interesting things about the trademark is how it affects people advertising on Google.

          Note that they can’t use the word “WordPress” in the ads, only bid on the term. This has a significant effect on both CTR and advertising spend.
          This affects other topics suchs as hosting, consulting, installation.

          Domains are still not being fully policed

          Some of the domains owned by “Friends of Automattic” are being used to sell premium WordPress themes

          There has been a quite lengthy conversation about this over on Alister’s blog.

          I am primarily interested in this as a customer of premium WordPress themes – I own quite a few, and if sales are hit, then support may also take a nosedive.

          There are still themes being used on that wouldn’t qualify to be added to the theme directory on Surely that is a double standard?

  5. Conor (1 comments.) says:

    I understood it fine, I didn’t see any problem at all. Great interview!.
    Also: Is the normal wordpress weekly on this week as well?


  6. Barry (33 comments.) says:

    Unfortunately as the moment, with only a relatively slow 3G network connection at the moment, I’m in no position to download a 2 hour interview. So a short a succinct post that covered the main points would be extremely helpful, particularly as this issue seems to be, on the surface of things, an important one for a lot of people.

  7. Wayne (1 comments.) says:

    I’m just adding myself to the list of people having trouble with the podcast. I’m having real trouble trying to pick out what Matt is saying.

  8. Lynne (1 comments.) says:

    I’m another one having trouble understanding Matt. I’ve spent 2 1/2 hours concentrating on the first part of the interview, where you discuss the premium themes but still missed chunks of what he was saying. A transcript would be really good.

  9. Flick (20 comments.) says:

    @Jeffro: Would you consider cutting the interview into several parts and just sending them over to individuals (like moi?? :D) who would happily transcribe e.g. half an hour or 45 minutes?

  10. zaki blogjer (1 comments.) says:

    Only questions listed.

    I can’t download it with slow internet connection resulted from the submarine cable cut 2 days ago which impacts Asia.

    Can you summarize it please

  11. Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

    If you look at the bottom of the post, you should now see a link to download a text file to see a log from the chatroom. This is not the transcription of the podcast which I am till investigating how to do without spending a good amount o money.

  12. Monika says:

    Thanks Jeff, maybe Matt is nice and post his answer on –maybe.


  13. Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

    As you folks can tell from the latest pingback, looks like Flick from has picked up on the project of transcribing the interview and has part one finished:

    Lets work together to make sure the transcription is accurate.

    • Flick (28 comments.) says:

      Thanks for the plug, Jeff, it’s much appreciated! Any corrections to ensure that the transcription is accurate would be so very helpful as well. :) Thanks for everyone’s support so far!

  14. Donny Kingston (1 comments.) says:

    This meet up was in 2008, any plans to meet up with Matt again soon? It would be great to hear Matt’s thoughts on the new blog tools such as Pinterest and Tumblr and see where he plans to take WordPress from now onwards. My guess is that some of Tumblr’s features will be added to the WP core.


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