Finally, on the weekend I had the chance to read through the WP Ideas section about the onging debate regarding the sponsored themes. Yes, I was aware earlier of the Weblog Tolls Collection post and the whole issue. Just didn’t have the time to systematically go through the postings…
Unfortunately, in the WP Extend discussion the emotions prevail over the rational arguments. So I guess it is not by accident that one of the best posts, a well-thought “mini essay” with very logical and clear arguments got completely overlooked: I couldn’t find one single reflection to zappoman’s post. Too sad. I’d even say I wish I wrote that post… which implies I agree 100% with it.
I really recommend reading it but if you don’t, here is the most important idea in it:
When a link is designed to “trick” users and into leaving it in, and the intended endgame of this action is to promote some tangential service, then this is unethical.
It also touches the very delicate issue of the WP developers’ links in the Blogroll of every default WP install. Of course, it is not the same as the commercial links in the “sponsored themes” – they are just confusing (deceiving?) for a novice WordPress user.
Regarding the themes hosted on the Theme Viewer, for me the answer is very simple. Remove the sponsored themes. Period. Not that much because of the hosting expenses (the Theme Viewer offers free hosting for the themes offered for the public) and not even because I’d find them “immoral” or whatever big words are used in the discussion. My motives are much simpler and much more in line with zappoman‘s concerns.
I oppose the sponsored themes on any site related with WordPress because it is tricking the naive novice users. Actually, I am not buying the “users can remove the link” argument. If you’ve spent that much time in the WordPress Support Forum as I did, you’d know that the sponsorship scam relies exactly on the ignorance, lack of experience of the new WP users who download these “free” themes. The majority of the new bloggers who jump on the bandwagon of blogging have zero knowledge of html code, web design and things like that. Many of them have difficulties even following the instructions, especially, when those contain completely new terms for them: database, edit the CSS or PHP file and such. That was one of the reasons I have introduced the Start Blogging! package offered by Prairie Design. We take care of everything for the beginners: domain registration, WP install, themes, plugins, upgrades. Our clients are very happy with that service.
That’s why my suggestion is to completely remove the sponsored themes from any WP-related website or repository: to protect your new and unsuspecting users who tomorrow may become your best evangelists and advocates. I’d say it is in WP’s best “selfish” interest to do it!
Disclosure. Yes, on my free downloadable themes there are links in the footer: credits for the initial designer, credit given to the photographer of the imaged used – and to my main Prairie Design website. And, yes, you can remove them.