On Open Source, Forking, Branding and Reputations
There’s a whole ordeal in the WordPress community right now over the fact that WooThemes has decided to fork JigoShop into WooCommerce. Quite a few people have asked me for my opinion on this, given my recent trials and tribulations with copyright issues. I decided it would be good to give my opinion here instead of in tweets that can be misunderstood or taken out of context.
Let me start with a big fat disclaimer. I’m currently working with the WP e-Commerce team on several things, I like their plugin a lot and am thus bound to be a bit biased in this whole field.
Now: what WooThemes did was entirely within their right. The fact that they also hired two of the developers behind JigoShop may make it look a bit weird, but these guys were
apparently freelancers before, not contractually bound to JigoWatt apparently employed by Jigowatt, the company behind JigoShop. In their response, JigoWatt have said that WooThemes, who tried to acquire them “grossly undervalued the business and didn’t come close to covering our initial development costs”. You know what, while that sucks for them, that’s how open source works, grows and prospers. Making an offer to buy is a gesture of good will, as there’s no need, as shown by the next steps taken by Woo.
Right now we have two essentially the same plugins out there, though my guess is they’ll quite soon be very different, making the landscape of WordPress e-Commerce plugins even more competitive. Both plugins will probably continue to be around and, I hope for both of them, successful.
It teaches us, as a community, something entirely different though, or at least I hope it does. It teaches us how important reputation and branding is. You see, the value of the plugin rises, because Woo decides to attach its brand to it. While I do not necessarily think that “Woo” is a seal of quality, some of their stuff is great, some of their stuff is not so great, they do have a well established brand and support environment.
The “Jigo” brand, on the other hand, is new. Nobody knows of it or about it. If I had to choose right now, between installing WooCommerce and JigoShop, I’d go for WooCommerce, every time, since they have a reputation to defend.1
Now, as for that reputation: would I have decided to take the route that the Woo theme has decided to take? I can understand they tried to acquire JigoShop, given their issues with developing an e-Commerce plugin in-house. When that failed though, I think it’d been wiser for them to take a step back and re-evaluate. The backlash they receive now might do some serious damage to their brand, although to their credit they’ve been handling it wisely, honestly and open so far. Still, would I have done as they did? No. Do I think less of them for doing it? No.
You see, on the other hand, if Woo get through this episode well, they’ll have a very valuable addition to their product offering as well as two pretty good new coders… Time will tell. For now, I wish both teams wisdom and success. Competition in a marketplace usually leads to better products for the end user, let’s together make sure that is the case now as well!
1 Luckily though, WP e-Commerce has been around for ages, they’ve shown that they actually understand e-Commerce quite well and are, in my opinion, the far better choice.