Jigoshop team and WordPress community members share thoughts on forking

27 Comments

Last week WooThemes announced the hiring of Mike Jolley and Jay Koster, as well as the forking of Jigoshop e-commerce plugin into the soon-to-be-released WooCommerce. Jolley and Foster previously worked for Jigowatt, a WordPress and Magento development shop, spending the last year working on the core of Jigoshop.

The news brought a number of different reactions from the community, in comments here and on WooThemes’ own announcement post. To clarify their own stance on the situation and clear up confusion the Jigoshop team posted about the future of Jigoshop and their thoughts on what is happening.

The short of it: business as usual for Jigoshop, and they are confident in the team they have.

The long of it gets more complicated. It seems that Jigowatt views the forking of Jigowatt as “needless” and “sad”, and that the forking decision only came after an unsuccessful bid for purchasing their project that “grossly undervalued” their work.

In the post Jigowatt’s Dan Thornton explained the course of events that led to WooThemes deciding to fork Jigoshop:

Woo’s bid to buy out the Jigoshop project grossly undervalued the business and didn’t come close to covering our initial development costs, not forgetting the planning, time and effort both the Jigowatt team and community put into the project.

Woo then made to an offer to ‘collaborate’ which led to their decision to fork Jigoshop. What hasn’t been made public is that collaboration offer included conditions which would have given WooThemes full strategic control over the direction and development of the Jigoshop project in the future.

Thornton also emphasized that the forking of the project does not mean that Jigoshop ceases to exist. The team behind Jigoshop is strong and growing, he says.

Joost de Valk and others add their thoughts

As the news of the forking made the rounds on Twitter a number of WordPress community members spoke up as well. In his editorial “WooCommerce vs. JigoShop“, he first made it clear that he is working with the WP e-Commerce folks and as such is a bit biased in this situation. That said, his views were largely that more competition is always better:

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.

Furthermore, de Valk made it clear that this situation does little to change his opinon of anyone involved:

The backlash [WooThemes] 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…

Other members of the community saw the news in a different light entirely. Grant Griffiths, co-founder of Headway (who we’ve interviewed before) equated the forking of Jigoshop to theft:

Where are the days of coming up with your own original ideas?  Taking the time, energy, blood, sweat and tears and actually building your own product.

But of course, open source makes it so easy to simply “steal” someone’s idea and hard work.  And justifying it by hiding under the umbrella of open source and “legal” forking.

Each of the posts mentioned here have drawn a handful of comments and discussion on their own corners of the web. For your reading pleasure, and to serve my own completist impulses, the list below will take you to every post about the Jigoshop fork worth reading:

Are there other linkworthy posts about this? Let us know in the comments.

Now you speak up

Now that you’ve read a handful of thoughts from the community, as well as some of the backstory that the Jigoshop team provided, share your own thoughts in the comments below. What are the circumstances in which it is appropriate to fork a GPL project? Do you fault WooThemes for making the decision they did?

27 thoughts on “Jigoshop team and WordPress community members share thoughts on forking

    • Based on comments I’ve seen from them on Twitter and in comment threads, it sounds like their plan is to keep WooCommerce itself free and make money off of things like addons and support.

  1. I find it ethically repugnant to distribute a work under a license that explicitly grants certain rights, and then to attempt to restrict the exercise of those rights through guilt trips, peer pressure, and appeal to “ethics”.

    If you don’t want your work to be re-distributed, then don’t license it under GPL. If you don’t want your work to be forked, then don’t license it under GPL. If you don’t want to grant GPL rights to users of your work, then don’t distribute your work under GPL, period. Use a different license.

    Otherwise, if you distribute your work under GPL, then don’t complain, guilt trip, or appeal to “ethics” when users exercise the rights granted by the license. This hypocrisy and double-standard needs to be eradicated from the WordPress community – and the sooner, the better.

    • Chip, I agree with what you’re saying. But how do you respond to the pressure placed on developers (plugin & theme) to go GPL by Automattic or face legal action or be “banned” from the community. (Reference the Matt vs. Chris debates, where it almost went the “lawyer” route to force Chris into compliance. Also the statement that non-GPL people cannot sponsor WordCamps or events.)

      Developer should be given the freedom to either release their work under GPL or release it under a different license WITHOUT fear of retribution or removal from the “community”.

      • Regardless of one’s view on GPL inheritance, it still boils down to a business decision. While I personally disagree with the assertion that Plugins and Themes are inherently derivative of WordPress, I also recognize that, at this point in time, the vast majority of the community – at least, a majority of the community that has impact on swaying public opinion and decisions – sides with the GPL-inheritance school of thought.

        The GPL business model is different from a proprietary-license business model, but it certainly can work. I’m a staunch free-market advocate, and do not like to see any given business model forced on a business. However, even from a market perspective, the visible/vocal market demand segment is expressing demand for GPL-distributed WordPress Theme/Plugin code. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that other segments of the market – and other markets altogether – don’t exist.)

        But at the end of the day, one makes a business decision, either to conform to market/non-market demand for GPL-distributed code, or not. Once that decision is made, it’s consequences (positive and negative) follow.

        The way I see it, these are the current options:

        1) Conform to market demands, distribute via GPL
        1a) Conform to market demands, distribute via GPL, attempt to sway vocal WP community
        2) Don’t conform; distribute via proprietary, ignore vocal WP community
        2a) Don’t conform; distribute via proprietary, attempt to sway vocal WP community

        Which one a given business chooses depends on several things, not the least of which is the risk analysis of the consequences of the decision.

    • Thank you Chip. I completely agree with you on this, especially after going through all the comments on that non-issue over the past few days.

      There is no better way to summarize the situation imo.

  2. I am a WooThemes customer and really have no complains at all. But it must be said that what they did is unethical to say at least. Now about the clever Dutch, I think he would do/say anything just to stay afloat.

    • Okay, I’ll bite: how is what WooThemes did “unethical”?

      I could maybe buy an ethics argument on the developer poaching, but as far as I can tell, that was just business. Employees move from company to company within the same industry every day. In fact: I’d daresay that such movement is the expected norm anymore.

      • This is why in some of the more mature (been around longer) industries… many employees are required to sign non-compete on termination clauses. (Lasting anywhere from 3 months to 3 years.) So that poaching/hiring away an employee cannot be hired to work on the “same/competing” project.

        • No-compete contracts are a joke in themselves, constitutionally speaking – how is a company able to keep someone, and by reason their very livelihoods, from the job market to ensure “competitive advantage”. Contract law never supersedes statutory law.

          • Here in the US it happens all the time. Just search for some of the larger “hirings”… Like when Google poached a top VP from Microsoft. Microsoft had a 1 year non-compete clause built into his contract. Microsoft then sued and Google ended up paying settlement money to Microsoft so their new employee they took from Microsoft could do the work. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kai-Fu_Lee) Or this one where the judge actually barred (until the trial finished) Donatelli from starting work at HP after leaving EMI (http://www.scribd.com/doc/15028315/EMC-v-Donatelli-Noncompete-2009). Mark Papermaster was also hired away from IBM by Apple and went through an extended legal battle because of a non-compete clause.

            It’s all about trade secrets… more so than non-compete. Suppose I’m working on developing proprietary information for over a year, and then find another company to pay me even more salary, and take the proprietary information with me (in my head) to my new company to create the exact same product at the new company. That’s why some companies require non-competes. It’s not a life-time ban, but it is a time period that allows the company you are leaving the space to modify/build/change/enhance their product before it gets duplicated feature for feature by the competition due to the hire.

            This type of “protection of intellectual property” happens everywhere. And depending on how well (narrow in scope) the clause is written dictates how enforceable it is. Even Paul Teutul Jr. had to wait a year before he could start his own chopper company after he left Orange County Choppers because he had a 1-year non-compete.

          • Non-compete agreements are not a joke (assuming you’re talking about the US), take Kai-Fu Lee as an example (Microsoft -> Google). No one forces people to sign non-compete agreements, it’s their choice.

  3. “planning, time and effort both the Jigowatt team and community put into the project” are not factors in an acquisition. You can work yourself to death for 50 years and still build something that isn’t worth anything to anyone; which isn’t to say that Jigowatt isn’t worth anything, but the time and effort put in aren’t what matters.

  4. Jigowat should use this both as a marketing opportunity and learning experience. Jigoshop is the most promising WP eCommerce plugin to be released in a long time. So promising that one of the largest and most successful theme shops forked their code and stole two of their core developers. At this point Jigowat has the momentum and should stay in front of the Woo development cycle. The lesson to be learned is that Core developers should be given a substantial piece of the project in return for a NDA/Non-Compete contract. I commit to you if you commit to me.

    Notice that I didn’t bring up GPL, ethics, slam dunks, behind the back no look passes or flashy touchdown dances. Looking a man (or non-man) in the eye, giving him (or her) your word and sealing the deal with a firm (or non-firm) handshake only counts in western movies. In this day and age you need to apply simple business practices and protect your investment, GPL or no GPL. Give your core developers a piece of the pie in return for their promise not to compete. It’s basic business 101.

    Navigating the WordPress Theme/Plugin repository may feel like the wild west sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you should run your business with spit filled handshakes and expectations of honor. If you do, a company like Woo will rope your prized calf, burn their brand into its ass and ride off into the sunset leaving you in a cloud of bitter tasting dust. (btw, the bitter tasting dust is the WP community being forced to defend the premise of GPL, Woo or no Woo.)

    Jigowat didn’t lose this battle because of GPL, they lost it to a better organized and more experienced company. I bet Woo suffered a few setbacks of their own in the early days and look how strong they are. Based on their outstanding work so far, I bet Jigowat has learned their lesson and will emerge just as strong as Woo…if not stronger.

  5. While this is a great debate amongst hardcore WP enthusiasts and Pros, it ultimately comes down to how the products are implemented on their respective sites. Your clients don’t give a crap about who forked who, they just want to be able to hock their wares on a daily basis and make money on a stable, reliable system no matter where it comes from.

  6. 1, It’s business.
    2, Although legal, there are morals involved … but … see No.1
    3, Would I use/ buy WooCommerce? Nope, I don’t like Woo bloatware.
    4, I’m Jiggy with it!

  7. Hi,
    Just a quick comment to say that the latest version of Jigoshop (0.9.9) is now available, including the addition of Configurable Products, and work is already starting on version 1.0, just to reinforce the fact that Jigoshop will continue to evolve and improve for a long, long time!
    Dan

  8. Sad to say I had some very bad dealings with Woo and also parted ways with them. Since I was just a “little guy” I think they didn’t hestitate to stomp on me. Won;t touch anything by them now. Ever.

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