The WordPress.org recommended host page is a valuable piece of real estate. Many rumors have been circulated over the years in regard to how the page is curated and what criteria are used. It was long neglected, then transitioned to two review periods for surveys and analyzing survey data.
From my update in March:
There was a similar survey (maybe the exact survey) that ran last July, and many hosts supplied a bunch of relatively sensitive information to apply to be on the page. Now Matt is asking for it again, presumably because the previous information is out of date.
There is so much ambiguity about that page, it’s frustrating. It’s also one of the first results when you Google “WordPress Hosting” and so the real estate (both due to Google position and being on the official WordPress website) is incredibly valuable. Right now, Bluehost is the only one up — on a “temporary” basis — and it’ been that way for 9 months. I’d be pretty damn happy about that if I were Bluehost — whose parent company EIG is an investor in Automattic.
Well, the page has now been updated, and some clarity to how it was decided who would be listed (this go around at least) has come to attention.
As I tweeted on May 12th (I was actually probably first to note it, but I was traveling so couldn't post about it), the new listed hosts are:
Sidenote: these four names are a clear sign that the use of CamelCase in company names is broken. Long live two word names. Post Status™.
There has, unsurprisingly, been a good bit of feedback regarding the new list. However, the feedback really only surrounds Bluehost's inclusion; I've yet to see anyone that thinks DreamHost, Flywheel, or SiteGround are bad choices.
Bluehost is EIG's flagship property. They are one of the largest hosts in the world. They've invested in Automattic. They are a global WordCamp community sponsor. They are a listed preferred host for WooThemes and WordPress.com (Automattic products).
Kevin Ohashi posted how he was disappointed in the lack of information regarding the selection:
I'm still unhappy with the lack of transparency of the entire process. The most influential place for people entering the WordPress community is recommending one very mediocre hosting company who has historically paid large sums to be listed and has a deep financial relationship with the person ultimately responsible for the recommendations. The revamp didn't change that.
Kevin didn't say anything in that post that wasn't already on others' minds. However, he then did some digging, and also talked to James Huff — a support volunteer and long time Automattic employee who it turns out oversaw the review process — and wrote a follow-up post about his findings, including showing full transcripts of their chat.
The conversation with James and resulting post generated some outrage from James and Kenshino — a co-support volunteer with James — who came to his defense.
Kevin's post definitely ruffled some feathers, and his tone was not the softest I've seen, but he was looking for answers and was unhappy with what he had at hand. Nevertheless, Matt Mullenweg ended up answering Kevin's questions, which was the first time I've seen such direct answers about that page.
In short, Matt clarified that he was the final decision maker and James helped him filter the submissions. And he said that the criteria was ultimately based on Matt's personal choice:
There is no criteria or weighting. It ultimately is one person’s opinion. Information that is important is reflected in the questions asked in the survey, but that is not everything that is taken into account.
Matt also said no money was involved in the decision:
There was no money involved. Obviously being listed on the page is hugely valuable and impacts the listed (or unlisted) businesses a great deal. This is why I take full responsibility for the listing, now and in the future — I have been fortunate to be extraordinarily successful and no financial or business consideration any of the applicants could offer matters to me. A host could offer $100,000,000 to be listed on the page for 1 day, and I would say no.
What is less clear is who, if any of the listed hosts, is donating a portion of proceeds back to the foundation, which is noted on the page.
Nevertheless, I doubt we have the whole story still. There's a good bit of history here, many relationships involved, and WordPress.org is a unique beast. But I do trust Matt at his word with these answers, and the hosting page is better now than it has been in many years.
Kevin and others make many worthwhile points about Bluehost — the low net promoter score at the forefront. But you can't deny that EIG does give a lot back through the foundation and though EIG is a big ship, there are absolutely elements of the company trying really hard to do good stuff. For example, their efforts last year to update millions of WordPress websites were terrific.
I've come to accept that WordPress.org is Matt's website and it's his choice what to do with it. Despite the fact that I'd absolutely love more transparency — and more importantly communication — about decisions that are made on that site, it's up to him to provide it and I can't do much of anything about it. But the website remains the most important web property to WordPress itself, and it will always be heavily, and rightfully, scrutinized.
Meanwhile, Matt says the review process will be ongoing and can change throughout the year. So maybe we'll see changes to that page in the future.