PollDaddyPress & Automattic reliance

Matt Mullenweg, the irritatingly youthful founder of WordPress, has announced that his company, Automattic, have purchased the internet polling service PollDaddy, and immediately integrated in into WordPress.com and made a plugin available for self-hosted WordPressers.

I took a secret trip to Sligo and put back a few pints with the team and we decided to make things work. They went to bed every night and woke up every morning thinking about polls and surveys, and were iterating at a great pace. By plugging into Automattic’s experience at creating internet-scale services and the distribution of WordPress.com, I knew we could take Polldaddy to an entirely new level in a relatively short amount of time.

It’s certainly interesting that Automattic are acquiring stuff at the moment in what are testing times for any company, let alone relatively young web startups. Especially when the whole WordPress platform is potentially reliant on this company to keep it on the right tracks, and to keep the development moving forward.

WordPress the platform is open source, which means that the code is available to anyone to use, modify and sell on for themselves – as long as they published their version under the same terms. However, much of the organising of the project, and the hosting of the websites, forums, bug trackers etc is done by Automattic, a company whose main motive, one must assume, is profit. Many other open source projects work in similar ways: much of the development of Linux has been done with the help of big companies like IBM and others, for example. But where a platform is so reliant, as I believe WordPress is, on one company to provide direction, does that company have an obligation to the people that use that code?

Now, I doubt very much that the amount of money that PollDaddy will have cost Automattic will have been that big a deal, and I am sure that Matt, Toni and the other Automattic guys would do anything deliberately to jeapordise their company. I’m just thinking hypothetically – do companies involved in open source have to be more risk-averse, because their failure could potentially damage a far wider group of people that just specific clients.

Or for those using open source, is it a case of downloaders beware?