MyThemeShop Abuse Review System

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 at 3:09 pm in

angry-blue The WordPress community is built upon the ethics of its many contributors. So it’s a great shame to see MyThemeShop abuse & undermine those principles purely to promote its own products.

WordPress has an enviable reputation with regard to its wider community. From support forums down to documentation, there is a wealth of free help and information provided by users for users. But this community-based system only works if the information supplied is honest and offered freely with the primary intent of helping others.

About a year ago, wordpress.org launched a Review section in its support forums. The premise behind this section is quite simple. As well as giving a theme or plugin a rating based on stars (1 being the lowest and 5 the highest), the reviewer is encouraged to provide feedback as to why they liked (or disliked) a theme or plugin.

Now, I won’t pretend that it’s a perfect system. Overall, the system tends to be skewed towards poor reviews as non-technical users tend to blame the product (rather than their own mistakes) immediately rather than seeking support. But, overall, it’s a reasonable effort to benefit the community by providing honest, user-led, information for those looking for themes or plugins.

At least it was until MyThemeShop decided to deliberately abuse the review system in order to falsely inflate feedback for its own Point theme.

Yesterday, MyThemeShop launched a new “offer” — get one of their commercial themes for free by downloading and reviewing the Point theme (screenshot) — tweeted it & sent out promo emails. At the point when their “offer” was launched, the theme had garnered about 8 mixed reviews. Within hours, this had grown to over 120, mainly 5-star, “reviews”.

Have trawled through them today, it would seem that only a tiny fraction of these “reviews” are genuine. The rest are generic one-liners posted by people keen to claim their “free commercial theme”. That has to be a real kick in the teeth for all the other theme developers who have earned every one of their good reviews with hard slog, a good product and solid support.

Sadly, there aren’t (as yet) any rules within the WordPress community that can be used to stop this kind of behaviour. Previously it seemed inconceivable that anyone would stoop so low just to promote their own commercial business. But, as the saying goes, there’s always one bad apple. And MyThemeShop — with their carefully worded offer — seem to be it.

If this is how MyThemeShop conduct themselves within an open, and otherwise pretty honest, community, it does make me wonder about their business practices behind closed doors.

I, for one, would not touch them with a very long barge pole. I have a certain penchant for ethical suppliers.

What’s your take on this?

3 Comments

  1. Jan Dembowski - October 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I think it’s very dodgy and makes the already imperfect review system even worse. I’m not at the moment replying back to those reviews anymore (I was brought back down to Earth by Mika and Otto on Twitter) but this is awful.

    Here’s a sampling of the reviews left. Yes I am cherry picking.

    This is true that I came across point theme through the promotional offer

    I like that one, at least I can confirm where he came from.

    Got promo email telling me about it and if I installed would get a free premium theme but yet to have gotten it?

    So they did an email marketing campaign as well. That’s good to know. Wonder if he’ll read the instructions again? I wouldn’t want him to miss on the $35 coupon.

    i am getting this after entering coupon code ,theme gridbox????
    The coupon entered is not valid with any product(s) being purchased. No discount will be applied

    So I guess the review was not worth it? The review was left to get a “premium” theme for free right?

    There are many really good commercial quality themes in the repo. Some of them have “premium” versions as well and I was surprised to find a write up about 10 of them on Forbes web site.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2013/10/07/10-best-free-wordpress-themes-of-2013/

    (Note: that site autoplayed an advertisement. The noise made me jump.)

    But I am not aware of any of these theme authors doing something like this. I really hope this idea does not catch on with others.

  2. Ben Robinson - October 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    This is really irritating, it expands well beyond WordPress reviews.

    I ran into the same thing trying to get the straight scoop on the Genesis framework. I’m a developer and I’ve become really comfortable writing my own themes from scratch and digging into the more complex aspects of WordPress like custom posts, etc. I’m not the best developer in the world by any means, but I enjoy the process of creating custom themes, and I generally can make them exactly to what clients need, no more, no less.

    People (usually clients) always talk about Genesis. I haven’t worked heavily with it, but the brief contact I had with it didn’t make me feel that I needed to drop everything I knew about WordPress outside of Genesis and go for it wholeheartedly. Still, I became curious and I wanted to find some reviews by other developers about it before deciding to invest a bunch of time on it, but every single “review” I turned up, even after digging a few pages deep into Google, was dripping with pure enthusiasm — no objective criticism at all.

    I know from experience that no matter how good something is, in terms of web software, there are always downsides, and developers will find them and point them out. After failing to find any objective reviews, I finally emailed an experienced developer whose opinion I trusted, and he confirmed what I’d thought originally: “it’s not necessary if you can write things from scratch already.” I’m not knocking Genesis itself, but the sheer number of affiliate reviews was frustrating and kind of scary. I don’t like the feeling that everything as far as I look is an ad. Objective information, positive and negative, is important.

    I believe it’s actually illegal (in the US) to misrepresent an ad as a review — people aren’t supposed to be able to buy reviews without the reviewer making a note that it is a paid review. If they’re all affiliate reviews, I think they’re required by law to note that (in the US, at least.)

    I feel like there ought to be a way on the WordPress review system for users to flag reviews that seem to be actually affiliate ads. If enough people flag them, a moderator could then take a look and decide if the review would count toward the star count of the theme/plugin or not. It could work like spam/negative reviewed comments on YouTube, where if you really want to, you can still see the comment, but it’s grayed-out by default. People might try to abuse that, too, but if it was moderated and needed at least 5 flags (or something) for the moderator to get notified, I feel like it might work as a good self-policing measure.

    You are a moderator at WordPress, right?

    • Mel - October 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

      You are a moderator at WordPress, right?

      Yes but the policy regarding to reviews is to adopt a hands-off approach most of time, and for good reason, as mods really don’t want to get involved in potential slanging matches between developers and users. The only situations where the mod team intervene wearing their super-power capes is when a review is really disintegrating into pointless back & forth recriminations (not good for the community as a whole) or in cases where it looks like the review system is being abused.

      For the record, a couple of us did bring these Point theme reviews up as they did look very suspicious. However, on further investigation, it was decided that, due to the rather clever wording on both the original (and later edited) MyThemeShop post promoting this offer, this was not a case where we could intervene. :-(

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