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WooCommerce Marks 10 Year Anniversary of Forking Jigoshop

WooCommerce is celebrating 10 years since WooThemes launched the first iteration of the WooCommerce plugin. Paul Maiorana, WooCommerce’s current CEO, covered a few high highlights of the plugin’s rising popularity over the years in his anniversary post. After 16 months in the wild, WooCommerce had been downloaded 500,000 times and passed the 1 million downloads milestone just 137 days later. In 2014, the night before the very first WooConf, the plugin celebrated passing 5 million downloads. It was acquired by Automattic in 2015 in a deal rumored to be more than $20 million.

WooCommerce’s anniversary post, which glossed over its checkered origin story, reignited some of the controversy surrounding the Jigoshop fork. While the post mentions that WooThemes hired two Jigoshop developers “to create a dedicated eCommerce plugin called WooCommerce,” it neglected to mention that the initial version was actually a fork of Jigoshop. WooThemes had convinced Mike Jolley and Jay Koster to fork the work they had done for their previous employer, Jigowatt, after failing to make a deal with the Jigowatt team.

In a post titled “Our forking views,” the remaining Jigoshop team shed some light on what transpired privately before WooThemes announced its fork:

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.

WooThemes was well within its rights to fork the open source Jigoshop code, but convincing some of its key developers to leave the project essentially forked Jigoshop out of its momentum and fractured its user base. It’s clear from the reactions to the WP Candy news post on the topic that many people in the community frowned upon this move at the time. It was one of the most eviscerating, real-world applications of the GPL in the earliest days of WordPress product businesses.

Mike Jolley was interviewed earlier this year by HollerWP. When asked about the Jigoshop fork he said that his job at Jigowatt was 90% client work on e-commerce sites, and “Jigoshop felt more like a side-hustle than anything.” He found it draining to stay on top of both the client work and the open source project. Jigowatt had offered him no shares or vested interest beyond his salary. Jolley said his move to WooThemes “was inevitable” and that he was grateful to continue working on a project that he was passionate about.

In a post titled Lessons learned from the Jigoshop – WooCommerce fiasco, Delicious Brains founder and CEO Brad Touesnard said he agreed Jigowatt had received “a stiff kick in the crotch courtesy of WooThemes,” due to what he perceived to be a fatal error on Jigowatt’s part:

If you are a company with an open source project gaining momentum, your core developers absolutely must have a vested interest in your company. And not 1%. It has to be a good chunk of the pie. Enough that the developers feel your company is also their company. Then if another company comes along to hire them, the developer is much more likely to tell them, “Buy the company or take a hike.”

I think the whole situation would have been different if Mike and Jay owned a piece of the pie and had a vested interest in Jigowatt. In such a case, they most likely would not have entertained employment at WooThemes unless it was part of a buyout deal. 

These events have almost faded from memory for most casual observers after 10 years, but not for those of us who were there to watch it happen. Many of these websites referenced are no longer online but they are available via the Internet Archive.

In 2014, Jigowatt sold Jigoshop to Proxar IT Consulting. The new plugin they launched was available in the official plugin directory until 2020 when removed it, citing a guideline violation.

In 2021, WooCommerce is more of a force than ever before, installed on more than 5 million websites. Merchants around the world are building thriving, profitable businesses on top of WooCommerce and its diverse ecosystem of extensions. Ten years later, it appears the founding partners of Jigowatt have largely moved past the controversy and are now building all of their e-commerce websites with WooCommerce.

“A lot has happened over the past 10 years, and we’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings,” Paul Maiorana said in the anniversary post. The subsequent “trip down memory lane” omits the messy details of forking Jigoshop. The website has now disappeared from the web, with the exception of pages preserved through the Internet Archive. Before the rest of these historical references disappear, it’s good to remember that all the earliest contributors to the Jigoshop open source project were also part of WooCommerce’s “humble beginnings,” even if not formally recognized by the e-commerce powerhouse that benefits from their contributions today.