What a great birthday present for the WordPress user; getting a chance to meet Matt Mullenweg and hear him share the story of WordPress and the vision that has made it a success. Mullenweg was everything I expected he would be based on years of reading his blog, Ma.tt; witty, affable, gracious, humble, team player, smart, inspiring are some of the adjectives that describe this relatively young man who is, according to Bloomberg Business Week, “One of the 25 most influential people on the web.”
In a question-answer chat format at Campbell, CA-based Zurb, Mullenweg emphasized that one thing which makes the WordPress movement different from other open source efforts is their emphasis on making the software easy to use for the non-coder. This movement has picked up steam as the blogging system has evolved into a full-fledged content management system. 1,500 people contributed to code last year. Mullenweg said because these contributors have passion and want to make an impact, WordPress has continued to evolve.
The process has been about learning. For instance, he said that over time, they have improved the development process, starting with testing. With one of the latest releases they were able to perform eye-movement usability studies to improve the user interface.
He called blogs the superglue that ties together various feed inputs and outputs. He expressed concern about fragmentation of the comments among various platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and others . At the same time, he pointed out that fragmentation might be OK, as the conversation is in context in those places.
Regarding advertising, he likes the Facebook and Twitter approach because the ads are endemic to their platforms. He hasn’t seen this sort of ad model, at least at scale, in the blogging world.
With millions of blogs and 360 million unique views per month, Automattic, the for-profit company that Mullenweg leads, is able to generate approximately 1/3 of its revenue from advertising. The remainder of its revenue comes from enterprise hosting and upgrades from users to its WordPress.com site.
Automattic is a prototype of 21st century business organization. Mullenweg said they are a distributed company with 86 people in 72 cities and they are hiring 4 people per week. Hiring the right people is critical. He downplayed the typical interview process and suggested that the only way to really know how people will fit into a culture is to work with them. They do a trial project with all new hires for two to four weeks. This gives them a chance to try each other out.
He said that trust is probably the most important thing to have in a culture. You have to have trust in order to let go, as manager, so that the company can scale; something Mullenweg has learned in real-time.
Trust is also critical to serve and keep the customer. Mullenweg said that,
“The easier you make it to leave, the more likely they will stay.”
One of the unique things about WordPress.com (the Automattic-hosted site) and WordPress.org is that they have always given the users the ability to export their data and control its appearance.
The biggest challenge WordPress has had to maintaining trust is security. The sharp blogger shouldn’t have an issue, but those who don’t upgrade their sites can be vulnerable. Over the years, the WordPress community improved the software and have worked with Google (Web tools) and web hosts (e.g. 1 click upgrade) to simplify the upgrade process. Automattic’s VaultPress provides another layer of protection for self-hosted WordPress sites.
He echoed the words of Everett Christensen, when he said “What makes it worth doing is because it is hard.” He said what motivates him is that he wants to make the software better. He explained that WordPress is the paint brush and the canvas for people to express their stories. These stories and the way people use WordPress to express the human condition inspire him.
Matt’s story is an inspiration, whether we are 12 or 48!
[Thanks Zurb for hosting this special event!]