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Signal and SXSW: What Should I Ask WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg?

By - March 08, 2011

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 6.34.10 PM.pngOn Thursday at Signal Austin, and then again on Friday at SXSWi, I’ll be having an onstage conversation with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, who continues to be the driver of the WordPress community. WordPress is a unique platform – Matt works for Automattic, a for profit company that owns the rights to the hosted version of WordPress, at wordpress.com. There’s also WordPress.org, which is an open source, not-for-profit foundation that boasts a vibrant community of developers and hackers who merrily create hacks, plugins, and any number of patches to the WordPress code.

When WordPress.com was split off into the for-profit company, many were concerned it would quickly become clogged with ads, but Mullenweg and his partners have been extremely careful in how they’ve introduced marketing into the community. Experiments include FoodPress, EcoPressed, and others in partnership with my company, Federated Media, as well as one-off sponsorships with Microsoft around IE9, and some clever use of Google’s AdWords and other ad networks. Clearly media is a business WordPress will get into more, especially with the traffic and uniques it attracts (see chart at bottom).

Instead of advertising, so far WordPress has focused on tools – including a “freemium” model for key plug ins such as backup, polling, and spam protection. But as the platform has grown, it has taken a considerable amount of investment capital, and those investors will at some point demand a significant return. Furthermore, WordPress has earned the dubious honor of being large enough to become a target for hackers with less than honorable intentions (not to mention ongoing battles with black hat spammers).

I could go on and on – I am fascinated by WordPress, as well as by the publishing platform space it inhabits. The same habitat is populated by a clutch of super interesting companies, including Tumblr, which recently surpassed WordPress in pure number of pageviews (though not engaged uniques) and of course Twitter. It’s my sense these three companies are due to run into each other in the marketplace over time, in particular as the independent web matures into a real media play (more on that another time).

But rather than have me ramble on about WordPress and Automattic, instead let me put the question to you: What would you have me ask Matt at Signal and SXSW? Please leave your questions in comments, or tweet them to me at @johnbattelle with the tag #FMSignal or #SXSW. Thanks!   

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3 thoughts on “Signal and SXSW: What Should I Ask WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg?

  1. viscaheel says:

    What does Matt think about Hashable?

  2. WP’s success story is proof that a non-profit online venture isn’t always at the mercy of advertising.

  3. Cory says:

    Missed the Thursday deadline, but here are a few for your Friday conversation:

    1. With the release of JetPack (http://jetpack.me/) WordPress has given free, self-hosted users some of the same benefits that paid, WordPress.com users enjoy. Was this done to highlight the benefits of WordPress.com, keep people using WordPress vs. switching to a competing platform like Tumblr, or just because you could?

    2. TechCrunch was a recent, high-profile convert to the WordPress.com VIP hosting service. Do you notice an increased interest in that service following the shift of major blogs over to the platform?

    3. VaultPress is an incredibly innovative service, and potentially saves bloggers from a whole host of headaches, including managing off-site backups and preventing hackers from destroying a site. This seems like a great way to turn free users into paid usres, so what has the response to the service been to date, and are there any plans for updating the service in the future in response to initial user feedback?

    4. Automattic owns a whole host of great services, including a polling platform, an idea generation service, and a full featured comment system. It feels like many of these services are currently flying under the radar, so is there any plans to promote these services, or focus on them as another way to turn free users into paid users?