Last week I did two podcasts around the Calypso news that are both now up, and show very different sides of the announcement. The first was with Brian Krogsgard of the WordPress-focused site Post Status and we talked a lot about the Calypso launch in the context of the WordPress community. The second was the always-fun video group the Gillmor Gang which ranged quite a bit but mostly focused on Calypso in the context of the wider tech world and where we’re going.
This is an oldie but a goodie, Dan Gilbert’s TED talk on the Surprising Science of Happiness.
One of the hardest things to do in technology is disrupt yourself.
But we’re trying our darndest, and have some cool news to introduce today. When I took on the responsibility of CEO of Automattic January of last year, we faced two huge problems: our growth was constrained by lack of capital, and the technological foundations of the past decade weren’t strong enough for the demands of next one.
The first has a relatively straightforward answer. We found some fantastic partners, agreed on a fair price, issued new equity in the company to raise $160M, and started investing in areas we felt were high potential, like this year’s WooCommerce acquisition. This “war chest” gives us a huge array of options, especially given our fairly flat burn rate — we don’t need to raise money again to keep the company going, and any capital we raise in the future will be purely discretionary. (Since last May when the round happened we’ve only spent $3M of the investment on opex.)
The second is much harder to address. The WordPress codebase is actually incredible in many ways — the result of many thousands of people collaborating over 13 years — but some of WordPress’ greatest strengths were also holding it back.
The WordPress codebase contains a sea of institutional knowledge and countless bug fixes. It handles hundreds of edge cases. Integrates constant security improvements. Is coded to scale. Development moves at a fast clip, with six major releases over the past two years and more around the corner. Its power and flexibility is undeniable: WordPress just passed a huge milestone, and now powers 25% of the web. You can run it on a $5-a-month web host, or scale it up to serve billions of pageviews on one of the largest sites on the web, WordPress.com.
The basic paradigms of wp-admin are largely the same as they were five years ago. Working within them had become limiting. The time seemed ripe for something new, something big… but if you’re going to break back compat, it needs to be for a really good reason. A 20x improvement, not a 2x. Most open source projects fade away rather than make evolutionary jumps.
So we asked ourselves a big question. What would we build if we were starting from scratch today, knowing all we’ve learned over the past 13 years of building WordPress? At the beginning of last year, we decided to start experimenting and see.
Today we’re announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it. The project, codenamed Calypso, is the culmination of more than 20 months of work by dozens of the most talented engineers and designers I’ve had the pleasure of working with (127 contributors with over 26,000 commits!).
- Incredibly fast. It’ll charm you.
- 100% API-powered. Those APIs are open, and now available to every developer in the world.
- A great place to read, allowing you to follow sites across the web (even if they’re not using WordPress).
- Social, with stats, likes, and notifications baked in.
- Fully responsive. Make it small and put it in your sidebar, or go full-screen.
- Really fun to write in, especially the drag-and-drop image uploads.
- Fully multi-site for advanced users, so you can manage hundreds of WordPresses from one place.
- Able to manage plugins and themes on Jetpack sites, including auto-upgrading them!
- 100% open source, with all future development happening in the open.
- Available for anyone to adapt to make their own, including building custom interfaces, distributions, or working with web services besides WordPress.com.
This is a beginning, not an ending. (1.0 is the loneliest.) Better things are yet to come, as all of you dig in. Check out these links to read more about Calypso from different perpsectives:
- Download the Mac desktop app, or sign up to be notified about Windows or Linux.
- Learn about Calypso from the developer’s point of view.
- See the user announcement on WordPress.com.
- Browse the GitHub repository.
- Hear about the backstory from Calypso’s lead, Andy Peatling.
This was a huge bet, incredibly risky, and difficult to execute, but it paid off. Like any disruption it is uncomfortable, and I’m sure will be controversial in some circles. What the team has accomplished in such a short time is amazing, and I’m incredibly proud of everyone who has contributed and will contribute in the future. This is the most exciting project I’ve been involved with in my career.
With core WordPress on the server and Calypso as a client I think we have a good chance to bring another 25% of the web onto open source, making the web a more open place, and people’s lives more free.
If you’re curious more about the before and after, what’s changed, here’s a chart:
What’s the coolest uses and applications built on top of WordPress APIs that you’ve seen? I’m looking for some examples to highlight in the State of the Word next month.
I saw the new Steve Jobs movie a few days ago, which I enjoyed as a movie even though the main elements were fiction and it should have been titled something else.
But they had an awesome video interview with the amazing Arthur C. Clarke in 1974, which I’ve embedded above, where he said the following right around 0:56.
Interviewer: I wonder though, what sort of a life will it be in social terms if our whole life is built around the computer, if we become a computer-dependent society, computer-dependent individuals.
ACC: In some ways, but they’ll also enrich our society because it’ll make it possible for us to live anywhere we like. Any businessman, any executive could live almost anywhere on earth and still do his business through a device like this, and this is a wonderful thing, it means we won’t have to be stuck in cities, we can live out in the country or wherever we please, and still carry on complete interaction with human beings, as well as with other computers.
Wow, extremely prescient. Remember, this was 1974! The dominant technology companies of today still follow the same office-centric model as when computers took up entire rooms, but the dominant companies of tomorrow will be built and grow in a completely distributed fashion. (And of course, we’re hiring.)
See also, from 2012: Automattic, Forbes, and the Future of Work.
If you listed the habits of successful people, tracking and measuring would be near the top of that list. I see it with people, companies, and teams that I work with. I see it in my own behavior.
Fred Wilson writes on Tracking and Measuring. Lack of measurement — picking stats and watching them before and after a launch — is one of the most common mistakes I see product teams make, certainly inside of Automattic.