Wired had an article out last month called Spam + Blogs = Trouble where I share some of my perspectives on the whole spam thing. It’s a good article, but I strongly disagree with Anil’s comments at the end around a global identifier or “Internet Social Security number.” Akismet has shown we don’t need to boil the ocean or make commenters jump through hoops to get effective spam protection on blogs (and blog hosting services).
The best thing that can ever happen to a web service is to have passionate users. Users that notice and email you the second there’s a database problem, users that really push the limits of what you can provide, and users that are phenomally successful and bring thousands of others to your doors.
As a service provider, you have a strong responsibility to these folks. They’re putting their life online with you, they deserve nothing less than 100% uptime. They tell all their friends to try you out, they deserve for the experience of the hundred thousandth user to be as great as the tenth. WordPress.com is serving 4.2 million hits a day on a handful of boxes. Akismet has gotten to the point where it’s blocking so many spams every second that any fraction of downtime is very noticable to users. (Like we had this morning.)
At Automattic we’ve always taken this very seriously, and from the bootstrap beginning I planned for it to be sustainable and frugal in the long term. Of course since I moved to San Francisco I’ve talked to dozens of really high-quality investors who were interested in what we were doing, but the bubble model of giant valuations and ultra-rapid growth never really appealed to me.
The growth of WordPress.com and Akismet has outpaced anyone’s expectations. Recently, I made the decision to sell a minority stake in the company to a few select partners who I think are going to bring a lot of value to the business far beyond mere dollars. This isn’t going to change how the business is run, or the people involved with it, but it will allow us to take better advantage of the opportunities before us and also for us to keep our promise to every one of you to maintain a fast, stable, and innovative platform in the long term.
Automattic isn’t going to get fancy SoMA offices, throw huge parties at SxSW, or “get big fast.” We took a small amount of capital to put things that were already growing fast in a stable position, so from month to month you’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’re going to use the money to pre-emptively address scaling issues before they happen, and continue to share everything we can back to the community, like all of the code behind WP.com in WordPress MU, the spellchecking feature we sponsored, free Akismet for 99.9% of users, and a few other goodies we still have up our sleeve. In terms of hiring, we’re still going to grow very deliberately in line with our revenues and focus on the very best and brightest (and BBQ-loving), like Podz.
We’re going to publish more technical details about everything later, and this is already longer than I hoped — I’m sure you folks have some questions. I’m going to do something a little different and turn the comment section here into a FAQ. If you have a question, please post it below. If you want to say “congrats!” or “that sucks!” do it on this entry instead to keep the question and answer flow clean. If a question warrants a long enough answer I might turn it into a separate blog post.
There has been some good response to my Akismet presentation earlier this morning.