Category Archives: rant

Infrastructure as Competitive Advantage

There’s an interesting post at GigaOM: Web 2.0, Please Meet Your Host, the Internet. It’s a good read, though could be shorter, but a few things struck me after reading it. I don’t disagree with him per se, I just think the emphasis is on the wrong thing. (Probably for effect.)

Infrastructure can be a competitive advantage today — the speed and reliability of WordPress.com has certainly put us in a favorable light with users, especially large customers — but that’s going to disappear over time. We’re very much at version 0.1 of things like Amazon’s web services and App Engine, but it’s not hard to read the writing on the wall and understand that level of abstraction is going to be the future foundation of web applications. I’m not counting on infrastructure to be a long-term competitive advantage for Automattic.

If you have a few minutes it’s worth reading On Grids, the Ambitions of Amazon and Joyent which has the real definition of a grid and Sunshine, which is worth it for the extended analogies to Greek mythology. (Both end in ads for Joyent.) Also check out Early notes on GoogleApps, Dave Winer groks where this has to go.

Second, Allan describes a case of a DDOS attack hurting a friend’s startup who had very little information about how to stop it:

Unfortunately, the poor site performance was not missed by the blogosphere. The application has suffered from a stream of bad publicity; it’s also missed a major window of opportunity for user adoption, which has sloped significantly downward since the DDOS attack and shows no sign of recovering.

We can all name startups or sites that aren’t particularly known for their performance, but that flourished in spite of it. Twitter and MySpace comes to mind. If we dug a little deeper we could also find thousands of startups who were prepared for the world to show up to their door, and it never did. Building something people want is much harder than scaling it. (In most cases.) If you solve the what-people-want problem, they’ll use you no matter how bad your interface is, how slow your site is, just give them somewhere worth waiting for. I would suspect the friend here isn’t seeing their usage decline because on their Techcrunch day the site wasn’t responsive, it’s that they’re probably still in the before market fit stage.

Third, I am a huge believer in the importance of performance, but most people forget that on the web 80-95% of performance is on the front end not the page generation time. (I realize I’m saying this on a site with a 140kb header graphic. :)) Yahoo has fantastic resources on this. When a website “pops” it probably has very little to do with their underlying server infrastructure and a lot to do with the perceived performance largely driven by how it’s coded at the HTML, CSS, and Javascript level. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons Google Gears is going to change the web as we know it today – LocalServer will obsolete CDNs as we know them. (Look for this in WordPress soonish.)

Finally, for the next few years before we have true utility computing, there are some great “hardware as a service” providers like Layered Tech and Server Beach that essentially handle everything from the power to the network to hardware, and let you take over from the operating system up. This is what we use for WordPress.com, Akismet, WordPress.org, and it’s great. It’s allowed us to focus on what matters — our software and service. You still need a pro like Allan describes to handle things at the OS level (most performance problems I see are badly configured servers, not hardware limitations) but leave networking and hardware to people with economies of scale. This comment nails it.

Update: I’m in a video Rod Boothby did asking What is Cloud Computing, good timing.

Armchair Scaling Experts

random($foo): Internet Asshattery, Armchair Scaling Experts Edition. If you’re not the largest site using a given piece of software or framework and you’re having more trouble than someone who is, you’re doing it wrong.

With WordPress specifically, there are hundreds of sites I can point to that scale just fine to meaningful traffic levels with no caching, plugins, or anything. If your server is tuned for serving static files instead of dynamic requests, then a plugin to make WP output static files is a fine band-aid, but only if you don’t have the access or expertise to properly configure things in the first place. (In which case you should consider alternative hosting, help, or a hosted service like WordPress.com.) But people like to think that (1) they’re bigger or more special than anyone else or (2) that the 5-6 layers that sit under WordPress have nothing to do with its performance.

I don’t expect everyone to know about this, it’s very much a learning-by-doing thing and everyone’s situation is different. But at least operate with the assumption that if there’s someone bigger running without troubles that they (or sufficient Googling) might be able to help you out.

See also: the shockingly ignorant comments (over 200 at this writing) on this post. There are some smart people in there, but they’re drowned out by “wind0z sux!” and “that’s what you get for using (PHP|MySQL|WP|IIS|RDBMS)…”

Here’s a WordPress blog doing just fine:

WordPress is Open Source

Six Apart has recently decided that the best way to win back customers fleeing their platforms is to target WordPress, which is a new strategy they call competing. (What have they been doing the past 7 years?) A good example is this exchange between a commenter on Valleywag and Byrne Reese, the lead developer of Movable Type:

Sundown: “@anildash: what part of WordPress is not open source?”

byrnereese: “@Sunnduwn – I think that is a question better asked of Automattic. Anil, and certainly not Six Apart, has never been briefed, nor has anyone for that matter been presented with an accounting of what is open and closed source at Automattic.”

Okay, here’s some accounting:

WordPress is 100% open source, GPL.

All plugins in the official directory are GPL or compatible, 100% open source.

bbPress is 100% GPL.

WordPress MU is 100% open source, GPL, and if you wanted you could take it and build your own hosted platform like WordPress.com, like edublogs.org has with over 100,000 blogs.

There is more GPL stuff on the way, as well. :)

Could you build Typepad or Vox with Movable Type? Probably not, especially since people with more than a few blogs or posts say it grinds to a halt, as Metblogs found before they switched to WordPress.

Automattic (and other people) can provide full support for GPL software, which is the single license everything we support is under. Movable Type has 8 different licenses and the “open source” one doesn’t allow any support. The community around WordPress is amazing and most people find it more than adequate for their support needs.

Movable Type, which is Six Apart’s only Open Source product line now that they’ve dumped Livejournal, doesn’t even have a public bug tracker, even though they announced it going OS over 9 months ago!

I had held off criticizing them after they went OS and before they decided to start an all-out confrontation because that’s not generally what OS projects do to each other.

For as long as I can remember the WordPress about page has linked and thanked Movable Type for ideas and inspiration.

Movable Type once led the market, it had over 90% marketshare in the self-hosted market. Now they call “pages” and “dynamic publishing”, features WordPress has had for 4+ years, innovation and you still can’t do basic things like click “next posts” at the bottom of home page.

For the record, I’m glad they’ve taken the license of MT in a positive direction that prevents them from betraying their customers like they did with MT3, but they have a long way to go before the project could be considered a community.

WordPress did 3 major releases last year, we’ll do 3 major releases this year. Along the way thousands of people will contribute, as well as every employee of Automattic. What we build will be greater than the sum of its parts because we’ve been a community and open source from the beginning, and always will be.

Percentage of Splogs

I’ve been indicated a few places saying a third of blogs are spam. Someone came up with this by me saying we’ve axed around 800,000 splogs on WordPress.com, and looking at our number of blogs, which is 2.5m.

As for percentage of the total blogosphere, reported by Technorati as north of 100 million, which are splogs, I’d say the number is much higher – probably 80%. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, I just think spammers are very effective at creating hundreds of thousands to millions of blogs, they tend to stick around, and I feel like Technorati’s number doesn’t doesn’t adequately scrub these out.

While I’m making data-less estimates, I’d say there are about 25-30 million non-spam blogs, and about 8-14 million of those are active in terms of getting traffic or new posts. You could cover a meaningful portion of the blogosphere by just indexing 4 or 5 million blogs.

Splogs and blogger attrition are two problems no one really talks about, but that’s okay because I don’t think either is hindering anyone’s growth as measured by metrics that matter, like pageviews or uniques. (Though many of the services supporting so many splogs must have an inordinate amount of resources devoted to them.)

See also: Blog Ping and Spam Statistics, WordPress.com February wrap-up.

Wither Dreamweaver

I’ve done my coding in Dreamweaver for 5+ years now. I think I’m the only one who does so at Automattic, but it’s a good fit for me with the network/SFTP integration, decent PHP highlight, regex search/replace, and good project support. It was a natural transition for me from Homesite. I know there are a thousand other editors that I could use, and I know I shouldn’t be on Windows most of the time, but that’s not what this post is about. I’m utterly appalled by how bad Dreamweaver CS3 is. I paid hundreds of dollars to upgrade to something that consistently crashes when I edit certain parts of PHP files and CTRL + F no longer opens a search box unless I have a document open.

Dear Dreamweaver team, I’ve been putting up with these bugs for close to a year now. I will come down to San Jose and show you the bugs personally. Just please do something, or feign the appearance of movement. For now, I’m switching from CS3 to version 8, which is just sad.