Democratize Publishing, Revisited

During my State of the Word Q&A I received some blogging homework from Toru Miki, a WordPress contributor based in Tokyo. He asked me to revisit the WordPress mission, “Democratize Publishing,” and reflect on what that mission means to me today. So here you go, Toru:

For many years, my definition of “Democratize Publishing” has been simply to help make the web a more open place. That foundation begins with the software itself, as outlined by the Four Freedoms:

0. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.

1. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.

2. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.

3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.

In 2018, the mission of “Democratize Publishing” to me means that people of all backgrounds, interests, and abilities should be able to access Free-as-in-speech software that empowers them to express themselves on the open web and to own their content.

But as Toru noted in the original question, “Democratize Publishing” has come to mean many things to many people in the WordPress community. That’s one reason I like it. The WordPress mission is not just for one person to define.

So I’d like to ask everyone: What does “Democratize Publishing” mean to you?  

25 thoughts on “Democratize Publishing, Revisited

  1. This was my favorite question from the QA’s as it drove home the point that people understand different things in different places (places being regional or situational).

    I’ll play!


    Giving anyone the ability to be heard, anywhere, at any time, without prejudice or judgement, trusting that they do so in a responsible fashion and sustaining an eco-system to allow for doing so, while maintaining a minimum reasonable standard, with intention of bridging any gaps of access or understanding related to that person’s region or personal/situational position, with continuance of adaption to make those standards and associated systems as easy to navigate as possible.

    Above all, upon doing so, allow that/those person(s) unrestricted access to a Community infrastructure to both sustain and improve their position and be able to further offer contribution to help others do the same.

  2. What does “Democratize Publishing” mean to you?

    To me, it means more than just my ability to publish. It’s also my ability to receive what is published. It makes me think back to early online communities I found on queer people and how much I resonated with the stories shared. At its core, I realize that for me it’s very much a two way street – to share and to find. If we are lucky, we get to do both :). As the complexities of the internet grow, I now resonate with it from the longevity point of view more and see the idea in a larger timescale. It’s democratizing YOUR publishing and being in charge of your data for years to come. That’s a powerful act in today’s world particularly when the easiest services to use often take the most from you.

  3. In November, at my WordCamp Bucharest talk, I tried to justify the fact the Gutenberg is coming because we have a mission to “Democratize publishing” and it will bring great things for the majority of people who didn’t afford to buy a page builder.
    Now I realized that I was focused on what this mission has to offer, but not on what it requires, and maybe I should merge the list of ingredients from both categories.

    I bet that when you say “democracy” you think about freedoms and rights like:
    * Freedom of publishing simple content (and diverse now with Gutenberg)
    * Freedom to choose your server, environments, and tools.
    * Ability to own your published content (sorry medium).
    * Right of privacy for your content.
    * Right of accessibility.
    * Ability to get involved in the updates process.
    * Ability to see and extend the code that you are using for publishing.

    But what about obligations; in a democracy, you have to:
    * Respect other people’s rights.
    * Go to vote.
    * Yell when you see a problem.
    * Play by the laws and standard.
    * Learn the rules (and yes, I believe the education is an obligation, not a right).

    Let’s not define only the sweet parts and remember that we can always contribute to this mission, we can still give feedback, respect and sustains the ones who are working very hard so that we can have a publishing platform.

  4. To me, democratizing the web means that people with less access to wealth and resources than those in more developed economies can still, at no cost to themselves, publish their work online and have it be just as accessible as any other website, at least in theory. This is the first time in history such a thing has been possible. It takes on even more meaning when you consider that a democratized web also allows people suffering under repressive regimes to speak freely and anonymously without fear of direct reprisal, and gives them the potential to expose wrongdoing and corruption by their leaders. Thanks to the democratized web, marginalized voices now have a platform that can place them on an equal footing with those who oppress them.

  5. What does “Democratize Publishing” mean to you?

    It sure as hell does not mean having social-justice warriors on staff at Automattic go into lesbians’ blogs, actually rewrite the content therein, then retcon so-called Terms of Service to make the original blog posts retroactively illegal.

    It further does not mean completely deleting lesbians’ blogs because they refuse to reiterate the lie that a man with a penis can be a “lesbian.”

    It certainly doesn’t mean imposing far-left ideology. But that’s what you’re doing. And you guys have an infinite hunger for such censorship and repression. Your idea of democratizing publishing is making it impossible to disagree with far-left ideology. As with Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, PayPal, Stripe, and the entire Silicon Valley monoculture, Automattic and WordPress will not rest until every lesbian, every conservative, everyone who dares to disagree with your young leftist staff on any issue whatsoever is silenced.

    You’ve already begun.

    1. Just pay a hosting provider (such as GoDaddy) to host your website on You can connect it with Jetpack, which is under the same T&Cs as BUT if you violate them, then you won’t be able to use Jetpack, but your site will still function as normal, and nothing else will be affected. As it says in the licence: “The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.”

      (Considering this, you will have to follow the T&Cs of your hosting provider, but they tend to be more relaxed in terms of content.)

    2. You have to wonder if WordPress will have some form of self destruct “feature” that triggers if any conservative thoughts are expressed. 🙂 Kidding. But just as conservatives face discrimination and suppression on campuses across the USA, I’m sure it will continue to happen in WordPress land. As the left says “diversity of thought excellent,” but what is left unsaid is “as long as you agree with our liberal ideologies.”

      1. Fascinating responses, here. From what I’ve read about Yaniv, he seems clearly unbalanced. At least, it’s almost impossible to find any counter-balancing discussion, which is unusual.

        I don’t see WordPress’ actions as sinister or even especially left-wing. There are laws and ethical standards to be upheld; I see WordPress’ actions as doing just that. And I think it makes perfect sense to rewrite a rule in the TOS, using someone’s violation to clarify what is actually intended by the rule.

        As for the bigger picture, it’s tempting to single out extreme examples of behavior, behavior that is not in good faith, and use those examples to shore up one’s dislikes and assumptions. It seems a small leap from “predator” to “no trans rights are legitimate;” It seems a small leap but shouldn’t be a leap at all. The actions of a self-serving individual do not render illegitimate a whole movement to treat a class of people with respect and to recognize their human rights.

        Both the left and right fall for this temptation, but it does nothing to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way.

  6. For me, that has always meant that there will always be a piece of software (WordPress) that is free-from-attachment, that could be used as anyone sees fit to share (publish) information without any repercussion (per the software, of course). To target the democratizing part specifically, it can mean that you always have a “vote” in how it works, since you can freely modify it to work the way you think it should work.

  7. I agree with the comment above, that democratizing means the community has input. That is certainly not the case with Gutenberg, in which Automattic made the decisions top-down. On a recent podcast, you described your leadership of WordPress as that of a “benevolent dictator.” That’s the polar opposite of democratization. If you’re that serious about your mission statement, perhaps you should reconsider this.

      1. Matt, why pretense via this post that you (or even WordPress as an organization) support democratic values? Clearly, as demonstrated throughout the development and deployment of Gutenberg, you have little appreciation for input from the community. I find it insulting that you ask for our input, when you have no intention of changing your position based on feedback.

      2. I’m sorry you feel that way. The entire history of WordPress is one of adapting and changing in response to feedback, and I attribute our success thus far to doing that continually over the past 15 years.

        It is difficult when we choose a direction people don’t agree with and they say we’re not listening, when really really it was a position that was considered and decided against.

  8. Democratize Publishing … I think this sentence is a bit presumptuous.
    WordPress is first of all a software, free and open source where We, the people, deserve a well documented source code (true for PHP but more and more questionable for javascript).

    Have you seen the figures ?
    in 4.9 PHP 183835 lines of code, Javascript 102996.
    in 5.0.2, PHP 191849 lines of code, Javascript 228557.
    Php + 4 %, Javascript + 122 %

  9. I don’t like the word “democratize” because it conjures up “democracy,” which is mob rule. The mob can and will be wrong, sometimes violently so. I would urge more of a republican approach, where each person has the freedom (AKA liberty) to say whatever he wants as long as it is legal. Some times people will say things that others find wrong or offensive, but the antidote is not the repression of speech but more rather the ability for others to offer differing opinions. One of the great strengths of the United States is that it is a republic and not a democracy. I see no valid reason not to take the same approach taken by the Founding Fathers when dealing with online speech.

  10. Clear commentary on community & collaboration. Thank you!

    This Senryū came to mind:

    泥棒を dorobō o
    捕えてみれば toraete mireba
    我が子なり wagako nari
    We catch
    the robber:
    Our own son!

  11. I published my thoughts on this just the other day, in a post called ‘Thank you for creating with WordPress’:

    This is the little blurb at the bottom of WordPress and I thought that it would be rude not to thank WordPress in return.

    Good or bad, it’s been a great year for WordPress. Gutenberg is a major milestone: it future-proofs the platforms and opens up a ton of opportunities.

    My interpretation of ‘Democratize Publishing’ is that it is possible for folk to come together, at a massive scale, to deliver a free, open and awesome product.

    WordPress is the antidote to the hyper commercialisation of the web where scale, centralisation and closed-mindedness (if that’s a word) are creating all sorts of social and economic problems.

    I hope WordPress success will inspire other projects to help democratize… social media, media, etail, finance, etc…

    Happy new year from Australia 🙂

  12. — Once I ditched MS browser for google chrome, WordPress has been smooth sailing for me on my boxing site.

    Some have reservations on Gutenberg as do I. I don’t mind learning new tricks for an improved platform, however in my two decades of using computer software, at least half if not more big “improvements” are not, in fact sometimes being a disaster of unintended consequences. As such I am reluctant to test out Gutenberg for fear of losing my currently easy to use and understand platform before I have to.

    Could WordPress give us a notice of when you roll this thing out? Would we have an option to use our current system while learning Gutenberg?

    Thanks all…Bobby Mac…

  13. It means the ability (at least for now) to install Classic Editor and let tens of my customers continue updating their SMB websites in a way they know. If there was no Gutenberg, I’d probably write a more sophisticated answer.