A few weeks ago, but what feels like a lifetime ago, I was in New York City with a few dozen extra special people from around the WordPress world. Alongside Josepha and the community we presented this review of how WordPress did in 2022, and vision for what’s coming:
This is a big deal. There are a lot of big deals happening right now, it’s honestly a very exciting time to be in tech. I feel like a sailor in a tumultuous sea, and they should have sent a poet. T. S. Eliot was actually the inspiration for WordPress’ tagline “Code is Poetry” and I’m reminded of this from The Dry Salvages:
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.”
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.
Automattic acquired Pocket Casts last July, and since we’ve been tapping away trying to make the best podcast client for people who love listening to podcasts.
The team has been working really hard to make those clients totally open source and available to the world, and it’s now happened. You can see all the code behind the iOS app and the Android app, and modify it, make it your own, suggest a change, fix a bug, add a feature, fork it and make your own client, anything!
If your code gets merged into core, it’ll go out to users listening to literally millions of hours of podcasts a week. It’s also unusual to be able to peek under the hood of a consumer mobile app that is this widely used and see how it works.
Audio publishing and consumption is a beautiful complement to the web publishing that WordPress is already so good at, and that Automattic tries to nurture an ecosystem around. I love Spotify and Apple, and I hope that Pocket Casts can do for podcast clients what Firefox in the early days and Chromium now does for browsers — push the state of the art, be manically focused on user control, and grow a more decentralized and open web.
If you haven’t tried Pocket Casts yet, install for iOS or Android, and here’s how to import your subscriptions using a format called OPML. (And wouldn’t it be nice if trying out a new social network was that easy?)
Tumblr launched Community Labels yesterday, which allows consistent tagging of addiction, violent, and adult content, and for people to hide, blur, or show that content. It’s gone pretty well so far. We’ve still been getting a lot of questions if it’s going to be free-for-all with adult content again, and the short answer is no, but the longer answer is covered in Why “Go Nuts, Show Nuts” Doesn’t Work in 2022.
If you haven’t tried out Tumblr in a while, check it out. Lots of improvements the past few months, and it can be a refreshing alternative or add-on to your online social life. And get your friends on it too!
WordCamp United States was in San Diego this year, a really lovely town. It felt like a throwback because of the venue we had to limit tickets quite a bit, so it felt like a WCUS from a decade ago.
I’ll probably do this year’s State of the Word in December again with a livestream and small live audience, so for WCUS we did a brief introduction to the upcoming WordPress 6.1 release, and focused on audience Q&A. Those are always fun for me because you never know what question will come next. Here’s the video if you’d like to catch up on it:
If I had to pick one reason why I’d suggest every person should attend Burning Man at least once, it would be the art. (Second reason would be seeing the principles in action.) This year I am particularly excited to support two pieces, the first being the Sonic Sphere which has this great video introducing it:
I got a chance to try out a smaller prototype of this and it was a great experience. You can read a bit about the history of the Kugel Auditorium that this is based on on Ed Cooke’s blog post Which is more memorable, a Bitcoin or a Spherical Concert Hall? The Sphere will be in Deep Playa (what3words).
Another exciting new project is the Empyrean Gate at the Entheos camp, which will be at 3 and Esplanade. Here are some renderings but I can’t wait to see how it turns out in person.
You can now subscribe to updates from this blog in this Telegram channel! Right now it will get updates from Ma.tt and Matt.blog, and hopefully my Tumblr in future once the bot supports that as a content source. If you’d like to set this up for your WordPress site, check out this tutorial on Jetpack.
From a nice new Polygon article, Our favorite Neil Gaiman books, comics, and more:
Before I elaborate — yes, people still use Tumblr and it’s far more popular than most people think. Neil Gaiman has been an active Tumblr user since 2011, and he still actively uses the microblogging platform to this day. This is notable, because celebrities have notoriously been bullied off of Tumblr. Yet somehow, Neil Gaiman has outlived them all, watching from the shadows of his own dashboard.
He keeps his ask box open and answers questions from fans. He gives life and writing advice. He talks about the various adaptations of his works, giving information he is able to give and answering with a signature “wait and see” when he cannot. He plays along with dumb jokes and reblogs additions. He helps fans track down obscure lines he’s written. And as is the reality of the internet, he deals with his share of haters and trolls, but he’s always remarkably graceful toward them.
He also reblogs posts, adding on new information, providing funny commentary, or giving helpful tips (this usually causes some surprise from people who organically stumble upon a comment from Neil Gaiman in the wild, and it’s always really amusing to see).
He’s just a good presence on the internet, which is exceedingly rare to see these days.
I’m seeing more and more people use Tumblr in this way, and it’s nice to be part of making the web a more interesting place. If you haven’t tried Tumblr recently, download the app and start with Neil’s blog as a subscription. Hat tip: Matthew Ryan.
Today is the 19th anniversary since WordPress’ first release, which is especially exciting for a number of reasons:
- The community put together an awesome site celebrating the occasion at wp19.day.
- We just had an awesome 6.0 “Arturo” release.
- Next week June 2-4 WordCamp Europe returns in-person in Porto, Portugal, and I’ll be there and so excited to connect with the community! Tickets are still available.
- Nineteen seems like an in-between number, but actually it’s very salient for me because now WordPress is the same age I was when the first release came out.
- Which means I’ve now been working on WordPress half my life!
Cheers and here’s to many more years together. 🥂
I spoke with Guy Raz about the early days of WordPress and Automattic on the latest episode of “How I Built This (listen on Pocket Casts).” We ended up talking for over four hours and the show has skillfully edited this down to just over an hour. We discussed my time at CNET, how I accidentally invented a new way to spam, why we didn’t sell Automattic, my feelings on Wix and competitors like Shopify (sponsor of this episode, hah, in which I speak about how their dashboard looks just like WordPress’s). Guy pivoted the conversation to grief that came with the loss of my father and challenges we faced during the pandemic. He kept the conversation going effortlessly and I had a great time taping the episode. Thanks to Guy and his team for a great experience.
In a podcast interview they’ve titled How WordPress and Tumblr Are Keeping the Internet Weird (listen on audio here), I spoke with Nilay Patel on economics of abundance vs scarcity, Amitabh Bachchan, the future of Tumblr and adult content, Gutenberg, Promethean app design, web3, NFTs, and more. A nice follow-up to our conversation in 2019.
I usually wouldn’t do a post about this, but I was so surprised I had to share. I picked up a Jabra Evolve2 30 UC wired headset, with USB-C, because my friend Hugo loves the wireless Jabra and I’ve been using an older USB-A headset and thought it would be nice to not need an adapter. I also thought for $89 it must be good. The reviews were also really solid (4.3 on Amazon right now).
Do not buy this headset. There was a constant buzz/hum in the speaker, people sounded lower quality, and the mic also was lower quality. On the plus side, it was a nice build quality and comfort.
For $29 cheaper ($60) the Sennheiser SC 135 USB-C had better speaker, way better mic quality, very nice build and comfort. Get that one instead.
This is an unusually late birthday post (still backdated to January 11). I woke up on my actual birthday and was not feeling it. I was locked down even more strictly than January 2021 because I was trying to be extra cautious prior to a surgery my Mom had later in the month. I was also on a fairly strict diet and exercise regime after slipping into a weight range I wasn’t comfortable with.
So I was feeling extra isolated, had a strange pain in my lower back, and I just felt old all over. I thought of the Drake line, “I’m really too young to be feeling this old.” (Maybe originally from Garth Brooks?)
I meditated with a Daily Calm from Jeff Warren called “The Boggle,” which unfortunately I can’t hotlink but here’s how it starts: Sometimes we’re in the boggle, life is throwing everything at us: complicated situations, complicated relationships, we have all these feelings, all these impulses pulling us in different directions, and we have no idea what to do. No idea how to resolve it all. Even no idea what self-care strategy to implement right now. So what’s interesting about the boggle is that there’s the challenge of the situation itself, or situations, and there’s the added challenge of the confusion of it, the scrambling to make sense of everything. So we’re going to try something different, we’re going to stop scrambling and accept, even forgive, the boggle. We’re going to let ourselves be right here, inside any confusion, and take a break from trying to fix any of it. That’s the itinerary, let’s go. It hit close to home, and I’ve ended up returning to that meditation several times since.
The day really shaped up, though! Friends surprised me with a trip to a Teamlab exhibit at a museum that was closed on Tuesdays but they got opened up just for us. The museum was magical, but the best part was seeing friends I wasn’t expecting to, even if masked and relatively distanced. I wore a new comfy matching tie die outfit too, because, why not? Ended the day with a small dinner with Mom and three friends.
I don’t have any particular wisdom from this birthday except no matter how you feel, take some Advil and keep going.
This year on the personal side I’d like to take more silent retreats, get settled at home and out of liminal states, particularly construction projects, and listen to more operas. On the work side I’d like to set up alternative ecosystems for people tired of the traditional options for social with Tumblr, listening with Pocket Casts, and writing with Day One. (Update: A few weeks after my birthday I announced I’m working on Tumblr full-time.) Finally, I’d like to do my birthday post on time next year, but I’m forgiving myself for prioritizing friends and family that day. 😄
My birthday is coming up soon so it’s that time of the year when friends start reaching out and asking where they should fly to and how we’re going to celebrate.
After a good run in the post-vaccinated-and-boosted part of 2020 that felt relatively “normal”, including traveling almost 200k miles, I’m going back into a pretty locked-down state of things. Omicron has just been catching too many friends and loved ones, even with fairly careful measures and testing. So what’s happening on January 11th?
What I’m asking for my birthday is for people to blog!
Whether professionally on WP.com, socially on Tumblr, or privately journaling with Day One, there’s never been a better time to stop being a passive consumer of the internet and join the class of creators.
Write for a single person. Share something cool you found. Summarize your year. Set a blogging goal with reminders. Get a Gutenberg-native theme and play around with building richer posts. Start a nom de plume. Answer daily prompts on Day One. Forget the metaverse, let’s hang out in the blogosphere. Get your own domain!
If you’re a close friend that feels intimidated by the software at all or that you don’t know where to start, I’m happy to hop on a Zoom to go through everything on a screen share. That will also be a great learning for me for places we can improve things, which is also a fantastic gift!
Which brings to mind Betteridge’s law of headlines (née Hinchliffe’s rule), “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”
I can’t save the internet. But you know who can? A movement. A community of like-minded individuals, unified by a common philosophy, and working together to create tools of freedom.
It’s a human right to be able to see how that technology works and modify it. It’s as key to freedom as freedom of speech or freedom of religion. So that is what I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting for.
Working together we’ve created something special, unlike anything the internet has seen before, and I’m excited to continue.
Thank you to David Pierce for taking such an in-depth look at the history of WordPress and Automattic and talking to dozens of sources. Thank you to the people quoted in the article: Scott Beale, Om Malik, Toni Schneider, Russell Ivanovic, Deven Parekh, Paul Mayne, and Anil Dash. Thank you to Arturo Olmos for the photos, and Odili Donald Odita for the amazing painting behind me.
Update: Here’s the recording!
I’m very excited that we’ll be broadcasting the State of the Word “live from New York City” this coming Tuesday, December 14th! There will be a very small “studio audience” of community members there in person.
Recording the solo version last year was actually one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long time. It’s funny, with a live audience I can comfortably present for an hour no problem, but recording that 25 minute presentation, alone in a room staring at a camera, was an excruciating process over two days and dozens of takes. I got the advice afterward that even if you’re just staring into a camera, it can be helpful to have an “audience” of a few friends in the room.
Even more than that, though, I’m positively giddy to see some of my friends from the WordPress community in person for the first time in several years. Please join via streaming on the 14th, and also there will also be at least 20 watch parties around the globe if there’s one in your neighborhood. Looking forward to catching up, celebrating the community’s accomplishments over the last year, and hopefully raising a torch for our march toward freedom on the web in 2022.
One of my favorite magazines, that I have issues going back to the 40s and 50s, has relaunched and redesigned their site on WordPress and it’s gorgeous. Speaking of great redesigns, the new Grist is pretty great too.
Since Frontity launched their open source framework, they have been making the integration between React and WordPress easier. Their proven drive and experience with clean technological solutions will benefit our efforts as we continue to make the block and theme APIs a joy to use and WordPress the best development platform on the web.
I believe there’s still a lot that we can learn from decoupled systems and we can incorporate those learnings into WordPress itself as we emphasize performance, flexibility, and ease of development. I look forward to Frontity joining WordPress and channeling their efforts into the WordPress APIs, documentation, and Gutenberg’s full-site editing tools.
In February of this year, Automattic closed a new primary funding round of $288M, bringing in some great new partners including BlackRock, Wellington, Schonfeld, and Alta Park. Existing investors ICONIQ and Aglaé (Bernard Arnault) also participated. This round was common stock, and like all funding since 2011, included a proxy assigning me the right to vote the shares.
Automattic was very busy during this time frame, as we were working on what would become the Parse.ly, Day One, and Pocket Casts acquisitions, our investments in Element and Titan, plus more acquisitions and partnerships we haven’t announced yet, so we haven’t mentioned the February funding round until now. And while we are a bit surprised the fundraise did not leak to the press, it’s now been an awkwardly long time since February and I’m pleased to formally announce it now.
And since then, Automattic has continued to grow at a rapid pace and we recently took the opportunity to do a $250M share buyback at a $7.5B valuation that just closed last week. The buyback was primarily targeted at current and former employees.
We’ve grown and increased our valuation at a rate higher than most other alternate investments available to investors. However, some of Automattic’s employees and former employee shareholders have been part of our journey for a very long time. Selling a bit of their equity holdings could have a significant impact on their lives.
Automattic was founded 16 years ago and is still private, so it’s important for us to try to provide liquidity to any shareholder who wants it. We do the same with our internal A12 stock plan where we let our employees buy our shares and also offer an opportunity for all holders to sell them back to Automattic, every quarter. (I need to do a longer post on that.)
One interesting thing we’ve been doing in these buybacks is holding the shares as treasury stock within the company instead of canceling the shares at purchase. This allows us to buy shares that come onto the market, and then when an investor comes and wants to put a larger quantum of capital into the company, we can re-sell the treasury shares that the company bought earlier. In effect, we are providing both a sell-side and buy-side for Automattic stock, serving previous and new investors and making money on these trades since we bought and took the risk earlier. We’ve established a logical valuation methodology, which is based on a simple multiple of the last twelve month’s revenue, so shareholders can track and anticipate performance.
All of this has been a lot of fun and we’ve seen a great amount of success, but it’s not all smooth sailing; we still have our share of challenges, probably the biggest being hiring. We have significantly scaled up our ability to find and hire great folks, with 371 accepted offers already in 2021 and it’s only August. However, with the growth of WooCommerce (hiring a Head of Payments) and our enterprise business, WPVIP, in particular, we need to move faster to keep up with the opportunity. For me and many other of the most-tenured Automatticians within the company hiring is the top priority. To that end, I’m also looking for someone to partner with me and our top executive group (which we call Bridge) in Creative Talent Development, an executive recruiter to help craft the highest performing teams of executives for each of our businesses.
We have a multi-decade opportunity ahead of us to create the best solutions for the open web platform of WordPress, and WooCommerce is doing the same thing for commerce; growing together over the long-term with people passionate about the same mission is my favorite part of my job.