All posts by Matt

Cost of Spam

Twitter/X is testing charging users $1/year with the idea that will keep out bots and spam. It’s an appealing idea, and charging definitely does introduce a “proof of work” that wasn’t there before, but the history of the web shows this is not really a big deterrent. Domains cost money, usually a lot more than a dollar a year, and millions are used for spam or nefarious purposes. The spammers obviously thought their benefit would be more than the cost of the domain, or they use stolen credit cards and identities. Charging may cause a short-term drop in bots while the bad guys update their scripts, but the value of manipulating X/Twitter is so high I imagine there is already millions of dollars being spent on it.

Long term to keep a platform healthy you really have to take a nuanced look at behavior and content, like Automattic does with Akismet, and have a fairly sophisticated trust and safety operation with great engineers. T&S is really important, not an enemy of progress, which would have been my chief edit to the otherwise exciting The Techno-Optimist Manifesto by Marc Andreessen. (If you missed Marc’s Why AI Will Save the World, that’s also an excellent read with dozens of references you can go down a rabbit hole with.)

Do the work

There’s a way to run a company like managing a government, with reports, surveys, and abstractions.

There’s a way to run a company like building a ship, where every board and seam has to be understood and checked.

Both can be successful, but you need to decide which you want to do.

Preserving Harvard’s Blogging History

This month, Automattic had the privilege of working with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (BKC) to migrate their early 2000s blogging platform over to our Pressable infrastructure. (Pressable is a small host Automattic runs to develop our WP.cloud infrastructure, it gets you all the performance and security of our high-end WP.com plans, but with a more plain-vanilla WP interface.)

The Harvard Blogs network that the Center launched back in 2003 was an important milestone in internet history. It provided a platform for over 1,500 high-impact bloggers—including Harvard students, faculty, fellows, staff, and alumni—to publish and engage in discussion.

We were alerted to BKC’s plans to decommission blogs.harvard.edu by none other than Dave Winer, the pioneering developer behind blogging, RSS, and podcasting, and a Berkman Center fellow from 2003-2004. As BKC shared in their announcement, the network played a formative role for many now-influential bloggers and internet figures. It also contributed to the rise of podcasting and projects like Ushahidi.

When we learned BKC planned to retire the Harvard Blogs platform, we wanted to ensure this valuable archive of early internet culture was preserved. We offered to host the network’s blogs indefinitely so they can remain publicly accessible for years to come.

The Harvard Blogs multisite consisted of around 1,500 blogs. To move it over, we systematically migrated the archive to our servers and then upgraded the network to the latest version of WordPress (we also updated a handful of plugins and themes and tested the updated versions against the original sites hosted by Harvard).

Much like our recent unveiling of the 100 Year Plan for WordPress.com, the preservation of the Harvard Blogs archive demonstrates Automattic’s commitment to protect vital pieces of internet history and culture for generations to come. By preserving these blogs, we hope to inspire future generations of online voices.

There was something really nice about the neighborhood of blogs the Harvard blog network provided that I hope they or another university tries again sometime. Harvard is now 387 years old, I hope these blogs last at least that much longer (that would be 2,410 AD!).

Zeynep Tufekci has a great article, One Thing Not to Fear at Burning Man, that covers well what I have experienced as well growing up in Houston through hurricanes and other natural disasters—that in times of need people help each other in ingenious ways.

I Love WordCamps!

One of the cooler things the WordPress community started doing in 2006 was putting on these events we called WordCamps. A big one is about to kick off in National Harbor, Maryland (which is basically Washington DC, but we’re calling it National Harbor for some reason).

You might be wondering where the name came from: Tim O’Reilly, of the O’Reilly books that so many of us learned from, hosted a hacker event called Foo Camp but it had limited capacity, and was therefore something of an exclusive invite (one time I eventually went I slept in a sleeping bag in an office). Tantek Çelik had been invited the year before, but not in 2005, and I had never been invited, so a group of us put together a more “open source” event in response called BarCamp. (The name was an allusion to the foo/bar concept in teaching programming, and the picture on that Wikipedia page was in the living room of my first apartment in San Francisco, as you can tell by the stand-up piano and Thelonious Monk poster.)

Foo had the idea of a conference created on-the-fly by its organizers, and also had a radical event where there wasn’t even lodging but all that mattered was getting people together. Bar took that format and opened up the invite list, and did it quickly with just a few weeks of planning. They also open sourced the format so BarCamps could be hosted anywhere in the world, and many were. The following year I riffed on that and made the first WordCamp in San Francisco, at the Swedish American Music Hall, the same place Stewart Brand hosted the first hackers conference in the 70s. (We didn’t know that at the time, it was just a coincidence.)

WordCamp took the everyone-is-welcome from Bar, mixed it with the attendees-create-the-conference from Foo, added a little more structure and planning so we ended up with these really groovy community-organized events all over the world where people come together to learn, contribute, get to know each other, and have fun. WordCamp San Francisco evolved into WordCamp US, our flagpole event for North America. (I like that US can mean “us” as well as United States.) There have been hundreds of WordCamps around the world, and when we were getting started I used to go to all of them; if someone put one together I’d cram into an economy seat and fly there. I can’t make it to all of them anymore, but I still go as many as I can, and they’re some of my favorite days of the entire year.

It’s so cool to see a group of people from the eclectic backgrounds come together because we love making the thing that allows people to make the thing. (WordPress.) You’ll see CEOs of multi-hundred million ARR companies brushing shoulders with techno-anarchists, all brought together by a common hope and belief in the four freedoms of open source and the mission of WordPress—to democratize publishing, put the best tools in the world in the hands of everyone, for free and for freedom.

This year’s WordCamp US is exciting to me for a bunch of reasons. One, I love spending time with other contributors to open source. Second, WordCamp organizers iterate and learn, and so every year I’m excited to see what’s being trialed and what’s improved, because they just keep getting better and better. Third, we’re doing a community summit beforehand for the first time in a while, which is why I’m already in Maryland. Finally, on the amazing schedule are two speakers I’ve invited to bring something new to our milieu.

Ken Liu is one of my favorite sci-fi writers and will be giving an amazing talk weaving together the history of narrative craft and modern publishing and technology. I’ve read almost everything he’s written or translated, and seen him talk once before, and couldn’t be more curious to hear what he’s bringing to the WordPress community.

Simon Willison is an engineer and blogger I’ve followed since the earliest days of WordPress, and recently he’s been one of the most interesting explorers in the new world of AI and LLMs. He’ll be sharing with us how to tap into this new alien intelligence, how it can accelerate our coding, security, and mission to democratize publishing.

So if you ever have a chance to go to a WordCamp, take it! It may be too late for this one, but you can follow the livestream (visit the site once the conference starts), and plan for next year. We also make sure all the talks accessible on WordPress.tv later.

Foo Camps still happen, by the way, and have branched into science and such, and who gets invited is a whole deal. They’re still awesome.

I hope what people see here is that creativity and doing generates more creativity and doing.

Chorus and WordPress

I woke up this morning to a lot of people sending me the link to today’s Axios story reporting that Vox Media (which includes The Verge, New York Magazine, Polygon, and many other outlets) is moving from its proprietary CMS, Chorus, to WordPress VIP, Automattic’s open source solution for large publishers.

This is very exciting—not just for the obvious reasons, but because I’ve been a fan and reader of Vox since they started. As a tool-maker, one of the greatest honors is when fantastic people choose your tools to practice their craft. I’m also sure their feedback will make WordPress better! Vox Media folks, if there were any Chorus features you loved, drop them in the comments and we’ll make sure they can become a plugin or get baked into WP core. And if anyone has built amazing features in other CMSes you’d like to see in WordPress, we’re hiring!

As I said in my recent conversation with Dries Buytaert and Mike Little celebrating WordPress’ 20th anniversary, and with a hat tip to Fight Club, I believe that on a long enough timeline, the survival rate of proprietary software drops to zero. I don’t fault anyone for starting a CMS—I’ve been guilty of that myself a half-dozen times, not counting WordPress—but while something custom-built may seem better for your needs in the beginning, that never lasts. Unless you invest heavily in engineering (like tens of millions per year), the steady improvement of a healthy open source community, like the tens of thousands of developers working on WordPress every day, will eventually catch and surpass any proprietary system.

Not all open source projects achieve the famed positive flywheel; it takes decades, and most will fail in the process. The ones that reach exit velocity, though, become part of the fabric of civilization. At that point, it makes more sense to build on top of them rather than recreate the wheel. You’ll still get where you’re going, it’ll just be a smoother, faster ride.

(Midjourney prompt: A chorus of people using WordPress.)

Whoop Podcast

Whoop is an excellent biometrics bracelet I’ve been wearing for a few months since my friend Jaime Waydo joined as their CTO. After many years of being very in the Garmin 945 camp, I now do an Apple Ultra for all the smart stuff, and Whoop for all the great sleep, HRV, and recovery information that I use to be aware of my energy levels throughout the day, complemented by the Rise sleep and energy tracker app. This has been my ideal combo.

The founder and CEO of Whoop, Will Ahmed, interviewed me for their podcast, which we covered for a more mainstream audience my passion for open source and creating an open ecosystem for a web, how I got started as an entrepreneur, how Automattic hires, growth mindset and mental clarity, working with Joe Hudson as an executive coach, and day-to-day routine (or lack thereof, sometimes).

Apple Journals & Day One

Apple almost never fails to wow, and they had a lot of cool announcements at WWDC yesterday. Apple’s previously favorite (app of the year!) journaling app was Day One, one of Automattic’s products, but they announced their own Journal app. One nice thing about competing with Apple is they only really interoperate with their own devices, and they’re usually not good at social. Day One is launching Shared Journals soon, a social feature so you can have fully end-to-end encrypted shared private journals with friends and family. It’s been the thing I’ve been most excited about since we bought the app. (Paul can attest how much I ask him about it!)

That complements another advantage Day One has, which is being cross-platform. If you have a family member on Android, you don’t want to ostracize them from your Shared Journal. Apple doesn’t care, their priority is getting everyone on the Apple ecosystem. You care, and Day One/Automattic does too, that’s why it works great on all Apple devices, Android devices, and the web itself.

Power of One

I think part of what Mike Little showed with his comment on my blog that led to the creation of WordPress, is that it’s not about how many views you have, how many likes, trying to max all your stats… sometimes a single connection to another human is all that matters.

All it takes is a spark.

That’s what is beautiful about blogging. It’s too bad the advertising and social media platforms got us all caught up in status games for the past 15 years.

All you need is one view, one like, one comment, to change your life.