A wrap party for Automatticians after the WCSF dev day. Photos by Sheri Bigelow.
One of the cornerstones of Automattic’s web-scale infrastructure is a project out of Russia we started using in 2008 called Nginx. Don’t let the sparse website fool you, Nginx (pronounced engine-ex) has been taking high-end websites by storm, and is used on 24% of the top thousand websites (a good chunk of them WordPress). I was very proud of our team helping sponsor and debug SPDY support in the latest release. Hopefully this accelerates the adoption of technology like SPDY that improves the user experience of the web.
As I write this, I’m on my way to Seaside, Florida to see 60+ Automatticians at our yearly meetup. More than sixty… that number astounds me! Automattic has grown so far beyond what I originally imagined and every day I’m amazed by my colleagues and the things they create. Today we’re growing in another way: Automattic has transferred the WordPress trademark to the WordPress Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to promoting and ensuring access to WordPress and related open source projects in perpetuity. This means that the most central piece of WordPress’s identity, its name, is now fully independent from any company.
This is a really big deal.
I want to recognize and applaud the courage and foresight of Automattic’s board, investors, and legal counsel who made this possible: Mike Hirshland, Phil Black, Tony Conrad, Toni Schneider, Gunderson Dettmer. I’d also like to thank Matt Bartus of Dorsey & Whitney for their counsel on the Foundation side. The WordPress brand has grown immeasurably in the past 5 years and it’s not often you see a for-profit company donate one of their most valuable core assets and give up control. However, I know in my heart that this is the right thing for the entire WordPress community, and they followed me on that. It wasn’t easy, but things worth doing seldom are.
When Automattic registered the WordPress trademark back in 2006, we were a small startup of a few people: a business founded largely to enable us to work on WordPress full-time instead of hacking around our day jobs. A lot has changed since then — somehow along the way we ended up with an audience of a quarter billion people — but a lot has stayed the same. We’re still a group of people in love with WordPress and free/open source software and we’re lucky to have figured out a way to contribute to the world and flourish as a business while doing it.
Automattic might not always be under my influence, so from the beginning I envisioned a structure where for-profit, non-profit, and not-just-for-profit could coexist and balance each other out. It’s important for me to know that WordPress will be protected and that the brand will continue to be a beacon of open source freedom regardless of whether any company is as benevolent as Automattic has been thus far. It’s important to me to know that we’ve done the right thing. Hopefully, it’s important to you, too, and you’ll continue your support of WordPress, the WordPress Foundation, and Automattic’s products and services. We couldn’t do it without you!
If you haven’t heard of P2 yet, check out this quick video:
Almost everyone at Automattic is a blogger, but for the first couple of years of the company we didn’t blog much internally. Everything happened over IRC, Skype, and email. (In that order.) Eventually we started a blog that worked like a traditional blog did with long posts and comments, but everyone forgot to visit it until I wrote a quick script on cron job that would email everybody summaries of new posts and comments.
There was a disconnect we couldn’t reconcile: even though our internal blogs didn’t work out most of the company was active on Twitter every day. (WordPress users are some of the most passionate adopters of micro-blogging.)
We found a solution in Prologue which added a posting box to the home page and gave it a Twitter-like feel. Now Automattic had a pulse, a place where the incredible amount of activity was chronicled and captured. It was low-friction and hassle-free, we all started using it more.
But there was still a problem, Prologue was great for status updates but terribly awkward for conversation. P2 solves all this by moving the conversation inline on the homepage. Conversations can be fully threaded using 2.7’s new comment features. Finally the blog started to get so busy we made it real time so you can just leave the page open and new stuff will come in. (It’s hard to describe, so watch the video above.) Seemingly simple changes have increased engagement many-fold: our main P2 now has over 4,700 posts in it with 1,100 of those in the past 60 days.
It completely transformed how Automattic works internally and I think is one of the most valuable things we’ve adopted in the past year. I’m on the road a lot, and sometimes my only connection is checking the mobile-optimized P2 on my iPhone.
I’m excited about P2 partly because blogs provide an incredibly robust infrastructure on which to build more advanced apps and this is a good example of that. I’d love to see more themes that transform what WordPress can do top-to-bottom.
You can get P2 for your WordPress.org blog here, and it’s available for all of WordPress.com too.
Some exciting news today: Yahoo! is transferring blo.gs to Automattic for safekeeping and further development. I’ve been a long-time fan of the service, and it even inspired the early WordPress feature which reordered your blogroll based on update times.
We’re looking forward to beefing up the service and giving it a refresh, while continuing its reputation for reliability. It makes me nostalgic to hear the name “blo.gs” again, I even still have the t-shirt they made for a Feedmesh meetup years ago. (For a big blast from the past, check out the discussion around feedmesh and real-time, distributed updates. Everything old is new again.) Major kudos to Yahoo! for giving us the chance to do so — I think most companies would have just shuttered it.
We’ve also aggregated and organized all that awesome WordCamp footage from around the web, on WordCampTV. There you’ll find videos and slideshows of presentations made by Automattic employees and other WordPress gurus, plus interviews I’ve done with the media and fellow bloggers.
Tune in regularly for fresh content and updates to the WordPress.tv blog.
Imagine what happens if those numbers–on not just any “centralized site” but the one that symbolically and perhaps literally has the attention of the President-elect–start climbing into the five- and six-digits. Before our eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a rebooting of the American political system. [emphasis added]
By using IntenseDebate (and the OpenID framework), the Obama transition is actually enabling a lot of interesting community development to start happening beneath the surface of a threaded discussion. Users get their own “commenter profile” on IntenseDebate, along with reputation points, and they can carry those profiles onto other sites that use the same system. Users can also choose to follow other IntenseDebate users, so if someone is really diligent they could start to gather a group or a crowd around them.
It has even started to make the cable news, as evidenced in this clip.
Pretty exciting! And it’s also a reaffirmation of Automattic’s platform-agnostic approach to Akismet, Gravatar, PollDaddy, and IntenseDebate that although Change.gov uses Expression Engine for their CMS they’ve chosen IntenseDebate for their comments.
For a year or two now, I’ve been minorly obsessed with polls and surveys as a method of lightweight interaction that engages casual users of your website and also can get you some really fun data to play with. I’ve also mentioned at a few WordCamps that a polling plugin is one of the top 10 WordPress plugins in the world. Polls are really popular with WordPress users.
As we started to look at building out our own service for this, it became more obvious that, while on the surface it’s a very simple problem, there’s a lot of hidden complexity and opportunities for some really powerful features under the hood. There are probably a dozen companies addressing this space right now, but as we started to survey the space I was struck by how often I’d see this “PollDaddy” thing pop up.
Two guys in Ireland with a quirky company name were cleaning up with some of the largest and most respected websites using their service on a daily basis. They weren’t the biggest, but they had the high end of the market. It seemed to be the WordPress of the polling space.
I took a secret trip to Sligo and put back a few pints with the team and we decided to make things work. They went to bed every night and woke up every morning thinking about polls and surveys, and were iterating at a great pace. By plugging into Automattic’s experience at creating internet-scale services and the distribution of WordPress.com, I knew we could take Polldaddy to an entirely new level in a relatively short amount of time.
You can read more about the acquisition on the PollDaddy blog, Toni’s blog, and the WP.com blog. I’m super excited to have Lenny and Eoin as part of the Automattic family, and I’m looking forward to seeing the service flourish with its newfound resources.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the product, Intense Debate supercharges the comment section of WordPress blogs and other sites with cool features like threading, reply by email, voting, reputation, and global profiles. There are a few companies tackling this space right now, but I was impressed with how much ID (Intense Debate) has been able to do with a small team, and happy to find that their common platform (PHP and MySQL) would make integration a lot easier.
Going forward, the plan is to keep Intense Debate available as a platform-agnostic independent service, much like Akismet. We’ll start to integrate its features into WordPress core, WordPress.com, and Gravatar as appropriate. For example, comment threading is going to be in WordPress 2.7, but reply by email is a lot easier to implement on a hosted service like WordPress.com. We’re also going to be able to lend our expertise in scaling to the ID team to make sure their users enjoy the same hassle-free speed and bulletproof availability as users of other Automattic services.
Long-term, I think that comments are the most crucial interaction point for blogs, and an area that deserves a lot of investment and innovation. Comments really haven’t changed in a decade, and it’s time to spice things up a little.
We were early in the space with investing in Akismet to solve the spam problem, but now I think the real growth opportunities are in the user interaction and social features across comments. There is a huge opportunity to increase the traffic and engagement of blogs significantly. WordPress.com alone already gets about three legitimate comments every second — more than a quarter of a million every day. I’m excited to see what the Intense Debate team can do to make things more interesting.
Raanan Bar-Cohen is joining Automattic from Dow Jones. He’s got a disclaimer in his sidebar, “This site is not maintained utilizing the author’s employer’s resources or on company time.” Little does he know that blogging on company time is a requirement here. 🙂
Demitrious has joined Automattic. Now go guilt him into blogging more. 🙂
Automattic is now accepting applications for two positions, one development and the other systems. For me it’s a dream job because I get to work with the smartest group of people I’ve ever met. Who knows — it might be a good fit for a photomatt.net reader.
Tomorrow, along with the rest of Automattic, I am heading down to La Paz, Mexico for the twice yearly gathering of the company. The virtual company thing is great, but I still think it’s important to get everyone together a few times a year to connect and plan out the next 6-12 months.
Feeling Automattic. Lloyd Budd, of Flock/Mozilla fame, has joined Automattic full-time. 🙂