Category Archives: WordPress

WordPress at 15

This weekend, May 27, marks the 15th anniversary of the first release of WordPress. It is an understatement to say that I am immensely proud of what this global community has become, and what it has created. More than 30% of the top sites on the web are now powered by WordPress, I’m writing this in our next-generation editor Gutenberg, and every day I meet someone who is building something interesting on WordPress or pushing our shared project in bold new directions. If you can believe it, growth has actually been accelerating.

There’s so much: A group of high school students bands together to build a national movement on WordPress; a president builds the foundation for his own next chapter on WordPress; the current WhiteHouse.gov switches over; or when someone like Hajj Flemings brings thousands of small businesses onto the open web for the first time, with WordPress.

To celebrate #WP15, hundreds of local WordPress communities around the world will be throwing parties. Go here to find a meetup in your area.

I am thankful to Mike for helping make WordPress a reality, many dedicated folks in the years since, and to all of you who are dreaming up the next 15 years. 😄

Many in the open source world are like Moses in that they speak of the Promised Land but will never set foot there. If I spend the rest of my life working and we don’t reach almost all websites being powered by open source and the web being substantially open, I will die content because I already see younger generations picking up the banner.

Facebook Dropping Patent Clause

I am surprised and excited to see the news that Facebook is going to drop the patent clause that I wrote about last week. They’ve announced that with React 16 the license will just be regular MIT with no patent addition. I applaud Facebook for making this move, and I hope that patent clause use is re-examined across all their open source projects.

Our decision to move away from React, based on their previous stance, has sparked a lot of interesting discussions in the WordPress world. Particularly with Gutenberg there may be an approach that allows developers to write Gutenberg blocks (Gutenblocks) in the library of their choice including Preact, Polymer, or Vue, and now React could be an officially-supported option as well.

I want to say thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion thus far, I really appreciate it. The vigorous debate and discussion in the comments here and on Hacker News and Reddit was great for the passion people brought and the opportunity to learn about so many different points of view; it was even better that Facebook was listening.

WordPress 14

IMG_7931.JPG

Today is 14 years from the very first release of WordPress. The interface I’m using to write this (Calypso) is completely unrecognizable from what WordPress looked and worked like even a few years ago. Fourteen years in, I’m waking up every day excited about what’s coming next for us. The progress of the editor and CLI so far this year is awesome, and I’m looking forward to that flowing into improvements for customization and the REST API. Thanks as always to Mike for kicking off this crazy journey, all the people chipping in to make WordPress better, and Konstantin and Erick for surprising me with the cool cake above.

WP Growth Council

In the WordPress world, when we look back an 2016 I think we’ll remember it as the year that we awoke to the importance of marketing. WordPress has always grown organically through word of mouth and its passionate community, but the hundreds of millions being spent advertising against WP has started to have an impact, especially for folks only lightly familiar with us.

I’ve started to hear about a number of folks across many WordPress companies and industries working on this from different angles, some approaching it from an enterprise point of view and some from a consumer point of view. There’s an opportunity for learning from each other, almost like a mastermind group. As the survey says:

Never have there been more threats to the open web and WordPress. Over three hundred million dollars has been spent in 2016 advertising proprietary systems, and even more is happening in investment. No one company in the WP world is large enough to fight this, nor should anyone need to do it on their own. We’d like to bring together organizations that would like to contribute to growing WordPress. It will be a small group, and if you or your organization are interested in being a part please fill out the survey below.

By working together we can amplify our efforts to bring open source to a wider audience, and fulfill WordPress’ mission to truly democratize publishing.

If this sounds interesting to you, apply using this survey.

Dance to Calypso

One of the hardest things to do in technology is disrupt yourself.

But we’re trying our darndest, and have some cool news to introduce today. When I took on the responsibility of CEO of Automattic January of last year, we faced two huge problems: our growth was constrained by lack of capital, and the technological foundations of the past decade weren’t strong enough for the demands of next one.

The first has a relatively straightforward answer. We found some fantastic partners, agreed on a fair price, issued new equity in the company to raise $160M, and started investing in areas we felt were high potential, like this year’s WooCommerce acquisition. This “war chest” gives us a huge array of options, especially given our fairly flat burn rate — we don’t need to raise money again to keep the company going, and any capital we raise in the future will be purely discretionary. (Since last May when the round happened we’ve only spent $3M of the investment on opex.)

The second is much harder to address. The WordPress codebase is actually incredible in many ways — the result of many thousands of people collaborating over 13 years — but some of WordPress’ greatest strengths were also holding it back.

The WordPress codebase contains a sea of institutional knowledge and countless bug fixes. It handles hundreds of edge cases. Integrates constant security improvements. Is coded to scale. Development moves at a fast clip, with six major releases over the past two years and more around the corner. Its power and flexibility is undeniable: WordPress just passed a huge milestone, and now powers 25% of the web. You can run it on a $5-a-month web host, or scale it up to serve billions of pageviews on one of the largest sites on the web, WordPress.com.

The interface, however, has been a struggle. Many of us attempted to give it a reboot with the MP6 project and the version 3.8 release, but what that release made clear to me is that an incremental approach wouldn’t give us the improvements we needed, and that two of the things that helped make WordPress the strong, stable, powerful tool it is — backward compatibility and working without JavaScript — were actually holding it back.

The basic paradigms of wp-admin are largely the same as they were five years ago. Working within them had become limiting. The time seemed ripe for something new, something big… but if you’re going to break back compat, it needs to be for a really good reason. A 20x improvement, not a 2x. Most open source projects fade away rather than make evolutionary jumps.

So we asked ourselves a big question. What would we build if we were starting from scratch today, knowing all we’ve learned over the past 13 years of building WordPress? At the beginning of last year, we decided to start experimenting and see.

Today we’re announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it. The project, codenamed Calypso, is the culmination of more than 20 months of work by dozens of the most talented engineers and designers I’ve had the pleasure of working with (127 contributors with over 26,000 commits!).

gm-2015-final

Calypso is…

  • Incredibly fast. It’ll charm you.
  • Written purely in JavaScript, leveraging libraries like Node and React.
  • 100% API-powered. Those APIs are open, and now available to every developer in the world.
  • A great place to read, allowing you to follow sites across the web (even if they’re not using WordPress).
  • Social, with stats, likes, and notifications baked in.
  • Fully responsive. Make it small and put it in your sidebar, or go full-screen.
  • Really fun to write in, especially the drag-and-drop image uploads.
  • Fully multi-site for advanced users, so you can manage hundreds of WordPresses from one place.
  • Able to manage plugins and themes on Jetpack sites, including auto-upgrading them!
  • 100% open source, with all future development happening in the open.
  • Available for anyone to adapt to make their own, including building custom interfaces, distributions, or working with web services besides WordPress.com.

A lot of people thought we should keep this proprietary, but throughout my life I’ve learned that the more you give away, the more you get back. We still have a ton to figure out around plugins, extensibility, contributions, Windows and Linux releases, API speed, localization, and harmonizing the WordPress.com API and WP-API so it can work with core WordPress. Thousands more PHP developers will need to become fluent with JavaScript to recreate their admin interfaces in this fashion. I’m also really excited to revisit and redesign many more screens now that we have this first version out the door.

This is a beginning, not an ending. (1.0 is the loneliest.) Better things are yet to come, as all of you dig in. Check out these links to read more about Calypso from different perpsectives:

This was a huge bet, incredibly risky, and difficult to execute, but it paid off. Like any disruption it is uncomfortable, and I’m sure will be controversial in some circles. What the team has accomplished in such a short time is amazing, and I’m incredibly proud of everyone who has contributed and will contribute in the future. This is the most exciting project I’ve been involved with in my career.

With core WordPress on the server and Calypso as a client I think we have a good chance to bring another 25% of the web onto open source, making the web a more open place, and people’s lives more free.

If you’re curious more about the before and after, what’s changed, here’s a chart:

Whats-New-WPcom@2x

 

A Bank Website on WordPress

There’s a thread on Quora asking “I am powering a bank’s website using WordPress. What security measures should I take?” The answers have mostly been ignorant junk along the lines of “Oh NOES WP is INSECURE! let me take my money out of that bank”, so I wrote one myself, which I’ve copied below.

I agree there’s probably not a ton of benefit to having the online banking / billpay / etc portion of a bank’s website on WordPress, however there is no reason you couldn’t run the front-end and marketing side of the site on WordPress, and in fact you’d be leveraging WordPress’ strength as a content management platform that is flexible, customizable, and easy to update and maintain.

In terms of security, there are a two simple points:

  1. Make sure you’re on the latest version of core and all the plugins you run, and update as soon as new version become available.
  2. Use strong passwords for all user accounts. For extra credit you could enable a 2-factor plugin, use Jetpack’s WordPress.com login system, or restrict logged-in users to a certain IP range (like behind a VPN).

If your host doesn’t handle it, make sure you stay up-to-date for everything in your stack as well from the OS on up. Most modern WP hosts handle this (and updates) for you, and of course you could always run your site on WordPress.com VIP alongside some of the top sites in the world. If you use any non-core third party code, no harm in having a security firm audit the source as well (an advantage of using open source).

For an example of a beautiful, responsive banking website built on WordPress, check out Gateway Bank of Mesa AZ. WordPress is also trusted to run sites for some of the largest and most security-conscious organizations in the world, including Facebook, SAP, Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, eBay, McAfee, Sophos, GNOME, Mozilla, MIT, Reuters, CNN, Google Ventures, NASA, and literally hundreds more.

As the most widely used CMS in the world, many people use and deploy the open source version of WordPress in a sub-optimal and insecure way, but the same could be said of Linux, Apache, MySQL, Node, Rails, Java, or any widely-used software. It is possible and actually not that hard to run WordPress in a way that is secure enough for a bank, government site, media site, or anything.

If you wanted any help on this feel free to reach out to Automattic as well, we have a decade of experience now dealing with high-risk, high-scale deployments, and also addressing the sort of uninformed FUD you see in this thread.

If you’ve developed a major bank site in WordPress leave a link in the comments.

State of the Word 2014

Yesterday I delivered the State of the Word address to the WordPress community, and the video is already up on WordPress.tv.

Here are the slides if you’d like to view them on their own:

If you just want the bullet points, here are the big things I discussed and announced:

  • There will be 81 WordCamps in 2014.
  • This was the 9th and final WordCamp San Francisco in its current form. We’ve maxed out the venue for years, so next year we’ll do a WordCamp US at a location and date to be determined.
  • Milestone: 2014 was the first year non-English downloads surpassed English downloads of WordPress.
  • 33k took our survey: 7,539 (25%) of survey participants make their living from WordPress. Over 90% of people build more than one site, and spend less than 200 hours building one.
  • We’ve done five major and seven minor releases since the last WCSF, and have had 785 contributors across them.
  • WordPress market share has risen from 19% in 2013 to 23% now.
  • We now have 34k plugins and 2.7k themes, and have enjoyed record activity on both — including plugins passing 1,000,000 commits.
  • 16 releases of our mobile apps, Android and iOS.
  • Code Reference launched.
  • 105 active meetup groups in 21 countries, with over 100 meetup and WordCamp organizers present at the event.
  • Internationalization will be a big focus of the coming year, including fully-localized plugin and theme directories on language sites and embedded on dashboard in version 4.1, which is coming out December 10th.
  • Better stats coming for plugin and theme authors.
  • Version fragmentation is a big challenge for WordPress, only a quarter of users are currently on the latest release.
  •  This is also a problem for PHP — we’ll be working with hosts to help with version fragmentation, as well as to get as many WordPress sites as possible running PHP 5.5 or better.
  • Showed off 2015 theme.
  • We will be testing a workflow for accepting pull requests on our official WordPress Github repository before the end of the year.
  • For the first time in 11 years we’re switching away from IRC as our primary communication method. We’ll be moving to Slack, which has helped us set up so that every member of WordPress.org can use it. (During the keynote address the number of people on Slack surpassed our IRC channels, and is currently over 800 people.) Sign up at chat.wordpress.org.
  • Five for the Future, with Gravity Forms and WPMU Dev committing to donate, and Automattic now at 14 full-time contributors to core and community.
  • We need to work hard to harmonize the REST API plugin and the WordPress.com REST API.
  • The mission of WordPress is to democratize publishing, which means access for everyone regardless of language, geography, gender, wealth, ability, religion, creed, or anything else people might be born with. To do that we need our community to be inclusive and welcoming. There is a sublime beauty in our differences, and they’re as important as the principles that bring us together, like the GPL.

Five for the Future

On Sunday at WordCamp Europe I got a question about how companies contribute back to WordPress, how they’re doing, and what companies should do more of.

First on the state of things: there are more companies genuinely and altruistically contributing to growing WordPress than ever before. In our ecosystem web hosts definitely make the most revenue and profits, and it’s been great to see them stepping up their game, but also the consultancies and agencies around WordPress have been pretty amazing about their people contributions, as demonstrated most recently by the fact the 4.0 and 4.1 release leads both hail from WP agencies (10up and Code for the People, respectively).

I think a good rule of thumb that will scale with the community as it continues to grow is that organizations that want to grow the WordPress pie (and not just their piece of it) should dedicate 5% of their people to working on something to do with core — be it development, documentation, security, support forums, theme reviews, training, testing, translation or whatever it might be that helps move WordPress mission forward.

Five percent doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly. As of today Automattic is 277 people, which means we should have about 14 people contributing full-time. That’s a lot of people to not have on things that are more direct or obvious drivers of the business, and we’re not quite there today, but I’m working on it and hope Automattic can set a good example for this in the community. I think it’s just as hard for a 20-person organization to peel 1 person off.

It’s a big commitment, but I can’t think of a better long-term investment in the health of WordPress overall. I think it will look incredibly modest in hindsight. This ratio is probably the bare minimum for a sustainable ecosystem, avoiding the tragedy of the commons. I think the 5% rule is one that all open source projects and companies should follow, at least if they want to be vibrant a decade from now.

Further reading: There’s been a number of nice blog follow-ups. Post Status has a nice post on Contribution Culture. Ben Metcalf responded but I disagree with pretty much everything even though I’m glad he wrote it. Tony Perez wrote The Vision of Five and What it Means. Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, pointed out his essay Scaling Open Source Communities which I think is really good.

WordPress & Techmeme 100

Whenever I visit a site I can usually tell whether it’s WordPress or not within an instant — there’s just something about a WordPress site that is distinctive. Super-clean permalinks are usually a dead giveaway. One thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately is on my guilty pleasure for tech news, Techmeme, it seems like almost every link I click is to a WordPress-powered site. Fortunately Techmeme provides a leaderboard showing both rank and % of space a site has taken up in headlines in the past thirty days.

The list changes almost every day but went ahead and took a snapshot of the top 100 as of January 16th and ran down the platform for each one, here’s how it ended up:

techmeme-100-cms

WordPress comes in at 43%, custom or bespoke systems at 42%, and then the others. When you take into effect Techmeme’s “presence” factor WP jumps to 48.8% of presence in the top 100 and all Blogsmith, Drupal, Blogspot, Tumblr, and Typepad combined are 8.4%. If you curious of the raw data, here’s the spreadsheet with the platforms.

This is just a snapshot, it’d be interesting to see how this evolves over time. It’s a small slice of the world of websites, but a very influential one. I’ve actually reached out to Gabe Rivera a few times to sponsor the leaderboard page, putting a W logo next to the ones that run WordPress in the table, but nothing has come of it yet.

Thanks to Krutal, Paolo, and MT for help with this.

3.6 and State of the Word

3.6 has been released and has a groovy video to go with it:

It’s been a busy week, WordCamp San Francisco 2013 went off without a hitch. Here’s the State of the Word presentation, which covered quite a bit of material and talks about the plans for WordPress 3.7 and 3.8:

And here’s the question and answer session:

There was a pretty good summary of the presentation in infographic form. A bit more about this next week, and some more announcements in store as well.

Dear WordPress,

Has it really been 10 years? It seems just yesterday we were playing around on my blog, and the blogs of a few high school friends. Two of those friends are married, one isn’t anymore, two are still figuring things out, and one has passed away.

You were cute before you became beautiful. Wearing black and white, afraid of color, trying to be so unassuming. I know you got jealous when I wore those Blogger t-shirts. They were the cool kids at SxSW and I thought maybe you could grow up to be like them.

You wouldn’t have shirts of your own for a few more years. We didn’t know what we were doing when we made them and the logo printed ginormous. People called them the Superman shirt and made fun of them. But, oh, that logo — the curves fit you so well.

You showed the world you were growing up, and how much you cared about design and typography and other platonic ideals. You knew that open source didn’t have to be homely. I stretched myself too thin trying to get you there, and I did a stupid thing to pay for it. I hurt you, but instead of casting me away you held me closer, supported me, gave me another chance. I will never forget that. Akismet made me feel less guilty. I wouldn’t change anything, because the mistake made me understand how important it is to fly straight and take your time.

You’re so beautiful… I’m continually amazed and delighted by how you’ve grown. Your awkward years are behind you. Best of all, through it all, you’ve stuck with the principles that got you started in the first place. You’re always changing but that never changes. You’re unafraid to try new things that may seem wacky or unpopular at first.

I see you all over the world now, glowing from screens, bringing people together at meetups and WordCamps — you’re at your best when you do that. You’re my muse; you inspire me, and I’ve seen you inspire others. You become a part of their life and they become a part of yours. I hope we grow old together.

Cheers to ten years, and here’s to a hundred more.

Love,
Matt

Neil Leifer on WordPress

One of my favorite photographers, Neil Leifer, has a beautiful new WordPress.com-powered site. For the past few years I’ve had this photo in my office:

Ali - Williams (Overhead)

The story behind it is pretty interesting, taken from this interview with Larry Berman and Chris Maher:

Chris/Larry: It’s actually quite a different question to say what are your favorites verses what do you feel are your best photographs.

Neil: I know, and my best picture ever, in my opinion, is my Ali Cleveland Williams picture that I shot from overhead. I don’t usually hang my own photos, I collect other people’s pictures. But that picture’s been hanging in my living room as long as I can remember. I have a 40×40 print of it which is hung in a diamond shape with Williams at the top. That’s the guy that’s on the canvas on his back.

Chris/Larry: It’s remarkably abstract for a sports picture.

Neil: I think it’s the only picture in my career that there’s nothing I would do different with it. You look at pictures and think that you can always improve them no matter how successful the shoot is. Part of what motivates you to go on to the next shoot is every once in a while you get a picture, whether it’s the cover of the magazine or an inside spread, that’s as good as you think you could have made it. And then a week later you see a couple of things that you could improve slightly. A month later you might see a few more things. It doesn’t diminish the quality of that picture. It simply means that there’s always room for improvement.

Chris/Larry: You’re learning for the future?

Neil: Exactly. It’s sort of what motivates you to go on. If I were to do the Cleveland Williams Ali picture again, I would do it exactly the same. And more important is that no one will ever do it better because it can’t be done like that anymore. Today the ring is different and the fighters dress in multi colored outfits like wrestlers. Back then the champ wore white and the challenger wore black.  Today, when you look down at the ring from above, you see the Budweiser Beer logo in the center and around it is the network logo that’s televising the fight. Whether it’s Showtime or HBO, they have their logo two or three times on the canvas. The logo of promoter of the fight, Don King Presents, is also visible. That’s why that picture couldn’t be taken today. So not only did the picture work out better than any I’ve ever taken, but it’s one that’ll never be taken again.

©Neil Leifer

Chris/Larry: Where are you in this picture?

Neil: I’m at 11:00 o’clock, as I remember it. I’m in a blue shirt leaning on the canvas with a camera in each hand.

It’s always an honor to have a great creator make their home on the web with WordPress.

Radically Simplified WordPress

Had an interesting chat with Anil Dash today at the GigaOM/PaidContent conference in NYC, here are some tweets from the talk:

If you’re curious about P2 check out p2theme.com where you can sign up pretty easily.

I learned this from the Complex interview with Young Guru. (Which they present in slideshow format, for some reason.)

A few very kind words from Jay Rosen:

And finally we talked about how WordPress is actually on its third or fourth pivot, as in the most important contributor to growth of the platform changes over time, which turned into this article which has been making the rounds:

WordPress was first for pure blogging, then became embraced as a CMS (though some people still deny this), is seeing growth and innovation in being used as an application platform (I think we’re about a third of the way through that), and just now starting to embrace social and mobile — the fourth phase of our evolution.

As with each of our previous transitions there are large, established, and seemingly unshakable competitors entrenched in the same space. This is good because we can learn from those that came before, as we always have, and good competitors drive you to be better. As before, people will probably not notice what we’re doing at first, or deny it’s happening as folks who still say WordPress “isn’t a CMS.”

Function reforms form, perpetually. As John Borthwick put beautifully today, “A tablet is an incredible device that you can put in front of babies or 95-year-olds and they know how to use it.” How we democratize publishing on that sort of platform will not and should not work like WordPress’ current dashboard does. It’s not a matter of a responsive stylesheet or incremental UX improvements, it’s re-imagining and radically simplifying what we currently do, thinking outside the box of wp-admin.

There are hints of this already happening in our iPhone and Android apps, but even though I’m thinking about this all the time I don’t have all the answers yet — that’s what makes it fun. WordPress is going to turn nine years old this Sunday and I’m as excited to wake up in the morning and work on it as I was the day we started. I think when we turn 10 in 2013 the ways people experience and publish with WordPress will be shorter, simpler, faster.

State of the Word 2011

Just in case you missed yesterday’s State of the Word presentation, it’s now available on WordPress TV:

The slides are also available on Slideshare.

Here are some key takeaways from yesterday:

  • We had over 1,000 people attending WCSF and many more watching the livestream, making it the biggest WordCamp yet.
  • The survey of 18,000 WP users revealed some interesting data, like a median hourly rate of $50 and that 6,800 of the self-employed respondents were responsible for over 170,000 sites personally.
  • WordPress 3.2 had 500,000 downloads in the first two days, representing the fastest upgrade velocity ever.
  • WordPress now has 15,000 plugins and 200 million plugin downloads, and we’re doing a lot of work to make the plugin experience more seamless.
  • 14.7 percent of the top million websites in the world use WordPress.
  • 22 of every 100 active domains created in the U.S. are running WordPress.

In true WordPress fashion, we’ll be open sourcing the raw survey data so people can slice and dice it their own way to find interesting trends or patterns, like breaking down the hourly rates by geography.

Special thanks to Pete Davies, who was responsible for the survey and helping craft the narrative of the keynote, and Michael Pick who did the same and also designed all the slides and animations you saw. Michael is going to prepare a blog post with all of the inspirations and allusions in the slides for those of you curious about the story behind the design.

Update: Raw data and a few other updates are now available on WordPress.org.

The TimThumb Saga

Last week there was a serious flaw found in the code behind TimThumb, an image re-sizing library commonly used in premium themes.* Because the code is commonly embedded in themes it’s not easy to discretely update like it would be if the code were a plugin, and even when a theme is updated people are hesitant to update because they often customize theme code rather than making child themes, so if they were to overwrite their theme with a new version they’d lose their modifications. That, combined with the severity of the flaw, means that this is one of the more serious issues in the WordPress ecosystem in a while, even more than normal because it wasn’t in core.

It could have gone a lot of ways, but the incident brought out the best in the community. The core team sprang into action searching through the theme directory to inoculate any themes that contained the dangerous code. Community blogs quickly got the word out about the problem so people were aware of it. Mark Maunder, who originally discovered and broke down the problem, created a fork of the code called WordThumb that rewrote TimThumb from the ground up. Forking is not usually ideal because it fragments the market for users but Mark soon connected with Ben Gillbanks, long-time WordPress community member, and they’ve teamed forces to release TimThumb 2.0, a collaboration that exemplifies Open Source at its finest. An updated plugin should be in the directory shortly.

It also illustrated the original vision I had behind VaultPress. In addition to reporting early and emailing customers with vulnerable code, the following morning they had devised a way to go in and surgically correct vulnerable code on over seven hundred affected websites. This fixing-problems-while-you-sleep delighted users and is exactly the kind of problem I hoped VaultPress would solve for people and it underscores the core value of the service. If you’re not using VaultPress for your most important websites yet, you should.

* I originally had a long rant here, but here’s the 13-word version: I’ve seen no correlation between how much something costs and its code quality. This is getting better as more people become familiar with the coding standards of core, and PHP in general, but there is still a long way to go. If you want to avoid this in your own code, check out Theme Check and Log Deprecated Notices to start. If you’re looking for code to base your own theme on, it’s best to start with something like 2010 or 2011.

Fifty Million

As noted on TNW and Adweek, yesterday we passed over 50,000,000 websites, blogs, portfolios, stores, pet projects, and of course cat websites powered by WordPress. I had the good fortune to celebrate this milestone with a few hundred WordPressers at WordCamp Montreal yesterday. (During my Town Hall I wasn’t aware we had passed the number until someone shouted from the audience.) It’s always fun to pass a big round number and over the weekend many libations were consumed with friends old and new, but ultimately the press has always been more concerned with those top-line numbers than we have in the WordPress community. More sites being created is a good benchmark for our adoption, but ultimately WordPress matters not for the blogs it creates but for the lives it affects. We have some huge opportunities this year, particularly around making our software more accessible to the next 50 or 500 million people who want to have a voice online, something I hope to talk more about at WordCamp San Francisco next month.

Blogging Drift

The New York Times has a pretty prominent article today called Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter. The title was probably written by an editor, not the author, because as soon as the article gets past the two token teenagers who tumble and Facebook instead of blogging, the stats show all the major blogging services growing — even Blogger whose global “unique visitors rose 9 percent, to 323 million,” meaning it grew about 6 Foursquares last year alone. (In the same timeframe WordPress.com grew about 80 million uniques according to Quantcast.)

Blogging has legs — it’s been growing now for more than a decade, but it’s not a “new thing” anymore. Underneath the data in the article there’s an interesting super-trend that the Times misses: people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online. If you’re reading this blog you probably know the thrill of posting and getting feedback is addictive, and once you have a taste of that it’s hard to go back. You rode a bike before you drove a car, and both opened up your horizons in a way you hadn’t imagined before. That’s why blogging just won’t quit no matter how many times it’s declared dead.

Blogging (with WordPress) is the natural evolution of the lighter publishing methods — at some point you’ll have more to say than fits in 140 characters, is too important to put in Facebook’s generic chrome, or you’ve matured to the point you want more flexibility and control around your words and ideas. (As The Daily What did in their recent switch from Tumblr to WordPress.) You don’t stop using the lighter method, you just complement it — different mediums afford different messages.

Read more: Scott Rosenberg on “Another misleading story”; Mark Evans “Why I Still Love Blogging.”

A New Home for the WordPress Trademark

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!

Syn-thesis 3: Switchers

The biggest after-effect of the Thesis license violation episode seems to be raising people’s awareness of alternatives that are both fully GPL and have better functionally too. One theme that seems to be picking up a ton of new users is Genesis. We helped Laughing Squid and Paul Stamatiou make the switch, but Chris Brogan joined the party completely independently. (All formerly in the Thesis showcase. Scobleizer switched a while back.) I’m excited about this because I think Genesis is a better theme, particularly for its advanced support of WordPress functionality like child themes. (Child themes are the only way you should build your site on top of a framework.)

Even though Thesis has done the bare minimum not to be sued for its license violation and the code it copy/pasted from WordPress, lots of folks including myself still have a bad taste in their mouths from the episode, since there was no apology or contrition shown (like a donation to the WordPress Foundation, which would be a drop in the bucket compared to the millions Thesis made while breaking the GPL). But I think it’s best to focus on the positive.

There is a linkbait from a Thesis affiliate going around asking if I favor certain commercial themes — absolutely yes! Is that a controversial question? Themes WordPress lists on its commercial page go above and beyond bare compliance with the GPL and are full members of the community, sometimes even becoming active in core development like WooThemes has done. As a business, I would feel a lot more comfortable building my online presence on a real enterprise like Woo, StudioPress, iThemes, and many more rather than a one-man-against-the-world operation, regardless of how good its marketing is, or how many affiliates it has.

For Automattic’s part, our theme team has been taking the opportunity to update our blogs stuck on Cutline and Pressrow, which were abandoned by Chris years ago and don’t support any of WordPress’s new features. The first iteration of this is Coraline which is aesthetically is similar to Cutline but under the hood is way better, with multiple layout and sidebar options, color schemes, custom background, per-post custom headers, gallery and asides support, and a few other bonuses. (Unfortunately, the switch had a bug that broke widgets for some sites, but that’s being fixed. We’ll avoid that when switching Pressrow.) A lot of this was kicked off before DIYThemes dodged litigation, but it’s important to continue because we’re building better themes for users who honestly shouldn’t worry about this stuff, they should just have theme that’s current, flexible, functional, and beautiful.