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 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!).
- Incredibly fast. It’ll charm you.
- 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.
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: