mattMullenweg

While WordPress may have started out as blog software, the platform has now truly matured.  Wordpress currently runs over 22% of websites on the Internet and is an application platform which is used in an incredible amount of different ways.  Founder Matt Mullenweg describes WordPress as a ‘kind of web operating system’.

For Matt, the journey in founding WordPress was somewhat unexpected.  As a child growing up in the state of Texas, Matt and his father would spend their recreational time together using computers.  While other children would mainly play outside, Matt connected with his father through the use of technology, and so he grew up with a strong familiarity with computers.

With that said, Matt passions as a teenage lay with Jazz music, of which Matt would later name WordPress releases after.  However in order to afford Jazz lessons with local musicians, Matt would exchange with them his ability to build websites.  Despite the interest in technology, Matt ended up studying political science at university but was able continue to honing his programming abilities on the side.  In particular Matt created his own photo blog, PhotoMatt, which he used to display photos from his other artistic hobby, photography.

As for WordPress, it did not exist yet, and at the time Matt was a hobbyist user of it’s precursor, b2/cafelog, an open source blog software.  As an 19 year old enthusiast, Matt would sneak into bars where b2/cafelog meetings were being held, and then socialise with the mostly older female users.  He was active on the b2/cafelog forums under the pseudonym of “saxmatt” in homage to the saxaphone, and began contributing code which he was asked to commit to the main release.  Matt recalls that moment as euphoric, giving him a rush greater than any chemical substance.

However b2/cafelog was not to last and the author of it Michel Valdrighi from Corsica mysteriously disappeared from the Internet for months.  Matt made a post on the forums about ‘forking’ the b2/cafelog, and another forum user Mike Little, who mat had never met before replied “If you’re serious about forking b2 I would be interested in contributing”.  Thus WordPress was born.

Though WordPress might have billions of users now, momentum in the initial WordPress versions would take time to gather.  To help publicise WordPress, Matt would ‘spam’ various internet forums, making posts about WordPress and making helpful suggestions to people that they might want to try the software out.  In the meantime, Michel the original creator of b2/cafelog reappeared and being pleasantly surprised someone else had picked the project up, declared WordPress the official successor and urging users to use it instead.

For Matt, the project remained a time consuming hobby which unexpectedly helped him to get a job at online giant CNET.  Seeing the opportunity, Matt quit university and moved from Texas to the Bay Area.  While the corporate environment at CNET was not ideal, Matt had the opportunity to work with and learn from some some of the best people in the business.  After a year at CNET, and as WordPress continued to gain users, Matt quit in order to start the company he now runs; Automattic.

WordPress itself is managed by the WordPress Foundation, also founded by Matt Mullenweg.  Automattic is a for profit enterprise which manages the enormous WordPress host WordPress.com and develops WordPress add ons such as Akismet and Jetpack.  Matt and Automattic continue however to have a strong contribution to the development of WordPress and the WordPress community.

Setbacks and criticism of WordPress mainly revolve around security concerns.  In response, Matt says that the system is secure so long as WordPress installations are kept up to date via the automated update system.  Thousands of big corporates and government organisations, including top US security agencies use WordPress as their system of choice.  Indeed with such a massive dedicated community, WordPress could have one of the most scrutinised source codes in history and most thoroughly tested.

If anything has helped WordPress become popular though, it’s the features which helped set it apart from the competition.  In particular, features such as plugins and theme which allow developers to create their own add-ons and share them with users.  This has become so popular that WordPress can now boast over 30,000 plugins of which the majority remain free.  Matt himself continues with his belief that while themes may be bought and sold, his preference is that plugins should be noncommercial as it promotes sharing within the community.

As for competitors to WordPress itself, there are many, but none with the userbase and reach of WordPress.   The competitors which include Wix and Weebly, have a combined marketing budget of over $250 million whereas WordPress has zero.  Matt attributes this to the difference between closed-off commercial software and free open source.

As for the future, Matt notes a number of specific challenges including better internationalisation, social media integration and mobile.  But with a recent investment of $160 million at the start of the year, Automattic has a significant war chest to begin expanding its team from the current 240 people to possibly more than double the number.

It is scary to think that WordPress runs over 22% of the Internet, yet historically has only had so few employees.  With far more resources, the sky’s the limit for Matt and the Automattic team.  For Matt, still a young man at 30, he is in WordPress for life and it’s still early days.

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