A Look Back at 16 Automattic Acquisitions Since 2007

Since Automattic was founded in 2005, it has acquired several businesses, services, products, and people. In August, the company will be 10 years old and I thought it would be interesting to see if the acquisitions the company has made are still around. The list is organized from earliest to latest.

Gravatar

Gravatar Logo 2 Gravatar stands for globally recognized avatar and is an image that follows you around on the web. This eliminates the hassle of maintaining a visual identity across multiple communities. In 2014, what was supposed to be a Gravatar mobile app, morphed into a Selfies app for Android. Although Gravatar is supported in a number of applications, I think there’s still a lot of work to do before it becomes a globally recognized image. Gravatar was created by Tom Werner and acquired in 2007.

BuddyPress Acqui-hire

BuddyPress LogoBuddyPress was conceived in 2008 by Andy Peatling and started out as a set of plugins to add social networking features to WordPress MU (multi-user). In March of 2008, Peatling was acqui-hired by Automattic and joined the company as an employee. Peatling is not as active in BuddyPress core development, but thanks to John James Jacoby and the community surrounding it, it’s still an actively developed project. BuddyPress 2.2 was released in February and features a new member type API and several bug fixes.

IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate LogoIntenseDebate is a third-party commenting service that showed a lot of promise of being a premiere service to replace the native commenting system in WordPress. It synced comments from the service to the local database to ensure no comments were lost. The service introduced a plugin eco-system in 2009, that I think if given more time, would have helped the service fly past the competition. Unfortunately, development on the service came to a halt somewhere between 2012 and 2013.

IntenseDebate was founded by Isaac Keyet and Jon Fox in 2006 and was acquired by Automattic in 2008.

Polldaddy

polldaddylogo2Polldaddy is a platform agnostic service that lets users create surveys and polls. Polldaddy was founded in 2006 by David Lenehan in Sligo, Ireland and was acquired by Automattic in 2008. Between 2006 and when the company was acquired, about 1 million polls were created and 195 million votes were collected. At the time of Polldaddy’s acquisition, Automattic had about 20 employees.

Blo.gs

blogs logoBlog.gs is a directory of recently updated blogs founded in 2002 by Jim Winstead. In 2005, the company was acquired by Yahoo! and in 2009, transferred to Automattic. According to the announcement, Automattic planned to beef up the service, “We’re looking forward to beefing up the service and giving it a refresh, while continuing its reputation for reliability.” The site’s design hasn’t changed in years and features like search and ping submissions are broken.

After the Deadline

afterthedeadlinelogoAfter the Deadline is a contextual spell checking service created in 2009 by Raphael Mudge. Out of all the acquisitions Automattic has made, Mudge has one of the best acquisition stories I’ve read. After publishing a comment on a Hacker News article showing off how AtD works, Mullenweg got in touch with Mudge and acquired the company in 2009.

Mudge stayed with the company for a few years, but moved on to focus his energy on a new passion, cyber security. AtD is actively developed and is available as a module in Jetpack.

Plinky

PlinkylogoPlinky is a service created by Thing Labs that inspired users to write content. Every day Plinky displayed a prompt with a question, idea, or challenge. Writers answered the challenge using the Plinky editor which made it easy to add rich media and send posts to social media services. Plinky was acquired by Automattic in 2010. In 2014, user registration was disabled and the service was placed into archive mode.

Code Garage

Code Garage LogoCode Garage provided backups, security scanning, and crisis control for WordPress sites. Customers could monitor 5 websites for $25 a month which was more affordable than VaultPress which charged a flat fee per site. Code Garage was founded in 2010 and acquired by Automattic in 2012.

In May of 2013, Code Garage migrated customers to VaultPress and promptly shut the service down in July. As part of the acquisition, Peter Butler, one of the company’s founders, joined Automattic to work with the VaultPress team.

Simperium and Simplenote

Simperiumlogo Simperium is the creator of SimpleNote, a note taking app that is synchronized across platforms. Simperium is a data synchronization service that allows developers to move data everywhere it’s needed. The company was founded in 2010 and acquired by Automattic in 2013.

Poster

Poster Mobile AppPoster was a slick, easy to use, WordPress mobile app for iOS that was founded by Tom Witkin and acquired in 2013. After the acquisition, the app was removed from the App Store and Witkin joined the mobile team at Automattic.

Frederic Lardinois, who wrote about the news on TechCrunch, described the app as, “one of the most elegant and smarter mobile WordPress clients.” The WordPress mobile apps continue to get better, but it’s unclear which improvements have been influenced by Witkin or Poster.

Lean Domain Search

Lean Domain Search LogoLean Domain Search is a service that allows users to find and register domain names. One of its signature features is the domain name generator which suggests domains based on a word or phrase. Lean Domain Search was created by Matt Mazur in 2012 and acquired in 2013. When users find a domain they like, Lean Domain Search provides an option to register it and create a new blog on WordPress.com. Thanks to the acquisition, the service is still available and free to use.

Lean Domain Search Results
Lean Domain Search Results

 

Cloudup

cloudupCloudup is a free file-sharing service founded by Thianh Lu and Guillermo Rauch in 2010 and acquired in 2013. According to TechCrunch, the acquisition was supposed to help Automattic improve two particular features on WordPress.com. The media library used for uploading visual content and co-editing to give multiple users the ability to edit a post at the same time.

Immediately following the deal, the team was tasked with revamping the post editor and replacing the media library on WordPress.com with Cloudup. Although Cloudup has continued to add new features, it has yet to replace the media library or add the ability to edit posts at the same on WordPress.com.

Longreads

longreadsLongreads is dedicated to finding and sharing the best long-form stories on the web. Longreads was founded by Mark Armstrong in 2009 and acquired in 2014. Longreads operates under a paid subscription model with plans ranging from $3-5 per month.

Scroll Kit

scroll-kit Scroll Kit allowed users to create web pages without writing a line of code using a powerful visual editor. It made headlines when co-founder, Cody Brown, recreated the famous Snow Fall piece from the New York Times. Brown said he made the replica site in only an hour, “The New York Times spent hundreds of hours hand-coding ‘Snow Fall.’ We made a replica in an hour.”

Founded by Kate Ray and Cody Brown, Scroll Kit was acquired in 2014. According to an announcement on the Scroll Kit website, Ray and Brown joined the WordPress.com product team. Scroll Kit shut down its service and users had three months to export their content. I’ve never used Scroll Kit, so it’s hard to determine what improvements are influenced by Ray and Brown. We questioned whether Scroll Kit’s editor would be added to the theme editing experience on WordPress.com. As a WordPress.com user, I haven’t noticed any major changes to the theme editing experience since the acquisition.

Parka

Brute Protect LogoParka is the parent company of BruteProtect, a service that provides brute force login protection for thousands of sites. Parka was established in 2013 by Sam Hotchkiss and acquired in 2014. All seven Parka employees joined Automattic and are part of the Jetpack development team.

As part of the acquisition, BruteProtect pro services became free to use. BruteProtect is undergoing a transformation as it’s merged into Jetpack as a module. Merging with Jetpack will give millions of sites free brute force login protection making the web a safer place.

Code For The People

CodeForThePeopleLogoCode For The People is a WordPress development agency based in the United Kingdom and a long time partner of the WordPress.com VIP program. Founded by Simon Dickson and Simon Wheatley, Code For The People was acquired in 2014. All six employees joined Automattic and will help out the VIP team during European hours.

This acquisition is historic for two reasons. The first is that CTFP is the first WordPress development agency to be acquired by Automattic. Second, CFTP employee John Blackbourn was leading the development cycle for WordPress 4.1 when the acquisition occurred, turning him into an Automattic employee.

In addition to talent, they also obtained CFTP’s Babble plugin, an open source multilingual tool, that will continue to be maintained by Automattic. According to TechCrunch, Mullenweg says Babble was a key part of the deal.

Thoughts and Observations

While going through the list of acquisitions Automattic has made over the years, a few things occurred to me. For all the great talent Automattic has acquired, it’s difficult to determine an individual’s influence on WordPress.com products. For instance, as an individual, Tom Witkin created an awesome mobile app for WordPress. Since being acquired, I can’t tell which improvements in the WordPress for iOS app are the result of his work.

Whether it’s due to time, difficulty, or other factors, certain items in some of the acquisition announcements have failed to materialize. A good example is the Cloudup acquisition. Nearly two years after the deal happened, WordPress.com and the self-hosted version still lack the ability to co-edit a post at the same time. There’s also no improvements to the media library I can trace back to the Cloudup team. It’s unclear if these are items still on the priority list or if they’ve been discarded.

Another thing I noticed is that I didn’t recognize most of the businesses, products, and services acquired until after the acquisition announcement was published. It indicates Mullenweg has his eye on up and coming properties doing awesome things in the space. Unfortunately, in some instances, it means the product or service is shut down by Automattic eliminating any opportunity to use it. Poster, Blo.gs, and Scroll Kit immediately come to mind as things I’ll never  have the chance to use.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. We’re at the beginning of a new year and with Automattic raising $160M in 2014, it’s only a matter of time before we read about the next acquisition. Who or what do you think the company will acquire next?

24 Comments


      1. This answers my question, as to why WP Tavern’s posts appear on my Dashboard regularly.
        Driving traffic to a Blog from the Dashboard of over 10Million websites, smart thinking Matt.

        Report


      2. WP Tavern is there because it has been providing top coverage for years, way before the acquisition. And it was listed on the dashboard before the acquisition too (correct me if I’m wrong). WP Tavern owes Jeff for sticking to it for so long, growing a valuable community resource and being in the position to get backing from Matt in the first place.

        It’s hard to fund a site like this with other kinds of sources (ads etc), but it raises the quality of the community which is why it got backing. Ever since the acquisition WP Tavern has gotten better to boot. I can’t think of a site that is more deserving of its place in the dashboard news widget.

        Report


      3. Sorta kinda,

        Last night we had seven (eight counting myself) WordPress folks at our local “Have some beer (call it suds night) get together”. All forms of tech folks, java, database folks, .NET people etc. Eventually it always splinters off into clicks. I tend wander around as I am not a one technology kinda developer. I learned last week for example a ton of fantabulous resources for creating high performance database architectures.

        Last night I mentioned to the seven other WP people there if they saw the info about the aquisition of Woo on the WPT. Two said, “no”. One said what is the WPT and the others all wont even come here. I asked why and was told they feel they have no place here basically. I dug a bit deeper as I dont want piss anyone off, but they basically said that free flow of dialog doesnt happen. I responded to that and said, “Well, its understandable as the site is one of the main outlets of WP information”. The response was generally, “Thats right. They own it so its just a metered blog of promotion.”

        I disagreed. Then one of the people (works for a design firm) asked me if I was aware of stack exchange. Of course. He said more useful information passes through there in a few hours than this place in a week. I told him, yes, development wise certainly.

        So I told them, “look… It was suggested to me by WPT that I actually set up a Blog site as my dialog doesnt often fit WPT, do any of you care author content?”. Three no’s, 1 Yes, 1 maybe and two (the design firm guys) “We have to ask if we can”.

        Go figure. Anyone see paradoxical anything in that? LOL

        Report


      4. Okay I’m sorry. WP Tavern was not bought by Automattic, but instead by Automattic’s Founder, CEO, and President. :)

        Report


  1. Out of that bunch, Gravatar is my favourite. It has an excellent name and I couldn’t imagine an internet without it now.

    The service was kinda crap originally. It was terribly slow and wasn’t scaling well. As soon as Automattic acquired it, the performance shot through the roof and it’s been running beautifully ever since.

    Report


    1. Yeah I love Gravatar. I also use Cloudup on a daily basis mainly for sharing screen grabs.

      Report


  2. Arguably Blogs of the Day is the first acquisition made by Automattic. It was developed by Andy Skelton who went on to be employee number 2 at Automattic. When he joined the company BotD was used on the front page of WordPress.com, and he used the knowledge from the plugin to developer WordPress.com stats.

    Report


  3. Interesting, definitely some great products. I’d like to know whether they lived up to the expectations that led to the acquisitions.

    From the outside it looks like a lack of focus, but it’s hard to tell. For example, with these acquisitions and Jetpack are they chasing the puck or skating to where it’ll be? They’re obviously taking a long view, which is smart, but the danger is that it takes a while to know whether you’re right.

    But it’s hard to innovate without focus. For example, Amazon takes a long view and is now broad, but they’re the best at ecommerce. I’d ask, “What is Automattic the best at? Or what are they trying to be best at?”

    But Jetpack is a smart bet. If WordPress becomes the “OS” of the web, then Jetpack could be its killer app. But to do that it can’t just consist of mediocre features, it’d have to be the best at something. At that point it becomes a gateway drug to a new ecosystem. In this case it makes sense that a lot of their acquisitions improve Jetpack.

    As a foothold into .org, Jetpack is also an insurance policy in case WordPress.com fades away. But at that point I think there’ll be a one-click Heroku-type platform that makes WordPress.org as easy as WordPress.com, but without the limitations–that’s likely the next big opportunity.

    And how cool would that be to build? It’s better to risk boldness than triviality, so we’d have to set it apart. For example, imagine free SSL on all sites, free use of custom domains, selling domain names at cost, unlimited disk space/bandwidth, and monetizing in novel ways that actually add value and don’t feel like costs. And why not? Why do current website platforms have the same old business models? The web has changed, there are new opportunities for monetization. Why not be the Tesla of the website industry?

    Anyway, it’s easy to call it a lack of focus, but it’s way too early to call it. Though I hope we start to something formulate in the next few years because in this business irrelevance is often worse than outright failure.

    Report


  4. I think Automattic should not acquire companies and project that they can not keep operational. It is sad to see Plinky, Blo.gs and IntenseDebate no longer at their former glory

    Report


    1. It’s too much to expect every service acquired will pay off and flourish. But, it is sad to see them left to link rot hell. I’ve been staff at sites which were sold with all kinds of promises and then the next day…. nothing and nothing ever again. Not even an explanation or reason.

      I don’t know why they bought Blo.gs and left it to finish dying after Yahoo had already ignored it. But, it’s hardly something new. Take a look at Technorati, 9 Rules, and so many others which were big and bought and left to decay. Webrings, which was a way of linking sites before social media, died when Yahoo bought it. Some how that even killed off the offshoots like alt.webring and ringlink, etc.

      There are so many services which Automattic could choose from it must be difficult to pick which is a winning horse versus one which will not get past the gate. But, it would be nice if they found some way to re-use them, or at least put them out of their misery rather than stagnating online.

      Report


  5. I don’t mind the end of Intense Debate I just wish Disqus would go away too. Those third party comment services are just the same as having to register to leave a comment. I would rather look for a Twitter link and comment off the site than deal with the mess of Disqus logins.

    I do miss Plinky. It was something a bit fun and simple when you needed a break or something fresh to keep your mind working. Doesn’t WP.com have a blogging prompt though? I thought you would have mentioned that but maybe you don’t know about it. I only remember it once in awhile but they do have some decent stuff, not so different from Plinky.

    Report


    1. Hi Laura,

      You do realise you are using WP.com comments here, which equally pernicious as Disqus. Equally I’m not crying over the convalescence of Intense Debate (although it’s a pity when large companies buy technology to shutter it, whether Apple (Shake), Google (Nik Plugins, on life support), Adobe (RawShooter), Yahoo (Delicious) or Automattic.

      I don’t see any reason why blog owners should have to use a third party service to have decent comment functionality. Improve core comments guys!

      I’ve offered Thoughtful Comments (front end comment moderation and comment caching with years of development and testing behind it on some of the internet’s busiest political sites) to core as free technology. There seems to be little interest in improving core comments unfortunately.

      Report


  6. LDS was a great acquisition and I’m sure has lead to lots of great named WP sites being launched. Matt Mazur also was good acqui-hire. :)

    Report


    1. I think LDS one of the best, if not the best, domain generator out there.

      Report


  7. This kind of post is why WPTavern is the best WP news site since WP news sites exist. Thanks for the memories :)

    Report


  8. Are you going to keep updating this post with acquisitions- it’s very useful.
    WooMattic as the Ma.tt calls it sounds like the biggest one to date

    Report

Comments are closed.