This past weekend, 250 professionals gathered in Phoenix, Arizona for Pressnomics, a three-day event focused on entrepreneurship in the WordPress economy. During the last day, attendees had the opportunity to watch Pagely CEO Joshua Strebel interview Matt Mullenweg. Although the session wasn’t recorded, the audience tweeted out the highlights of the interview, and discussion continued on Twitter.
Strebel pressed Mullenweg on Automattic’s agenda behind Jetpack.
— Yeti Support (@YetiSupport) January 23, 2015
This resulted in one of the most controversial statements to come out of the event:
— Antony McGregor Dey (@antonymd) January 23, 2015
Mullenweg further clarified his statement on Twitter, essentially identifying Jetpack as a tool to bolster the platform against competition. Jetpack allows users to gain access to professionally-supported third party integrations without WordPress being forced to dump all of these features into the core software.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) January 26, 2015
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) January 26, 2015
Jetpack-enabled blogs have more features available to them on the WordPress mobile apps, which are wholly sponsored by Automattic. Many self-hosted WordPress users don’t appreciate the fact that the mobile apps are packed full of WordPress.com features, but, at the moment, there are no superior alternatives. In our most recent interview with Mullenweg, he deftly addressed the friction caused by the preeminence of WordPress.com’s Reader in the app, which he sees as a gateway that simplifies the onboarding process for new users.
I see it as a gateway drug and it gives people more options down the road. If we don’t do anything on mobile, five years from now, when everyone is only using mobile devices, they will all have Squarespace’s or Weebly’s. WordPress is still around but it just doesn’t matter. This allows us to matter five years from now.
With both Jetpack and the mobile apps, Mullenweg sees an opportunity for Automattic to provide functionality that goes beyond the core publishing experience to offer mobile access and connect users with readers and commenters via social networks.
The Road to 50% Market Share
In a recent interview with Adam Silver on the KitchensinkWP podcast, Mullenweg gave a better overall picture of his next goal for WordPress and how he sees the platform reaching more users in the future. The software is currently used on 23.3% of websites worldwide and is on track to reaching 25% before the end of the year. Mullenweg hopes to grow that number to 50%:
The next goal is the majority of websites. We want to get to 50%+ and there’s a lot of work between now and then. As the percentage increases, it gets harder and harder to grow the market share, and we have to grow the market share by doing things we haven’t done in the past – really thinking about the onboarding process, really thinking about the integration with social networks, and with how WordPress works on touch devices, which is going to be the predominant computing platform of the future. These things are going to be really important.
What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do.
With a focus on the onboarding process, integration with social networks, and mobile publishing, Mullenweg is outlining how he sees the mobile apps and Jetpack entering the picture to grow the market share and prevent the decline of the platform.
For Mullenweg, a 50% market share with a growing international user base isn’t a purely business goal, but rather ties back in with WordPress’ mission to democratize publishing with open source software. In response to Silver’s question on whether or not the recent focus on the mission is connected to an increase in non-English downloads, Mullenweg replied:
The big assumption in what we’re doing is that there’s an inherent goodness to the transparency and the ability for people to publish. Of course people use WordPress to publish things I personally disagree with or might find morally odious. But it’s very important that we provide the people the opportunity to have that voice.
By giving everyone equal ability and access to reach the web, you’re a click away from several billion people. But you’re not if you don’t have the tools to really reach them. It’s not hunger or clean water or any of the big problems that society has, climate change, but at least for our little part in it, I think we can make a pretty big dent in it.
Mullenweg knew that WordPress had the potential to have an enormous impact on the world of publishing, even when the software was still batting in the minor leagues. WordPress.com was originally created to help users set up blogs while bypassing what used to be a complicated hosting and installation process. Over the years, as WordPress.com adapted more sophisticated ways of supporting the average WordPress user, the idea of Jetpack was born to connect self-hosted blogs with the same features.
The question is whether or not Jetpack and the mobile apps are the missing link for helping users get connected to billions of people. While Jetpack’s features aren’t necessarily unique, they are professionally-supported and users feel safe banking on the plugin for the foreseeable future.
Mullenweg’s controversial statement about WordPress being in decline without Jetpack was phrased as conjecture, because there’s no objective way to prove this unless you remove Jetpack from the picture entirely. As he further explained in his Twitter reply, the notion is based on witnessing the decline of other publishing systems that aren’t innovating with social or mobile features.
Those who disagree with the statement object to the idea of hinging the success of WordPress’ market share on a plugin produced by a commercial entity. This is especially provocative when it comes to mobile, as Automattic’s agenda to promote WordPress.com features goes unrivaled. Nevertheless, WordPress wouldn’t have a mobile publishing platform without the company’s subsidy of the open source apps.
If WordPress is dependent on Jetpack to continue building its market share to 50%, then the software’s future is inextricably tied to Automattic’s continued success. The company is one of a small few that have the capital to invest in a major plugin like Jetpack along with the ongoing improvement of the mobile apps.
“Last year, Automattic raised a bit more funding than we have in the past,” Mullenweg told Silver in his interview. “It’s actually bigger than most IPO’s. We raised $160 million and that gives us a lot of capital to invest into the community. We’re able to make bigger bets, longer term bets, and it also solidifies us as an independent entity for many years to come.”
The WordPress open source project can still be considered a success in terms of its mission, even if it doesn’t achieve a dominant market share. Tying its growth to Jetpack is a bold statement that eclipses some of WordPress’ best qualities, such as its rigid adherence to protecting user freedoms with the GPL, the strong community of contributors, and the massive ecosystem of products and services surrounding it. The availability of Jetpack may be one factor responsible for WordPress’ growing market share, but I don’t think it’s the sole tool saving WordPress from decline.