BlogWorld Opening Keynote: Matt Mullenwag
Good morning! I hope you guys had a hearty breakfast because with sessions running from 8:45am until after 6pm, we’ve got a long day ahead of us. Actually, I guess you get to go away and read these recaps whenever you want, huh? It’s only me that has to go straight through. Hmm, never mind then.
Staring things off will be a keynote with WordPress developer and Automattic founder Matt Mullenwag. Ed Sussman of Fast Company will be doing the interviewing. A big thanks to Fast Company for the pretty blue pens and note pads they’re handing out. If there’s anything I don’t have enough of it’s promotional pens.
Okay, I’m done being snarky and it’s time to start. Huzzah!
Matt says this is the earliest he’s ever been up in Vegas. Nice. Is he even old enough to gamble? Seriously, how old is this kid? [Twenty three, according to Wikipedia. I feel old again. --Susan]
Matt explains how WordPress got started. At the time he was blogging the world’s worst blog and using Movable Type and taking lots of photos. He switched domains and began using an open source platform and was very happy with it. Over time the software he was using went away and he needed something else. Someone left a comment on his blog encouraging him to create something and he did.
He talks a bit about how he starting working CNET. Basically, they offered him a job with a great salary and said he could work on WordPress most of the time. Sweet deal. He was there for a year before founding Auttomatic. The idea being Automattic was that it was basically a hack. They’ve done two products – Akismet and a hosted version of WordPress. Those two projects are how he makes his money.
He has 18 people working for him. WordPress.com has 1 million global uniques. He’s one of the top 25 biggest sites in the United States.
Ed asks Matt how you stretch 18 people to support that big a site?
Matt responds that there’s a lot of caffeine. They hire very, very deliberately. About two people a quarter. They’re looking for the super stars. Open Source attracts great people. The first two years of WordPress there was no money to be made. People were doing it because they loved it. It wasn’t work, it was fun. They have one support guy for 1 million users. They’re looking for another guy to come and help him out. Heh.
Ed comments about how Matt is the number one "matt" on the Internet. He’s a head of Matt Damon, Matt Drudge, (Matt Cutts!) and everyone else.
What makes a compelling blog?
Matt says when he first approached blogging he thought it was something that was more unique and that it would need very specific tools. You had to have 14 posts on your front page, you had to have trackbacks enabled, etc. But as the media has matured, the one universal thing is that you have to find what’s unique about you and you have to love what you’re blogging about. You have to find that topic that you absolutely cannot NOT blog about. When you find that topic it just flows naturally. You’re thinking about your next blog post in the shower, while you’re putting your kids on the bus, etc.
Matt says the reason he blogs is for the comments. He likes the back and forth. We do too. You should all comment more. Go do it now and come back.
Ed asks what are some of the tricks bloggers can use to get noticed? How do you get visitors?
Matt comments that it might be idealistic but he thinks fantastic, passionate content rises to the top. There’s so much bland stuff and marketing copy out there and we all lose. He often reads the blogs of the people who leave comments on his blog. They support him so he tries to support them back. The beautiful thing is that if you’re following Technorati it makes it easy to find people who are talking about your or your subject area. You can find blogging friends that way.
Ed comments that social media and social networking are very buzzy right now. How do social networks and blogging and bloggers fit in together?
That’s a really good question, says Matt. He’s on a bunch of different social networks because his friends can’t decide on one and are all over the place. His social profiles are kind of crappy. He’s never sure who he should add. He thinks the best profile out there about him is his blog. If someone has a blog, he’ll read 6 months of archives and it will give him an idea of the person that is not possible from something else. He thinks blogs need to become a larger part of social networking profiles. Maybe that’s a widget, maybe that’s Facebook’s note feature on steroids. He doesn’t know. Matt comments that out of the box, WordPress doesn’t do a ton to help people with social networking.
[Just a note: It's almost impossible to hear in here. We're about 10 feet from the exhibition hall with only a curtain to block the noise. Bad planning, people.]
What about the future of WordPress and your company? They’re not the same thing right?
No, they’re not.
Future of WordPress: I think on the WordPress.org site, there are two different directions. On one hand, it’s becoming more of a platform. It’s enabling more of these generic things. People are using it for amazing things. The software is getting small, faster and lighter but what you can do with it is growing up.
The other direction is that WordPress, at its core, is about writing and publishing to the Web. That’s the soul of WordPress. He still thinks in terms of writing on the Web, the tools suck, WordPress especially. You can’t take it offline. The comment system is really rough. There’s no identify that travels with you. There are things that are fundamental about blogging that they’re still not working. Blogging in five years will look nothing like it does right now. We want to make it easier for people to create stuff on the Web. There are a lot of technical barriers that they’re working to break down.
What’s the rough ratio between people doing video blogs vs text blogs? How’s that been going? Are you seeing trends?
Matt comments that some of his favorite blogs are photo-based because they’re rich media while still being scannable. You can’t scan a podcast. He thinks a lot of the video blog content is republished stuff. It’s not original content. It’s hard to upload giant files and code them just right. He’s still a fan of the written word. [Can I get a 'Hell yeah!'? --Susan]
What about Automattic? Where is that going in a year? In five years?
He likes the Craigslist model. If you ask them (Craigslist) why don’t have ads on the site, Craig says it’s because the users didn’t ask for them. That’s what surprises Matt the most about Craigslist — that they listen. A lot of the companies he interacts with are like a bad date. That person just doesn’t stop talking. They never ask you how you feel. There’s no back and forth. They don’t care how your chicken is. Matt wants WordPress to stay in line with their user base. They want to stay as small as possible, but logistically it’s going to get bigger. They’ll always be open source. It’s not a business decision, it’s a philosophical decision.
Are you actively planning strategies as to how you can better monetize? Is that in your forefront?
Making Automattic a for-profit company is a very conscious decision. They just took a small amount of investment money a few years ago, but if you look at the most successful companies, the stuff that’s had the biggest impact, they enable other people to profit. It’s about looking beyond just yourself and helping others. There are forms of advertising that are tasteful and forms of monetization that are tasteful, hopefully we’ll find them. I think you have to find your user model before your business model. They’re making money and they’re growing, but they haven’t found that perfect balance yet.
Question & Answer
This is going to be fun because there are no mics for the people asking the questions. So they have to shout. Heh.
What is WordPress’s mission?
To him, when he first started WP he thought, wow, this is totally going to democratize publishing. Web 2.0 allows for real interaction between people. He calls Open Source the future because it lends itself to the Googles of the world. If we can create a framework that is Open Source that allows not only the software, but the data to be open, that would be very cool. WordPress is a small slice of that. He wants a majority of the content that is published on the Web to be Open Source. They’re trying to find a tool that the world can use to publish with, for free.
How can political bloggers monetize their blogs?
The answer was to start two years ago. It’s one of those things that you have to start early. Political bloggers are incredibly seasonal. You may not catch this round, but for the next one, start now. Find the campaign managers and make friends with them. Learn as much about your readers as possible and then give that information over to the people who are writing your checks. Tell them who your readers are. (Um, ethical question there?)
Ed comments that he’s wondering whether this question gets to the one of the ethical questions which is do you have a hidden agenda where someone might be influencing your blog because they’re paying you money and you don’t make it totally transparent. He thinks that this is potentially an ethical problem with blogging.
Matt chimes back in saying that political blogs monetize terribly. He thinks things that sponsor posts without disclosure can kill blogs. It’s the biggest danger we’ve faced so far. This medium is trustworthy above everything else. Journalists have this code of ethics, but he trusts blogs more because he feels like its closer to the source. Sponsored posts, pay for posts, it can be a really corrupting influence. Your integrity is all you’ve got and once it’s gone, it’s just a matter of price.
Ending things, Matt says there will be a WordPress Meetup tonight at the Hard Rock at 6:30pm if you’re in town.