WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg At SXSW: Blogging Still Booming
In this age of 140-character missives, Facebook “likes,” and on-the-go mobile content consumption, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that blogging had passed its peak, especially since many of the early software players have faded from the scene somewhat.
But, Matt Mullenweg, a founding developer of WordPress and of Automattic, told an audience at SXSW Interactive that signups for WordPress have increased “every single year” and the average length of a blog post has also stayed steady, at about 280 words.
“Certain ideas need to be expressed and a man needs more than 140 characters,” Mullenweg said. He was interviewed by AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher for the session, titled “A Home on the Web: The State of Blogging in 2013.”
When WordPress came onto the blogging scene, in 2005, it was neither the first, nor the most popular blogging platform. The big names then were Blogger, later acquired by Google, and SixApart, which was later merged into SayMedia.
“The interesting thing about WordPress is that we don’t have the most users of any of these services, but we do have the best users,” Mullenweg told the audience. Once bloggers become serious about it, he explained, they generally move to WordPress.
Most Web Advertising Is Ugly
Indeed, many content marketers and advertising-supported online publications — including Search Engine Land and Marketing Land — use WordPress as their content management system. But, although WordPress has become an important tool for marketers, advertisers, and publishers, Mullenweg is dismissive about online advertising, saying it’s just plain ugly in most cases.
“Quality [advertising] hasn’t shifted online,” he said. “Print ads are still infinitely better than anything you see on a website.”
But, if those ads improve — through custom integrations or so-called “native advertising” — Mullenweg would be totally behind that, even though he doesn’t see his role as being part of the advertising and marketing world. “It’s not core to our DNA,” he said. “We’re going to innovate on the platform.”
The Future Of WordPress
That innovation will come in a number of areas, according to Mullenweg. First, the WordPress WYSIWYG visual editor interface leaves much to be desired in its current iteration. One should be able to put images and videos easily into WordPress content, without looking at code, he said, but that’s not currently possible.
Another area of focus will be on connections and people. One “like” from someone you know could mean a thousand times more to you than one from a random stranger, but the current stats-focused analytics don’t reflect that reality. WordPress may also soon be able to push notifications to a site owner’s mobile device whenever comments come in, so they could moderate comments and respond immediately.
Mullenweg says Automattic takes its cues from what it sees users doing on the WordPress platform. “The cool thing about WordPress users in particular is that they tend to be at the very, very bleeding edge,” he said, meaning it’s possible to determine what’s up-and-coming, what users want and need, by observing the current usage. Right now, Twitter embeds are seeing a surge in popularity, though YouTube and still images are still most popular of all.
Asked what sites he thinks are doing the best job using WordPress in the current media environment, Mullenweg mentioned Quartz, a newly-launched publication from Atlantic Media Company. The site stands out because every page is treated as its own entry point, as a sort of home page, at a time when more and more people navigate directly to permalinks shared in social media, rather than finding content via a site’s homepage. Another outstanding example cited by Mullenweg was The Next Web, because of its use of responsive design. “Every new design can and should be totally responsive,” he added.
Is Social Media Competition?
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr, rather than being threats to blogging, are, instead, “the start of the funnel,” that eventually drives “tons of traffic” to blogs. “It used to be half of your traffic came from search engines,” said Mullenweg. Now, social media has “breathed a second wind into blogs.” Fundamentally, he added, “they are about linking out, which is kind of cool.”
Why has WordPress become the default blogging CMS, while its competitors seemed to wither away?, Swisher asked.
“I don’t think they really understood personal publishing. They still don’t. None of those companies do,” he said, adding that people “don’t want their online expression of themselves to look like everyone else’s…. People want control; people want flexibility and freedom and they want things that connect, as well. The nice thing about being an independent company is that we’re Swiss — we can work with anyone and everyone and connect them all together.”
Mullenweg also weighed in on the great work-from-home debate.