This past weekend, Taylor and I went to WordCamp San Francisco, widely considered the seminal conference for the WordPress community. It usually sets the tone for how and what the community hopes to accomplish in the coming year. This isn’t just a conference for core developers to plan features that will be launched over the next 365 days, but a pulse check for the community.   It’s a place for people who have only worked over email to meet in person for the first time, or for old friends to re-connect once a year over a drink or 10.

Every year, our maned leader Matt Mullenweg, gives a speech where he counts the accomplishments of the year, and his predictions and plans for the next year. We get to learn all kinds of interesting stats about the growth and usage of WordPress. Since there are already a lot of posts, video and other recaps of the speech, I won’t bore you with the numbers.

I do want to spend some time reflecting on what I took away from the conference, and what it means for businesses like ours that are dependent on this software.

The Community grows up into an Ecosystem

Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen WordPress and it’s range of use grow, what started out as a platform to save and publish your thoughts on a blog, slowly changed what the world considered a CMS should be. Ten years ago, the thought of a fortune 500 company using open source software to publish their stories to the masses, would’ve been laughable. Now, if they aren’t, people wonder what’s wrong with them.

 

As WordPress finds itself in these larger organizations, the “pure” nature of the community sometimes feels threatened. We see this with conversations about affiliate systems, hard sells, and promotions at WordCamps. When we sponsored our first WordCamp in 2010, we wanted to give away hosting to the attendees, we were told that doing so would be in conflict with the non-commercial/marketing spirit of the community.  Today, if you attend a WordCamp, it’s hard to find a sponsor that’s not giving away something as a way to entice you as a customer. The initial negative reactions from the community  have changed into accepted practice, and also understood as a necessary part of growing the community.

It’s also not surprising to see people from well known brands sitting next to you at lunch or in a session at these events.

At the same time, companies like WooThemes, GravityForms and PageLines matured and found a market for people who wanted to get things done faster, and were willing to pay for that ability and competitive edge. These commercial ventures were helping freelancers work faster, and charge for their expertise not just in building a website, but also operating a website.  As this happened, people started calling the phenomenon the “WordPress economy”, conferences like PressNomics came to life and were a tremendous success as the focus changed on what to do, and how to think as an operator of a business, rather than just someone who wants to build nice looking websites.

What we’ve witnessed is the rise of a WordPress ecosystem, the community of hobbyists, has grown up and started to make a dent in the world, just as Matt suggested at the end of his talk.

What does this mean? 

First of all, these observations aren’t new, we’ve been thinking about this for a while, and we have some exciting news to share very soon.

Overall, it means faster changes, to the software, and the landscape of commercial ventures around WordPress.

The sale and relaunch of WPDaily as Torque Mag is a good example.  Since we compete with WP Engine, a lot of people asked me about my thoughts about that. For the record I’m not surprised, or worried about it. Publishing a trade publication is standard marketing in other industries, if they do a good job we’ll all benefit. If they don’t.. well, it was a risk they took not me.  After all, Matt owns WP Tavern and the world didn’t stop.

Page.ly acquired Blogdroid,  this is also fairly standard in the hosting world. The fact that money is flowing, is a good thing. It shows confidence in the market.

We’ve also seen development shops merge, and grow, a freelancer finds it cumbersome to look for work and chase down invoices, while the business development guy finds it hard to find good developers on a short notice.  We’re finding out who’s good at what, and finding ways to let them focus on just that.  If everyone was just using WordPress part time, this would never have been possible.

Everyone has strategic reasons for doing things, without knowing the reasons, and the future, it’s impossible to say whether it’s good or bad.  As long as the sellers are happy, that’s all that matters.

This morning, WooThemes shared some changes, in the most transparent way possible.  I whole heartedly agree with and support their changes, it’s clear that we’re all becoming better business people, and finding out who our customers are, and who we want them to be.  The adage “The customer is always right”, only applies when you have something to sell to him.  They’ve decided they will sell to a certain type of customer, and that’s good.

If you take into consideration the roadmap for WordPress 3.7 and 3.8, it’s clear that the focus is not on what can WordPress do, but what the users are able to do with it.

And that’s a good thing.

 

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