Automattic Making Money From Other Projects

By other, I mean other than WordPress. We are almost at the end of my series of posts on Automattic, and how the firm makes money. We’ll start by noting that the firm provides a handy summary of its projects. Some of them are covered in earlier posts in this series (e.g., WordPress.com).

There are three non-WordPress projects: Akismet, bbPress, and Gravatar. (Actually, to describe them as “non-WordPress” is to simplify since, as we will see, each has firm connections to WordPress.) I find the first of these the most interesting, and I know I’m not alone in that. Askismet is an ambitious project.

Automattic Kismet (Akismet for short) is a collaborative effort to make comment and trackback spam a non-issue and restore innocence to blogging, so you never have to worry about spam again.

Although Akismet is an Automattic project and is WordPress.com’s spam cop, it is not only for WordPress blogs. The Akismet API is published so that the server can be invoked from other applications.

The Akismet server is unusual among Automattic projects in that it is closed source. This seems to be the norm for spam-fighting server code: it is also true of Akismet’s rivals Defensio and Mollom.

Automattic, as a privately-held firm, is under no obligation to provide details of how much money it makes from specific projects. But Duncan Riley at TechCrunch described Akismet as Automattic’s biggest money earner. Toni, Automattic’s CEO, was quick to counter what he described as “misconceptions,” stating that Akismet is not even close to being Automattic’s biggest earner.

Direct earnings from Akismet come from commercial licenses. Indirect earnings arise from the extent to which Akismet helps convince bloggers to choose WordPress.com.

Moving on to the other other projects, bbPress is forum software. It runs the various WordPress forums. To put it another way, bbPress is the name under which Automattic released the software on which the WordPress.org support forums have been running for years. Automattic intends to offer hosted forums under the name TalkPress (rather as it offers hosted blogging at WordPress.com).

Gravatar is notable among Automattic projects for having been acquired; I believe it to be Automattic’s only acquisition so far. At the time of the acquisition, Om Malik described Gravatar as a small project that gives WordPress users the ability to add avatars to their profiles. It is clear from the Gravatar about page that there are far loftier ambitions for the project. Today, an avatar. Tomorrow, Your Identity—Online.

I’ll stop there, rather than speculate about the future of online identity. I’ll add one more post to this series: a wrapup.

5 thoughts on “Automattic Making Money From Other Projects”

  1. I removed the following statement from the post. “The latter is from Acquia, which is, like Automattic, mainly an open-source software firm.”
    I did so after getting email from Dries pointing out that Mollom is not an Acquia product. It is a separate organization. Dries is a founder of both Acquia and Mollom.

  2. I’ve always wondered about the “closed source”ness of Akismet. Other projects like Spam Assassin are open source with their software as well as their filters and they still stop spam. Matt’s arguments that releasing the Akismet server code as open source would mean spammers would be able to defeat their filters just doesn’t hold water to me.

    Thanks though for the link to Mollom. That’s a new one to me.

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