Automattic, Tired of Saying No, Adds DNS Editing to

To be more specific, it’s been added to the domain mapping extra for Domain mapping is the reason you see this blog as, rather than as (which it also is). It’s also the reason you can email me (as andrew) at

With the addition of DNS editing, domain mapping is also the reason you can see other outposts of the empire. Or rather, it would be if there were such outposts. Right now there aren’t: there’s just blog and email.

Andy Skelton, posting for Automattic, explains DNS editing as follows. “The ability to add some common DNS records (MX, TXT, CNAME, A) opens the door for services hosted elsewhere to work under the same domain as your blog.” He uses the examples of email (already available, but I think that DNS editing makes it more flexibly available) and wikis.

Another aspect of Andy’s explanation is interesting: “we tired of saying “no” to users wanting email on their blog domains so we added limited support for Google-hosted email… we tired of saying “no” to users wanting DNS control so today we deployed a DNS editor.”

So Automattic can get tired of saying no, and enhance a product so that the answer is yes. I’m explicit about this because some seem to doubt that it ever happens.

On the other hand, Automattic will keep on saying no to the “make everything free of charge” requests that seem to follow its every move. Andy refers to DNS editing as a “free enhancement,” and it is – but it’s an enhancement to a premium (as in costs money) feature. DNS editing will make the domain mapping feature more valuable to some.


The image shows some of the disasters that can befall people and things, including blogs. If I still lived in Boston, the flood would be befalling me right now. It wouldn’t get my blog, though, because that’s hosted elsewhere.

This blog, and millions of others, are hosted by Automattic at One of the free features of is its “like-a-rockness.” Updates to the blogs happen at three different datacentres.

What about WordPress blogs hosted elsewhere? (Such blogs are usually referred to as self-hosted, or as, blogs.) Could they use the Automattic vault, even though they’re not hosted by Automattic?

That’s what VaultPress means. To quote from Matt’s announcement post:

The vision of VaultPress is to ensure that blogs and sites under its care are always completely secure, regardless of what happens. Today, this means every bit of content will be safe, from plugins and themes to the smallest comment or post revision, with WordPress-aware, real-time, multi-cloud backups.

There’s some interesting language on the beta signup page.

I know you’re planning to charge about $20 a month for this, but in a perfect world I’d pay $? a month to cover all my blogs. I’d call myself a ? user.

The first ? is a request for beta applicants to indicate how much they would pay (the number of blogs is captured elsewhere on the signup page). The second ? is actually a drop-down box showing the following: personal; pro-blogger; small business; enterprise. So Automattic is still working out the pricing.

My main question is: what is the difference between VaultPress and the vault? I initially formed the impression that it’s the same backup infrastructure. But, according to Matt: “On a technical level it’s a different infrastructure. I could see it being offered to users in the future.”

I first read about VaultPress at TechCrunch. There are some interesting comments over there. Several of them relate to cost. There’s the usual “it should be free” comment.

More interesting, I think, is the comment about ~$15 a month being a lot when compare with ~$10 for hosting. Matt responded that it might make more sense to go with the cheapest host feasible, and spend the $ on protecting your blog.

It might also make sense to move to for hosting, get the vault for free, and pay for premium features. If the price for VaultPress seems high, it might serve as a prod toward hosting.

Edited a few hours later, to reflect Matt’s response to my question.

Conversion Rates and Funnels

The freemium model relies on enough users paying for premium services to meet the cost of servicing all users, including those who use take the free option. One of the key metrics for a freemium service is conversion rate from free to premium.

Toni Schneider notes that this rate is about 2% for, for, for Evernote, and for many other freemium services. He wonders if there is some kind of “2% rule” at work.

This reminded me of Funnel Analysis, as described in a Mashable guest post by Tim Trefren. Funnel analysis is about conversion rates, is a more general sense. A funnel is defined in terms of user actions, such as visiting a site, signing up for a service, becoming a premium/pay user, and so on.

Conversion rate, in this broader sense, is the percentage of users taking a particular action. Hence a firm’s funnel has multiple conversion rates/actions as it narrows. A freemium service using funnel analysis would probably define a payment action, marking the transition from a free user to a premium customer.

Tim is CEO of Mixpanel, a web analytics startup. (See Mixpanel for more about Funnel Analysis and the API.) Mixpanel itself uses the freemium model; I signed up for a free account.

Funnels can be transparent: a firm can publish its conversion rates. Funnels could be aggregated: Mixpanel could, with the cooperation of its client firms, publish aggregate data on various conversion rates. It could make it worth the clients’ while by, for example, offering early or deep looks at the aggregated data.

Automattic and Other Anniversaries

Toni Schneider has been CEO of Automattic (almost?) as long as that company has existed: that’s four years, plus a few days. Happy anniversary to Toni, Matt, and the rest of Automattic.

Toni plans to celebrate by starting a series of posts on lessons learned from the four years. He specifies three topics: open source business models; distributed companies; and internet scale services. I’d say that’s an excellent list of three.

I’ll suggest to Toni a fourth, and a sort of fifth. The fourth topic is integration. We don’t get all our web tools from Automattic/WordPress, and we never will. How does Automattic work on making WordPress and its other projects play well with others (e.g., Flickr, Twitter) in order to present an integrated web experience for customers?

The sort of fifth topic is also integration, sort of. Each of Toni’s original list of three topics is interesting in its own right, but becomes even more interesting in combination with one or both of the other two. For example, what has Automattic learned from other open source projects about distributed work and about scalable services?

I’ll mention just one more Automattic topic before moving on to other anniversaries. Toni is a VC as well as a CEO. What’s the exit strategy for Automattic? I mention this topic because I think that others are very interested in it, not because I think that there is much chance that Toni will post about it.

Winter WisteriaOther recent anniversaries include:

PollDaddy Becomes Automattic

Polls were one of the features missing from as at the start of 2008. Automattic addressed this in May, when a shortcode to include PollDaddy polls became available.

Now Automattic has acquired PollDaddy. For more coverage, see posts at ReadWriteWeb,, and PollDaddy.

The latter post includes the three points familiar to those of us following Automattic acquisitions: great fit in terms of people working together; acquired service will be improved due to Automattic’s infrastracture; service will remain committed to multiple platforms, not just to WordPress. For example, PollDaddy commit to improving support for support for MySpace, Ning, Blogger, Typepad, etc.

Intense Debate Now Automattic

Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, has acquired Intense Debate, the firm behind… Intense Debate. The ID comment system fits neatly into Automattic’s range of projects.

In particular, ID fits between the WordPress blogging platform and the Akismet spam-fighting system. There have also been requests for ID at the hosted service; however, if the support forums are any guide, there have been more requests for Disqus, a comment system that competes with ID.

Jon of ID is excited about wider distribution and about integration of ID with the Automattic offerings. To balance that, he emphasized that ID will continue to work on other blogging platforms, such as Blogger and Movable Type. Similar points come from the Automattic side of the deal, from Matt and from Toni.

ID will remain a stand-alone service that can be used with WordPress as well as many other types of web sites (similar to the way we run our Akismet and Gravatar services). In addition, some ID features and technology will be built directly into future versions of WordPress and Gravatar.

It’ll be interesting to see how competing firms react. I’m thinking in particular of Disqus, which currently uses Akismet. In other words, one of its main competitors has just been acquired by the developer of a service it uses. Mashable Adam contacted Disqus, and his post includes a quote from CEO Daniel Ha, but there’s understandably little in the way of specifics.

Finally, the timing of Intensomattic deal is such that it’ll be overshadowed by the Google/T-mobile circus. That’s a pity, because it’s a significant change to the social media landscape.

Why the Fuss About Social Blogging?

Recent posts at ReadWriteWeb, at GigaOm, and elsewhere discuss the “social” direction that blogging is taking. The discussion seems strange, given that blogging has always been social.

One way of explaining it is that:

  • Blogging is conversation (Naked or otherwise).
  • Conversation = content + connection.
  • There’s a current emphasis on connection. Connection is of course the defining feature of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Connection is also a feature of blogging software, such as Movable Type and WordPress.

It is indeed on Movable Type and WordPress that the RWW and GOm posts focus. I’ll keep that focus, despite comments that Drupal and Elgg also belong in the conversation. But I’d like to make the comparison between Movable Type and WordPress, just as I’ve made elsewhere the comparison between Six Apart and Automattic, the respective firms behind MT and WP.

Here’s what Anil Dash of Six Apart recently announced.

Movable Type Pro lets you turn any site into a full social publishing platform, combining all of Movable Type’s abilities as a blogging and CMS with social networking features like profiles, ratings, user registration, forums, following, and more.

Six Apart offer three platforms: MT, TypePad, and Vox. There is no TypePad counterpart to MT Pro (although there is something called TypePad Pro). Vox is, and has been from the start, a “social blogging” platform, with its content and connection features sharing top billing.

While Six Apart offer three platforms, Automattic offer one: WordPress. While Six Apart’s MT Pro moves social networking up alongside blogging, Automattic’s BuddyPress moves social networking up in front of blogging: BuddyPress will move the main focus of WordPress MU away from blogs, and onto the actual member profile.

While MT Pro includes forums, BuddyPress doesn’t. That’s not because Automattic consider forums unimportant; it’s because they offer specialized forum software: bbPress.

Now to try and summarize the different ways in which the two blogging firms are increasing emphasis on connection. Six Apart offer social blogging in two forms: MT Pro for the enterprise, and Vox for the individual. Automattic offers blogging in the form of WordPress, and social networking in the form of BuddyPress.

Of course, summarize often means (over-)simplify, and there’s a lot of simplification above. For example, BuddyPress is essentially Multi-User WordPress plus plugins and themes, so the relative emphasis on content (blogging) and connection (social network) can be calibrated as appropriate.

I leave any further clarifications to this account of social blogging to comments…

Enterprise 2.0: Some Thoughts on Vendors

This post follows from the previous, which discussed strategic and ad-hoc adoption of E2. It will map vendors on to that discussion, in a couple of ways.

First, I want to map four specific vendors on the continuum of E2 adoption, anchored at one end by a purely strategic, top-down approach and at the other by a purely ad-hoc, bottom-up approach. I found myself writing down beside that continuum the following four vendors. I’ll list them in descending order of fit with the strategic approach, and hence in ascending order to fit with the ad-hoc approach.

  1. IBM. I still think of IBM as the enterprise IT vendor that gets in well with top management. That thought may of course be a sign of my age, or of IBM’s.
  2. Acquia. Drupal is ready to go… built-in functionality, combined with… add-on modules, will enable features such as content management, blogs, wiki collaborative authoring, tagging, picture galleries… Already, “Drupal powers sites including the homepages of Warner Brothers Records, The New York Observer, Fast Company, Popular Science, and Amnesty International and project sites by SonyBMG, Forbes, Harvard University…”
  3. Six Apart. 6A provides the best illustration of something that’s true for all vendors: a vendor isn’t a single point in the continuum. Movable Type is further toward the strategic end then TypePad.
  4. Automattic. WordPress requires three easy steps below to start blogging in minutes. Automattic’s projects emphasize the same ease of use and speed.

In case it’s not already obvious, I should point out that the above is a simplification and a starting point. Since first jotting it down, I’ve had conversations (with myself and others) about how to capture the richness of what various vendors offer without obscuring the basic continuum too much. But, having shared the starting point with you, I have another way to look from the strategic/ad-hoc perspective toward vendors.

The starting point for this second half of the post is the claim that some large organizations are in an ad-hoc E2 stage, and are embarking on strategic E2. Such organizations may well decide that their strategy should be based on the lessons and successes of existing ad-hoc E2 efforts. Yes, I am implying that grand strategy is not necessarily better than ad-hocery and tactics, and may often have much to learn from them.

An important challenge, then, is that of managing the diversity of E2 approaches and heterogeneity of tools already present in the organization. One aspect of this is realizing that the organization already has web-based social networks, and deriving from them the social graph.

Did someone say social graph? Brad Fitzpatrick and David Recordon did, and their
Thoughts on the Social Graph aroused much discussion. Their thoughts are couched more in consumer than in enterprise terms.

However, social graph for the enterprise looks like a fascinating arena. The most obvious contender is this arena is, duh, Google, which already has a Social Graph API, on which Brad is currently working.

UK-based Trampoline Systems may also turn out to be a contender. If I were doing E2 strategy for a corporation, and realized that there was a lot of E2 already in that corporation, I’d definitely want to take a look at SONAR Flightdeck, at the server that powers it, and at the API for said server.

I’ve mentioned only half a dozen of the many E2 vendors. That’s fine, by me at least. This post is meant to sketch out ideas, and illustrate them with vendors, rather than to provide detailed comparisons of many vendors. It’s also meant to start discussion…

Automattic Making Money: Contents and Conclusions

This post concludes my series on Automattic making money. The best structure for the post seems to be the time-honoured, time-based structure: past, present, and future.

I’ll start with a list of the past posts in this series.

Now, on to Automattic’s past. In some ways, there isn’t much of it, since the firm was founded in December 2005, and is often described as a startup. But there is more history than that might suggest. WordPress is the successor to b2/cafelog, which goes back to June 2001. One of the reasons this is important is that WordPress inherited from b2 its use of the GPL, and hence has always been free/open source software.

WordPress 1.0 was released in 2004. That same year, Yahoo acquired Toni Schneider’s startup, Oddpost, and so Toni joined Yahoo. While there, he founded the Yahoo developer network which allows third party software developers to use Yahoo as a platform for creating Yahoo-powered applications and services.

As CEO of Automattic, Toni has cultivated what might be termed the WordPress developer network, but is referred to as the WordPress ecosystem by shameless buzzword-slingers. This ecosystem includes WordPress consultants, theme developers, and plugin developers.

My main comment on the present is that things are changing fast. I’ll give an example of change for each of the following:, WordPress, and Akismet. Sonific is one of the means by which you can include music in a post. That will cease to be true on May 1, when Sonific is going offline.

WordPress 2.5 was released about a month ago. Its emphasis is on usability, but not everyone considers it an improvement. When moved to the 2.5 code base, there were complaints about the new admin interface, and about the suddenness of the change. Bloggers using WordPress (as opposed to .com) of course have more control over their blogs, including control over when to move to the new interface.

As a third and final example of recent change, consider Mollom. It’s a new competitor for Akismet, and will probably be a strong one.

If you read this far in the hope of finding bold predictions about Automattic’s future, you’re out of luck. If such predictions ever do come from me, they will probably get their own post. The best hint about the future, and hence the best closing sentence for this post and for the series, is one that Matt wrote after Automattic raised a second round of funding ($29.5M) earlier this year.

Automattic is now positioned to execute on our vision of a better web not just in blogging, but expanding our investment in anti-spam, identity, wikis, forums, and more — small, open source pieces, loosely joined with the same approach and philosophy that has brought us this far.

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.,

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’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

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 support forums have been running for years. Automattic intends to offer hosted forums under the name TalkPress (rather as it offers hosted blogging at

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.