Mark on WordPress/b5, Me on Automattic

The relationship between free/open source software and business is a fascinating one. Now that I’ve driven away most of my readers from this post, we can get on with it…

Mark Jaquith is one of nine active developers of WordPress (according to the About page at wordpress.org). The tagline on his blog is “WordPress puts food on my table,” and the sidebar tells us that said food is due to Mark’s work as “a freelance provider of web consulting and services, primarily services based on WordPress.”

Some of the above will cease to be true on Friday June 1, when Mark will start work for b5media, a WordPress-powered blog network. He emphasized in a recent post that: I wasn’t interested in taking the job if b5media was going to use me to influence the WordPress project in ways that would be bad for the community.

This is far from the first time that a prominent contributor to a free/open source project has joined a firm with heavy reliance on the project in question. The best example is perhaps Alan Cox, the prominent Linux developer employed by Red Hat.

I think that it’s the first time it’s happened with WordPress being the project in question. I also think that it’s an implicit vote of confidence in Automattic. Five of the nine developers work at Automattic, including Matt Mullenweg, founder of both WordPress and Automattic. I don’t think that Mark would be so protective of the WordPress community if he thought that the folks at Automattic were not of similar mind.*

I realize that Automattic (like b5) is a for-profit firm. But I think that the people at Automattic, including CEO Toni Schneider, see it as in their best interests that the WordPress community prospers. In other words/cliches, it’s better for Automattic that the WordPress pie is big than it would be for the firm to get the biggest piece of a smaller pie. If you want to be fancy about it, you can replace pie with ecosystem and piece with niche.

Of course I could be wrong about Automattic, Automattic could be wrong about pies (they do, after all, tend to go for BBQ), and you could leave a comment to set us straight…

* Update, relating to the sentence marked *. This was badly written, as the puzzlement that Mark expressed in his comment shows. What I meant was that, the more Automattic works to expand the WordPress pie (rather than fight for the biggest slice), the greater the motivation for other members of the WordPress community to contribute.

4 thoughts on “Mark on WordPress/b5, Me on Automattic”

  1. For a while, I worried about how code I put into WordPress core would affect WordPress.com, which is updated to WPMU core often (which in turn is updated to WP core often). I asked Matt about a certain change I was making that might introduce some short-term instability while we figured out its implications. He told me not to worry about WP.com.

    While Automattic seems synonymous with WordPress from a marketing standpoint, from a developer’s standpoint, they’re a well-behaved citizen (albeit a large one) of the WordPress community. And within the company, there appears to be a large amount of autonomy with regard to employees’ WordPress development.

    I don’t think that Mark would be so protective of the WordPress community if he thought that the folks at Automattic were not of similar mind.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding this… I think that if Automattic had a bad influence on WordPress that would lead me to be more protective, as it would be more in need of protection.

  2. > Automattic, including CEO Toni Schneider, see it as in their best interests that the WordPress community prospers.

    Absolutely. The WP community has created many thousands of plugins, themes, forum posts, codex pages, code contributions, etc. This level of contribution and innovation is what makes WP great and is unmatched by any other blogging platform. Automattic is part of that same community and ecosystem and we constantly think about ways to help it thrive. Let me take this opportunity to point out that we promote WP consultants at http://automattic.com/services/wordpress-consultants/. Many of them have told us that they are very busy and turning down projects, so if you do WP related consulting, please let us know so we can help connect you with customers!

  3. Thanks for the prompt and thoughtful replies, guys.
    Mark, my remark about “protective” should have been phrased better. I’ll edit the post later on.

  4. Understood, now.

    And that’s true… if I had thought that a job at Automattic was the only way to make a living off of WordPress, I would have been forced to move on, or at least relegate my activities to “hobby” status.

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