Difference Between WordPress and Facebook

Fred Wilson puts the difference at $14.8B – if we take “the publicly available information about the most recent financings of the two companies ($15bn for Facebook and $200mm for Automattic)” to provide good measures of the respective company’s values. But Fred isn’t any more impressed with that measurement that I am.

I think that some aspects of Fred’s post could use clarification. I’ll continue the job of clarification started in a comment by Jeff Jarvis. I’ll also plug some of my own writing about WordPress.

After quoting the funny money numbers, Fred moves on to a chart of unique visitors to Facebook and to “WordPress.” Jeff’s clarification is that the WordPress line in that chart almost certainly refers to the site WordPress.com, and that many WordPress blogs are hosted elsewhere. Jeff also remarks that WordPress is a platform, not a social network.

We need to be clear about three different but related entities.

Comparing unique visitors at Facebook.com and at WordPress.com is comparing an apple with an orange. Automattic has other oranges in its bag, and hence has other revenue streams. If we want to compare the $ values of Facebook and Automattic, we should look at all the oranges in Automattic’s bag, and not just at WordPress.com.

Having noted the clarification in Jeff’s comment, I’d like to follow up on another statement from the same comment: “WordPress is not a network. WordPress is a platform.” That’s mostly true, but it ignores a couple of important points.

First, WordPress has several of the ingredients of a social network. Consider, for example, Diso: “an umbrella project for a group of open source implementations of… social networking concepts… first target is WordPress, bootstrapping on existing work and building out from there.” I’ve added emphasis to show that Chris Messina and his buddies consider WordPress a good starting point for an open, standards-based social network.

Second, WordPress.com has several network-like features. Once signed on to WordPress.com, you can leave comments on other blogs hosted there (including this one) without having to provide further identity. There are WordPress.com-wide tag and category pages; as an example, here’s the page for the tag automattic.

One of the things that makes Automattic interesting is that it’s in the business of making money from free software. If you share my interest in this aspect of Automattic, you might want to check out my series of posts on it. It starts with this introduction. The most successful post in the series (indeed, on this blog) is the one on making money from WordPress.com.

I don’t attempt to put a $ value on Automattic. I am convinced that its $ value does not lag that of Facebook by many billions of dollars. I think that Fred Wilson shares my conviction. I wonder if he attempted to get his VC firm, Union Square Ventures, a piece of the Automattic action. Earlier this year, Automattic got a $29.5M round of funding.

Automattic Profits From WordPress

This post is the third in the series that started by posing the question: How is Automattic Going to Make Money?. It follows on from my most popular post so far: Making Money From WordPress.com.

In this post, we’ll be looking at how Automattic profits from WordPress, the free/open source software project that lives at WordPress.org. We’ll consider WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) as a subproject of WordPress, just as it is a subsite of WordPress.org.

To find sources of revenue for Automattic from WordPress, we’ll crawl around the relevant web sites. We won’t start from any particular framework for “making money from open source” or “open source business models.” If you want to read up on the more general stuff, just Google either of the phrases in quotes and you won’t lack for material.

So, the obvious place to start is WordPress.org. Remember, that site won’t host your blog. There are many thousands of sites that will. Many of them have Fantastico scripts to install popular software, including WordPress.

There is a WordPress hosting page that recommends a select few of these hosts. The page explicitly identifies itself as a money-maker.

If you do decide to go with one of the hosts below and click through from this page, some will donate a portion of your fee back—so you can have a great host and support WordPress at the same time.

It’s not clear to me how much money this generates, or whether the money goes to Automattic or in some sense goes directly to the WordPress project. It could be argued that it doesn’t make a lot of difference: funds that WordPress “makes for itself” are funds that would probably otherwise be supplied by Automattic. I could make a similar point about Amazon affiliate revenues earned by links from the WordPress books page, but I doubt that there’s a lot of money involved there.

Now let’s look at Automattic’s site. We see there a Services page, which points to the Automattic Support Network, aimed at enterprises and other clients willing to pay thousands of dollars annually for support.

This is a classic open source business model: give away the software, charge for the services. It’s worth noting, though, that the Services page points not only to Automattic’s offering, but to a directory of WordPress Consultants, most offering design and development services. (Automattic does not currently list itself as offering such services.) This is an example of Automattic opting to help the WordPress ecosystem thrive.

A variation on give away the software, charge for the services has already been covered in this series of posts. WordPress.com offers WordPress as a service. It’s a freemium service: give away the software as a service, charge for the extras.

Automattic invests heavily in WordPress, the free/open source software project. Perhaps the most straightforward evidence for that statement is the About WordPress page, which lists the developers: several of them work at Automattic. Automattic profits from this investment, but it does not do so directly. The WordPress software powers WordPress.com, from which Automattic makes money. The more WordPress is used, the more opportunity there is for Automattic to make money from support services.

The next post in this series will cover Automattic’s other products. The next big news from WordPress will be the release of 2.5, expected any day now.

Business Ecosystem: A Way to Look at WordPress

The ecosystem metaphor for business may be too trendy, too tired, or both, but it can still be a useful one. I like the use of the metaphor by Marco Iansiti and Roy Levien, and have used it in writing about WordPress and Automattic.

I was looking back over that piece of writing, and found that Marco and Roy have a free 3-page paper at the Harvard Business School site: Creating Value in Your Business Ecosystem. It’s an excerpt from an article, which in turn is based on a book, but you can get the gist from the 3-pager, along with links to the longer version if you’re interested enough.

The thing I like about Marco and Roy’s use of the metaphor is their emphasis on what they call keystone organizations, which emphasize the overall health of their ecosystems. I consider Automattic to be such an organization. I seem to remember that CEO Toni Schneider is fond of the ecosystem metaphor, although I don’t know whether he’s read Marco and Roy’s stuff.

Making Money From Your WordPress.com Blog

There is a new record-holder for most popular post at this blog: Making Money From WordPress.com. It is part of a series on how Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, can make money as a firm based on free/open source software.

Seen out of the context of that series, the title can and has suggest that the earlier post is about how bloggers can make money from their WordPress.com blogs. It isn’t, but this post is. To be more specific, the current post is mostly about affiliate programmes, with a few words on each of a couple of other ideas.

I should start pointing out that this post reflects my opinions and my opinions only, but that I hope to see other opinions in the comments. One of my most fundamental opinions on this subject is: if you want to make serious money blogging, then WordPress.com is not currently the best place for you. There are exceptions, such as those already so well positioned to make money blogging that they are a natural fit for VIP hosting (e.g., Om, Schill). Most of the rest of us can’t afford VIP hosting, and if you have to ask how much it costs, you are among those of us who can’t afford it.

As I write this, I have in mind a reader who: wants to cover the costs of the WordPress.com extras they buy and use (e.g., CSS, domain); wouldn’t mind also covering the cost of the Flickr Pro account where they keep their photos; but doesn’t see making money as the purpose of their WordPress blog. If you’re still reading, then thank you, and it is just for you that I identify and explain three things you might do with you WordPress.com blog.

  • Use affiliate programmes, such as Amazon Associates.
  • Link to other sites from which you can make money: your Etsy store, your self-hosted WordPress blog which carries ads,…
  • Promote your consulting or other services.

I’m not going to write a lot here about “problogging” itself. There’s a lot of good stuff about that on the web already. I’d start with Darren Rowse’s page for beginners: Make Money Blogging. Darren’s top income stream is Google AdSense.

But, as the WordPress.com FAQ tells us, Adsense, Yahoo, Chitika, TextLinkAds and other ads are not permitted to be added by users. Change to this policy has been under consideration for a long time, and I presume it’s still under consideration.

If you read on down the above-quoted FAQ page, you’ll find a link to another page: Types of Blogs. That page explicitly states that things like linking your book review post to Amazon are allowed. It implies, to me at least, that some affiliate links are allowed. I’d self-servingly classify my post on The World is Flat as a respectable example: here’s my take on the book, following this link will give you, not only a chance to buy this book, but also further information to help you make the decision.

That said, much of the code generated by affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates will not work at WordPress.com. That’s not so much because of the ads/affiliates policy as it is because of security issues. Javascript is not allowed at WordPress.com, and much affiliate code uses Javascript.

For this reason, one of my criteria for using an affiliate program on a WordPress.com blog is: will the program give me plain enough html code that WordPress.com won’t spit it back at me? But before it gets that far, affiliate links have to pass the following tests.

  • Is it likely that some readers will find the link helpful? Amazon links do well on this test, because the provide user reviews, further recommendations, etc.
  • Is it likely that other readers will find the link annoying?
  • Do I use the stuff myself? For example, do I wear Threadless tshirts? Yes, and I feel a sense of affiliation with Threadless that goes beyond getting a free shirt every few times someone orders using m “street team” code. Do I stream music using Rhapsody? Yes, almost every day, and so I am confident that some of my dear readers will be interested to know that they can get a 14-Day free trial to Rhapsody Unlimited then pay only $12.99 per month.

I’ve set up a site to keep track of affiliate programs for bloggers. There are probably existing directories, but I don’t know of any that tag programs that generate plain enough html to be acceptable to WordPress.com. The first five programs I added do so, and so are tagged html.

If you’re wondering when we’re going to get on to the topic after affiliate programs, and link to an external site revenue-generating: we just did. BricaBox, the tool I used to set up the directory of affiliate programs mentioned in the last paragraph, allows ads. By the way, BricaBox is a “social content platform” about which I’ve previously posted.

Finally, there are lots of examples of WordPress.com bloggers who make their readers aware that they do more than blog. For example, Lorelle is a consultant, photographer, and teacher as well as a blogger and writer.

I hope that this has been helpful. Due to technical problems, I had to retype some the last few paragraphs, and re-edit the whole post. I hope that I caught everything.

If I’ve made errors with respect to WordPress.com policies, or to anything else, please let me know by email or commemt. Talking of comments, I see as I do the final edit (again) that we have a comment already.

Making Money From WordPress.com

WordPress.com is free: that’s free as in beer, as in gratis, as in at a price of zero. This post is a look at WordPress.com in the light of Chris Anderson’s Wired article Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. It is the second part of my series of posts addressing the question: How is Automattic going to make money?. (Hence this post is not about how bloggers can make money: but see the update note at the end).

There’s a particularly good fit between Chris’s article and WordPress.com. Chris identifies six business models. As we will see, Automattic uses each of the six in making money from WordPress.com.

The first model (following Chris’ order) is freemium: basic service is free, but there are extras for which you pay a premium. WordPress.com offers free hosted blogging; it also offers premium features under the heading of advanced services. One such feature is domain mapping: since I pay for domain mapping, this blog shows up as changingway.org (rather than just as changingway.wordpress.com).

I provided more details on WordPress.com premium features in a previous post. That post compares WordPress.com with its competitor TypePad in terms of feature pricing and packaging.

The “most premium” and least free option at WordPress.com is the VIP Hosting package.

The second business model relies on advertising. Automattic has run Google Adsense ads on blogs at WordPress.com since mid-2006. It has considered for at least that long offering bloggers control over the ads at their blogs. Currently, however, the only bloggers who can run their own ads or run their blogs ad-free are those paying for VIP Hosting.

WordPress.com uses the third business model, cross-subsidies, less directly than it uses some of the others. The essence of this model is that the free product entices you to buy another product. The different product is usually a complement to the free product, Gillette giving away razors in order to sell blades being the prime example (and indeed the example with which Chris opens his article).

One type of blade for your free WordPress.com razor is the Sonific SongSpot. An earlier post provides a description and an example. I just “snapped” the song in to the post.

The cross-subsidy model applies rather indirectly because I didn’t buy the song/blade from Automattic: I got it, free of charge, from Sonific. Sonific makes money from ads and affiliate transactions related to the music being played (e.g., the reader may buy music from Amazon).

I won’t discuss here the question of whether Automattic makes money from these “blades.” It may be doing so by charging Sonific for the prominent placement of the SongSpot service. I am not aware of any public statement from Automattic or Sonific on the terms of their relationship.

WordPress.com provides a very straightforward example of the fourth model: taking on a new blogger represents a near zero marginal cost for Automattic, since servers and other infrastructure are already in place to support the two and half million blogs currently hosted.

The fifth model is labor exchange: “the act of using the service creates something of value.” The main use of WordPress.com to create content, in the form of blog posts. There are many ways in which this content may be valuable. It may, for example, constitute pearls of wisdom that enrich the life of those who read it. Of more direct relevance here is that the content is also a source of economic value for Automattic when it is accompanied by AdSense.

The sixth and final model is the gift economy. I read Chris’s use of this term as an implicit reference to Eric Raymond’s assertion that the society of open-source hackers is in fact a gift culture. In this context, the free/open-source WordPress software was and is a gift from Matt Mullenweg and his fellow hackers to the wider hacker community.

It’s not much of stretch to view the free blogging service WordPress.com as the gift from Matt and his fellow Automatticians that seeded the WordPress.com community. That Automattic makes money, or will make money, from gift-giving is in no way counter to the ethos of free/open-source software.

We can relate the gift economy model back to the freemium model and note that the freemium model allows Automattic to receive gifts from bloggers. If, for example, I am unsure whether to pay for a premium service (e.g., CSS upgrade) for a further year, I may decide that even if I don’t really need the premium service, I feel good about paying Automattic the money, thus reciprocating the gift-giving Automattic initiated by giving me the free blog in the first place.

It is to this kind of gift-giving that the web-based photo-editing service Picnik appeals when it includes among the reasons for upgrading to its Premium Service “the warm fuzzies” you’d get for supporting Picnik.

Thus the sixth of Chris’s models (gift economy) brings us full circle to the first (freemium). It also points on to the next post in this series, which will be about making money from WordPress, the open source software. While the current post is about Automattic profiting from a free (as in beer, as in gratis) service, the next will be about the firm profiting from free (as in freedom, as in libre) software.

Before moving on to that next post, this one merits a couple of closing points. The first is about the post itself. It’s more about identifying and classifying than it is about evaluating. I haven’t attempted to estimate amounts of money, or percentages of profits, made by WordPress.com from each of the business models. Neither have I expressed opinions as to how well Automattic is executing each of the models.

The second point relates to affiliate programs. With respect to Chris’s list of business models, it’s not clear to me where such programs fit: somewhere between ads and cross-subsidies? Although WordPress.com bloggers (other than VIPs) may not use advertising programs such as AdSense on their blogs, we are permitted to use of affilfiate programs such as Amazon Associates.

I can’t think of any affiliate program used by Automattic at WordPress.com. I can think of one used at WordPress.org, but that really does bring us to the next post in the series on Automattic profits.

Update: If you’re a WordPress.com blogger who arrived here hoping to find a post about how you can make money, you’re in the wrong place. Or at least, at the wrong post: but see my post on how bloggers can make money. At the same time as I added this note, I made a few edits, but nothing major.

How is Automattic Going to Make Money?

Mark Evans recently asked: So How is WordPress Going to Make Money, Matt? My immediate reaction was to formulate what seemed like a better question.

How is Automattic going to make money, Toni? While WordPress is an open-source software project, Automattic is a privately-held for-profit firm. Toni Schneider is the CEO.

Matthew Mullenweg founded Automattic, having earlier founded WordPress. If I had to use a conventional term for Matt’s current post at Automattic, it would be CTO, or perhaps Chief Software Architect.

One way to answer the question is to ask Toni. In fact, I will do so by email. But I don’t expect to be able to get more out of him than Lindsay Campbell did when she interviewed him for WallStrip. I noted at the time (August 2007) Toni’s remark that Automattic was at about breakeven.

So we did at one point in time have an answer to the question: is Automattic making money? More recently, we got an answer to the question: do Automattic’s original investors consider its financial prospects good enough to invest further? The answer is yes: in January 2008, Automattic closed a $29.5M round of financing led by its original investors.

Toni and Matt each remarked at the time that the money is not just for the WordPress blogging software, but for other projects.

This is already a post-sized chunk of text, and all I’ve done is set the scene. I plan to follow it with another couple of posts this week, probably one on WordPress and another on Automattic’s other projects.

WordPress.com Denial of Service

InfoWorld reports that WordPress.com, which hosts this and many other blogs, suffered a DoS (denial-of-service) attack that began Saturday and was still preventing users from logging in or posting to their blogs on Tuesday. But the same article states that “WordPress.com users were notified via e-mail about the DoS attack.” I certainly wasn’t. Neither were other bloggers.

I’d like to see a post on the WordPress.com blog about this. A short acknowledgment that it happened would be better than nothing. Including a reminder that WordPress.com has rarely been down since it launched would be appropriate.

WordPress Publisher Blog

Automattic started the WordPress Publisher Blog, which is “aimed at helping publishers get the most out of WordPress,” in mid-January. If there were announcements of this, I missed them. I became aware of the new(ish) blog today, via the WordPress.com home page.

The most recent post is about Super Tuesday on WordPress.com. A more typical post is a Q&A on plugin development. Both of these posts, and indeed most of the posts so far, were posted by Raanan Bar-Cohen.

WordPress.com CSS Upgrade

A few months ago, there was a topic in the WordPress.com forums in which the nature of the CSS Upgrade was clarified. The question was: what happens if you decide not to renew the upgrade?

To illustrate it using this blog: I purchased the CSS upgrade about a year ago, for $15. I had to decide whether to renew it. I learned from the above-linked forum topic that, if I didn’t renew the upgrade, my existing CSS edits would stay in place, but I wouldn’t be able to make further CSS edits without the upgrade.

What I learned then now turns out to be wrong. What actually happens is that although the CSS is ‘retained’ in the system… it is no longer displayed on your blog.

So: “Purchasing the upgrade entitles you to use Custom CSS on one blog for one year.” That’s what the Custom CSS page currently tells us. It used to tell us that “Purchasing the upgrade entitles you to edit CSS on one blog for one year.” The emphasis is mine. The old quote comes via Mark of Automattic.

I’m disappointed. That’s not because I feel forced to purchase the upgrade for another year. I purchased it before seeing that the rules have changed. I was thinking of making a few more tweaks to my custom CSS and then giving up the upgrade, but decided that I’ll probably want to make a few more in the coming year, and that it’s only $15.

No, I’m disappointed that we clarified the policy, were pleased with both the policy and the clarity, and now find that the policy is less favorable to users than we thought it was.

Prologue: Sort of Twittermattic

Interested in something that resembles Twitter for groups? I wouldn’t normally be, since I don’t really get Twitter.

But Prologue comes from Automattic, an organization I’m interested in, so I did see Matt’s announcement post, and I did read posts remarking on the announcement. Here’s the enthusiastic Allen Stern: “if you have multiple bloggers on your WordPress blog, you can now use Twitter-like short messages to chat internally… With WordPress the dominant player in blogging, this could be a game changer.”

Duncan at TechCrunch responds: Nah. It’s a reasonable enough idea, but… But he does seem to agree with Adam that the most interesting part of Matt’s post is:

Some folks have suggested that using WordPress, Prologue, and RSS you could create a pretty effective distributed version of Twitter. This isn’t something we’re personally interested in, but we’ve made the theme available as open source under the GPL so if you want to hack around it yourself you’re welcome to.

I think that Prologue is a smart move by Automattic. It apparently took only a few person-days to write. It’s implemented as a WordPress theme, and hence can be used at any WordPress site (including WordPress.com, right away). So for a fairly small investment, Automattic demonstrates WordPress as a platform, and opens (GPL-related pun intended) the possibility of something like Twitter, but more business-friendly, being built on that platform.

It has also generated a lot of Techmeme fodder. By the way, my favorite Prologue post so far is the one from Mashable Mark, who describes Prologue as “a re-invention of the wheel… that has legs.”

Finally, Prologue demonstrates that someone at Automattic can spell.