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.

Video From Flickr to WordPress.com

For those of us who blog at WordPress.com, there’s already a shortcode making it easy to embed video from Flickr in a post. I’ll illustrate/test it with this clip, which looks to me like something from William Gibson.

I found the shortcode on the support forum, thanks to quxx/kellan. Like other WordPress.com shortcodes, it should be placed within square brackets. Then it’s just “flickr video=uri”. Note, by the way, that attribution for the video clip is built in to the clip itself.

WordPress 2.5 and Usability: For Whom?

Of the many topics in the WordPress.com support forums prompted by the “2.5” redesign, the largest currently has 167 responses. There’s a lot of repetition and agreement in there. That’s not a criticism of (most of) those who’ve repeated and agreed, since the forums are there for the bloggers. But it does make for some tedious reading.

So I was struck by a recent contribution, which expressed a fresher concern.

The only thing that worries me is how the changed dashboard and entry pages will feel to an absolutely new, tyro blogger with little or no web experience. Will they be frightened away?

I think that the new design (not the new bugs) will feel better to a new blogger than did the old design. I’d be interested to hear if anyone’s done any testing on this.

I get the impression that the WordPress.org community is less bothered about the new design than is the WordPress.com community. I can think of several reasons for this. For example, the .org community comprises those who upgrade the WordPress software for themselves, and so will install 2.5 when they’re ready.

So, I’m thinking that: if we plotted approval of 2.5 against blogger experience, we’d see a U-shaped curve. Those who approve least tend to be moderately experienced bloggers, of which there are many at WordPress.com.

I should add that the U-shaped curve thought is a rather tentative hypothesis about what we’d find if we gathered data from WordPress bloggers on a couple of variables. There would of course be “outliers,” such as WordPress.com bloggers who love the new interface and novice bloggers who hate it.

WordPress 2.5 Usability Review Review

The main goal of the recent WordPress 2.5 was to to increase usability. Unfortunately, some, particularly at WordPress.com, have initially experienced the new release as a decrease in usability.

So when I saw, via the discerning engtech, that there was a WordPress 2.5 usability review, I checked it out. There are some remarks that seem to me valid, such as those about colors.

Overall, though, I’m disappointed with the review. There is no mention of the fact that, when writing a post, we now have to page down to assign it to a category. I am far from alone in preferring the Categories box to be at the side of the Post content box, as it used to be prior to 2.5

The review itself has some barriers to usability. I shuddered at writing such as “color that is contrastful to the rest of the design, possibly a complimentary color” (should be “contrasts with the rest of the design” and “complementary,” although the second error is nowhere near as annoying as the first).

I also object to the lack of a link to any other page at the site (noscope.com). The front page consists mainly of many large images: thumbnails, with links to larger images, would have made it more user-friendly.

Perhaps some of the above is harsh. But those who preach usability should be prepared to be judged on usability. That includes WordPress, although I should add that I consider some of the judgment of 2.5 to be hasty.

WordPress 2.5 and…

After WordPress 2.5, what next? Matt Mullenweg gave a talk at the recent WordCamp in Dallas about 2.5 and beyond. There’s video of the talk at the WordPress Podcast. The “beyond” part of the talk, which starts at around the 50 minute mark, doesn’t include anything earth-shattering.

The more immediate sequel to the launch of 2.5 was the 2.5-ification of WordPress.com. That just happened, to considerable outcry in the support forums. Some of the outcry might have been pre-empted by an announcement that the dashboard was about to change, and here’s how. On the other hand, some people just plain don’t like the new dash, and are lobbying for the return of the old look, or at least for the option of keeping the old look. Personally, I’m not part of the outcry, which I expect to die down soon.

SWPL Can Has Bookdeel

The NYT reports book deals for two WordPress.com blogs: Stuff White People Like and I Can Has Cheezburger. I don’t get the latter: LOLcats don’t make me L, certainly not OL.

But I do get the former. That’s probably not surprising, coming from a white guy married to an asian girl. Having said that, SWPL isn’t one of the feeds in my reader. SWPL is a site I visit when I link reminds me of its existence.

Today’s link came via Toni, who blogged about the book deals. I’m glad it came today, because I really love today’s SWPL post, about music and the piracy thereof.

I didn’t mention book deals in my account of making money from your WordPress.com blog. Perhaps I should have done. But given that there are millions of WordPress.com blogs, and a handful of book deals, the omission doesn’t seem too serious. On the other hand, SWPL apparently got a $300k advance.

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.

WordPress.com, Google, Yahoo Making Music Together

For those of us hosted at WordPress.com, there are multiple ways to include music in a post. the simplest is to point the WordPress audio player at an MP3 file.

This raises the question of where to stash the MP3 files. In a recent support forum thread, DZonson suggested the use of Google Pages. You use Google Page Creator to set up a site, upload the MP3s, put them on a page, publish the page, and you can then use the WordPress MP3 player at the MP3s.

You can take one more step in order to make such GPC pages available as playlists. You can edit each page’s html to add a line of javascript invoking the Yahoo Media Player. I like this simple, lightweight player, and I like the way it turns a storage bin for MP3s into a page that can be made interesting in its own right.

I should note that GPC is part of Google labs, which is a place for projects “that aren’t quite ready for prime time.” GPC imposes space limits, currently 10MB on a file and 100MB on a site (but you can have multiple sites).

I should also note that Yahoo Media Player can’t be used directly at WordPress.com itself, since it is javascript. I wish it could be made available, in much the same way as services such as Sonific are available.