I attended Portland WordCamp 2010 last weekend and one of my favorite sessions was the “town hall meeting” with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress. In the true spirit of the town hall forum, the topic of conversation varied from Matt’s take on social media and digital sharecropping, to some of his favorite WordPress plug-ins, to Matt’s esoteric insight into the future of WordPress. Here are some of the many highlights:
Closing the Loop on Social
Matt identified a key problem with social media– the inability to easily view the social profiles of people who interact with you on your blog or social network, thus limiting your engagement to the source where they originally engaged you. Because of this, social conversations have become increasingly fragmented on the Web, due to the lack of flow between social networks and blogs. Matt referenced the Salmon Protocol, an initiative that “aims to define a standard protocol for comments and annotations to swim upstream to original update sources – and spawn more commentary in a virtuous cycle.” The idea is that if we can “close the loop” on social then we will be able to be engaged by others in our preferred social environment as well as easily find and converse with those who engage us in their preferred social setting, as well as filtering comments back to the original source that sparked the engagement. In doing so, we can increase the number of comments/conversations happening on the Web and connect the dots through our social networks. Matt mentioned that there are currently a couple of WordPress plugins that can help you start to close the loop– WPBook enables your self-hosted WordPress blog to be used as a Facebook application, allowing the comments made on your blog and comments made on your Facebook page to be visible to people who view either source. IntenseDebate also allows for “Two-Way Comment Sync” as well as syncing your trackbacks. A fellow WordCamper mentioned that the Wordbooker plugin also allows you to “cross-pollinate” between Facebook and your blog.
The WordPress founder also shared his philosophical views on digital sharecropping. The phrase “digital sharecroppers” was coined by author Nicholas Carr to describe people who create content on community websites while typically not getting anything in return for the content they’ve created, other than the satisfaction of self-expression and socialization. The philosophical debate is over the value of creating content in the Web 2.0 world that you don’t actually own. As of today, all of the content created on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., isn’t actually owned by the person who created it. It’s owned by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I know I think about this every time I see a commercial that ends with Facebook.com/CocaCola or Facebook.com/Toyota. I’m not a fan of this strategy (no pun intended), but directing people to a company’s Facebook Page instead of their own website or blog seems to be gaining popularity. Matt’s point, from my perspective, was not to discourage the creation of content in social communities, but rather to emphasize the importance of making sure that the content you create on the social web ultimately “comes back home” to your own blog or website. This, of course, ties in to the idea of “closing the loop” of social conversations.
The Future of WordPress
Matt proudly announced that Automattic, his for-profit company that created WordPress, recently donated the WordPress trademark to the non-profit WordPress Foundation. The WordPress Foundation is now responsible for safeguarding the WordPress name and logo, to prevent the future of WordPress being dictated by monetary interests and instead to focus on progress for the benefit of WordPress and the open source community. Hopefully this means that WordPress will continue to be free for users and that the coding community will continue to develop plugins that are both fantastic and free.
Matt gave some hints about the future goals of WordPress. Number one (of the less secretive goals, I assume) is to make WordPress.com sites and self-hosted WordPress.org sites about the same, functionality-wise. Currently there are a lot of cool features available to WordPress hosted sites that aren’t readily available to self-hosted sites. Matt said he wants to make the features available on the WordPress.com sites easier to add to the self-hosted WordPress.org sites. The WordPress founder was also asked about the possibility of a WordPress operating system in the near future, which was met with a smile and a “we’ll see”.
WordPress will also continue to support older versions, even as new versions of WordPress become available. Matt noted that he sees this as a fundamental difference between WordPress and Drupal. According to Matt, Drupal’s new release isn’t compatible with older versions, whereas WordPress strives to do things the hard way and maintain “backwards compatibility”. However, a developer sitting next to me was quick to point out, “that’s great, but when I update WordPress some of the plugins still break”. So Matt, we appreciate the extra effort from WordPress to make our lives easier with “backwards compatibility”, but perhaps a future goal could be to encourage this same principle among WordPress plugin developers.
To learn more about WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, visit his website ma.tt or follow him on Twitter @photomatt. Matt isn’t accepting Facebook friends at this time, although he did accept a friend request from Mark Zuckerberg.