Automattic & WordPress: Software & Services, Growing Together

WordPress is one of the most popular open source projects today, and it powers an incredible number of websites around the world. Started as a fork from b2 in 2003, WordPress has grown from a simple blogging engine into a full-blown CMS that can be used for a wide range of sites. It’s popularity is largely due to the wide range of third-party themes, plugins, and services that have been created over the past years to enhance WordPress.

Behind it all is Automattic, the company founded by Matt Mullenweg to advance WordPress development. They’ve tried to navigate the difficult path of creating a profitable business around an open source project, and over the years have diversified their offering to provide more value to bloggers and WordPress developers. Recently, though, they’ve created a stir among WordPress developers by creating more for-pay offerings that could compete with third-party developers’ offerings. Let’s take a look at some of the most recent developments in the WordPress ecosystem, and what it means for the future of the platform.

Automattic: A Startup Focused on Open Source Development

One of Automattic’s first major commercial ventures was the launch of WordPress.com, a hosted version of WordPress that’s incredibly easy to use. WordPress.com is free for a basic site, and you can purchase premium upgrades to add more space, a unique domain, video support, and most recently, premium themes. WordPress’ overall popularity has been greatly enhanced by WordPress.com. Many bloggers start their sites on WordPress.com, and then later move to a self-hosted WordPress.org install that they can tweak further.

The biggest problem with WordPress.com is that you can’t install your own plugins and themes on it, so third-party developers have few ways to add WordPress.com services. While it would seem that Automattic would rather keep WordPress users on WordPress.com, they have actually been very supportive of moving your site to your own hosting. Recently, they’ve even added a new premium service to help move your WordPress.com site to a self-hosted install. It’s an interesting balance between a freemium web service and open source software that seems to be beneficial for everyone involved.

The simplest way to create a WordPress site

VaultPress: WordPress Backups Made Simple

This past year, Automattic released a new beta backup service for self-hosted WordPress sites: VaultPress. We’ve recently reviewed VaultPress here at Web.AppStorm, and found it to be one of the simplest and most comprehensive WordPress backup services available. It’s built on the same infrastructure as WordPress.com, giving Automattic another way to leverage their infrastructure while helping WordPress users keep their data safe and their site secure.

In the future, services like this could make it even easier to move your site between webhosts, letting you keep your site running at the place that works best for you. Interestingly enough, this gives Automattic a way to benefit from both WordPress.com and WordPress.org users, with a service that is unique and better integrated than other competing backup solutions. The only problem is, VaultPress starts at $15/month, so it’s rather pricey for individual bloggers.

VaultPress offers advanced WordPress backup

Jetpacks in 2011

It turns out, jetpacks have finally become a reality thanks to Automattic. No, you can’t zip around with mini rockets on your back, but you can add a ton of new features to your WordPress site with this new plugin from Automattic. Over the years, Automattic has produced a number of popular plugins for WordPress.org sites, many of which were features they originally released in WordPress.com.

They have now combined these into Jetpack. With one install, you can get WordPress stats, Gravatar integration, URL shortening with WP.me, After the Deadline spelling and grammar check, and more. In the future, it seems very likely that Automattic will continue to tie their services together, and you could imagine in the future that you could start a site with WordPress.com, move it to a new host with VaultPress, and use Jetpack to keep all of your addons and more the same between the old and new sites.

Most of the plugins in Jetpack were available previously as individual plugins, but are now rolled together as one offering that ties in with your WordPress.com account. Additionally, Automattic has worked with many webhosts to include Jetpack as a default WordPress plugin. While most users are excited to get the WordPress.com features on their self-hosted sites, some have complained that this is yet another way Automattic is keeping control over individual WordPress installs. That said, there’s no other plugin that offers all of these features, so it seem to be a net positive for the community in my opinion.

Jetpack: WordPress.com meets WordPress.org

WordPress Foundation

While Automattic has been working on finding ways to support blogging and stay profitable while giving away WordPress, they have increasingly worked to make sure WordPress software will always remain free and open source. This past year, they have created a new non-profit WordPress Foundation to support its open source development and maintain the free plugins and themes that have made WordPress popular and great. The foundation now owns the WordPress trademark and logo, to make sure it always stays free and independent. In this way and many others, Automattic continues to give back to the community while enhancing the ecosystem with new services.

WordPress software is free forever

Conclusion

While Automattic’s move to produce more premium products and services for WordPress has frustrated some 3rd party WordPress developers, it’s still nice to see a company built around open source software finding a way to be profitable while giving away their primary product. WordPress has become an incredible fertile area of web development in recent years, with premium plugins, themes, and services coming from a wide variety of skilled developers and designers around the world. Envato’s own ThemeForest has nearly 1,000 WordPress themes right now, while CodeCanyon boasts over 150 premium WordPress plugins.

Automattic’s increased focus on premium development for the WordPress ecosystem only makes the field bigger for everyone, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason independent developers won’t continue to find WordPress a highly profitable platform to develop for. If you’re a WordPress developer, we’d love to hear your opinion on this. Are you excited to see Automattic developing more premium WordPress services, or are you scared they’ll eventually take away your business?