Since its beginning, WordPress has won the hearts and computers of millions. This week Paul and Gina are joined by WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg as he talks about the expansion of WordPress and his love for open source. He shares controversial opinions on open source and explains why we’ll all be headed there in the future.
Paul Ford I’ve been telling people that WebAssembly is the next big thing.
Matt Mullenweg 2030, can we put it on the calendars? [Gina chuckles]
Gina Trapani Let’s do it!
PF By that point, WebAssembly will be the next big thing, dammit. I’ve been saying that for five years. [Matt chuckles]
MM And Linux on the desktop, right?
PF Ugh, no, that’s just for me. [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out] Oh my goodness, Gina.
GT Hi Paul!
PF Gina, we have some disclosures with this guest.
GT Agh, I’m so excited about this guest! I’m very excited.
PF You’re very—you love this platform
GT I do.
PF I refuse to have any—I remain truly neutral on all content platforms. I feel that that is my responsibility as like the Switzerland of content, but you are a fan. What’s it called? What’s your favorite CMS Gina?
GT I love WordPress, I do. I’m gonna say it! I feel that maybe as a professional, I should also try to be neutral. But I’m just gonna say it, I’ve been publishing with and building on WordPress for a decade. And I’m a big fan. And so I’m very excited about the guest that we have on today.
PF Wait, before we have this guest, let’s just fully disclose we are a WordPress VIP Partner, we have taken money from WordPress for work in the past. So just everything you hear is just pure marketing, [Gina laughs] just don’t believe a word, just like that, as opposed to this podcast normally, when we’re marketing our firm non stop. So you know, just—but we trust you the listener to understand what’s going on here, which is that we’re talking to someone who was the founder and the builder of one of the largest and most significant content production platforms in the history of humankind, not just the web, Matt Mullenweg. Welcome to the Postlight Podcast!
MM Thank you so much for having me. And neutrality is way overrated. [Gina laughs]That just means you haven’t figured things out yet.
PF I mean okay, alright, let’s go there. I mean, you know, I put the words in the box in the boxes, the database, and then I get the words out. And now increasingly, that’s an API. Why do I need all this content management in the middle? What’s that management? Who likes management?! [Gina laughs] Before I provoke you, WordPress is big. And there’s a lot of different ways to measure big, sometimes I see percentages of all the web pages in the world and things like that. Give us a sense about the organization and the scale. And also, it’d be very helpful to understand there, you know, I think about WordPress, and I think of that admin screen in my mind, but I know there’s a lot more going on. So how big is this thing? And what are the things that WordPress does as an organization?
MM Yeah, WordPress is an open source project, I co founded with Mike Little 17 years ago, in 2003. It encompasses a really large community that kind of hangs out on wordpress.org, develops it, you know, any given release has 500 or 600 contributors only which 10% work directly with me in a commercial fashion. So 90% really wide. There’s 1000s of volunteers, translators, and a huge economy built around it, I would estimate that the WordPress economy is about 10 billion a year or above. WordPress now powers, I think the stat we use is either built with web text, but it’s like 38 or 39% of the top 10 million sites.
GT That is wild. That is a wild stat.
PF I mean that’s a lot of words.
MM It’s a lot of words being pressed.
GT Yeah! A lot of words being pressed.
MM So I see that as a trailing metric. That’s not a goal. Like I would love to get that to 85%. But that’s not a goal. It’s that is a measure of how well we’re serving our users, how well the community is moving along with what the state of the art in content management, ecommerce, everything is happening and adapting and using. So WordPress is kind of this free core that we we build. There’s also over 55,000 plugins and themes that can transform it into pretty much anything. And some of those are very popular like maybe Yoast SEO is widely regarded like the best SEO Software. WooCommerce, which is one of our products is an ecommerce built on top of WordPress. That’s now over $20 billion a year of goods being sold through and it’s growing like a weed. A few years after starting WordPress, I started a company called Automattic. So typical egotistical founder, put my name in it. And the idea was to create basically a company that worked in concert with the open source. So where this kind of for profit and nonprofit we both complement each other and make both bigger than either would be on it’s own. And so fast forward 15 years, Automattic is 1300 people. We’ve been fully distributed from day one. So even free COVID we have people in 77 countries pretty much every US state and we make commercial add ons. So wordpress.com, which is like a hosting service for WordPress WooCommerce, which is the e commerce plugin. We bought Tumblr last year. So we’re running Tumblr now and we’re going to switch that to WordPress and some other things that are fun, like SimpleNote and lots of plugins.
GT Just a little side project that turned into a little company. [Gina laughs]
PF Your average human being hears WordPress. And they don’t realize that it is actually kind of quietly one of the very large platforms of the web, right? Like I think, you know, people think Google, you know, Amazon because and they get all the oxygen. And then you have this sort of iceberg floating along, which is WordPress. It’s changed the the nature of the web. And actually, what to me is fascinating about it is that so much of what’s happening in our world is about turning the web into a software delivery platform, just app app, app, app. And WordPress is is that core of the web that is about we’re going to make pages, they’re going to be searchable, they’re going to be optimized. And then you build on top of that. We can have commerce and catalogs and things like that on top of it. Do you feel that tension? Do you feel the tension to kind of turn WordPress into an app generation platform? Or is its heart, going to always remain in the page with words on it?
MM I think what’s beautiful is, regardless, whatever tension I personally feel or not, you know, because it’s really run by the community. It goes. So I would say people have been using WordPress as the app platform for since 2012, 2013. And it was kind of a third wave is where at first WordPress was really just about blogging. And then it became about sort of managing your entire website. So versus like something you plug into another website. And then people start using the app platform. Why do they do this? I think it’s it can be well suited for—you joked about putting things in a database and taking them out. If if that ratio is kind of one to one, like maybe like a video game or a chat service, the data architecture and structure of WordPress is not well suited. So you probably want something else. But if it’s something that’s like, write a lot, read a lot more, access pattern. WordPress is fantastic for that. So it can support literally millions of authors publishing things millions of times a day, that get read billions of times per day. So that sort of model is really good for it.
GT Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, one of the things that that we do a lot of Postlight is that we’re building platforms that have a lot of different components and content being one of them. And a big thing for me with WordPress was when the REST API, you know, became stable, and we use WordPress often in a headless sense as one component of a bigger platform. And that that really opens up a lot of different possibilities. Because, you know, you get that those advantages of all the things that you know, what is it 14 years or many years of WordPress development and user permissions and basic, you know, author and great authoring experience, etc. But you can still surface that, that content, really wherever you want it to be, it doesn’t have to be webpage, right. It can be an Alexa scale or an iPhone, you know, phone app or whatever.
PF You know, like I said I am this was I’m Switzerland, when it comes to CMS is I’m very neutral. But the reality is when people are like, what should I use, and they make some very, they know, I love technology, and I like to use wonderful things. And they make their very strong arguments, because people like to argue for new exciting things that are completely unproven. And I’m like, “Yeah, no, you’re gonna use WordPress, you’re, that’s what you’re gonna do. Because that’s going to work, and you’re not going to get confused and spend all your money on something that won’t work, and will be confusing.” And so it’s just, it’s infrastructure. And it really does lock in, as you’re building these things. I think what’s funny with the app based world that we’re in now, especially because a firm like our services firm, we get asked to build web apps, probably more than we get asked to build sites. But there’s always a, you know, 20, 30%, that is about managing the content, it just still has to happen. People are still creating things with words that have to go online. And yeah, I mean, at that point, you’re going to have WordPress has rest or WordPress with graph qL in front of it. And it’s, it’s, you’re gonna, you’re gonna have to make a strong argument otherwise.
GT I was gonna ask, Matt, I know that, you know, the open source community, it’s so it’s incredible that you have 90%, contributor, volunteer contributors, 10% from Automattic, is that what you would you mentioned earlier, which is really amazing, because the community really is taking a platform and driving it forward. I’m curious, like, what are what have been the features that have come out of, you know, the open source project that we were most excited about? Or inspired by?
MM Yeah, it’s, it’s every feature. [Gina laughs] I mean, I don’t know if I can—I missed something very important earlier, which is like WordPress is actually not the most important thing in the world to me, open source is. So I see a future of humanity where open source is like as we globalize, it’s key for like us being harmonious and not like descending into like a Malthusian trap or something like that. But we really need if you think of what open source is, is essentially a hack to get competitors to work together and sort of create a shared commons of knowledge and functionality in the case of software, that something getting bigger, it becomes better, where with most proprietary solutions, when something gets bigger, it becomes worse or becomes less lined with its users. Because the owners of WordPress are its users. And there’s a Bill of Rights attached to it, which is the four freedoms that the GPL it is much more of like a, what’s the word, like a meta space country then it is like even a single product. And I, kind of a controversial opinion I have kind of go into what Paul said is that the sort of survival rate of proprietary software like they’re all evolutionary dead ends, the very long term, that might be 20, 30, 40 years. But it’s all going to move to open source because that’s where all the incentives are. I think even a company like Microsoft, being now one of the largest open contributors, source contributors in the world, is astounding, and something that I think most people wouldn’t have predicted 10 or 20 years ago, but I believe it’s actually inevitable.
PF Oh my brain has literally come out of my ears when I look at Microsoft today, [Matt chuckles] it’s so wild to see where they are in terms of how they perceive and interact with the world compared to how they used to be.
MM And they’re doing a great job at it too. And now they take some of that crazy intelligence they already had, and their point of view that open source, I think it is, it is multiplying. And it’s still, what’s amazing is open source now runs so much. And it’s still I would guess like less than 1% of IT spend goes towards creating open source. In a city like San Francisco, which has an annual city of 700,00, 800,000 people spends on software licensing 50, 60, $70 million per year, every year, where WordPress going from zero to probably 23% of the web was spent on entirely Automattic, around $11 million outside funding, sort of 2005 to 2014.
PF Look, I’m the only person at Postlight, because I’m the CEO, I get to use Ubuntu 20 as my daily driver, [Matt laughs] everybody else has to use a Mac. And I think there’s two things happening, right, and I see this with your product as well—or not, your community’s product, that is a good distinction to make, which is that there has been a tipping point. And actually Microsoft and Microsoft’s involvement is not just symbolic, but sort of contributes to that tipping point where the quality is really good, it’s still hard to kind of-what’s still hard, sometimes things like setup and installation. And that part of the experience, open source culture doesn’t drive towards them, often as much as a commercial driver does. But once you get on the other side of that the experiences are almost indistinguishable from really good commercial software. And sometimes often they’re just more options and more extensibility. I mean, like, I don’t notice I’m on Ubuntu anymore. I switch back to the Mac. I’m like, yeah, okay, when I have to, which is to use Keynote. And so play that out a little bit. Right. Like this is more of a comment than a question. So let me let me turn it into a question. What about that part of it? What about installation? Like you spent an enormous amount of your life helping people get things on to run on servers? And now there’s a lot of new, new ways to do that, and a lot of cloud services. So fast forward a little bit, where do you think that’s gonna go?
Yeah, I think the biggest threat to open source is probably the the native app ecosystems. So Android and the App Store, quite famously, in the case of Apple have completely proprietary ecosystems, you can’t side load things—
GT You know, Android is open source itself, right? I mean, it’s actually Google.
MM Well, I like to zoom out and like think of technology as like broad, multi decade trends. And we had a really dark period for security and malware, you know, there’s kind of that dark time when Windows was the dominant platform that people were interacting with technology. And much like if someone’s site gets hacked today, including if they have an outdated WordPress site gets hacked, like, the ability to fix that up is very difficult. It’s difficult even for professionals, much less if you’re, you know, kind of a lay person. And so we really pivoted towards these very close app ecosystems with lots of vetting and controls and the ability to revoke or remove apps from people’s phones, to I think the motivation, on the good side was for security, and probably why people trade it off, on the dark side, maybe not even consciously it was for control and monetization. You know, apples 30% tax being quite famous, which are now politically brilliantly lowering to 15% for under a million dollars, so they can, [Matt chuckles] but like, that’s all—
PF What amazing timing for Apple to make that decision, right? What a surprise that right now today is when they’re deciding to just cut that bad boy in half, let a million flowers bloom.
MM And we ran into this very personally. In fact, one of the rare times Apple’s ever apologized was a few months ago, when they were essentially had communicated us after many, many appeals, we would have to add in app purchases to the free open source WordPress app on the App Store. And they had actually locked us out where we weren’t even able to ship bug fixes unless we agreed to do this, or leave the App Store entirely. And I’ve got a million people using that app, so I can’t abandon them. So I just swallowed and said, well, this was ultimately, like you agree to people’s rules you should play by so I was like, okay, we’ll do this. And I just tried to give a heads up to the WordPress community like, “Hey, there’s going to be in app purchases for wordpress.com. In this app, which is meant to be a little more Switzerland. We can add an app purchase for other things. So if you’re a different company, if you’re GoDaddy, if you’re Yoast, like this app’s open source, let’s add your stuff to and we’ll figure out how to resolve that.” But there were literally forcing us to do this. And that ended up becoming the biggest tech story of that kind of like couple days and Apple reversed position. But the fact that that had to happen in the first place shows how arbitrary and capricious doing this is. By the way, I have total sympathy for them. Like this was, I think they’re managing 10,000 app updates a day, or something like some wild number, and they’re reviewing every single one of them.
PF The app store launched with like 500 apps in like, 2008, I think, right? So they had a good plan. And this is gonna be we’re gonna keep this on lockdown. And I mean, you know, and they saw the iPhone and what was happening with it. But no one could have predicted no one could have predicted this scale. And so, okay, here we are. And I just look at that 30%. And I think like, what if this ecosystem had 25% of revenue kicked back to making new things, instead of going to the giant, monolithic company, that would be really good, right? Like, just put capitalism aside for a minute, like Apple can do what it wants to do, because it’s a giant organ, it can use lawyers to figure it out. But like, boy, would that be good for our world right now of technology to let the people who are on their you know, an apple could still keep an under utterly huge 5%. This is not a popular opinion, turns out doesn’t turn out. The people are excited by what I’m saying.
MM I think it’s tough. And we do give Apple a little bit harder time, rightly so, we hold them to a higher standard, because they are I think, by market cap, the largest or second largest company in the world, they throw off more in profits than most countries have in revenue. And it can be somewhat arbitrary. Tom Conrad had a great tweet, which I’ll now read, because I thought it was brilliant. He said, “Scoop: Apple to charge 0% fee for the first 1 trillion in revenue from developers who choose to monetize through advertising, or via the sale of real world goods and services” [Matt chuckles] sort of calling out the Airbnb’s and Facebooks of the world that are allowed to—Uber’—to monetize completely with paying 0% of this Apple tax. So an interesting questions like why has WordPress as an open source community succeeded where most other open source things doing similar stuff, including starting at similar times, haven’t gotten as big or, or had the same incentives. And one thing I think is really key to us is we have a system called Five For the Future. So this is a completely voluntary, I guess you could call the tax, or you could call it a contribution, basically, to avoid the tragedy of Commons. And we say if you’re making your living from WordPress, or making a ton of money from WordPress, or whatever it is, consider taking 5% of revenue, whatever it is, and funnel it back into things that grow the community, that aren’t just for you, but like, sort of increased the pie. So for Automattic now, we have 5% of our people, 1300 people. Actually, a lot of people, were a little below that, I think we’re at 4%, or three and a half. But we have essentially 60 full time people working full time contributing to the open source side of things, not working any commercial stuff for Automattic. And other companies doing that, Yoast is actually a great example, I think it’s part of the reason WordPress has not collapsed under its own weight as we have scaled.
PF I mean, this, you know, you’re one organization, one platform, but you saw this when the Heartbleed bug came out. And suddenly, the whole Secure Sockets Layer infrastructure of the internet, the security of it is questioned and as the as people look into the story, it just turns out, it’s these completely underfunded volunteers keeping that thing alive for probably a decade plus. And meanwhile, Google, Facebook, everybody had built infrastructure on top of that, and kind of, you know, you don’t think about the platforms that you build on a lot of times, you just kind of assume that they’re there, and they’ll remain there. And that every everybody’s getting what they want out of the transaction. So by making that explicit, you’re forcing people to care for the infrastructure, right.
MM So that’s why, I think, some sort of platform taxes is could be a good thing. What would be even better, though, was if there was an active third party community making iOS better now. And you could choose which iOS you want to use, and things like that. And as amazing as iOS is, I consider it’s like one of the best operating systems ever created, and their vertical integration with processer, everything, it is really one of the best products humanity has ever produced. I wonder how much better it could be if they didn’t have this sort of underdog mentality. Like, we have to fight every single competitor? Like, I feel like Apple still has that culture of being like, you know, weeks or months away from death and getting sort of saved by an investment by Microsoft.
PF The thing that I want our listeners to think about as you’re talking right, is that like, this is eminently possible. And Microsoft is actually and this is a strange thing to say for people of our cohort. Microsoft is leading the way, like if you told me that chunks of Windows are going to get open source the next five years, or new, you know, parts of server infrastructure stuff or larger parts of Azure. I’d be like, yeah, that probably makes sense that seems to fit really well with their strategy and they’re giving a lot back into that ecosystem at the same time. And that is going to make them billions of dollars. Like they’re going to do really well by that. And so I think it’s utterly possible. But yeah, it is not Apple’s way.
MM I made a long bet in 2007, October 20th 2007, Microsoft will open source Windows before 2017. And it was interesting how I was wrong in that bey, right? Because I think was 2017, the year they bought GitHub or like they had moved, so they’ve swung so much toward open source, but it didn’t matter, Windows didn’t matter anymore. So it’s being open source isn’t as important. But what they started to do and what they started to open up, including, like supporting Linux on Azure, like other things, was far ended up being far more significant.
PF Are there any big orgs, because you’re in a good position to know, any other really good big orgs that are doing very well by open source? You know, aside from Microsoft, anybody where you’re like, “Oh, you know, when we work with them, they’ve got it.”
MM I think there’s pockets in every single organization, because open source is just so clearly the future, and the right moral thing to do if you’re an engineer, and you understand the moral and political implications of software licenses and longevity of code and everything like that, that I think it very naturally attracts engineers, and those engineers shift organizations from the inside, where they have the power and ability to do so. And even where they don’t sometimes they ask forgiveness, not permission, which I love. All engineers should do that more.
PF Linux was that one machine in the closet that solved a problem. You know, now it runs all the cloud services, sure.
MM Which changed hugely, and you would probably speak to this as well as like, there was a time not that long ago, when WordPress being open source was seen as a liability for large adoption.
MM And, and they were like, “Oh, open source is insecure, who developed—” like all these sorts of things. It turns out everything they said, the opposite was actually true. Open source is, I believe, far more secure than proprietary software, it has better development in support over time, you actually have far more flexibility and not being beholden to one company like an Oracle, to update it 10 years from now. You could, as people do for PHP, employ people to port security patches to things that PHP doesn’t even support anymore. So there’s a lot more autonomy control, mastery, purpose, everything that you can get with open source.
GT I mean, I think this is still, these are still fears. I mean, if you, Matt, if you were talking to an IT director, or CTO, who was saying to you, you know, I have engineers who really, you know, want to either open source work that we’ve made internally, or wanna use open source projects that already exists. But I am having a hard time selling this up to chain. I mean, why would we use code that’s public to the world, and everyone can see its flaws? Why do I have to worry about managing a community of contributors who don’t even work for me and may not be interested in what my business is doing? Like how would you advise that person? What what are the kind of the talking points or the or the things that you would arm a decision maker who’s trying to, you know, make that shifting culture from fear and secrecy and, you know, keeping things proprietary to that open source model?
MM It’d probably depend on the customer. Because I want to know, like, what was important to them. Are they concerned about cost, security. If I were just kind of like, if I were doing a talk on this, I probably try to make an analogy to the drug war. [Matt chuckles] And you know, things we learned 50 years from now about, like, really morally odious stuff Nixon said, like the precept of criminalizing seven things like marijuana or psychedelics. At some point, I think in the 90s, people just forgot that that was how it started. And they just kind of kept the the criminalization going. And then like, only more recently, we’ve like, “Oh, wow, this was a totally false premise. No one believes that anymore.” I feel like the people who spread that fight about open source being less secure, was like Microsoft. And so you can go into the history of the Halloween memo and other things where they said, like—
PF Oh, boy, did they. Yeah.
MM “We need to, we need to, like create fear, uncertainty and doubt to like, disrupt this thing, because otherwise it will overtake us.” And those people themselves, those organizations, like Microsoft, in fact, do adopt open source for more and more mission critical things. I think it’d be interesting to talk about the history of cryptography, where the security actually comes from all sides, knowing exactly how it works, and not from some sort of security by obscurity, which of course, is a flaw. Maybe dig into some of those assumptions, like, security by obscurity are the things that like, kind of break them down. Like is this reality? Is this true? And that could be an interesting way. But of course, it depends completely on the client. Like some people don’t actually feel that strongly about it. And I feel like sometimes they just ask that just the urge to respond.
GT Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, another thing that we that we hear from clients do we say like, how about, you know, open sourcing this thing, its like, “Well, but then people are gonna come and then they’re gonna send pull requests, and then we’re gonna have to answer their questions.” And I’m like, yeah, in the best case scenario, right? Like, that would happen. But it’s a little bit like “But then I have to staff people to actually respond to those things. And this just feels like a big lift, community is a lot of work” and doesn’t really scale and we don’t we don’t want to deal with that. It’s like you’ll be lucky if people come and send you pull requests, number one, so if you get to that place—
PF But this is also, like when people architect the platform for 8 billion users an hour. And you’re like, yeah, why don’t we just build it and see? Right? Like, yeah, you know, God help you if the worst thing that happens to you is that your platform gets a lot of support and engagement from the open source community like that, it really only happens like any tiny percentage, like, it’d be great to see the stats on GitHub as to like where the most action is, right? I’m sure it would actually be relatively predictable, which is just, there’s certain things that get a lot of attention.
MM There’s a power law, for sure. But there’s, I think, also a power law of utility. Gina, I apologize if I missed the distinction between like producing open source versus consuming it. So for consuming, I’ll make the arguments I did earlier, and maybe point to some things like how Facebook’s security team, which is some of the best in the world, reviewed and signed off on WordPress. And that’s one of the things they’re allowed to use. And the power is all their fb.com sites. Like, if I’m talking to like a retailer, you make in a suit? What is your security to know that like Facebook’s does not so the best technologists in the world. So those things can work well. For producing open source, I actually shift a little bit where I’m a little bit of a maximalist. And I believe that if you’re at the bottom end of that power law, there’s actually not as much utility to making things open source either. And much like nonprofits where you can sometimes get a bunch of different nonprofits trying to solve the same problem. And how much better would be if they were able to combine forces and effective way, much that I think most companies should probably use and contribute to existing open source projects more than create their own. And I think that the utility they’ll get from that is far better. And that is also kind of the whole point of open source. I’m a little bit of an anti monopolist and other things. But open source turns that on its head, because because the freedoms are imbued to every user, that kind of Bill of Rights attached to the software, as it becomes more popular, it’s actually increasing the freedom in the world, where a traditional monopoly or something as it became more popular with decreased freedom in the world. So it’s one of those things where if we can all work together, kinda like the Wikipedia, we’ll create something that’s far better than any proprietary alternative ever could.
PF I always feel that plugin architectures, I mean, WordPress is a pure example of plugins, open source tools with plug in architecture, because it lowers the onramp so much to just be like, Oh, this is the API for working with this thing. I’m gonna build this little plug in that solves my problem, throw it out into the world and see what happens. And whereas the core platform then might require a lot more love and attention and require a lot more focused before you can get involved. Making plugins tends to be really, really easy. And it seems to be hard to architect things that way. Because you don’t see a lot of things that have good well defined plug in architectures. But boy, does it lower the cost for jumping in.
MM It was actually a very deliberate design decision we made early on in WordPress, which is instead of creating like a, an object oriented, hierarchical means of extending it, which actually imposes a lot of your ideas for how the architecture should work in the taxonomy of the code and data, we decided to go with this system of filters and actions, which basically allow you to filter and change almost every piece of data at different points in that execution, or when something else is happening, jump in there and say I want to do something too. So the combination of these I feel like is actually an incredibly powerful framework that maybe we need a better term for, like like object oriented, but I think more software should adopt. The other important thing there for people creating open source projects is what are the incentives of those extensions. So for example, one thing I’ve seen some other projects kind of fall by the wayside was was they created a kind of built in monetization on the platform. Now, what that ends up doing is it discouraged developers from working together. So let’s say Paul, you made a blue widget plugin, and I made a blue widget plugin. And we’re each making maybe five grand a year from that blue widget plugin, there’s no incentive for us to collaborate, because then we have to figure out how to divide the money and stuff like that. And there’s an anti incentive for that ever to go into core. So the core offers says, ÈHey, we need blue widgets and in core” now I’m, I’m fighting for that, because I’m making some money from not doing it. And then also users get nickeled and dimed a bit where you start and you’re like, I have to buy 30 different things from 30 different vendors or even if it’s all combined, but kind of like that. That non bundles experience, which I think each one is like, kind of whittling away at the the great use of experience.
PF You mentioned Wikipedia, what other sort of big open projects you keep an eye on, like what do you think is interesting out there in the world?
MM Chromium, is incredible. And you can look at the V8 engine that’s powering node. And there’s so much that’s come out of this. And it’s a great example where Google sort of seeded this open source project. And it created some of the best code that’s been written in the past 10 years. It’s moved the state of the art for what we can create on the web at a time.
PF Let’s not forget they bootstrapped it with Konqueror from KDE, right. So it goes even further back.
MM Yeah, both I think both Safari and Chromium branched from KDE, right. Sorry, the khtml whatever it was called.
PF Yeah, khtml, which was actually a very good browser back in the day, it was just sort of like, “Oh, this is happening now?” And so anyway, but I mean, but no, no, I mean, that got them there faster.
MM They started contributing to an existing project. And then later, I think they’ve re architected it twice since then, but they later rebuilt it. And now we have this, you know, to go back to Microsoft, Microsoft, of Internet Explorer fame, that was the thing they got taken to Agent trasport is now using chromium as the basis of Edge. And actually, another controversial view I have is that it’s inevitable and probably a good thing for Firefox to adopt chromium as well.
GT Interesting. Let me unpack this. This is funny, because when Chrome, when Chromium was announced at the time, Firefox was a great browser that everyone loved. And it’s open source. And at the time, I remember thinking, why is Google doing this? You know, why don’t we just make Firefox is it, it had great extension, all the things at the time, right? This is we were talking about 10 years ago? Probably, I don’t know the date. But let’s let’s unpack this about Firefox.
MM Sure. I mean, Firefox is currently declining in every major market, except for Germany, I believe. They I think are moving slower than they could. And I would estimate they’re spending 100 million a year in developer resources in the engine, right, because the web standards are moving forward quickly. You need to work with everyone. And they’re in a tough spot. Because as the usage declines, web developers incentive sort of tests with Firefox. And regardless of all the web standards, you and I know more than anyone, like, doesn’t matter if you go to the website, and you still need to test all the browsers, it is less than enough for people to testing right? And so they get like this gradual wearing away or some websites will just work a little worse, some applications will work a little worse in Firefox. And they believe users. And contrast to what Microsoft’s doing an edge with brave did with chromium, like I think where we conflate things is we think Google, big and evil, they shouldn’t control everything. And like, you know what? Sure. I think what will drive Google the better though, is people being able to not have to compete on parsing arbitrary HTML, rendering that, but actually, what is all the things on top of that? What is the user interface? What is the privacy model? What is the you know, payment integration? Brave does really interesting things a cryptocurrency. Like, what does? What does the innovations happening on top of that layer? So if we can just get all of humanity to say like, “Here’s the engine, here’s this thing” V8 Chromium, whatever it is, that is like some of the best code and most well tested code ever written. And that can become like a de facto standard, that actually is far more powerful than, than sort of English language, prose, written standards, when you have a code standard becomes very real and much more robust. And you know, what, if Google was the shepherd of that code, starts to do really, truly evil things with it, then it’ll fork. Great. But until then, let’s get it all these engineers working on that. And what if Mozilla was able to invest that 100 million dollars a year of development, to create an innovative user experience on top of it, let’s not forget, like Mozilla created the search box, which was like the browser monetization, they created tabs, like so much innovation came from there, historically, and came from their users. So I think there’s a possibility for that again, in the future.
PF Dammit, Matt, I don’t agree with you. But you’re not wrong.
GT No, it’s true.
MM Think about it. And I say this from a place of like a deep love of Mozilla, I think it’s one of the most important organizations in the world. If there was a way I could contribute to it or run it or something that I would, I would figure out a way to make that work, because it’s important for the future of humanity. But I think they essentially are getting a lot of the downsides of having a proprietary engine. And if you think about it proprietary, generally contains the seeds of its own demise in excess. That’s why, if you zoom out over decades, it’ll always ends. Because a great example of this is like, we can talk about mobile platforms and cloud platforms. AWS, the clear winner, which means all the other people who are AWS work together and things like Kubernetes. And they they all ally, because that’s the only way you’re going to catch up. iOS clear winner way ahead of everyone, every manufacturer, that’s not in a battle, Huawei, Samsung says, “Okay, we’re gonna do Android, and work on that together.” And that will begin the thing. And ultimately, you know, it’s a little complicated, because of course, there’s the chips and the batteries and other things built in there. But from an operating system point of view, if you were to fast forward 20 years, it’s hard for me to imagine the incentives of Android and incentives of iOS, leading to iOS being a better experience. I think Android will be will just pull away from its integrations, it’s everything. And I say that as a daily iOS user as well.
PF Just like using Ubuntu at home, it just doesn’t matter anymore. Right? Like, it’s just it feels less and less like it matters. I still, like I go in, I go in iOS, and I go into Mac OS, desktop computers, what are those? And I’m like, this is this is nice and tightly integrated, and so on. But then I’m like, yeah, I don’t know, I’ve got a 12 core machine that has shiny LED lights, you know, here at home and it glows red at night. I think that’s cool, too. That used to be I don’t think people understand how important that difference was back in the day. And it just feels less and less important.
MM Well, the beautiful thing that happens is the open source, competitor forces the proprietary one to open up. This happened in Microsoft. I expect it to happen to Apple in the 2020s. Like the fact that I can’t choose until very recently, like the default calendar app or default Mail app on iOS. And it’s only seems to be shifting now, because antitrust is just the height of arrogance.
PF You know, the government might be helping us along there.
MM Europe might help as well, you know, the lightning character versus uspc. There’s things that Apple does purely for lock-in. And if I were to list the reasons that I stay on iOS, being pure product quality, you know, it’s the build, battery, the camera, versus the things that forced me because of lock-in.
PF The iMessage lock in is an absolute crime, I’ve now moved on and off of I anyway, see, my big dumb idea is it’s on the cloud platforms are going to realize at a certain point that like, “Ah, you know, what we’re not going to get, we’ve hit our limits on giant enterprise customers. So we should actually go for consumers and give them like an operating style experience right there in their browser and have them do things with the software that we offer in the Cloud App Store.”
GT Oh boy.
PF Yeah, that’s where I think it’s gonna head. Now usually, I’m completely wrong in all of my predictions, so just, you know, keep that in mind. [Gina laughs]
GT We’re going to do a show in about 10 years and check all the things that we’ve predicted for the next decade, the coming decade.
MM I’d be happy to be a guest again in 10 years, that would be so fun.
PF You know, this is a good a good way to close this out, right, which is even talking about where we’re going to be 10 years from now with the FAANG companies and so on. And you’ve also told us that like, you’re not really the driver, in some ways of WordPress, you steer the ship a little bit, but for the most part, it comes up to you. So it’s hard to predict, necessarily, because WordPress ultimately feels very reactive. But fast forward a little bit, you know, as a CMS platform in the age of apps and cloud platforms. Where does WordPress live? Where does it evolve?
MM So if we look at it from a very high point of view, I think that the thing we’ll have to navigate in the 2020s is the desire for mutually incompatible principles, like privacy, security, and freedom and autonomy. You know, we talked a lot about sort of Fang companies and Apple and Google and stuff. But I think that same lock-in that iMessage does, people are getting locked into stuff like that when they choose proprietary CMS, or they build a proprietary CMS. You know, that they’re getting an invisible locked in, they’re creating a debt that they will have to pay down somewhere down the road. The thing that we’ve been doing, that I actually think is even bigger than WordPress that’s come out of WordPress, maybe the loopback to Gina’s question from very early is called Gutenberg. We’ve created this editor that my hope is that every thing that takes text boxes on the web uses Gutenberg in the future, regardless of whether it’s proprietary or open source, whether it’s our competitors whether it’s us, we’re actually relicensing Gutenberg to the MPL, which is the Mozilla Public License to allow it to be used in proprietary mobile apps. So the idea is that a MailChimp or WordPress or Tumblr, a Drupal, a Facebook all can utilize this. And the idea of Gutenberg is basically saying, you know, when we move to writing on the web, we kind of brought this mentality of like Microsoft Word. And there’s like monolithic text boxes and pages into this. And really, the beauty of the web is creating blocks and elements. So Gutenberg is a block first editor that says, okay, the beauty of the web is like, there’s 1000 Lego blocks out there. And you can assemble them to create almost any layout, you imagine, was any functionality, it’s a great way to integrate new services. So like, we just added support for like a Loom block. And the Loom folks wrote me like, “Why did this happen? This is so cool.” Like, it’s like, well, you supported open standards like Olympiad, it’s very easy to create a block, and we like Look, so even though you’re small, like, let’s add support for that. And so it can create a more interconnected web. And these blocks then become like, I think, a fundamental better way to both edit and write content, but also create really rich layouts. And so Gutenberg is the thing I’m probably most excited about. I spent, probably the better part of four years of my life kind of getting it to where it is now. And we’re just maybe like, 10% of the way there. But I’ve encouraged like you or anyone else, building anything that has a text box, look at embedding Gutenberg, and it can be skinned and you can hide 99% the interface. It’s really, really exciting.
PF This is what I used to talk about with XML. But everybody’s like, I don’t want to write angle brackets, I’m going to use JSON. And you know, now, we’re back to the way it should be, which is elements and blocks that can be restructured and transformed. Thank you, Matt. Thank you. That’s good. That’s what I’ve been looking for.
GT Yeah, we use Gutenberg on Postlight.com. And I actually, it’s Gutenberg is starting to take we’re hearing from clients like “Oh, we’re running WordPress, we want to move to Gutenberg. Like we need some help.” And it’s like, yeah, I think it’s crystallizing the way that people think about content on the web more because it’s right there in the in the editor.
PF Structured content on this year internet, read, write structured content. It’s been the dream. Yeah, it only took 20,000 years. But here we go. Four years of Mullenweg’s life, lots of life left to go. [Matt chuckles]
MM I hope so.
PF Gutenberg is good. Gutenberg is, you know, I’m neutral on everything. But Gutenberg is a mass market way to add structured semantically sensible content into places like newsrooms where people don’t have to learn a lot of secret codes.
MM You just made my 2020 [Matt laughs] that was, coming from you, that was huge!
PF No, this is huge for me. I you know, I came in here to poke fun at WordPress and I’m going away thinking I’m gonna graph my world on on WordPress as a platform. This is the Mullenweg effect.
GT It’s true. It’s true.
PF He already got you, he already got you. You’re like “Oh WordPress, la, la, la!” And I’m like, “Erg! WordPress! Oh, well, you know, that is interesting.”
GT That is a better vision. [Gina laughs] Matt, thank you so much for your time. We’re so glad that you came on the show.
PF Yeah, this is great.
MM It’s been an honor and pleasure. And thank you for everything y’all do.
PF Well, you know, I think that’s a bright fellow who’s going places, Gina.
GT I think so. I think there’s big things coming from Matt.
PF Alright. So if people want to talk to us, because you know, one thing, we actually should say we build large platforms on top of WordPress, we do that, that is the thing that we do. And we like it, it is a piece of infrastructure that we often deploy. We love Gutenberg, we’ve used it a ton and deployed it and all kinds of scales. It is a good tool for us. And it’s a good tool for you, if you need things done. Gina, if anybody wanted to get in touch and talk about all the things that they could do with Postlight, how would they get in touch?
GT Just send us a note firstname.lastname@example.org you can follow us on Twitter @Postlight, or find us on all the places LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, just get in touch.
PF Check out our website, it’s powered by something. And also check out Postlight.com/Catalyst our big white paper about how to manage the reality of shipping software inside of very large organizations. You know it’s hard, we know it’s hard and so we wrote down everything we know. We love you, get in touch.
GT Thanks, everybody.
PF Let’s get back to work.