CULTURE

Blogs changing the way we communicate

WordPress is one of the fastest-growing platforms for blog software. Though not as famous yet as MySpace or Google’s Blogger, it employs highly developed technology and aesthetics and is used by major Internet publishers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Le Monde as well as by some of the world’s most demanding and well-known bloggers. One million bloggers, 2,900 of them Greek, use wordpress.com. The man behind WordPress is American programmer and musician Matt Mullenwegg, 23, one of the people who has had a decisive influence on the development of the Internet. At the age of 21, while studying philosophy, Mullenwegg starting making Web pages so as to get free music lessons. His contact with the open code community gave him the idea for WordPress. He was in Greece for the first Greek Bloggers Camp, organized by Stefanos Kofopoulos (www.pestaola.gr). In an interview with Kathimerini, he talked about the future of blogging, the effect of the Internet on traditional news media, and the open code philosophy. How did WordPress get chosen by the Internet publishing elite? WordPress was a product of the open code movement. The ideas are generated and developed by the community, which helps them reflect users’ needs better. The platform is easy to use but has flexible architecture so you can gradually enlarge your site as needed. Your company, Automattic, which supports WordPress, still has only 14 staff. How do you manage? There’s pressure to grow fast and follow the boom in Silicon Valley to make a lot of money. But that’s not what I’m interested in. I want more than anything else to create a place where I like to work. That means with a few people I respect, admire and like to work with. So we have managed to remain a small company that sustains a large project, thanks to the open code source. What plans are there for the commercial side of WordPress? We just got 1 million registered blogs on WordPress and we hope to get a lot more soon. But how do you make money? Nobody pays to use your servers and there are no ads. They don’t pay for the basic product, but they pay for more space on our servers and for individual addresses. There will be lots of upgrades in the future, there will be markets where people can buy and sell visuals for their pages. We also work with Google Adsense and we’ll allow our users to have ads and make money from their blogs. We’re trying to find a model that will allow WordPress users to make more money than whatever is on other servers. Isn’t there a risk of eroding the company’s open character? No, I set up the company in such a way as to put a great wall between the commercial and the non-commercial sides. Automattic may have the largest team of programmers dedicated exclusively to WordPress, but there are other development teams at Cnet, The New York Times and B5 media who all work exclusively on its development. Best ideas How does the non-commercial side, wordpress. org, operate? Within the community, even some of the people I have paid lots on the commercial side have disagreed strongly with me on what we should do with the next version. But that’s how it is. The open code community ensures that only the best ideas survive. You’re not judged by who you are or who you work for but by the quality of what you do. What kind of content is big in blogs these days? Politics? Lifestyle? Personal posts? The fastest-developing part is personal blogs – people writing about family and friends, using a lot of photos. More people are discovering that it’s an easy way to keep in touch. I like that lately people on wordpress. com have started moving from politics and technology to more mainstream subjects like celebrities, food and sport, which means we’ve moved away from the narrow circle of people who go for specialist blogs (like Gizmoda and Engadget on technology) and we’re attracting larger masses. Do you think blogging can change the way we communicate? Yes, I find it amazing that people that journalists call their sources are finally acquiring their own voice. For example, celebrities who feel they’ve been badly treated can voice their own opinion of media that sell sensationalized versions of an event. With a blog, they can reach a public as large as that of a nighttime TV show. Reversing the information distribution system redistributes the power of information, and the power goes back to the source. We have many examples on wordpress. com. Did studying political philosophy help you understand the medium better than most technology professionals? It sure had a large influence on the development of WordPress in the open code community. One of my aims is to let go of as much power as possible. I want the community to lead things, I want to set up an ecosystem of people (there are already hundreds of them) who make a living from WordPress, whether as Web page-makers, designers or staff of large organizations that use our software. I hope there’ll be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of them in the future. What do you think the next phase of the Internet will be? We have much richer experiences on Internet now, thanks to the development of programming and networks. There’s a new generation that feels comfortable posting every detail of their private lives on the Internet. Systems are becoming faster, cheaper and smarter. They will allow us to solve the problem of personalized services, which is the big challenge of the moment for the Internet. Nobody’s doing it well enough yet. Every little move you make on the Internet shows what you’re interested in, what’s important to you and what isn’t. The smarter the services, the better they adapt to your personal needs and improve your experience. They won’t just show what you want to see but also that which you didn’t know you wanted to see. We’re at a stage where the amount of information being supplied is growing. Inevitably, the next stage will be about filtering that volume. There are still only 24 hours in the day. How do you see the Internet developing as a social space? So far our relationship with the media has been a consumer relationship. Now you can use exactly the same tools that The New York Times uses, for instance, and maybe get a better reception. Once you’ve experienced that control over your life, you don’t want to give it up. You won’t sit down again at 7 p. m. to watch the news; you’ll do it when it suits you. Your life used to revolve around a passive model of communication; now it starts to revolve around you. And that’s how it should be. What will the role of text be in the era of online television? Text has been with us for centuries and it will stay. But the print media is going through a big reshuffle now that blogs are appearing which are just as good as their best articles and often more accurate, personal and fast. What’s the future of WordPress? Whatever the bloggers want. The statistics show they want more videos, which is difficult but we’ll do it. They want better, easier upgrades, and to set up their own environment in whatever they do. And they want more tagging of posts, of content. I think we should focus on the first time someone sets up a blog. It should be really easy, like a game.