Matt Mullenweg, “The Story Behind WordPress”, my notes

IMG_2925 Matt, creator of the popular blogging software WordPress and the popular Akismet anti-comment-spam service (we use it at SnapStream and love it) gave a talk at the Future of Web Apps conference in San Francisco last week. Notes from his talk:

Here’s what downloads of WordPress have looked like:

version | downloads
1.2 – 822 a day
1.5 – 2506 a day
2.0 – 5115 a day
2.1 – ???

SourceForge –> no SourceForge, it slowed us down because it took 20 clicks to trigger a download

It’s good to install your app from scratch every so often, that’s how we discovered the terrible download process that was part of SourceForge

More eyes = better software

  • is this true? everyone wants their 15 pixels of fame, if there’s a disagreement, the easiest resolution is to satisfy everyone (“put it on the left and the right” or “implement both features”) –> not a good way to do design, openoffice’s horrendous configuration menu is an example of this

Plugins++ — “luckiest thing that I ever did”

“there are no more killer features, there aren’t any because there are now 10,000 killer plug-ins and they’re all developed by the community.”

APIs++ — breaking APIs is WORSE than never having any at all–> put a little bit of thought before you build

Plug-ins vs. core

  • should everything be a plugin? (like Drupal) –> Matt says “no”, something that does everything generally doesn’t do anything well.

Do your own support: viscerally feel the pain of your users, example: Easter massacre at WordPress where a lot of stuff got deleted, Matt answered every message himself like self imposed punishment.

Pages: to figure out what to create, watch what they do, not what they say (people wanted multiple blog functionality — but it turns out they were using multiple blog to do content management… so the “Pages” capability came from this)

Plugins for design (themes): people switch themes ***ALOT***

What sucks now?

  • no central aggregation of wordpress themes and plugins


  • search engines like Technorati, etc need to know when a new blog posting is made or updated.
  • it’s really, really heavy… 30M pings
  • you will get spammed –> if there’s anything I know about the future of web apps
    • Yes, you
    • Social software is anything that gets spammed”
  • plan for success
    • have you ever seen a car chasing a car, what happens when the dog catches the car? “rawr” and that’s it?

  • pageviews has been growing faster than visitors –> 2.2M pageviews per day
  • far larger scale
  • all hosting sucks — 100% SLAs are a fiction
  • redundant networks and power –> a fiction, don’t pay too much more for that
  • make backups constantly
  • get a bunch of sucky hosts and hope that no one hosts sucks at the same time
  • easter massacre: all files that had ever been uploaded
  • buy cheapest hardware possible –> IF you can stay up when it goes down
  • in the initial dell boxes that we used, they were vastly, vastly overpowered
  • there are three numbers in computing: 0, 1 and n+1, the more data that you have, the more important it is to distribute
  • make it easy to contact you — contact form tripled the contacts coming through to us
    • the guy doing support for us was a nurse for 19 years working with clinically insane people
    • if I turn off my computer, does my website go away
  • what sucks? (on
    • there’s no feature list on
    • there’s no tutorial
    • documentation is pretty sparse
    • 2200 sign-ups every day: these people really trust us
    • our sign-up emails should be better, some parts of the application that you don’t interact with a lot when developing the product are often areas that need attention.


  • anti-spam system
  • ham (legit comments), spam (growing far, far faster than legit users)
  • developer API from the very beginning– simple REST API (is this spam, hey you missed something that is spam)
  • 20+ implementations from Ruby to Lasso (wikis, bugtrackers)
  • scalable business (in all the ways that pingomatic isn’t)
    • the more data, the better the service performs
    • Akismet launched on a $80 / month server and it’s still running on that server (plus some others ?)
  • social software

Be a painkiller, not a vitamin
did some research into these industries
– $300-500M vitamin industry
– $800M painkiller industry

Future of web apps

  • global
  • personal: not interested in subscribing to 800 blogs anymore, care about the people I have real relationships with
  • useful
  • humble: don’t be self-important, frame things in terms of you, the user, not me the application

Speakers –> the speakers on stage here aren’t the important ones. Who is? Next slide…

You. Build for yourself first. Working for someone else, not always the most attractive thing.

Business model –> important.

Never forget how lucky you are –> Don’t waste it.

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