Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com and many other services like JetPack, WooCommerce and more has received $300 million USD in funding from Salesforce. From TechCrunch:

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and soon Tumblr, has closed a $300 million funding round at a $3 billion post-money valuation. The Series D round has a single investor, Salesforce Ventures.

First off, congrats at Matt Mullenweg and the Automattic team on this round. That’s a large investment and Salesforce is an interesting, and sole partner in this investment. This will improve services, integrate new acquisitions like Tumblr, and create more jobs. All good things. I’d love someone to invest anything let alone several hundred million dollars in my company.

VentureBeat says this about the deal:

Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to see why Salesforce would invest such a gargantuan sum in a company best known for blogging. WordPress currently powers one-third of the web, which includes everything from small-time bloggers to publishers and online retailers. And several products in Automattic’s arsenal hint at the reasons Salesforce has elected to invest in the company.

What does this mean for you?

The question I’ve been thinking about all morning is this: what does this fundraising mean for those of us who use, develop for, and are deep in the trenches with WordPress. I think the answers are good and bad.

To start, it means more ads. I don’t mean display or text ads are going to start populating WordPress. Instead,  you are going to see an increase in the promotion of Automattic’s services and offerings in products like WooCommerce, product directories and more, putting their products in front of tens of millions of WordPress users, admins and developers.

You may have already seen this in action. This Spring, WooCommerce started pushing their plugins and add-ons as “recommended extensions,” and surprise, they’re all Automattic/WooCommerce owned ones. About this new type of “ad,” Erik Bernskiold said this:

“I get that WooCommerce want to benefit from their commercial side, too, and there are many ways to do this. But in this case, it feels like this is at a great disregard for the users. Hijacking a product list, order list or a user interface element in this way is a major interruption of the user experience. It’s not the place for an ad.”

I understand that Automattic bought WooCommerce, and it’s their platform, but for many people, they feel the manipulation of a set of results goes against the open nature of WordPress.

The rise of plugin nags, upsells and banners

This happens in the Add Plugin area of WordPress as well. Look at the “Featured” tab — 2 of the 5 plugins there are paid services from Automattic (Akismet and JetPack.) Switch to the “Recommended” tab and you see WooCommerce in the first position.

In addition, there’s been a very rapid increase in the use of upsell alerts, banners and other annoyances by WordPress plugin makers lately. What’s keeping a widely used tool like WooCommerce to start advertising other Automattic services, like the recently acquired ZBS CRM?

Screenshot from Updraft Plus Nag message

I like the Updraft Backup plugin, but they constantly nag users to upgrade. They’re not alone in doing this. Lookin’ at you, Yoast.

 

They wouldn’t do this, people will say. No? The over $500 million that they’ve raised for their company isn’t a gift — investors expect a several-multiple return on that investment. So, Automattic has to make money. They do that by selling services like WordPress VIP, WooCommerce add-ons and so on.

Governance is Key

It’s these kind of possibilities that makes the push for improved governance over the WordPress project more important than ever. There are some key issues that need to be communicated, debated and solutions offered to the community. There are many, but I’d include topics such as the expansion of nags like the ones I mentioned earlier. There’s the issue of auto-updating old WordPress installations, and the pros and cons of doing that. And finally, there’s accessibility.

I don’t think the accessibility issues around Gutenberg at the launch of version 5 of WordPress were handled particularly well. There have been a million blog post and tweets both for and against the launch in general as well as about the accessibility issues. Thankfully, organizations like WPCampus raised money to fund an accessibility study to identify issues with the hope they would be fixed. (Note: I donated to that campaign.)

WordPress (.org) is open source, and needs formal and stable governance. It powers so much of the web it needs oversight to keep it free, open and not under the control of one company.

 

Snapcode from SnapchatLast year, I wrote about my experience of getting to 500,000 public story views on Snapchat. While fully acknowledging that I am not Snap’s target demographic, it’s been interesting to watch the rise, dip and potential rise again of this company. This is a critical time for the social media platform, as new networks like TikTok are gaining a lot of steam globally, especially in higher ed.

Today, I write to let you know that earlier this summer, I crossed the million public story views milestone. On my Snapchat. I know, it’s nutty.

It’s strange to think people around the world have watched 40 days worth of my content. My content? It’s not terribly interesting. It’s a lot of food shots taken while I’m travelling and vinyl I’ve been listening to lately.

Snapchat Screenshot

Observations on a million Snapchat views

First, Snapchat isn’t dead. While it’s certainly not aimed at me and people my age, it’s still used heavily by its younger users. My oldest is nearly 18 years old, and most of the time his phone is open to Snapchat or Instagram. It’s a big communication tool for one to one and group chats.

Second, the analytics available to power users haven’t changed all the much. I wrote about Snap’s analytics tools when they first launched last year and the tool hasn’t evolved. The stats are still top level, and while they’re interesting (location, interest), they aren’t much more than superficial. There isn’t much in the way of actionable intel here to work with or make decisions with. Snap tells me I’m popular in Greater London as well as my public Snaps are 7x more popular than average amongst people who are fans of cricket. I dig cricket, but I’ve never posted a Snap or story about cricket. There’s a lot of room for improvement here.

Third, consistency is key when it comes to views. When I was posting regularly, often daily, I would get more views, often to the tune of 7-10k views per story.  I haven’t posted much this year, and that number hovers between one and two thousand views per post. If you want to grow your public views, post a lot and regularly.

Finally, Snap will still not give you a total number of views. Maybe if you’re a big brand that has a high ad spent, you can see those types of analytic data, but I can’t. I’d love to know how many people follow me, instead Snap just tells me who recent followers are. That’s disappointing.

I hope Snap rebounds and keeps adding new and interesting features. They certainly are doing great work around their lens and filters and just this week they announced a new version of their Spectacles wearable.