I was on blogger for my own interests as far back as 2004. And then by about 2008 or so, I started thinking about blogs in the context of teaching and writing. I can’t remember how I found WordPress.com, but in those “dark ages” of social media, it was a life line. See, Bucknell did not offer any good tools. I was told that “Blackboard has a blog tool.” (Now, having nothing to do with me, Bucknell uses the open-source version, wordpres.org).

But I had seen what a good blog can do, both in function and design, and I knew that a tool embedded on a cookie-cutter course management system would not do. It would be like telling students in a driver’s ed class, “we will drive real cars!” and then the first day they show up and see this:

WordPress.com was what I wanted:

  • Simple to start to use
  • Flexible
  • Good-looking
  • Plenty of ways to make more sophisticated
  • Has a “good vibe.”

So, I started using them. Now, I know anything “free” is not, really. If it is free, usually you can count on the fact that YOU are the product (Facebook anyone? Traditional broadcast TV?). Still, wordpress.com’s revenue model kicks in when you use lots of memory or buy a domain (like myname.com). So, for me, for class, it was great product at zero cost.

So, what kind and kewl nerds made this gift from the cyber-heaven for me?

Automattic.

They made their mission easy to find! From their webpage.

An Interesting Approach

Is this their official mission? I don’t know, but one thing I like is that it is specific about who they are and also decoupled from metrics of success. It is not “the #1 blogging platform.” It is more transcendent. It suggests value creation (as opposed to only profit).

Their home page includes this gem of a haiku!

“Inspired by you
Striving to create good
Nothing* is perfect.

* Including this.”

Automattic, as I suspected, is not a publicly traded company (research process: I looked on the non-public internet we have access to through Bcknell and did not find much). I gathered from their about us page that they also seem to be quite dispersed- their employees are all over the world- and so they may not even really have a headquarters (ok, actually, they do, on a pier in San Fran). They call themselves a “start up” on their about page. I am not sure there is a technical definition of a “start up”, but at six years and 15 million blogs created, they‘re not in your Daddy’s garage anymore.

The whimsical nature of the place continues in the job titles of the people listed as employees. Examples:

The CBQTT is Matt Mullenweg, who founded WordPress and still works there in a spokesperson and founder role. When I clicked on the link to Matt’s blog, as promised, I got a picture of BBQ. Apparently, he also starts companies; a BusinessWeek article mentions the $1.1 million he raised as a 22 year old when starting Automattic in 2006.

Is this the “real” place? Or is it all just “image”? Who knows? One contrast can be made to MySpace, once mighty, and now less so; its founders were not as deeply enmeshed in the Internet ethos. They saw MySpace as a means to extend marketing. The founders had backgrounds in spyware and what I call “creepy” marketing. Does authenticity matter? Was Facebook more authentic about its ethos? Is Automattic? Maybe. Anyway, I make some mean BBQ myself, so if the professor gig doesn’t work out, I know how to work my way into Mullenweg’s good graces.

In short, Automattic screams “hip silicon valley start up.” A little company from the same milieu decided its motto would be “do no evil.” They started with the name “BackRub.” Hadn’t they ever seen Internet porn? What were they thinking? You may know them by the name Google. Can Google stick to its charming and deliberately naïve mission of doing no evil when they are that big? What have they done to work with China? Did they help the US government spy on its own citizens as part of the Patriot act? Google’s own computers must suck up a huge amount of electricity. Where do they get it from? My point is that growth of a company may put pressure on the best intentioned, cool start up. Automattic, if they take their mission of making the web better, may face its own issues.

A few minutes on Google’s news search revealed a case in Texas where some lawyer (a private case) subpoenaed Automattic to get at an Occupy protest group.

So, results of very preliminary analysis:

1) Good vibe.

2) Hard to know how they do in stakeholder management. BUT,

3) Like other social media and Internet companies, they are in a sector that relies on transparency and brand loyalty.

And, I want to meet Matt Mullenweg.

Matt, unsolicited praise for my pulled pork: “you are an awesome cook, thanks for the delicious food!”

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About Jordi

I am an assistant professor in the Management School at Bucknell University. I specialize in organization theory, social networks, and studying the network society. I have three children, including twins. They love bouncing on the couch, legos, music, and my waffles. My wife teaches English at the same university. I am interested in most things, but these days, networks, social entrepreneurs, the environment, innovation, and virtual worlds. Finding Hidden Abodes and Shaking Iron Cages since 1972

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