WordCamp SA roundup

by pam on August 24, 2008

My edited notes from WordCamp SA in Cape Town yesterday. The roundup of live Twitter coverage is here.

Vince Maher on the M&G’s blogs:

  • Thought Leader worked because it has created a platform for “attention transactions” – writers are willing to trade their time and effort for attention, looking for peer recognition.
  • With that as the driver, Thought Leader generated seven million words in six months — that’s worth about R4m if the content had been bought.
  • Lessons: Never change the core WordPress code! And if you’re trying to build a blogging site within an existing media organisation, the job is 90% relationship building and politics and only 10% technical.

Justin Hartman on his work at Avusa’s iLab, including the blogs at The Times (I hadn’t realised until yesterday that Johnnic Communications is now Avusa. Ouch):

  • Planet Blog is the Times’ answer to Thought Leader, a way to bring their celebrity journalists into the online world – Ray Hartley was the first SA editor to blog and his is still the most popular blog on the site.
  • Avusa’s IT people were hugely sceptical about using WordPress and open source software, but it’s been very successful, not only on Planet Blog but also on their new multimedia portal. All the editorial teams are now on board and all the publications want blogging as part of their platform.
  • Echoing Vince’s point about never changing the core code: “I hacked WP to pieces” and it’s made upgrading very difficult. They’ve since learned to leave the core alone and write plugins to do what they need.
  • When they created the multimedia platform they found the available proprietary software “very limited in what it could do” — they were looking for usability and flexibility and this is what WP provided.
  • “We’ve looked at lots of stuff and always come back to WordPress – I love Joomla, but for large editorial projects WordPress is the best.”
  • WordPress has no database scalability issues that they’ve discovered so far — their biggest problem is that they have 20 sites on a single server doing around 100k uniques a month (!) and the number of available connections is becoming an issue.
  • The entire multimedia site rolled out in three monthsweeks, which was unheard of in the company to that point — they’d previously planned on 12-18 months to roll out a new site. People are beginning to realise that using open source = less research time, faster rollout, lots of support and plugins.
  • In reply to a question whether they’re building it because they can or in response to real demand: The demand is starting to build, including from advertisers.

Matt Mullenweg (pause for geek-applause and swooning) on running an online business:

  • Matt caused some excitement straight off by showing that most of the SA visits to WordPress.com (736,916 last month) are from Cape Town – but Johannesburg was second and Auckland Park, for some reason, was third. Sorry, Cape Town.
  • Lots of awesome stats not all of which I was fast enough to capture (I’ll link to the presentation if it goes up anywhere). But, a sampling:
    • There are 6.7 million WordPress blogs of which 2.8m are hosted at WordPress Org.
    • The average blog has 4.96 active plugins and 9 installed.
    • WordPress bloggers wrote 1.45 billion words in the last month he had stats for (June?).
  • Selling software is dead. Or okay, dying. Even Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall and is moving away from software sales as core revenue generator.
  • BUT “the best way to predict the future is to invent it” – we need to embody the model of where we’re going to make it happen.
  • Traditional business models are based on scarcity; what we need to do now is to embrace the economics of abundance in which value increases with each copy made (network effects etc). (I’d love to have a conversation about how this abundance meshes with a world of real physical scarcity – with luck tomorrow!)
  • When you sell software bloatware is the inevitable result because you have to keep selling upgrades. But if time is the new scarcity, what succeeds will be what respects your time the most – things have to be easy to use.
  • So how does Automattic make money? Here’s the conundrum: Legally a US corporation has NO responsibilities or obligations except to its shareholders to make money. So Matt had to think of a hack that would align the incentives of a US corporation with the community ethos of WordPress: they have separated the profit and non-profit sides of the business and the copyright for the software is held in the non-profit organisation. “Traditional software companies are valued on their IP, but we don’t have any. Doing it took some balls, we didn’t know what would happen, but it’s worked really well. We’ve had competitors to WordPress.com using our own code that were actually bigger than us, but we kept iterating and growing. The one constant it that the more open I’ve been, the more success has followed.”
  • Automattic makes money in five ways:
    1. Upgrades: When you have millions of users, if only 1% upgrade you’re doing well. But it’s not enough: We had a steep increase in page views which increased our costs very rapidly, but users didn’t increase at the same rate. So:
    2. Selling ads: We needed something that would scale with the page use. But there is a unique WordPress twist to this — we show ads extremely rarely. (Who’s actually seen an ad on WordPress?). You’ll see ads only if you are not logged in, you’re coming from a search engine straight to a permalink and you’re not using FireFox. (Cue applause).
    3. VIP hosting: A business model we stumbled into via hosting Scoble’s blog. We offer $500 a month VIP hosting to those we accept on application. Our third VIP blog was icanhascheezburger.com – people laughed at me for this, but they’re now doing over a million pageviews a day and broke our image hosting structure – over 200mb of images. Besides which, LOLcats make people happy. We’re now signing up big media (CNN, Fox News, etc) which means we’re starting to make money. Quite possibly 80% of current US election coverage is going through wordpress.com. About a third of all our traffic goes to VIP blogs.
    4. Akismet licences: It’s free for personal use but commercial users should pay — licences for commercial use start at US$5 a month. This is necessary for Akismet, any successful spam blocker gets mercilessly attacked and it needs ongoing development.
  • So we sell: Distribution, ads, hosting, services, customisation and painkillers – not software!
  • Caveats: Beware the siren song of services. What happens to your data in future? Ensure data portability, that you can take ALL your data with you if anything happens. In fact, DEMAND of your services that you can extract or back up everything daily.If I was to create a Facebook competitor, I’d start with a Facebook importer.
  • Vote with your wallet. WordPress wouldn’t exist without the GPL but the price of openness is that it includes the freedom for people to do stuff you don’t like with your creations. Those who would trade freedom for security deserve neither! One of the tipping points for WP was when MoveableType changed their licence – see Mark Pilgrim’s Essay “Freedom Zero” for the details.
  • Vote with your time. WordPress is a great example: We don’t need money, but we do need time. It’s not easy – but there are opportunities to become part of the community. Give it a try! If you write something, lots of people may use it.
  • WordPress is just a tool, a blank page – it’s not even that interesting without plugins. It’s the users who create all the value – if I was the only one working on WordPress, none of us would be here.

Thanks, Matt!

Notes from DaveDuarte tomorrow because this is already way too long and I have to go fly painstakingly glued yoghurt-tub rockets with my kids now.

PS: Any and all factual inaccuracies, errors, spelling mistakes and other rubbish in this post are solely my own responsibility, etc. If you spot any, tell me and I’ll fix them.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Events | Startup Africa
August 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm
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August 25, 2008 at 3:50 pm
The WordCamp Report » WordCamp South Africa Rocks with WordPress Fans
August 27, 2008 at 7:40 pm

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