Fastcolabs.com has a great article explaining how the WordPress machine works. It provides insight on how Matt Mullenweg runs Automattic and touches on how he’s been able to successfully be the figure head for the non-profit WordPress Foundation, the for-profit company Automattic, and the non-profit open source WordPress project. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. However, the post author, Shane Snow, makes an interesting statement when comparing the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, to WordPress’ Mullenweg. Emphasis is mine.
Despite the dictatorial nature of his management, it's Mullenweg's genuineness and vision that keeps WordPress's contributors contributing, Automattic's employees from churning.
On the other hand, Facebook’s founder has put business before users enough times to make “we promise not to screw you for 2 years” the big reveal at his recent F8 summit. So if we had to entrust one of the two men with three-fourths of the web, I think a lot of people would pick Mullenweg.
Yet, if Zuckerberg dies, Facebook users won’t notice. If Mullenweg moves on, WordPress won’t immediately crumble, but its spiritual fire may die.
Think about that last sentence for a moment. What if the unthinkable happens? I certainly don’t want it to happen but I think it’s worth a conversation to talk about the what ifs. What would happen to the WordPress project if it lost its figurehead? What would happen to Automattic and would it continue to function without him?
I think Toni Schneider would move back into the CEO position at Automattic and continue to run the company. Out of everyone Matt is associated with, he’s the one most likely to carry the torch. The WordPress Foundation has been setup to specifically further the mission of WordPress with or without Matt.
The point of the foundation is to ensure free access, in perpetuity, to the software projects we support. People and businesses may come and go, so it is important to ensure that the source code for these projects will survive beyond the current contributor base, that we may create a stable platform for web publishing for generations to come.
As part of this mission, the Foundation will be responsible for protecting the WordPress, WordCamp, and related trademarks. A 501©3 non-profit organization, the WordPress Foundation will also pursue a charter to educate the public about WordPress and related open source software.
As for the WordPress project itself, I think it would maintain its course in the short term but the long term is questionable. However, after being around for 11 years, I think it’s obvious by now what the mission of WordPress is and the people that surround the core of the project know what it is. I give them the benefit of the doubt of being able to continue the legacy and to further the cause of WordPress in democratizing publishing.
The community would go through one hell of a mourning period. In fact, not just the WordPress community but people all over the world. Matt has had a personal impact on so many people in and outside of WordPress. WordPress itself has made a personal impact on so many people as well.
I think I speak for many in that no one wishes ill will on Matt Mullenweg but sometimes things happen in life that are beyond our control. I know some folks will frown on this discussion as if just talking about the unthinkable is like encouraging it to happen but that’s bullcrap.
Curious to hear what everyone else has to say on this topic.