A Discussion Of The Unthinkable

(Jeff C) #1

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.

(James Huff) #2

I don’t like to think of the worst either, but on the other hand I’ve been raised to plan for the worst.

With that said, I believe that the spirit of what Matt sees in WordPress will be faithfully carried on by all of the core contributors. That’s the power of open source software.

(Stephen Cronin) #3

Oh wait. I’ve seen this in like a thousand movies. The Chosen One is normally one who least suspects it, someone who seems themselves as average, right up to the point where their godlike powers are revealed at the end of the movie.

Just running the calculations through the computer… And according to this, the chosen one is… Jeffro! :slight_smile:

(Bowo) #4

It’s interesting that Shane uses the phrase “spiritual fire”, for having been in a room directly listening to Matt talking, I do sense that Matt has gone through a “spiritual” process that most certainly is uniquely his own. It shows in the quality of his thoughts, and the way he conveys and executes them. But “fire” on the other hand, is also an interesting word. Since mankind first lit it up, it is has been with us to this day.

Product development may go in numerous different directions based on the dynamics of the web in general, where core developers and the wider community may have a thousand different opinions on it. But if we are talking about a kind of “fire” that has been forged from a certain, “spiritual” depth, and has lit up many “torches”, my gut feeling says that, that “fire” will be with us for a long time, and carry the same “spirit” that lit it up in the first place.

What I am curious to explore is, how do we define that “fire”?.. Is it ‘simply’ to democratize publishing?.. Who are the “fire keepers” and how do they keep it lit up?.. Is the process robust enough?.. I dare say that this “fire” might even transmute or even transcend “WordPress” itself, once it has served its purpose. I know… pretty “Matrix Trilogy” kind of thinking, but this is my honest reaction after reading the article, your opening post, and having heard/seen Matt in person.

(Michael Beil) #5

It seems like Stephen has given us the answer. It’s you Jeffro.

Apart from the normal response, yes there’d mourning, and we would move forward, but I think we would continue with what has already been forged in full force.

It’s like Matt and the entire team of contributors (275 in 4.0) have established a foundation and a launch pad for greater things to come in WordPress.

(Leland Fiegel) #6

Read through the article, amazing read. I also really need to find the time to read through Scott Berkun’s book, it’s so interesting to learn about how Automattic runs.

As far as the unthinkable, I feel like all of Matt’s philosophies are so hardwired into so many people in the WordPress community, it would be difficult to not continue on.

I think we’d see a few people, maybe even prominent core devs, splinter off and try to start their own forks based on their own opinions of the “right way” to handle development process.

But the smart money will stay with WordPress continuing to explode for years to come.

By the way…Habari, anyone else totally forget about that until now? Had a promising future last time I checked, but that was years ago. I may revisit that again.


Berkun’s book is an amazing insight into how Matt’s runs Automattic.

While his style is different, I see Matt as a visionary along the lines of Steve Jobs. While Apple has moved on, it will never be the same. I think the same would apply here.

(Jeff C) #8

Ok, pretty damn funny some of you folks would choose me but if I lead WordPress, it would go down the crapper in a heart beat. Automattic would be taken care of but the WordPress project itself, I think it would be interesting. Would there be a committee where someone is elected (Matt) every year to progress the project or would there be a group consensus on getting things done?

I agree with @rkoffy in that losing Matt would be something you can’t replace no matter how hard you try. @leland you should definitely read the book because it’s a fascinating read of a particular time period at Automattic. I guarantee you’ll learn some things you never knew about the company. I think Scott Berkun’s hiring (book) at Automattic is a pivot point for how Automattic is run as a company.

I don’t think anyone has anything to worry about as Matt is well aware of the getting hit by a bus issue but it’s interesting to talk about these types of what ifs before they happen, if they happen, no one wants them to happen.

(Tibor Paulsch) #9

That’s exactly what I was thinking, but Apple does not have http://wordpressfoundation.org/
Furthermore, I hope @leland is right too :smile: