Press the Issue a MasterWP Podcast

Does Market Share Matter?

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Press the Issue
Does Market Share Matter?
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There has been a lot of buzz recently about WordPress market share… is it up, is it down, and what does either one actually mean? In this episode, Rob Howard and Brian Coords break down whether or not we really should be following the market share trends.

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Press the Issue is a production of MasterWP. It was produced by Allie Nimmons. It was hosted and edited by Monet Davenport and mixed and mastered by Teron Bullock. Please visit masterwp.com/presstheissue to find more episodes. Subscribe to our newsletter for more WordPress news at masterwp.com.

Episode Transcript:

Monet Davenport:
Welcome to Press the Issue, a podcast for MasterWP, your source for industry insights for WordPress professionals. Get show notes, transcripts and more information about the show at masterwp.com/presstheissue.

Monet Davenport :
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about WordPress market share. Is it up? Is it down? What does either one actually mean? In this episode, Rob Howard and Brian Coords break down whether or not we really should be following the market share trends.

Brian Coords:
Hey, Rob. How are you doing today?

Rob Howard:
Hey, Brian. I’m great. How about you?

Brian Coords:
Doing good. There’s a couple of topics that I wanted to dig into with you. There’s two of them. They’re kind of parallel topics that I think are related and both a little important but both a little different, the first one being market share. What is the market share of WordPress? Then the second topic that I want to dig into is what is the market in economic terms of WordPress? You’ve written a few articles about this. Let’s start off with market share. In simple terms, when we say market share we’re talking about websites that are running WordPress, not running Wix, Squarespace, Shopify or something. Every year we see Matt Mullenweg, he jumps on stage and says, “Market share of WordPress is growing.” We’ve watched it grow from 10 to 20, 30, now into the forties, and just in the last year Yoast of Yoast SEO has published a few reports saying that market share stopped increasing. First he said it kind of dipped and now he’s saying it seems it’s stabilized over the course of this past year. Kind of in big picture terms, how useful do you even think market share is as a metric for WordPress in general?

Rob Howard:
Yeah, great question. One of the challenges here is that there’s just so many terms and buzzwords that you need to go unpack an economics textbook to figure out what people are talking about half the time, and then half the people who are talking about this stuff are also confusing those terms in their own articles. I think the first thing we should do is just kind of step back and define, as you just started to do, those two big picture things. Market share being of all the sites on the internet, as best we can tell how many use WordPress. That is kind of versus our competitors, WordPress is 43%, Shopify is 4.5% and so on and so forth. Then market cap or market capitalization is about what is the value in terms of goods and services being sold of this whole ecosystem, and usually that is expressed in dollars per year.

Rob Howard:
This is sort of similar to the GDP of a country, the gross domestic product, where you’re saying, “In the United States we produce $4 trillion worth of products and services per year, whatever that number is, and that is bigger than Denmark but equal to China.” You can kind of compare roughly those things to one another. Market share is something that, as you mentioned, has kind of always been a target that we are tracking almost as a key performance indicator when we talk about how WordPress as an ecosystem is doing. Then market capitalization or the “size” of the WordPress economy is something that has come out of at least one report that was done a couple years ago that we’ve been talking more about now in the context of, “How should we be funding this? How should we be prioritizing things?” One of the questions that’s kind of important in that is, “How big is this ecosystem that we’re working with?”

Brian Coords:
Yeah. One of the things you said about market share was you said WordPress versus its competitors, like Squarespace. On one level that’s true, and then on the other level in our particular corner of WordPress we build high end sites for large companies, and Squarespace kind of isn’t a competitor to us in that particular niche for industry because our customers are not going to go DIY WYSIWYG a website. They have way too much economic value on it. Even just to say market share, you start seeing these weird comparisons of this versus that or this versus that. Are you kind of thinking of market share in terms of WordPress versus anybody else who makes money using the internet or how should we really define that?

Rob Howard:
Yeah, that’s a great question because one of the things that I think is really confusing about the market share discussion and the numbers that come out of this is that WordPress, which is a very decentralized, large, open source software product, is being compared to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, Webflow, all of which are closed source and highly centralized software as a service tools. To some degree, that’s why WordPress numbers are so much higher than these others because it’s open source, but it’s also a reason that I think the numbers are not super useful. I think WordPress being compared to Drupal makes a lot of sense because they’re both open source, decentralized, widely distributed tools, but WordPress versus Squarespace or Shopify makes less sense because when you think about Shopify or Squarespace, those are private companies which means that they control everything.

Rob Howard:
Every increase in market share for them means a new user who’s paying that one company directly, whereas that transaction just doesn’t exist for WordPress. You could go put up a billion WordPress sites and no one necessarily makes money off of that unless you’re buying hosting or you’re buying a premium plug-in or whatever. The path from market share to money is just much less direct and different for WordPress than it is for Shopify or Squarespace. So while it’s nice to keep an eye on those “competitors,” I agree with you that most of the clients who come to us and want to build a 20 or $30,000 website aren’t considering a DIY Squarespace site. If somebody comes to me and says, “Well, we kind of want to do a site but my nephew offered to build me a Squarespace site and that seems a nice idea.”

Rob Howard:
I’ll say, “Well, okay. Yeah, you should do that first and come talk to us in three years when you really need the bigger and more intense branding project and the custom site.” Because of the WordPress ecosystem being so much bigger and more decentralized, I think that is a significant strength of WordPress in a lot of ways, but it also makes the whole market share conversation just not… You’re not comparing apples to apples. I think 15 years ago when we were thinking about Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, maybe a couple others, those pieces of software were all basically distributed in similar ways, were all licensed in similar ways and thus were directly comparable, whereas today Squarespace is just not directly comparable in the way that it’s distributed or the way the sort of company behind it makes money. I think that is clearly an area where it’s less useful than it was five or 10 years ago.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. Then I would say, actually, if you did want to do a market share comparison of Squarespace and WordPress it would be WordPress.com who really is a direct competitor with Squarespace and really is going after the target audience. If we were to say, “Oh, I’m worried about the market share of WordPress.com versus Squarespace,” that actually would be a little bit more of a good comparison and something that you would want to keep track on as part of the community. But, like you said, WordPress.org… The comparison I think of is the Android versus iOS where Android has huge market share, the market share leader, they have 75% of the market or something, iOS has a tiny market share but they have profit, they have most of the profit, they lead the industry, they’re there where it matters, they’re doing very well, they don’t need market share to compete, they just are doing the right thing in their own lane. Android has this huge market share because I can put Android on my toaster, I can put Android on my refrigerator. It’s just not the same comparison when you compare that huge open source platform to a very fine-tuned proprietary machine.

Rob Howard:
Yeah. I think the evolution of Android kind of is… I don’t know how comparable it is to the evolution of WordPress but they’ve definitely gone from being essentially an iOS copycat to a much bigger and broader ecosystem. iOS is still very much leading the sort of… They’re kind of the thought leaders in the space, but because Android has all of these other opportunities or potential applications now it is being used on a much larger number of devices. I agree that that is similar to the WordPress versus Squarespace kind of… Or WordPress versus Shopify comparison in many ways and that when it really comes down to it, it’s just not perfectly accurate to say those two things are directly comparable. Yeah, they sort of compete for a subset of use cases but they are two things that, while they may have started out being similar and in competition, they are now diverging from each other.

Rob Howard:
As they diverge from each other, direct comparisons out of a pie chart of a hundred possible percentage points becomes less and less useful. I think that’s where this whole WordPress market shared debate kind of is today, whereas if I were a for-profit company and I said, “Well, I want to control all of the advertising on the internet.” Which is basically what Google and Facebook are competing to do. If Google says, “Oh, our market share versus Facebook went down. Now it’s 60/40 instead of 40/60.” That’s a big deal for them that actually causes money to change hands. When we see people talking in WordPress about, “Oh, well, is our market share 43% or 42%?” I just don’t see how that is causing money to change hands in a different way than it would have if it went up by 1% instead of down by 1%. I also don’t really feel 100% confident that the numbers that we’re getting are even precise enough to care about a 1% difference. I think that the margin of error is probably significantly more than that and that most statisticians would probably not feel super good about the data that we’re using being that precise, if that makes sense.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. I think part of it is that it’s really a perception problem where we don’t want anyone to think WordPress is getting less healthy and then that’s going to trickle down clients wanting other services or something like that, but part of the reason that that perception exists is because it feels like WordPress has sort of… We see this with Netflix and Shopify where they’re just built only for scale, for growth, their financial incentives mean they have to grow or they can’t just be stagnant. I wonder if you think that sort of tech obsession with growth as just a baseline requirement for existing may be feeding into this perception issue a little bit, too.

Rob Howard:
I think that there are a good number of company leaders out there in the tech industry that at least say they want to buck that trend of thinking quarterly instead of in decades, but it’s really hard. If you look at Shopify, they were zooming during the pandemic. Everybody thought that they were the future and, in many ways, that’s true, they did have a ton of success. They still have grown a lot but if you look at their stock price, because their growth has slowed down everyone started selling their stock. Even if they have the correct mindset, they’re still constrained by this need to grow fast so investors buy your stuff. I think that is just sort of one of the downsides of being a public company. Certainly WordPress benefits from, number one, not having too many public companies who are kind of stuck in that sort of quarterly mindset [inaudible 00:13:27].

Rob Howard:
Obviously, with some of the acquisitions and some of the bigger hosting companies they are selling stock now, but for the most part we’re able to kind of take a step back from that and we’re not quite in that constant rush of the NASDAQ, if that makes sense. But we’ve also been deliberately highlighting this market share number over the years and saying, “Oh, we grew from 20% to 30% to 40%.” Now, if that’s starting to slow down it’s almost a self-inflicted error, if that makes sense, where we’re saying, “Oh, well, this number we’ve been highlighting to show how great we are is now starting to just slow down, whether that’s due to something negative or just a natural result of there’s only so many things on the internet that can be converted to WordPress.” We’ve kind of stumbled into the same problem where you don’t want to make it look you’re not growing even if things are going well. We don’t have the immediate kind of negative impact that Shopify has, which is that their stock has tanked and people have less paper wealth than they did before who own part of that company. I think there still is a risk, certainly, of overemphasizing the market share and then kind of being in “trouble” when the market share doesn’t rise at a fast rate or goes down 1% or whatever that number is.

Brian Coords:
I think as much as I think market share is not useful, I do think market maybe economy is more useful but maybe also suffers from the same problem, which is it’s really hard to get exact numbers for these things. When I think of economy, I think of just, like you were saying, the GDP of WordPress, how much money literally exists in WordPress. There was a report published by WP Engine about a year or two ago and it kind of just was there. I think… I know I’ve referenced it in the past a few times and not thought too much about it, but more recently it’s come into question about these numbers. I want to say it was half a billion or half a trillion or something like that that they were estimating the WordPress economy at. What are the turn of events that led to this WP Engine report sort of being reconsidered?

Rob Howard:
Yeah. That report was released really as just a marketing tool, a whitepaper. It kind of reminded me of some of the security whitepapers that I’ve criticized in the past because it’s like, well, there’s such an obvious desire to get the marketing answer as opposed to the right answer when you’re producing this type of stuff. That being said, as a standalone marketing thing it was cool. It’s something you could share with clients and say, “Hey, look, WordPress really is big and we do have competitors.” I’ll use that term somewhat loosely, but sometimes we have universities, for example, and they’re saying, “Well, we’re considering Sitecore, we’re considering this custom .NET developer and we’re considering WordPress.” In that context, I actually do want to show them that WordPress is a big deal so that’s useful.

Rob Howard:
I think that is where this WP Engine report came from. That was kind of the mindset around that like, “Hey, I want to show that I’m big so that when somebody challenges my legitimacy, I can use these numbers to make WordPress seem legitimate.” Which it is and which it should seem that way to people. What happened in the last couple weeks was that Post Status published an article that essentially argued that WordPress needs to think bigger, we need to think more how Apple is thinking as opposed to sort of thinking like an underdog, thinking small. Part of the reasoning behind that was a reference to this report that said that the WordPress economy, however you want to define that, is producing $635 billion per year, so more than half a trillion dollars in value.

Rob Howard:
The report goes on to say things like, “Well, that’s almost the same as the value of Tesla, that’s more than the GDP of Ireland. It’s all these things that are kind of obviously questionable.” But nonetheless, the report exists and the article referenced the report and Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, basically called out that article and said, “Because this article references this report which uses numbers that are fundamentally flawed, the article is also fundamentally flawed so the point that it’s making can’t really be defended in the way it’s being defended, if that makes sense.” “You may still think that WordPress thinks too small but you can’t really use these numbers as a sort of way to defend that opinion because these numbers don’t make sense,” was basically the argument that Matt made. Everybody kind of chatted about that in the Post Status member Slack a bit, you and I both chatted a bit as well as with Matt in that conversation.

Rob Howard:
The takeaway that I had from that was, “I want to go dig into this and write more about it and figure out what the real numbers are.” I ended up kind of arriving at a very similar conclusion to where Matt arrived in that we may not be able to put an exact number on it, but this sort of top down approach that the report took, which is how big is the digital economy and what piece of that does WordPress account for, just resulted in a way too high number. The correct number in terms of the amount of revenue produced by WordPress is probably a tenth of what that report suggested. That being said, where this all creates a lot of confusion is like, “Where are we getting these numbers from? How are you defining these numbers? Are people comparing apples to oranges or not? For an average everyday company, why does this matter?” I’m curious to hear actually from you kind of where you see those numbers actually applying to real life, and then we can kind of dig into more of the legitimacy of those numbers or the reasoning behind how we’re counting those things.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. I mean, I think for anybody who works in WordPress you want to know, number one, that the entire ecosystem is healthy and that there’s money flowing around. There’s kind of an interesting article that I read, and I can add it to the show notes, that was basically just comparing WordPress’ keynote events where it’s always asking for contributions, always asking for volunteers, to other keynote events in tech that are very like, “Here’s how you make money. We’re here to make money. Content creators need to be valued for their work, that sort of thing.” There’s definitely a difference in WordPress to every other tech group where WordPress was built for blogging and not really for business, but now so many people are making money that we’re very concerned that we’re going to be able to keep making money and that we’re going to be able to financially sustain whatever’s moving forward. Just from that raw perspective, we want to know that everyone in WordPress is doing okay and can continue to fund things. I think that’s sort of the first step, is do we feel like WordPress is a healthy dock to anchor your boat to just in financial terms?

Rob Howard:
Yeah. I think when you think about that kind of creator economy where ConvertKit, Substack, Ghost and a bunch of others are kind of digging in there. Honestly, I feel like that’s a more interesting battleground than even the Squarespace battleground because… But at the same time, even as I say that out loud I’m like, “Well, it just kind of shows that WordPress is so broad in its possible applications and so decentralized that it’s hard to compare to any one thing.” WordPress versus Substack is a legitimate thing that people decide upon, WordPress versus Squarespace is also a thing that other businesses decide upon, and WordPress versus Shopify is a third thing that a totally different group of businesses who need e-commerce decide upon.

Rob Howard:
Part of it is just that WordPress is just so big and broad and can do so many things. Then I think the other challenge in figuring all this out is just that if you look at a company like ours, if WordPress didn’t exist we could still make websites in different ways so you can’t really say that all of our revenue is a result of WordPress, but we like using WordPress and it’s very valuable to us in a variety of different ways and we can apply it to our clients’ needs in a variety of different ways. I think one of the places where the report from WP Engine struggled is how do you take a company ours and quantify the value of WordPress versus what we would be doing in a hypothetical world where WordPress didn’t exist?

Rob Howard:
Because I was making websites before WordPress, and if it disappeared we’d still need to make websites for people, but it also provides a significant amount of value. Now that we know all those things, I still have no idea what number I would peg to that exact amount of value. It’s very difficult to sort of tweeze out the exact correct data, and that gets more and more complicated the more kind of nuances you throw in like, “Well, what about versus Substack? What about versus Shopify?” There’s just so much going on that it’s almost… As we’ve said a couple times, it’s just not really easy to make a direct comparison between these various different ways of building stuff on the internet.

Monet Davenport :
Thank you for listening up to this point. Press the Issue by MasterWP is sponsored by LearnDash. Your expertise makes you money doing what you do, now let it make you money teaching what you do. To create a course with LearnDash, visit learndash.com. MasterWP is also sponsored by Cloudways. Cloudways is building the most valuable agency focused program in the cloud hosting world. Access a suite of benefits that can boost productivity, fuel your agency’s growth and provide you peace of mind. Visit cloudways.com and save with the promo code MasterWP25. Now back to the podcast.

Brian Coords:
The concept of the Post Status article that WordPress needs to think bigger or do more. We all have our areas where we think WordPress should be focusing. Right now it’s very focused on that Squarespace competitor as far as building a site from scratch, but there’s obviously… Everyone has their own ideas of what WordPress should be doing but it’s a volunteer organization at the end of the day so a lot of these arguments start sounding like, “This is what I think Automattic should be paying for at the end of the day.”

Rob Howard:
Yes. Yeah.

Brian Coords:
But there is a broader ecosystem of people who are contributing and so that’s… Another sort of aspect of this financial thing is if people are making money off of WordPress, how much are they giving back? That turned into Matt Mullenweg’s criticism of the free rider situation, which was basically there’s a lot of companies, like a GoDaddy was his example, where they make a ton of money off of WordPress but they don’t give enough back so they’re sort of draining the health of the WordPress project. But, like you said, it’s really hard to tell whether GoDaddy needs WordPress to do what they’re doing. I mean, could they not just make their own Squarespace competitor pretty quickly if they wanted to and just kind of skip WordPress? What are your thoughts on this kind of free rider problem and why hosting companies in particular are seemingly just… They’re the free riders. Where does that come from?

Rob Howard:
Yeah, I mean, at least in the mind of Matt the hosting companies seem to be the biggest culprits. Allie Nimmons is not here on the podcast with us right now, but she and I did this, a similar conversation a couple weeks ago and she would want us to point out that GoDaddy is not the only company that could be singled out in that way, and probably was to some degree singled out unfairly or at least in a way that was kind of a little bit sketchy during that kind of GoDaddy versus Matt outburst a few weeks back. That being said, I think… Obviously I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks since this came to the forefront, and one of the challenges in the way the WordPress ecosystem is set up is that there is really only one, maybe two or three, companies that couldn’t live without WordPress.

Rob Howard:
The one company that obviously can’t live without WordPress is Automattic. If you think about the game of chicken or the poker game that you can play with funding… I’m not saying that we should think about it as a competition, but to some degree people are thinking about it that way or they’re at least comparing scoreboards and stuff. If all the hosting companies sat down and Automattic sat down and everybody said, “Okay. How much is WordPress worth to you and how much do you want to bet that WordPress is worth less to us, or however you want to frame that?” The company with the most to lose from WordPress ceasing to exist is clearly Automattic. They have the trademark coming through WordPress.com, they have kind of their whole… Not everything, but a large percentage of the value of that company comes from its association with WordPress.

Rob Howard:
Whereas a lot of the other companies, GoDaddy, Bluehost, DreamHost, all the other hosts that have been brought up in this conversation, would continue to be able to host websites on Drupal if in some future world where WordPress weren’t getting maintained or would be able to create their own products or whatever. I think what has happened is that by intertwining Automattic and WordPress in all these different ways, it’s actually been a huge benefit to WordPress as an open source product and to Automattic as a for-profit company, but it also kind of puts them in a jam if other people stop playing ball because when it really comes down to it, you think about the rational economic behavior… The rational economic behavior for Automattic is to never allow WordPress to slow down or fail under any circumstances.

Rob Howard:
It would pretty much make sense for them to invest an unlimited amount of money in WordPress because it is their identity, whereas that’s actually not true for many of the other companies that are volunteering to do Five for the Future stuff. I think that is kind of a weird catch-22. You benefit a lot from it but also when you are the WordPress company, you also have to be the group that covers the needs of WordPress when no one else does. I don’t know exactly how to reconcile that or solve that. Obviously to some degree there is… There’s basically two campaigns. One is the honey campaign and one is the vinegar campaign, right?

Brian Coords:
Mm-hmm.

Rob Howard:
You can be really nice to people and get them to contribute or you can shame people into contributing. I’m not sure which one of those is going to end up being more effective in the long term but that’s pretty much where it stands, is we have to ask and hope that people are on board. Yeah, so in terms of how market capitalization and market share play into funding, people want to be on a… They want to attach themselves to a rising star so it’s always nice to see WordPress growing and doing better. That being said, I think that there’s just naturally going to be a point where you can’t really gain more market share. There’s no scenario where we have 100% market share. That’s just probably a physical impossibility for our purposes, so that market share is eventually going to slow down or level out.

Rob Howard:
Whether it has or not today I think is an open question, but if we think about the mature version of WordPress for the next 10 years or so or however you want to think about that, we probably need to think about different metrics because growth rate is not going to be a good metric for us over the next 10 years because we’re big enough that growth rate just can’t be the thing that we’re attached to anymore. Shopify can have a high growth rate because they’re relatively new and their market share is relatively small compared to WordPress right now, but it’s just not going to be possible for… We just can’t double over and over again. It just doesn’t… It’s just mathematically not possible. Thinking about other ways to show that WordPress is a healthy and innovative ecosystem I think would be a valuable thing to pivot to as opposed to talking about market share in the next State of the Word speech.

Rob Howard:
Maybe we think about, “How do we show that you can make money selling plug-ins via WordPress? How do we show that you can make money doing client services? How do we show that we have a vibrant core product but also interesting side projects and feature projects and stuff like that?” I think maybe that is eventually what we pivot to and we get to a place where we’re doing less nitpicking around dollar amounts that just are pretty much made up when it really comes down to it. Whether I’m saying it’s 60 billion or 600 billion, there’s pretty minimal data to support any level of precision on those numbers and those numbers are just so big that they are difficult for an individual person to use in their daily life in a useful way. But if I can say, “Well, look at this plug-in developer who started off as a solo developer and is now making $200,000 a year by selling stuff in this marketplace.”

Rob Howard:
Those are real stories that I think people can actually attach themselves to and say like, “As a developer, I’m going to choose WordPress over whatever other JavaScript framework or whatever other Ruby on Rails, Python I might be considering.” I think that plays into the idea that we should still be trying to grow and improve ourselves and attract talented younger developers and kind of the next generation. But the fixation on market share or the size of the economy are probably not particularly persuasive ways to do that, especially if you think about a natural slowing of the growth rate happening over the next 10 years, whereas the previous 10 years we were able to grow pretty fast because of where we started. Right now, we’re starting at a place where we’ve already grown a lot, we’re already pretty big. The growth rate is naturally going to slow down after that.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. There’s always that transition of founder energy and then longterm CEO energy where when Steve Jobs passed away… Because you were talking about the keynote speeches [inaudible 00:34:21] every year. When Steve Jobs passed away and Tim Cook took over, one thing that changed about those keynote presentations was it was a lot less of the primary person and then a lot more of all the team leads underneath. If you watch an Apple keynote now, there’s 20 people on stage and they each get to talk about their area and stuff. That’s a sign of like, “We’re not the founder-led company anymore. We’re now a larger team, we have the dominance, we’re already here, now it’s about lifting up all these other people inside and giving you a little more of a peak behind the curtain.”

Brian Coords:
I think it would be great to see a WordCamp keynote like that where we get to see all the other people that are actually working on WordPress every day share what’s really happening and less of the same face. That’s just one idea. But the reason I was going to say that is if you were the face of WordPress, this will be my wrap up question for you, and you had priority control for the next 12 to 18 months, you were going on stage on WordCamp and you were like, “This is what we’re going to do for WordPress for the next year.” What would you think you would make the top focus of WordPress be in any way?

Rob Howard:
I was not expecting that question, but it’s a great question. I probably could do a whole couple of podcasts about it but I’ll try to answer it succinctly. I think one of the big things that I would do is try to set WordPress up for attracting the best younger developers over the next 10 years. If you think about us, we’re both in our mid thirties, we’ve been doing WordPress development for at least 10, 15 years for each of us. I think in some ways we’re actually at the younger end of the “experienced” WordPress user developer demographics, so one thing I would say is I would try to set us up as a community to bring in new people, attract them over some of the competitive programming languages and platforms out there and show them that there is a career path for them in working in this ecosystem because I think right now that is not clear to entry level developers.

Rob Howard:
We see a lot of people who are coming out of boot camps who are going into whatever the coolest job at script framework is and they’re just totally ignoring the software that powers 43% of the internet. I think what’s interesting to me is that there is a significant gap between the amount of the internet that WordPress powers and the amount of attention and interest that WordPress gets from sort of the new generation of developers, so I think that’s an opportunity in the sense that getting “fresh blood” into the ecosystem would be really valuable not just today. It’s actually kind of a cost today because it costs time to train and costs time to market and stuff that, but 10 years from now those people are going to be the 30-somethings who are running companies and kind of making the system work, if that makes sense.

Rob Howard:
I would focus on that on the recruitment side of things. On the product side of things, I’m not so much concerned about exactly what we do but I would like to focus on finishing and shipping things. I think one of the huge pain points has just been the amount of time that Gutenberg and full site editing have been basically in beta. I think part of that is that it’s a hard problem to solve but part of that is that we haven’t had a intensity of focus on shipping something good, and perhaps there hasn’t even been a clear enough end point. What I would say is if we’re going to compete with Squarespace, which I personally believe that is the point of full site editing, is to be able to compete with that sort of portion of the market, let’s do it and let’s build something better than Squarespace and ship it in the next year. Then I can actually track how many users we’re taking away from Squarespace.

Rob Howard:
I think that would be a perfectly legit thing to say if that’s what we really want to do, and then we would actually have some numbers and metrics that we could attach to the success of that plan. Then if we say, “Well, okay. We’re going to spend the next year building an amazing full site editor, we’re going to spend the year after that just crushing e-commerce and making the best e-commerce platform in the world.” I think what’s happening right now is contributions, as well as large companies like Automattic and kind of their focuses, are so spread thin that we’re building the third best full site editor and the third best e-commerce platform and a couple other things that are maybe second or third best all at the same time.

Rob Howard:
To me, that is not really helping any particular… It’s not helping us dominate or win in any particular segment of the market and it’s kind of demoralizing the people who are watching, I think, in a lot of ways. If we can’t build the best e-commerce tool and beat Shopify at the same time that we build the best full site editing tool and beat Squarespace, we should focus on one of those ideas, get to a place where we prove that open source is a better solution for that problem than the closed source systems and then say, “Okay, we finished that project for the year. Now we’re going to move on to the next project.” I think the thing that ties most WordPress enthusiasts together is the idea that open source is better than closed source, but what we’re seeing is that closed source competitors are sneaking up on WordPress in ways that are causing us to be the second or third best when we could be the best.

Rob Howard:
I think Shopify as a constrained small business e-commerce feature set is more appealing to somebody [inaudible 00:40:55] than WooCommerce right now but there’s no reason that should be the case. We clearly have the chops to build something that beats Shopify and also is portable and open source and does all these other things, but we’re spread thin right now, we as a community. We’re even hearing Matt say stuff like, “Well, WooCommerce is still in its early stages.” It’s like, that starts to kind of be difficult to believe after whatever it is, five, eight, 10 years. That kind of stuff strikes me as just factually incorrect and almost misleading in some ways when we talk about that. To the degree that it’s possible to direct the efforts of contributors, I think directing those efforts into a smaller set of features with the goal of winning something would…

Rob Howard:
It gives people a target, it gives people things they can measure and you can still build other plug-ins or do other stuff but you have a much clearer set of goals and measurable performance indicators if you’re trying to focus on one thing instead of 10 things. That was kind of a long response to that question, but basically I would say let’s set some tangible measurable targets, not just say, “Hey, we’re going to build this thing that is really good at building pages,” but say like, “Hey, I actually want to get a million new small businesses using full site editing in a way that makes their life easier and better, that’s going to support developers, that’s going to support small businesses, et cetera.”

Rob Howard:
Those are things that we can actually measure and give us a clearer path towards success. I think right now we don’t really have that as a community but it wouldn’t be that hard to turn some of these somewhat esoteric ideas into much more tangible goals. That being said, there’s probably people out there who wouldn’t want that for the roadmap or for the community but I think if we’re thinking about spurring innovation and also if we’re worried about market share and competition at least to some degree, then those are the ways to direct our many resources into a more tangible outcome than what we’ve seen over the last few years, which I think has been a lot of resources going into a lot of things that are basically stuck in beta perpetually.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. It’s hard for me not to want to jump on five different things you mentioned there in terms of where everything is going, how slow some of it feels, and those are… Even Matt Mullenweg has posted that a number of times about how slow things seem to move.

Rob Howard:
Yeah.

Brian Coords:
But I do kind of generally agree with, I think, especially your main point, which is that at the last State of the Word thing or something he asked the audience, “How many of you are 19 or younger, younger than the age of WordPress?” It was crickets in the auditorium because it was all a bunch of late thirties guys like us. I think you’re right that there’s got to be a clear path for the next part of the internet because I think the open source ideology was super powerful in the early days of the internet 20 years ago and we’ve now proven that most people don’t care about where their data lives when they can just log into Instagram. I think that there’s a certain shift for longevity that we’re going to have to think about.

Rob Howard:
Yeah. I mean, I think the open source concept still stands as a better idea but one of the failure points is that I think a lot of the rhetoric around it assumes that the average internet user understands and agrees and cares about that. As you said, we don’t see people responding to data transparency or data sharing problems by voting with their feet. We see them using the software that’s easiest for them to use, right?

Brian Coords:
Yeah.

Rob Howard:
Part of what I think is the onus on us is to say like, “We’re going to do this in the way that is better from a moral and sort of societal standpoint but we also have to build the best software.” You can’t lean on it being better for society if you’re third place in terms of the quality of your futures. We really have to crank up the quality of those features, especially in those areas where we’re getting competition. I actually think WordPress is by far the best in the world of custom built higher end websites, right?

Brian Coords:
Yeah.

Rob Howard:
That’s what we kind of do as an agency, but we’re identifying that Squarespace is taking away the DIY customers, Shopify is taking away some of the e-commerce customers, so if we want to compete in those spaces it’s not enough to just say, “Well, but we’re open source so that’s inherently better.” You also have to be the best software and have the best licensing structure, the best privacy and all those things. It really ups the ante and I think changes the game a little bit from what we’ve predicted it might look back in 2005, but I think there’s still a lot of potential and regardless of what the “WordPress project” as a whole does, I know that our company and we individually will be kind of pushing towards all these goals of bringing more people into the community, delivering and shipping cool stuff quickly and all that. Hopefully everybody will get on board with some of those ideas and in five or 10 years we’ll look back on this and say, “Wasn’t it funny when we cared about market share and when we cared about whether it was a six billion or $600 billion economy?” Those things are very esoteric and don’t really matter in the day-to-day. What matters in the day-to-day is this feeling of velocity and excitement around the software, and I think that’s something that we can inspire regardless of what the kind of macroeconomic numbers say.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. I think we’re going to have a lot more on MasterWP going forward about the details of those ideas which are, “How do we go from we need things to move faster and be better to what can we all do in a reasonable and sustainable way?” Thank you for having this conversation and I’m looking forward to digging into this discussion in the future.

Rob Howard:
Yeah. Great to talking to you as always.

Monet Davenport :
Thank you for listening to this episode. Press the Issue is a production of MasterWP produced by Allie Nimmons, hosted, edited and musically supervised by Monet Davenport and mixed and mastered by Teron Bullock. Please visit masterwp.com/presstheissue to find more episodes. Subscribe to our newsletter for more WordPress news at masterwp.com.