WordPress founder Mullenweg on openness and the mobile future [LeWeb]

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Matt Mullenweg has never been an advocate for controlled systems. This is, after all, the man who founded the download-and-code-it-yourself giant WordPress, and wished the iPhone was more Android-like in its openness. But when he spoke at LeWeb today Mullenweg, also shared his opinion freely, on everything from Instagram and Twitter’s decision to disconnect to the growth potential of mobile devices.

Speaking to GigaOm’s Om Malik, Mullenweg, who is also the founder of Automattic (the company which provides a range of paid-for services to support the WordPress ecosystem), discussed why the opensource movement is so important and why social media will not kill WordPress anytime soon. Adding his voice to the debate surrounding Instagram’s decision to stop displaying its image previews in Twitter, he said that, whatever the founders may say, it’s not in the user’s best interests.

“Some of the things that have been going on with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have been troubling,” he said. “No user is saying ‘I don’t want my Instagram photo to show up in the tweet stream’. It’s a bad user experience.”

He added that, essentially, Twitter and Facebook’s primary users are advertisers, and their users are all just products for sale. Because of this, he says the companies give more attention to advertisers — and the best thing for advertisers is not an app store full of Twitter clients and third party applications where they can’t control if and how their ads are displayed, which is why Twitter has been tightening up the level of access to its API and killing off the clones.

Mullenweg said that the different services need to work together and integrate their data. It’s not as though their products are used in isolation — many people share Instagram images interchangeably to Facebook and Twitter, and don’t prioritise one over the other.

Collaboration has been a major part of WordPress’s success and Mullenweg sees it continuing that way as open integration is embedded in its DNA. While WordPress started out as a blogging service, it saw its greatest adoption rates as a full content management system that provides the back bone for 17% of the top million websites globally. Its functionality is also expanded and built upon by thousands of developers, who have created over 20 000 plugins to date.

The next stage of its development is going to be mobile-focused: Mullenweg predicts that within five years, the majority of the traffic to WordPress sites will be from smartphones and tablets. His team is working on distilling their full desktop experience to offer the best possible level of functionality for users of its suite of mobile apps. They’ve already seen HTML5 iPad apps developed almost entirely using WordPress. “Mobile is giving us a chance to re-imagine… WordPress from the ground up,” said Mullenweg.

Blogging is not dead yet

When social media started growing in popularity, a lot of people thought it was the next phase of the evolution of the web that would wipe out blogs. But that hasn’t happened. Mullenweg says the way blogs are used may have shifted, but social media has, if anything, helped blogs to survive by providing a way for bloggers to distribute their posts to an audience they may never have reached before.

Blogs have become a home base: a hub of personal information, which is then pushed to services like Facebook and Twitter. Because WordPress is open source, developers are also setting up systems to post to their blogs from social media, not just vice versa, and create chains of actions — for example, if they check into a certain place on FourSquare, it should post something on their blog. WordPress is being used as a central part of a larger system to produce and publish ideas and stories online. “No matter what I do, I always come home to my blog,” said Mullenweg.

Blogs also provide a platform for the kind of longer, richer stories that may not work as well on social media sites. Mullenweg theorised that there is a ratio between the time it takes to create content and the time taken to consume it. For example, a photo takes a second to capture and one more to post — but will be flicked past in just a small amount of time.

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