WordPress’ Road To 50% Market Share and A Few Thought Experiments

Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend my first PressNomics event in Phoenix, AZ. I had a great time, even if I fell ill after returning home. There were a lot of great sessions packed with useful information, but the granddaddy of them all was the on-stage interview between Pagely CEO, Joshua Strebel and Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

Since that memorable interview which I’m still kicking myself for not recording, there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding Mullenweg’s thoughts on Jetpack and its impact on growing WordPress’ marketshare to 50% or more. Prior to his appearance at PressNomics, Mullenweg appeared on the KitchensinkWP podcast hosted by Adam Silver, where he discusses how feasible it would be to obtain 100% marketshare.

The next goal is the majority of websites. We want to get to 50%+ and there’s a lot of work between now and then. As the percentage increases, it gets harder and harder to grow the market share, and we have to grow the market share by doing things we haven’t done in the past – really thinking about the onboarding process, really thinking about the integration with social networks, and with how WordPress works on touch devices, which is going to be the predominant computing platform of the future. These things are going to be really important.

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do.

During his appearance at PressNomics, Mullenweg said that he’s, “Worried we have become too much of an inward facing community and afraid to make a painful leap forward to make the next WordPress.”

Outside of a very long and detailed thread on the Advanced Facebook Users group (you have to be a member to view the thread), no one has talked about this statement. Granted, I’m sure the Jetpack and market share comments have overshadowed it, but it’s worth exploring in its own right.

The Next WordPress

For starters, what is the next WordPress? I don’t know and I don’t even think Mullenweg knows, but maybe he has an idea. We know mobile is likely involved, but it’s anyone’s guess after that. Who’s to say the next WordPress will be WordPress? If you’ve listened to Mullenweg in interviews or even during the State of the Word when he answers questions about the future of WordPress, he routinely brings up Theseus’ paradox.

The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’ paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object which has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late first century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts remained the same ship.

An interesting thought experiment for sure. However, for it to take place means WordPress would need to radically change in the next few years, which brings me to the other part of his statement.

Inward Facing Community

This is a highly controversial statement, one that only he knows more about. However, I think several people on the Advanced WordPress Group were close with their interpretations. As the group is closed, I can’t cite the names of the individuals without permission so instead, I’m quoting from several different comments I agree with.

If you think the version of PHP is important at all, you’re not going to create the next WordPress, meaning the next thing that’s as big or impactful as WordPress is.

Not enough community outreach or venturing outside of the WP community for innovative ideas taking WP to the next level, which I’d have to agree with– if that’s what he meant.

Most innovation is done outside in, not inside out. But to be honest Matt, that’s where the problem lies too… The “inside” is very negative towards change, constantly throwing up hurdles… They like small incremental steps, but fear bigger ones… – Joost de Valk

These interpretations mirror my own in that, the people very close to the core of the project are looking inward and iterating in baby steps, blocking big changes/innovations from occurring from outside the community.

I’m not a core contributor, so I can’t confirm if this is the case or not, but it’s an attitude I’ve witnessed several would be contributors have towards furthering WordPress. It’s a complex situation that can’t be summarized in a paragraph alone. Part of me also thinks this is one of several reasons Mullenweg wants to lead another release of WordPress.

The Painful Leap

The only thing I can reference to the painful leap is WordPress’ backwards compatibility. After all, it’s only an 11-year-old software project (turns 12 in May). It’s one of the primary reasons it’s been able to achieve such a high market share. A look at the minimum requirements page tells you all you need to know.

The charts on WordPress’ About page display WordPress and PHP versions in use are visual reminders of the sad state of affairs.

YUMMY WordPress Pie Charts!

YUMMY WordPress Pie Charts!

Supporting old versions of PHP continues to be a pain point for WordPress. However, according to one individual, worrying about PHP versions isn’t important if you’re creating the next WordPress or something that’s just as impactful.

If you think the version of PHP is important at all, you’re not going to create the next WordPress, meaning the next thing that’s as big or impactful as WordPress is.

The quote makes it seem like the next WordPress is likely to be some sort of SaaS offering like Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace. When I wrote about what could lead to the downfall of WordPress late last year, a competitive service was not one of the choices. Now I think if anything were to disrupt WordPress, it would be a SaaS offering.

Outside of backwards compatibility, I don’t know any other painful leaps WordPress has to make in order to get to 50% market share. Perhaps Mullenweg could enlighten us with a listicle on his personal site.

A Few Thought Experiments

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do – Matt Mullenweg

What processes and changes will evolve to get us there? How much internal friction will there be? It’s mind bending to think about what WordPress would need to be to people in order to gain 50% or more of market share. It’s a an enormous amount of websites/people and if WordPress can’t be all things to all people, who makes up the majority of a 50% market share userbase?