Matt Mullenweg opens Northern Voice ’08

mullenwegtv2.jpgMatt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic and developer of WordPress, was the keynote speaker at Northern Voice 2008, held at the University of British Columbia on February 22nd and 23rd.

Mullenweg’s talk, “Blogging and Social Media: Where do we go from here?”, covered where blogging has been and where it’s going. WordPress came about because of frustration with then-current platforms, and five years later the software has been downloaded more than seven million times. He said over that time he’s gained some insight into what bloggers want and need from their software.

Expression is by far the most important component of a blogger’s online presence. Being able to change themes and designs turned out to be one of the most popular components of WordPress, because it allowed people to create a somewhat unique identity.

Getting rid of spam is another important component to giving bloggers the right tools, as it rids the user and readers of unwanted distractions. The Achilles Heel of Web 2.0 is spam, he said, and spam isn’t just in the form of email. Many Facebook apps could be classified as spam, and Mullenweg pointed to the proliferation of terrible Facebook apps as the biggest strategic error Facebook has made.

Interaction, in the form of comments, is also extremely important, as is validation which is also driven by commentary from the blogosphere.
Mullenweg also pointed out that form dictates writing. The technology available drives what content gets created. As an example, Mullenweg highlighted Tumblr, which is primarily driven by media rather than text.

Mullenweg pointed to the need for “invisible software.” He said it’s important to make the tools as transparent as possible.

Respecting people’s time is another vital part of presenting content on the web, Mullenweg said, and web pages choked with ads that bury actual content simply will not scale.

The fundamental flaw of social media is that it doesn’t scale well. Mullenweg showed how the thousands of comments on Youtube videos are worse than useless, and even worse are presented in a way that isn’t helpful to the user. On the other hand, Youtube’s related videos section does help the user, though it’s a potential time-sink.

Finally, open source is the key to continued innovation in the blogosphere. Besides WordPress, projects like Firefox and Wikipedia have brought open source values to the consumer, and it’s now the user’s responsibility to contribute to the continuing process of fine-tuning software. The taste of freedom open source brings, he said, makes it difficult to go back to the old, closed systems that used to dominate both the enterprise and consumer space. Perhaps, he said, open source principles could be applied not only to the online world but in law, politics and other real world” social structures.