Is the Future Success of WordPress tied to Jetpack?

At Pressnomics last week, Matt Mullenweg suggested that the success of WordPress was linked to the Jetpack plugin.

It caused a stir in the room and several folks have been talking about it this past week. I thought I would give my take here.

Let's begin with a thought exercise

If you went way back…to the early days of Microsoft and Apple, it was a battle of the platforms. For several years, there was only one consistent winner, and it wasn't Apple.

Apple was solving the computing problem in a certain way – it brought hardware and software together to deliver an experience. Microsoft was approaching it differently, allowing several hardware vendors to get involved while it delivered software. Now, admittedly, this made things harder for Microsoft who had to contend with a lot of different device drivers to work with all the different gear that was out there.

But for years, the real battle was won, not based on hardware, but based on applications. More people were making more applications for Windows. And to that end, more end users had need for more applications that were only on Windows.

What do you think would have happened if both Apple and Microsoft had only played the software game? At the same time. Would there have been a bigger challenge?

Who cares about Windows and Macs?

At this point you might be wondering why I wasted two hundred words on that old war that was over years ago.

Well because I see it happening all over again.

Medium, SquareSpace, Wix and more are all offering hardware (hosting) and software (editing platforms) bundled together.

WordPress is offering software that runs on tons of different hardware (hosting).

So is it any surprise that WordPress is winning? Not to me.

See in my world, the wider you cast a distribution network with greater numbers of partners, the better your chances are of winning (regardless of your product).

Don't believe me? Ask developers what they think about Crystal Reports. Most will cringe in pain at the words. Because their distribution put them everywhere, even if the product wasn't all that great. And by all that great I mean horrible.

Distribution matters.

This is why backwards compatibility makes sense. Because hosting providers are all over the place with what versions of software they support. It's not just about end users. It's about distribution (in my opinion. And by the way, I'm going to stop writing that. Everything here is my opinion, and only that).

Let's get back to WordPress

WordPress is big at No debate. But what's bigger is all those sites powered by the downloadable software we normally call the .org version. And these days you don't even have to download it.

I remember when I was getting started with WordPress that I'd have to go to the downloads page to pull it down and upload it. Even the hosting providers that had one-click installers had out-of-date versions.

Today that's not the case.

And in some cases – like at Pagely, WP Engine, SiteGround and others, you spin up an account and the software is already installed. WordPress is ready for you.

That means there's very little friction once you purchase a hosting account. You can get WordPress (.org) easily.

That's a really good thing.

But WordPress on it's own is not enough

When Matt made his proclamation that there might be a causal relationship between WordPress' success and Jetpack, the audience was a group of people highly skilled in finding, using and even creating plugins for the platform.

But let's be honest – that's the minority.

Most of the world can't create a plugin. Most of the world can't configure the larger / complex plugins. Heck, most of the world can't determine the difference between the good and the crappy plugins – I know, I get questions about them on my site daily.

So, sure, to the audience, the statement doesn't make tons of sense, because we all find it easy to find plugins from people we trust and deploy them to sites.

And by deploy I mean we can do a github push, we can ssh into a server, we can use SFTP.

The rest of the people reading this article just skipped that last sentence.

The rest of the world wants plugins just as easily delivered to them like WordPress is now delivered to them.

This is why I agree with Matt.

Site owners want more than just WordPress

They want statistics (like jetpack statistics). And images that are delivered quickly (like photon).

They want share buttons (like Jetpack delivers). They want comments and an ability to subscribe to them (like Jetpack comments).

And as much as I might suggest that there are some solutions out there that are better (like I love better than photon and I like Postmatic better than Jetpack comments), it's immaterial.

The world out there isn't me.

The world out there is much more like my neighbors or parents. Adults who don't think and work and even vacation with WordPress folks.

They don't attend conferences.

They just want a website. And if Jetpack shows up on their site automatically, like it does for many hosting providers, and it offers tons of features that people want, then it's a no-brainer.

In this way, it's very similar to what comedian Bill Burr says, “I paid 100% of the money for 100% of the sandwich” (a line I learned from my other friend Matt).

People want 100% of a site. Not a site where they have to go get 14 different plugins to make their site complete.

That's why Jetpack has worked. That's why I think WordPress has had the success it's had.

Oh, and because it's available on all the hosts and sometimes even pre-installed (which is a totally different matter than what I'm describing here).

What's this mean for you and me?

First, don't expect Jetpack to go anywhere. It's a major component of Automattic's strategy for helping WordPress grow.

But that's a no-brainer.

Secondly, I'd say, if you're a developer of a theme or plugin, distribution is the name of the game. So put aside all your emotional issues. If there's a marketplace that helps you drive distribution, don't ignore it.

Thirdly, I think I heard Matt mention that you could contribute to Jetpack. I'd get on that, if there was any way you could not only help it move forward, but get some feature of yours deployed as part of that massively svelt plugin.


Photo Credit: Betty Cohen