I spent the last few days fixing up my WordPress blog. Since I host my own site (i.e. I do not use a hosted WordPress providers such as wordpress.com or wpengine.com), making changes like additional Facebook “like” or Twiitter “follow” buttons, or Facebook “share” and Twitter “tweet” links, requires significant effort, even with the relatively robust WordPress plugin system.
All of which led me to thinking more deeply about the entire open-source business model.
The WordPress blog platform project, hosted at wordpress.org, is fully open-source. You can use it as you wish, modify it for your own purposes (provided that if you redistribute it, you need to use a similar license for the modifications, see the GPL), and it is entirely, 100% free. However, like any piece of software, it takes effort to configure, deploy and manage, even with easy-to-use Web hosts. The overwhelming majority of blogger do not have the desire, let alone the skill, to manage the complexities of themes, sidebar widgets, Facebook links, plugins, upgrades, PHP code, etc. Given the above, there is no reason why WordPress could not have simply been a single hosted platform running on wordpress.com, and sold on a monthly basis, perhaps using the current freemium model: the basics are free, extra customization in themes or Web addresses or ad-free are for paid plans only.
Yet, as an open-source project, the WordPress creators have lots of competition – besides wpengine.com, just about every Web host out there offers nearly one-click WordPress install – but they also get two crucial benefits.
- Platform: There are thousands, if not more, of actual WordPress developers out there, far more than the 34 or so core contributors listed on the wordpress.org site. WordPress has advanced dramatically due to the uncountable number of small to large contributions to the core, themes and plugins as well as bug reports.
- Adoption: Since it is open source, and there is competition from alternate dedicated WordPress hosts, general hosts with one-click WordPress install, and self-installers, the total number of WordPress customers is orders of magnitude larger than it would be otherwise.
Because of WordPress’s open source model, the official WordPress.com host owns a much smaller share of the overall market, but the larger adoption and better platform have dramatically increased the size of the market. I would always prefer to own 20% of $1BN over 100% of $1MM or even of $10MM, a lesson often forgotten by marketers, CEOs and policy planners.