Highlights from Matt Mullenweg’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit

Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything (AMA) series is an open forum between notable personalities and their users. Matt Mullenweg, WordPress co-founding developer and Automattic’s CEO & President, hosted a question & answer session several months ago. Here, we’ve excerpted some of the most interesting questions and answers as they pertain to WordPress core, WordPress.com, and other Automattic products. Questions have been slightly modified to isolate the question. Original AMA thread here.

Q: I was at your State of the Word in SF and you talked about moving WordPress more towards being an application framework rather than a CMS or blog platform. What specifically do you have in mind for this (better settings API, developer features, etc)? And then if you could break backwards compatibility (which really isn’t a option for WP), what would you really like to completely redo or add to WordPress? (submitted by andrewry)

Matt: First and foremost the most important things for a platform are stability, speed, and security. To do those well you need the ability to push updates and fixes as close to real-time as possible. And it needs to work in every language. User authentication, data and caching abstraction.

A lot of what people think of as platform stuff is actually at the CMS layer — custom post types, taxonomy meta.

If backwards compatibility wasn’t a concern I would rename all the inconsistent column names and variables to match our style guide, drop TinyMCE, simplify the user roles and capabilities system, replace widgets with page blocks, redo the admin menu system, denormalize the DB, flatten dependencies and deep hierarchy in function execution, and completely reorganize the code so the bare minimum of files are included with any given request.

Q: Are there any plans to improve the search in Plugins directory, Theme directory, and Support forums at WordPress.org? Options for sorting results after searching would be awesome. We are constantly bombarded with “What’s a good plugin/theme for such and such function/type of site?” questions on r/WordPress. Seems to me that an improved search on WordPress.org would help a ton. (submitted by summerchilde)

Matt: Completely agree.

Q: Hit me with some Akismet stats. (submitted by andrewinmelbourne)

Matt: We’re blocking 40-50 million more spam every day than we were last year. The volume of spam has been growing unusually fast.

Q: What individual do you think is the most under recognized contributor to the WordPress community at large? (submitted by jb510)

Matt: That’s a tough one… I’m going to say the volunteers on the support forums. There are 2M+ posts there, and it’s easy to forget that a huge number of WP users end up in the forums and get help that allows them to use the software when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Q: I find WP so much more user-friendly than the competition. Was that a conscious decision from the outset? Was it hard work to make it that way or was it just the way you guys did things? Do you have a warehouse full of useability testers or does it just come naturally to you guys? (submitted by jimmerd)

Matt: The first few users were friends of mine who weren’t into technology at all, so from the start we needed to make it work for regular people. As we grow it’s mostly just a matter of reminding ourselves of that, sitting down with them to see how they use the software, and anticipating their needs.

Q: PHP has matured a lot in the last few years, with new tools such as Composer and new frameworks such as Laravel. The relationship between this side of the PHP community and WordPress seems to be pretty strained.
# Are there plans to address this relationship, particularly with the new focus on WordPress as a web app framework?
#Thoughts on forking WordPress, a la jQuery? (http://eamann.com/tech/wordpress-forking-and-the-road-to-4-0/)
# Multiple content areas – probably the most important CMS feature not baked into core. Will it ever happen?
(submitted by d_abernathy89)

Matt:
# I think the PHP and WP community are coming closer together, I know it’s something that Nacin has been spending time on and we’ve had more presence at PHP-focused conferences.
# I don’t think forking as described there is a good idea.
# There’s something around multiple content areas that could be really interesting we’re going to start working on this year, hopefully ready by early 2014.

Q: Are open source contributions a prerequisite to work at Automattic? (submitted by twinkeel)

Matt: No, but they get you to the top of the list when we’re reviewing applications. (I know, I look at every incoming resume.)

Q: I see a lot of desperate web development companies locally that try to stress that WordPress is insecure and shouldn’t be used. What would be the best thing to say to people like that to shut them up? (submitted by xHyperGx)

Matt: Some of the largest and most important publishers in the world rely on WordPress. (Show them the showcase.) If WordPress was insecure we’d see it on the front page of nytimes.com, wired.com, and cnn.com. :)

Q: What do you think about App websites/themes that seem to be using WordPress as the choice of CMS, do you think WordPress is a good platform for these types of sites? Scaling, Performance issues considering? Examples, Dating sites, Crowdfunding sites, Job board, etc. (submitted by throwaway201e3)

Matt: I think it’s a great framework for anything content-driven. For things like messaging that don’t map well to WP’s data model, you can still do it just make some new tables, don’t try to shoehorn it in the standard ones.

Q: And any plans to launch a Premium paid version of Photon service with more features? (submitted by pranjalgupta)

Matt: Not on features, we’ll make anything new there free to everybody, but might have a paid tier for top 1% of users by bandwidth/usage. But probably a few years from that, plenty of bandwidth and CPU here in the meantime, and it’s just getting cheaper and faster.

Q: Why is Hello Dolly still a default plugin? Do you have any statistics about how many people actually activate/use it? Have you personally written any other plugins? (submitted by the_MikePayne)

Matt: This is an interesting one, and I pulled up some stats around it:
Hello Dolly is actually the 13th most active plugin, with an active userbase of about 16% of Akismet (the most-activated plugin), and about a third as popular as Jetpack. It’s ahead of W3 Total Cache! Again this is not just installations, it’s currently active.
Some of the other plugins I’ve been involved with are here on my profile: http://profiles.wordpress.org/matt/
They’re obsolete but at the time I was proud of Advanced Caching, Staticize Reloaded, and Cache Images and the early and since-rewritten work on bbPress, HyperDB, and Akismet.

Q: Do you think an app store for plugin and themes built with high quality standards and framework, could be a good solution for WordPress end users? (submitted by nicolaballotta)

Matt: The plugin directory is an app store where everything is free.
Would having paid stuff there make it better? I don’t think so.

Q: I have been using WordPress for 10 years, make most of my living from it, and will always love it. Thank you for that! It is by far the easiest way I have found to build websites that my clients find easy to use. I see the reasons why WordPress does not use more modern coding practices and tools and appreciate the need for backward compatibility, but wonder if you ever see the code base moving forward to a time when developers can use the newest features of PHP, best coding practices (i.e. testing), and the great tools that are available these days, like Composer. Do you think there will ever be some kind of fork or offshoot of WordPress that functions as an application development framework, since so many developers are using it for that these days? (submitted by lori_b)

Matt: I disagree with the premise — WordPress does use modern coding practices. People assume that supporting say an older version of PHP or MySQL holds us back far, far more than it actually causes any trouble. Supporting older browsers is a way bigger deal.
Our biggest challenge is figuring out the user side of things, the front-end code. How things should work for a user rather than how they should work for a computer.

Q: What is your opinion about current state of PHP in general? Do you like any particular framework? Templating engine? (submitted by houdas)

Matt: I think it’s pretty great, would just love to see continuing development around performance. Nothing really in the language that’s holding us back. Wish it was trendier with younger devs.

Q: Automattic has a lot of side projects (Gravatar, PollDaddy, etc) – What’s next? (submitted by baaaatmaaan)

Matt: There’s always a struggle between doing new things or experiments under a new brand — like VaultPress — vs putting it under an existing brand. A lot of the things I’ve been thinking about we’re going to put under the Jetpack brand, for example Jetpack Photon (CDN + dynamic image resizing and filtering) could be a standalone product, but decided to bundle it. So keep an eye on some big things coming to Jetpack, especially for Code Poets, people who use WordPress professionally.

Q: Will you ever support multiple languages in the WordPress core? What do you think of new writing platforms like Quip and Editorially? Will the WordPress post editor ever have any of those ‘team’ features? (submitted by chedonline)

Matt: No plans for multiple languages in core, sorry.
I really dig the new writing platforms, I do think we’ll get some of those team features if not in core than in Jetpack.