Automattic owning up


So this happened: yours truly went on LinkedIn to get the NYT piece fixed where an author had once again referenced as simply ‘WordPress’, thus cementing the fake news that ‘Automattic owns WordPress’ into the consciousness of countless readers.

Screenshot of my LinkedIn post (also linked to)

On my LinkedIn post, I @-mentioned the journalist and Matt himself, neither of which reacted. (Not that I would have expected them to.)

But then I also @-mentioned Monica Ohara, CMO at Automattic. After all, the whole naming dilemma is a marketing issue; it has harmed not only Automattic’s reputation within the open source WordPress community but also amongst its business partners for over a decade. Yet the company so far had never taken any visible steps whatsoever to own it, for example by proactively adding clarifying guidelines for journalists to their website.

And now this… 🥁

Monica not only replied on my post – she got in a DM with me, listened to what I had to say (arguably on behalf of a significant number of long-time WordPress contributors and community folks), and she decided to take action about it. She didn’t have to, mind you. No CMO is required to make time to listen to an old fart ranting on LinkedIn. But she did because, as I was privileged to learn during our conversation, she is not only a smart marketer and CMO, but also a kind and empathetic person who cares about open source WordPress and its people.

And while Automattic’s new press page may seem a small step to some of us who have been frustrated with the company for a long time, I recommend to not underestimate this signal. These are a $3 billion company’s official brand guidelines for the press and they clearly state: “Please append .com when referencing our product name.”

The WordPress/.com naming dilemma has been a drag for community folks throughout WordPress’ history, and it may be much too easy to forget: it has been difficult for many Automatticians as well.

The narrative that the company wasn’t doing anything about it because it ultimately adds to their bottom line has been around for years. If you’ve been frustrated as a non-Automattician, try putting yourself in the shoes of an engaged WordPress contributor who gets paid by Automattic, has close relationships within the company and with a bunch of fellow contributors outside, and every time another press piece pops up that conveniently confuses the two WordPresses, your community peers start giving your company shit and you can’t even blame them…

While a dedicated press page will not be able to prevent future confusion of WordPress and altogether (because it simply isn’t possible), my hope is that it will be seen as a first practical step to help heal the relationship between Automattic and parts of WordPress’ open source community – which so many Automatticians have made such incredible amounts of contributions to ever since the company existed, and that is another thing that is too easy to forget.

People, folks. Companies are people. One must never give up on believing there are good people almost everywhere.

Update: Sarah Gooding wrote up this story for WP Tavern, cheers!

7 thoughts on “Automattic owning up

  1. I am of the opinion that way too many folks always first assume evil intent on the part of Automattic, simply because they are the largest and therefore most beneficial company in the WordPress space.

    I don’t believe, as some do, that the confusion around the naming is a sinister plot to try and claim ownership of all of WordPress by Automattic, and I am glad to see Automattic taking steps to help rectify the situation.

      1. Lol, thanks for your comment, Jonathan! 😄

        Fwiw, I’ve never worked at Automattic, so I don’t have any ’inside’ view on the matter. But I’ve been around a fair while and looking at the history of WordPress and, I agree assuming a dedicated plot from the very beginning seems far fetched.

        You don’t have to assume a plot, though, to notice over the years how, from a marketing perspective, the company (until now) has remained utterly passive about the naming dilemma. So for many folks, including myself, it was hard to not assume at least convenient ignorance. That is the gist of the narrative I’m referring to in my post.

        1. I do understand your point, I guess that’s my advantage, I’m a baby in the WordPress world compared to some folks 🙂

          Apologies if I implied that you were one of the folks who assumed a plot on Automatic’s part, I was actually only referring to other folks I’ve seen online who do feel this way.

  2. Great work Caspar and thank you for taking this up! I read the interview in the NYT and immediately started looking for a paragraph where the distinction was made, only to conclude ‘yup, if you let a journalist publish it like this, that’s kind of misleading’.

    It’s refreshing to see that a conversation between the right people can lead to something significant – no drama, just an exchange of ideas followed by concrete action taken in the right direction. This just confirms what I have seen at WCEU, that you are definitely the ‘right person’ for a conversation like that.

    👏 and ❤️ to you sir!

    1. Thanks, Willem, I appreciate the kind words! Again, all credit to Monica and team for making it happen, and I wholeheartedly agree it is a refreshing change to see.

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