Automattic and its Cheque Book: A Look at the WordPress Company’s Acquisitions

Automattic has added to its growing stable of acquisitions, buying out WordPress blog editor Poster.

The app’s creator Tom Witkin announced the news in a short statement on his blog, saying he, along with his software, had been snatched up by the WordPress.com parent company. He didn’t disclose how much money changed hands.

Poster for WordPress
Poster offers a beautiful way to post to WordPress using touch devices.

Witkin will be joining Automattic’s mobile team as a designer and coder.

“So what’s changing? Poster will no longer be available for purchase, but if you’ve already bought the app you’ll always be able to re-download it. I’m continuing to support it, and I’m always just an email away if you’ve got any questions.

As for me, I get to keep doing what I love: creating apps and experiences that enable and delight. The only difference is that I get new opportunities to continue to learn and develop personally and now get to work with some amazing people. I truly believe that something great will come from devoting my time and attention to Automattic.”

Poster was added to the Apple App Store last August, offering a clean and simple blogging alternative to the WordPress iOS app.

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Witkins’ app has already been taken down from App Store. It is yet to be added to Automatic’s list of products.

Matt Mullenweg
WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg says work on the platform needs to focus on mobile technology.

It’s interesting to note that Witkins’ addition to the mobile team comes after WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg recently spoke to CNN Money about the platform’s need to focus on mobile technology.

“I think probably within the next five years we’ll transition to a majority, or super majority, of WordPress usage coming from touch devices, including things like laptops that have keyboards, but they’ll primarily be touch driven,” Mullenweg said.

“I don’t think we embraced mobile early enough, especially because open source communities don’t embrace these closed platforms.

“We’re doing fantastic on the web and growing that percentage but I don’t think our mobile apps are really where they should be at.”

The Poster acquisition is the second time Automattic has pulled out its cheque book this year and is the latest in a long list of Automattic’s acquisitions, starting with Gravatar.

So what has happened to these products and services – which you may or may not have heard about before – since Automattic’s snapped them all up?

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Let’s take a look:

Gravatar

Gravatar logo

After buying Gravatar, a service for providing unique avatars that follow you from site to site, Automattic rewrote it in PHP, made premium features free, improved the server response time, allowed for bigger sizes, and now millions of avatar images are being served over 8.6 billions times each day.

Sites that have signed on to use Gravatar include American Idol and Battlefield 3 Battlelog.

Tom Preston-Werner, who created Gravatar, went on to successfully start GitHub in 2008 and is the code host’s CEO.

BuddyPress

BuddyPress logo

Automattic bought out the social networking in a box software and hired its creator Andy Peatling, who continues to work as a WordPress.com engineer.

The first stable release of BuddyPress hit the shelves – or should I say, the WordPress plugin directory – in May 2009 and since then a small core team led by John James Jacoby has continued what Peatling started.

The latest stable version, 1.7.2, includes theme compatibility, group administration and a streamlined installation process. BuddyPress 1.8-beta 1 was released on June 13. BuddyPress has been downloaded almost 1.5 million times.

In September 2010, Automattic gave control over BuddyPress to the WordPress Foundation.

IntenseDebate

Intense Debate logo

Less than a year after startup incubator TechStars launched the commenting system in October 2007, Automattic bought out Intense Debate and hired its developers for an undisclosed sum.

The system “super charges” the comment section of a site by adding features like threading, reply by email, voting, reputation and global profiles.

At the time of the buyout, Mullenweg wrote in his blog that he planned to keep Intense Debate as a platform-agnostic, independent service and integrate some of its features into future versions of WordPress and Gravatar.

“Long-term, I think comments are the most crucial interaction point for blogs and an area that deserves a lot of investment and innovation,” Mullenweg said.

According to the plugin’s trac log, it hasn’t been updated in 12 months, though the Intense Debate blog is regularly updated.

It’s not clear what Automattic’s plans are for the commenting system, but it’s still available to other blogging platforms and can be activated as a plugin within WordPress installs.

PollDaddy

Polldaddy logo

Polldaddy started out as a two-man, self-funded operation in Ireland before it was acquired by Automattic.

Co-founder David Lenehan became the product lead for Polldaddy at Automattic. The polling and survey software now operates using PHP and MySQL and is more stable and scalable.

The plugin’s trac log shows it’s regularly updated and support questions are quickly answered. The blog on Polldaddy’s site is updated sporadically.

Like IntenseDebate, it seems Automattic is simply maintaining PollDaddy for use as a plugin with no grand plans in the works.

Blo.gs

Blo.gs

Automattic acquired blo.gs, a ping update service, from Yahoo. Yahoo had originally bought the service from it’s creator Jim Winstead in June 2005.

At the time, Matt Mullenweg said Yahoo was transferring blo.gs to Automattic for “safekeeping”, adding he had been a long-time fan of the service and it had inspired an early WordPress feature that reordered blogrolls based on update times.

“We’re looking forward to beefing up the service and giving it a refresh, while continuing its reputation for reliability,” Mullenweg posted on his blog.

Well, a quick visit to to blo.gs reveals the site’s news feed was last updated in 2009 - with a post announcing Automattic had acquired the service.

It seems the site has been neglected and any plans to beef it up have been long forgotten.

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After the Deadline

After the Deadline

Mullenweg discovered After the Deadline when the spelling, grammar and style-checking software’s founder Raphael Mudge commented on a Hackernews post that his software had found errors in a New York Times article. Mullenweg contacted Mudge and just a few months later, Mudge had joined Automattic’s staff. He was tasked with delivering After the Deadline to non-English speaking bloggers.

The software is now available for French, German, Portugese and Spanish, as well as English and is free to for personal use as a Firefox add-on, Chrome extension and OpenOffice extension.

It’s no longer available as a plugin for WordPress – in June 2012, After the Deadline became part of Jetpack.

Mudge worked for Automattic as a code wrangler for about a year and now runs software and training company Strategic Cyber.

Plinky

Plinky logo

Plinky joined the Automattic family about a year after its launch in early 2009. Plinky was Thing Labs’ first product, which they stopped developing after their Twitter client Brizzly took off.

Plinky is a site designed to help people get over writer’s block. The service send you a prompt every weekday with a question, such as “What is your favorite summer memory?” or “Is being ‘normal’ – whatever that means to you – a good thing or a bad thing? Neither?” to get your creative juices flowing.

Automattic code wrangler Stephane Daury and Krista Stevens, who leads the editorial team, continue to work on Plinky. Plinky supports WordPress as well as LIveJournal, Tumblr, TypePad, WordPress.com, WordPress.org and Xanga. Plinky answers can also be shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Like IntenseDebate and Polldaddy, it appears Plinky is being maintained, with no big plans to further expand the service.

AOL acquired Thing Labs in 2010.

Code Garage

CodeGarage logo

When Code Garage founder Peter Butler found his business was growing larger than he alone could handle, he approached Automattic and a few months later joined the VaultPress team.

At the time, Mullenweg said he hoped Automattic could learn from Code Garage’s approaches, such as its agency-friendly pricing model, making it easy for customers to manage dozens of sites, something that VaultPress was experimenting with.

Butler has written an insightful post about how he started Code Garage and how it was eventually acquired by Automattic.

The backup and security service, along with all of Butler’s customers, is in the process of being fully merged with VaultPress and existing Code Garage customers have been invited to migrate to VaultPress by July 1. Butler continues to work for Automattic.

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Simperium

Simperium logo

In January this year, Automattic bought out Simperium, a startup that ran a data syncing platform and, along with it, Simplenote, the company’s personal note-keeping app.

Automattic also bought the simplenote.com domain name from a squatter.

Simperium’s three-member team, including founders Mike Johnston and Fred Cheng, joined Automattic as part of the acquisition.

Super charged car
The plan is to “super charge” Simplenote.

In a post on the Simplenote blog, Johnston and Cheng said the plan was to “super charge” Simplenote with a lot more attention in the “coming months and years to come” on native apps for more platforms, ongoing improvements and more work on the data syncing service.

“You know how sometimes, the services you love just disappear when they’re bought by someone else? Or they wither and die a slow and painful death? Not the case here. We made sure of that,” they posted.

In announcing the acquisition, Mullenweg posted on his blog that he was a daily user and fan of Simplenote and looked forward to seeing how Simperium could be used across WordPress.com

Simplenote is still available to download for free, but the app’s blog has only been updated once since Simperium was acquired. Who knows, the acquisition could be part of some big plan to advance WordPress into the touch device market – or maybe Mullenweg has just scooped up another product/service he personally like to use.

Summing Up

So what will happen to Poster? Well, existing users can continue using it but we’ll have to wait and see whether its features are incorporated into future versions of WordPress or it is re-released as a stand-alone app for mobile devices.

Is there any software you would/wouldn’t like to see Automattic snap up? Tell us in the comments below.

Image credits: Joi, Wikimedia CommonsDel Barfoot.

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