Why Jetpack really packs a punch – the future of WordPress and why you may not like it much (if you’re a premium developer or service provider)

I told myself to stay away from this.

Honestly, I couldn’t see a good reason to enter into the debate, it felt negative and bleugh and whats-the-point, so we just discussed it a bit internally, did a bit of low-level ranting, figured let sleeping dogs lie, and got on with the business implications on the quiet.

But having just read Ryan’s post about what Jetpack really means to WordPress, as a whole I figured sod it, if he can do it (or at least hint at it) so can I.

And as reflecting on this stuff just so happens to be good business (it never hurts to think out loud) even though I imagine this’ll be studiously ignored by the powers that be, it might make for a good presentation if nothing else… and you won’t be able to tell me you haven’t been warned.

So, here’s what I’m gonna cover in this post:

  • What is, and isn’t, in Jetpack and why
  • ‘The Akismet code’ and how that indicates what’s to come
  • Which means they are going to do what???
  • And the resultant future of WordPress

So, are you sitting comfortably? Good, then let’s begin :)

First up, let’s establish where everyone stands

A personal disclaimer, I own and operate Incsub, WPMU DEV, WPMU.org (this site), WP Plugins, WP.MU, BuddyDress and Edublogs – so I’m not without my own vested interests.

A disclaimer on behalf of Automattic, they have raised over $30,000,000 in venture capital and thus, naturally, are a profit orientated organization, not that there’s anything wrong with that… but remember it all the same :)

So, great name, but what’s really in a Jetpack?

Well, let’s put it simply, Jetpack is a bundle of Automattic products.

I’m gonna stick my neck out here and bundle them into three separate piles:

Not that important to Automattic – Stats, Twitter Widgets, LaTeX, Shortcodes

Very important to Automattic – Gravatar Hovercards, Shortlinks, Sharedaddy & After the Deadline

Most important to Automattic – Nothing yet…

Why are these things very important? Well, put simply, the more usage that these products get, the more value they have, for example:

  • Gravatars – acquiring this was a truly epic move, that probably cost ’em nothing and has left them with an incredible penetration into online ID, probably only bettered by Facebook (who are coming after them a bit now, but I reckon gravatars are here to stay)
  • Shortlinks – don’t ask me why these are so important (I’m so not up on  the valley :) but clearly they are… and I’ve been pretty surprised at how little of a commotion the inclusion of wp.mu in the 3.1 admin bar has raised… subtle one guys.
  • Sharedaddy – much the same as the above
  • After the Deadline – I figured they just bought this as better grammar etc. makes for better Google refs which =s more money via wp.com, but clearly there’s a wider purpose… but if your aim is to own the Microsoft Word of the web, then I guess it gets framed in a whole different way

But what’s with the empty ‘most important‘ pile, well to explain that we need to do a bit of detective work….

The Akismet Code

One of the funnest things about watching the WordPress development space is the constant dance around the ‘community’ and open source principles behind the project and the fundamentally commercial (OK, it’s not all commercial, Matt is more about being loved and fawned over ;) prerogatives of the people behind it.

And Akismet has been a classic for that, as illustrated by this trac ticket from sc0ttkclark just 3 days ago entitled ‘Excluding Akismet from Future WordPress Releases‘ where Scott argues in a kind of ‘please don’t hit me for saying this’ way for the removal of Akismet from the WordPress core as:

“Since Akismet now charges for access, or solicits fees by default for Personal website activations [and] Since the plugin directory itself has officially been described (and in practice) to have a restriction that explicitly prohibits functionality be disabled from a plugin behind a Paywall, why wouldn’t that apply in this case?”

And of course, you’d have to agree, but the real, serious, inyourface deal isn’t some big arse debate, it’s that Automattic agrees!!!

Yeh, you heard me right, they are cool with that, says Nacin:

“I’m for the eventual unbundling of Akismet”

And 2 months prior:

“We will hopefully unbundle for 3.2.”

And we all know and love Nacin, but let’s face it he’s Matt’s personal developer for a full time job, you don’t get much closer to the core than that.

So why the freak would they unbundle Akismet?

Well that’s elementary dear Watson, because it’ll go straight into Jetpack, together with a whole heap of other paid for services, which *will* be bundled with installs at Bluehost, DreamHost, Go Daddy, HostGator, Media Temple, and Network Solutions as a start… I wonder what % of the self-hosted WP market that is?

[amusingly, Automattic with the WP phone home capacity could tell us that… I’m gonna guess at 75%]

No need to stress about bundling with the core, when you’re just bundling it at the source (but guys, do you ever wonder how much easier shot might have been for ya if it wasn’t for this whole community thing ;)

This bunch of rather lame extras is just the soft end of the wedge.

So, this is how they heavily monetize 75%+ of the self-hosted WordPress blogs yeh? Wow.

Pretty much.

And run it past me again, how are they are going to do that?

Well it’s simple:

  1. Jetpack gets bundled with the vast majority of installations, and of course promoted heavily throughout wp.org, your local install and everywhere else
  2. Jetpack then simply adds (this is that ‘most important’ pile):
    1. Akismet (like we discussed before, this will make it a ‘must have’ to others too)
    2. Vaultpress
    3. Videopress
    4. Space upgrades (wonder how this’ll go with the hosts)
    5. Premium themes
    6. Other premium functionality[this is where I get a bit stressed!]
  3. And all of a sudden Automattic own the premium service (backups, for example), themes and plugins marketplace – heck, if they choose to make it a marketplace, they may just keep it to themselves.

That’s millions, and millions, and millions of $s – and virtual complete control over the WP ecosystem.

It’s like a reverse Apple :)

Although, with Apple, there’s still a meritocracy (unless you are Flash) in that my thinking would initially be “Great! We can list all WPMU DEV plugins there and reach a whole new audience.” But of course, that won’t be the case here, it’ll be invitation only, if at all – like current premium themes.

Which meets Matt’s other requirement (besides the being loved bit) that he retains control – both as founder of ‘mattic, el presidente of the wp foundation, and controller of the marketplace.

And what does this mean for the future of WordPress?

So,  at the birth of the automobile industry, there were shed loads of different sorts of cars to choose from – they all looked different and mostly worked differently too, remind anyone of the ‘back in the day’ blog publishing platform competition.

But of course WordPress won that, the same way Henry Ford won the car race (or at least the ‘how it should look’ one), blogging (or web publishing if you will) as powered by WordPress has such a mindshare that and is so entrenched, and is increasing so fast, that there’s really no opportunity or chance for a competitor to get in the door – at least in the foreseeable future.

So, in terms of position, WordPress is more than safe.

And as the majority of core developers now work for Automattic, I think it’s also safe to say that there won’t ever be any real disruption or problems there either.

So what we will be seeing, over the next few years is the evolution of WordPress + Jetpack, with Automattic essentially trying to engineer an Apple style environment for purchases within the platform.

And, as a premium theme or plugin developer, or a WordPress service provider, I reckon it’s about time that you took stock of where you stand in that ecosystem, and planned accordingly.

I know we are.