Recap: Matt Mullenweg’s 2012 State of the Word

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Matt Mullenweg gave his ninth State of the Word presentation at WordCamp San Francisco this weekend to a standing room only crowd at the Mission Bay Conference Center. He recapped the year’s highlights, reflected on projections from last year, and named a few challenges that WordPress faces at the moment.

A number of the things he covered won’t be news to many of you who read WPCandy often, but some of it well. Check out the full recap below (or the blow-by-blow from the weekend’s liveblog) for all the details.

A year’s worth of highlights

Right off the bat Matt pointed out the high points of the last year. WordPress.org saw many improvements, many of which we have mentioned here before:

Plugin favorites will likely find their way into the dashboard before long, he said — an idea which was met with solid applause.

The support forum thread stats have more than quadrupled the number of threads marked as resolved.

The support forum thread stats (how many threads have been resolved in the last two months) now included on plugin pages have, according to stats mentioned by Matt, more than quadrupled the number of support threads that are marked as resolved. In the previous three months, since the addition of the stats to the sidebar, there have been more resolved posts than during the previous year.

While we’re on the topic of plugins, Matt said in the future he would like to see the plugin directory become more Amazon-like, particularly regarding reviews. He’d like it to be possible for plugin developers to respond to reviews and possibly increase their star rating by solving user’s issues.

The SOPA protest

Matt listed the SOPA protests that WordPress as a project participated in among the list of accomplishments over the last year. On January 18th WordPress.org and WordPress.com were blacked out for 24 hours in protest of the SOPA and PIPA legislation.

“Politicians are used to people writing letters and making phone calls,” he said. “They were not prepared for what happened.”

Updates to WordPress core

“I had gotten so used to it that I forgot this happened in the last year,” Matt said in reference to the addition of drag and drop media uploading to WordPress 3.3. The last year of updates have also included new user experience features like the welcome screen and new feature tool tips.

The last year has seen 44 million downloads of WordPress, bringing the total number of downloads to 145 million. In other words 30% of the downloads WordPress has seen in its lifetime have happened in the last 12 months. Matt also pointed out that these download numbers don’t include the one-click installs that many web hosts do nowadays, so the real number is likely much higher.

Looking forward, Matt said that WordPress 3.5 (due out December 5th) will include full retina (or HiDPI) support; in a quick straw poll of the audience about 10% said they owned retina Macbook Pros.

Matt’s slides included screenshots of the media improvement wireframes that are slated for 3.5, and they brought more than a coupe of oohs and aahs from the audience. Understandably so, really.

Contributing to WordPress

After highlighting the new core and “rock star” developers that have contributed in big ways over the last year, Matt said “If these people can do it, so can you.” He continued:

You can’t walk up to Google and ask to hang out with their top engineers and maybe have them look over your code. But, when you submit patches to WordPress, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Recent updates make jumping in and contributing a bit more obvious as well. The Make WordPress blogs have been added to the primary navigation on WordPress.org under the Get Involved drop down. People chuckled when someone pointed out there was no mobile blog in the drop down yet, to which Matt responded “Make it so.”

Of course Otto and Andrew Nacin had the blog created and added to the menu just a couple of minutes afterward.

Matt plugged the core contributor handbook too, which saw a good deal of activity during yesterday’s Dev Day at True Ventures (more on that later too).

Last year’s predictions

Upon request from a few people Matt added slides to his presentation to revisit a few of his predictions from last year. They included, first of all, feature parity between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Jetpack’s adoption rate has been steadily increasing, he said: one million downloads in the first thirteen months and over two million in the last four months.

Last year Matt also mentioned his desire to bring reading and content consumption further into the WordPress experience. He pointed to the WordPress.com Reader experience, and to how people who load it up are far more likely, they’ve found, to either respond or write a blog post of their own afterward.

Finally, he referred to a slide showing the various mobile devices that WordPress apps were created for in the last year or so. “Kind of funny,” he said, “because two of those platforms aren’t around anymore.”

Above: The screenshot from Matt’s 2011 keynote (worth browsing through if you haven’t in a while) that includes two platforms that don’t exist anymore.

Echoing some of his comments about a radically reimagined WordPress experience earlier this year, Matt said:

Ten years from now there will be a content management system and a blogging tools that is tablet-native that works more beautifully on a tablet than a desktop. Whether that’s us or not depends on how much attention we pay to these things.

The presentation included a preview of the iOS app update coming in the next week or so. The interface has been completely redone to use sliding panels, which also allows it to include navigation which looked a bit more like the desktop WordPress dashboard we all know.

Yet another WordPress user survey

Matt listed off a few stats pulled from this year’s user survey:

  • This year’s survey saw an increase in participants: up to 27,000 from 20,000 last year.
  • 66% of participants said they use WordPress as a CMS and not as a blog. Last year this number was 60%. Matt said he likely won’t list this number in the future, and that it’s pretty much decided where the trend is headed.
  • Last year 13,000 of those surveyed said they made their living full-time off of WordPress. This year that number was 20,000.

It was at that point in the statistics when Matt asked the crowd: “How many people here are making their living off of WordPress?” Hands when up. He joked, “Is that how you justify the $20 ticket?”

There’s no word yet on when the full survey data will be released publicly, but I’ll keep you updated.

Future challenges

“Today WordPress is running 16.7% of the web,” Matt said. “I think it’s 100% of this room, though.” Despite the great news and recaps during the keynote, he did present a few challenging thoughts as well.

For one, he said that galleries need work and it’s time to stop ignoring that problem. He listed facial tagging, gallery management and editing as problems to solve soon.

Most interesting to me was Matt’s discussion of the WordPress user attrition rate…

The last couple of years have seen approximately two major releases every year; Matt would like to see this go back to three. As he has mentioned before, he’s jealous of Chrome’s approach to updating their software — they simply keep everything updated and you never need to know precisely what version of Chrome you are running.

“Who would like that experience with WordPress?” he asked the audience. They responded with applause. “It’s hard,” he said. He then mentioned, though, that some hosts are switching to an opt-out button for automatic updating for those who use one-click installs. Those users will always be updated unless they go through the trouble of disabling it.

Most interesting to me was Matt’s discussion of the WordPress attrition rate, or the number of users who try WordPress and then don’t use it again. Few web services or social networks ever mention the numbers, he said, but that we need to talk about it, target it, and work to improve it.

Regarding new WordPress user’s experience, which is slated for further development over the next year, Matt said:

The dashboard is like the boss monster in a video game, and users face it right off the bat. We need to pull back the WordPress boss monster until you learn to jump, run, and post.

He continued, “[but] I think we need to embrace the intelligence of our users and what they can do.” The goal is to reach simplicity, he explained, and not be simplistic.

Reflections on the State of the Word

I walked away from the San Francisco keynote feeling proud for the community, more aware of where some of the project’s weakest points are at the moment, and confident that steps are being taken to improve. During the talks of release schedules, for instance, Matt said when releasing software you can really only just two of these:

And that for the WordPress project, they choose timeliness and security. I think for the most part the WordPress community is happy to see a tempered approach to new features and additions to the project. Hearing about the WordPress attrition rate and how the user testing that’s taking place can help in that regard is fascinating, and not something you normally hear much about from projects of this size.

There was a lot more that happened this weekend that is worth talking about, but we’ll get to that stuff soon. For now, what do you think of what was shared in this year’s State of the Word? What do you think the next year of progress will bring to the WordPress community?

8 thoughts on “Recap: Matt Mullenweg’s 2012 State of the Word

  1. What a great recap, Ryan! Had to watch WCSF from home this time, and man it was great! I think last year’s WordCamp was better. There were more advanced sessions (well that’s what I am interested in at least).

  2. Pingback: State of the Word 2012 | Australian WordPress Community

  3. Pingback: Adding Custom Header Images to WordPress.org Plugins | Blog dot CreatingDrew

  4. Great recap Ryan. I like the mention of the attrition rate as well. It’s important to notice the differences in WordPress.com vs. the self-hosted community, each with their own user types. Something that other platforms such as Tumblr don’t have. Also, there are so many elements within WordPress such as themes and plugins that add to the overall user experience. While working to improve the attrition rate within core, I think the need extends to the theme and plugin community as well. I have some ideas, obviously from stats within PressTrends, but would love to know what others see as needed improvements in overall user experience across core, themes, and plugins.

  5. I am more interested about two plugins at the moment, buddypress and bbpress namely. Do you guys have any ideas where these projects are heading?

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