What Automattic could do with WP.com

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Matt announced a couple of days ago that Automattic has acquired control over the URL WP.com now, thanks to (another!) deal they struck with Yahoo!. Anyone who has ever gone after a short domain name — which today means anything under five or six characters plus the dot com — knows that this is an occasion for congratulations. First ma.tt, now wp.com. It’s been a good year for Matt and domain names.

After what I can only imagine was at least one celebratory drink with a friend, Matt announced on the official WordPress.com blog that he’s open to hearing any suggestions as to how best to use this new domain. His callout for ideas surprised me a little. At first mention it only seemed obvious to me that WP.com would now forward on to WordPress.com, the company’s hosted blog network built on WordPress. This shows how lacking my creativity is when it’s being quickly prompted for, I guess.

So the ideas came pouring in, sitting next to avatars and screen names below Matt’s announcement post. The vast majority of thoughts went one of two directions: one being the shortening of WordPress.com blog URLS from foo.wordpress.com to foo.wp.com, the other being a URL shortening service in the likes of bit.ly, tr.im, and dozens of others. I’m going to focus on these two options for the rest of this post, but it’s worth mentioning a few of the other gems that caught my eye:

  • Host and display WordPress.com only themes
  • Use P2 there and take Twitter on as a microblogging platform (equally as unlikely as it is an awful idea)
  • Auction off subdomains to the highest bidder (again, this one’s novelty lies in it’s unlikelihood)
  • General marketing, resources, forums
  • And my personal favorite, from commenter ghostfreeman: “Rename the site WallPuncher”

The obvious thing to do

The option most apparently beneficial to WordPress.com users would be a shorter URL. Everyone wants a shorter, more direct URL whenever possible. And when compared to other hosted blogging solutions, two letters and an ending pretty much wins out. It would be the least URL real estate (if there is such a thing) being asked for by any hosted blogging network out there.

Let’s face it, though. WordPress.com users aren’t the most tech savvy people out there. They don’t have to be, and that’s why choose a hosted solution like WordPress.com. I bring up this group because, as you know, there has been longstanding confusion from many over what the difference is between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Granted, most of those effected by a URL shortening to WP.com would be the users themselves, but it’s bound to trickle over into the would-be users, a group that I’m positive Automattic is thinking about. Are these really the people we want to be pitching/explaining/justifying a URL change to? For the rest of time?

I’m being a little tongue in cheek of course, but this is my thought process. There seem to be three ways that WP.com could be introduced to WordPress.com users and used as a shorter URL. Ordered from least intrusive to users to the most, it goes:

  1. Offer consistent WP.com 301 forwarding for all current WordPress.com blogging accounts, and users can refer to them if they wish to.
  2. Leave the domain choice an option for users when signing up, and on the settings panel.
  3. Pitch the hell out of the URL change, set a date for the change, and brace for the impending backlash.

In 1, there exists the possibility of brand confusion, as WP.com and WordPress.com URLs coexist. The difference, and more importantly similarity, probably won’t be apparent to most users at first. More WordPress related domain confusion isn’t what anyone wants.

In 2 we would be jumping over into nasty territory, since simply offering up a user choice for every decision we can’t make for them is bad form. I think this is one of those issues that could be worked out without resorting to the people-pleasing, settings page cluttering always-option of leaving it up to the user. The second option also falls victim to the brand confusion issue, above.

Number 3 is the approach with balls. Convince everyone that the URL changeover is a good thing for everyone, keep saying so until dissent quiets down, set and date, and make the switch. Brace for any fallout, move on, and before long no one remembers it ever being any different.

The first option sounds best to be, but honestly I’m not sure how valuable it is for blogs to be listed as foo.wp.com instead of foo.wordpress.com, except as a short URL option. For a blog to permanently reside on a WP.com domain may have more negative than positive effects, in that it’s harder to discern, for a reader, what “WP” stands for. Abbreviations are hostile to users who don’t know any better.

WP.com would be short and awesome for the people actually using the blogs, but mostly a strain for new visitors.

WP.com as a URL shortening service

This brings me to the other popular opinion on what should be done with WP.com: turn it into a URL shortener. The idea first brought an odd ringing sound to my ears, likely due to the prevalence of new URL shorteners in the microblogging vernacular as of late.

Yes, I prefer “vernacular” to “buzzword”. You don’t?

I’m hesitant to entertain the idea of WP.com as a shortener, specifically because of the way I think most who suggest it are thinking it should operate. The standard understanding of a URL shortener is a Google-esqu entry field which spits back out a smaller sequence of letters and numbers. This is useful and has a place, for sure, but is entirely boring as an extra service provided by Automattic.

What does seem valuable, though, is offering WP.com as a URL shortener, strictly to those using WordPress.com hosted blogs, as a part of their Dashboard. This method would be beneficial to WordPress.com users as well as WordPress.com itself. Let me explain.

With a URL shortener built straight into the hosted WordPress.com blogs, these users never have to leave their Dashboard in order to get a Twitter-ready link1. Whether ready as soon as the Publish button is hit, or only created when prompted, the author could use a URL shortening service that they trust will stick around, at least as much as they trust their blogging host to. The biggest problem with URL shorteners is their reliability. Something solid in this regard would be an awesome service for users.

WordPress.com benefits as well, since people are looking at shortened URLs all the time. Twitter, SMS, and email delivers shortened, yet branded, URLs every minute of the day. When WordPress.com users are linking to their blogs using other shortening services, the WordPress.com domain isn’t seen. With a WP.com shortened link, especially when WordPress.com blogs are the only blogs using them, they become memorable as well as descriptive of the link’s destination. Win.

Again, what I’m talking about when I say “URL shortening service” is something limited to WordPress.com bloggers. I don’t really see this as a public “shorten any old link” service. I see it as a privilege for the WordPress.com bloggers.

A note on shortened URLs for self hosted WordPress users

Self hosted WordPress users already have their own URL shortening built in, and shouldn’t feel jealous if this sort of thing should become available only for WordPress.com users. As a quick aside, here’s how you can shorten any link on your site, and guarantee it working as long as your site does.

Every post and page you write has an ID associated with it. This post, for example, is 1275. The default URL for this post will be something like:

http://themeplayground.com/2009/beginning-discussions/what-automattic-could-do-with-wpcom

Granted, I’ve added things like the year and the category to the URL because I think it’s informative and helpful for readers. And me. But I can shorten up this URL myself, without the use of any URL shortening service, by using the post’s ID like this:

http://themeplayground.com/?p=1275

It’s no 10 character URL, but for most cases this will trim up enough space for a short description in Twitter, or at the very least to reduce the nasty appearance of a link in an email. It’s worth a shot, instead of reverting to URL shortening services every time.

In closing

I’m not sure what Matt et al. are going to decide to do with this one, but if it’s too far outside of what I’m talking about here I’ll be surprised. They may even be able to pull off a combination of both — shortened user URLS and a URL shortener. Or they could do neither.

If they choose neither, then my vote stands at re-naming everything “WallPuncher”. 

Footnote

  1. Clearly there exist other options that don’t require leaving the screen — bookmarklets for one — but remember we aren’t talking about the tech savvy here. Lowest common denominator wins out.

4 thoughts on “What Automattic could do with WP.com

  1. I don’t think they shoudl move or change the wordpress.com to the shorter one. I think they should offer the user a choice on signup instead.

    It’s highly do-able, and pretty easy to implement, without another install for them to manage & scale.

  2. LOL, just because Twitter is insanely popular, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is any good 😉

    Not considering all the bells and whistles of the third party options, I’d choose a P2 style interface over Twitter’s own interface.

    I think Automattic could do it better, which isn’t to say that they would be successful!

    Several people posted comments saying that they should use WP.com for a strictly mobile version if WordPress. And I think that would be a better form of micro-blogging for WordPress to get into actually, limiting the screen and file size, not the amount of content.

    It would be a good space to get further into, especially to grow even more internationally.

  3. Pingback: » URL Shorteners Are Not Always Good Search Engine Optimization Journal - Search Optimization Blog

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