“I think it’s the future of work” - Matt Mullenweg on the company behind Wordpress

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 5 July 2012

One of the star turns at the Guardian’s London Activate Summit was Matt McAlister in conversation with Wordpress co-founder Matt Mullenweg. Mullenweg gave a great insight into how the company is run, in one of those talks that makes you think “Oh yeah, why don’t we all do that?”

His argument was that the factory production line approach to office work - i.e. you are productive if you are at your desk - was fundamentally flawed for the 21st century, and encouraged negative behaviours like staying all hours and knocking your work/life balance out of whack.

Automattic, the company created to run Wordpress, is incredibly distributed, with around 120 staff in multiple locations and timezones. Mullenweg said he ultimately doesn’t care about gender, race or age when hiring, and often conducts interviews via Skype chat. In a virtual work environment these factors just “fade away”, and instead people concentrate on what you are good at.

They don’t really have meetings, but, rather like Facebook using Facebook as a platform for project management, use a central blog with the P2 theme to communicate internally, alongside IRC and Skype. “If I thought we were doing something seriously wrong” on a specific project, Mullenweg said, “I’d write a blog post about it.”

“I think it’s the future of work” he argued, suggested that it was ridiculous to restrict your recruitment process to the population of one city and the people willing to move there - why exclude 6.9 billion people from your pool of potential talent?

Matt McAlister asked Mullenweg a little bit about the Wordpress involvement in protests against SOPA. Mullenweg thought it showed the internet as an incredibly powerful force for engaging with issues. The SOPA black-out had gained huge amounts of publicity and traction, and there was “still a lot of dry powder out there” if you considered that Twitter and Facebook didn’t really do anything. He did worry that you could get issue fatigue though, suggesting there was probably some cause that you could black-out the homepage for every day, and doubted that there were that many issues that could unite the major players in Silicon Valley in the way SOPA had.

During the course of his talk I tweeted that Matt had said that Automattic shipped new code live to Wordpress over 60 times a day. For someone used to working with the much slower production cycles of big media organisation that is an impressive figure. My tweet did attract some negative attention on Twitter from people suggesting that the Wordpress code was a bit shonky. Come back and complain when you’ve written something used by 340 million people was the main thrust of my replies.

Asked at the end whether social media had diminished the enthusiasm for blogging, Mullenweg disagreed. In fact, he said, there are even more blogs and bloggers than ever before because social media provides such an amazing platform for distribution.

Next...

As one of the last remaining blogs in the world that has still been resolutely running Movable Type like it is 2002, Matt’s attitude nudged me just a little closer to the inevitable migration of currybet.net to Wordpress.

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