While I was in San Francisco I sat down to talk to Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic Inc - the company set up to leverage the popular open source blogging tool Wordpress. One of their main projects is WordPress.com, described as "a more limited version of WordPress that is hosted and completely maintained." It's pretty much the equivalent of TypePad, the hosted blogging service offered by Automattic's main competitor SixApart.
KnowNow Wordpress Enterprise Edition
The competition with SixApart was stepped up today when Toni announced on his blog a partnership with enterprise RSS vendor KnowNow, for a new product called KnowNow WordPress Enterprise Edition (KWEE). It's an enterprise version of Wordpress and comes just a month after SixApart announced Movable Type Enterprise 1.5, which we profiled on Read/WriteWeb. Toni told me that KWEE is an enterprise package of Wordpress MU (the multi-user version of Wordpress) - with additional enterprise functionality bundled in. So for example KWEE comes with LDAP, Automattic's spam solution Akismet and a stats package. KnowNow will market the product to their existing base of enterprise customers - and any improvements that KnowNow makes to the Wordpress product itself, will be released back as open source.
I asked Toni will it be a hosted service? He said it will be available as both a hosted service (by KnowNow) or customers can install it on their own servers.
Stats about Wordpress.com
As far as Wordpress.com goes, Toni reeled off some impressive stats. It gets 18 million unique visitors per month and 70 M page views. There are over 480,000 blogs hosted on wordpress.com. He also said there are an estimated 1-2 million Wordpress installations that are self-hosted. Toni told me the fact that wordpress.com is ad-free is a big part of the reason why people use it.
Comparison to Typepad
I asked Toni how wordpress.com compares to Typepad. He said that Typepad has similar traffic to wp.com, although he says wp.com is about to pass Typepad (at least according to Alexa). Here is the latest Alexa chart:
Toni said there is a developer ecosystem around wordpress, which was done without putting commercialism around it - e.g. he notes that themes have links back to the designers. He also told me there is a lot of innovation happening in the wordpress platform in general - for example the plugins. The fact that Wordpress.org is open source is also a factor in the growth of the product, said Toni.
Of course you will hear a different story from SixApart, but my general impression is that Wordpress has the advantage in innovation - but TypePad is seen as a slicker and more user-friendly product for the masses.
One of the more interesting aspects of wordpress.com is its international usage. While english is the number 1 language used, there are a multitude of other languages supported - and Wordpress users are encouraged to translate more. Spanish is the second most popular language currently - and indeed 4 of the top 10 Wordpress.com blogs are Spanish.
But while international support is expanding, Wordpress isn't immune to the problems of operating in China - where Wordpress is blocked.
One of the more promising areas of growth in Wordpress is widgets, or mini web apps that Wordpress users can plug into their blog. As of now there are 247 widgets. Around 15-20 of these are available in the wordpress.com service. Toni told me that most widgets are created by external developers. Basically this involves developing a Wordpress plugin and then widgetizing it in an HTML wrapper.
It's pretty plain that Automattic is taking on SixApart with both the Enterprise Edition and the continued growth and expansion of wordpress.com. Right now SixApart has the lead in marketing and probably resources, but Wordpress is a strong innovator and has an open source platform to attract developers. This little battle is far from over and it'll be interesting to watch it unfold!