#30 – Matt Mullenweg on the Future of Technology and Where WordPress Fits In – WP Tavern

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast, which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, the place of WordPress in the technology landscape.

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[00:01:13] So on the podcast today. We have Matt Mullenweg. Matt is the co-founder of WordPress. And as a result, he’s been a user of WordPress for as long as anybody. We recorded this podcast while at WordCamp Europe in Portugal, a couple of weeks ago. It’s a wide ranging discussion, covering a lot of ground.

[00:01:41] We start out with Matt’s reflections of WordPress at 19 years old. Which aspects of the project would he change if he had his time over and which parts is he proud of? Did Covid, and the restrictions around community events, have an impact upon the project, given that much of the time dedicated to WordPress is done by volunteers? What lessons have we learned about events like WordCamp Europe?

[00:02:08] In recent news, and for the first time, there’s been some data pointing to the fact that WordPress’ market share might have flattened out. Is this a cause for concern?

[00:02:20] Where are we at with WordPress right now, given that it’s changing the scope of what non-technical users can do with it out of the box.

[00:02:30] We then get into some more personal matters, including how Matt manages his time over the variety of projects he’s involved with. And does he regard advances in artificial intelligence as always positive?

[00:02:43] You might notice that the sound is a bit patchy in places. This was a function of the environment we were in. There’s a few booms on the mic here and there, but it’s certainly listenable. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all the links in the show notes by heading over to WP tavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

[00:03:07] And so without further delay, I bring you Matt Mullenweg.

[00:03:17] I am joined on the podcast today by Matt Mullenweg. Hello Matt.

[00:03:22] Howdy, good to see you.

[00:03:23] Yeah. They’re really nice to see you.

[00:03:25] As far as I’m aware, you’re one of two people who can claim to go all the way back with WordPress. And it’s been just last week, 19 years, I think.

[00:03:35] Yeah, that was a pretty exciting anniversary.

[00:03:37] Yeah, does that kind of stuff fill you with nostalgia? Do you sort of look back and think, wow, what a journey this has been? Or are always focusing on the future?

[00:03:45] You know, I am very future-focused personally, but it’s partially because I have a terrible memory. No really. It’s one of the reasons I started blogging. I learned a lot from the archives of my blog that I forgot. It’s also why I’m not too attached to like, arguing about the past. It’s like, you remember it differently. It’s fine. I’ll even go with your version, but what’s happening next? What are we doing in the future? And I try to live my life primarily oriented towards moving forward.

[00:04:12] The reason I laughed is because I’m exactly the same. I more or less everything that happened 30 minutes ago. But looking back over those 19 years, what would be some of the highlights? So I’m forcing you to be nostalgic.

[00:04:25] Hm. You know to me, it’s all about the people. Like we created lots of great stuff together, and still are. And so there’s definitely things like the first plugins, the first themes, the first international versions of WordPress with the Wiziwig coming in, which was quite controversial. And then Gutenberg coming in, which is quite controversial.

[00:04:46] That’s part of why I dipped back into more active WordPress stuff day to day for a while there. But, I really think of the people. From the early folks like Mike Little, some who’ve passed away like Alex King. To the incredible array of people we have here today.

[00:05:00] And my favorite part about WordCamps, what I miss the most was just meeting folks. Reconnecting with people who I’ve seen before, or just meeting people who, lives have been touched by WordPress in some way. And I’ve never, we’ve never run into each other before. I really enjoy that side of it. I learn a lot too. So it actually is very helpful for me in terms of thinking about the roadmap for WordPress. Just the stories. I hear, the things I see in the booths, the talks that happen. I definitely learn a ton from it.

[00:05:29] Staying on nostalgic thing, are there any bits which you think, I wish it had played out differently, bits where you look back and you think, oh, WordPress could have gone in that direction, or there was a moment in time where we could have done this, and we we didn’t do that?

[00:05:40] Hmm. Probably would have left the Rest API as a plugin, or maybe skipped straight to GraphQL or something. We did need to support all the feeds other than RSS2. We probably didn’t need all the others. Gosh, what else? I definitely, if I could go back to the very early days, we’ve always been really big on backwards compatibility.

[00:06:00] And so there’s a few database tables that are just inconsistent in their namings, you know, as capital ID or something like that. Going all the way back to the B2 days, even before WordPress. So I kind of wish we had just renamed some of those early, actually it might be easier to do it now because no one accesses those tables directly anymore, but some of those minor things kinda.

[00:06:18] I’d say broadly on the whole year you got it fairly right? I’m staying on the nostalgic bit, but this is the last couple of years. I mean, everybody knows what I mean by that sentence. The last couple of years, Covid and so on. How’s that been for WordPress in general? Everybody started staring at screens and looking at Zoom and, I feel that we were as prepared as an industry, as any. We got the zoom calls. We knew how to get the computer to do all those things. We had the mics, we had the cameras, but yet it wore pretty thin, after a period of time. And I wonder if the community, was sort of slowly leached away a little bit and I if there’s any of that.

[00:06:56] I don’t think in a way that was unique to WordPress. Like you said, we’re fortunate that we’ve always connected online. It’s a fairly positive community. People are very supportive of each other. Competitors grabbed dinner together. What we miss was definitely these events like what’s happening right now.

[00:07:11] It’s always been part of our magic sauce, secret sauce, if you will. Like we work remotely, but then when we get together, it makes it that much more special. And then more broadly, I think it’s just, you can’t ignore the impact all this has just had in people’s lives. And if there’s something going on in your life, you’re gonna have less energy for work or volunteering or other things.

[00:07:32] And certainly if it’s anything health related, right. All the priorities melt away, right? When you, or a loved one facing a health challenge. So I think that, so many parts of the world are back to normal or like nothing happened, but it’s easy to forget, like the vast human costs of what we’ve been through. And it’s still ongoing for many people.

[00:07:49] In terms of the contributions to the project, did that wick away? Is there the same engagement today, well, maybe let’s say three months ago, as there was two years ago, to core and all the other bits and pieces, or was that a struggle to keep going?

[00:08:07] I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if I recall there was a boost at the beginning, when we’re stuck at home. And I think like, as people started returning, to normal life, it dipped a bit, which makes sense, right there probably like have saved up. I know I’ve been going to like a thousand weddings. It feels like everyone in the world is doing their wedding. So I think there’s just some natural time that goes back to life, which by the way is great, because then we’ll return to equilibrium there. If you looked at 6.0 though, amazing number of contributors, contributor day yesterday was way over populated.

[00:08:42] Yeah, it was so overpopulated, there was a struggle with food.

[00:08:44] We literally ran out of food and we always over half that. So I think that’s showing that there is a, um, to say WordPress can continue to serve the needs of the world and our community. There’s no reason for it to, uh, not continue to grow and get more involved. That flywheels, it gets more users, some percentage of those contribute. And then of course we have programs like five for the future. That I feel like every open source project should have, but it’s very mature in WordPress where it’s just a cultural mores of people, for whom they get a lot from WordPress, take a little bit of time to give back. And that again is part of it. It’s all the people at the end. I think I’m going to say that 10 times.

[00:09:22] No, it’s okay. I don’t know if you know, but apparently the two thousand seven hundred people who are registered, apparently 1,700 are brand new. Never been any WordPress event. About 60% of the people who are in this building have never been. So it feels if that was the thing it’s back in reverse.

[00:09:41] It makes me wonder what the 2022 WordCamp Europe would be without a global pandemic we are just are coming out of and like, kind of in, in many places still. So yeah, 2,700 that’s amazing.

[00:09:54] What do you think about events like this? It’s a generic question, but what are your thoughts? I mean, you’ve got such a different perspective, I guess, than somebody like me who turns up, attend events and go to people speaking and go to various different bits and pieces. What is this for you? Is it an enjoyable experience?

[00:10:11] I mean, that’s, that’s what I do too. You know, I’ll drop it in the back and check out talks. If for whatever reason not in the room often I’m live streaming them. I would say the difference for me is like, I leave a pretty under the radar life generally. It’s not like people recognize me or anything like that. But at WordCamps, definitely. So I go stopped sometimes every five feet, to take a picture or talk to people, but you know what, that’s kind of why I’m here too.

[00:10:40] Like if that’s a any way I can be of service to the community, sign me up for it.

[00:10:44] Maybe that was the target of the question. Is it a strange thing to drop into for a period of time where life generally is normal and then it’s extraordinary for a bit, and then it goes back to whatever the normal is.

[00:10:57] You know, I also just love talking about WordPress and technology. So I’m doing that for fun anyway. I’d say the main difference from my normal life is being recognized, which is just kind of a bizarre human experience. I never want to be actual, famous. Keep me out of the Daily Mail or The Post or whatever it is like. I’m happy to be well known among a community creating things like we do in WordPress.

[00:11:20] So yeah, that’s kind of fun. And also the to and from, because like all the restaurants around. The planes to and from the event. You’ll just run into people and, you know, I could take a hundred flights without anyone ever stopping me. Yeah, my backpack actually has the WordPress logo embroided on it, but it’s black on black, so it’s a little subtle.

[00:11:36] Normally no one recognizes. But often to or from a WordCamp, people will be like, oh, hey. But even I can go to WordCamps. I remember, often before WordCamp US, I’ll go to a bunch of the smaller ones. Just to kind of test out my material, like a comedian, playing smaller clubs before the big ones.

[00:11:51] I remember going to working at Scranton, I think it was. Uh, Pennsylvania. I forget where Scranton is, someplace, um, and smaller WordCamp, maybe 110 people, which are some of my favorites, but, you know, we sat down at the lunch. No one knows who I am. They’re like, what do you do? And then after my talk, they were like, oh wow.

[00:12:08] You’re like, you did that. And so it’s, it’s also fun to just kind of be like a secret shopper, if you will. Like often I’ll just sit down at random tables or go over to people. And, uh, again, like I said, I learn a ton, and sometimes when people don’t know who I am, I’m able to learn even more because they are more unguarded and more relaxed.

[00:12:26] These kinds of events feel to me almost like the glue that binds so much more together. These are three days where all sorts of new relationships are forged and old relationships are rekindled, and it feels like there’s been a great, big chasm. They’ve been missing. And, I’m just really glad they’re back.

[00:12:45] It’s funny, one of the things I’ve said that gets quoted the most, like on Instagram posts and stuff, is technology is best when it brings people together. And that really came out of the WordCamp experience. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and this is where I’d actually like to call out and thank the WordCamp Europe team.

[00:13:00] They really push the bar every year and raise it. Right. I have a little more involved with US. Every time Europe happens I’m like, man, we got to up our game. And I know it’s exhausting. Everyone like, you know, needs a break at the end. But wow. Really is one of the, I think one of the best contributions to the WordPress community.

[00:13:18] They’re all wearing black t-shirts and there’s black T-shirts everywhere. You know, there’s hundreds and hundreds of people who are giving up their time. And It’s amazing, you know, they’re doing it because they want to do it. There’s no coercion there. They’re really keen on the community and it’s this lovely.

[00:13:33] It’s a lot of fun too. Often my sister, she’s been to, I think, WordCamp US and Europe until this one. Unfortunately she tested positive before the flight, so she ended up staying home, wasn’t feeling well. But often she’ll volunteer at like the check-in stage or something like that. But she now loves it for the people, you know, like she’s a fan of mine obviously. We’re brother and sister for a long time, she has so many friends here now.

[00:13:56] I know for a fact that there’s people here just in the few people that I know who’ve brought their husband or wife and they’d just in, cause it’s a nice thing to do. Staring into the future, forever, it seems, the numbers for WordPress up, up, up, up, up, 25%, 40%, 43%, whatever it is. I think, you know where this is going.

[00:14:15] Recently, I don’t know how dubious the statistics are. There’s this possible leveling off. Is any of that of interest to you? Is growth the thing, or is it, is there something else? Are you thinking about that at any point? Does it worry you or give you pause for thought?

[00:14:31] I think growth is the result. So if we create something that’s accessible, well designed, solves people’s problems, we should grow. And so, yeah, it’s concerning to me when we don’t grow. That number is going to be a little wonky over the next year, year and a half, because as you’re probably aware, Alexa, the toolbar is shut down.

[00:14:51] So even though they’re still providing data, the W3Techs, that data is more stale than it used to be and will, I think degrade over time and eventually W3Techs are switching to a different data set. I forget which one it’s called. So I don’t know that off the top of my head, sorry, my computer’s over there, but on Built With, Built With is something else that indexes the whole web and says how many it is. We’ve generally talked about the W3Techs number, which I think got up to like 42 or 43% before it started to wobble a little bit. Built With had us at like 30 something percent. I think the answer is somewhere in between there.

[00:15:23] So I can see the W3Techs number coming down, maybe even 15 or 20%, uh, regardless of the actual underlying fundamentals of WordPress. And luckily we have some other of data that we get back, and the wordpress.org plugin directory from the update pings, things like that, that show the health of WordPress.

[00:15:40] Uh, so those are always what I look at as the leading metrics. So we keep an eye on those. If there were to see a big migration, we would definitely take a look at the why, and see if there’s something we can improve in the software. And then finally, I’m a little less worried least at the moment because I’d really like to switch Tumblr over to WordPress, which is, well half a billion blogs. There’s a lot of Tumblrs out there.

[00:16:03] And of course not all active, so it won’t move the number that much, but, yeah, a good amount. I’m very excited to bring that part of the web, which is so vibrant, has such a strong community and has a demographic, you know, younger, more female, than we might normally have at a WordPress event. Having it be like an on-ramp to the WordPress world.

[00:16:20] Some of the commentary around that, whatever that was, this leveling off, was around things like, well maybe WordPress, there’s a lot of work to do in terms of performance and things like that. And I know that there’s initiatives in place and things are being done. I just wondered if there was anything you had on that.

[00:16:38] I think we need to improve every single part of WordPress. And there was some performance data. I think is it, Alaine talked about today in his presentation? That shows that some WordPress sites are not as performant as some others. Now, the tough thing is I think you need to adjust to that per dollar.

[00:16:57] So, you know, comparing it to essentially a hosted platform, like Squarespace that people might be paying $25 a month. To a web host you might be paying like $4 a month for is not an apples to apples comparison. There’s going to be some performance differential there. And of course, one reason why so many people use WordPress, especially globally is the accessibility.

[00:17:16] The job that the web hosts do, making it extremely affordable. You know, the average Shopify subscriber spends $1,200 per year. Average WordPress subscriber, it’s, I don’t know cause it’s across so many hosts, it would be closer to like a hundred dollars a year, maybe even less when you look at like how reasonable a lot of these hosting plans are, but definitely anything we could do in Core is helpful.

[00:17:39] And it’s also part of why, I think part of the story of the past 10 years of WordPress has been our really close partnerships with all the hosts. So the auto upgrade almost every well, every major host upgrades by default. Getting them on the new PHP versions, which actually have huge performance increases. PHP seven doubles performance essentially. So helping them be on the edge of the technology adoption curve.

[00:18:01] But it’s not true, I’d strongly disagree that WordPress is slow. In fact, WordPress sites can be some of the fastest ones out there, but when you think of 40% of the web, a lot of them on less expensive hosting providers, it’s going to pull our overall numbers down. If you’re looking at all sites, not just the fastest ones.

[00:18:20] Gutenberg WordPress 5.0. At seminal moment, everything changed.

[00:18:25] Yeah. It was a good one.

[00:18:27] There’s been a lot, there’s been a lot that’s changed since then. I’m just wondering over the course of those, what is that? Three years, some, three years.

[00:18:34] Yeah, right about.

[00:18:35] How you feel that’s gone. was a messaging thing at the beginning, you know, how, how did it get rolled out. But it feels to me as if the people who are developing on top of it more and more and more. Are getting excited and the talk is more and more and more about the possibilities and what’s going to be possible. So just that really. Are you pleased with the direction it’s going in? Where we’re at now, full site editing, all of those, block themes.

[00:18:59] I’m pretty thrilled with it. Of course, I’m an impatient person. So I would love to move faster. But the truth is in 2022, if you’re not building a site on Gutenberg by default, you’re kind of setting it up for obsolescence or really expensive upgrade paths in the future. It is so capable. I think people underestimate how much you can do with Core blocks

[00:19:21] Like without adding any of these block ad-ons or anything. And yet also, that’s such a clear roadmap, so many improvements are coming in every release. It was just at 6.0. I’d like to move us to be more releases per year. You know, maybe we can get to four per year instead of three, but it’s coming along. I’m thrilled with it.

[00:19:37] And other CMSs are starting to copy it, and we’re getting Gutenberg and a lot more places too, which is also exciting. Um, Gutenberg is live for Tumblr by the way.

[00:19:47] Is the intention that it’s the editor for the web, basically.

[00:19:49] A hundred percent. It’s bigger than WordPress.

[00:19:51] It’ll be everywhere and ubiquitous. So on the phone and on the, whatever CMS that you’re using and the whole thing.

[00:19:58] Yeah. And there was this announcement for something called the block protocol, which I think, if you look at it, it’s exactly what we’ve been doing with Gutenberg and they probably should just adopt a Gutenberg and then like build from there.

[00:20:07] Yeah. That was a really interesting project. The idea that it’s completely interoperable across everything. Yeah. Really, really, really interesting.

[00:20:14] That’s what we’re doing. We have the mobile versions for iOS and Android. I believe we’re relicensing those right now to be even more open. So they’re easier to embed in commercial apps. And then of course the web version is getting pretty robust. And it’s just, it’s weird edge cases that you start to deal with.

[00:20:29] There was one I found the other day actually through a friend. This is why I love doing tech support and people talking to me about the problems with WordPress. I think it was copying and pasting from Facebook images. So they had a lot of their photos on Facebook and they would right click to click copy and paste and in Gutenberg, what it was doing was making that a link to the image, versus actually uploading the image. And so, because it was to like a private URL, it would break for other people. But it would look normal to that person.

[00:20:59] This was just a workflow no one has pointed out to us. It was like pretty easy to fix once we knew about it. But, it was interesting because one thing we do when something like that comes up is we look at other editors and see which other editors support that use case. Actually Google docs did. So at some point, Google docs figured this out, but a bunch of other editors did. Google docs is actually one of the software projects I repect the most.

[00:21:22] I entirely agree. I’m waiting for the day when, um, we can do the concurrent editing, that will be.

[00:21:26] Oh my goodness.

[00:21:27] It’s almost as if that’s the minimum requirement now. I’ve got so used to using Google docs and seeing the other people contributing at the same time. I remember the experience of seeing that for the first time and thinking what that’s voodoo.

[00:21:39] How, did that happen? But you you’re happy. You’re pleased with the development and you’re pleased with the way it’s looking?

[00:21:45] No, I’m impatient. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, but there’s so much more to do. And especially if we’re trying to make the editor for the entire web, it’s even bigger than WordPress. I think that’s going to have such a benefit, to both developments, like speed of development. It’s not unlike web components or other things like we’ll have these standard things everyone can use.

[00:22:06] And then there’s also usability because users will be able to learn how blocks work, once, and then create almost anything. Like how cool is that? It’s like a fundamental, literally fundamental building block of the web, almost like the DNA.

[00:22:17] I’m going to phrase this in a way which I suspect you’ll push back on, but let’s see where we go. The five for the future initiative. That would be so great if everybody was a part of that. And I wonder if you would like more people to be a part of that? Whether or not there’s some inertia.

[00:22:36] I’m struggling to find the words. The speed of everything could go more rapidly. Everything could happen more quickly. And that speaks to your impatience. If more people were able and willing to step up for that initiative.

[00:22:49] You know, I value even if people just have one hour, once a month. You know, five for the future isn’t meant to say you need to do 5% or nothing. It’s just meant to say that, Hey, if enough people do the 5%, WordPress will really thrive. But if not everyone does it, that’s okay too. In fact, you know, not everyone does it and doing pretty well.

[00:23:12] It’s funny cause contributing, it’s kind of hard to start and maybe it’s intimidating to think like, oh, do I take like two hours a week to be part of WordPress. 5% of a 40 hour week or something. But it’s hard to stop too. Once get involved, it’s infectious because it’s such a great way to learn.

[00:23:28] It’s really great to be connected to something larger than yourself. Do some work and then see the ripples throughout the web or throughout WordCamps. It’s really fun to like overhear someone talking about something at a WordCamp that you were involved in building or contributing to or documenting or translating.

[00:23:44] I dunno, it’s just like a source of pride. It’s kind of how I got involved. Like I contributed some code to B2 at the time and I just got such a high. From knowing that, you know, hundreds of websites were running my code, and I’ve just been chasing that ever since. Like it’s still compelling, even if it’s a plugin that only like 10 people use to like, you know, obviously any changes the Core go to a lot of the web. At any point it’s just kinda like leaving a dent in the universe, leaving the world a little bit better than you found it.

[00:24:10] It’s funny, you said the word proud, well you said pride and my question contains the word proud, and it is follows. What are the things, and you’ve covered this a little bit. But this doesn’t have to be the code, it doesn’t have to be the community, although maybe that is the bit. What are the bits that you’re most proud of? The bits that you look back and think I am so pleased that bit happened. And it could be a big thing, could be a tiny thing, but the bit that makes you internally smile.

[00:24:36] I’m really proud, to the extent WordPress, it can be a very welcoming place. We really strive to be inclusive, to bring folks from all over the world, all backgrounds. Now I’m sure there’s mistakes. I’m sure there’s things that happen at WordCamps sometimes, but like we correct that and the norm of the community is expecting to make someone feel welcome. Yeah, I really appreciate that. I mean you look around WordCamp, could not be a more different group of folks.

[00:25:03] Yeah, that’s true. They’re an interesting, there’s an eclectic mix of people up there.

[00:25:08] Oh my goodness, even it just like fashion styles or like you know, like hairstyles, styles, ages, colors, everything. And how beautiful that? That we can come together with a shared passion, communicate with each other as humans. Every person is unique. You’re not what it says on your badge or where you work. It’s really about connecting as humans and that’s, to me, what’s great about blogging. It’s about, what’s great about the open web. It’s recognizing the beauty, brilliance and uniqueness of every person.

[00:25:37] How do you manage your time? Because I know that you’ve got more things than I’m doing. Let’s put it that way. You’ve got Tumblr, you’ve got WordPress. Where does it all fit in? Do you like a run a regular week? Are you a 40 hour a week person? Do you tend to work late into the evening or?

[00:25:53] I guess there’s multiple levels to answer that. Where I’m spending my time in terms of all the projects that are going on, is kinda like rotations. Like often I’ll move into something, spend a lot of time there and then I’ll drift back out once, you know, whatever I was coming in for has changed. Probably a good example of that recently was Gutenberg.

[00:26:16] So that’s one took a more active role and kind of release lead, the driving, the getting that happening. Even like the product itself. And then as that really got great you know, 5.1, 5.2, able to step back and allow others to like take a more active role and leading that or driving that. Tumblr’s is a good example.

[00:26:38] Like, you know, stepping into it for a bit. I hope to be able to pass it to someone in the future and say like, take this, keep it going. It’s going great. And so that’s kind of how the projects do. And then personally, I just try to manage my energy, to match that to the tasks that are happening.

[00:26:53] Unfortunately, I work very strange hours sometimes, and, I just try to capture, like, if I get a burst of inspiration late at night to write something or, feeling really engaged, we’re in the mood for like doing communication stuff versus like I’m in the mood for reading, whatever that is, and run with it. Versus trying to say like, every morning I’m going to do this. Some mornings I’m tired. Some mornings, you know, maybe I’m feeling a little more burnt out. And so, like, I don’t feel that sort of creative spark to, to write a thousand words, but it might be easier to catch up on some P2 posts. Catch up on the Slacks.

[00:27:26] It sounds like you take care of yourself. You take time to step away and, I came in here you were listening to jazz music, which was quite nice sort of background. But, you know, you take time to do all of that. And have you always coped with pressure well, because I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of pressure your life, yet you always have this fairly serene composure to you.

[00:27:46] I guess what a lot of people think is pressure doesn’t bother me very much, because you know, I feel like you should worry about the things you can change. So if you know, we got to note your biggest client is leaving you, they’ve already made up their mind. You can’t do anything. It’s like okay. Like learn from it, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Like suffer once. Like so often we suffer more, this is a quote, we suffer more in our heads than we do in reality, either for imagined things which is anxiety. Reliving the past, or just kind of beating ourselves up for something. And so it’s better to just recognize reality. Acknowledge it, learn from it, get as much information as possible, but then what’s next?

[00:28:27] Where it definitely hits me harder is when there’s something you can’t change, with a loved one, you know, like someone passing, getting sick, those things hit me really hard. That’s probably the place where, when that happens, I have to step away for a bit. Just kind of recharge or get in nature, hydrate, make sure I’m sleeping well. Those things are tough for, I think everyone, but the calmness that happens in normal, like code or business or whatever it is that normally would stress me out. Those are bigger.

[00:28:59] There’s this phrase, I’ve written it down here. Benevolent dictator for life. Benevolent is such a nice word. It’s great. Everybody loves benevolent. Dictator, maybe that’s a different thing.

[00:29:10] I feel like that branding’s a little less good recently.

[00:29:13] But, we all know what that means? Do you plan to be here in several years time? Would you love still to be at the helm of WordPress? Is this going to be the life for Matt Mullenweg for the foreseeable future?

[00:29:26] Yeah, three out of those four words are millions to. I hope to be of service to the WordPress community, benevolently. That’s always something I will do my best. I always say I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up That’s the only thing I can a hundred percent promise. But we’ll try to learn from them.

[00:29:41] Try to course correct and be right more often than not. And then the, for life. Yeah, a hundred percent. Like it’s been 19 years. I think because WordPress changes so much, I’m never bored of it. You know, it’s like one of these things that you know when WordPress launched, javascript was called DHTML. It wasn’t really common. There was no iPhone. like that. Everything has changed so much and it still is. You know, it’s hard to imagine looking from 2003 to now, how much things have changed looking forward another 19 years to that would be 2041 or something. Like what will be enabled? And in technology, and don’t know if you’ve seen things like the open AI projects, like GPT3 or DALL-E, like utterly astounding,

[00:30:25] I find it a bit scary. Aspects of that worry me. The aspects I think that worry me are the loss of control and that, at some point we’re going to just be creating 10,000 word articles. So the bot creates the article, which is then read by the Google bot. The cyclical creation of things.

[00:30:44] And also the destabilization of the belief in what your eyes tell you. You know, you see a picture of some famous person allegedly doing something, which they never did, but somebody created it with a click of a button. Those pieces worry me. So you sound much more sanguine about it.

[00:30:59] I’m pretty excited. The text side is interesting, but I’m actually really excited by the image creation, not the deep fakes, but more like DALL-E, you can give a prompt. Like I want to see a spaceship cat eating ice cream, while riding a bike.

[00:31:17] That’s the one everybody’s going to say.

[00:31:18] And this image has never existed humanity. Yet you can speak your words and it will be created. And it will create like 15 of them. And some of them are weird, but some of them are incredible. And you can say, do it in the style of Salvador Dali, or do it like a Monet painting. Or do it like an illustration. Like that is unlocking that kind of co-creation of art, I find so compelling because that’s essentially, when technology creates things we can’t expect that hypercharged creativity.

[00:31:50] So even when you imagine, when we moved from drumming and using our voices instruments to having, the creation of the first instruments, whether they were stringed instruments, lutes, organs where the most sophisticated technology at a time. Today, the way we can use synthesizers and remix things and multiple tracks. I’m sure it’s certain points, and I’m sure there’s examples of this creating bad art. You have to make a lot of terrible art to get to the good art.

[00:32:13] The boundary comes down, doesn’t it? You don’t need to have that dexterity with the pencil or the pen, the paint brush or whatever it is. You have to have the vocabulary to describe it.

[00:32:22] There’s an art to that too, like. I feel like there’s a skill to doing a good Google searches, like crafting the search term in a way that helps you find what you want. And we kind of co-learn with it. There’s a feedback loop. You put in a search, you don’t find what you want, and you start to tweak it and you learn.

[00:32:38] I think that the sort of generative art tools like a Dali are the same way. I think Mind Journey is another one. You can go through and feed in some texts and then see what happens. And then like keep going. I mean, how cool would that be. Actually for Tavern, I would love for you to see you all use it more, like, make some, more like Mine Journey or DALL-E type images?

[00:32:56] that then leads me to the question about AI creation of websites. So, do you want a future where you build the website with that kind of an interface? So I would like a website that’s to do with volcanoes and I would like a picture of a volcano at the top. No, not that one. Slightly more fiery. And can we have a button, but no, no red, not blue. Wider. Yeah, no stop there. So that kind of an interface. So we drop the mouse and we describe the website and move the components with our voice, or whatever we’re using, maybe we’re plugged point.

[00:33:28] And how powerful are blocks for that? Right, so we’re creating the sort of raw ingredients that could be used. I used to not believe this stuff would happen. But it’s gotten so great. If you’ve seen Codepilot, Codepilot on Github, or some of the stuff that GPT3 can do around like interface creation or even app creation. It’s fairly powerful.

[00:33:49] We’re going to have much better machine learning models around translation of languages. I think we’ll get to a point, you know, we’ve always joked, like will WordPress ever be written in something other than PHP? I think we’ll have translators over the next five to 10 years, that could take something as complex as a WordPress and translate the code to another language and it’ll work.

[00:34:08] Right, because essentially that’s, what’s happening. All these languages go to a bytecode or some sort of something much closer to the wire. So once a computer can truly deeply understand what’s happening in the code and find the equivalents in another language, right?

[00:34:22] You’re close to just thinking a website into creation at that point, aren’t you? The boundary is, can you imagine, and if you can imagine an elucidate it, then you’ve done it.

[00:34:32] And think how much creativity has been unlocked by things like Photoshop or Illustrator or the pen for the iPad anything. Like you put these things in front of a child, they just start producing.

[00:34:42] Oh, immediately. That’s interesting.

[00:34:44] And that’s, that’s cool, right? And so it kind of comes back to what’s what’s the limits of human imagination and a little bit, our limits are what we’ve experienced so far. So there’s this idea of adjacent possibilities. That whatever’s going on in the world, people consume, and then that gives them the ideas for what’s next. But you need the previous stuff to exist first. Right? We build on the, we stand on the shoulders of giants and every generation that’s come before. And now with global communication, everything, a cycle of that feedback loop of new things happening and then spreading throughout the culture.

[00:35:19] I mean, used to take hundreds of years. There’s examples where they knew that scurvy was caused by lack of vitamin C like hundreds of years before it was kind of widely known knowledge. And. You know, they can sequence a novel coronavirus, create the vaccine, literally within like a day, the sequencing being available. What was it, a year and a half later? Like there’s a billion doses in people’s arms.

[00:35:45] The impediment was the testing, not the creation.

[00:35:47] Wow. Even making a billion of something in like a little over a year is kinda wild as well. So that is, think of it both a faster kind of clock speed for the evolution of culture and thought and knowledge that’s enabled, and also hopefully faster antibodies, both literal and societal to things that can cause harm.

[00:36:11] You know, I don’t think it’s, it’s a stretch to think of misinformation, disinformation, you know, sort of the information wars that are happening right now, both hot and cold throughout, um, authoritarian and more democratic regimes as a type of pathogen. Almost like a novel mean virus or idea virus, which right now we’re not very strong against, but we’re starting to develop the antibodies too, including things like detecting bots and coordinated inauthentic behavior.

[00:36:37] That right now I think is causing a lot of problems throughout society. but we’ll get better at figuring that out.

[00:36:44] It’s fascinating because I think technology can take you in one of two directions, you know, the, the apocalyptic version and then the sort of, desirable, let’s say that. And it feels to me that you are ,firmly on the desirable side. You’ve got a very positive approach that the technology in the future doesn’t worry you.

[00:37:03] It’s not that it doesn’t worry me. It’s just I’m a builder. So I need to choose that I’m going to work on.

[00:37:07] Yeah, sadly, my

[00:37:08] work on the things that things better.

[00:37:10] My vocabulary left me at that point.

[00:37:12] Techno optimist, maybe. Yes. Like, uh, I would say that I tend towards optimism and the thing that gives me that optimism is often deeply engaging with a criticism of it.

[00:37:23] So I want to really strongly understand, be able to make the argument for why all the things I just talked about are going to destroy society. But then once you understand that, how can we build it or how can we do it in a way that’s going to be more positive. And also how can we check our assumptions? Like if we look back, to what we thought was going to ruin society before, did it?

[00:37:43] It’s funny, there’s a, gosh, I forget the name of the account, but it just pulls up old criticisms of the technology. And there was one that showed a subway, and everyone’s, um, reading a newspaper? They’re like, oh, what’s happened to society, people used to talk on the subway, they used to engage with each other. Now just the heads are all buried.

[00:38:00] Of course Gutenberg, you know, the original, uh, needs to read it’s, you know, it’s dangerous.

[00:38:08] And it turns out that it was dangerous, like wow. Protestant, like, how much change that kicked off, but it was really about knowledge is power. It was about the distribution of a more wider distribution of knowledge and opportunity. And that shook up society. But you know what? I needed to be shooken up.

[00:38:25] It’s the message. Maybe this is the perfect point to end?

[00:38:27] That’s what WordPress shakes up, you know? So we take things that, by the way, equivalent to what WordPress does for free, 10 years ago, you’d pay like millions of dollars a site core or Magento or something like that to do it, which now like you can download WooCommerce and it does everything that did and way more.

[00:38:45] So we’re kind of taking, I sometimes make the analogy that we have a promethean task, climb mountain, take the fire from the gods and then bring it to the people. As we do that, sometimes it generates a lot of blow back. You know, if you recall a really big criticism of Gutenberg early on was that it was going to destroy agencies and web builders.

[00:39:05] People would just be able to build their sites themselves. They would lose all their business, everything like that. As you walk around WordCamp ask anyone who’s building websites, like, do you have more business or less business? How’s it going? I’m sure there’s some exceptions, but by and large, the businesses are larger than ever.

[00:39:19] They’re growing faster. Site builders doing fine, the themes that are like, you know, there’s going to be some changes, right? Some of us might be making horse buggies, and those might not be as in demand in the future, but you can also like shift and it’s kind of cool. I have people tell me that they’re way more profitable now because they can build things in Gutenberg that they used to have to code custom. So even though they could code a custom, they can just click some buttons and build a site and be done so they can now do more of them. How cool is that?

[00:39:45] So the change definitely disrupts things. It can definitely be sometimes rocky, but ultimately, if you embrace the change and you sort of work from your principles and your morals to be on the right side of history, it can be incredibly empowering. Matt Mullenweg, thank you for talking to me today. Thank you. Thanks for coming.

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