When Verizon announced earlier this week that it was selling Tumblr, the blogging platform Yahoo acquired in 2013 for $1.1 billion, most of the attention focused on the price: according to Axios, the communications conglomerate sold Tumblr for just $3 million (Vox says closer to $2 million). In other words, Yahoo vaporized about 99 percent of the platform’s theoretical value in the six years it owned the company. But apart from this massive bonfire of value, one of the most interesting things about the Tumblr sale was the acquirer: Automattic, the parent company of WordPress. If Tumblr was the Coney Island freak show of the blogosphere, WordPress is the more dependable cousin—the one with a steady job. Could the combination of the two bring back the glory days of independent blogging? Some are clearly hoping that it will, and if anyone has a chance of pulling it off, it’s probably WordPress.
More than 35 percent of the world’s 1 million most popular websites run on the company’s publishing software (about ten times the number that use its nearest competitor). That list includes many leading publishers such as The New Yorker, TechCrunch, the BBC and Variety magazine. But the software behind all of these sites isn’t the product of some massive corporation: founder Matt Mullenweg cobbled it together in 2003, when he was just 19 years old. Even more surprising, the core of WordPress is still open source, meaning anyone can help develop it, and any user can download, install and run it for free. Automattic helps manage the free version, but also sells a for-pay version and related services to large publishers. The company is valued at over $1 billion.
In an interview with The Verge on Tuesday, Mullenweg—who is now CEO of Automattic–makes it clear the purchase of Tumblr wasn’t just an attempt to cash in on a Verizon fire sale. Part of his motivation, he suggests, was to try to bring back some of the magic of the old days of blogging, when the web seemed to be mostly made up of individuals writing on their own websites instead of posting to a Facebook news feed. And Mullenweg clearly sees the open-source, do-it-yourself ethos of Tumblr and WordPress as an alternative to the centralized control of a social-networking behemoth like Facebook. [Continue reading…]