Windows Live WordPress Spaces: Is Microsoft Buying Automattic?

Yesterday, it was announced that 30 million Windows Live Spaces blogs were being moved over to WordPress.com as Microsoft gives up the ghost of their free blogging space to Automattic.

Here is Matt Mullenweg’s announcement:

Windows Live (formerly MSN) Spaces is shutting down and migrating their 30m+ users to WordPress.com. Four years ago I was fairly worried as every internet giant (Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google) had a hosted blogging service.

While I am delighted for Matt and his Automattic team, I am also slightly concerned as a blogger with 14 Boles Network Blogs hosted on WordPress.com.

What will become of WordPress.com with the infusion of 30 million blogs?  Can Automattic handle that influx?  Or is this transfer just the first, reflexive, step in a realignment of the power dyad between Microsoft and Automattic?

I just finished tripping over myself dancing on Six Apart’s grave last week, and now I wonder if it is inevitable that Microsoft is going to turn around devour Automattic and WordPress.com?

The signs for that impending subsumption are small, but clear.

The first clue was on September 9 when Matt Mullenweg announced on his blog that the WordPress Trademark was being moved away from Automattic and to the WordPress Foundation that he operates. 

Why move such a valuable asset?

The second clue was in the same Mullenweg blog post.  It struck me as strange then — but now, in the light of the Spaces merger/takeover with WordPress.com — it begins to make more familiar sense when Matt hinted he might not always be with Automattic.  Here’s a screenshot with my highlighted concern:

Here’s the text of that expression for the record:

Automattic might not always be under my influence, so from the beginning I envisioned a structure where for-profit, non-profit, and not-just-for-profit could coexist and balance each other out.

Why would Matt even suggest he might not be long for Automattic — unless it was something actively in his mind or on the negotiating table?  Matt is Automattic.  Matt is Mr. WordPress.  We love our Matt and we don’t want him to disappear or to not be involved or to abandon us all and our selfish wishes not to be under the Microsoft thumb.

Since the WordPress trademark has been transferred to the WordPress Foundation — what will WordPress.com eventually become if Automattic are sold to Microsoft?  MicroPress.com?  WordSoft.com?  Why would Matt take his most valuable asset — that WordPress trademark he has doggedly protected and procured over the years — and remove it from the core of his business?

The Boles Blogs Network blog Celebrity Semiotic used to be hosted on Microsoft Live Spaces — and while we love and admire Microsoft from afar — we sure don’t want them ruining WordPress.com like they ran Spaces into the ground — for Spaces, up close, was a bunch of junk from the jump.  You had to edit your blog “live” on your live page.  You were limited to how much HTML you could insert into a widget.  The URLs were incomprehensible.  You could not moderate comments — we turned them off — and there was no easy way to export your content, so I ended up copying and pasting all my articles there for publication here on WordPress.com.

I admit I’m a little worried, and a lot wary, about this infusion of 30 million Microsoft blogs into WordPress.com and what will happen next — and yet I fully understand, and support, the human notion that people want to make money and do different things.

I also hope there will be great care and consideration as the transfer of power and influence change in this massive tidal wave of news that sort of invisibly and imperceptibly washed over the Blogosphere yesterday.  Let’s hope we WordPress.com-ers all have something we can grab onto as we try to ride out the waves of change.

17 comments

  • Just read this from the WordPress Stats

    There are over 27 million WordPress publishers as of September 2010: 13.9 million blogs hosted on WordPress.com plus 13.8 million active installations of the WordPress.org software.

    That’s effectively doubling the number of blogs!

    Like

    • Gordon —

      WordPress.com and WordPress.org are standalone entities when it comes to this Live Spaces announcement. So this Microsoft deal basically “triples” just the current WordPress.com blogs count — which conveniently adds a lot of instant value for a turnaround purchase by MSFT, eh?

      Imagine this soliloquy: “Oh, my! Look what happened! Automattic haven now taken off with 40 million blogs, so let’s buy them out so we can make their success in the niche, finally ours,” said MSFT to the Matt — all prospectively, of course. SMILE!

      Like

  • Oh, gosh, I hope we don’t have to go through this all over again. WordPress then WordPress.com and then that Movable Type and then back here again and then what. I guess there are no guarantees in the world even though we sure would like to think so.

    Like

    • I understand your concern, Anne, and I agree there are no guarantees. So, we just do the best we can and we go where we’re wanted and where we feel things will work out best for us in the long run.

      With Spaced and Vox dead — there’s really only WordPress.com and Blogger in the free hosting blogging realm now — and if you want to pay to play, then you have SquareSpace.com or TypePad (Ugh!).

      Like

  • Wow, that’s a lot of conspiracy theory! :D

    Matt has always said he wants WordPress to continue on without him. I’ve teased him for years about being hit by a bus and then what do we do, so this is not new. It has always been his thought for the process to continue even if that bus comes along.

    The quoted media numbers of 30 million on Windows Live Spaces has been overplayed. That’s the number of registered users, not the number of folks actually using the service actively. The number now quoted is more like 7 million, a drop in the bucket for WordPress.com since their servers can easily handle that amount. I figure if they can handle the single day’s traffic for Cheeseburger, which surpasses CNN (oh, yeah, and they host most of CNN, too), they can handle anything!

    As you stated, no money exchanged hands. No conspiracy. Just a safety net for Microsoft to finally get out of a losing business for them.

    The real conspiracy lies in how WordPress.com is going to take on Blogger. That’s aiming for world domination against Google. WWWWOOOOOOOAH! LOL!

    Like

    • Hi Lorelle, and welcome to Memeingful! It is a delight and a pleasure to reply to your fine comment. Your blog on how best to use WordPress is the gold standard in perception, teaching and for getting WordPress expertise. It’s a real pleasure to have a conversation with someone online who actually uses their full, real, name!

      I was one of the first people to sign up for WordPress.com way back when. My user number — no longer easily visible — was in the low 500s or so, and I was lucky to get to interact early on with all the founding guys: Matt, Lloyd, Barry, The Original Andy, Mark, and the rest, and I have followed them and supported them as much as possible, even when I briefly left WP.com for a couple of years to be teased to death by Movable Type.

      I always thought Automattic was Matt’s baby that he would personally grow into old age with his arm lovingly around that entity. I thought that company, and WordPress, and such, were set to be owned by him for the next 50 years. Perhaps that’s an unrealistic notion in today’s edgy business climate — but reading Matt’s hint on his blog that he might not always be “under influence” at Automattic, and he didn’t just say “WordPress” — hit me as curious because it was a public revelation of something I always thought was in the private realm never to be touched upon as a negotiable notion.

      What is your take on moving the WordPress trademark from Automattic to the Foundation? Why not leave the mark with the company? Is there a board of directors for the Foundation? I didn’t even know there was a WP Foundation until I read about it one day on the Wank’s blog.

      How many active blogs does WordPress.com have using the same rubric you applied to the Spaces numbers?

      I don’t think Blogger will be difficult to take down. They are awful. They are unresponsive. It will be like shooting kittens in a burlap sack — and I adore kittehs!

      When Microsoft acquires Automattic — and Matt is exiled to his WordPress Foundation — how much will you pay me for winning the conspiracy wager? SMILE!

      Like

  • I’m blog 65 or something like that on WordPress.com – was a alpha tester. :D Donncha brought me in because he knew I liked to break WordPress.

    WordPress has always been its own entity. I can’t speak for Matt, just what I know of all the things he has said to me and the world, but WordPress has never been under the umbrella of Automattic nor vise versa. The announcement of the WordPress Foundation was way overdue and the trademark was a non-deal. Not even worth the announcement. Seriously old news, but you have to announce something, right? :D

    I have no idea how many active blogs there are on WordPress.com but I know that I own at least seven of them. :D They gave up a year or two back announcing the number of registered and now list the active number of bloggers on the front page. I’d say that’s a pretty fair and honest number. Some big tech whohah blog just announced the “real” numbers of 7 million for Live Spaces, which actually seemed realistic.

    I don’t expect Microsoft to acquire Automattic. If anything, I predict it will be the opposite. Hee hee!

    Keep up the good whining!

    Like

    • Lorelle —

      You just said:

      WordPress has always been its own entity. I can’t speak for Matt, just what I know of all the things he has said to me and the world, but WordPress has never been under the umbrella of Automattic nor vise versa.

      Matt said on September 9, 2010:

      Automattic has transferred the WordPress trademark to the WordPress Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to promoting and ensuring access to WordPress and related open source projects in perpetuity. This means that the most central piece of WordPress’s identity, its name, is now fully independent from any company.

      This is a really big deal.

      I want to recognize and applaud the courage and foresight of Automattic’s board, investors, and legal counsel who made this possible: Mike Hirshland, Phil Black, Tony Conrad, Toni Schneider, Gunderson Dettmer. I’d also like to thank Matt Bartus of Dorsey & Whitney for their counsel on the Foundation side.

      So Matt thinks the transfer of the WordPress mark from Automattic to the Foundation was a “really big deal” and “courageous” and “the most central piece of WordPress’s identity” — but you brush it off by saying, “the trademark was a non-deal. Not even worth the announcement.”

      Which one of you is correct?

      Like

  • You may want to do a lookup over at the US trademark site. The wordpress trademark has not been transferred. Forgive me for not providing a link. The site does not provide static links for lookups as far as I can tell.

    I wish folks would stop taking what Matt says for gospel.

    Like

    • Hi drmike!

      I fondly remember you from your early work as a moderator in the WP.com support forum. I know there are still some hard feelings on both sides about your time there — and I don’t want to reopen any old wounds — but I certainly appreciated the time and effort you gave everyone there.

      I admit I’m confused by the whole trademark thing, and now this massive Spaces flooding into WP.com complicates more than it clarifies, and it all should prove fascinating to figure out what it all really means when the water settles.

      If the mark gets transferred, the way this all reads to me from afar as things are unfolding — is that in order to protect the WordPress brand in the eventual case of an Automattic sale, Matt was keenly able to preemptively salvage the mark by convincing the Automattic board to move it over to the Foundation for him — I hope not as a “going away” present — where he can more closely, and personally, foster that mark in the future if he isn’t involved with Automattic any longer.

      One part of that scenario that doesn’t quite make sense — yet — is why a prospective Automattic buyer wouldn’t demand the WordPress mark as part of the deal unless, of course, that trademark move to the Foundation was quietly preapproved by the courting buyer as an incentive to get the deal done.

      What’s your take?

      Like

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  • I mentioned it on TGA’s site, but I figured I would mention it here as well…MS only believes roughly 300k users will actually transfer over to WP.com and the 30M figure wasn’t even registered users, it also included their traffic. So, unfortunately, even after such a move WP.com/Automattic may not look that terrific an acquisition for MS. However, as TGA’s insight pointed out, Automattic seems to be brown-nosing MS a bit. (To use her words, “IE? Seriously?”) They may be hoping to get in MS’s good graces so they can be eaten.

    Like

    • Hi Kissing Bandit, and thanks for dropping by to hep cross-pollinate this issue.

      300k users is quite a change from even the 7 million “real” number Lorelle mentioned here upstream.

      Was this just a bloggers dump? Or was there some sort of consideration provided one way or the other? It is sort of strange seeing that IE9 “sponsored post” stuck on the Freshly Pressed page. Gordon wrote about it here.

      I guess MSFT doesn’t see blogging as a long-term, viable, platform — or they wouldn’t have tossed their Spaces users.

      Like

  • As I have just commented elsewhere – it is a horrifying thought. The logistics of transfer and the possible affects on the servers are a nightmare – without any of the political shenanigans on top of it.

    Like

    • Here’s a quote from the article Kissing Bandit mentioned on The Wank’s blog:

      Windows Live Spaces’ shutdown may not be a big win for WordPress.com, after all. According to internal e-mail messages obtained by Betanews, Microsoft expects only about 1 percent of Windows Live Spaces bloggers to move to WordPress.com. If not there then where? In the e-mail exchange, one Microsoft executive asserts about the 30 million active Windows Live Spaces blogs: “Most are dead.”

      This article, is perhaps even more telling about the closeness of Automattic and MSFT:

      Ozzie said that a few companies would take Azure into production starting today. With that as introduction, Ozzie announced that Automattic, creator of open-source WordPress blogging system, would be one of those companies. From a marketing perspective, it was a stunning announcement, since Automattic uses open-source tools like Apache and MySQL. The message: Azure isn’t just about Microsoft products or development tools. I must say it was simply shocking to see WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg on the PDC stage.

      Like

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