Note: This case study was completed for assessment item 3, INB347 Semester 1, 2011.
WordPress.com is a hosted blogging platform based on the open source WordPress system. It is designed to allow users to sign up and create their own blog. Users can choose from a completely free version, or pay for upgrades to add functionality, including the ability to use custom designs and to register and use a custom domain name instead of the free youraddress.wordpress.com sub-domain. WordPress.com provides a suite of easy to use tools including a what-you-see-is-what-you-get content editor for blogging, simple CMS functions and tagging. It also allows for simple customisation of their provided templates through the use of widgets, many of which allow content to be pulled from other services, such as Flickr feeds and RSS feeds from other blogs.
WordPress.Com has two primary competitors, TypePad and Blogger. Comparatively, Blogger is the only one of these three platforms that was originally developed as a hosted blog publishing service and was first released in 1999 (Google, n.d.). WordPress was originally developed as a standalone blog solution for individual blogs and was first released in 2003 by developer Matt Mullenweg (Mullenweg, 2003). TypePad has a similar story, originally developed as the Movable Type blogging platform that was first released in 2001 (Trott, 2001). In 2003, Google bought Blogger and began to push it as a blog publishing service (Gillmore, 2003). TypePad came soon after in 2003 (Wikipedia n.d.). In 2005, WordPress.com was released as a hosted blog publishing service (Mullenweg, 2005). This could be seen a way to turn the open source platform into a viable business with an effective business model capable of revenue generation.
Addressed throughout this case study, are examples of how WordPress.com has fulfilled the 8 patterns of Web 2.0 as defined by O’Reilly (2005). Also inclusive are gaps, legal and ethical implications, and potential future directions for the company. The case study will then look into the strategic side of Web 2.0 and how WordPress.com has approached it.
WordPress.com is a hosted blogging platform based on the open source WordPress platform. It is designed to allow users to sign up and create their own blog. Users can choose from free or paid versions, with added functionality available on the paid platform, including the ability to use custom designs and to register and use a custom domain name instead of the free youraddress.wordpress.com sub-domain. WordPress provides a suite of easy to use tools including content editor for blogging, simple CMS functions and tagging. It also allows for simple customisation of their provided templates through the use of widgets, many of which allow content to be pulled from other services, such as Flickr feeds and RSS feeds from other blogs. WordPress.com blogs are hosted on the WordPress.com grid which is capable of scaling to handle enormous traffic spikes, load balanced across hundreds of servers (n.d.). This means that WordPress.com websites are automatically capable of handling going viral and will scale as necessary to meet the demand. While not as Lightweight as some startups, the company behind WordPress.com, Automattic operates with approximately 76 staff across the world (n.d.). 76 staff though is still remarkably small for a company that manages a network infrastructure with over 1,200 servers across 3 data centres (n.d.), whilst also continuously maintaining the WordPress.com platform and contributing to the further development of the open source WordPress platform. Not to mention handling customer support queries. It should be noted that while WordPress.com does provide an extensive self-service support section (n.d.), they do have email support services available, as well as paid VIP support for enterprise level clients (n.d.).
WordPress.Com has two primary competitors, TypePad and Blogger. Comparatively, Blogger is the only one of these three platforms that was originally developed as a hosted blog publishing service and was first released in 1999 (n.d.). WordPress was originally developed as a standalone blog solution for individual blogs and was first released in 2003 by developer Matt Mullenweg (2003). TypePad has a similar story, originally developed as the Movable Type blogging platform that was first released in 2001 (n.d.). In 2003, Google bought Blogger and began to push it as a blog publishing service (n.d.), and in early 2005, WordPress.Com was released as a hosted blog publishing service (n.d.) and as a way to turn the open source platform into a viable business with an effective business model capable of revenue generation. TypePad came soon after in late 2005 (n.d.).
Of the 3 services, Blogger is the only one that is completely free with no paid versions available (n.d.). WordPress comparatively offers a full-featured free version with the ability to pay for the extra features you want to have added-on without the need for a subscription that may have unwanted features (n.d.). TypePad however puts the emphasis on their paid subscription plans with a free “Micro” version available for personal users offering a limited feature set (n.d.).
As mentioned earlier, WordPress.Com utilises a load-balanced grid, or in other words, a cloud of servers to manage their hosting and ensure cost-effective scalability for all their hosted blogs. Compared to this, TypePad describe their hosting as being provided in a tier 1 data centre (n.d.), but little more information is provided. No information is provided about exactly where or how Blogger websites are hosted, except that they are now run from Google servers.
It appears from browsing through the features, about information, pricing structures and tutorials for each of these services that Blogger is targeted towards personal users with only minimal support for large customers. WordPress.com and TypePad however appear to be designed to cater specifically for enterprise grade customers, with support for individual users as well. TypePad boasts large corporate clients such as ABC, MSNBC, CBC, BBC and Sky News (n.d.) whilst WordPress.com claims large clients such as the Dow Jones “AllThingsD”, the CNN “Political Ticker”, the official NFL blog, the official Flickr blog, and more.
All 3 of these systems however provide user friendly WYSIWYG editors, traffic statistics, the ability to display advertising and make money from ad traffic, promoting your blog, customising your design (though this does depend on paid upgrades to some degree for WordPress.com and TypePad), spam blocking, multiple-language support and some level of functional customisation and third party integration. Each of these systems also provides tagging and categorisation capabilities along with simplified CMS functionality, such as pages.
The implications of a system as robust as WordPress.com that is regularly updated and improved and is capable of withstanding an entire data centre outage (n.d.) is fantastic uptime with an easy to use system that is constantly improving. This means that individuals as well as companies are able to quickly and easily create content for the internet in a way that is capable of both becoming extremely popular and withstanding that popularity without downtime, serving most pages in under a tenth of a second (n.d.). This gives individuals the ability to have a voice and be heard, or to simply write about anything they want to share.
WordPress.com is a large part of what Web 2.0 is all about, user generated content. The implication here is that WordPress.com and it’s self-hosted counterpart, WordPress could be perceived as a large part of the driving force behind what the internet is today. The question is, how will it fit in with the internet of the future?
Potential Legal and Ethical issues
The main issue I can see here is content ownership. Who owns the content that a user publishes on WordPress.com? In their support section, WordPress.com makes it clear the users retain ownership of their data and provides suggestions on how to license their data or ensure their data is adequately protected by copyright laws, including suggested copyright notices and the ability to select Creative Commons licenses for content (n.d.).
The other issue I can see is with their hosted solutions. This is that if a significant amount of downtime was had, it could cause substantial losses for their customers. While this might not present such an issue with free customers, paying customers, especially those of VIP hosting, could have the potential for legal action if the problem is not solved satisfactorily and promptly.
The future direction of WordPress.com is vital to their continued growth and success as the web is changing towards a portable network where access is available from numerous non-traditional devices. At this time WordPress.com already supports mobile blogging, including iPhones and other mobile platforms, and features themes that are optimised for mobile readers. It makes sense though that their future focus should be on greater interoperability between systems. For example, users that maintain a cooking blog and have an internet connected fridge may find it convenient to simply send a recipe straight from their fridge to their blog based on the ingredients in their fridge.
It also makes sense that the future of WordPress.com should be continued scalability and light weight operation. As it becomes accessed from more and more devices, this means greater loads and greater need to scale easily and quickly. Operating as light as possible also means that more features can be made available for less or for free. As users want to pay as little as possible, this could be key in drawing potential paying customers away from competing platforms.
Stack Exchange is a network of question and answer websites on a range of topics. Currently there are 46 websites in the network ranging from programming to mechanical to gaming to cooking.
The concept behind Stack Exchange is that each website in the network is a combination or synthesis of a blog, a wiki, a forum and sites like Digg and Reddit that users can easily participate in by utilising OpenID for user accounts.
Users are able to ask questions as they would on a forum, tagged like a blog post, that can be responded to by numerous other users. Each question and response can be elaborated on by other users as in a wiki to either gain a greater understanding of the issue, or to provide a better explanation or solution to the question. Tags are also managed as individual wikis, allowing discussions on each tag through a managed wiki environment.
Responses are managed more like blog comments than like a forum. Each question is show like a blog post and responses appear as comments that can also be commented on. Each response can then be voted on by the community so as to determine the best answer. Users that respond, providing helpful solutions are rewarded with reputation and subsequent reputation based privileges. Answers that are chosen as the best response provide even more reputation to the responder.
Some privileges that can be earned include:
Voting up an answer
Voting down an answer
Access moderator tools
Comparison to other Web 2.0 Applications
Stack Exchange provides similar functionality to applications like the various forum, wiki and blog tools combined with Digg and Reddit, and as such addresses the various inadequacies of all of these different platforms.
Bloggers often utilise their blog to ask questions and hope for answers from readers. Similarly bloggers that are reading other blogs may answer questions, but there is often little incentive to do this.
Forums provide a community, usually on a specific topic, where users can interact and discuss the forum topic. Participating in a forum can often be difficult as most forums require users to register an account specifically for that forum. This is fine for users that spend a lot of time on a forum, but for users that only want an answer to one question, this can be time consuming and limits potential responses to members of the particular forum. Stack Exchange addresses this problem by utilising OpenID to allow anyone with an OpenID account, including Google Accounts and Facebook accounts, to login and post their question, or provide their response without the need to create a new account. A user can easily migrate between Stack Exchange network websites using their OpenID.
Wiki’s allow for community management of a topic and discussion surrounding that topic, but is not ideal for inexperienced users and can have a steep learning curve. They also do not allow for a simple question and answer scenario, but rely on users creating and editing content that may or may not answer a question.
Digg and Reddit allow for user voting on and categorising content that they like, but this requires content to be submitted from external sites.
This application provides a simple way for users to get quick answers by providing reputation based incentives that give users more power on the website network in a way that makes it convenient for users to participate. This encourages interaction between the collective intelligence of users on the internet to come to provide answers to questions that are indexed in search engines, allowing other users to find answers, and potentially participate as well, answering a question that they know the answer to.
Potential legal and ethical issues
The main legal and ethical issues that I can see come down to who owns the intellectual property in the user responses. Is it the users? Is it the website owners? The Stack Exchange website, and all of the websites on their network make the content license and usage clear in the footer of every page.
User contributions are all licensed under the Creative Commons 2.5 Wiki license (Creative Commons 2.5 attribution and share-alike). According to the Stack Overflow blog article titled “Attribution Required” (Stack Overflow was the first website in the network, focused on programming) by Jeff Atwood (2009) all content is provided in a data dump as well as through the website so as to easily allow anyone to reuse and remix the data. However, all uses of the content on another website must be attributed with a clear indication of where it was from, a hyperlink to the original question, the name of every author who’s contribution has been reused, and a hyperlink to each author’s profile page.
The use of a creative commons license encourages fair sharing of the content elsewhere, but means that the authors rights are protected and they will continue to receive credit for their intellectual property and retains rights to it should their intellectual property not be used according to the license terms.