Never underestimate the power of a crappy website.
When WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg found himself frustrated with the publishing tools available while building websites for some of his jazz teachers at High School for the Performing in the Visual Arts, the seeds for invention were put in motion. "Thinking back, I wasn't very good," Mullenweg admits about his early work. "Basically I was making websites in exchange for saxophone lessons."
The blog guru has since put down the sax and, now, 28 million blogs later, WordPress is the content management system of choice for both the recreational blogger and serious web developer. The 25-year old web wonder, credited with changing an industry, has been named one of the top 50 people on the web by PC World, Inc.com's 30 under 30, and Business Week's 25 most influential people.
If you have something to say, WordPress makes it easy to do so.
"User experience is paramount," said Mullenweg, from his San Francisco base. "We want you to have an amazing website, and a pleasant and enjoyable experience. It should be efficient and invisible as well." Today, Mullenweg divides his time between San Francisco and his hometown Houston. "I can see spending more time in Houston now," he added.
Houston may not be known as a high tech center, but it does have the Mullenweg, or at least it did last weekend when he popped by to give the keynote at the first-ever WordCamp Houston at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
"Since WordPress started in Houston, I really wanted to able to tell the story at the first Houston WordCamp. I don't organize WordCamps, they arise from the community, so I am eager to hear Houston's questions and concerns; they lead the direction," said Mullenweg. "I want people to know that you can start something from anywhere in the world."
So a sold-out, adoring, mostly male, crowd got to hear the WordPress story from the man himself. He regaled us with tales of the early days of hanging around crusty IT guys at HAL-PC, and the day his name came up first on Google. He thanked his mom for checking every day. "That helped mom," said the humble web developer.
Mullenweg left the University of Houston for the tech savvy shores of San Francisco to work at CNET Networks. Today, the tech rock star runs Automattic, a collection of several enterprises, including VideoPress, comment management system IntenseDebate, real time blogging P2 and more. Mullenweg, who is always working on aspects of WordPress, is now adding focus to other projects.
"I'm working on everything that's part of of the WordPress experience that is not the software itself like VoltPress, which completely secures your site," he said. "It protects and monitors your site even while you are away. I continually live and breathe WordPress."
Participants followed four handy tracks, Blogger, Business, Developer, or Case Studies. As a newbie to WordPress, I headed to hear real-life tales of just how idiot-proof WordPress really is. Author and spouse of gubernatorial candidate Bill White, Andrea White shared her adventures with Passionate Supporter, developed with the help of Colab head and WordCamp instigator Monica Danna.
Not from the share-all generation, White honestly discussed the tricky life of the "do no harm" position of the political wife. Her blog has developed organically to tell the tales of some of the wonderful people who have opened their hearts and homes on the campaign trail. "Telling their stories is one way I can thank them," White told the group.
Danna shared her end of the process of setting up an easy to use system such that White could eventually take the blog reins and run with them. After hearing White and Danna discuss some of the issues that came up in the process, Mullenweg offered an idea of a "Save DRAFT Button" feature. I guess he really is always thinking about WordPress.
Erin Flis, Ivan Perez, and Mark Belcher, the marketing/IT team of HMNS, shared the creation of their hit blog, BEYONDbones. Still in the afterglow of Corpse Flower Lois, the stinking media sensation, the team hopes to keep up the momentum. "There are stories that weren't getting told," said Flis, who helped launch the blog three years ago. "With over 20 contributors, and content added everyday, our audience gets to really connect to the institution." After trying the "nightmare" of Blogger, the team settled on WordPress for its ease of use and flexibility.
Terri Golas, general manager of River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO), attended to hone her skills. "I have a bit of geek streak," admitted Golas. "With our season launching in September with Beer and Brass, we have so much to say at ROCO. As we are all about connection and communication, It's time to step up our blogging. WordPress is a great platform for community and brand building."
Rick Ankrum, of Texbiker, has been using WordPress from the 1.5 days. "I want to keep up, and see what Matt has to say," said Ankrum. "Plus, there's no better blogging platform."
John Varghese a Search Engine Optimization Specialist at TopSpot, followed the developer track. "No one knows all this stuff," said Varghese. "I am here to find out where Matt wants to take it."
Mullenweg floated in and out of sessions, visiting with anyone with a question, concern or an idea. It's apparent that the ease of use comes directly from Mullenweg's ability to listen to users whether you are building a complicated system or just want to have a recreational blog. This is one available, famous guy. "WordPress is not just software, but a community," Mullenweg wrote in the forward of WordPress for Dummies. The day proved that to be true.
WordCamp was co-organized by Danna of Colab, Chris Everson and Chris Valdez of Primer Grey and Katie Laird of Schipul. Tech-er-atti in the crowd included Ed Schipul of Schipul The Web Marketing Company,, Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle's TechBlog and Technology Bytes Radio, my twitter tutor Katie Laird of Happy Katie and Schipul and Chris Boyd, WordPress iPhone developer.
WordCampers also raised over $3,000 for a college computer science scholarship fund. The day wrapped up with a casual after party at Houston's beloved co-working hub, the Caroline Collective.
This week, I myself broke up with blogger and Dancehunter has moved to WordPress. It was the least I could do as a loyal camper.
Matt Mullenweg shares his WordPress story at the IMAX theater at HMNS: