The Future of Work?

Although it may only appeal to web geeks like me, Forbes has an interesting profile of WordPress, the software that “powers one of every 6 websites on the Internet”, and it’s co-creator Matt Mullenweg.

This being a business site, the writer keeps coming back to the issue of money*, specifically on why these people are not trying to cash in Facebook-style on the explosive growth of WordPress. But he also finds space to briefly discuss the unique working arrangement for employees of Automattic, the for-profit company Mullenweg founded.

Along with independence, Automattic has an idiosyncratic workplace. As a legacy of its open-source roots its 120 employees are spread across 26 countries and six continents. Although most work alone at home, each team—usually made up of five or six people—has a generous budget to travel. “All of the money we save on office space, we blow on travel costs,” Mullenweg laughs. Groups have gathered in Hawaii, Mexico and New Zealand. Once a year everyone meets for a week at an accessible destination with a solid Internet connection. A distributed workforce means Automattic can hire talent from around the world—without having to offer the perks and pay of Google, Facebook and Apple.

That same pull quote, more specifically the last sentence of it, motivated Mullenweg to write a reply on his own blog to the implication that their distributed workforce was motivated by cost savings. Instead he says that this is “the perk and the luxury of being part of an internet-changing company from anywhere in the world”.

Mullenweg ends the post by saying “I really believe this is the future of work, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”.

If he’s right about that future, how do we help our kids learn to work in it? What are we doing to help them understand how to communicate and function with people in multiple locations, from many different countries and cultures? Will we assess students on their contributions to large projects, instead of their abilities to take tests?

Lots of questions, few answers.

*Mullenweg is more interested in gradually growing his company and in fostering the WordPress community, an approach the writer doesn’t seem to approve of, as evidenced by his concluding paragraph: “Cyrus Field and George Westinghouse weren’t quite as generous with their inventions. But they died rich.”

Leave it to a business magazine to assume the most important thing in life is to die rich.

A Space of Your Own

Some interesting thoughts on blogging from an interview with Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress:

We both know that blogging has been declared dead at least five times. But that’s like saying creativity is dead, or like personal expression is dead. Ultimately some percentage of the people who get a taste of it through a Facebook or a Twitter or a Tumblr, start reblogging, start interacting with creating on the web, some of them will graduate, some of them will feel like they want to have more of their own space, their own voice. And blogs thus far, have been the best medium for that.

I don’t believe that everyone needs a “blog”. However, everyone needs control over their online persona and that’s something we should be teaching our students.

Most of the discussion is a little geeky and very business insider. But as a long time WordPress user, I was intrigued with Mullenweg’s statement of dissatisfaction with the current state of his creation.

I’m still unhappy with WordPress to this day. I don’t think it’s feature complete because there are still 5.99 billion or 6.99 billion people in the world not publishing, who don’t have a voice online, who are digital sharecroppers on someone else’s domain. And I want them to have a tool. I want them to use open source software, whether it’s WordPress or something else. [emphasis mine]

“digital sharecroppers”. Interesting terminology, a phrase to stick in my mental shoe box.

Anyway, he goes on to say that he’s working on a “radical simplification” of the WordPress interface, noting that the current version has controls similar in complexity to those of a digital SLR, something that just doesn’t work on a mobile phone.

It will be fun to see what comes from Mullenweg’s thinking.