Of the many gifts that Automattic has given this community, Jetpack is definitely one of the greatest.
Jetpack is an all-in-one suite of tools, including services that run on WordPress.com’s servers, for free, that couldn’t be handled by the kind of $5 per month shared hosting packages many users start with. If it wasn’t for this plugin helping to ease the onboarding of new users, WordPress would not be where it is today.
Automattic has gained a lot from this: they are a company, with a simple objective to make money, pay salaries, and provide a quality return on investment to their investors. The fact that they have satisfied those needs while giving so much back to the WordPress community is something that should be praised — not criticized for its pragmatic combination of profit-driven goals and community building.
Chris Lema recently published a great article explaining why most detractors of Jetpack fail to understand the point of it, and that these people simply are not the target audience for the plugin.
As Chris points out, Jetpack’s detractors are “a group of people highly skilled in finding, using, and even creating plugins for the platform.”
However, these people represent the minority of WordPress users, most of whom cannot create a plugin on their own. “Most of the world can’t configure the larger/complex plugins. Heck, most of the world can’t determine the difference between the good and the crappy plugins,” Chris explained.
It reminds me of my own first experience with WordPress: I was just trying out blogging and had become quite annoyed with Blogger. Many of WordPress.com’s features that caused me to stick with WordPress can be found in the features that Jetpack provides for self-hosted WordPress.
Knowing that I could take them with me to my own server, though I had never actually installed a plugin before, is a big part of what gave me the confidence to try running WordPress on my own server. That was the start of the journey that got me where I am today.
This was so useful, in particular, because I had no idea what I was doing with WordPress. In fact, at the time, I had never even written a line of PHP, or knew what PHP was, for that matter. Today, I still happily offload computationally-heavy tasks to WordPress.com, using their servers (at no cost) for related posts, Elasticsearch, and more.
I know some people simply cannot get over their disdain for Jetpack — and that is OK. Like every other WordPress plugin, or WordPress itself, you have the freedom not to use it: It’s that simple.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of Jetpack — not just because I don’t want the calculations that go into elasticsearch or related posts running on my server, or because Jetpack stats, and a few other modules, are good enough for my needs. But rather, it’s because there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from the role it has played in the success of WordPress.
Don’t hog the special sauce
Jetpack exists to share the functionality that Automattic developed for WordPress.com with the rest of the community. The business model that Automattic has used — contributing heavily to the open-source project that they use to power their Software as a service (SaaS) platform — has proven to be a very successful model.
It’s safe to assume that WordPress.com and Auttomattic would not have succeeded without all of the developers (and other companies) that make money with WordPress. In addition, Automattic has also developed a lot of additional functionality for WordPress besides Jetpack — HyperDB, Supercache, and Akismet, just to name a few.
The lesson here is that if you want to monetize on an open-source project with a SaaS business, don’t keep invaluable products to yourself or it will stunt the growth of the rest of the ecosystem.
Modular is good for the end user
I’m not interested in arguing that “Jetpack is too big and does too many things.” It’s a silly argument, anyway, since the only code that runs is for the modules that are currently in use. Also, if your goal is to make WordPress easy for new users, then telling them to install and manage twenty-seven plugins makes absolutely no sense, as one of Jetpack’s developers, George Stephanis, explains.
Splitting Jetpack up into user-enabled modules allows it to only run the code that is actually needed. Providing an easy UI to enable those modules is great for the end user. Module control is something that has greatly improved over the last few major releases.
How the modular experience is delivered, from a technical standpoint, isn’t too important to the end user. They just want the ability to flick a switch and turn something on and off.
Indirect competition is stiff competition
When Matt Mullenweg talks about Wix or Squarespace as WordPress’ competition, I think it rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Clearly those types of companies are competitiors to WordPress.com, but the question is are they also competitors to freelance developers, plugin and theme companies, and development agencies?
Well technically, no, they are not in direct competition. People are not choosing between Wix and the plugins I create, or my development and consult services. At the same time, however, my customers are choosing to use WordPress over Wix or Squarespace. If one of those companies successfully satisfied its needs, then it would no longer be a potential customer for me.
Jetpack and WordPress.com are at the top of a funnel that brings a lot of talent and potential customers into our community. Understanding the web of relationships that link you to your next source of income requires looking past the last step before your door.
Software is only as good as its defaults: WordPress is better than its defaults
Of course, there is a better solution for every single thing that Jetpack does. This doesn’t negate its purpose, however, as the motto that software is only as good as its defaults is very true.
Personally I can say that it was the Jetpack features that helped provide the defaults that got me hooked on WordPress. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
So I’m grateful for that, and the fact that it’s free, and that its role in WordPress’ success provides a lot of valuable lessons to learn about growing a product.
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