Are WordPress.com’s verticals falling short?

Earlier today, I tweeted (big news, right?) that the WordPress.com verticals that have been launching left and right seem like little more than SEO plays on the landing pages. Well, James Farmer, founder of Edublogs – a huge WordPress Multisite instance for educators – has laid it all on the table. Never one to hold back (I know this from personal experience), he basically is surmising that Automattic is doing these verticals based on investor pressure.

I highly doubt Automattic is facing investor pressure. I think it's more likely they want to see which verticals catch traction before committing real resources. Anyway, James' post is an entertaining read.

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5 Comments

  1. These WordPress.com verticals aren’t designed to be full blown solutions that could replace more advanced specialized vertical specific web site solutions.

    They’re designed to be quick and simple to setup for those that don’t need more advanced functionality. Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles and thee vertical sites cater to those users. Some just want a simple, free solution.

    For those that need more full featured solutions than what the WordPress.com vertical solutions provides they can turn to more advanced solutions like EduBlogs, Happy Tables, etc.

    WordPress.com could always be used for basic sites for these various verticals. But these vertical specific sites allow Automattic to better market that to end users who may not have realized WordPress isn’t just for blogging. It’s an attempt to educate the general public on the fact that WordPress is a CMS for any type of site, not just a blog platform.

    It’s also a good way to test the waters and see which verticals are in demand… They could then focus on expanding the capabilities offered to those verticals.

    I think it’s a smart move on Automattic’s part.

    1. I agree with you, except I wish they’d put at least some custom functionality into those verticals. Each one has some pretty low hanging fruit they could offer, but they’re really not offering much at all extra on top of standard WordPress.com features.

  2. Brian, your point that the verticals seem like SEO plays and James’ characterization of them as “shallow” are both essentially right, but that is clearly by design. As Carl points out, this is smart marketing designed to sell more of the paid services that they already offer.

    Would it be better if they were full-blown solutions? Well, as pointed out in James’ article (which is insightful once you get past the defensiveness and visceral hatred of Automattic), trying to do too much can hold a company back for years and destroy value, a mistake he feels he made himself. He suggests that Automattic are now making that same mistake, that the multiple verticals indicate lack of focus, but my read is that the shallowness is actually the proof that they are terrifically focused upon a single objective: repackaging their existing services to suit as many different markets as possible.

    Automattic may intend to work towards offering full-blown solutions in the future, today’s verticals may be mere placeholders, but it would not surprise me at all if it turns out that they have no intention of ever offering more advanced functionality. My hunch is that, rather than get bogged down in developing and maintaining multiple complex systems, they would rather pick the low-hanging fruit in each niche and sell essentially the same functionality to as many different niches as possible.

    I understand why James’ and others providing solutions built upon WordPress are feeling threatened, but my guess is that he has nothing to worry about; if anything, Automattic’s efforts are likely to spark a shift towards schools taking their online efforts more seriously and Edublogs, offering deeper functionality, would obviously benefit from that.

  3. Carl and Donnacha — very insightful comments. We get millions of new people coming to WP.com every month, and it’s great to be able to expand their mind as to what WordPress is capable of, and also see where there is interest so we can double-down on building a deep experience for them where there’s demand for it.

    I can also confirm that when (not if) we do something stupid it’ll be because we made a mistake or bad judgement, nothing to do with our investors… though it would be handy to take credit for everything we do right and blame them for anything that goes wrong. πŸ™‚

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