Over the last two months, Automattic’s WordPress.com has taken some interesting steps into the greater open source WordPress economy. First, back in November 2020 (but not even discovered until December 2020) was the soft launch of WP Courses, and just announced in 2021 we have Built by WordPress.com. So we have two products, quick site development, and training, that may step on the toes of many independent workers, and smaller agencies.


You don’t need an intergalactic bounty hunter to fight bad guys. iThemes Security Pro will secure and protect your WordPress sites from the wretched hive of scum and villainy across the internet! Prevent hacks, security breaches, malware and more. This is the way.


There is a bit more clarity from Matt Mullenweg owned WP Tavern, WordPress.com Rattles Freelancer Community with New Website Building Service Launch: “Initial reactions from the WordPress developer and freelance community were mixed. Some see the competition as good and others perceived it as a threat to WordPress consultants and small agencies, because a product from WordPress.com carries the full weight of the official WordPress brand.”

I reached out to Brad Morrison, founder of GoWP, for his take. “This is definitely significant but not unexpected. It’s a logical extension to their DIY service and helps retain customers who might have gone elsewhere for a custom site. But it does muddle things further within WordPress as .com was always the DIY option and agencies building self-hosted sites (.org) was the custom approach. That confusion aside, I don’t think it takes much away from agencies and could potentially offer freelancers a new revenue stream by partnering with Automattic.” says Brad, as well as, “There are also services available to help agencies compete with offerings like this. For example, our GoWP Page Builds service gives agencies the ability to scale custom builds without the overhead of hiring and managing full-time employees.”

We also get a pointer to a Twitter thread going through some questions and answers after the announcement started by Deborah Edwards-Oñoro. Matt’s answers:

“It’s actually referring business out. We had a previous experiment around this partnering with Upwork.”

“Sorry if it seemed like an unpleasant surprise… there’s enough going on the world. Let’s make 2021 positive. :)”

“It’s unclear if anyone wants this yet, so for this experiment don’t have that yet. If it works then definitely will try to open it up.”

Matt Mullenweg

As part of this Twitter thread, Bridget Willard, author of the forthcoming book How to Market Your Plugin, had some pointed comments which she was happy to greatly expand upon for this post.

Automattic has, in many ways, done what any business should: use their competitive advantage. Hey, I’m all for laissez faire and free markets. (But I’m the evil marketer, who’s BFFs with Machiavelli right?)

WordPress is awesome. This is why so many businesses adopt it as their CMS of choice. Because many of us base our business on WordPress as our dependency of choice and in order to reduce technical debt, we participate in the WordPress Project — Make WordPress.

Wonderful. You’re picturing Height Ashbury in 1967 full of love and sharing and rainbows and unicorns. I get it. I do, too.

WordPress.com, part of the Automattic Family, is a blogging service, and my gateway drug to the WordPress ecosystem back in 2007. But wait. Is WordPress.com or is WordPress.org? Dot com? Dot org? So many blog posts have been written about this.

See, “WordPress” is a trademark name owned by the WordPress Foundation. Only one corporation, Automattic, has permission to use the trademark. So, there’s some nice advantage right there.

That’s fine, the WordPress agencies and developers said. Dot com only goes after the “cat blogger market.” We don’t want them. Then WordPressVIP was born and suddenly Automattic became a competitor to CrowdFavorite, XWP, and 10up.

That’s fine, the WordPress agencies and developers said. That’s just a small portion of the market. We’re working with the small businesses — you know, the mom and pop shops who are like us and want to earn a living for their families.

Now, we read an article published on WordPress.com on 4 Jan 21 advertising that your dream website can be built. By whom? WordPress.com, of course! We are your trusted place for all things WordPress! (This is dripping with sarcasm but also I acknowledge it is brilliant marketing.)

“Whether you need a fast and performant eCommerce store for your products and/or services, a polished website for your professional services firm, or an educational website for your online courses, our experts can build it for you on WordPress.com, the most powerful platform for businesses and enterprises large and small.”

WordPress.com’s experts will build your site. This isn’t a beta test. This doesn’t say that WordPress.com will match you with a verified expert to build your site. This doesn’t promote a way for experts to participate. It’s clearly “our experts.”

Why is this bad? It isn’t bad. But it is direct competition with the volunteer base who spends a lot of their billable hours answering support tickets, doing bug scrubs, writing notes, reviewing plugins, checking out themes, writing marketing copy, creating designs and working with the editor team, and and and and.

If you’re going to compete with the market, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Bridget Willard

With a slightly different view, Mike “Demo” Demopoulos, Lead Hand Shaker at Web Ventures, ties this into a story from the another open source CMS project.

I remember sitting with other Joomla volunteers at a “Can Joomla Be Saved” meeting by the team behind JoomlaDay NYC years ago. They canceled the event last minute, and many of us we’re already in town.

They claimed, “WordPress was stealing their business, and Joomla is dead.” My reply? Build WordPress websites if you want or build Joomla. We (I was at an agency that made bank websites) never sells the CMS but our niche expertise. The consensus was the same around the table.

I don’t understand why people are quick to blame new competition because they will be losing business.  I heard similar things about Page Builders, SAAS providers, and Fivver.

You will always have someone who can do something cheaper, but you will still have clients you value the relationship you can offer them.

This new offering from WordPress.com, I don’t think, will affect the average WordPress agency very much. I think it could influence hosts that offer similar services (Disclosure: InMotion provides a similar service currently). The most considerable impact this play has is with organic SEO and PPC, but you can work around that with networking.

In short, do good work, and you will be fine.

Mike Demo

It’s confusing to see what all of this means. Is it going to be tied to Tumblr? Will there be active outreach to existing WordPress providers? What’s going on with the WordPress.com Partner page? I’m feeling that this may be the beginning of a shotgun (I mean Agile) approach to creating some new services. Will there be a WordPress.com Plugin Developer Shop (WPPDS) next? How about the WordPress.com SEO Workers (WPSW)? I think there needs better kickoff marketing for all of these initiatives or whether you like it or not, consternation will occur.

Most importantly, given the super SEO juice that WordPress.com and Automattic have, how will this continue to conflate WordPress open source with WordPress.com and thereby pushing third parties further down the Google search results pages? I don’t think the ramifications of making WordPress.com the core directory for businesses have been thought through given the nature of the community. Will there be costs associated?

Is this the beginning of a different kind of consolidation?

Update (January 10, 2021) Allie Nimmons from WP Buffs conducted a quick Twitter poll.

Subscribe to the daily-ish #MorningCoffee today.