A Tale of Two Internets

If you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Facebook—but have you ever heard of Automattic—one of Facebook’s primary rivals?

You’re probably familiar with many of Automattic’s famous products such as AkismetWooCommerceTumblr—but the jewel in Automattic’s portfolio of products is a free and open source platform known as WordPress. WordPress is perhaps one of the Internet’s biggest successes.

Here are some eye-popping facts about WordPress:

Ultimately, both Facebook and Automattic are in the business of content hosting. That is to say, both companies are in the business of monetizing content published on their respective platforms. However, they do this in wildly different ways.

Facebook depends almost entirely on advertisers to make money. The unique value they deliver to advertisers is their ability to pinpoint a brand’s unique audience in ultra-granular detail. To do this, they harvest as much data as possible from their users—this results in many privacy violations.

Automattic often monetizes through advertisers, especially on platforms like Tumblr and WordPress.com (not to be confused with self-hosted WordPress sites) but unlike Facebook, Automattic has diversified their revenue stream by building unique services for people who want ownership of their own data. That’s right, if you want to build your own private website, away from the gaze of Big Brother, one of the best options is WordPress. With a self-hosted WordPress site, all data is owned by you, the content host.

So, with only a partial reliance on advertisers—how does Automattic make money from self-hosted WordPress sites?

As it turns out, people (and companies) are hungry for customization. They will happily pay out of pocket for unique themes, plug-ins, and services if it means owning their own data.

Two Companies—Two Very Different Paths

  • As of 2020, Facebook (founded in 2004) has 48,268 full-time employees, while Automattic (founded in 2005) has 1,184 employees
  • Currently, Facebook is the 2nd most viewed platform on the web, while WordPress is ranks 4th
  • Facebook is the 5th most visited site in the world, while WordPress powers 14.7% of the top 100 most visited sites in the world run on Facebook including BestBuy, NFL, and UPS

Facebook automatically takes ownership of everything that is published on their platform—therefore they are legally liable for every post, picture, comment, and message that appears there. Despite all their full-time employees, as well as additional contractors, Facebook has trouble moderating its platform. Failure to delete extremist content has forced countries like France to enact legislation forcing Facebook’s hand. Additionally, Facebook’s adherence to surveillance capitalism has resulted in $5 billion in FTC fines—the largest in history.

Which brings us to an important point: why is no one after Automattic for content published through its platform? Why are they rarely sued? Why aren’t governments trying to break them up?

The answer has everything to do with how WordPress is structured. Since WordPress is self-hosted and decentralized, Automattic is not on the hook for content published through its platform. After all, they’re not trying to own everything made with WordPress. Who’s liable for extremist content published through WordPress? Content hosts—usually not Automattic.

Who Will Survive?

Facebook is a centralized platform. WordPress is decentralized. So, which platform has better long-term prospects for survival?

Centralized platforms (like Facebook) are constantly under fire for their lack of moderating ‘extreme’ content and for their exploitation of our data. Users and governments are demanding change but there is a good chance these centralized platforms won’t change without a fight—this will be their downfall.

A highly successful, decentralized product like WordPress makes it clear that decentralized platforms have the potential to solve many of the problems that centralized platforms have created—they are truly the future of the Internet.