Matt Mullenweg at SXSWi: Success Lies in Enabling Others

By mid-day Monday I was beat. Two-and-a-half days of mainlining info from a series of panels, engaging meals with smart folks, a BarCamp visit, rain-filled Austin walks and a gander of the Lemurs at the humid Mohawk combined to take a lot out of me. By noon, though, I was rejuvenated, thanks largely to Matt Mullenweg, the Automatic and WordPress founder. I’m not always eager to listen to really smart, successful 23 year-old Houstonians proclaim that we are living through a New Renaissance. I don’t know whether it was the stilted Convention Center air or the lack of sleep, but I bought Matt’s shtick whole hog. Unlike Ethan Zuckerman and Andy Carvin, I’m not much of a conference chronicler, and I’m a proo tpysti to boot. Nevertheless,  here are some of my takeaways from the latter two-thirds of Matt’s talk. (For a more complete summary, check out Alex at Scrapblog.)

Asking for feedback can be scary—but it’s worth it.

If you deliver for your community, they will become invested in what you’re doing. Open Source is about involving people—respect them, for they can go away at any point and build their own sandbox.

Embrace and extend your users’ behaviors; don’t kill them.

Open Source shows that money is not the best way to motivate participation.

Every action is sacred—users invest time and passion through tags and clicks.

Personalization as filter.

We want our customization to be so good that we give you the willies. Software should be like magic.

Personalization/customization is not enough—we to show people not just that to which they are accustomed, but new and random discoveries as well. (Reminds me of Dan Gillmor’s call to “reinstutionalize serendipity.”)

Just do it: Barriers to entry have never been lower.

Users don’t care about software: it is a means towards communicating with others, flirting, and achieving their goals. Recommendations Understand Area Woman Better Than Husband

Software is no longer a differentiator.

Success is in enabling others to succeed (witness Vista: collaborators earn a combined $16 for every dollar collected by Microsoft.)

Good systems emulate email, the best scaling social software ever.

Share your problems and listen to your critics: even the uncouth ones care enough about your product to take the time to whine about you.

You want your software to polarize people, it’s a sign people care.

More fragmentation and fewer Yahoos(!) and MySpaces in the future: the bigger the brand, the slower it moves.

Where’s the money? Where’s the traffic? Even the Web 2.0 “poster children” aren’t drawing larger numbers. (Enter reference to Eszter Hargittai’s research.)


One thought on “Matt Mullenweg at SXSWi: Success Lies in Enabling Others

  1. Interesting comments, I’d love to hear more about some of them, like “Software is no longer a differentiator.” – can you give some context to this one?

    Regarding “fewer Yahoos(!) and MySpaces in the future: the bigger the brand, the slower it moves”, hmm… given the importance of network externalities on some of these services (they gain value by more people using them), they cannot flourish almost by definition unless there is major take-up.

    For example, I personally can’t really try Twitter, because I simply don’t have enough friends who use such services (friends being people about whose lives I actually care to receive frequent updates.. although frankly, even about their lives there are limits to what I need to know on an hourly basis).

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