New York Times Invests a Little Bit in Automattic Without Seeming to Know Why

The big news today is that Automattic, the company founded by Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress, has landed a whopping $29.5 million investment from several venture capital companies and the New York Times. In announcing the move today, the Times emphasized that its investment was “small” and the “smallest.” It also seemed a little unclear about what it would stand to gain from the investment.

Martin A. Nisenholtz, the senior vice president for digital operations of the Times Company, said the company hoped to improve the publishing technology at the foundation of WordPress and harness the platform’s ability to aggregate blog posts.

First, the “publishing platform” is WordPress, the open-source software—not Automattic, the company. Is the Times confusing the two? (I mentioned earlier that the Crunchies seem to make the same mistake, and even core WordPress developer Mark Jaquith complains about it today.)

Second, WordPress does have some ability to aggregate blog posts by using the MagpieRSS PHP class, but it’s not been considered an essential part of WordPress before. Not to mention that MagpieRSS itself has been abandoned for about two years and has trouble parsing some Atom feeds. So aggregation seems like an odd reason to invest in WordPress.

So what does Automattic plan to do with the extra money? The same Times article cites CEO Toni Schneider as saying that it plans to invest in “other services, including an antispam filter and an online-identity product.” It’s probably a safe guess that he means Akismet, Automattic’s cornerstone, and OpenID. TechCrunch also mentions Gravatar and BBPress. Those are all worthy projects, so I look forward to seeing how the $29.5 million gives them a boost.

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