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#98 – Marieke van de Rakt on Uniting the WordPress Community for a Stronger Future

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, how the WordPress community can stay United.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast, player of choice. Or by going to forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m keen to hear from you, and hopefully get you, or your idea, featured on the show. Head to forward slash contact forward slash jukebox and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Marieke van de Rakt. Marieke was one of the co-founders of Yoast. She left Yoast entirely in May 2023, and is now focusing her energy on her investment company, Emilia Capital, together with Joost de Valk. This is investing in various WordPress brands and ventures.

Marieke shares her insights on the current state of the WordPress community and the challenges it faces. She highlights the growing divide between those who prioritize community orientated contributions, and those purely driven by commercial interests. She expresses her concerns about the potential consequences if this division continues to widen, including the potential growth of other content management systems.

This issue is certainly worthy of attention, and whilst it might seem that the two sides of this debate irreconcilable, Marieke offers potential solutions to these challenges. She emphasizes the need for the WordPress community to unite and compete against other proprietary platforms. She suggests a more cohesive marketing strategy and collaboration to strengthen the community. She advocates for an official recognition system to celebrate and promote companies actively contributing to WordPress. Although what this might look like is very much up for debate.

We also hear about Marieke’s experiences at Yoast, and how they contributed to WordPress over the years, particularly during the development of Gutenberg. She discusses the importance of open source collaboration and the need for companies to align with the project’s direction, for the benefit of the wider community.

We also discussed the potential negative outcomes if WordPress becomes more commercialized, leading to a divide in the community, a divide which might be difficult to undo.

We end by chatting about the importance of WordPress in democratizing publishing, it’s benefits for the internet and the planet, and how, from Marieke’s point of view, WordPress is too important to fail.

If you’re keen to see the WordPress community grow, and have an interest in how internal divisions can be avoided and resolved, this episode is for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading to forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes.

And so without further delay, I bring you Marieke van de Rakt.

I am joined on the podcast today by Marieke van de Rakt. Hello.

[00:04:06] Marieke van de Rakt: Hello! Very nice to be here.

[00:04:08] Nathan Wrigley: Did I get your name vaguely right?

[00:04:11] Marieke van de Rakt: I think you did a really good job. It sounded a bit like I’m a Viking, so a bit more Scandinavian but it was correct. Yeah.

[00:04:20] Nathan Wrigley: I will take that. If you don’t know Marieke, honestly where have you been for the last couple of decades? Marieke was the driving force, along with her husband, of a very, very famous WordPress company, Yoast. Things have changed in the last year or so. So I wonder, for the purposes of this podcast, which is obviously a WordPress based podcast. I know it’s a bit of an uninteresting question perhaps, but for those people who don’t know who you are, could you just give us your potted history, your biography, if you like?

[00:04:47] Marieke van de Rakt: My biography, yes of course. So I am Marieke, Marieke van de Rakt. I am, I don’t know what I am, I am an entrepreneur and an investor now. So we’ve been running Yoast since, I’ve been with the company I think since 2013, so about 10 years. And then in 2021 we sold to Newfold Digital. And then like you just said, I left Yoast I think in May of this year.

But before leaving, we already started investing in a number of WordPress brands, so Atarim, Equalize Digital, a Dutch company called wildcloud, really, really good. Also, outside the WordPress space, we have some investments and we’re now helping those investments grow. And we’re also having some new ideas of products and things we can do in the WordPress world. So we’ll stay in the community forever.

[00:05:37] Nathan Wrigley: Oh nice. That’s great. Do you feel like your foot has come off the pedal since May, or has your foot gone on the pedal since May? Are you busier than ever or, do you have a little bit more free time for the things that you enjoy outside of work?

[00:05:50] Marieke van de Rakt: I do think that I have a little bit more time, but I’m also full with ideas. I have to be very careful because I wanted to work for four days a week, but I’m already working five again. But that’s all things that I like. So I think it’s better and it’s less stressful than it used to be, because I don’t have to lead a team. We do have a small team now, but it’s only three or four people, and I know them very well so they’re not difficult people. It’s easier than it used to be.

[00:06:18] Nathan Wrigley: Well that’s good to hear. The reason that we’ve got you on the podcast today is not to talk about any of those things, but I think it was important to paint the picture of who you are and how long been in the WordPress space. Because what we’re talking about, I guess requires a fairly large telescope, staring into the history of WordPress. Because without that backstory, without that familiarity with the community over decades basically, then you wouldn’t really have the authority to write this.

But I’m going to point listeners to this podcast to a post which Marieke wrote. It was on the 28th of September, so Google could be a friend here. And it was called Two Worlds of WordPress. Now just to paraphrase it, you could obviously do that, but I’ll just give it a go. Essentially, in that piece you were talking about the fact that, over the years, WordPress has grown in two seemingly contradictory directions.

On the one hand, well you’ve called them different sides, different faces. On the one hand, you’ve got the community side. So the people who are in, as you describe it, enthusiastic about open source, contributing to the project and the events and all of that.

And then on the other side, you’ve got the people who are business orientated, and in the back of their minds is using WordPress as a commercial vehicle, a way to generate revenue.

Now over the course of WordPress’s history, the relationship of those two things has changed. And I feel that decades ago it was really clear that WordPress was much more community and much less business. But over the last decade or so it’s grown more and more business orientated. And your fear is that these two camps, these two faces, different sides, they’re growing apart to the point where they can’t even see what the other side is doing. There’s no point of communication between them. And in a way it’s tearing the community apart. Is that a fair summation of it?

[00:08:08] Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah I think so. That’s what I’m afraid of. Because I think both worlds have a necessity to exist. So because the business side of WordPress grew so quickly, it also meant that there was a lot of opportunity for people to make money out of WordPress.

So we did that all together. But it’s an open source project. So we need people to contribute to it, otherwise we’ll lose our momentum and we’ll lose the fact that we are the biggest CMS out there. So what we ideally want is that all of those businesses that make money out of WordPress also pay something back to the community. And that’s not always happening. And I know that a lot of businesses are struggling because they don’t know how and then that is hard, but that’s what I’m worried about, yeah.

[00:08:53] Nathan Wrigley: Do you have some sort of intuition? Is there some sort of feeling that you get when you are dealing with these different sides? So as an example, when you turn up to a WordPress event and you meet somebody who is just purely in it for the contributing value of it. Do you have a different relationship with those people than you do with the people who have a only a commercial side to it? I just wonder if you’ve got any intuitions as to, do any alarm bells go off, or is there anything different about the way you deal with those different sides?

[00:09:22] Marieke van de Rakt: Yes. I think if you meet that kind of contributor that’s only in there for the open source, that’s a hero. That’s nothing short of a hero, because he’s there for something bigger than himself. He’s there to contribute to something that is bigger. And the business side, if you’re only in it for the business side, I’m always a little bit on edge. So I think that you shouldn’t do that.

But I also think that we should reward businesses that are giving back more. And it’s very hard to be a business that gives back and gives back and gives back, and doesn’t really get anything in return. So I know this Dutch company, we can name them, Level Level. But it’s not, especially in the Netherlands, it’s not for them immediately, that doesn’t pay them anything else except for we’re the experts.

But perhaps if we, as the WordPress world, also shout about, but they’re the experts, they’re on every WordCamp in the Netherlands, they’re on WordCamp Europe, they come there with their entire people, all the people that work there, their team.

Maybe those companies need a bigger shout out because they’re the ones that do contribute and, I don’t know, that could be some sort of solution. That we celebrate those people and companies that dedicate a lot of their time towards WordPress.

[00:10:39] Nathan Wrigley: The fact that you’ve written this article, at least the implication of it is that you fear that in the future, if the current trajectory carries on, there’s going to be a moment where things break irrevocably. So the two sides grow so far apart that they genuinely have no point of reference to each other anymore.

And really the philanthropic effort of WordPress would be lost somewhere in that. The whole project would fail. I can imagine a scenario where people, contributors who are just in it for pushing the WordPress project forward, they might have a chip on their shoulder saying, well you know, there’s all those people over there making millions of dollars for their company. I’m not making anything out of it, so I’m not going bother.

And then the other side, well we make millions of dollars out of this project. Why would we want to waste our time contributing to it? And you just get this echo chamber. One side chatting and confirming their own confirmation bias over here, and the other side doing the exact same but in their little echo chamber.

So is that a fear? That you think that it literally will get to the point where the project itself is broken, because there is no, in air quotes, community anymore.

[00:11:44] Marieke van de Rakt: I think then other CMSs will grow, because of our division between those two worlds, will make a smaller and other CMSs will grow. Because, well, we care about open source, a lot of people don’t, and they don’t choose WordPress just because it’s open source. They choose WordPress because it used to be the best. I don’t know if it’s the best anymore but it used to be the best. So if we look at marketing, all these big companies, so the big hosts, all market their own brand. So GoDaddy markets for GoDaddy. Bluehost markets for Bluehost. SiteGround markets for SiteGround.

But they all do WordPress. So perhaps we should also market WordPress as a system more, we don’t do that. They’re competing with each other, and they’re competing with companies like Wix and Shopify. But I think as a whole of the WordPress community we should be competing with each other against Shopify and Wix. And we don’t do that enough. We should join forces more. Also on the business side of things.

[00:12:45] Nathan Wrigley: I think that’s really interesting because, I think only people who are deeply into WordPress in the same way that you and I both are, you know, we probably think about WordPress more than is healthy for us.

But we’re really obsessed by it, so we go out searching for the news and we look for the companies that are, in air quotes, doing the right thing. Until we read the posts that come out on an annual basis saying who has contributed, which companies have contributed and so on. But most people using WordPress probably won’t have any idea about that because it’s not really applauded publicly, is it?

I think we should probably call out Yoast at the moment and discuss what you decided to do, because that was a really good example. So we’re recording this in October 2023, obviously caveat emptor, I don’t know what will happen in the future in terms of WordPress’s contribution. But what was your stated goal? How did you want to commit time within the company, resources within the company? Because obviously that would be a model that you think worked quite well.

[00:13:44] Marieke van de Rakt: We have the Five for the Future working quite well. At Yoast we did that before that even was a thing. But I remember, and this was WordCamp Europe, the first one in 2013, yes it was in 2013 in Leiden. And Yoast did a talk and I prepared that talk. It was about open source and about how it’s okay to make money out of it.

And that was this huge thing. People were, no you’re not allowed to make money out of. We were allowed to make money out of themes, because they were all unique and you wanted to be unique. But on plugins, everybody needed a plugin, it was frowned upon. But we, or Yoast back then, had I think 2,000,000 installs, and you get so many questions off people. You can’t maintain a plugin and make sure it’s secure, and come up with new features and test that, that’s impossible to do without making money.

So we started out, I think we were the first to start out with a freemium model thing, and that was frowned upon for a few years. And then everybody started doing that, and they went much further than we did. So we first were very reluctant to go to that you buy something and that’s an immediately you buy it for a couple of years, unless you actively say no I don’t want it anymore, you have to call out. We just gave you for one year and then you have to manually renew because we didn’t want anybody to feel like, oh no I’m stuck to it.

This all changed but we were reluctant in that kind of way. And we saw that we were just. So we weren’t perhaps the first most commercial, but then so many companies came in, mostly outside of the WordPress world who did it differently.

And at the end when we sold Yoast I felt really naive because I got a little peek of what it’s like to be on the really business side after we sold Yoast. We didn’t know, we didn’t know that there were all kinds of meetings and people making deals about who installs what, and we didn’t do that at Yoast, we just built the best product and contributed a lot to WordPress. Part because we believed in it, but also part because it just makes sense.

When Gutenberg was announced, that was a major implication for the Yoast plugin. We had to be involved otherwise it would have been really bad for our product. So that’s something. Even if you’re not like a WordPress enthusiastic like we are, just because it will allow you to see where the project is going, that’s a good reason to contribute, that alone. So it also makes business sense to do that.

[00:16:19] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah so, what specifically was the sort of, the things that you did in Yoast? What were the boots that you put on the ground, the hours that you allocated? Now it may be that it was a movable feast and that each year was different, but broadly speaking, typically, what was the kind of commitment that you were prepared to make? That could be in terms of hours, finance, whatever, however you want to take it.

[00:16:41] Marieke van de Rakt: So I think Joost personally did a day a week for ages. And we had entire teams, community teams that did nothing else than sponsoring WordCamps, organising WordCamps, those kinds of stuff. And then we had a few during Gutenberg, we had, I think two full time developers on it.

And afterwards we, Yoast still has, a core contributor team. So there were like four or five contributors that worked solely on the project. I think Yoast did a little over 5% in terms of hours and money, but not even that much. In the beginning it was, I think in the beginning we did 20% but when we grew bigger, I think 5% to 10%, you can do a lot with 5% to 10% of a bigger company.

[00:17:24] Nathan Wrigley: First of all, the reason you’re doing all of this, my guess is it wasn’t to be recognised publicly. That would be nice, but that wasn’t the primary motive. It was to foster a good relationship with the community to promote the whole project itself.

But there must be some side of that equation where you’re thinking, we’re putting all this time in, there seems to be a lot of companies out in the space who are probably more profitable than us, who are not putting an equal amount of time in, and we don’t seem to be getting much in the way of recognition.

So really what I’m asking is, did you feel that the recognition piece was something that was lacking? Maybe something that ought to be considered in the future, some sort of an an official badge, some way of displaying, look this company did this categorically, we’re very proud of them. Let’s just talk about recognition.

[00:18:17] Marieke van de Rakt: Within the core of the WordPress community we were recognised, people saw that. So that’s good. But outside of that first bubble people have no idea. And then a WordPress stamp of approval, and I don’t know how you should come up with some things. Oh also a company like Level Level who does a lot, if they get a WordPress stamp of approval that would help them so much with selling websites because they build websites.

If we would have a WordPress stamp of approval, not even this is the best SEO plugin for Yoast, but this is they contribute to WordPress, they have their things in order, that would help a lot.

But we don’t have something like that, and I don’t know how to set something like that up. But I do think that would help. Because we really believed in the open source thought. So not even I like WordPress, but the fact that you can build something together, and you don’t have to come up with an, event the wheel over and over again, that just makes sense for whole world.

So I’m a strong believer in open source and in working together without having all these, I don’t know, without talking about, this is mine and you shouldn’t have this. That’s just a bad way of running the world. So I think that’s something we strongly believe in.

[00:19:34] Nathan Wrigley: I think having some sort of accreditation system, the merits of that would be good, but I can equally see how the actual organisation of that would be fraught with problems. Because no doubt there’d be companies who, I don’t know, just didn’t quite get out of that accreditation what they were hoping for, and yet they’d clearly put in some time. And so you’d have to have bodies on the ground making sure that accreditation was fair and meritorious and everybody got what they deserved.

So that does seem like a bit of a minefield to go down. But then the project prioritizes all sorts of things that don’t have a profit motive, and maybe something like that, an accreditation system could be something worthwhile.

It just occurs to me that if I go around WordPress company websites, you don’t see that, do you? You don’t see them shouting on the hero section of their web page, we have contributed such and such an amount of hours. It’s all about the product that they’ve got because they’re selling directly to end, you know, end users.

[00:20:33] Marieke van de Rakt: And they don’t understand that. But I think as a community, we should make people more aware. It’s like buying or working with open source software is like being a vegetarian, you’re just doing the right thing. So we should talk about that more, because it’s the only way I think we can move forward, and come up with new knowledge, everybody should do open source.

So every government website should be made out of open source software. It can be really, get mad if they spend money on proprietary systems. They should spend money on, I don’t know, health and education and don’t spend it on a very expensive software, because there’s software that’s really good and we should use that. But I think as a community, perhaps we should talk more about why open source is so awesome.

[00:21:18] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah it really is tricky, but I have this intuition that something like this would be a good idea, despite the fact that it would be almost impossible I think to manage, and it would be very difficult to decide who got what.

But in your conversations over the years working at Yoast, okay let’s imagine that there’s somebody listening to this podcast who desperately wants to contribute, but feels that they don’t have the bandwidth to do that. They’re not profitable enough, they don’t have enough hours to make that possible. So this question is directed to you but talking to them, if you know what I mean.

So when you were working at Yoast, did you get an impression that your contributions to the project led to you being profitable? Were there certain customers of yours who came to you because you were working so hard for the project as a whole, and not just because you had a superior product?

[00:22:12] Marieke van de Rakt: Not directly, but I’m convinced that indirectly, yes. So being on all those events, having Taco, having Taco just being everywhere and organising, and talking to people helps with getting those core community people talking about you. And when they talk about you to all the other people, it just, it’s like a pyramid that goes down.

So we never did any influencer marketing, we did WordPress contribution. And I think it’s about the same thing, because you just show up at contributor days or at events and you talk to people. And when you do those kinds of things, you also talk about your product and people think you are nice because you’re helping. Not everybody thinks you’re nice, so you always have that.

But I think that’s just WordPress influencer marketing. I even say that to people we invest in. I said, you should do WordPress influencer marketing. That means contributing to the project and doing your best. And that’s the way the people in the community will get to know you and see you, and they’ll also talk about your product then.

[00:23:20] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there’s no direct correlation between the amount that you put in and the success, if you like, of the commercial side at least of the plugin. But there is some sort of fuzzy appreciation on your behalf, that there is a connection even though you can’t quite grab hold of what that is.

But the more that you put in, the more recognition you’ve got, the more the brand became known and probably the by product of that is that there would be sales from that. I should point out that Marieke isn’t just doing this one piece, we’ve talked about this two worlds of WordPress piece. It’s going to be a regular feature on Post Status.

[00:23:54] Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah. So I’m just telling stories from both worlds and sometimes, well no, there’s always one side, sometimes two, that I think, I hope, that’ll help to get those worlds to understand each other. That’s the only thing I hope.

[00:24:10] Nathan Wrigley: The broad overarching idea behind all of the posts that you’re going to be putting on Post Status is about getting the commercial side and the non commercial side, to get them talking a bit more. And to get, because obviously, Post Status has this enormous reach and that would be a really superb place to do it.

One of the pieces that you wrote was called, On people breaking up with WordPress. And I’m sure I don’t need to explain to everybody what that means, but you can guess. It was all about how people decide that they want to move away from the project.

But one of the things that you wrote in there, I’m curious as to how this fits with everything that you’ve just been talking about. You wrote, and I’m going to quote, I strongly believe that all contributors, so developers, marketers, organisers, et cetera, to the WordPress project, need to be financially compensated. Next to that, I think it would help if they feel valued and important, and that they’ll be able to be productive.

Let’s talk about the first bit, the financial compensation, because I don’t think anybody would disagree with that, would they? Everybody would love to think that, you know, you contribute something to WordPress, you’ve got something, you get return, you put an hour in, you get some finance back.

How do you see that working in reality? Especially if you’re, I don’t know, you’re working for a plugin company, let’s say, and there’s not a lot of money sloshing around, you’ve got very little reserves. How would you like to see this happen? Are you talking about like a pool that big companies who are successful put money into, and then if you like that can be dipped into by people from around the community. What were you thinking there?

[00:25:44] Marieke van de Rakt: That would be best. I think the most money in the WordPress world is made by hosting companies. So they have large margins. If they don’t want to hire people themselves then they should invest in people that want to contribute their time. And I think in the beginning of WordPress it was led by volunteers, but I do think that nowadays there is so much money being made that we should be able, together with all of us, to at least compensate for those hours that put in.

And that’s probably not the highest salary but people should be compensated a little. And I know still that there are main organisers for WordCamps that do that entirely in their free time. And I think that’s just wrong. There’s too much money being made by big companies, and they should pitch in together to make sure that the events are led by people that are also paid for their contributions.

[00:26:43] Nathan Wrigley: That seems like a really credible way of short circuiting the accreditation thing that we were talking about earlier. We can prove categorically that we committed 5 percent of something. Whether that’s 5 percent of time across our employee distribution. Or whether that’s 5 percent of the finance that we had available to us in this year.

And we’re talking about this 5 percent because, I don’t know if you know dear listener, there is this concept of Five for the Future where exactly this would happen. But there’s no way of demonstrating to the world that you did it.

So just that simple metric of, we did and we’ve certified that we did Five for the Future, maybe that alone would be a fairly, it’s a fairly blunt instrument, but at least it would be some way of the company’s getting that recognition back. The badge could go on the website, so that people who are into the community could fully understand, okay, there it is. They did their 5 percent contribution for whatever it was. That might be a fairly swift and easy way, well not easy, but a fairly quick way of doing it.

[00:27:44] Marieke van de Rakt: It could also be a way of getting those worlds together. I think that’s the start. I just think there’s too much money being made by big companies to have people volunteer and have a hard time. If you’re an organiser of a big WordCamp, which is like WordCamp Europe is extremely important that it exists for businesses. Those businesses should also be like, I have to make sure that this continues.

And that means that those people need to be compensated because they are usually working for themselves. But if you build websites and you organise an event, you probably build less websites if you’re like busy organising WordCamp Europe. I think the WordPress world has been, we used to do it with all volunteers and I don’t think that we can do this anymore.

[00:28:30] Nathan Wrigley: When an event like WordCamp Europe is put on, the level of commitment from some, again it could be any WordCamp, but I just pluck WordCamp Europe out of thin air. Because, well it’s so big and because of that there’s so many technicalities. And having interviewed quite a few of the people who were really involved in those projects, they are genuinely giving up weeks and weeks of their year. And they’re doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

Now in some cases it may be that they’ve got some kind of sponsorship somewhere, maybe their company has allowed them to have that time. But I have a strong intuition that many of them are literally taking it almost like annual leave.

And so it’s exactly what you said. It’s not just that they’re committing time, but they are committing time which they can’t get back in their own business. So it’s a double whammy. They’re not getting paid for that contribution, but also they’re losing money so it’s going wrong in both directions.

I don’t know how that would work, but it does strike me that badge, that 5 percent commitment being pulled somewhere, some independent organisation which could then give that out seems like a good idea.

If we’re going to accredit people, now this could be controversial, if we’re going to credit people, do we go the other way? Do we go in the direction of calling out companies that don’t do it? Is that something which the community should ever be involved in? My intuition says no, but that’s just my intuition, what do you think?

[00:29:54] Marieke van de Rakt: My intuition also says no, because it’s a very negative thing to do. And it’s hard as well because, especially like in the plugin businesses you know, but in the website builder businesses, a lot of websites builders will not even know about Five for the Future or anything like that. I wouldn’t call people out on not contributing but perhaps other people will.

[00:30:17] Nathan Wrigley: I’m sure they will, because people who are not bound to any particular company, they might have stronger feelings about that and they can do that in their own way, can’t they? So really we’re painting a picture of, if you do the right thing there should be a mechanism for you to be able to certify that you have done the right thing, and have some sort of badge of honor to be able to display that and explain.

What are your feelings about how you feel this conversation is going to be received? Because we’re having this, we’ve had a little bit of a chat beforehand, and we exchanged a few messages and so on and so we knew what we were talking about. But somebody listening to this for the first time, it may be difficult to hear this conversation because it’s a, you know, it’s the trusted community, it’s the thing that we love and here we are suggesting that potentially money has to be involved. What would you say to those people who don’t want money to have anything to do with their WordPress experience?

[00:31:08] Marieke van de Rakt: I love those people just because I think their heart is in the right place. But I also feel like it’s not fair to those people because there’s so much money being made by those big companies, so everybody should be compensated or should grow from that.

I just think, I know I’ve had conversations in the past in which people said it should be true volunteers, and not even compensated by the company you work for, it should only be volunteers. I think it’s just not fair to those people, that they’re doing the big chunk of work. Especially if it’s organising, like a day volunteering is different to me than organising an event out of your free time.

You’re organising something that’s of massive importance to those big companies, because they see each other there and they set up deals together, business deals. So they really need that event. They need the organisers to be in space. Those people just deserve to be compensated.

I love everybody who says that they want to do it for free, but I also think that’s not fair to them, and to their work. It’s not playing around anymore, these are like really big events. The first WordCamp Europe was 650 people, but we’re now talking about 3,000, I don’t know, 4,000 people. That’s a different league. We’re playing in a different league now.

[00:32:28] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I guess the rules of engagement change, don’t they? If you’ve ever been to a non WordPress event, so a more commercial event, you might have sympathy from what I’m about to say. They really do feel different, just the whole purpose of standing in that space is the economics of it. You are there to pitch your product, and that is the bottom line.

And if you haven’t been to a WordPress event, firstly, can I encourage you to go because you’ll probably make some great friends as much as anything else. But you don’t get that feeling, you get the feeling that it still has that community vibe to it. There are still oodles of people milling about who aren’t on the commercial side.

But I wonder, with the people who are just in it for the commercial side, have they already gone too far? What is the road back, if you like, I’m going to say it that way. What’s the road back for these people? Where would you encourage them to go? Who would you encourage them to talk to? Which projects would you point them in the direction of?

If somebody listening to this, their spidey sense has gone, oh hang on a minute what Marieke is saying makes sense. We’re on the commercial side, we don’t really have much in the way of the community side. How can we begin that journey? Where would you go? Where would you point them?

[00:33:43] Marieke van de Rakt: That’s hard, because I know there are companies that want to do something and don’t know. So perhaps that’s something we should be setting up, that people who are now contributing but are not being compensated for the hours, that they can somewhere say, hello. And then companies that want to compensate somebody, or sponsor somebody, can find each other. I don’t know if there’s something like that. Michelle Frechette should put up a website about that.

[00:34:07] Nathan Wrigley: We do have something called the WPCC, which might cover a little bit of this ground. It’s the WP Community Collective, and I will put that in the show notes. They have the opportunity for you to contribute financially to projects that have been decided upon already.

As an example, I can’t remember what they call them, bursaries or something like that. You contribute to that and then if the goal is reached then that particular bit, it might be accessibility or it might be something else, that bit will happen.

But it’s not quite the, it’s not really the place, essentially what you’re doing there is contributing your finance, which is great but it’s not really getting you inside of the community, is it? So I don’t know if such a thing exists.

[00:34:48] Marieke van de Rakt: Come to a WordCamp, come to a contributor day, that’ll help. I think then you’ll at least see, I didn’t understand anything on my first contributer day, but I know now the onboarding is better than when I started. And talk to people and see what you can do.

And I think if you’re profitable. Financial, there’s a lot to help. So that’s a very good first start, and perhaps then you work with someone and can see what you could do too yourself.

I’m always reluctant to be an organiser because I’m afraid that I’ll get in fights with everybody. It’s just true. I just want certain things a certain way, so I’m not going to do that. But I now know that my colleague, which works with our new company, she said, I would like to do that. So now I’m like, oh that’s great, we’ll sponsor your time and you can do that. And nobody ever gets mad at her because she’s really sweet.

[00:35:41] Nathan Wrigley: There is an option that none of this happens, and the whole thing goes pear shaped. That the enterprise of WordPress becomes more and more commercial, we just sort of put up with it, and eventually the community does just reach this point where the two sides can’t talk to each other, and so therefore, really the whole enterprise has fizzled out and gone away.

That feels like a real shame. It does feel like the promise of something like WordPress, to democratise publishing. I know it’s easy to say those words, but the fact that you and I both have, no matter how much money is in our pocket, we have the capacity to go somewhere, and so long as we’ve got access to the internet, we can download that software and we can publish whatever we like, whenever we like, to whomever we like.

It’s too precious of a thing to allow to just disappear, because we can’t be bothered to figure out solutions like this. That would such a shame if that happened.

[00:36:37] Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah I think we agree here. I also think that would be bad for the planet. So it would be bad for the community. But I also believe that the world is better if WordPress is bigger, because of the fact that a lot of people are in there to make the best software, and to build accessible software and to make sure that it’s, I don’t know, it’s really democratising publishing. So it would be a bad thing for the internet if WordPress would not flourish.

[00:37:04] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I think we can see all over the internet examples where proprietary, privately owned platforms, the incentives for those platforms to exist, it doesn’t take too many years for all sorts of bad incentives to creep in, and all of a sudden you notice that you’re being advertised all sorts of things, and your feed is being filled up with all sorts of things that potentially are good for the company behind that, but not necessarily great for you.

That really isn’t the internet that probably anybody realistically wants. It might be free and it might be on a gigantic global scale, but maybe it’s not in everybody’s best interest. So let’s hope that we don’t have the calamity that we have just described. I have this feeling that in some way we will figure out these wrinkles, but I share your concern that now is probably the time to tackle them and not let this problem get too far.

Before we hit record, we talked about this and we said that, really, we’re not in the game today of offering up any answers. We were just in the business of airing it, and stirring up this debate and seeing what came out.

[00:38:11] Marieke van de Rakt: Other people can come up with the answers.

[00:38:14] Nathan Wrigley: But that’s important. It’s true, isn’t it? Neither you nor I have the perfect solution. We’ve come up with a few things on the fly here today. But it would be good if anybody who had any intuitions around this, who had some novel idea that maybe nobody else has had before. Maybe you’ve tried something out in your company that you thought worked and would spread more globally. If somebody wanted to contact you, Marieke, where these days is the best place to keep this conversation going?

[00:38:42] Marieke van de Rakt: I’m on Twitter but it’s not called, no it’s called X now. I think that’s the best way get in touch. I’m not very active on Twitter but I do read it. So if you send me something there i’ll read it.

[00:38:54] Nathan Wrigley: And the fact you’re writing these posts every week, this is something which is dear to your heart. This isn’t a flash in the pan thing for you. You’re going to keep banging this drum in the days, weeks and months to come, right?

[00:39:04] Marieke van de Rakt: Yeah, I’m going to be talking about these kinds of issues and I hope that that’ll get the conversation started. People thinking about it, that would be good. And then we have a lot of new events coming up, I think, and then we’ll figure it out. I know there are a lot of people working on the same things, trying to solve the same problems.

I also think WordPress is too big to fall apart all of a sudden. So we’ll figure it out. I’m also hopeful, I’m an optimist.

[00:39:34] Nathan Wrigley: Marieke van de Rakt, thank you so much for chatting to me on the podcast today. I appreciate it.

[00:39:40] Marieke van de Rakt: Thank you. I had a good time.

On the podcast today we have Marieke van de Rakt.

Marieke was one of the co-founders of Yoast. She left Yoast entirely in May 2023 and is now focussing her energy on her investment company Emilia Capital (together with Joost de Valk). This is investing in various WordPress brands and ventures.

Marieke shares her insights on the current state of the WordPress community and the challenges it faces. She highlights the growing divide between those who prioritise community-oriented contributions and those driven purely by commercial interests. She expresses her concerns about the potential consequences if this division continues to widen, including the potential growth of other content management systems.

This issue is certainly worthy of attention, and whilst it might seem that the two sides of this debate are irreconcilable, Marieke offers potential solutions to these challenges. She emphasises the need for the WordPress community to unite and compete against other proprietary platforms. She suggests a more cohesive marketing strategy and collaboration to strengthen the community. She advocates for an official recognition system to celebrate and promote companies actively contributing to WordPress, although what that might look like is very much up for debate.

We also hear about Marieke’s experiences at Yoast and how they contributed to WordPress over the years, particularly during the development of Gutenberg. She discusses the importance of open-source collaboration and the need for companies to align with the project’s direction for the benefit of the wider community.

We also discuss the potential negative outcomes if WordPress becomes more commercialised, leading to a divide in the community, a divide which might be difficult to undo. 

We end by chatting about the importance of WordPress in democratising publishing, its benefits for the internet and the planet, and how, from Marieke’s point of view, WordPress is too important to fail.

If you’re keen to see the WordPress community grow, and have an interest in how internal divisions can be avoided and resolved, this episode is for you.

Useful links


Emilia Capital

Newfold Digital

Two Worlds of WordPress

On people breaking up with WordPress

WordPress Community Collective