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The Open Web, eCommerce and WordPress with Jonathan Wold

In episode 160 of our podcast, I chat with Jonathan Wold who is on the WooCommerce team at Automattic about the open web, eCommerce and WordPress.

Jonathan has a passion for this subject and I wanted to dig deeper into the philosophical aspects of it.

eCommerce and WordPress on the Open Web

I kept the questions open and broad so we could go in several directions. I wanted him to describe how he defines the open web and how it plays into WordPress and eCommerce. We looked at things historically, in the now and into the future. 

There were too many twists and turn to go over in this intro. So I would suggest you listen in to experience some great conversation.

What is the open web?

I define the web as a digital network of connections. We connect people with each other, people with ideas, with organizations, with causes. The open web then is the description of the ideal state of the web. So if the web is a thing, I suggest that the open aspect of it is what I believe we want.

It’s this idea that anyone’s able to access the web, that you’re not limited by geography, by device type, by connections. This is a sort of general principle, but we want the web to be as accessible as it can be to as many people as possible because it’s about connection.

The ability to contribute to the web, to be able to take your ideas and put them online so that others can access them, I think that’s an important concept. That’s a lot of what it was at the beginning. People connecting and then creating their things and sharing them.

The role of WordPress and eCommerce in the open web

Publishing can mean any number of things: we associate primarily with where it started. Blogging was sort of the first focus of that expression. eCommerce and what Woo represents. It’s the democratization of commerce, right?

eCommerce at its core, it’s that mission of, let’s democratize it. It’s focused on empowering the merchants themselves, the person who has an idea, they want to enable things that were never possible before. Someone out in the middle of nowhere with a little farm can connect with people who care about that thing they are selling. They are happy to buy it. They wouldn’t know that it existed otherwise.

I can go on eBay, but to have your own place on the web, there’s a big difference. Because the Amazons, the eBays, there’s not really others like them. They’re fairly unique. But these marketplaces are very much focused on the customers, the people buying and end up treating the merchants as commodities, right?

The open web historically

You could look at sites, copy and create stuff. Decisions were made that allowed possibilities that couldn’t be imagined. We saw some of that thinking carry into early projects. I don’t think most people who worked on WordPress early could even see what would happen today. Some of our most popular plugins didn’t anticipate ever being as big as they are, but sound principles and this focus on empowering people to create things. By its very nature you can’t really anticipate what people will create with it.

I think one of the things we’ve seen historically is with WordPress a key aspect has always been that focus on the nontechnical, empowering creativity. For someone who doesn’t have a development background. I think that’s been a key reason why it’s done as well as it has. And what has happened over time as the technology gets increasingly more complex.

What stands out now

Most people, this is true of WordPress and WooCommerce, don’t realize how big it is. You’ll hear some of these numbers and a lot of people haven’t even heard the numbers and your percentages of the web. It’s massive.

If you take this idea of thinking about it as an operating system, imagine waking up and realizing that the majority of your customers are using iPhones and you don’t have a presence. And with WordPress, this is especially true because a good integration with WordPress can make a night and day difference in the quality of the experience that the customers are having. What’s starting to happen is companies are waking up to that like, okay, a lot of our customers are here, we should serve them better.

I really think we’re in the early days of WordPress’s potential. The same with all that sort of builds, including Woo. We’re just getting started. There’s an incredible amount of momentum that’s easy to discount because of the nature of the project and the lack of big splashy things happening around it. But there’s a huge amount of power there.

The future

What I hope for looking through the lens of eCommerce is that we continue to make commerce on the open web more accessible and that we empower more creativity with that. I think as long as we keep going that direction, then that’s good for the project. And it’s also good for the open web.

If the empowering drops then I think there’s going to be a natural gravitation towards the closed platforms and the closed ecosystems which have their benefits but also a big downside. You’re giving up autonomy. What I hope for is a healthy tension between the open web and people who feel empowered to create whatever they’re going to create. These closed systems that are able to move quickly and innovate and provide value, I think it’s great. I love what they’re doing. I just don’t want to see that become the web.

We can’t anticipate all the ways in which people might create. I think it’s going to get harder and harder as these projects grow. It’s going to require a lot more effort and people doing some of their hardest work. And often times it can be thankless.

Where to find Jonathan

His website at

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