WordPress founder talks traffic, new features to Web 2.0 crowd

You have to hand it to WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. At his talk at today’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, he managed to be the first conference speaker to put up a picture of a LOLcat while actually tying it into what his company is all about.

The LOLcat in question came from icanhazcheeseburger, a notoriously popular site that rakes in a whopping 1 million unique page views a day. It also runs on WordPress.com, Mullenwag and company’s hosted blogging platform.

While the talk was classified as a “high-order bit,” which usually involves some subtle advertising, Mullenweg used his time to talk about how much the site has grown over the last few years, as well as a downright useful feature that will be available to blog owners next week.

The new feature, called “possibly related,” scans every post you’ve written and gives your readers a list of your other posts that might be of interest, along with links to other WordPress.com blogs that line up with the keywords or context.

If this sounds familiar, it is. The technology comes from Sphere, which WordPress has partnered with. Mullenweg said that it should give the 99.997 percent of WordPress.com blogs that are getting less than 10K page views, a little love from being a part of the network.

The new feature is also the company’s attempt to help solve the problem that visitors face when viewing a permalinked page from somewhere else, often leaving them at the whim of the blog creator and their linking abilities. Mullenweg explained it as a situation that usually has people leaving the page and not coming back. The company will also be tracking the click data and potentially make it available for other upcoming WordPress features.

“Possibly related” will roll out to WordPress.com users next week, as well as a plug-in for WordPress.org users who are hosting it on their own. The service is opt-in, meaning you won’t get listed on other people’s possibly related link dumps unless you’ve got it installed on your own blog. Mullenweg noted this was not only because of privacy, but to give people an incentive to add it to their blogs to get the reciprocating traffic.

Speaking of traffic, another takeaway from Mullenweg’s talk were the usage statistics over the past few years. There were just 2 million unique users of WordPress.com in early 2006. That number has since gone up to 168 million this year. Of that, a staggering 54 million come from the U.S. alone.

Part of the reason for the growth has been some mainstream blogs using WordPress.com, including Flickr’s company blog, The FAIL Blog, and the aforementioned icanhazcheeseburger.

Mullenweg’s “one last thing” was to show off was an upcoming theme called “chameleon” that will change the color scheme, and look and feel of your site based on what photos you post. Themes, which have become a veritable commodity with their own store have proven to be a huge success among WordPress.org users. This marks the first time a company theme has taken such a high level of automatic customization–something that third-party theme-makers have been making money off with their own efforts.

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