An App Store for WordPress

In the Benefits and Tradeoffs of Decentralization I wrote about WordPress’ nature as an open source operating system and the decentralized ecosystem that has grown around it.

WordPress as an Operating System has three key audiences:

  1. Creators – The folks who bring their ideas to life on the Open Web.
  2. Extenders – The folks who build tools and offer services that creators use.
  3. Hosting Providers – The folks who provide infrastructure to support and scale WordPress.

While each of these audiences enjoys the benefits of decentralization, they experience the tradeoffs and as WordPress grows those tradeoffs create more problems.

The Problems

For WordPress to continue to grow and succeed as an operating system, it needs to serve each of its key audiences well. Those audiences, though, each face a growing stack of problems related to WordPress’ decentralized nature.

For Creators

While they enjoy a sense of ownership and numerous options, creators often feel overwhelmed with the high volume of choices. They struggle to make good decisions with the choices available, resulting in frustration, stunted creativity, and a higher risk of leaving WordPress.

For Extenders

While they enjoy the benefits of a low barrier of entry and autonomy in development, extenders feel the consequences of low standards and struggle with the sustainability of the businesses they’re trying to create.

For Hosting Providers

While they enjoy the benefits of engaged customers and the associated investments into WordPress, hosting providers feel the pain of increasing support costs and shrinking margins.

Defining Success

My hypothesis is that the tradeoffs of decentralization can be mitigated, without compromising the benefits. To identify a potential solution to the problems of decentralization, let’s start by defining areas of success for each of the key audiences.

For Creators

We want to empower creators to bring their magic to the Open Web with WordPress. Accordingly, in context of the volume of options and the struggle to make good decisions, success includes:

  • Better Options – Make premium plugins, themes, and blocks with sustainable business models available to creators.
  • Better Decisions – As the number of options increases, empower creators to make better decisions.
  • Continuous Improvement – Keep making the Operating System better for creators, lowering the barrier of entry while expanding capability.

For Extenders

We want to empower the folks extending WordPress by increasing their efficiency and effectiveness in development and by supporting and facilitating sustainable business models. Accordingly, success includes:

  • Accessible Standards – WordPress offers a developer portal and Coding Standards. Give extenders tools and resources that make following best practices more accessible, especially for those new to WordPress.
  • Systematic Compatibility – Give extenders the ability to automatically test their code for compatibility with other plugins, themes, and blocks.
  • Better Distribution – Help extenders building businesses in WordPress get in front of a larger audience and offer them better options for engaging with that audience.

For Hosting Providers

We want to support the hosting providers supporting WordPress. As the size and capability of the WordPress ecosystem increases, so do the support costs and while there’s more and more creators investing in WordPress, it’s difficult to find ways to align with that investment. Accordingly, for hosting providers, I suggest that success includes:

  • Reduced Costs – If we can give creators better options and help them make better decisions while also supporting sustainable business models for extenders, we can reduce the support and infrastructure burden on hosting providers.
  • Increased Lifetime Value – As creators and extenders connect, there’s opportunity for hosting providers to be the facilitator of that connection and increase the lifetime value of that creator for the hosting provider.
  • Better Differentiation – If we can democratize more of the key pieces of WordPress infrastructure while reducing support costs and increasing lifetime value we can level the playing field among hosting providers and give them an opportunity to focus on better differentiation for the creators they serve. All hosting providers should be fast – better differentiation in my mind is value added that’s focused specifically on the audience they’re serving.

Introducing an App Store

WordPress as an Operating System needs an App Store, a centralized marketplace where creators can purchase plugins, themes, and blocks in a way that supports sustainable business for the extenders who build them and the hosts who facilitate the connections.

Here are my current thoughts on how it would work for each of the key audiences.

Creators

The App Store would be either pre-installed by their hosting provider or installed separately and sit as a layer over the existing plugins, themes, and blocks interfaces. It would offer:

  • Integrated Access – Creators would be able to purchase premium plugins, themes, and blocks right from within WordPress.
  • Better Results – A better ranking algorithm for search results that includes premium options and helps creators make better decisions, including compatibility.
  • Centralized Billing – Their payment information and purchases would be connected to a centralized “App Store” account, providing security and organization for their purchases.

Extenders

A centralized App Store can make developing for WordPress more attractive and sustainable for extenders, if it’s done right. I suggest that there are five key components to a successful App Store for WordPress with extenders interests in mind:

  1. Accountability – Ranking algorithms should be transparent and continuously improved in collaboration with the extender ecosystem.
  2. Minimized Costs – The transaction cost to extenders should be within 10-15%, including processing fees.
  3. Aligned Incentives – Sustainable business models should be supported and facilitated that align with the value and benefits of decentralized, open source software.
  4. Reinvestment – Profits should be reinvested into better tools and support for extenders and to improving WordPress itself for creators (which in turn benefits the extenders who serve them).
  5. Ubiquity – The majority of WordPress installations should have the App Store enabled, providing a scalable audience of creators for extenders to serve.

Extenders should feel that they’re working with a marketplace they can trust, that’s accountable to them, that succeeds as they succeed, and that continues to improve up to and beyond ubiquity.

Hosting Providers

A centralized App Store can reduce costs and increase the lifetime value of creators for hosting providers while also offering a foundation for better differentiation.

Reducing Costs

A centralized App Store could reduce costs for hosting providers in multiple ways, including:

  • Support Costs – Compatibility and security related issues are a significant source of support costs. By guiding creators away from resources with compatibility and security issues and equipping hosting providers with insights and objective references, the efficiency and effectiveness of hosting support can be improved and costs reduced.
  • Infrastructure Costs – Poorly written plugins and themes can lead to significant infrastructure costs. By guiding creators towards resources that follow performance best practices and facilitating alternatives for resources with known issues, infrastructure costs can be reduced.

Increasing Lifetime Value

A centralized App Store could increase the lifetime value of creators by providing revenue share on:

  • Purchases – For all purchases, including one-time and recurring, I recommend a 5% share of the total transaction be paid to the hosting provider, drawn from the 10-15% paid by extenders.
  • Advertising – For ads delivered to customers within the marketplace, I recommend a 70% share of the advertising revenue be paid to the hosting provider.

A successful App Store would also increase lifetime value by reducing churn to proprietary operating systems.

Better Differentiation

A centralized App Store, and all of its implications for extenders (including reinvestment in tooling and WordPress itself), would help level the playing field for hosting providers and allow them to focus on better differentiation.

Here are a few examples of leveling the playing field:

  • Shared data – Compatibility and security databases would be shared across hosting providers, mitigating the need for separate databases.
  • Shared resources – Tools developed and insights provided by the App Store based on ecosystem wide usage would be made available to hosting providers.

With shared data and resources, hosting providers can then focus their energy on the unique needs of the audiences they serve and optimizing the value that they provide in a way that plays to the strengths of a decentralized ecosystem and is much more difficult to match by the proprietary, fully centralized operating systems.

Conclusion

A centralized App Store, preinstalled by hosting providers, makes better options available to creators and can guide their choices in a way that increases the likelihood of their success and keeps them creating in WordPress, on the Open Web.

For extenders, a centralized App Store offers a path to sustainable business models and can provide accountability, aligned incentives, and reinvestment as it grows.

For hosting providers, a centralized App Store can help reduce support costs and increase the lifetime value of the creators they serve while also helping to level the playing field and empower hosts to focus on better differentiation against the proprietary platforms.

And for the ecosystem as a whole, a centralized App Store, built on creator choice, can help mitigate the tradeoffs of decentralization without sacrificing the benefits.

Next Steps

I just wrapped up a fantastic year and a half at Automattic (heads up, they’re always hiring) and this idea of an App Store for WordPress is what I’m working on next. Curious to learn more or interested in getting involved? Let me know!