Yesterday was the 20-year anniversary of WordPress, so it felt like a good time to share this story about the time I gave free webhosting to Matt Mullenweg.
Back in the late 90’s and early aughts, I was really into a little handheld computer called the PalmPilot. The Internet was different back then. There weren’t as many channels of information, and one of the carry overs from the pre-Internet were User Groups. I had created a couple of Palm User Groups (PUGs) and since building web sites was mostly done by hand back then, I saw a way that I could help so I created the International Palm Users Group (InterPUG).
The goal of InterPUG was to help other Palm User Groups get started, provided hosting (if needed), and raise awareness for finding members and sponsors. Anyone that was creating a PUG and needed hosting, we would host them for free and help them get started. What we offered was SUPER rudimentary compared to today’s standards. I’d setup an FTP account and email account and then coordinators would create webpages by hand and upload them. If you didn’t know how to write markup, I would recommend Teach Yourself Web Publishing With Html 3.2 in 14 Days. To give context, the book weighed over 5lbs!
Anyway, one day, I want to say 2000 something, a 16/17 year old named Matt reaches out to me. He is from the Houston area and says he wants to start up a PUG. I get his account created, give him his logins and everything and I distinctly remember him being very disappointed. It went something like this:
Matt: “There’s nothing here. What am I supposed to do?”
Me: “What do you mean? Just create an HTML page and upload it.”
Matt: “There’s no templates,? Or anything?!?”
Me: “LOL. No, nothing like that. If you know where I’d find something like that, let me know, but writing HTML isn’t hard. There’s this book…”
Matt was clearly frustrated that he had to write HTML by hand but he did eventually launch his site. We would chat now and again and I got to know him a little bit. He was into jazz and played the sax and I had graduated from LSU in trumpet, so we had some things in common beyond the PalmPilot.
He eventually got over his disappointment in my free offering but he kept looking for something that would make manging his web site easier. I remember him asking me if I had heard of this thing called b2. I hadn’t and I remember being confused by databases because again, this was all new stuff. Matt was clearly motivated and started a personal blog at http://photomatt.net using the software. I eventually figured out databases and started my own blog here with MovableType a year later in 2003.
One of the last chats I remember having with him was about PHP.
Matt: “I’ve been learning PHP, know anything about it?”
Me: “I know of it but I don’t know how to program in it or anything. Why?”
Matt: “I’m thinking of doing something with b2. The developer isn’t updating the software and I think I can do something with it.”
Me: “Yeah, good luck with that.” (eye roll)
I wasn’t dismissive but I defintely didn’t think there was much of a future in it. I wanted him to do well, of course, I just didn’t think it would amount to anything. Imagine my surprise when WordPress launched a year or so later and just took off. I mean it was like a rocket and has managed the web sites for most of the web for over a decade. Not only that but Matt also created Automattic, which is now valued at over 7 billion dollars.
I guess he found something with it.
In 2009, I did a post here on WordPress that somehow caught Matt’s eye and he left a very kind comment.
consider WordPress a belated thank you – Matt Mullenweg
If you’d like to learn more about the history of WordPress, I found an article from 2019 that provides a good summary.