Mike Isaac

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WordPress, Tumblr and Facebook: Threading Social Through the Blogosphere

Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider of Automattic, speaking at the Le Web conference.

For today’s blogging platforms, hosting a compelling set of publishing tools is no longer enough — you’ve got to get social.

That’s why sites like Tumblr and more recently Automattic — the 106-person company behind the powerhouse blogging platform WordPress.com — have taken steps toward better social integration, hoping to attract publishers who are looking to increase user engagement on their sites.

Take Automattic first, for instance. WordPress introduced a Facebook plugin on Tuesday, allowing for simpler integration of Facebook features across WordPress.com VIP clients as well as self-hosted WordPress sites. The plugin lets publishers cross-post WordPress content to Facebook Timelines, Pages and activity feeds, while also offering a series of improved widgets such as “Like” and “Subscribe” buttons, a Meebo-like recommendations bar and a Facebook-integrated comment system.

It’s a nice, enriching update that helps both sides of the reader/publisher equation. For one, it embraces “Facebook as Internet passport,” allowing readers to comment and reach content through existing Facebook accounts rather than signing in through a separate commenting system. And for publishers, content can spread further, faster; the plugin streamlines the process of pushing out articles to Facebook Pages and attracting a wider readership.

(Disclosure: AllThingsD is a WordPress.com client. I’m writing this post using WordPress.)

And it’s a much-needed feature set for WordPress, a platform previously criticized for being late to social. Despite having launched close to a decade ago, it was only last year that Automattic first introduced social features into WordPress.com. Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg previously told AllThingsD that the company was more focused on making WordPress into a richer, more general publishing platform than choosing to pursue social features initially, hence the tardiness.

As time wore on, however, WordPress weaved in and out of redefining itself, moving from blogging platform to full content management system to an application platform. While power users may have grown happy with WordPress’ rich feature set, the simpler, more accessible Tumblr quickly sprang up over that same period, making it easier for the layman to sign up and start blogging right away. In just five years, Tumblr has grown to hosting nearly 60 million blogs. WordPress, which has been around for twice as long as Tumblr, currently powers around 74 million blogs. About half of those are hosted by WordPress.com.

And since Tumblr integrated with Facebook’s Open Graph in April, their numbers are only trending upward. Tumblr saw 2.5x growth during the month after integrating with Open Graph, Facebook recently wrote in a blog post.

Caveat: Automattic expects to bring in $45 million in revenue this year, which flows from the company’s VIP service as well as site “power ups” and other products available for purchase. Tumblr’s business model could generously be described as emerging: The company just switched on its first paid advertising in May.

There are other winners. Facebook obviously stands to gain much from the new plugin, potentially allowing tens of millions of new blogs to funnel content into the Facebook newsfeed with the mere checking of a box inside WordPress. That means increased stickiness inside of Facebook which, again, makes for more — and potentially better targeted — ads served.

There are also losers. Disqus, long seen as a strong contender in the comment and moderation software space, could be seriously threatened by Facebook’s continued spread across blogs. Sites like TechCrunch switched to Facebook comments after years of being dissatisfied with Disqus. CNN and BuzzFeed also use Facebook integration.

But Disqus still has reach. It is currently integrated across 750,000 sites (including AllThingsD, by the way) and hopes to extend that further with a redesign expected in the coming weeks. To compete for publisher attention against Facebook comments, however, Disqus will most likely need to improve its existing social functionality.

Whoever wins or loses, one truth remains clear: You can’t get away with putting off social anymore.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google