The Copycat Stagnation


The WordPress ecosystem is rife with copycats and we're severely lacking a couple of unique ideas. Due to the popularity of WordPress and the obvious success that designers / developers and businesses have experienced in recent years, many more are flocking to the platform to make a quick buck. Which would've been absolutely fantastic for all those involved, except that these newcomers are not bringing much newness to the table.

In every industry where businesses have experienced significant success, you'll find a lot of "late-adopters" trying to get in on the gold rush. I believe that WordPress is still in its infancy as a ecosystem and as a result I think its a very viable decision for a newcomer to try enter the industry.

The supposed gold rush is most definitely not over and whilst the established players will continue to reap the rewards of being first movers, there is still space for newcomers to make a name for themselves. Yes, it is becoming harder and harder for a newcomer to gain traction when starting out, but it is most definitely still possible.

My problem is that none of these newcomers are bringing any new ideas to the table; instead they have preferred a strategy of emulating the success of the bigger players in the industry. At WooThemes we've often been amused at the varying attempts of newcomers to copy our brand / model / product strategy and yet we're still to be knocked of our perch. I don't say that in an arrogant way, but there's no way that Theme Company A can be as good a WooThemes as WooThemes itself will be. Uniqueness would've however served them much, much better.

To explain this in a non-WordPress context, I love the strategy that the so-hot-right-now flight search engine, Hipmunk, have taken since launch. When they launched, there were many similar services out there, yet they pulled the proverbial rabbit from a hat in tackling a known problem in a very unique way. They Hipmunk'd a whole industry as a result.

I think the whole WordPress community can do with more Hipmunking and less copying.

At WooThemes we've certainly tried to be first movers in a few spaces. Two of these that stand out (to me) are our contribution to the WordPress core with Menu's and all the work we've done to create Tumblr-like functionality in WordPress (which has been a bit of a passion project for me personally).

Another WordPress business that I think has achieved a similar level of first-moving uniqueness is Gravity Forms, which has truly revolutionized any kind of form in WordPress and become a must-have plugin for 99% of new WordPress installations. In a similar way, the "plugin + hosted service" model implemented by VaultPress or ScribeSEO is to be lauded for doing things differently (and being great at what they do of course).

These are the kinda ideas that I believe will add value to the ecosystem and continue to be a driver of innovation in the community. Copycats on the other hand simply dilute the offerings available, which in turn just makes the initial (purchasing) decision that much harder for inexperienced users.