Matt Mullenweg is one of the most recognizable names in Internet history. As the creator of WordPress, he has revolutionized the way in which websites are made. Estimates show that WordPress powers 25% of all websites on the Internet, which is an incredible feat. Recently, Matt's attention has turned to the domain name space as his company gets ready to launch the new .BLOG extension to the general public. NamePros.com's @Edward Zeiden had the opportunity to interview Matt recently, and below, we bring you the extensive interview that covers .BLOG, the origins of WordPress, and Matt's own domain name investments. The .BLOG domain extension was reportedly acquired by Matt's company, Automattic, for $19 million. Automattic is the billion-dollar company that is responsible for WordPress and other associated websites, plugins and software. Matt Mullenweg at WCEU 2016 NP: In the past, when asked why you purchased .BLOG, you responded that Google planned on purchasing it for a closed application, while you wanted to keep the Internet open and further democratize it. What are your thoughts on where you'd like to see the domain industry grow to help with this pursuit of net neutrality and freedom of speech? Matt: It's funny because domains, for all of their flaws, are the strongest bastion of the Internet right now. It's one of those things on the Internet that you can truly own; the closest thing to real estate and property rights. It's really the only thing that's going in that direction. You can't own your Facebook page or your Twitter handle. For all the flaws of ICANN, at least there are property rights and an ownership structure on domains, with a resolution policy. It seems that it's working better than anything else out there, and it's very much in line with WordPress' mission, which is to democratize publishing. We are all-in on domains, and we'll continue to be for the foreseeable future, because it's one of the few things that our users can truly own on the Internet. NP: Given WordPress' past experience with China's Golden Shield Project to censor the web, what type of presence do you believe .BLOG will have internationally in China or in other countries where there is limited freedom of speech? Matt: I don't think it's going to make an impact in China, because my understanding of their filtering and the things that restrict freedom of speech aren't really dependent on domains. I think they can filter on a page level; it doesn't have to be done on a domain level, or a TLD level. I don't expect .BLOG to be blocked; it'll be neutral. There'll be a lot of great sites on .BLOG. In terms of selling there, we don't have an official certification or local company in China, so we're not going to be personally selling, but of course it's open to wholesalers or people who want to do business there and who are able to do business there. NP: On NIC.blog, it says, "We expect to activate 250,000 names in 2016 and plan on long-term growth and high renewal rates.” How will you fulfill the 250,000 domain name registration target? Do you have a set marketing plan, structure, and pricing strategy? All of the above! We are, of course, going to be investing in marketing, and we're investing in making the roll-out and infrastructure side of it as smooth and friction-free as possible. We've been investing in getting high-profile .BLOG’s out there with celebrities and musicians. We've even started some publications in other parts of Automattic. For example, design.blog, which is lead by John Maeda, is putting out these amazing essays in the realm of design, design thinking and diversity, which are starting to show up in people's social media feeds and are getting a ton of traffic. A big part of it is making .BLOG known to people. There are many folks out there that will be selling .BLOG’s directly to their customers, whether that's web hosts, domain sellers or brand protection companies. An example of that is BlueHost.blog - one of the larger web hosts in the world has now moved their blog to .BLOG, and so they're using it themselves. We're excited about them as a partner. We have around 100 of the top domain registrars signed up so far, in terms of channel marketing, including nominet.blog, club.blog and hostpapa.blog. There are a few celebrities that are live already as well: justblaze.blog is one example. NP: With reports of some new gTLDs failing to perform well during the renewal phase, how do you plan on maintaining high renewal rates? Matt: By people actually using it! Particularly, with WordPress. If you look at any of the major hosts, typically half or more of their users are using WordPress. Part of that stat is that the great software allows you to have a really compelling site that gets traffic, serves your business, and is easy to update with new versions three times a year. Blogs are typically better sites on the Internet. They're typically maintained more, updated more, and more compelling to visitors. I think pricing will help too. We're very reasonable on the pricing, so people will be able to consider renewing. NP: I noticed that Automattic also owns LeanDomainSearch.com. Will it be adapted to help find available .BLOG domains? Matt: Of course! It's funny, but that service is something that almost no one in the world knows about, but whenever I talk to domain personnel they mention LeanDomainSearch! NP: Would you encourage domain investors to acquire and hold .BLOG domain names, or is your aim to see every .BLOG domain name being developed? Matt: We're obviously aiming for people to primarily use them, and that said, there's going to be some great domain names coming online. It is real estate, and for people who are sophisticated, I'm sure that many will make moves to get some good ones. I'm certainly going to try that as well, so I'll be in the bidding right beside you! Obviously, I think all of us agree that it's better when they're used. NP: How significant are domain name sales to WordPress' revenue, and do you think that will change over the next year with .BLOG? Matt: Domains are a major product for us today. That's part of our calculus in terms of making this big investment into .BLOG, and we wouldn't have made the bet if we didn't think that they could be much bigger in the future. NP: On a DNW podcast recently, you said that a .BLOG domain will retail between $20 to $30. How did you arrive at that price range? Matt: Pricing is really hard. I think it's a calculus that everyone goes through in this phase, where you want to find a price point where people take it seriously and you're not so low that they're attracting a ton of speculators, but you're not so high that you're out of reach of normal people. You have to find that happy medium where your partners can make money as well. I can't emphasize enough that this is really a partner business, so we want everyone that we work with to do very well in .BLOG. Blogging is a vertical, but a wide vertical. It's one that applies to every possible person, business or customer, so it's a little bit closer to a generic. Pricing is as much of an art as a science. Early indications that we've seen around reservations and people signing up have been very positive, so we're optimistic about how .BLOG is going to go. I'm looking forward to it being in general availability, because that's when we'll all see the numbers. NP: Will you be moving any of your own domains or company domains to .BLOG? If so, when do you expect those transitions to begin? Matt: We've already launched two of them: design.blog and data.blog. Obviously there’s matt.blog too! There are a few others that we have our eyes on. One of the things that we're considering once the domains go to general availability is having a few that we offer subdomains on. Right now, you can get a .wordpress.com subdomain. Now, obviously that name space is very crowded, so for our free users, we might be able to have a domain such as travel.blog so you may be able to get edward.travel.blog for free. That opens up our name space a little bit for the tens of thousands of people that sign up for WordPress.com every day for free. It also then gets .BLOG seen by everyone, so it serves the wider gTLD and WordPress.com. NP: What impact do you think WordPress will have on the entire gTLD space with advertising .BLOG? Do you believe that it'll create more awareness about the domain industry among people that usually don't know what domains are? Matt: I heard that 7% of all domains are now the new TLD's, which I think is very cool. I do believe that every dollar that we and our partners invest in getting .BLOG mainstream raises the tide for all the boats. The more people that have domains, the better it is for the independent web. We want to better the whole industry here. It comes down to getting people online in an independent way that's not dependent on one of these social networks. NP: How did you decide on the name WordPress initially? Matt: That name came from a friend of mine. I was in Houston, TX, and I would go to a blogger meetup, because blogging was still so small that all of the bloggers in town would get together once a month. There was a woman there named Christine Tremoulet. I was hacking on the B2 Open Source software, and one day, Christine called me and said, "I got it! WordPress." I liked it because it evokes the printing press and the spoken word, and I liked the storytelling aspect of it. She said, "I checked it, and the .ORG is available," so as soon as I got home, I registered it along with the .NET, and thus WordPress was born. For me, names are actually a blocker for launching something. VaultPress for example, when we didn't have a name, we didn't launch the product. Jetpack is another example where we had an idea, but until we had that great name for it, it didn't really coalesce, and the same went for WordPress. Full credit goes to Christine. All of the best names have come from friends or colleagues. NP: Does Automattic plan on buying any more new gTLDs in the future, and what do you think they will be used for? Matt: We currently have no plans for more gTLDs. We're 100% focused on .BLOG. Of course, we want to promote other new gTLDs, but I feel that we very much have our hands full: .BLOG on its own is a huge opportunity, so we just want to focus on that. NP: Which .BLOG domains will be reserved by the registry, and will you keep any for Automattic or Audrey Capital's future investments? Matt: There are those that are already live, so design.blog and data.blog, but I don't think we've 100% finally decided on which ones we're holding back. I do think we'll get a couple, but by and large, we're trying to get as many out to other people as possible, because we want to see them used. Success for .BLOG isn't just Automattic-related things using it. NP: Will you attempt to buy Blog.com to catch and forward traffic similar to what XYZ does with XYZ.com? Matt: No, I don't think it's needed. NP: What is your opinion of domain names as investments, and do you personally own any other valuable names? Matt: I have some and Automattic has some. I think of them like real estate, so we get some that are related to our existing properties. Sometimes we get them for areas that we might want to go into in the future. I do the same. Part of the thing I love about TLD's is the fun you can have with domain hacks. For example, my main blog is a domain hack: MA.TT (Matt). I love domain hacks, to be honest. I have a number of those. Some hacks include ze.st (zest), late.ly (lately), and I have some good .CO's such as fias.co (fiasco). They could be projects in the future, but we'll see. I probably have about 1,000 domains. NP: Away from .BLOG, you're a regular investor and adviser to startups. Do you advise startups on domain name acquisitions? If so, can you share any of those common recommendations? Matt: The thing that I've been recommending more lately is to use new gTLD's. Five years ago, I probably would have tried to help someone buy a good .COM domain name. So an example might be Harvest - a cool time-tracking software. They're GetHarvest.com. We're seeing a lot more of that. I think more of them should be using different TLD's, like a .WORK or a .XYZ or a .BLOG. It just opens up the space and people are getting pretty used to it. NP: How do you see the value and importance of .COM going forward? Matt: That's an interesting question relating to what I just said. If you're a startup or someone moving into the space, the new TLDs might mean you don't need to invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars into a .COM domain name. In some ways, I could see that as deflationary. I've never sold a domain, so I've never really considered all of the different variables. I buy and hold. -- Thanks to Matt for talking to us about .BLOG, WordPress, and his views on domain names in general. Thanks to our very own @Edward Zeiden for conducting this interview, too. Matt also told us that .BLOG is going to host a launch party at ICANN 57 in Hyderabad. If you are going to be at ICANN 57, you are welcome to join the party! This interview has been edited for length and clarity.