The Whimsical WordPress Experiment

Evan Roth and Matt Mullenweg collaborate to humanize and celebrate the act of publishing on WordPress.

At Rhizome’s Seven on Seven event, seven leading technologists were paired with seven leading artists for one day to develop something new. When artist, researcher and co-founder of the Graffiti Research Lab, Evan Roth, connected with WordPress co-founder, Matt Mullenweg, they agreed on the need to better humanize the online publishing experience with an “emotional plug-in.”

Throughout the discussion of their collaboration, the term “whimsical” was often mentioned as a shared term both experienced in their individual careers. Roth recollected having heard it from graffiti artists wanting to add a magical quality to their tagging; Mullenweg spoke of his WordPress platform as a rabbithole–leading to numerous possibilities and opportunities for its users.

The two used this notion as the basis for experimentation, and employed WordPress as their canvas with a new feature called “Surprise Me.”

The concept’s first feature, called “Humanized Stats,” quantified the seemingly infinite number of statistics that characterize the WordPress platform in a more recreational fashion. Combining WikiPedia facts and statistics from individuals’ WordPress accounts, users could better understand the significance of their publishing efforts. Example: You have 122,377 visits to your site, which is the population of Topeka, Kansas.

The Whimsical WordPress Experiment

The second feature, “Sacred Acts of Publishing,” sought to save the act of online publishing from becoming equivalent to “sending the bottle out to sea,” as Mullenweg described it. Instead, the individual act of posting something through WordPress should be celebrated and encouraging to each user– it should be reflected as a participatory imprint on culture.

That celebration came in the form of a random congratulatory video that would suddenly appear on the screen at the hit of the ‘Publish’ button: A basketball player slam-dunking with backboard-shattering glory or the legendary locker-room build-up clap from the movie “Hoosiers.”

The “Surprise Me” feature was posted late the night before the presentation, for the team to test reception and receive feedback from WordPress users. According to the New York Times, more than 11,000 people had decided to selected the feature on by the following afternoon.

Quite a magical experiment, indeed.

Evan Roth

Matt Mullenweg

Seven on Seven

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