Week in Review: Snapchat beats a dead horse

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it.


3d video spectacles 3

The big story

There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses.

The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses.

Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again.

Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative.

The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things.

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On to the rest of the week’s news.

tumblr phone sold

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change
    Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here.
  • Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs 
    The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here.
  • Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder
    This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle:
    [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission]
  2. Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued:
    [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google]
  3. Amazon has a little email mishap:
    [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders]

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public.

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

…How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves…

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

What will Tumblr become under the ownership of tech’s only Goldilocks founder?

This week, Automattic revealed it has signed all the paperwork to acquire Tumblr from Verizon, including its full staff of 200. Tumblr has undergone quite a journey since its headline-grabbing acquisition by Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo in 2013 for $1.1 billion, but after six years of neglect, its latest move is its first real start since it stopped being an independent company. Now, it’s in the hands of Matt Mullenweg, the only founder of a major tech company who has repeatedly demonstrated a talent for measured responses, moderation and a willingness to forego reckless explosive growth in favor of getting things ‘just right.’

There’s never been a better acquisition for all parties involved, or at least one in which every party should walk away feeling they got exactly what they needed out of the deal. Yes, that’s in spite of the reported $3 million-ish asking price.

Verizon Media acquired Tumblr through a deal made to buy Yahoo, under a previous media unit strategy and leadership team. Verizon Media has no stake in the company, and so headlines talking about the bath it apparently took relative to the original $1.1 billion acquisition price are either willfully ignorant or just plain dumb.

Six years after another company made that bad deal for a company it clearly didn’t have the right business focus to correctly operate, Verizon made a good one to recoup some money.

Aligned leadership and complementary offerings drive a win-win

Daily Crunch: Verizon is selling Tumblr

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress.com parent, Automattic

It’s been six years since Yahoo acquired the popular blogging platform for more than $1 billion. Since then, Yahoo was acquired in turn by Verizon, and now Verizon is selling Tumblr for what’s been variously reported as a “nominal” price and “well below $20 million.”

While it may be simplistic to peg the service’s declining value to any single decision, last year’s move to ban pornography has certainly proved disastrous. At least on the surface, Automattic and WordPress seem like they might be a better fit.

2. Snap introduces Spectacles 3, with two HD cameras and 3D effects on Snapchat

Snap isn’t giving up on its Spectacles hardware yet.

3. Postmates to drop IPO filing next month

Despite previous reports indicating the on-demand delivery company is seeking an M&A exit, sources close to the matter say Postmates is on track to complete an initial public offering this year.

disrupt sf

4. Announcing the Disrupt SF 2019 agenda

We’ve got a little something for everyone: Space chats with Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson and Blue Origin’s Bob Smith, a word from Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, a fireside chat with two of 2019’s big VC winners, Ann Miura-Ko and Theresia Gouw, as well as a rare chance to sit down with GV’s David Krane.

5. MasterClass founder launches Outlier, offering online courses for college credit

The classes cost $400 each and feature content specifically shot for online consumption (rather than your standard classroom lectures), with dynamically generated problem sets. And they come with credit from the University of Pittsburgh.

6. Singularity 6 raises $16.5M from Andreessen Horowitz to create a ‘virtual society’

The startup’s ex-Riot Games co-founders claim they’re less focused on building a button-mashing competitive shooter and more on creating a “virtual society,” where users can develop relationships with in-game characters powered by “complex AI.”

7. How lawyers help bring your acquisition deal to fruition

Attorneys can act as project managers, working with company executives and boards of directors, guiding them through the lengthy transaction process — and of course, advising them on the legal side of the equation. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress parent, Automattic

Six years after Yahoo purchased Tumblr for north of $1 billion, its parent corporation is selling the once dominant blogging platform. WordPress owner Automattic Inc. has agreed to take the service off of Verizon’s hands. Terms of the deal are undisclosed, but the number is “nominal,” compared to its original asking price, per an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Once the hottest game in town, the intervening half-decade has been tough on Tumblr, as sites like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and the like have since left the platform in the dust. More recently, a decision to barn porn from the platform has had a marked negative impact on the service’s traffic.

The news certainly isn’t surprising. In May, it was reported that Verizon was looking for a new owner for the site it inherited through its acquisition of Yahoo. Tumblr was Yahoo’s largest acquisition at the time, as then-CEO Marissa Mayer “promise[d] not to screw it up” in a statement made at the time.

Tumblr proved not to be a great fit for Yahoo — and even less so Verizon, which rolled the platform into its short-lived Oath business and later the Verizon Media Group (also TechCrunch’s umbrella company). On the face of it, at least, Automattic seems a much better match. The company runs WordPress, one of the internet’s most popular publishing tools. As part of the deal, the company will take on 200 Tumblr staffers.

Developing…

WordPress management site WP Engine acquires Flywheel as it moves to a $1B valuation and IPO

WordPress now accounts for 34 percent of all websites globally, and today one of the key companies that helps handle the creation and management of some of those WP-hosted sites is getting a little bigger through some consolidation in the wider ecosystem. WP Engine, which works with businesses to build and manage their WordPress-hosted sites, has aquired Flywheel, a smaller competitor.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, WP Engine’s CEO and chairperson Heather Brunner said in an interview, but she confirmed to TechCrunch that it involved her company raising a small round (amount also undisclosed) from its existing investors to help finance the deal. WP Engine’s investors include Silver Lake (which last year put a whopping $250 million into the company) along with WordPress developer Automattic, Silverton, GuidePost Growth Equity (formerly known as North Bridge) and Eric Ries (of “Lean Startup” fame).

Brunner also declined to talk valuation of WP Engine, although she noted that current annual recurring revenue is at $132 million, and that Flywheel’s is $18 million, and with a current growth rate of 50%, together the two are on track to make $200 million in ARR by 2020 and likely pass the $1 billion mark for valuation, en route to a public listing.

“It is our aspiration to build a public-ready company, and this acquisition is part of making that happen,” she said. (Ironically, that could mean that WordPress’s partner, and sometimes competitor, could go public before it does.)

The deal is a sign of some consolidation in the ecosystem that has built up around WordPress. WP Engine is a veritable powerhouse in that ecosystem, having been an early mover in the space — WordPress backed it back in 2011 — and now working on building and managing sites for some 120,000 brands and agencies in 150 countries (likely totalling multiples of that in terms of actual sites).

WP Engine, as Brunner describes it, focuses largely on mid-market and larger businesses, while Flywheel — founded and currently based out of Omaha — has focused on smaller businesses. That makes the two natural complements to each other, but Brunner notes that there will be more gained from the union.

“The team there is very product focused,” she noted. “They’ve built a suite that we feel has been focused around small agencies, but they are also the types of tools that larger agencies will benefit from.” She is referring to the product Local by Flywheel, a local development application used by more than 150,000 developers.

Flywheel, founded in 2012, had only raised around $6 million in funding, including a $4 million round several years ago. The economies of scale of throwing in its lot with WP Engine will give it a much wider exposure and access to new customers.

“We founded Flywheel with the belief that in order to help creatives do their best work, we needed to create an internal culture that encourages our employees to do the same,” said Dusty Davidson, CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, in a statement. “That philosophy has led us to build an incredible company and some of the most well-loved products in WordPress, supported by an impressive group of talented people and the most remarkable open source community in the world.”

WP Engine has made a few other acquisitions prior to this, of other partners in the WordPress ecosystem, marking it out as a consolidator in the field. Brunner noted that while some of the company’s growth efforts might lead it to further acquisitions, it is also pursuing a second track of working with third party partners and acting as the intermediary platform for companies to bring in other services in aid of running their sites. Partners in the WP Engine ecosystem — alongside WordPress itself, of course — include Amazon Web Services, Cloudflare, Google, HubSpot and New Relic, she noted.

WordPress management site WP Engine acquires Flywheel as it moves to a $1B valuation and IPO

WordPress now accounts for 34 percent of all websites globally, and today one of the key companies that helps handle the creation and management of some of those WP-hosted sites is getting a little bigger through some consolidation in the wider ecosystem. WP Engine, which works with businesses to build and manage their WordPress-hosted sites, has aquired Flywheel, a smaller competitor.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, WP Engine’s CEO and chairperson Heather Brunner said in an interview, but she confirmed to TechCrunch that it involved her company raising a small round (amount also undisclosed) from its existing investors to help finance the deal. WP Engine’s investors include Silver Lake (which last year put a whopping $250 million into the company) along with WordPress developer Automattic, Silverton, GuidePost Growth Equity (formerly known as North Bridge) and Eric Ries (of “Lean Startup” fame).

Brunner also declined to talk valuation of WP Engine, although she noted that current annual recurring revenue is at $132 million, and that Flywheel’s is $18 million, and with a current growth rate of 50%, together the two are on track to make $200 million in ARR by 2020 and likely pass the $1 billion mark for valuation, en route to a public listing.

“It is our aspiration to build a public-ready company, and this acquisition is part of making that happen,” she said. (Ironically, that could mean that WordPress’s partner, and sometimes competitor, could go public before it does.)

The deal is a sign of some consolidation in the ecosystem that has built up around WordPress. WP Engine is a veritable powerhouse in that ecosystem, having been an early mover in the space — WordPress backed it back in 2011 — and now working on building and managing sites for some 120,000 brands and agencies in 150 countries (likely totalling multiples of that in terms of actual sites).

WP Engine, as Brunner describes it, focuses largely on mid-market and larger businesses, while Flywheel — founded and currently based out of Omaha — has focused on smaller businesses. That makes the two natural complements to each other, but Brunner notes that there will be more gained from the union.

“The team there is very product focused,” she noted. “They’ve built a suite that we feel has been focused around small agencies, but they are also the types of tools that larger agencies will benefit from.” She is referring to the product Local by Flywheel, a local development application used by more than 150,000 developers.

Flywheel, founded in 2012, had only raised around $6 million in funding, including a $4 million round several years ago. The economies of scale of throwing in its lot with WP Engine will give it a much wider exposure and access to new customers.

“We founded Flywheel with the belief that in order to help creatives do their best work, we needed to create an internal culture that encourages our employees to do the same,” said Dusty Davidson, CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, in a statement. “That philosophy has led us to build an incredible company and some of the most well-loved products in WordPress, supported by an impressive group of talented people and the most remarkable open source community in the world.”

WP Engine has made a few other acquisitions prior to this, of other partners in the WordPress ecosystem, marking it out as a consolidator in the field. Brunner noted that while some of the company’s growth efforts might lead it to further acquisitions, it is also pursuing a second track of working with third party partners and acting as the intermediary platform for companies to bring in other services in aid of running their sites. Partners in the WP Engine ecosystem — alongside WordPress itself, of course — include Amazon Web Services, Cloudflare, Google, HubSpot and New Relic, she noted.

WordPress says iOS app bug exposed account tokens to third-parties

WordPress said it’s fixed a bug in its iOS app that inadvertently exposed account tokens to third-party sites.

In an email to customers seen by TechCrunch, the content management giant said it “uncovered an issue with the WordPress iOS application with how it handles security credentials.” The company has disconnected affected accounts from the app “as a precaution.”

The company’s Android app was not affected, nor were self-hosted WordPress installations.

Although no usernames and passwords were involved, the app in some cases inadvertently sent sensitive account tokens to third-parties.

These account tokens are small bits of code that allow you to stay logged into an app or service without having to enter your password every time. But if leaked or stolen, an account token can give anyone access to your account without needing your password.

After reaching out to Automattic, the company’s parent, we’ve gained some additional clarity. In short, the bug was found in how images were fetched from private WordPress.com sites hosting images by other sites. If a private WordPress.com site had a post or a page with an image hosted on Flickr, for example, the app would send along a WordPress.com account token to Flickr when fetching the image.

That’s not how it’s meant to work. That meant account tokens could appear in the logs of third-party companies, which could expose unscrupulous individuals to target WordPress.com accounts. That said, the risk to accounts is minimal and users shouldn’t be overly worried.

All WordPress iOS users with private sites had their account tokens reset — so there’s no need to change your password.

“Our engineers discovered this bug in the iOS app and we have no indication it was ever exploited,” said an Automattic spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch. “The first affected version was released in January 2017, and version 11.9.1 released on March 15, 2019 fixed the issue.”

WordPress didn’t immediately say how many customers were affected, but mobile insights company Sensor Tower said in an email that the app was installed 9.3 million times on iOS since 2012, with about 1.3 million installs last year.

Users should update their app as soon as possible.

Geoengineering could solve our climate problems if anyone allowed it

This weekend, I finished reading Oliver Morton’s The Planet Remade (thanks to reader Eliot Peper for recommending it). Morton has a multitude of goals with the book, but there were two I think are deeply valuable. First, geoengineering is a plausible approach to solving our climate problems this century, and second, engineering the climate generates tough policy challenges, but also opportunities to make the planet more equitable.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at [email protected]) if you like or hate something here.

First and foremost: the book is mind-expanding in the best way possible. Morton confronts an extremely contentious issue with judicious facts and supreme insight gleaned over many years of studying geoengineering. Whether you are a dedicated acolyte of cloud seeding and veils or a committed opponent to any tampering of earth’s environment, he has developed a book that forces us to think about our actions and ultimately what the consequences of those choices are.

Frankly, those choices offer stark consequences. Morton describes the challenge of climate this century:

The world’s population is expected to grow from seven billion today to more or less ten billion by 2100. By that time the number of people enjoying rich-world energy privileges should also reach ten billion. So the challenge is to achieve for an extra eight billion people in the twenty-first century what was achieved for two billion in the twentieth century. Meeting that challenge implies a lot more energy usage.

Morton is a staunch environmentalist and deeply concerned about environmental justice and the inequities of the planet. But he is also a “climate realist” — he understands that our current solutions to climate change are not really solutions at all, since they either lack the scale required to solve the problem, or will continue to exacerbate existing inequities between different people of this planet.

For example, take emissions-free nuclear power, which is brought up as a panacea to our fossil fuel-driven economy. Morton writes:

If the world had the capacity to deliver one of the largest nuclear power plants ever built once a week, week in and week out, it would take 20 years to replace the current stock of coal-fired plants (at present, the world builds about three or four nuclear power plants a year, and retires old ones almost as quickly).

Sure, nuclear power plants are a literal solution, but most definitely not a pragmatic one since the scale required is just not there.

He also spends significant time deconstructing recent climate negotiations, finding that the focus on carbon has been something of a red herring (many other emissions are far worse than carbon and less directly connected to the modern industrial economy). Instead, they have been driven by the alignment of different environmentally-concerned parties:

Carbon dioxide suited scientists because it seemed like a straightforward measure of the problem. It suited greens because it was a pretty good proxy for the industrial society against which their movement was a reaction. The international negotiations that set up the UNFCCC showed that it suited developing countries because it was primarily a developed-country issue; at the time of Rio, the vast majority of all the industrial emissions since the the eighteenth century had come from Europe and America.

Carbon is of course a problem, but it has become a tagline, a brand, a cri de coeur of the international climate movement. Yet the challenges facing the planet are so much deeper than just carbon.

To avoid that narrow focus, Morton argues for a complete reframing of the climate debate toward solutions that can actually repair the climate, and even improve it for diverse populations around the world.

Now, the term “geoengineering” brings with it a bag of Hollywood-induced imagery of nuclear winters and globe-spanning hurricanes. Morton addresses those risks across his chapters, noting that geoengineering can indeed go wrong.

Even so, he convincingly argues that there are geoengineering techniques designed around key climate processes that can be high leverage, reversible, testable, and that have the scale required to actually solve climate challenges in a sustainable way. These processes aren’t speculation — we (mostly) understand the science today, and have pathways toward the technology required to execute a strategy.

The real challenge — as it always is — are humans and their governments. Morton notes that climate change has a huge deleterious impact on nations such as Maldives, but that it can also benefit certain regions by transitioning them from colder to more temperate climates.

That means that any geoengineering solution is going to face the prospect of creating winners and losers. Any international agreement is going to have to contend with those politics, and design mechanisms to ameliorate their effects.

Much as Morton calls for a planet remade, he sees an opportunity for geoengineering to trigger reflection among governments on their own interests:

Much better, rather than treating geoengineering as a technocratic way of avoiding politics, to use it as a way of reinventing politics. Exploring the potential of geoengineering could spur and shape the development of a new way of making planetary decisions. The aim should not be the development of a thermostat alone; it should be the development of a new hand to use it.

Environmentalists may balk at the idea of allowing humans to have their hands on any part of the earth system. But we are here, all seven billion of us, and we already have our brutal hands on the system. The question is whether we can start to use our hands in a far more productive way that can make the earth sustainable for centuries to come. As Morton notes, “The planet has been remade, is being remade, will be remade.” Geoengineering technologies offer solutions, if we can agree in how to use them.

Share your feedback on your startup’s attorney

My colleague Eric Eldon and I are reaching out to startup founders and execs about their experiences with their attorneys. Our goal is to identify the leading lights of the industry and help spark discussions around best practices. If you have an attorney you thought did a fantastic job for your startup, let us know using this short Google Forms survey and also spread the word. We will share the results and more in the coming weeks.

Stray Thoughts (aka, what I am reading)

Short summaries and analysis of important news stories

Why Gutenberg can still recognize the book

Craig Mod wrote a compelling piece in Wired on the future of the book, and why today’s books essentially look the same as when the printing press was first invented. Despite the prognosticators expecting books to have moving pictures, interactivity, and dynamic narratives, almost nothing in that direction has actually occurred as readers continue to enjoy the traditional format. Instead, where the real innovation has taken place is on the business side, where new models from crowdfunding to email subscriptions have transformed the economics of book publishing.

Automattic’s Newspack to drive revenue for smaller publishers

While content management systems have been around for decades, almost none of these systems are designed to create revenues for their users out of the box. WordPress doesn’t have any subscription features or advertising networks built-in, which means that sites that want to make money have to spend a lot of dollars just to get setup and started.

So the announcement this morning that Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com, is going to offer a new platform combining content management with revenue called Newspack is both interesting and definitely needed. It’s a proper extension of their existing platform, and a reminder for product managers that the sustainability of their customers is critical for long-term success.

Huawei sales executive arrested in Poland

We have been following Huawei’s travails in the West for some time. One major point of contention is whether the company spies on behalf of the Chinese government. Western governments have argued that it does, but as China has repeatedly noted, they have never provided any proof.

On Friday in Poland, a Huawei executive was arrested for alleged espionage, which could provide the first public evidence of collusion between Huawei and Beijing. The company subsequently fired the executive and claimed that his actions were unrelated to the company. Poland has since called on NATO countries to remove Huawei equipment from their telecommunications infrastructure. Huawei equipment is widely installed in Europe and European governments have so far evaded calls by the U.S. to boycott the company. As the largest telecom equipment manufacturer in the world, Huawei’s response could have vast repercussions for the deployment of 5G networks.

PG&E – oh boy

Silicon Valley’s (and much of California’s) gas and electric utility is going bankrupt following massive liability claims against the utility due to its equipment sparking wildfires over the past few years. California may lead the world in innovation, but it seems to always be on the precipice of disaster when it comes to infrastructure.

What’s next & obsessions

  • I am reading The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
  • Arman and I are interested in societal resilience startups that are targeting areas like water security, housing, infrastructure, climate change, disaster response, etc. Reach out if you have ideas or companies here.

Google’s newest app Blog Compass helps bloggers in India manage their sites

Google has been heavily focused on serving the needs of Indian web users with the recent launch of apps like Tez for payments, Areo for food ordering, Neighbourly for communities, data-friendly versions of apps like Search and YouTube, and others. Now, the company is launching an app to serve the need of Indian bloggers with an app called “Blog Compass.”

The new app, now in beta, quietly popped up in the Google Play Store this week with a note that’s it’s “only available in India.”

According to its Play Store description, Blog Compass helps bloggers manage their sites and find topics to write about based on Google’s trending topics. These suggestions will also be based on the bloggers’ interests and posting history, it says.

The app also helps bloggers manage their sites by tracking their site stats, approving comments and reading through tips for how to make their blogs more successful.

It works with both Google’s own Blogger.com blogs as well as with WordPress sites. These are two of the largest platforms used by bloggers around the world. WordPress alone powers around 30 percent of websites, in fact.

Blog Compass feels something like an introductory app for those who aren’t as familiar with how the web or blogging works. That may be appropriate for an emerging market like India, where many are coming online for the first time by way of mobile devices, having skipped the PC era of internet connectivity.

However, as any old-school blogger would tell you, writing posts simply to cater to whatever is currently trending on Google is something of a traffic hack — and not necessarily how you want to build an audience for your site. Sure, it may bring you clicks as you chase one hot topic after another — but it’s better to develop your own voice and write what you’re passionate about if you really want to develop a relationship with readers.

On the Blog Compass website, screenshots show some of the sample teachings the app will contain. These include courses on things like getting started with SEO and analytics, for example. And, of course, getting your website listed on Google.

The app is simply designed, with navigation via tabs at the bottom of the screen for moving through sections like Home, Activity, Topics and Badges.

It seems the idea is to centralize a lot of the topic research and blog management overhead in a central place — something you can’t necessarily do with WordPress or Blogger’s own mobile apps, where the focus is more on using those apps’ publishing tools.

We’ve reached out to Google to ask for more information about its intentions with Blog Compass, including whether it intends to roll it out to more markets in the future, or if it’s been developed specifically for India.

WordPress.com parent company acquires Atavist

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and a few other things, is acquiring Brooklyn-based startup Atavist.

Atavist has been working on a content management system for independent bloggers and writers. With an Atavist website, you can easily write and publish stories with a ton of media.

You might think that this isn’t particularly groundbreaking as anyone can create a website on WordPress.com or Squarespace and do the same thing. But the company also lets you create a paywall and build a subscription base.

Many writers don’t want to deal with the technical details of running a website. That’s why Atavist gives you the tools so that you can focus on your stories.

Atavist is also running a publication called Atavist Magazine. The publication is also joining Automattic. It’s unclear if it’s going to be part of Longreads or remain its own thing.

The CMS itself won’t stick around. Automattic said that the publishing platform will be integrated into WordPress. And this is the interesting part.

While WordPress is probably a much more solid CMS than Atavist, it could mean that Automattic wants to start offering subscriptions and paywalls. You can imagine WordPress.com websites that offer monthly subscriptions natively.

30 percent of the web runs on WordPress. Many of them are open source instances of WordPress hosted on their own servers. But many websites are hosted by WordPress.com, including TechCrunch.

Subscriptions on WordPress.com is good news for the web. Medium abruptly canceled its subscription program leaving many independent publications in the dust. So it’s hard to trust Medium when it comes to providing enough revenue to independent writers.

Automattic could create a seamless portal to manage subscriptions to multiple publications. And this could lead to less advertising and better content.