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Updated: 10 hours 41 min ago

WPTavern: #6 – Cory Miller on the WordPress Mergers and Acquisitions Landscape

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 14:00
About this episode.

So on the podcast today we have Cory Miller.

Cory is likely well known to many of you, he’s been a big part of the WordPress community for many years. He founded, grew and sold iThemes and is now the owner of Post Status, which is a community dedicated to informing WordPress professionals and enthusiasts about the industry.

So the topic of the podcast today is the WordPress Mergers and Acquisitions Landscape, and it’s the perfect subject for Cory. He’s been on both sides of the equation having sold iThemes to Liquid Web in 2018 and then buying Post Status earlier in 2021.

When we talk about Mergers and Acquisitions in WordPress, it really seems to polarise opinions. Companies are being bought and sold on an almost weekly basis at present.

There are those who worry that we’re at a point where larger companies have bought, and continue to buy up, smaller businesses. They see this as a cause for concern; a concern that we’re in danger of straying into a future where a few big brands own ‘all-the-things’.

On the other hand there are people who see this as a sign of the maturation of the WordPress ecosystem. It’s a consequence of the success of the WordPress economy that smaller teams have a pathway to profitability, one in which the possibility of being acquired is an attractive option.

There’s a great deal to discuss here, some of it unexpected, and I’m sure that you’ll have your own opinions.

We try to tackle the subject by going through a list of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of WordPress Mergers and Acquisitions. We don’t attempt to cover every single angle, but we do try to look at it from both sides.

It’s great to get Cory’s take on the topic.

Nathan Wrigley [00:00:00]

Welcome to the sixth edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast all about WordPress and the community surrounding it. Every month, we’re bringing you someone from that community to discuss a topic of current importance, and this month is no different. If you like the podcast, I’d suggest that you ought to subscribe, and you can do that by going to WP Tavern dot com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. Use your favorite podcast player and click the subscribe or follow button. If you have any thoughts about the podcast, perhaps a suggestion of a guest or an interesting subject, then head over to WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the contact form there because we’d certainly welcome your input.

Okay, so on the podcast today, we have Cory Miller. Cory is likely well-known to many of you. He’s been a big part of the WordPress community for many years. He founded, grew and sold iThemes and is now the owner of Post Status, which is a community dedicated to informing WordPress professionals and enthusiasts about the industry.

So the topic of the podcast today is the WordPress mergers and acquisitions landscape, and it’s the perfect subject for Cory. You see, he’s been on both sides of the equation, having sold iThemes to Liquid Web in 2018 and then buying Post Status earlier this year.

When we talk about mergers and acquisitions in WordPress, it really seems to polarize opinions. Companies are being bought and sold on an almost weekly basis at present. There are those who worry that we’re at a point where larger companies have bought and continue to buy up smaller businesses. They see this as a cause for concern, a concern that we’re in danger of straying into a future where a few big brands own ‘all the things’.

On the other hand, there are people who see this as a sign of the maturation of the WordPress ecosystem. It’s a consequence of the success of the WordPress economy, that smaller teams have a pathway to profitability. One in which the possibility of being acquired is an attractive option.

There’s a great deal to discuss here, some of it unexpected, and I’m sure that you’ll have your own opinions. We try to tackle the subject by going through a list of the good and the bad of WordPress mergers and acquisitions. We don’t attempt to cover every single angle, but we do try to look at it from both sides. It’s great to get Cory’s take on this subject.

If any of the points raised in this podcast, resonate with you, be sure to head over and find the post at wptavern dot com forward slash podcast, and why not leave us a comment there?

And so without further delay, I bring you Cory Miller.

I am here with Cory Miller. Hello Cory.

Cory Miller [00:03:45]

Hey, Nathan. Good to see your face. And I know this is a podcast, but also hear your voice again.

Nathan Wrigley [00:03:51]

I don’t think Cory that we need to introduce you in all honesty, I think you are one of those people that goes with no introduction, but nevertheless, just in case there is a handful of people out there who’ve not heard of you before or come across you. Would you just take a moment to explain a little bit about your journey with WordPress and how come we’re chatting to you on a WordPress podcast?

Cory Miller [00:04:11]

Yeah. So my original start with WordPress started in 2006 as a blogger. In 2008, I started a company called iThemes. Ran that for 10 plus years, we did backups security and maintenance for WordPress websites, in addition to in the early days themes, thus the name iThemes. And then in 2018, we were acquired by Liquid Web. 2019 I started on my next chapter in my journey. Currently, I am the… I don’t know what my title is, but Post Status dot com is now I’m full owner of it. Brian Krogsgard, the founder, and I partnered up and then he is onto awesome stuff in the crypto software space. And I’m now the community lead, I guess, for Post Status, a awesome community of WordPress entrepreneurs and professionals.

Nathan Wrigley [00:04:59]

There’s an awful lot to unpack there, but regrettably, we don’t have time to go through the history too much. But what was highlighted there is that you have been through the very thing that we’re going to be talking about because we’ve got Cory on the call today to talk about mergers and acquisitions and whether this is potentially for the good or for the bad, whether there’s upsides or downsides. And let’s go back to your journey. I’m sure that things are different now, that is to say, I think things have hotted up since you sold iThemes, probably there’s a lot more paperwork going involved and a lot more scrutiny on how things are transferred and so on. But just wondering if you could tell us, what was your journey like, how did you come to sell iThemes? What were the reasons behind it? And what were the options available to you at the time that you sold iThemes? Were there people clamoring at that time, or was it very much we don’t know, people don’t sell things in the WordPress space. How did it all work out?

Cory Miller [00:05:47]

There had been a couple of acquisitions in the WordPress space, for sure, and I shouldn’t say a couple, numerous acquisitions in the space, but it wasn’t like the last year. Last year, the space has been on a tear with mergers and acquisitions, but there had been acquisitions before, in fact, at Post Status, we’re working on a page to document all that, the acquisitions that happened in WordPress.

So in 2016 or so I started to think, what does the future look like? It feels like one day somebody at all the hosting companies goes, I wonder how much this thing called WordPress, what kind of footprint is it in our customer base, in our stack and somebody came back and probably said 40%, 50% or something like that, I’m sure way back in the day. And it seemingly overnight a bunch of money and attention from particularly the hosting space turned to WordPress and rightfully so, I mean WordPress is a huge CMS and its footprint on the web is enormous. So around that time, I’m seeing all these players kind of come in and, big money, start to come in, and we’re talking about billion dollar companies or billion dollar valuation companies or companies with private equity in the billions coming into the space and really turning their attention, and I thought, my job as the leader is to fast forward the movie and see where we’re going and make sure, you mentioned in our pre-talk about Monopoly, the game Monopoly, and I thought, wow, we are definitely the David versus Goliath now. We’ve been bootstrapped from the beginning from 2008 on, and what does the future look like, and our toolset, the software we’re offering at the time, it was very utility, backup security, and maintenance. GoDaddy had bought Sucuri, ManageWP. Automattic was already kind of our competition from the beginning anyway, with Jetpack and at one point their backup service VaultPress. And so Jetpack is another behemoth out there. And, I just go, I think it’s time for us to figure this out, what’s the next step in a big way, and really that ultimately came down to being acquired. We had a partner in Liquid Web. So they were obviously the first people that had been partnered with him for like a year and really appreciated their leadership team. Eventually my friend, Chris Lema joined them and then my friend AJ Morris was the one that put us on the map for Liquid Web. And they were doing some, wanting to really do some big things and WordPress and long story short that just all worked out. But for us, it was like, at what point do you just need to pull up your stakes and tents and move on and see what you can get? And two reasons, one is financial, of course, but the other is my team. You know, we had about 25 people at that time and I want to make sure our team has a place to land and a great career, and that up until that point, it was either Matt Danner and I, and we had to leave for anybody to have upward mobility really well. When we joined a Liquid Web, at the time, they were like 600 people. So there was a lot of opportunity, career opportunity to move within the company. And they were also doing some great stuff. Now, maybe early in my worries, you know, Mark from Wordfence a great founder, co-founder over there told me, he said, great book called only the paranoid survive. I spent about 10 years in paranoia, like insecurity. But it was time it’s turned out to be everything Joe Oesterling and the C Suites team over at Liquid Web, everything they said to me, they have been to the letter of their word. I have really great respect for them. And so iThemes is under the leadership now of Matt Danner is killing it. There have been on the acquisition tear in the last year.

Nathan Wrigley [00:09:16]

It is amazing because I think there’s two sides to look at it. And we’ll explore that as the podcast goes on. There are the good sides and there’s possibly some downsides to this whole thing. And certainly from your perspective, it sounds like you had a really positive experience. You managed to hook up with a company who delivered on everything that you hoped that they would. So that’s great. But then of course, I suppose there’s the other side. The customer side, where there may be more concerns about, well, what does this mean for the product going forward? How is this going to affect the thing that I’ve deployed on all my websites? Will it still be maintained? Are these people good custodians and so on? So just to unpack this a little bit. Over the last, like you said, maybe a year or something, we seem to have a real landslide of things happening. There’s lots and lots of things, to the point where really a week doesn’t go by where there is some merger and acquisition news.

Cory Miller [00:10:07]


Nathan Wrigley [00:10:07]

Yeah. You follow this probably more closely than I do, but it’s happening every single week. And some of them are big names, some of them are much smaller names, but there’s a story there every week if you choose to go and find it. I’m just wondering if you think this is inevitable. And what I mean by that is, was this always going to be the case? A rising tide carries all boats. If WordPress is getting bigger, it’s inevitable, all the things which are supporting WordPress and are built on top of it are going to get bigger as well. Did you see this happening all over the place five, ten years ago? Or did you feel yourself to be a slight exception all those years ago?

Cory Miller [00:10:45]

No, no, no, no, no. 10 years ago I was just living my dream as an entrepreneur growing a business. Most of the time, just holding on to the runaway stagecoach and was just loving every day and every week and every month and every year of our journey. I had a five-year commitment when I started the business, because I knew I’ve been a career hopper since I was 16. I’ve had a job on average about every two years. Until I started iThemes. I knew when I started iThemes, I had to have a five-year commitment minimum just to get the bird off the ground? So when five years came up, I was like, well, do I want to renew and this is about that time that I’m talking about. And I was like, heck yeah, I want to re renew. I want to keep renewing these things. I worked with the most amazing people on earth. That were my friends and my coworkers who held my babies when they’re born, who’ve been in my house for dinners and fun times, and I got to meet their children, because we had a hybrid remote team. And so I just wanted to keep pushing renew, renew, renew, renew. And it was just at the point where I was like, I don’t know what the renew button looks like now. I probably got in a little bit of a dark space in my fast forward in the movie to the end, but no 10 years ago, didn’t understand the world of all of this M&A stuff.

But as I’ve come to learn, this is a by-product to WordPress’ success. That’s it. First and foremost, it’s a by-product that people would go there’s money here, there’s value to capture all that kind of stuff. And this is what’s called we’re kind of seeing it, it’s call it a roll-up that they say in that kind of a industry, the M&A kind of field. You’re just seeing right now, a big roll-up going on. Small players been scooped up adding features or customers or revenue and all that, but I just wanted to keep renewing until I thought, I don’t think my chances are very strong to be able to renew, was concern for all parties involved.

Nathan Wrigley [00:12:31]

The thing that I find curious is that I was in a forum the other day, and we were talking through this exact topic. It was a real split. Essentially the conversation was fairly polarized. It was, is this a good thing that we’ve got all of these acquisitions? Is it a bad thing, you didn’t really get to sit on the fence? You were either going to be one or the other and the people on the, this is a good thing side really were talking about the fact that this is what happens. This is a maturing thing. When an ecosystem, an area of business matures, this is what goes on. There is a coagulation that the people who’ve been successful, the people that have got the money to buy things, they go out and they shore up the offering that they’ve got. So that was the one side. This is just maturation of an industry. And then on the other side, there were the people who didn’t see it that way. And they saw it more as it’s just the big guys getting bigger, and there’s concerns there because that’s going to stifle all of the competition and we’re terribly concerned about whether or not things that we’ve been built with dedication and heart and by an individual are going to be consumed and they’re going to lose their focus and they’re going to lose their way. So it really split either way. And because of that, because it was so split, I decided that we’d take the podcast in that direction and we’d talk about the good bits and the bad bits. So let’s go with the good, let’s start with all the good things. And I actually think the good list, I was able to come up with more good things than bad things, not many more, but more, some of them really unexpected to me.

So first of all, If you want to espouse all of the things that you think are good, and then I can do my list or I can do my list, and then you can tell me whether or not you agree with it. It’s entirely up to you.

Cory Miller [00:14:15]

Before we dive into that, I wanted to say, if you pushed me to say yes or no on it, I’m very conflicted. Given a broad statement, I’m very conflicted. And I started to parse out, is it good for the platform, WordPress? Is it good for the entrepreneurs in the space? Is it good for the people doing the acquisitions? That’s a firm yes. The firm yes is for the people acquiring. This is a great thing for the people acquiring. Because of WordPress’ success the entrepreneurs that have built and help build WordPress to what it is today. I’m talking specifically the service agencies, the freelancers, the users, the people that built products like me and my team and others out there that have really contributed to the success of 40% or whatever the footprint is to WordPress today.

That’s been a significant contribution by the commercial community, the Post Status type tech community, the people of WordPress. So I wanted to say that first cause I was like, oh, that’s interesting, if you forced me to pick, I’m really conflicted. But if I parse out some of those, I’m like, okay, maybe I can share. It’s still a yes here and a no there, yes here, on each audience. So all that to say, you go with your list and we can talk to you that for sure.

Nathan Wrigley [00:15:25]

Okay. So this list in part came out of conversations that I was having with people who had been in the middle recently of acquisitions, and some of them were unexpected to me. I couldn’t have worked them out myself. So imagine you’re working in a company, a small company, much like you had at iThemes, 25 employees. Curious thing, better working conditions came out. So that is to say that the people working at the small company are now working at a big company and they were able to make use of all sorts of things that weren’t available to them. So that might be heathcare.

Cory Miller [00:15:59]

Yeah, I would reframe the phrase, working conditions to benefits and the worker benefits, absolutely, at least in my case. Way better PTO policies, way better health insurance. I’m still on Liquid Web, we went on what’s called Cobra because my wife worked there before we were acquired, by the way she’d worked there three or four years or so. And then when she left last year to start Content Journey for her business, we continued on with Cobra. I’ve been on Liquid Web health, probably five years, I think, five years now, I want to say. And so absolutely. And most of the other ones, yeah, they can do it at scale. So, yes.

Nathan Wrigley [00:16:35]

Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know why the word conditions came into my list of there, but yeah. So job security. Better healthcare and… the UK, we have a different healthcare system and it doesn’t require quite so much money up front if you know what I mean? So those kinds of things don’t matter.

Cory Miller [00:16:50]

Ah, so jealous.

Nathan Wrigley [00:16:52]

Well, yeah, health insurance and so on. But then, more of the nuts and the bolts. There’s obviously more resources to throw the development of the project, because it may be the developer of a particular project. Maybe they were a solo person, or maybe they were working with a small team and they’d reached the end game of what it was that they felt that they could achieve. That really, they were running out of runway. They’d run out of inspiration, perhaps they were fed up with it and it gave them an opportunity to hand it on. Maybe they’re going to carry on the journey. Maybe they’ve been acquired as a part of the deal, but it gives them more people to talk to more ideas and more resources to update their plugin, theme or whatever it might be.

Cory Miller [00:17:32]

I would say yes, with this caveat, is the direction is no longer in the hands of the original founder, entrepreneurial team, always, there’s new owners, they get to decide what the direction is. That’s why you got to be really careful what you carve out in your agreements. But, it’s a new owners. Yes, I would think for sure, like us going to Liquid Web, we had the resources of a hosting company who owned their own data centers. I want to say that again, hosting company actually owned their own data centers, which I had set foot in and go, wow, this is kind of rare in today’s age. So that was exciting for us because we’re like, what would happen if we could control the server hosting environment. Wow. Okay. That’s awesome. So, yes, I think in theory and most what I’ve seen in practice, absolutely more resources in terms of team products, money, even to fund.

Nathan Wrigley [00:18:26]

Yeah, I guess everything that we raise on one side probably has a flip side, but in this case, I think we can easily understand and pass the good side of that. The other thing of course is that if you bring along your product or service, just to keep it simple, let’s say that you are a plugin developer and you brought along a plugin, then you are rolling into a bigger ecosystem of plugins. And so it becomes a more desirable thing. So from the end user’s point of view, my point of view, if I can subscribe to one subscription service and get four or five different plugins all rolled into one. That’s a real benefit for me. I’m getting them from one vendor. I’ve got one support channel, one price to pay. And I don’t have to worry now about those three or four different plugins, which I’m hoping will cobble together and make my website work perfectly. They’re now being managed by the one team. And so there’s something to be said about the fact that it’s all getting rolled in and you might have just one subscription. I mean, obviously you tried to do that and succeeded with that at iThemes, you had a whole bunch of stuff going on, loads of different things and having them all under one subscription was a great offering. And the bigger that subscription gets in the more things that you can feed into it, the better it is.

Cory Miller [00:19:38]

Yeah. I think the team that probably does this the best that I’ve seen is Syed and his team over at Awesome Motive, which has brands of Optin Monster, WP Forms, Monster Analytics, all that. I don’t know if I see a lot of cross selling going on, but I see them being able to take products and promote to an ecosystem to expand that. You’re right, at iThemes we call it the Toolkit and it was like the treasure chest. I don’t know if you ever get to a dentist’s office, and there’s this big treasure chest, like a pirate treasure chest. And after you get your teeth cleaned or whatever you did, you can go and dig through that. And that’s the way I thought about our toolkit. If I fast forward the tape, I want to see a company within the space actually do that.

I don’t know if I see that right now, one subscription to rule them all kind of thing. I get hosting. I get my plugins, maybe themes in there too, but really, hosting and plugins. I want to see a company doing that. Maybe if we get close to that is maybe Jetpack, where they bundled security and backups and maintenance. And now they’ve got these, in their whole ecosystem. Jetpack just rolled out their own mobile app. That’s really interesting to me where it’s like one price, because here’s the problem. Nathan, you’ve seen this, you know this. Wix, Weebly and Squarespace, when I first started back in 2006 with WordPress and in 2008 with iThemes, we could gobble up all this, what I probably think of as the lowest end of the market, the ones that I just want to buy hosting for five bucks a month, they want to get a domain name and cobble their site together and do it for under a hundred bucks a year or something like that. Wix Weebly Squarespace came on the scene. I can’t remember what it was. I want to say 2013, 14, 15, somewhere around that maybe, and started eating at that bottom level. And now as WordPress has gotten more complex and maybe the dashboard hasn’t been updated as much as it should have been, Wix, Weebly and Squarespace come in and just provided this complete ecosystem for one price.

They don’t have to go over here and buy a theme or plug in and pull it in, separate recurring fees and all that stuff. I don’t have to worry about updates because it’s SaaS and they started eating at the bottom of that. Now that affected our theme business in a big way. And that’s a dynamic I’d love to see like awesome motive can pull it off. GoDaddy can, they’ve made some huge strides with their onboarding. It is pretty dang incredible. I think WP Engine has with their Studiopress acquisition is starting to do some of this, pull it in, into their ecosystem. Liquid Web for sure. Now they’ve rolled out Stellar WP, which is basically their brain for all their WordPress products, but I want to see it. I want to see it. I don’t have to have 15 subscriptions, I can have one. Now somebody smarter than me, with financial engineering is going to have to do all the math and see if that plays out. But I want to see it as a user.

Nathan Wrigley [00:22:24]

I feel that that’s the inevitable direction of travel and we’ll come back to that because I think possibly that has negatives as well as positives, but yeah, good point. Although the promise of one subscription is a nice one. We don’t appear to have that.

Cory Miller [00:22:38]

You mentioned, here’s a subset of this whole conversation is WooCommerce itself. WooCommerce is a platform in itself, even though it’s technically a WordPress plugin and all that. But its footprint is enormous. It’s the default defacto software e-commerce software on the planet and it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. But if you have five ad-ons, you could probably go through the store to do that. Again, somebody had done initially when they rolled everything together, it’s like how much you would spend on a WooCommerce store. I have any commerce operation I’m partnered in called the vidibars dot com [?] And it’s my first physical product and stunt months it’s Anna’s who runs it, CEO, but we are not going to go with WooCommerce, we’re going to go Shopify. We were started on Big Commerce. Because I didn’t want to handle the tech stack. I’m not a developer. I might seem sometimes like one second at a, you know, a whole interview that I know what I’m talking about, technically, but I wanted to relay all that over there. I didn’t want to have to worry about separate plugins and updates and potential car crashes. I wanted SaaS for that. So we went Big Commerce, now we’re going to move over to Shopify soon, and it’s probably going to be cheaper than tagging those together. I think WooCommerce is fantastic, but that’s this result of now one company can controls the ecosystem too, which it has all along, but, you start add up these separate things and it’s quite a bit of money.

Nathan Wrigley [00:23:58]

Yeah. So a good example of that would be Stellar, who just recently acquired Iconic. So they’ve obviously got the hosting side taken care of, and now they’ve got Iconic WP, which is a suite of WordPress plugins specifically for WooCommerce. You feel that that could become an interesting rival for something like shopify in the e-commerce space because you know that those plugins are going to work. Hopefully they’ll maintain them. They’re going to sell it as a part of a package. Presumably the support will go with it as well. Just feels like that could become a one subscription rival. And then of course you’ve got companies which are still independent, people like Yith and so on, who knows maybe by the time this goes out that have been bought. But for now, it remains by itself.

Okay. That’s intriguing. The other thing which occurred to me is still on the good, is innovation. The ability to innovate, and grow things. Obviously, if you are a solo developer, you are probably hands down, writing code most of the time, your ability to market is going to be constrained. And I actually see this quite a lot in other things that I do. I get quite a lot of email from people who have been building their own plugin. They’re simply asking for a bit of advice and a bit of help. And can you assist me in marketing this and you feel that the quickest way to do that would be if it was sold and then the company who have all the chops, they have a marketing department, they could do that on your behalf. So I saw that as another possible area, the ability to grow it, market it, and just push it out in front of more.

Cory Miller [00:25:29]

Yes. If the leverage all, when you pull in, let’s say in your latest example, Iconic. Pull their customer base and then be able to share that with the Liquid Web, Nexcess customer base. That’s awesome. Fantastic. Yes, absolutely. From an innovation standpoint, I will say my commentary on it and you probably have bad where I can say good or whatever, but my thoughts are, you and I root for the little guy, the David or the Sally or whatever, we root for the entrepreneur. I think today, capitalism or entrepreneurship, the ability to go out there, make money by innovating and serving people and their problems. Now I subscribe to the mantra of purpose plus profit is awesome entrepreneurship. It’s not just profit. Profit shows, we’ve seen so many weak, terrible examples of people bulldozing other people to just make a buck. I don’t believe in that kind of entrepreneurship, but the real awesome entrepreneurship when you want to innovate to serve someone’s need better, make their life better, that kind, I bet on all day, every day, because that’s where I think innovation comes. Not to say that innovation can’t come from any of these companies. It can and does, and will like, for instance, in 2015, 16, maybe, people they’d ask me, do you think someone can start a theme business in 2016, 15, 16. And I was like, no, I don’t think so. I think the likelihood is very small that would be successful. And then you had companies like, even though they’re, I guess technically a plugin, Beaver Builder. You had Elementor, even though those we could nuance that and say their plugins and all that stuff, they innovated in the theme space. And I was like, nope, it’s done. But see there again, entrepreneurs will prove you wrong. They’ll show, I’ve got an idea, I’ll execute on the idea and innovate for my customers. And I did look at those two companies, Elementor is gigantic. They are a platform in itself just like WooCommerce is a platform within a platform, but they’re a platform. So I think innovation happens in the spark from entrepreneurship, but that’s my comment there. It will happen at the bigger companies for sure.

Nathan Wrigley [00:27:42]

Maybe it starts with the smaller companies, that seems to be my experience, certainly over the last 10 years, is that the real fascinating innovation is happening on the solopreneur side or the small team side. And then I wonder maybe it gets stifled a bit, but certainly from a marketing point, you’ve got the opportunity to spread your message wider. That’s interesting.

Cory Miller [00:28:03]

This comes back to our discussion. Overall, our theme is M&A, and let’s take a company like Apple. Huge. I mean, insanely profitable on that. The one I think about a lot is Shazam. It started out as an app on the platform where you could hear something, push the button and like me, this is how I learned, finding music is like, I would Shazam it and it would tell me what the song was and then I’d go buy it from iTunes.

Well, Apple at some point goes. Wow, this app is big, they have technology we want. I don’t know if Apple actually acquired them or how. I think they eventually did. And I don’t know what the details were, but think about that big company like Apple known for innovation takes a smaller startup, pulls it up into their platform. That’s a great example of how M&A can work, where the smaller people, the innovation labs known as entrepreneurs in my mind get snapped up by the bigger one, that’s harder sometimes to innovate on a large scale like that and pulled in and done that. parts of iThemes we’re a strategic acquisition for Liquid Web in that we had iThemes Sync, which does software updates, theme plugins for wordPress websites from one dashboard. They wanted to do that in their product. Cool. Now they got to do that with that product. So connecting that back, you see how there’s an natural progression of flow, where an industry like a WordPress starts, at least entrepreneurs innovating, putting products out, making money, and then big money comes in and goes or big companies, whatever, and I was like, wow, let’s see what we can do. And they start to pull these pieces in. Like Iconic WP. That is a great product set. I know James, he’s a member of Post Status, talk to James. I love his products. That’ll be a great add on to whatever WooCommerce hosting that Nexcess – Liquid Web has, you know, to accelerate, I guess, is the word, accelerate their technology.

Nathan Wrigley [00:29:50]

The big companies, which as you say are often hosting companies, they get to fill in the gaps as well with their offering. You just described Shazam, it’s a perfect way of Apple making more money because you discover it and you go and buy something off iTunes. Nearly said iThemes then. And so it just fills in the gaps. You can acquire things where you feel that you want to be going in this direction as a bigger company, but you don’t have that technology, build it yourself, or just buy it out from somebody who’s already built and on 90% of the hard work that you need.

The other option of course, is just from the point of view of the developer, they might want to just move away. They may just wish to have a slightly different life. They want to stop what it is that they’re doing and having a bulk injection of cash very quickly and suddenly being able to take a breather and reevaluate what it is that they want to do with their lives. I know that’s a bit of a peculiar one, but I’m sure, maybe there was a bit of that with what you were doing at iThemes.

Cory Miller [00:30:40]

You mentioned that in our pre-talk with Elliot Condon, from Advanced Custom Fields, that’s the stories. I don’t know him personally, but everything I’ve heard and saw written about it was he wanted his startup baby to go to a good company. And it did with Delicious Brains, and Brad Touesnard over there is fantastic, and this whole team. But Elliot was ready for a next chapter and whatever that is, he was ready for the next chapter. When I was going through mine, I will not say Nathan, consciously, it was like, I’m ready for my next chapter. I was really in, oh, wow, we got to figure this out. I got to transition our team, make sure they’re taken care of. I want to pull value out of the business, that’s my 401k. That’s my nest egg, was the business. And so all those things needed to happen, but I’ll tell you now what, three years after it, I needed a kick in the butt for my next chapter, I would have kept pressing renew and what had happened to me and here’s the downside for entrepreneurs is I put, at some point you experienced some success and you’re like, oh gosh, this was tough. Maybe I just want to sit back and enjoy the ride for a little bit. But what happened was I put my career, my skills on autopilot and didn’t really grow some key skills, cause I didn’t have to. What the acquisition did, and when I left was actually put me in the box of like no other torch, you got to. I didn’t get live on a beach forever money. And I didn’t, I don’t want to live on a beach forever. I want to work. I want to do things that makes people’s lives better. And in this thing we call video game, we call it entrepreneurship, but I’ll tell you, in retrospect, looking back, I needed that, even though I hated, I still miss my team, I still miss my friends. I still get to talk to some of them, but I’m like, I miss those people. They were incredible people. They still are. That was the biggest pain of that. The other probably secondary was identity, and, what am I going to do next? I didn’t have a plan B. I put all my eggs in one basket.

Nathan Wrigley [00:32:38]

It’s just a great option though, isn’t it? You mentioned Elliot in that particular case, if those were the thoughts going through his head, he could either just walk away from it, and let the product stagnate, or he can move it along to somebody that he, in his case, like you said, Delicious Brains, trust them feels that that’s a perfect place for it to go. He’s happy. It’s going to have a good future. Millions of people are using it and they continue to be happy, but also he gets to do what he wants, which is to take a bit of time out and have a bit of a change of lifestyle, which is really nice.

Okay. That’s my list of goods. I don’t know if you’ve got any that you feel we missed, but we’ll move on to the bads if you don’t.

Cory Miller [00:33:16]

No, let’s go.

Nathan Wrigley [00:33:17]

Okay. Let’s do the bads. One of the things which I fear in all of this is the stifling of competition from it. So you get to the point where a particular product has so much reach. It’s got so much marketing clout, they’ve got all the money to spend on the advertising of it, and it just becomes… there is no competition. The other thing which I’ve seen happen, I won’t mention any names, but people who have the money simply buying out the competition and then just letting it go to waste. They literally take out the competition with money so that their own product is the last man standing for want of a better word. So I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, but that was one negative.

Cory Miller [00:33:58]

Your competition is a very valid point because what happens when there’s only four players, right? Which, it may be like four players in a couple of years, four or five, maybe, I don’t know. And that’s a very fair point that you see these entrepreneurial companies like us. We’re scrappy. Every day, we felt like we had to wake up and earn our right to continue to serve our customers because we’re not hugely funded and got all the steam in the world to own it. We were ultimately building on another platform and actually two platforms, WordPress and hosting. Whatever the hosting company they were with.

So I think that’s a very fair point, like competition, where you kind of seen that within the managed WordPress hosting industry, look at all the different players. And I won’t say about names cause you know them all, but go and just research and look at the prices and the feature sets. They’re pretty similar. I know because about six months, eight months ago, I was looking for managed WordPress hosting. I was dismayed. So you see that where I’m not saying there’s collusion or anything, but you go, well, there’s just this many competitors. They’re going to all look at each other and see how they can co-exist and outmaneuver each other.

But I fundamentally believe even though I hated us as an entrepreneur, Nathan, I’m never going to tell you otherwise I hate competition as entrepreneur, but it is absolutely essential, for entrepreneurs for our customers because without competition, you’re absolutely right. So they’re going to be in a monopoly and then you can force any changes out that you want.

A great example of this is Google. They are dominant. And from the beginning I’ve been saying like a broken record, their thing was don’t be evil. Well, I want to have a sign up that says Google… remember… don’t be evil. Remember this are you straying against this, but that’s the pressure we put within the environment because all those publicly held companies have stockholders to satisfy that stock price, they manage religiously because it’s part of their job security. And unfortunately, this is a system we’ve created is that they’ll keep pushing down and ultimately become about money. It’s a big cycle that I’ve seen that I just baffle at. Down here at the bottom, you got people that have 401ks., Like I had at Liquid Web and my team had it and iThemes and all that. Right. And that gets invested into the stock market and you want it to grow. You expect it and demand it to grow. Well, on the other side of this equation are the people that are at these big companies that you’ve invested your nest egg into you. And what’s the message out? Go increase value, make sure it’s whatever percentage, year over year, quarter over quarter, all that stuff.

And it’s a vicious cycle where then they push it back down to the same people contributing to the 401k to say more money, more money. We got to have this money. It’s a crappy viscious cycle. Back to your competition thing. That’s part of it. I think competition is good for the space and ultimately for the user, particularly the WordPress user, you got my diatribe here.

Nathan Wrigley [00:37:10]

No, no, that’s good. It’s a pleasure to hear it. I guess the flip side of that might be the country argument may be that in a vacuum where the competition has been basically bought up, possibly stifled. The vacuum creates the opportunity for the next round of people who suddenly want to fill up that vacuum with their own plugin, keep saying plugin, it could be anything, but we’ll go with plugin.

So, okay. All of the decent things, decent plugins in the WordPress space have been acquired by these large companies. Now there’s space, now I can come in and pivot and of course the question is, whether you’ve got the nouse to compete against the giant marketing budgets, but yeah, Google was a great example. It became something gigantic. It became the incumbent. And at some point there’s no choice left. If you want to have a decent search, they seem to be the way to go.

Okay. What about this one? The fear that licensing or terms and conditions that you signed up to, maybe changed. So a plugin is acquired by another company. You’ve got it as a WordPress website builder or developer, you’ve got it on 50 sites spread around the internet and it works, and you read through the terms and conditions. You know what you’re expecting, you know, what your license fee is, you know, the tier that you’re on that fear that whoa, hang on. This is all going to change. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. All of my websites are in jeopardy. That’s a thing.

Cory Miller [00:38:32]

I’ve seen it happen. You’ve seen it happen, Nathan. And I’ll tell you. My values are and do right. Do good. And then you do well. If you do right and good in the world, right? And well in the world, or good in the world, you should do well. If you serve people and help them make their lives better, you should do well.

You should be handsomely rewarded for that. But sadly, I’ve seen companies that kind of went back on their word or whatever had been initially agreed. And I would challenge my colleagues and my friends in the space not to do that. Do right. Do good by people, which means honoring your word. And if you did a lifetime deal or you did something like that, you got to honor that because I’ll tell you, I think in the future, Nathan, there’s going to be a swell of, in the United States back in the early part of 20th century we had unions. They came about because they were needed because workplace conditions were terrible, particularly in manufacturing and these unions sprung up. Now, today, we see some of those professional unions going down, but I think in the future, there’s going to be consumer unions. And you talk about one that’s like right, for a consumer union, it’s called WordPress, the WordPress community, because all the people around there can band together and say, we won’t accept what you’ve done.

I think that’s going to have to be the way, we the people are going to have to band together and say, no, that’s not right, Google, don’t be evil. Facebook, don’t be evil. We’re going to have to band together and put our force. And that’s the only way. And the way you do it, as you hit their hot pocket book, we felt like every customer came in with a dollar voted for our business. And if they stop paying, they voted our business out, out of office or whatever you want to call it. And we can do that, Sally is going to have to happen in the future is because there’s going to control so much of the space. So much of the key parts of the board that consumers are going to have to band together and say, no entrepreneurs are going to have to rise upand say, here’s my innovative solution. Thankfully, we have a little bit of the GPL to cover us maybe downstream. That is one. I’ll give it to Matt Mullenweg, he’s been the champion of the GPL from the beginning. Keeping products that aren’t SaaS, particularly in the WordPress repo, GPL. And I applaud him for that. I haven’t always agreed with him, but I’ve respected them. And that’s one that I think will help ultimately the WordPress user in the future.

Nathan Wrigley [00:40:54]

Good point. That’s one of the things I’ve got down, neither in the good, nor the bad side, is that depending on how it goes, somebody with the right skills can just fork, whatever it is that they feel aggrieved about. But it does concern me that the terms and conditions change, we had a really good example of that not so long ago where there was confusion, it would appear. I think it was a tweet or an email or something led people to believe that the licensing terms were going to be changed. And then the social media storm happened. That seems to be the way at the moment to get everybody’s voices out and say, we don’t want this to happen, please honor what was the case, and in this particular case, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. The company said, oh, okay, that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll give you. And it all resolved itself very quickly, but concern that those kinds of things in the future will happen. Especially if you’ve got a plugin, which is used on millions of sites and literally as the underpinnings of your website business, that would be terribly, terribly worrying.

The other… an another concern that I’ve got is the simple acquisition of the audience. You are buying the plugin. You have no intention to maintain it at all. You are just buying, dare I say it, you’re buying the opportunity to put a little advert in people’s WordPress admin area, or you are buying an email list or what have you, and I’ve seen that happen as well. So that’s a point of concern, not often, but I have seen it happen.

Yeah. It’s an effect, potentially effect of all this, but that’s back to let your voice be known. WordPress is so strong because, it’s eclectic, it’s so diverse in a good way, but democratize publishing is the WordPress mission. And so like that means have your voice, say your voice, share your voice. Even if I don’t like it, I still promote it. WordPress users are going to have to wake up. And I’m going to say it again. WordPress users have to wake up. They have to let their voice be known. They have to find the place to let their voice be known and congregate and share and rally.

Now it doesn’t mean like a coup all the time. It means, let your voice of displeasure be known. Mostly, I love how WordPress has been built. Obviously I’m so thankful for the thousands of contributors that have made WordPress, what it is today, selflessly over the years to build it to what it is today.

I’m so thankful for that legacy and their work, but it’s also a meritocracy where when you contribute and we listen to people. By and large, we, the community listen and let the minority voice be heard. And it’s one of the great things about our community is you can have a voice in the community if you choose so. WordPress users have to start choosing to do so.

That is basically my list. There’s a few others, but that was my good / bad list. I have a question for you to round us out and it’s a peculiar question and it’s yes, no, you got a binary choice or I suppose you could try and sit on the fence on this one.

Given the exact same plugin from a big company or a, let’s say solo preneur or a small company. So literally if they were the same Who would you buy from?

Cory Miller [00:44:04]

Solopreneur every single day.

Nathan Wrigley [00:44:05]

Really. That’s interesting. And is there a reason behind that? So obviously we’ve had this discussion, we’ve decided there are these merits and there are these drawbacks to both sides of the argument. Why that way?

Cory Miller [00:44:15]

If there’s feature parity, both are doing what you need, and you can rely on support and updates and all that, solopreneur every single day. Because I go back to man, I root for the entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur. I root for the entrepreneur. So I would for sure lend my support to the entrepreneur over the big company every single day.

Like I’m going to go for the David over the Goliath. Every single day I’m going to root for the underdog. That’s what I take a lot of calls I don’t get paid for from Post Status members and others asking, hey, how did this acquisition? Can you give us any tech ways? I’m always eager to have those calls because I’m trying to walk the talk

I root for, I believe in the entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurship as a career vocation in the world is a sacred one. It’s a noble one. If done right. If we do the kind of equation. Do good, do right in the world, and you should do well in the world. What happens when it gets poisonous and terrible and all that is when the script gets flipped and people just say, oh no, no, the equation just profit, profit, profit.

Well, I’m sorry if you’re just in the profit, profit, profit, and you bulldoze people, I hope you fail. You’re not in the entrepreneur category, you’re a mercenary. Only about profit. So that’s why he said, this is binary and I gave you all this commentary, but I root for the entrepreneur and the one that’s doing it right, and doing good for people and serving people and taking care of their people, customers and their team. I’ll put my money there every single time.

Nathan Wrigley [00:45:46]

Really interesting. I wonder what the take-up would be from the audience listening to this, which way they would flip on that one. I had a comment, I said earlier that I was, and I’ll round it out here. I was in a forum and we were talking about this exact same thing. Somebody in that forum, I won’t mention the name in case they didn’t want it to be mentioned, but they compared the current marketplace for WordPress to a game of Monopoly. And in that game of Monopoly, we’re at the stage where the houses are being slowly replaced with hotels.

And what was once a fun game starts to get really serious. And big money starts to move around the board and things blip out of existence with one roll of a dice. It’s just struck me as a perfect moment. We are putting hotels on the board, the WordPress board. Fascinating.

Cory Miller [00:46:32]

That’s a very good example or analogy or metaphor, whichever one it is.

Hey, here’s another question. I’ll answer. I’m going to give you a question and I’m going to answer it. If I have a chance between a non WordPress company and a WordPress company, who am I going to buy from? And that includes Automattic. I’m going to say WordPress every single time. I’m going to go with a WordPress company for sure. I am a customer of all the companies we’ve talked about. Including Automattic. I give my money to those. So WordPress company over non-WordPress company, I’m sorry. I’m biased. I’m going to pick WordPress. Just why I live in Oklahoma. I root for every Oklahoma sports team, because this is my home.

WordPress is my home entrepreneurs are my people, which is why I love what I do at Post Status. Cause it’s the club. It’s the tribe. It’s the community of WordPress professionals. So Viva WordPress and viva the entrepreneur.

Nathan Wrigley [00:47:23]

Cory Miller. Thanks for joining me on the podcast today.

WPTavern: Elastic Hits Back at OpenSearch, Making Client Libraries Incompatible with Amazon-led Open Source Fork

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 05:46

After Elastic, makers of the search and analytic engine Elasticsearch, re-licensed its core product so that it was no longer open source, Amazon led a community effort to fork it. In July 2021, contributors to the project announced the first general availability (GA) release of OpenSearch 1.0, an Apache 2.0-licensed fork of Elasticsearch 7.10.2 and Kibana 7.10.2.

In what appears to be a slap back at the open source fork, Elastic has begun making its client libraries incompatible with OpenSearch. The Python client was updated to perform an API request that will verify connection to Elasticsearch and raise an error if it doesn’t receive the proper response. The PR received 40 “thumbs-down” reactions from the community and a brief round of criticism before the discussion was shut down.

“It’s disappointing to see this,” Invenio product manager Lars Holm Nielsen said. “You’re forcing us as bystanders in a battle to choose sides. We develop an Open Source product that could likely easily work with both Elasticsearch or OpenSearch and then the users can choose for themselves if they want Elasticsearch or OpenSearch.

“Now, instead, we likely have to make choice for all our users if we want OpenSearch or Elasticsearch. This and other behaviors from Elastic really does not give me any confidence in Elastic and what you might do in the future. And don’t blame it all on Amazon – you’ve already changed the server license, you didn’t have to make this move.”

Elastic Senior Engineering Manager Philip Krauss responded before turning off comments on the discussion.

“Amazon OpenSearch is a different product,” Krauss said. “And while there is some shared history, there are already many differences that cause real confusion and issues.”

Kudos to @elastic for making us all collateral damage in its war with @awscloud. It's my bad for pinning dependencies as >=7.0.0,<8.0.0 and getting this update automatically on a deploy. But still, pretty crappy to break the ES python package for anyone using AWS. #elasticsearch pic.twitter.com/Vb5VatOXdl

— Brad Root (@amiantos) August 4, 2021

Elastic has also modified its .NET Connector for Elasticsearch to include “a pre-flight check on first use,” which users do not consider to be an enhancement.

Elastic Senior Engineer Steve Gordon said the change is not breaking in supported configurations and that the intent was “to make this incompatibility explicit by failing fast to avoid consumers incorrectly assuming they are running in a supported configuration which is not tested and may not function as expected.”

Last week, OpenSearch responded to Elastic’s recent changes that render many clients incompatible, by committing to create a set of new client libraries that make it easy to connect applications to any OpenSearch or Elasticsearch cluster:

Many developers who use Elasticsearch and OpenSearch in their applications also make use of the open source client libraries maintained by Elastic, which provide convenient high-level interfaces for several popular programming languages. Over the past few weeks, Elastic added new logic to several of these clients that rejects connections to OpenSearch clusters or to clusters running open source distributions of Elasticsearch 7, even those provided by Elastic themselves. While the client libraries remain open source, they now only let applications connect to Elastic’s commercial offerings.

OpenSearch published a list of a dozen clients for which contributors plan to create forks that will maintain compatibility with all Elasticsearch distributions, even those produced by Elastic.

“We do not recommend updating to the latest version of any Elastic-maintained clients, as this may cause applications to break,” OpenSearch maintainers urged users in the latest project update.

Elastic’s decision to prevent official clients from working with open source forks has further undermined any remaining goodwill the company had after re-licensing Elasticsearch.

“Looks like Elastic has sucked all the benefit they could from open source and is now spitting out the bones,” OSI Director of Standards and Policy Simon Phipps said.

10up, makers of the ElasticPress.io service, one of the most prominent Elasticsearch-powered products in the WordPress ecosystem, is still considering its next move after Elasticsearch abandoned its open source licensing. The company is not in any hurry to choose sides. Vasken Hauri, 10up’s VP of Platforms and Systems, said the dispute “isn’t something that we’re concerned about in the near term (the next 2-3 years).”

Upgrading past Elasticsearch 7.11+ would require making a choice between continuing on with Elastic’s proprietary offering or switching to the open source fork. Hauri said that the company is “barely taking advantage of most of the features Elasticsearch offers now” and projects that the current roadmap “could probably run another couple of years without any need to get new features from Elasticsearch.” For the time being, the 6,000+ users of the ElasticPress WordPress plugin and customers of the ElasticPress.io service have nothing to worry about as a result of Elastic’s renewed war with Amazon.

WPTavern: Emoji Toolbar Plugin Brings an Emoji Picker Back to the WordPress Editor

Tue, 08/10/2021 - 21:10

Earlier today, theme.es released its Emoji Toolbar project to the plugin directory. It is a simple picker that integrates with the WordPress Rich Text toolbar, allowing users to insert emoji directly from the editor interface.

After Nick Hamze pulled his Emoji Conbini plugin from WordPress.org last year, there has been an emoji-sized hole in my editor toolbox. The plugin was the perfect implementation for quickly plopping a quick smiley face or any of the other thousands of characters available. Unfortunately, his departure from the WordPress space meant losing one of my favorite block-related plugins — and several others that I enjoyed.

It was also on par with 10up’s Insert Special Characters plugin, a solution for users missing a similar picker from the classic editor era.

Emoji Toolbar is filling that void and is a solid alternative for those who need a solution. The difference between the two implementations is the location. Emoji Conbini added the picker button directly to the toolbar, and Emoji Toolbar adds it to the “more” dropdown.

Clicking the Emoji button in the Rich Text toolbar.

Placing the picker button inside of the dropdown makes it a little harder to find. It also requires an additional mouse click to insert emoji. What matters is that the implementation works, but I would love to see it as a top-level toolbar item.

Using the plugin is a simple matter. When in a Rich Text field, which includes blocks like Paragraph, Heading, List, and more, the Emoji Toolbar appears in the block toolbar. After clicking it, the plugin creates a popup of the emoji picker.

Emoji Toolbar popup picker.

From that point, users merely need to click the emoji they want to insert into the post.

The plugin bundles the Emoji Mart library, which has quickly become almost a standard for emoji pickers. The component is a Slack-like box that categorizes each of the characters, and it provides a field for searching for that perfect emoji.

There is still at least one emoji inserter alternative. Instead of adding a picker to the block toolbar, Emoji Autocomplete Gutenberg allows users to type : and use keywords for inserting characters. For those who prefer to work from the keyboard, it is a quicker method.

Emoji Toolbar shines over Emoji Autocomplete Gutenberg and the now-retired Emoji Conbini based on how it formats its output. It inserts the actual characters into the content, but the other plugins insert an <img> tag instead. That method results in output that is not forward-compatible with any changes in the future or alternative libraries. Users who also prefer to disable image output on the front end cannot do so. This is a non-issue with Emoji Toolbar — it plays well with other solutions.

On the whole, the plugin is solid. It has well-written code and provides an easy-to-use picker for inserting emoji.

WPTavern: Automattic Invests $30M in Titan, a Business Email Startup

Tue, 08/10/2021 - 04:52
source: Titan.email

Automattic has invested $30 million in Titan, a professional email suite aimed at businesses and companies offering white-labeled email solutions for customers. At WordCamp India 2021, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said that the company had just made “a pretty large investment” in the India-based startup and stated that it “will be a big part of how WordPress.com offers email going forward.” The Series A investment in Titan is Automattic’s largest to date and values the company at $300 million.

Although Automattic has gained notoriety for its “no offices or email” approach to business, most of the working world has not yet transitioned away from relying heavily on email.

“I think email is definitely on its way out, between things like P2 and Slack, which is a work place chat tool,” Mullenweg said on Glenn Leibowitz’s podcast in 2015. “Email just has so many things wrong with it. I’ve never heard anyone who’ve said they love email, they want more of it–have you?”

Six years later, email is still a reliable source of misery for most working people, but Titan aims to transform it into a more meaningful communication channel for businesses with help of Automattic’s investment. It includes features like scheduled send, follow-up reminders, smart filters and custom folders, email templates, and white labeling with deep integration for various platforms.

WordPress.com’s marketing has increasingly been aimed at small businesses over the past few years with a strong push for users to make money by selling things through their websites. It’s easy to see how Titan makes sense as a supporting product that legitimizes any business with a custom branded email address. Customers who have registered, transferred, or mapped a custom domain through WordPress.com are offered a three-month free trial of Titan-powered email services.

Setting up custom branded email addresses separately would be a much more inconvenient process and most customers with custom domains are likely better off rolling email services into their existing WordPress.com setup. This strategically enables WordPress.com to be more of a one-stop shop for business needs. People are often reluctant to change their email providers so Titan has the effect of making WordPress.com’s products a more sticky subscription that would require some effort to reproduce elsewhere.

“We need an alternative to Google and Microsoft, which have started to monopolize email,” Mullenweg told Bloomberg. “Of about 6 billion email accounts in the world, only a fraction are small business email accounts and they need a product that’s focused on their needs,” he said.

After just two years, Titan has more than 100,000 small business customers. In addition to its relationships with WordPress.com, HostGator, NameSilo, and other web providers, Titan aims to grow its customer base by partnering with popular hosting companies, domain registrars, and site builders.

WPTavern: Is WordPress Development Really All That Hard To Get Into Today?

Mon, 08/09/2021 - 22:38

Oh, how easily we forget the WordPress of 10, 15 years ago.

We are spoiled. We are spoiled by the gluttony of documentation and tutorials, a wealth of knowledge created over more than a decade. We are spoiled by our own expertise, built-in our more vigorous youth, now sitting on our haunches as we have aged along with our beloved platform.

We have grown to become the proverbial grumpy old men. “Back in my day, we didn’t need all these fancy tools to help us write code. We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and built everything from scratch.”

I kid. Sort of. I count myself among the old-school developers who helped build the WordPress that so many are still nostalgic about — I think I have earned the right to joke about myself. They were “simpler” times but not really.

Having been in the community as long as I have, I can remember the backlash each time a new feature landed. I recall the days when there really was non-existent documentation for pretty much everything.

Lately, there has been a growing conversation around the difficulty of overcoming WordPress’s current barrier to entry for developers. This has been an ongoing discussion for a few years now, but the latest flare-up comes on the heels of a tweet by Chris Wiegman:

The deeper I get with modern WP dev the more I understand why newer devs don’t like to work on it. This is not the same project as it was in the past. The learning curve is now extremely high regardless of past experience.

I built my first block plugin in a few hours about a month ago. When writing on the experience, I said the barrier to entry was much higher than when I had built my first plugin in 2007. Having had the time to sit back and think about that, I am not sure it was a fair statement. We tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses while forgetting the real struggle.

What I had wanted was to build the plugin in 30 minutes. Had everything been in PHP, that would have been an easy feat for me. Objectively, I am an expert (or close enough) in the language. However, my JavaScript knowledge is 10 years behind.

It had been a while since I had been challenged in that way. That was a distressing experience for someone who had become comfortable in his own skills.

I griped about the docs. But, let’s be honest. WordPress has never had the sort of deep documentation that could teach a budding developer everything. I know this because I have written at least a couple hundred tutorials in my career. Nearly every time, I dug into the project’s source code to make sense of it, which allowed me to teach other developers how to work with various features. And many other developers in the space did the same.

In time, WordPress.org added more robust developer documentation, but this was not built overnight. It is a constantly evolving project.

I also built my first block type with vanilla JavaScript. No build tools. No React docs open. Just plain ol’ JS code in my editor. I needed to crawl before I could walk, and getting that first iteration of the code into a workable state was necessary before I jumped into anything more complex.

In the days after, I re-coded it all to use more modern JavaScript and compiled it with webpack. A week after that, I built a second block plugin with more advanced features.

Was it hard? Definitely. Was the barrier to entry higher than when I first developed plugins? Probably. Truthfully, I did not struggle as much, but I am also at a different point in my life. At 37, I no longer have quite as much drive and likely less capacity for picking up new skills as quickly as in my late teens and early 20s. However, I have a strong foundation and enough experience to overcome some of the hurdles I encountered.

Would a 20-year-old me struggle with this JavaScript landscape more than a strictly PHP-based WordPress? I doubt it. Both had huge learning curves for someone new.

Someone’s first introduction to Subversion or Composer can be just as scary as their initial dive into webpack and npm. For a fresh mind, an open canvas that has yet to be painted with over a decade of doing things the “WordPress way,” I am unsure if the barrier to entry is so much higher.

For us old-schoolers, our world has been flipped upside down. There is no denying that. The Gutenberg project, which is at the core of nearly every new WordPress feature, moves so fast that it is next to impossible to keep up with while also upping your skills. It is easy to get overwhelmed. When this happens to me, I usually take a step back and return when I have had a chance to rest my mind.

Contributing to the WordPress ecosystem has always had one barrier or another. Whether it be the privilege of time, knowledge of PHP, or some other skill, the project has left some people out. That is changing in some ways. Some parts are now available to users that were never accessible before. This is easiest to see from the theming side of things.

“I wish people would see that theme development is heading the opposite way,” tweeted Carolina Nymark. “The entry barrier for designers and new developers will be lower. When people get stuck saying, ‘But I can’t use my hooks in a block theme,’ it is because they are looking at what exists today, not ahead.”

Having spent more time on the theming side of the block editor than plugin development, I agree wholeheartedly. Theme authors have been given a clean slate, or at least by the time block-based themes are supported in core WordPress, this will be true.

While I could write ad nauseum on the details of how theme development itself is leaps and bounds better, the revolutionary part is how the system welcomes those who had no entryway in the past.

Alongside version 5.8, WordPress.org opened the first iteration of its pattern directory. Soon, any user will be able to contribute custom block patterns without writing a single line of code. They can simply create layouts from the editor, copy them, and share them with others.

When the site editor lands, it will once again change the game. Non-coders will have the power to essentially create entire front-end designs without any preexisting programming knowledge.

If WordPress must become more complex for developers to provide end-users this much power, I can live with that.

The highest barrier to entry — as it has always been — is contributing directly to WordPress. Or at least contributing to the block side of things via Gutenberg.

The Getting Started With Code Contribution section of the Block Editor Handbook is a dizzying list of installation notes and procedures that can be off-putting to even the most seasoned developer. Because just about everything is a third-party tool, any trouble you run into just setting up your system is likely to land you in support forums or chatrooms outside of WordPress. Even moving past setup, contributing code to Gutenberg is unlike the days of yore.

What is lacking is the history. We had a decade and a half to perfect our systems for classic WordPress. It was often ugly and brutal building the platform and the ecosystem around it to a point where it was a comfortable space for developers. We have had only three years for modern WordPress to feel as natural as in years past.

I am ever the optimist, hoping that in another 15 years’ time, we are having these same discussions about the new technology stack that WordPress 10.0 has introduced. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing our documentation evolve, our developer community expanding its skillset, and new WordPressers coming along for the journey.

Continued Reading

In this discussion, there are no right or wrong answers. The conversation matters because it enriches our knowledge and informs how we build the next version of WordPress and the web.

The following are links related to this topic that helped inform my thoughts. Each is worth a read, listen, or viewing. If I missed any that others have published, feel free to link them in the comments.

WordPress.org blog: Widgets in WordPress 5.8 and Beyond

Mon, 08/09/2021 - 12:00

Copy and Design by @critterverse

WordPress 5.8 brings the power of Gutenberg blocks to widget areas — which means the highly customizable layout and styling options bring you closer to a WYSIWYG editing experience. I made a test site based on the oldie-but-goodie Twenty Sixteen theme, with three separate widget areas. In this post, I’ll highlight a few cool things that are now possible to do with your widgets and where things may be heading next.

Create Interesting Visual Effects With Overlapping Layouts and Duotone Images

Appearance-wise, users have a lot more control over widget areas than ever before — especially through the use of blocks with customization options like the Cover and Image block. Here’s what I can create in the classic widgets editor (above) versus what I can create in the new block-based widget editor (below).

Intersperse Widgets and Custom Code Throughout Your Visual Designs

Container blocks like Cover and Columns make it easy to weave dynamic or interactive elements into your designs. While this is a given for many widgets, the block versions of widgets can be easily wrapped and layered within container blocks to integrate them into your layout more fully.

In the example below, I tried placing a Search block in front of a Cover block, which creates a nice layered effect. I also inserted Custom HTML blocks within a Columns block to display different messaging depending on the time of day. (jQuery script)

Use Traditional Widget Layouts (Or Not) With Lots of Flexibility Over Title and Structure

Classic widgets have always had a lockup that includes a widget title. One cool thing about having blocks in widget areas is that you have complete flexibility over how titles appear. For example, you might choose to have a title over every widget, you might only want one title at the top of each widget area, or your design might not need titles at all.

Note: Some themes, like Twenty Twenty-One, are designed to flow content horizontally within widget areas. If you’re having trouble with a theme splitting your layout into columns, you could try keeping the lockup together by containing it within a Group block.

Copy & Paste Existing Layouts From the WordPress Pattern Directory

While patterns haven’t been fully integrated into the widget editors yet, one thing you can do is copy and paste patterns from the game-changing new WordPress Pattern Directory into your site’s widget areas. I used this horizontal call to action pattern from the directory almost exactly as is, with minor color and copy adjustments:

FYI: Patterns have not been curated for or integrated into widget areas yet, so you may run into some unexpected behavior — consider this feature to be a preview of what’s coming next for widget editing!

WPTavern: Automattic Releases Quadrat, a Block-Based Podcasting WordPress Theme

Sat, 08/07/2021 - 03:20

A few weeks ago, Automattic released Quadrat on the WordPress.org theme directory. It is now the company’s fourth block theme. Like its predecessors, it is a child of Blockbase, a project that serves as a foundation for the work of Automattic’s Theme Team.

After spending a couple of months diving deep into the world of block themes, I was beginning to feel a little burned out. When I wasn’t sleeping, eating, or doing yard work in my off-duty time, I was building or exploring one project or another. Soon, it all had become a blur. I knew I needed to take a small break, and I have not touched themes for a couple of weeks since, at least not outside of work.

However, Quadrat appealed to the theme developer within me. I am not sure if it was the soothing color scheme or just seeing the work the professional designers had put into it, but it offered a pathway for easing myself back into the block theme world.

Outside of the work by Anariel Design with Naledi and Clove, most block themes have felt more like proof of concepts or starting points. Quadrat can now be added to the list of those with some personality.

It does not push any particular boundaries, but it is a well-designed blogging and podcasting theme. Mostly, I am just a fan of the color scheme — sometimes you just need something other than black, white, and gray to get yourself out of a funk.

One of the other reasons I have been following the work of the Quadrat theme was because it was the first showcase of header patterns I had seen. Kjell Reigstad shared what this system would look like in June.

The goal is to include the patterns shown in the video in core WordPress, so they are not currently included in the theme. However, there is still an open ticket for header patterns in Quadrat.

The only real trouble I ran into with the theme is with fully aligned blocks in the content. There is an overflow issue in version 1.1.1 that creates a horizontal scrollbar.

Horizontal scrollbar appears with full-width Cover block.

Quadrat includes nine custom patterns. The focus for most is on podcasting, but some are general-purpose enough for other use cases, such as “Media and text with button”:

Media and text with button pattern.

The development team missed a prime opportunity with its podcast-related patterns. Instead of integrating with a podcasting solution, they are simple, static blocks from core WordPress.

For example, the Latest Episodes pattern is a two-column layout that features Image, Heading, and Paragraph blocks. That is acceptable as a base pattern for users without a podcasting plugin. However, it may be practically useless for those with one enabled. Or, it creates unnecessary work because users must manually update their page content anytime they publish a new episode.

Latest Episodes block pattern

Given Automattic’s recent bet on Castos as part of a $756K pre-seed fundraising round, it would make sense to integrate with the podcasting company’s plugin, Seriously Simple Podcasting (SSP).

If the development team wanted to take the Latest Episodes pattern to the next level, they would create it with the Query Loop block and display the latest podcast episodes from the plugin. For users without SSP installed, simply fall back to the current pattern. Or, offer both. Right now, it is little more than eye candy and not nearly as useful as it could be for real-world use cases.

I often talk about the need for theme authors to elevate their game. Not only would such integration be beneficial to podcasters, but it would also showcase the power and flexibility of the block system.

All of this is to say: If you are going to build a podcasting theme, build a podcasting theme. Quadrat appears to be one. However, when you peek behind the curtain, it is just a well-designed blogging theme. It has the potential to be so much more.

WPTavern: Gutenberg 11.2 Expands Color Support for Search and Pullquote Blocks, Introduces Experimental Flex Layout for Group Block

Fri, 08/06/2021 - 03:59

Gutenberg 11.2.0 was released today with expanded color support for the Search and Pullquote blocks. Historically, customizing these elements has been out of reach for most users if their themes didn’t include them as options. This release introduces color support and border color support for the search button.

Pullquotes are getting a similar treatment with border and color support, enabling some creative design options for those who enjoy taking the reins on customization.

It’s these kinds of minute style changes that web developers would have been paid to perform back in the earlier days of theme customization gigs. Now the block editor enables anyone to jump in and do it themselves.

These color support additions are part of a larger effort to improve the editor’s design tools to provide consistent application across blocks.

“Another important goal of design tools is ensuring a wide range of exquisitely crafted patterns are possible; that best practices are not only possible but encouraged; and that customizing blocks is a consistent and natural experience,” Gutenberg Lead Architect Matias Ventura said in the ticket tracking design tool tasks.

Gutenberg 11.2 also introduces support for a new experimental flex layout. The need for additional layouts was described by Rick Banister in a ticket submitted a year ago, requesting a “display horizontal” option for the Group block:

When building patterns or trying to achieve a layout with multiple elements arranged horizontally it would help to have a parent block that would automatically arrange its children on a single line. Columns can be used to arrange things side-by-side, but they add quite a lot of extra nesting if you only need to arrange one set of blocks.

We could leverage the Group block and add a ‘display horizontally’ or ‘act as a row’ option to it. It would wrap its children and act as a ‘flex container’ (display:flex; flex-direction:row;). Further flex parameters could be optional to align and distribute objects.

A flex layout option has the potential to remove some of the complexity in nesting blocks. This early prototype shows a rough, unfinished UI for a layout switcher. It shows the difference between a flex layout and the default “flow” layout, which displays children one after the other vertically without any specific styles. The PR included in Gutenberg 11.2 makes it possible for blocks to support multiple layouts. Gutenberg engineer Riad Benguella said the plan is to introduce more layouts, such as “grid” and “absolute positioning container.”

Adding “flex” layout support for the group block is the first step towards proving how multi-layout options can work in the block editor.

“In the previous WordPress release, we introduced the layout config and the __experimentalLayout prop for inner blocks,” Benguella said. “The initial reason for these was to make alignments and content widths more declarative for themes. While this was an ambitious goal on its own and a hard one to achieve for the default layout, the goal has always been to absorb and support more kinds of layouts in the editor than the regular vertical list of blocks.”

This experimental flex layout support can be useful for theme developers and makes sense in certain use cases with the Cover block, headers, social icons, columns, and other applications. The layout switcher UI is hidden in this release while the Gutenberg team works on a better design and wording for the feature.

WPTavern: First Commercial Content Pack for Launch With Words Now Available

Fri, 08/06/2021 - 01:09

Marketing consultant Bridget Willard announced the first commercial content pack for her Launch With Words project. Last week, she released a set of 12 blog posts for roofing contractors, but there are more on the way for industry-specific content.

In January, alongside Ronald Huereca of MediaRon, Willard launched the Launch With Words plugin. The initial project supported a single “starter pack” of draft blog posts to prompt website owners to publish something new each month to build their brand. The plugin itself is primarily an importer.

For the developer crowd, Huereca has a post that covers the technical details of the project. It is well worth a read to see how he approached building the plugin.

The idea was unique. Willard had written starter content for both the default Twenty Nineteen and Twenty Twenty WordPress themes. She then asked why no one was doing the same for post content. Thus, a new product was born.

The roofing content pack carries a price tag of $497. Companies can publish the posts directly on their sites or customize the content for their locale.

The imported content is a set of 12 blog posts specific to the roofing industry, each set as a draft that users can publish on their own schedule. Each is around 500+ words and includes headings, links, and quotes.

Preview of a daft post.

“So many roofing contractors don’t address the frequently asked questions from property owners,” said Willard. “These blog posts address 12. Having content that is turnkey ready allows them to have more content to share on social media as well as helping their SEO efforts.”

She has been writing about the construction industry for over 20 years, so this was an easy jumping-in point. The challenge was creating this first pack while also publishing two new books and wrangling client work. With things settling down a bit, she thinks monthly pack releases are a more realistic target.

Future Content and Starter Packs

Willard is already working on a new content pack that focuses on general contractors, which she may split into two products between residential and commercial. She plans to have at least one ready by the end of the month.

The long-term goal is to hire other writers to cover industries where she has less knowledge. First, she needs a few more sales to bring others on board.

She may also create some industry-specific blogging prompts similar to the starter pack that is available for free. These would also come at a lower price point of around $97.

“The starter pack (blog prompts) aren’t mutually exclusive with the premium packs,” said Willard. “They can be used together. Ideally, they should be used together. Because the content packs are JSON files, and the posts are imported as drafts, they can be written (prompts) or localized (premium) and scheduled. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Writing, Writing, and More Writing

“Writing is the way I can teach and solidify my legacy,” said Willard. “It’s super important for me to create a life worth living. Sadly, I found this out after a mental health emergency in February of 2020.”

Her most recent book is The Only Online Marketing Book You Need for Your Nonprofit, co-authored by Warren Laine-Naida. Adrian Tobey, the founder of Groundhogg.io, also contributed an extra chapter.

“You can’t create unless you consume,” said Willard when asked how she kept up her pace and the creative juices flowing. “I prioritize reading fiction and nonfiction, watching documentaries, taking walks in my neighborhood, going to a museum or a park alone to think and reflect and spend time with my friends laughing and playing card games.

“The best thing for a writer to do is to write. Don’t worry about whether other people already talked about your subject. Don’t worry about what people will say. This is why we love WordPress. Start publishing.”

WPTavern: From eCommerce Integration to Location-Based Controls, Block Visibility Pro Expands Upon Its Free Version

Thu, 08/05/2021 - 02:15

It has been several months since I last dived into Nick Diego’s Block Visibility plugin, and it is now one year since the initial release. Recently moved on from his past job into the WordPress product space, he has been building one of the best context-based plugins for showing or hiding content.

In January, Diego touted some of the ideas he had for a yet-to-be-released Block Visibility Pro. He was already fulfilling user needs, but there was so much left to be explored.

“As Block Visibility grows, there will be advanced and/or niche functionality that will be useful for certain users,” he said at the time. “Think integrations with other third-party plugins. There will always be a free version of the plugin but some of these additional features will ultimately be provided by a premium (paid) add-on called Block Visibility Pro.”

Diego quietly released the pro add-on in June, which does not take away from the free version. Everything in it is a pure value-add and helps specific sets of users.

Last week, he released Block Visibility Pro 1.1.0, and I managed to get a test copy to play around with. In short, I am more impressed than I was when I first covered the free version in January.

Pro Additions

Early versions of the free plugin had visibility controls for all visitors, user roles, and start-and-stop dates. Since then, Diego has beefed up the options to include screen size, logged-in status, and user accounts. It also integrates with Advanced Custom Fields and WP Fusion. That is more than many other content-visibility solutions will offer before needing to upgrade to a commercial or pro version.

The current pro version includes conditional controls for the following:

  • Location (Query and Post)
  • Time-based and day of week
  • WooCommerce
  • Easy Digital Downloads
  • Browser and Device
  • URL Path
  • Referral Source

The Location controls are what I have found myself tinkering with the most. They are handy at the moment but will offer more power when used in conjunction with WordPress’s upcoming site editor.

Location, query-based visibility controls.

The Location controls are essentially query-based visibility options. Users can choose to show or hide blocks based on post type, taxonomy, and more. Everything from individual post attributes to the archive type is available. Users can also create multiple rule sets, combining various location-based options.

For shop owners, the WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads integrations are extensive. Users can display blocks based on shopping cart content, customer metrics, and product metrics. This could come in handy for promotions, coupons, and similar features.

One of my favorite features, which is also included in the free version, is a popup option for selecting which visibility settings should appear in the sidebar.

Toggling visibility controls in the Visibility tab.

This feature reduces the footprint of the plugin’s Visibility tab in the block sidebar panel while giving users control over which options they would like to use.

It looks similar to a current proposal for the Gutenberg plugin that would allow users to toggle specific controls:

Proposal for toggling block typography controls.

The differences between the two are in the location of the “ellipsis” button to open the popup. The Gutenberg proposal has it at the top of the tab. Block Visibility adds it as a control within its Visibility tab. However, the concept is the same, and the plugin provides a real-world test of how the feature could work. Thus far, I am happy with the result. It allows me to hide options that I would rarely use. I am eager for something similar to eventually work its way into core WordPress.

From Developer to Developer

If I am being honest, I am a bit envious of the work Diego has done. Many do not know this, but I also built a similar solution to Block Visibility in 2019. It was before I joined the staff here at WP Tavern. Before seeing that project mature, I handed it over as part of a larger IP sale.

I point this out because I understand the complexities of building a solution that works from a technical standpoint while also being user-friendly. It is not easy, but Block Visibility seems to hit the right balance.

And I do not say this often, but Diego’s work far exceeds anything I had built or even had in the pipeline. It is on another level, so a part of me is glad that he and I are not competing in this space. At the same time, I wish I could go back and implement some of these ideas on my former project.

HeroPress: My Life Before & After WordPress

Wed, 08/04/2021 - 03:00
Early Days

I have always had a knack for technology. I still remember the summer of 2006 when I bought a PC for the first time. I would try to install Windows XP many times so to make Windows work smoothly but without any luck. It was those stubborn viruses, which would only be removed by running a virus scan, not a fresh Windows install, something I figured out later.

Although, it took me another decade – right after my MBA in 2015 – to turn my curiosity for technology into a passion after I stumbled upon web technologies from the development perspective. It is when I started learning WordPress while still working in an administrative and support capacity at an organization in my hometown.


Being an introvert in nature, the thought of working remotely providing value using technology with the freedom to choose my own work hours has always fascinated me. While becoming a digital nomad exploring nature felt like touching the sky. I knew it was quite possible after finding real stories online but I had no path to follow to turn my dream into a reality.

The Challenge

After spending tons of time online, figuring out the way was the easy step. Now that I look back during my initial days when I was getting started, the biggest challenge I have come to realize was to stay motivated as being all alone with the Imposter Syndrome – which I am sure every developer has faced during their careers – did take a toll on me.

I think it is not easy to stay motivated when there aren’t immediate rewards for the hard work we do. Sometimes, weeks would go by for me to not do anything but try to stay motivated and don’t just give up.

Humble Beginnings

I could easily recall the evening of my last MBA exam day when I started exploring web technologies. Even just before that, I spent a good 2-3 months learning and then finding projects for web design on 99Designs until I realized that I am not very passionate about becoming a designer.

I started learning HTML, CSS, basic JavaScript with jQuery but learning these technologies alone could only go so far without a clear path. I was looking for a tool that could help me build a website from scratch and for that, I explored many tools and technologies along the way including WordPress.

While celebrating the 68th independence day of Pakistan online I came across this amazing article by Ahmad Awais (big props) which really helped me to make a definite decision to choose WordPress over other online publishing tools.

After basic learning, I started right away working as a WordPress Power User, mostly delivering theme customizing projects for the clients in the local market while still working a day job.

All the Way WordPress

It took me another two years to finally choose WordPress as my full-time career. I moved to the capital and after many failed attempts at getting hired and desperate moments followed afterward, I finally received an offer letter from a digital agency, Centangle Interactive, where I joined as a Web Developer focused on the WordPress platform.

I consider joining Centangle as one of the best decisions of my life as it helped me with my professional growth by becoming familiar with the whole WordPress ecosystem in a supportive environment. I was being valued for my opinions in the web projects I was involved with. I was also appreciated and encouraged for the open-source work I did for the company.

During the pandemic last year, I joined a startup viz. UPTEK. The company provides web development services to its international clientele. I have been trusted with the opportunity to work on some of the premium freelancing platforms on behalf of the company.

While apart from the developer role at the company, I am also involved in client communication and project management which has been an exciting journey for me so far with lots of learning almost every day.

WordPress Community

WordPress introduced me to the world of open-source software and the WordPress community itself. WordPress community connects WordPress enthusiasts via monthly Meetups, annual WordCamps, virtual collaborations like contributions to the WordPress project, and a whole lot more.

The WordPress community made me a firm believer in the power of open-source software and an enthusiast who enjoys a great deal to contribute back to the WordPress community via writing, speaking, and helping organize meetups.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to write open-source software for the WordPress platform and feel humbled to contribute to the WordPress core. I have also had the privilege to speak as well as help organize the monthly WordPress Meetups and the annual WordCamp(s) for the Islamabad/Rawalpindi WordPress community.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to help start the Elementor Community Islamabad Chapter – which organizes monthly Elementor Meetups. Yet that is not it, I have met some really humble people over the years, whom I proudly call my besties. I met these fine folks on a train on my way to WordCamp Karachi 2018 which was the very first WordCamp in Pakistan. It is all made possible by WordPress and its community and for that, I am forever grateful.

Now fast forward to the present, I have been traveling and exploring every corner of the country almost every other month with my train buddies by fulfilling my dream of traveling.


If anything, one of the main takeaways, why I shared my story, is to stay persistent. I know it is hard to stay motivated and break into this industry. But if you are determined, then WordPress will surely reward you as It can’t be said in any better words than by the words of the very Chris Lema himself:

“WordPress will change your life if you let it”

So, if you are starting out then get yourself a clear path and just dive in doing WordPress as things will get better for you over time as they were for me, I promise. Good Luck!

The post My Life Before & After WordPress appeared first on HeroPress.

WPTavern: Full Page Patterns Are Still the Missing Piece of Block WordPress Theme Development

Tue, 08/03/2021 - 22:49

It was the early days of the Gutenberg project. Many on the Theme Review Team and those in design circles were trying to wrap their heads around this new concept called blocks. In particular, we wanted to know how it could be applied to theme development. There were many discussions on the pros and cons of the early editor. Overall, there was a bit of cautious excitement in the air, our optimism tempered by a buggy version of alpha-level software.

The block system could potentially solve one of the biggest hurdles of theme development: inserting default/demo content for a full page into the editor.

I cannot remember who initially explained the idea, but it was a lightbulb moment for many at the time. The general concept was pre-building a custom homepage or any page design that users could choose visually. It would all be done through a standardized block system, and we would no longer need to rely on piecemeal theme options, third-party plugins, or attempt to work around the review team’s “do not create content” guideline.

No one really knew how this would work in practice, but we understood the theory of how it would make the life of a theme developer much simpler.

In October 2019, Automattic developer Jorge Bernal opened a ticket titled Starter Page Templates. His team was working on a template selector for mobile apps, and the WordPress.com Editing Toolkit already had the feature. The goal was to bring it to the core platform, allowing third-party theme designs to build on top of it.

Starter page templates idea initially shared in the ticket.

Because the term “template” is overused in the WordPress space, I will refer to these as “page patterns.” This naming convention was coined by Noah Allen, a software engineer for Automattic, in the ticket. It makes sense because we are actually talking about a page’s content rather than the wrapping template.

The Genesis Blocks plugin is one of the best ways to understand the page pattern concept. It has a Layouts button at the top of the editor that, when clicked, creates an overlay of designs to choose from.

Selecting a full-page layout from Genesis Blocks.

These designs are split between sections and layouts. Sections are the same thing as patterns in core WordPress: small, reusable pieces of starter content. Layouts are full-page starting points for users to create various types of pages.

The StudioPress/Genesis team was not the first to market this concept. However, they have created a well-rounded user experience on top of the WordPress editor.

You will find similar experiences via GoDaddy’s onboarding process for its managed hosting service. The Redux Framework allows much the same, and Editor Plus offers templates and patterns from the Extendify library.

That initial excitement has waned a bit. It felt like that early promise was a dream that would never be a reality.

Theme authors, especially in the commercial space, have long offered home-brewed solutions for the one-click insertion of full-page content. Whether via a ThemeForest project or a popular theme on WordPress.org, there are endless examples of everyone solving the same problem. One might even argue that these custom inserters are so ingrained into theme agency systems that anything WordPress offers at this point will not appeal to those who have already brought their solutions to market. Where the core platform has failed to meet user demands, our development community has stepped up.

Some of you may be thinking that the current block patterns system works for this. Yes, and no. Theme authors could shoehorn full-page designs into it, but the user experience is lacking compared to third-party solutions. Patterns today are one of the best theming tools available, but they fall short of what is needed to see this thing through.

The foundation of this feature exists via the Patterns API. From the theme author’s perspective, they merely need a method for flagging a pattern as a full-page layout, separate from the others. However, the UI and UX flow need an overhaul. The flyout panel for the current inserter does not cut it, especially on large screens. A fullscreen overlay has become the de facto standard among other systems.

Users should also have another option between selecting from an existing page pattern or starting empty upon creation.

“I think this would be so useful to have in the core,” wrote Ana Segota of Anariel Design in a recent comment on the ticket. “I created 2 FSE themes so far and also our latest premium theme is made with block patterns and this is exactly what I thought and talked with few people about. It would be great when a user opens a new page, to chose design/page patterns however we called it and it starts editing it right away. Most of the users just want to add a page, choose a layout and start adding their content.”

Of course, this is not a revelation to the average theme author who works with end-users daily. Inserting or importing entire page designs into WordPress is one of the most common requests. WordPress is almost there with its current patterns system. We just need to take it to the next level.

WordPress.org blog: The Month in WordPress: July 2021

Tue, 08/03/2021 - 13:53

WordPress is global in reach and open source in nature. And you would assume that what allows the software to be used by anyone would also enable it to be built by anyone. After all, your location doesn’t matter, and who employs you also doesn’t matter. And your relative social standing certainly shouldn’t matter. As long as you can communicate with the others contributing to the project, there should be no obstacle to your participation.

That was Josepha Haden on the “Cherishing WordPress Diversity” episode of the WP Briefing Podcast, speaking about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the fabric of the WordPress project. Her statement captures the spirit of the WordPress open source project, and we hope it resonates with you. Now, let’s dive in!

Say hello to WordPress 5.8

WordPress version 5.8, “Tatum,” came out on July 20. Version 5.8 is a major release that offers features like block-based widgets, a host of new blocks and patterns, a template editor, a duotone feature to stylize images, theme.json, and support for webP images, to name a few. Read more in the release post, the field guide, and the talking points post for meetup groups.

Want to contribute to WordPress core? 

Gutenberg Version 11.0 is released

Contributor teams released the 11th version of Gutenberg on July 9. Version 11.0, which focuses heavily on backports and bug fixes, showcases some cool features such as an editing overlay for template parts and reusable blocks, and support for CSS shorthand properties in theme.json and block attributes. Version 11.1 was also shipped this month, on July 21. The release adds custom block borders as block supports and adds “drag and drop” to the list view. 

Want to get involved in building Gutenberg? Follow the Core Team blog, contribute to Gutenberg on GitHub, and join the #core-editor channel in the Make WordPress Slack. The “What’s next in Gutenberg” post offers more details on the latest updates. 

Returning to in-person WordPress events

The Community Team kicked off work to bring back in-person WordPress events. The team recently announced that in-person WordPress meetups can be organized in a region if the local public health authority allows in-person events and if the region passes the in-person safety checklist. If the region does not meet guidelines on page one of the safety checklist, organizers can plan events for fully vaccinated, recently tested (negative), or recently recovered community members. Subsequently, the team also shared a proposal for the return to in-person WordCamps in places that meet the safety guidelines and the vaccination/testing requirements. Please share your feedback on the post if you have any thoughts. For more context, check out the “In Person!” episode of the WP Briefing Podcast

Want to contribute to the Community Team? Follow the Community Team blog, or join them in the #community channel in the Make WordPress Slack. 

BuddyPress 9.0 is out

The BuddyPress team is busy! Within barely a month of their last major release (version 8.0), the team shipped version 9.0 on July 19. Key features of the release include widget blocks and updates to the BP REST API.  Download it from the WordPress.org plugin directory or check it out from its subversion repository. Want to help build BuddyPress? Follow their developer relations blog, check out their handbook page, or join them in the #buddypress channel in the Make WordPress Slack.

WordPress Event updates Feedback requests from WordPress contributor teams

Please help these WordPress contributor teams by answering their research requests:

Further reading

Have a story that we should include in the next “Month in WordPress” post? Please submit it using this form

The following folks contributed to July’s Month in WordPress:  @webcommsat @chaion07 @jillbinder @lmurillom @meher

WPTavern: Termly Acquires GDPR/CCPA Cookie Consent Banner, Turns Free Plugin Into a Commercial SaaS Product

Mon, 08/02/2021 - 22:04

Company A sells its plugin. Company B picks it up and moves forward with an overhauled version that looks and feels much different than the original. Users are outraged by the changes. It seems to be a repeating theme in 2021, almost as a rule rather than an exception.

Last month, Termly announced its acquisition of the GDPR/CCPA Cookie Consent Banner plugin. The plugin was a simple tool for adding and styling a consent banner for the front end. It is now a SaaS (Software as a Service) product that requires a Termly account to operate.

According to the team’s blog post, such changes were necessary. “Termly’s products, including the cookie consent management platform, are designed to cover the EU GDPR, the ePrivacy Directive, UK GDPR, and the CCPA. These laws require more than just a cookie consent banner to be compliant. Termly can help you build a privacy policy, create a Data Subject Access Request form, and comply with other privacy law requirements.”

In the past couple of weeks, users have taken to the WordPress.org review system, handing out 21 of the plugin’s 29 total one-star ratings. The project has over 200,000 users, so more should be expected if the general consensus is that this was a poor move by the company.

One of the complaints from users is the commercialization of the plugin. In the past, it was completely free to use. While there is still a free tier, users are limited to a mere 100 monthly unique visitors on a single domain. After hitting that limit, the banner will stop collecting consent records. The next level up costs $15 per month if paid annually.

New pricing options for the Termly service.

As Pattaya Web Services pointed out via Twitter, “GDPR/CCPA Cookie Consent Banner for #Wordpress has been purchased by #Termly and will now cost most website owners $180 per year.”

Termly must get a return on its investment. The company has developers to pay, and they have families to feed. But, I suspect the average user will not warm up to the so-limiting-that-it-is-free-in-name-only introduction level. Having to pay for features that have been free for years will not sit well with many.

Of course, there is always the option of using the old version, but Termly has no plans of maintaining it or ensuring that it meets compliance. The only alternative for small site owners who cannot afford to pay is to opt for another solution.

“I guess GDPR Cookie Consent banner, now operated by @Termly_io didn’t learn anything from [the] fiasco with WP User Avatar plugin reported by @wptavern earlier this year,” wrote user Gennady Kurushin on Twitter.

I believe they did. There are differences, and Termly’s handling of this showed a willingness to be transparent.

And, I cannot stress this enough: the new plugin is not an entirely different one unrelated to its core purpose. It was overhauled and turned into a SaaS product. At the end of the day, it is still a cookie consent management plugin — just different and costs a lot more for most users.

Unlike Dark Mode and ProfilePress, Termly did not make the changes in the dead of night. At least the company was upfront about everything. The team included an announcement in a point release two weeks before sending out the overhauled version. It disabled automatic updates so that users would not accidentally upgrade without being aware of what was coming. It even published a public blog post detailing what was happening.

Prior notice of upcoming changes in 3.0 and disabled auto-updates.

If anything, Termly took just about all the necessary steps it could have taken to prepare its user base. If a “right” way existed for a complete and utter makeover of a plugin, the company did as much.

That level of honesty is a bit more than we have seen in the past. The changes may still leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many users, but Termly should at least get a few points for making them in the light of day.

The result may be the same: fundamental changes in how the plugin operates, but users had a chance to ditch it or continue using the old version before anything went into effect. For some users, it may not be much, but that’s worth something.

I won’t be breaking out my pitchfork today, but I do not use the plugin. As more and more users upgrade to 3.0+ and realize they are essentially on the line for $180 per year, the reviews could get ugly.

WordPress.org blog: WP Briefing: Episode 14: The Art and Science of Accessibility

Mon, 08/02/2021 - 12:00

In this episode, Josepha Haden Chomphosy discusses the nuances of building accessible software, the differences between access, usability, and accessibility, and how this all applies to the WordPress project.

Have a question you’d like answered? You can submit them to wpbriefing@wordpress.org, either written or as a voice recording.

Credits References Transcript

[contemporary intro music]

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 0:10

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the WordPress Briefing, the podcast where you can catch quick explanations of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project, some insight into the community that supports it, and get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy. Here we go.

[musical interlude]

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 0:28

This is the second of my big scary topics for this month. I’ll be talking about accessibility, which much like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI in the last episode, is one of those areas where the work is never finished. Also, like DEI in last episode, I feel strongly about accessibility and the need for accessible experiences in the world, but I’m aware that this is an area where I’m still learning.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 1:04

WordPress has both an accessibility statement and team, which makes a lot of sense given that the software supports so many different people, and industries, and cultures. But if you’re not quite bought into the idea that software should be accessible, or that accessible software can’t also be usable, then this is the episode for you.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 1:25

Before I joined the WordPress project, the majority of my work with accessibility was in the context of the digital divide. Now, when talking about the digital divide, there are three concepts around quote-unquote, “getting things to people,” and those are access, usability, and accessibility. Sometimes these words seem interchangeable, but ultimately they have nuanced differences that address different problems. And I like to think of them this way.

Access is making sure that someone can obtain something.

Usability is making sure that the user experience is understandable or coherent.

And accessibility is making sure that it’s usable by the largest number of people.

I have always considered each as a subset of the one that came before it. So having something everyone can access is good, but easy to access and easy to use is better. Easy to use is good, but easy to use and easily accessible is better.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 2:27

After joining WordPress, I discovered that accessibility in the context of software building is well, substantially more complicated. There’s no such thing as perfect accessibility, or a site that is 100% accessible, and many aspects are pretty open to interpretation. It turns out that accessibility, like so many things in WordPress, is a complicated intersection of art and science.

As an example, there’s a rule that says, “Ensure that links are recognizable as links.” A fast shorthand to accomplish that, that we see all over the internet, is to underline all links or put that icon next to it that says, “This opens in a new tab.” You know that icon that’s a box with an arrow? That definitely has a name, that I definitely don’t know? That icon. [laughing] But those solutions don’t necessarily fit every context that you’ll find a link in, and that’s where we see that intersection between the art of communication and the science of necessity.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 3:32

If you came with me earlier on the idea that accessibility is a subset of usability, and it’s not a far leap to say that the choices around accessibility implementations should always include design and the overall user experience.

I know that some of you are thinking, “But we have guidelines! Like, that’s why we have the guidelines, so that not everything has to be a gray area.” And on the one hand, yeah, that’s true. There are a lot of guidelines. There are guidelines for the code, and what the code produces, and the design elements. But I worry that when a solution is driven solely by rules, rather than reasons, we run the risk of throwing out the good along with the bad.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 4:15

Accessibility has been a consistent topic of debate in the project for as long as I can remember, and based on all of this, it’s really clear why. There are a few big picture questions that still deserve some sort of canonical answer for WordPress, and where possible I dig in and research the positions that everyone has taken in the past. But I also have questions about how to move everything forward, especially as the editing experience gets more and more standardized across the software, which reduces cognitive load, shortens the learning curve, etc.

What is the future possibility for having a series of more niche admin interface options?

What would it be like to be able to account for functional limitations in a way that lets site builders select what is needed for their clients or organization, or just individual situations they know their sites would be maintained under?

What more could we do if part of the setup flow of WordPress was to select some bundle of potential add ons for neuro diversity, or colorblindness, or dyslexia, and more?

It’s a really big question I have.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 5:26

And I have to be really transparent here and share that my foundational understanding of accessibility and usability is 10 plus years old, and I learned it in the context of people in education, not software. So a lot of my questions about the future of accessibility and WordPress is the result of old knowledge exploring new spaces, which means they are a little untested. And I’m so grateful for the contributors who point out what the current research and thinking is, in this incredibly complex field.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 6:00

I normally like to wrap up the briefing with a tidy takeaway, but this particular topic doesn’t really lend itself to that. So I’ll leave you with this. I really believe in WordPress’ mission to democratize publishing. And I, for one, will never stop learning about what gives people more access to the software, and what makes the software more usable, and especially how we can combine usability with accessibility in a way that puts form and function on a level playing field.

[musical interlude]

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 6:40

And now, that brings us to our small list of big things.

Thing one, it’s that time of year where many of our community members take a short break to relax and refresh. I’ll be taking a bit of a break during the month of August, and so the WP Briefing will return again starting in September.

And thing two, huge thanks to the production crew that helps me make this podcast every couple of weeks, but a special shout out to our editor Dustin Hartzler, who makes quick work of all of my rambling thoughts.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy 7:09

And that is your small list of big things. Thank you for tuning in today for the WordPress Briefing. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, and I’ll see you again in September.

[contemporary outro music]

WPTavern: Open Survey for WordPress Theme Authors on JSON Files and Block Themes

Sat, 07/31/2021 - 03:03

WordPress 5.8 introduced an opt-in system for themes to configure block settings, styles, templates, and more. It is done through a new theme.json file that authors can put at the root of their theme folders. Anne McCarthy, the lead of the FSE Outreach Program, announced a survey earlier today to get feedback from developers on this feature.

“Since this new mechanism is an early step towards a comprehensive style system for the future of WordPress, it’s important to hear from everyone who is currently using theme.json to learn more about how folks are using this tool and what might make sense to include in Core going forward,” she wrote in the announcement.

The survey is open to all theme authors who have used theme.json, giving them a chance to put in some early feedback and help steer the ship going forward.

Because I have worked extensively with this system over the past few months, I had a few things to say. Plus, I just like participating in WordPress-related surveys. I also decided it would be an opportunity to share some of my unfiltered thoughts from a development perspective on the current state of theme.json.

What follows are my responses to the survey’s questions — well, the tidied-up version.

Note: This is a developer-centric post that might not universally appeal to all of our readers. I have attempted to explain some things in user-friendly terminology, but some prerequisite knowledge of theme development may be necessary.


The first question of the survey is pretty cut-and-dry. It asks what your experience is with building block themes or using theme.json. It provides four choices (and an “other” option):

  • I have built and launched block themes.
  • I have experimented with building block themes.
  • I have explored using theme.json with a classic theme.
  • I have used a block theme, but I have not built one yet.

I chose the first option because I have already built two block themes for family and friends. These were simple personal sites that I already maintain for free — honestly, I need to start charging. I am also working on a theme that I hope to release publicly.

How It Started and How It’s Going

The second question asks how one got started with block themes and theme.json. The choices are between forking an existing theme, using the Empty Theme, or starting from scratch.

Again, this is one of those things where I have experimented with each direction, but I cannot remember the exact starting point. The bulk of my work has come from forking a theme that I last worked on in 2019.

I plan to release this as a new theme for free at some point. I am mostly waiting on the following:

  • Navigation block development to settle down
  • The Post Author block to be split into smaller blocks
  • A robust set of comment-related blocks
  • Post Featured Image block to have a size option

I think I could realistically release a use-at-your-own-risk beta version of my theme today if those items were addressed.

Templates and Template Parts

The survey asked which templates and template parts themers always include in their block-based themes. There was a freeform comment field — steps upon soapbox…

I have a love/hate relationship with block templates at the moment. The static nature of HTML templates reminds me of simpler times when theme development was less complicated. However, this also presents a problem in a dynamic system.

I cannot remember the last time I have built a traditional, PHP-based theme with more than one top-level template: index.php. The dynamic pieces have always been the guts of the thing, which are template parts. With PHP, it is easy to set some variable or use a function call to contextually load the templates parts necessary for whichever page a visitor is currently viewing on a site.

The block template system does not work like that. It essentially forces developers into breaking the Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) principle.

For example, if a designer wanted to display a different header template part for pages and posts, they would only need to create a header-page.php or header-post.php template in traditional themes. However, because the block template system is different, they must now create two top-level templates, single.html (post) and page.html, to accomplish the same thing.

This is a “bad thing” because theme authors must duplicate all the other code in each of the top-level templates. There is no way to contextually load different template parts.

To answer the question: I am using almost all of the possible top-level templates out of necessity.

I also answered the second part of the question and listed my most commonly used template parts (broken down by hierarchy):

  • Header
  • Content
    – Loop
    – Sidebar
  • Footer

The content-*.html and loop-*.html template parts are those with the most variations.

Defining Colors

The next section of the survey asks how theme authors define their color palette slugs in theme.json. Believe it or not, naming colors may be the most controversial topic in the theming world in years. The only two things generally agreed upon are “background” and “foreground” colors.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen opened a ticket in 2018 for standardizing a theme color naming scheme. It was not the first discussion and has not been the last. The problem it was meant to address was the slugs for colors in the system, which is how themes define their palettes. Once a user makes use of a preset color, the slug is hardcoded into their content. Switch to another theme with different slugs, and the old colors disappear and do not automatically change to the new theme’s colors.

I use semantic names that follow something that closely resembles the Tailwind CSS framework’s shading system. Instead of red-medium (descriptive), I would use primary-500 (semantic), for example. A semantic approach would allow theme authors to define a set of colors that are updated each time a user switches themes.

Of course, there are other schools of thought, and even everyone who prefers semantic naming does not agree on the same system. I have described my approach in more detail in a more recent GitHub ticket and have a theme.json Gist for others who might want to try it.

Other Theme JSON Settings

Outside of colors and typography, the survey asks what other settings theme authors have used. This is another scenario where I typically use everything — if there is an option for it, I am defining it.

One use case that WordPress does not currently have a preset for is global spacing. Most theme authors use a single value for most vertical margins (whitespace between blocks and elements). It is also often used for default vertical and horizontal padding.

I am unsure if I want a preset because I do not know how WordPress will use it. It is something that others have asked for, and it is nearly ubiquitous in use. Defining an entire system around it could cause headaches down the road, but I would still like to see some discussion around implementing at least a standard global spacing preset.

Per-Block Settings and Styles

This survey section was a yes/no question, simply asking if theme authors included per-block settings or styles in their theme.json files. Of course, I left some additional comments later in the optional comment section.

I am happy with the system when it comes to settings, which allows themers to define which features are enabled globally or on a per-block basis. However, I am not sold on adding styles via theme.json.

Writing CSS in JSON, essentially what we are talking about, feels wrong on so many levels. Currently, it is limited to merely a few configurable styles, so anything beyond that requires diving into an actual CSS file anyway. That is problematic because half of the theme’s CSS code is divided between theme.json and a separate CSS file. From a development standpoint, it makes the codebase harder to maintain.

Initially, I started down the path of configuring per-block and element styles from theme.json. However, I have since moved my styling back to CSS files. It feels more natural, and I have the added benefit of all the tooling I am accustomed to. Right now, I cannot imagine a scenario where I would move back.

Besides saving a few bytes of code, I have not seen many benefits to adding styles for most things via JSON. Maybe that will change in the future, and I will be a convert. For now, I am sticking primarily with CSS.

Other Feedback: A PHP Layer

I have said it before, but it bears repeating. We need a PHP layer for this theme.json configuration system. There is currently an open ticket for addressing this.

There are two main benefits to such a system. Having a PHP API for piecing together configuration will feel far more natural to traditional theme developers. I look at it as a bit of an olive branch, a show of good faith that the core/Gutenberg developers recognize that many theme authors will have an easier time easing into FSE features via a familiar programming language.

The second advantage is that there is an untold number of plugin ideas to extend global styles, site editing, and more if there is an easy way to hook into the theme JSON system and overwrite things. A simple filter hook would make this painless.

WPTavern: PublishPress Adopts Organize Series Plugin

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 21:54

PublishPress, makers of the PublishPress and PublishPress Blocks plugins, have adopted the Organize Series plugin from Darren Ethier. Organize Series is a 15-year-old plugin for organizing and displaying posts in a series, useful for novel writers, educators, magazine sites, and anyone breaking their longer content up into a series.

image credit: PublishPress

PublishPress is also adopting seven extensions for the plugin that add features like custom post type support, shortcodes, the ability to add a post to multiple series, bulk publishing, and more.

Ethier, who works as an engineer at Automattic, said he began losing interest in maintaining the plugin and knew it was time to search for a new owner.

“Most of you have noticed that I haven’t been actively contributing to Organize Series or it’s extensions for some time now and it’s been bugging me,” he said. “I’ve been gradually losing interest in maintaining the plugin as I’ve expanded my developer horizons and as a result, I’ve struggled with making the time to work on it.”

Ethier connected with PublishPress by describing his situation in a post on the Post Status community and agreed to transfer his plugin and extensions in exchange for a donation to a charity.

“Darren asked us to make a charitable donation as part of the handover,” PublishPress founder Steve Burge said. “We chose the American Journalism Project. Over 2,100 communities in the U.S. have lost their local newspaper since 2004. The AJP is trying to reverse that trend. It is a non-profit that is investing in local news. Their goal is to help grow newsrooms that hold the powerful accountable, combat disinformation, and deepen civic participation.”

Burge assured current users that the free version of Organize Series will remain free on WordPress.org with all of its current features and some improvements. The company will also keep the extensions freely available on GitHub but Burge said they plan to release a commercial version with updated versions of the extensions.

With the adoption of Organize Series, PublishPress now has nine plugins available in its niche collection of publishing extensions as part of its mission to “help WordPress publishers succeed.” In the near future, Organize Series’ website content will be transferred over and the company will be changing the plugin’s name to “PublishPress Series.”

WPTavern: Refined.blog: A Curated List of RSS Feeds for Software Engineering Blogs

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 02:58

In one of the most apropos uses of a .blog domain, Refined.blog is a new website that promotes personal blogging with a curated list of software engineering blogs. It’s a simple site with an index of blogs, their Hacker News scores, tags, and a link to each blog’s RSS feed. The search function is very fast and applies to all columns in the index (with the exception of the feed URL). Columns can be ordered alphabetically, by tag, or by HN points.

“Experience is gold,” Refined.blog creator Musa Ünal wrote in the site’s introduction. “There are many different social media platforms on the internet but we need personal blogs again. It’s hard to find blogs so let’s create this blog list together!”

It’s true – discovering new blogs isn’t easy. If you’re not following the right people on Twitter or don’t happen to be around when a person links to their posts on social media, then you are usually out of luck. Personal blogs are often not very well optimized for search and can get lost in the haystack.

Google Search doesn’t provide a way to narrow results to personal blogs. The Wiby search engine is about the closest you can get for searching these types of websites, although it seems to be limited to older style pages that are based on one subject of interest. Wiby uses Microsoft Bing’s search results combined with Wiby.me results without sending your IP and user agent to Microsoft. Wiby’s about page explains the problem that sites like Refined.blog are aiming solve:

In the early days of the web, pages were made primarily by hobbyists, academics, and computer savvy people about subjects they were personally interested in. Later on, the web became saturated with commercial pages that overcrowded everything else. All the personalized websites are hidden among a pile of commercial pages. Google isn’t great at finding them, its focus is on finding answers to technical questions, and it works well; but finding things you didn’t know you wanted to know, which was the real joy of web surfing, no longer happens. In addition, many pages today are created using bloated scripts that add slick cosmetic features in order to mask the lack of content available on them. Those pages contribute to the blandness of today’s web.

The Wiby search engine is building a web of pages as it was in the earlier days of the internet.

Refined.blog brings more exposure to some of these single-person curated websites. Its creator, Musa Ünal, is considering branching out from an index of software engineering blogs to separate indexes for different topics.

“For example, I am big fan of history bloggers, but it’s very hard to find these kinds of blogs,” he said in response to a question on Hacker News. “If you know such of blogs, please contribute to the project. If we have enough bloggers listed, we can create subdomains like history.refined.blog or art.refined.blog.”

Hacker News comments on the project range from people discovering RSS for the first time and looking for reader recommendations, to people returning to RSS to get their news after becoming jaded by news algorithms and social media platforms. Other commenters shared that they, too, maintain their own lists of curated blogs. Refined.blog used some existing Engineering and Security blog lists as sources for the index.

“I love this,” one person commented on Hacker News. “I’m in the ultrarunning community and I love reading everyone’s blog posts/trip reports/race reports/adventures. But everyone stopped updating them over the past 5 years or so. Now that sort of thing is just an Instagram photo with a paragraph or two. The depth and character of those old blog posts have been lost. I wish in depth blog posts would come back, but in reality, I don’t think they are.”

Another commenter echoes the sentiments of others who have given up on promoting their blogs in the age of social media:

I’ve completely given up on promoting my stuff. It used to be very easy and straightforward. Like minded folks could find new stuff without a problem. Nowadays, there’s just way too much content, the vast majority of very low effort, and you get lost in the noise immediately.

For example, I have an old blog post that got featured in podcasts, on dailyjs, HN, is linked to from MDN, etc. When I wrote it in 2014 I pretty much just submitted it to Reddit, that’s it. Nowadays I couldn’t recreate that exposure — or even a tiny fraction of it — if my life depended on it.

Regardless of whether the site takes off or not, I think it’s important to catalog these attempts to restore the magic of that earlier era where websites offered a real window into people’s knowledge and interests. It may not look the same as many of us remember the old school “vintage” internet, but the blogosphere will continue to evolve as long as bloggers at heart keep experimenting with projects like this. So much of this style of writing has gone to email newsletters, but content that lives publicly on the web has a longer life cycle that can be rejuvenated through linked conversations. Writers can and should be able to embrace both methods of distribution.

Refined.blog is hosted on GitHub and is open to feature suggestions and contributions. One person submitted an issue, suggesting the site add one or more OPML feed links so people can subscribe to all or some of the blogs at once. Ünal said he is working on making an OMPL export for selected blogs.

If you’re looking to beef up your RSS reader with active software engineering blogs, Refined.blog might be a good place to search. There are no blogs referencing WordPress development yet, but the site does have several that focus on tooling, JavaScript, React, PHP, and other technologies that WordPress developers use. The index is specifically designated for personal blogs and company blogs are not permitted. Anyone can submit a blog for inclusion by following the instructions on the main Github project repo or by filling out the Google form with the same information.

WPTavern: TeslaThemes Rebrands, Shifts Focus to Real Estate Market

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 01:44

Earlier this month, TeslaThemes announced that it was rebranding to WPRealEstate. The company wanted to focus its efforts on a single niche in the theming market and cut back on the library of projects it was maintaining.

In 2017, Imagely acquired TeslaThemes. The shop was created in 2013 and had grown its library to 68 themes. Last year, Imagely was acquired, and Nathan Singh was named CEO of the company.

Eric Danzer, the founder and former CEO of Imagely, continued running TeslaThemes and its sister site ShowThemes since the acquisition. He is now ready to turn the page and jump into the next chapter of running a successful WordPress business.

“I’ve decided that, as a business, we’ll do better focusing our energy on a specific niche rather than trying to be all things to all people,” he said.

After several years of running a generic theme shop, the company ran into a brick wall that so many others in the industry I have talked to had hit. It is the realization that maintaining so many disparate projects puts an almost insurmountable burden on the development and support teams.

“TeslaThemes has historically tried hard to serve a lot of small niches,” wrote Danzer in the announcement post. “We’ve had themes for real estate, recipes, musicians, eCommerce stores, photographers, event management, local business listings, and many other use cases. For each of those, we were embedding plugin-level functionality in each separate theme. That created a highly complicated product line that’s difficult to maintain and keep up to date.”

The team had run into the Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none problem. Tightening the focus would allow the company to focus on and become one of the best in a specific niche. Thus, the shift to real estate.

“As I move on from Imagely, I wanted another big project to focus on,” Danzer added in a personal note. “I wanted it to be something I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about nearly every aspect of real estate. I own multiple rental properties, and I’m working toward a real estate license.”

The company had already been doing well in the real estate market with its previous Realtor theme. It was one of its most popular options.

“On the market side, the real estate market is large enough to sustain a great theme shop,” wrote Danzer. “Yet, it’s also a unique niche — real estate professionals have specific, challenging, hard-to-solve needs.”

Existing TeslaThemes customers will continue receiving support and have access to any products purchased in the past. They will also be able to get the new real estate plugin and theme.

The legacy themes, those created before the 2017 acquisition, are no longer under active development. The company replaced those in November 2020 with the Tesla Pro framework, which Danzer said his team plans to maintain and support for at least another year.

WPRealEstate Plugin and Theme Map, search, and listings blocks in a theme demo.

The team built the plugin on top of the block editor. They also created it alongside the RESO Web API, a modern standard for transporting data in the real estate world.

While there is no public demo of the backend or even any editor screenshots, a peek under the hood reveals several custom blocks. The theme previews showcase map, search, and listings solutions. They also seem to blend the output with the Kadence Blocks plugin.

Instead of launching multiple themes, the company will focus on building a single project with several design options out of the box. Users can import prebuilt content and data as part of the onboarding process.

Danzer said that the new WPRealEstate theme is still a traditional, customizer-based theme. “We’ll start working on a new FSE theme almost immediately though. Between the work needed and waiting for FSE core functionality to mature, I don’t think we’d release that until sometime in 2022.”

As far as I am aware, there are few, if any, robust block-based real estate solutions for WordPress at the moment. Custom post types and metadata serve as the foundation. However, a well-designed layer of blocks on top of that system could make it far easier for agents to build their sites.

Gutenberg Times: Join the WordPress Full-Site Editing Outreach program

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 20:46

Anne McCarthy, developer relations wrangler for the open-source WordPress project, spearheads the Full-Site Editing experimental Outreach program.

The goal of the program is to get all the new tools for full-site editing that are coming to WordPress in the near future into the hands of site builders and implementers for testing and feedback.

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow!

Linus’ Law by Eric S. Raymond

In this short video, McCarthy explains the program and answer a few questions.

The hope is that you, dear reader and listener, will seize the opportunity to contribute and get a look behind the scenes and share your experiences with the Gutenberg developer team.

I joined a few calls for testing. It was great fun to learn more how the new Site Editor works and push the limits of the user interface. Sometimes it felt a little rough around the edges and I got lost a few times. I found my struggles and confusions, in the feedback summaries and quite a few bugs were found and squashed because of the people testing.

Use the comment section below, to let us know what you think or if you have questions we can answer.


Anne McCarthy

Howdy. My name is Anne McCarthy. I’m a Developer Relations Wrangler working for Automattic. I want to share a bit today about the Full Site Editing outreach program.

This is a program that I’m currently working on building out, so I hope by the end you feel compelled to join in on the fun. But let’s jump into some big picture questions, and know, I welcome questions as well in the comments below. I’ll also link to some resources.

What is the Full-Site Editing Outreach program?

So to start what is it? As the name suggests, it’s a program focused on Full Site Editing. Full Site Editing is a major part of phase two of Gutenberg right now.

Currently, it’s in the form of a Slack channel in the wordpress.org slack community with

  • Curated calls for testing,
  • feedback summary posts, and
  • various educational opportunities, like
  • live streams of people building block themes or
  • hallway hangouts, where we talk about Full Site Editing related issues.
What is the Goal of the FSE Outreach Program?

The goal is to ultimately help improve the Full Site Editing experience by gathering feedback from people who use WordPress, specifically WordPress site builders. But while the group was originally started solely to focus on this feedback loop, there’s actually a really neat education component in place where people can join in to start building your own awareness and understanding of what’s to come as well as share what they’re working on and what problems they’re running into.

Why was it started?

It was started originally in May 2020, with about 100 people who signed up to participate. It was intended to help create better engagement with users to get better feedback to developers more seamlessly, especially for change as big as those being brought on with Full Site Editing, it felt important to create a new pathway. And this was also a big lesson that was learned with WordPress 5.0 that we wanted to make better.

What happens in the Program?

As mentioned, there are calls for testing that happen every couple of weeks, followed by a summary post, which I’ll share links to later. And interspersed between that there are things like calls for questions where we’ll do a call for questions, people can submit their questions, and then I’ll go through and find answers for all of them to share the answers openly.

And there’s also some hallway hangouts. There’s also some different educational opportunities and opportunities to give ad-hoc feedback. So for example, launching soon is going to be a survey asking folks who have built things with theme.json to share what they’d like to see in the future.

Do I need to be technical to join?

So this is something I hear a lot is what level of technical ability do I need to have in order to participate in this? So to kind of give you a lay of the land, this is what we typically need for each testing flow.

  • You need to be able to set up a test site,
  • you need to be able to be using the latest version of WordPress, so you know how to update things and keep things up to date,
  • you need to use the Gutenberg plugin, which is just a matter of installing and activating the plug in, and
  • you need to use the TT1 blocks theme.

Otherwise, you don’t need to be hyper technical to join this, we will not be going into code most of the time.

Most calls for testing are very much end user-friendly and site builder friendly. So if this resonates, this feels like something you can do, I highly encourage you to join in.

How to join?

So it’s very simple, you dive into Make Slack and head to the FSE outreach experiment channel #fse-outreach-experiment, which you can see here. And from there, you’re all set.

You just pay attention to pings from yours truly.

And if you’d like you can subscribe to the Make Test blog is that’s where I post both the calls for testing and any other sorts of check ins.

So let’s say you want to learn more and kind of actually see some of the stuff that we’ve done.

Resources to learn more

Here are the different links that you can follow. And I’ll drop these in the description of this video. But there’s the testing calls and summaries, the hallway hangouts, and the Q and A’s.

Stay connected!

Finally, if you want to stay connected with me, I’m @annezazu You can also find me at nomad.blog.

I really hope you join the program if this resonated at all and if you are someone who uses WordPress on a regular basis to build sites for yourself or others.

I really hope you join because we do need your feedback to make this a success.

And WordPress is all about the community, and I’d love to continue to grow that community. Hope to hear from you soon and hope to see you join.

Note: Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section below. I will get them to Anne McCarthy for answers. — Birgit

Featured Image: Justin Tadlock’s exploration for the FSE Call for Testing #4