James Farmer’s WordPress story goes all the way back to his launch of the first hosted WordPress multisite blogging platform — just a few days ahead of WordPress.com. Edublogs currently hosts millions of students’ and educators’ blogs. James talks about successes and failures, his views on Gutenberg, how he stays competitive with Squarespace, and how he thinks the WordPress business community should respond to the loss of active install growth data at WordPress.org.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
In this episode of Post Status Draft, Cory is joined by James Farmer, CEO of Incsub, WPMU DEV, CampusPress, and Edublogs. James’ WordPress story goes all the way back to his launch of the first hosted WordPress multisite blogging platform — just a few days ahead of WordPress.com. Edublogs currently hosts millions of students’ and educators’ blogs. James talks about successes and failures, his views on Gutenberg, and how he stays competitive with Squarespace. Cory brings up the WordPress.org active install growth data question and gets James’ take on how he’d like to see that data re-emerge with greater value for plugin businesses.
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Mentioned in the show:
- Incsub – WPMU DEV, CampusPress, & Edublogs
- WPMU DEV
- CampusPress: WordPress for Education | Websites & ePortfolios
- EduBlogs: Blogs & Websites For Education
You can follow Post Status and our guests on Twitter:
- James Farmer (Founder, Incsub)
- Cory Miller (Editor, Post Status)
- Olivia Bisset (Intern, Post Status)
The Post Status Draft podcast is geared toward WordPress professionals, with interviews, news, and deep analysis.
Cory Miller: [00:00:00] Hey, everybody at Post Status. I’m excited to have this conversation today. Um, my special guest is James Farmer, founder of Wpm U Dev, and, um, I’ve known of James. I think I’ve got to meet him maybe once. I know we’ve talked before, but you know, as far back as James goes with WordPress, And the cool stuff he was doing at the beginning when I knew about him.
And now, fast forward to today, I thought this would be a very relevant conversation. And if you know anything about James, he, uh, knows his stuff and has opinions and, and I like his opinions, and I want to hear those. So, uh, James, thanks for coming on the, uh, uh, post status draft, uh, pleasure. In doing this conversation with me.
It’s fun to, to, uh, hear your voice and hear what you’re doing and get your thoughts on some things.
James Farmer: Uh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invitation. It’s, um, it’s, yeah, it’s really.
Cory Miller: Uh, you were just telling me, uh, it’s like [00:01:00] beautiful sunny skies in Melbourne where I think you’re based, uh, this morning.
So thanks for joining us early for your time. .
James Farmer: Yeah. No, it’s, um, it’s just, uh, spring has finally arrived. We we’re currently having a, a big wet, as it’s called in Australia, which means that it’s just rain, rain, rain everywhere. But finally it’s sunny and nice and, uh, we’re, uh, rolling into our, into our, towards our.
Cory Miller: Awesome. Well, I’m jealous. I, I want to get to Australia at some point, and I haven’t been there and, and hope to see in person and, and see the country. Well, absolutely. Okay. I’m gonna dive right in, James, because I’m, I’m interested in these questions and I want to hear your thoughts and, and opinions on things.
But the first is just like, I know you as an early pioneer in WordPress in the, in the product space in particular. Um, but there’s some people that may not know some of the backstory. So could you tell us like how you get got started with WordPress and then what the point where W P M U [00:02:00] started, you know, that kind of origin story?
James Farmer: I’m curious to hear for myself. Yeah, for sure. Um, no trouble at all. So, so way back in the midst of time, I was interested in blogging as an educational tool. I was a, I was a teacher, um, and uh, English as a foreign language. And then, um, kind of, uh, working in that area and then education design.
And I started to, I wanted to use blogs for like, education purposes and, um, I had a look around and I found this piece of software called Radio User Land by Dave Wener. And it’s this fantastic. Piece of software, um, you kind of wrote it and on your every, managed everything on your desktop and it kind of pushed it to a static HTML site.
I mean, you know, radical
I mean, you could even call it headless maybe. I dunno. But, but, but, um, but yeah, that would’ve been, oh man, 2003. And, um, I started my. Blog, James Farmer’s Radio web blog. And um, I got a link [00:03:00] from, um, from Dave Wener himself cuz um, probably cuz I was using his software and I think I got described as an enthusiastic new edgy blogger and, uh, and so I kind of got into it that way.
Um, and then a year later my subscription was coming up and, uh, I’d heard about this, you know, kind of, um, this other interest. Software that was out there, there’s this thing called movable type, um, which is doing all right. It’s quite pretty. There’s this single WordPress everyone was raving about. And so I thought, well, you know, might as well learn how to install something on a server, also learn what, what a server is and
That was the level of my technical ability and um, and so I kind of did all the steps and talked myself through and set up a WordPress blog. Um, yeah, in 2004, I think called Incorporated sub versions. Which was all about educational philosophy of incorporating subversion into the design of your software, which then eventually became Ink Sub [00:04:00] cuz Incorporated and Subversion kind of went together.
Um, and um, that was, um, that was kind of, um, how I originally got started.
Cory Miller: So, uh, 2004. So you got me. Um, similarity, you know, 2006, one, I used this software. You may remember back in the day, because I had no coding, I still don’t have any coding experience, but Claris homepage on the Mac and building my website, I was like, this is ridiculous, trying to update my copyright footer or something when something changed.
But before WordPress, mine was Google, uh, was blog. Ah yes. Cause you could publish things to the thing, but when you said weblog, it took me back to that web period.
James Farmer: Like I know Go golden period dm. The, what I really wanted to do like this, the core thing was I really wanted to do is I wanted to start like a blogger kind of service for students so that rather than people like typing in like [00:05:00] discussion boards and doing all that flat boardy kinda stuff, which is still doing amazingly, just, it makes me.
Shutter . I could think about the state of educational technology, but the, um, so rather than doing, um, that, um, they would each have their own site and people would have their own profile and a bit like a kind of proto face Facebook kind of experience. And, um, Radio use had this other bit of software called Manila, which allowed you to do that.
But this was hideously complex and incredibly hard to put together. And I worked with like some of the IT guys in, um, the school where I was at the time, R M I T, English Worldwide. And we just tried to do it and we kind of got it together and it kind of didn’t work so. So when, um, I discovered WordPress, I was really enjoying it because, you know, it’s as, as we all know, it’s a fantastic blogging platform and it was so much kind of more fun and interesting.
I could play with things and these plugins, which was so much better than this kind of static publishing thing where you’d have to tweet gates also, not a coder. Terrible tweaking. I mean, like, yeah, the way back machine will demonstrate [00:06:00] very clearly my, my, my, my, my design and uh, coding talents. But, um, then the, the real thing for me, the thing that when it really kicked off was when I’m gonna mispronounce his name cuz I always have done that.
I’ve never been on to Donica, put together this WordPress m u thing as a side project and I was like, holy shit. That’s how I can do blogger for the students. They could put this together. Oh my word. And so I just, I just went to town on that and working on that. And I tried loads of examples and set ups and things here.
And, um, it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working. And then, um, I, at the same time, Matt went over to Ireland to, um, to do some work with Donica. I’m sorry, Donica, please. I really am sort of the misappropriation, , the um, They went over to Ireland and they kind of re re uh, rejigged. What would you, what would you call it?
Um, oh man, they’re always doing it in our plugins. Refactored, refactored, WordPress, mu refactored, WordPress mu. [00:07:00] And, um, and turned into this really nice thing and I was like, Oh my God, it’s even better. And I was having a glass of wine at home one night. And just dood noodling around with this. And, um, I, I owned at that point, I think about like four domain names, or three domain names.
So I’d add Insub, which was my blog and a couple of others, like for friends and family. But because I was an edgy blogger, um, I’d also, you know, I’d been like, Oh, I wonder if there’s anything about edgy page blogs. And, and edgy blog.org was available for like, you know, 8 95. And so I was like, Oh, cool. I buy that and.
Had this, I was sitting on this flat leather couch in the suburb of Melbourne at 7:00 PM couple of glass of red, and I just thought, what about if I put this new WordPress, SMU stuff onto edgy blogs.org and then just posted about it and saw what happened. And so I did that and um, it took a while. It was a bit hard, and I woke up the next day and like 80 people had created.
I was like, [00:08:00] Yeah, like my, my jaw hit the floor. It was astonishing because all of these people in the blogging community, most people using probably movable type, some people using radio use land as DRO or users, people like kind of, you know, all sorts of different platforms and everyone was. Everyone was interested in WordPress and what WordPress was, but you know, like nobody really necessarily had the capacity or the extra area or even the coding ability to try it out.
And so you could just set up a WordPress site and play with WordPress. People are like, Oh yeah, hell yeah, I’ll do that. And, um, I think, um, my, my claim to fame is that, um, that, uh, edgy.org predated wordpress.com by four weeks. So they, they, There you go. See, that’s where, and, and that’s why I’m a billionaire.
Cory Miller: I love that. I, I thought I knew the origins of WMU as well, like your company name now, [00:09:00] um, heavy with the, Oh, what’s, what does image stand for? Multiuse. I think you, So
James Farmer: actually, uh, mu actually, here’s an interesting fact. Not a lot of people No, it’s actually the Greek letter of the alphabet Mu Okay. Um, which actually was actually done by a little symbol that looks like this, and essentially it means infas or multiple, multiple and things there.
And so it never was WordPress Mu, it was actually WordPress. But of course, you know, nobody understood that, understood that or figured that out. So it became WordPress mu And then of course later on, um, after, uh, Ida utterly dominated the WPP size, a bottle of domains, WordPress multi-site, which I got a little bit, I got a little bit salty about that change
But, but, but we survived and we’re still here.
Cory Miller: Uh, so I remember the symbol now that you’re saying. Um, connected to that way back, so I’m getting some nostalgia here too, thinking about, because it was always [00:10:00] this cool thing that you could do. And, um, and you did it well with edgy blogs and that’s how I remember, you know, um, hearing about what you were doing.
I think it was Word Camp San Francisco, one of the first ones. Mm-hmm. that I think you presented. If I, if I’m not mistaken. Oh,
James Farmer: I don’t think I presented at it. I don’t, I did, I did. Um, I did the first. Word Words Camp, um, in the Southern Hemisphere. Um, word camp down un down under, um, in, uh, in Melbourne, in Docklands.
And so that might have, it might have been from there. That would be, uh, our original kind of thing.
Cory Miller: So then Edge bro, edgy blogs took off, I think from what I, what I understand. And then how did, how did you get to Wpm U Dev, what you’re doing now in some form?
James Farmer: So, um, I, I, as, as I mentioned probably mentions route, I’m, I’m not much of a developer or a coder.
I’m actually not a developer or a coder. And, um, uh, but I, I wanted things [00:11:00] jilo, you know, I wanted this feature or this sort of thing or, and this extra functionality to be added to, you know, like, uh, simple things like, you know, kind of take the remember me box by. Or, um, slightly more complex ones, like where I wanted to put like a donate bus in so people could support it.
And, um, so I was, um, kneeling around on the forums. Um, with, um, you know, back in the day there was a, I think the, there was a separate, like WordPress move. Forum area. I don’t think it was part of the original WordPress org one. And I’m chatting to people and they’re asking ’em questions and eventually I ended up chatting to this guy called Andrew Billz, who, um, was also on there and asked him like, maybe, you know, if I kind of like gave him, I didn’t have very much money, a few bucks or something, or if we could do some exchange, I could do something and could he do a few things.
And so we started pottering. Um, kind of help him, helping me with a few things like that. And also at the same time, he had set up [00:12:00] a site called wpm u dev.org, which, um, he was basically using, uh, essentially wordpress.org was set up for WordPress stuff. It had nothing related to this new mu stuff. It was separate thing.
And so he set that up in order to basically be plum, who would just be about WordPress. Cause that’s what we were interested and that’s what we were playing with. And. So we kind of continued to kind of work together and done those little things. And then around about 2006 when this kind of like progressed on and edgy blocks had taken on, LED started like a sideline of it called Edgy Blocks Campus, which is now Campus press, the education provider, um, the, um, but uh, we, um, interesting campus.
Best fact, I think I’m allowed to say it here. We’re not allowed to put it on our marketing material, but, um, Harvard, um, business school employed Dave Winer for a year as a visiting fellow to set up their blogging platform on Manila. You know, the platform I was [00:13:00] talking about, set off radio use land as an early business thing there, and now Harvard runs on WordPress powered by campus press.
Which is . That’s awesome. I know. It’s so awesome. I’m so happy about that. It only took like 15 years of like constantly pestering them going, Please, please, please use us. Please let us help you. But yeah, we can’t be confident in marketing material. But I think you can mention it, someone like that I suppose.
I suppose I will find out if, um, if we can’t with some angry emails, in which case, Sorry. Sorry, Harvard, I’m just boasting cause I’m pleased about it. Yeah, it’s a nice story. . Um, the um, but. Uh, so, so basically it, it had progressed and then I got this like contact from a, um, football management game that I’d actually played, um, saying we’d like to make a football related kind of thing here, just like edge blogs.
They found me through edge blogs and, um, to my utter shock, I put forward a proposal for, I think it was like 50 grand. [00:14:00] And they were like, Yeah, that sounds reasonable, . And I was like, What, how could anybody spend this amount of money? Are you insane? And they flew me to, um, San Francisco, um, to do it. I spoke to Andrew.
Andrew, um, was gonna be the developer and put all this stuff together. I was gonna do the business and the content and the structure and the project management and those things. And we did, we put it together. It was called football united.com. That’s really cool. But then I said to Andrew, Well, you know, how about, you know, like, rather than, Employing you these things here.
How about we actually join up together and we, we form a company and we do this stuff together and split it 50 50. And um, he was like, Yeah, cool. And I was like, you know, and um, you could have 10% of ed blogs. What is worth is making no money. And, you know, kind of, we can bring in W P U Dev, you know, this, um, free repository place.
I didn’t really have any ideas for it. We can just pull our ideas and work together. And we did. And hence ink. Which is the company name, because it was a free domain name I had lying [00:15:00] around. I was like, Well, I’ve got this.com, why don’t we use this? And hence, Y W P Dev then became part of iub.
Cory Miller: Okay, I got it.
James Farmer: The story, story . Yeah.
Cory Miller: Yeah. I, I always love these, hearing these origin stories because they, um, you know, it starts with this wonder, like you said, I wonder if. We could do this and I wonder if or, or how things evolve over time because like, This started with a, what if that became edgy blogs and then eventually Ink Sub Wpm U Dev kind of came out of that.
And now we’re here today in 2020. So it’s crazy thinking back too. But I love hearing the stories of how they evolved because, uh, I’m the same way, you know, I’m not a developer either, and, uh, . So I I love that. Um, okay, so that’s some of the backstory. I wanted, I wanted to share that or you to share that because I want people to know there’s some things we could have a whole conversation on.
Movable [00:16:00] type, right? Some of those Oh yeah. , because I remember that too. And uh, some of the mis moves they made, missteps they made that really helped propel word, presidents level. Yeah. Yeah know. But I wanna set this , right? . I wanna set that stage though, to say you’ve been doing this a long time, James, and you’ve seen a lot of the evolution of WordPress and the industry, the market, the growth, some of the things that have changed over time.
And so it was good to share that story, but we could just camp out an entrepreneurial, But I really want to also, okay, in this. Second step is like, go, Okay, now setting the stage, tell me how, where Wpm U is today. And, uh, then I wanna talk about technology. I wanna talk about the web, and I wanna talk about WordPress.
And I wanna get your, your thoughts on all these things. So where is Sounds good today?
James Farmer: Cool. Right. So, Wp Me Dev today has evolved from its various plugin forms into [00:17:00] something. It’s somewhere halfway between plugins and a service and a hosting platform. Can you be halfway between three things? Absolutely.
Um, so. Um, I, yeah, so, so essentially we’ve, we’ve offer a, you know, kind of a core suite of plugins, you know, for security performance. Um, we’ve actually got a really good SEO plugin, but we just marketed terribly by name, name terribly by me. Um, and, um, you know, kind of a form builder and, uh, security, I said security deni already.
And then we’ve got like a site management area that, uh, you know, very. To manage WP in some respects, but it allows you to look after all of those different things. But you, first and foremost, really over the last few years has been a hosting product, um, which is, um, built on top of, um, ation and lions infrastructure.
Well, you node, depending upon your preference there. Yeah. Which, which, which offers a really, a [00:18:00] really different, um, managed, um, WordPress experience that’s really catered directly for, uh, for resellers. Web developers, freelancers, agencies who are, um, you know, catering to, um, clients who are often small businesses or medium businesses and those things.
And so we’re essentially trying to provide all the tools, the platform, the background to save them time, save them money, and help them produce really cool sites. That’s what we are.
Cory Miller: And yeah. And how, how big is your team today?
James Farmer: The whole ink sub team is, uh, it fluctuates a bit cuz we, we, we hire quite a lot.
We try and hire everybody at a junior, um, level or mid level. I mean like our entire exec team is like, you know, people who started basically as junior staff things. In fact, um, I think tmr coo, I turned him down twice, got rejected. It’s always, always fun to think about you. Not good enough, . Yeah,
Cory Miller: he’s a who by the way.
I’ve got to meet him a [00:19:00] couple
James Farmer: times. , He’s, he’s a, he’s a, he’s good value, isn’t he? He’s a great manager as well. Um, so, um, yeah. But, um, so we, so the numbers vary, but I think we’re about 175. 176. Fantastic. Is those Yeah, it’s cool. It’s amazing. It shocks me, to be honest with you. I’m still a. But, um, we are, um, But yeah, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve done some nice things and people, um, meeting up and stuff and we are doing, um, next April, we’re having our first, not our first, cause we did one in New York back today, but our first proper company retreat and we’re all gonna go to Bali.
I dunno if you’ve been to Bali. It’s a, it’s a lovely place in Indonesia, um, just north of, um, Australia. And, uh, we’re staying over. Yeah, yeah. Bar. Yeah. And so, and so we we’re going for a week with 60. Is so exciting. It’s gonna be so cool. It’s like, I was like, ah, I like do a couple of days work and then mostly just hang out and chat and see.
You can see the sites, you can go to bars, you [00:20:00] can do all sorts of different things. But um, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m super excited about that.
Cory Miller: Yeah, I get that elbow time. Well, I love that and congratulations to hear kind of the before, how it gets started now today, and one thing, you know, I paid attention to Wpm U Death for a long time, but a couple things I’ve always admired is, one is you have a tool set of things that if you wanna build.
Or press sites and things like that. You’ve got it like it seemed like grown over time. I’d go back when I was still running Ithe and go, How the heck are they doing all of this stuff with
James Farmer: like this? Yeah. Yeah. With a great deal of effort.
Cory Miller: And I’ve been on the emails for a long time too, and I’ve always admired too the content production that you all have done historically through Wpm U Oh, thank you so.
So cool. Well have fun in Bali for sure. And tell Tim, um, uh, hi
James Farmer: for me. I will, I’ll pass it on. He said he was looking forward to the live version of this. [00:21:00] He got some. I bet he, I was gonna sit back, but, uh, But it’s all good. He can, uh, this way he can watch it as many times as he liked.
Cory Miller: Exactly. Then he can’t throw tomatoes and different things at us
Well, okay. So thank you for that. And then I wanna come back as we wrap up and talk about what you’re doing, what you’re excited about, uh, with Wpm U as well, and, um, one of the, you know, pioneers in the space and WordPress and the product space. Um, but I wanna take some time and I wanna get your thoughts on some things.
Okay? Sure. So, and with all this experience and what you’ve seen, the evolution and all, you know, the ups and downs of entrepreneurship as well, but you. What’s your, what’s your outlook today? And this is the, I’m gonna just start with the big one, the word press. You’ve seen, you’ve been there
James Farmer: for the, Sorry, sorry about the camera.
Doing all sorts of things.
Cory Miller: No, no, I like it cuz I, I want one because I’ve just got a static one. You’ve got one that moves, but, um, so, [00:22:00] As you look at, you see you’ve been there. Uh, I think we were talking like early on with WordPress, even before mu uh, mu, excuse me, was like rolled out and stuff. And I think I came in, I was telling you before we were, we started recording that.
I think I came in somewhere in the two range, you know, when it was still blue and why, and it was like just one little horizontal menu and I was like, this is the best thing on earth. But you’ve seen a lot. And so the first thing I wanted to ask out of the gate, Um, what do you think right now where WordPress is?
What’s your outlook on where we are today, how it’s grown, and any thoughts around just WordPress today?
James Farmer: Ah, yeah, so. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s, every article about WordPress starts with WordPress powers. X percentage is a web. And you know, it does this and it does that. And I, I think if I was a, if I was a betting man, not besting man, but if I was, I would say that, um, where we’re at now in [00:23:00] terms of saturation is probably about where we’ll be.
I think it’s, um, I don’t think there’s gonna be, um, um, a, uh, any necessary kind of, um, growth, um, apart from, you know, general growth as a web and people trading sites and so on, um, in a percentage market share. And I think that that’s basically down to, um, the, uh, Squarespace, uh, Shopify reification of, um, of, uh, of, of the world.
I mean, um, there’s more and more people who. Able to use both because it’s easier and because it’s more accessible and know about tools like Squarespace, you know, everybody pretty much does. And, you know, and even, you know, MailChimp and so they’re trying to come out with their versions of it, and they do a pretty decent job.
Um, so if you are, um, a small business, which, or then, which is, like I said, Members, their clients, um, their clients are looking at like a kinda square space setup for , say, [00:24:00] might cost them two or 300 bucks a year. Or they’re looking at hiring a web developer and getting this done and this done, this done.
And that’s like, I dunno, say let’s say three to 10 grand a year. Then it’s, it’s like, well, I’ll just put in the yards and figure it out myself. And I think that’s a lot of that’s gonna be happening and continuing to happen. I’m optimistic in terms of WordPress pertain its market share because of course, you know, these third party platforms just don’t have the flexibility or the options.
And, um, also because, you know, they’re heavily debt funded and, uh, they need to make money. And in doing so, they need to offer the kind of support and different levels and so on and so forth, which means that your square space, your square space, basic decent site with maybe a shopping card on it, is going to go towards five, $6,000 a year.
Um, possibly more, you know, maybe even kind of like two grand and then all of a sudden it starts to be, Oh, actually, well this is a more comfortable kind of [00:25:00] area. And we’re, um, we are trying to make, um, one of the things we’ve got rolling out next year is we’re trying to essentially allow our. Members to create a kind of square space type automated provision environment with funky templates and all the cool things and WordPress built into it all their own templates so that, um, they can, you know, essentially have a, kind of build your own site option, which they can offer for their particular niche or area or those sorts of things.
So I’m hoping that we’re doing our bit to, uh, to help us keep, keep up with the, um, with the Super Bowl ad buyers , but it’s still, you know, it’s a rough and tumble.
Cory Miller: So this, this is something I’ve seen change in piggybacking on what you did. You know, when I started Ithe in 2008, um, it was the Wild West with themes because they wanted that kind of, you know, experience to be able to find a good theme and kind of do it themselves.
Or a builder, a freelancer, kind of take it, mold [00:26:00] it. , and it’s interesting over time, particularly with I Teams, we go, Okay, themes are getting saturated, and then you see this dynamic you talked about with Squarespace starting to come in going, and it felt like to me, James, that it, those players out there that didn’t exist when WordPress was for sure getting, its like upward momentum didn’t really exist and WordPress became an option.
Then over time, I was like, Golly, if you look into even web. Come into win flow and thinking that the tools around in the competitive landscape have gotten way better. You know, there’s great experiences and it seems like it’s shifted the market where it’s the focus is a little bit more like, You’re serving small businesses, for instance, and this web designer freelancer comes in and goes, Okay, you want this experience that’s a little bit more complicated than you would, you could probably get on your own right now.
Yep, yep, yep. It seems like, like the agencies and the freelancers I talked to, they’re, it’s, it’s like, I wondered the other day, I was like, Okay, what, What happened to the, [00:27:00] you know, $2,000, $5,000 website? Mm-hmm. and back in the day, You know, you could get, like, that was, that was, that was the heyday of that.
But I’m, I’m interested in your thoughts there too, like from those trends in WordPress, have you seen that too? Where it’s like, there’s really good options out there now? You said freedom and I, I’m, I ring that bell as well and I, that’s why I love WordPress. Cause I can do whatever I want with, and I’m not locked in, but Yep.
You know, some of those trends that you’re seeing too out there with WordPress and its position in the market. I’m, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. That.
James Farmer: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, um, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s fascinating. Um, and we, we talk to our members a lot. We do a lot of, um, surveys and where, where they’re heading out, and I, I, there’s a lot of very healthy businesses and there’s a lot of people going in, in, in for it.
But there’s also, um, a lot of people who are receiving pushback from people in that are looking at that part. Kind of like, um, dollar bracket, if you will. I mean, when you’re, when you’re talking about, you know, [00:28:00] kind a kinda a medium size business, you know, of someone who’s actually looking for, you know, a whole range of different things, and of course they’re gonna need WordPress means patiently obvious.
You know, you can’t, um, have the, um, you know, the capacity to, um, offer anything near or even. Or even match the, um, how would I put it? The kinda regulatory, uh, requirements, um, that, um, you would be looking for and the level of support and the level of those things. And that, that’s, that’s, that’s tied up.
That’s not going anywhere. But, um, it’s the, um, it’s the people. Say for example, um, I mate who runs a gym, You know, he’s very much, his position is, ah, yeah, I’ve got a square space website. I don’t particularly like it. It’s a bit annoying and I have to learn all this shit, but you know, it’s a couple hundred bucks, 300 bucks, and I’m not gonna spend five grand on something.
That’s the person, that’s the segment that’s gonna be a problem. And the that segment is, is huge. There’s a lot more of them. Out there and while it might not be, uh, the big bucks, you know, [00:29:00] uh, well the medium bucks, the, um, the, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s super important and we are really trying to find ways to help people actually, you know, have an impact on that segment.
So, for example, like, um, with, um, you know, say our hosting, I’m gonna say like, we’ve got this new hosting product called, Which is a $4 or $3 60 a month managed WordPress hosting, which is pretty damn good. If you ask me. It gives you your own IP address. It gives, but anyway, I’m not selling it there, but it’s just something I’m really excited about.
So if someone runs up a quantum site with a, say photography portfolio thing for like a wedding photographer or something, and then they run it on our system, then the all that they would have to spend essentially is $3 60 a. Um, they could put the template, everything in place. Um, we’ve got a domains thing that’s running out next week where, uh, we’re actually doing wholesale domain pricing for all of our members who are like on the, our agency package.
So $11 50 for like, um, a.com. [00:30:00] Every month. No. No stupid discounts, No nothing. They can sell that to their customer for 20 bucks. They can sell them the hosting package for another 20 bucks or 25 bucks, and they can have a support add on or an extra theme for another 30, 40 bucks so they can actually, and they can have that automatically deployed on their site.
For their customer who’s then going to be paying them 80 bucks a month for their cost of under $15. And that’s before you talk about support and all of those other different maintenance and things you can add to it. Um, and that makes it competitive to Squarespace.
Cory Miller: Yeah. Well in, and you look at across the industry too, and it’s like, I saw that email by the way, and I was like, I remember the days where you could.
Hosting for that and try out your idea. Even if you’re like, for me, it’s like you said you had a couple domains sitting around, Well, I got way too many, but you know, you have an idea. Deploy it. See you can get it, get it going, but you’re not, your [00:31:00] investment isn’t big. Too big on that. And so I love that, uh, too.
Yeah. So I’m curious, um, Getting down a little into WordPress too, cuz you’ve seen a lot seen where it’s gone and evolved is, you know, some of these big ones like Gutenberg, the code editor. Yep. Um, and I’m curious, you know, the direction too of WordPress, uh, I, I don’t like to say this, but in web terms, WordPress is ancient.
Like it’s, it’s code. That’s what, 20 plus years here now we’re talking about, you know, and you’re like, but in web term it feels young still to me. But in web terms you’re like all these new startups, some of this technology didn’t exist when WordPress rolled out. Yep. But I’m curious about your, your thoughts on the direct.
Of the platform too, and things like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna put in the buzzword, but it’s a good buzzword, which is Gutenberg and the code editor and get your thoughts around that. And where, where direct, you know, how does it best WordPress best [00:32:00] position itself to continue to democratize the web.
James Farmer: Yep. Um, yeah, it’s a great question and, um, I think it, it bears a lot of challenge for the future growth.
Um, in, in, in my, in my opinion. I, it’s a kind of, Not necessarily a very popular one, but, um, I think I, I would say that the, um, WordPress has succeeded cause, well it succeeded cuz it was open source in the first instance and yeah. As it has in beer, um, compared to, you know, your movable type competitors. But also it had this, it succeeded because of plug-ins and themes.
Because of its ease of integration, because of the simplicity, because of the way that things held together. And it, uh, because it allowed people to create these sorts of websites that, um, you know, you could play around with and do it, it achieved critical mass really quickly from that, and it just grew, which is why it’s gonna dominate that more complex website space forever, because it allows more complex websites and more playing.[00:33:00]
Now Gutenberg, I don’t know a great deal about Gutenberg, apart from the fact that I tried to make Guten. In 2014, I gave it a red hot Go. I was like, Okay, Squarespace, these drag and drop editors, these wicks web.com are actually really, really dangerous. Good platforms that have got a problem here.
WordPress has these wonderful themes that are out there like ims. Absolutely, and you know, and all of these other stuff, but none of the, All of these are developer friendly. All of these are short code functioning. All of these are requiring to do CSS and these things. We need a simple drag and drop suite, um, theme that, that anybody can use in a straightforward way, and we try.
I had a go, It was called upfront. Remember, we spent absolute fortune on it. I spent an absolute time on it and I discovered that. I’m not talented enough. , and I think we were, we were, we, we didn’t those us two [00:34:00] problems. The first was in terms of design and concept, we were fairly close. Like we were okay-ish.
We had some things and I look at Gutenberg now and I’m like, Oh yeah, I remember that. That’s, that’s a really cool challenge. And this, I really like how they’ve done that and it reminds me of very much of up front. And we had some really talented people working on it. Got Victor, who I used to work with, was like leading end.
It was really cool stuff. But we definitely didn’t have the technical skills. We were nowhere near, like, we, we just couldn’t, we just couldn’t iron out the bugs. We couldn’t put it together. We couldn’t make it work seamlessly. There was too much, um, load on it. It was started in such way, didn’t know how to project management, you know, It was just too hard.
So we failed with it. Just a shame. And because it was, we had to go, we gave it a crack. And I see the same thing happening with Gutenberg because it, it looks like exactly the same things. My problem with Gutenberg, Isn’t, um, isn’t how it works or what it does. Cause I, I think it’s really pretty cool. It’s really interesting and I’ve spent a lot of time, I have a lot of [00:35:00] amazing people working on it.
I think it’s got a really good future. My problem with Gutenberg is it is baked into WordPress and the WordPress has succeeded because it’s been an open place where you have a marketplace and a selection of people innovating and trying and creating new things. Themes, for example, across those different things.
I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that element or divvy or whatever is coming after them. Those guys. Would, or perhaps, perhaps still will, who knows? But would be much better. Z berg vastly better, purely because of competition, because of range of, uh, people going at each other, because of financial incentives, because of capitalism.
Call it that, you know? Right. Um, it, it’s, it’s, and, and cause that’s what’s happened in WordPress since, um, and that’s what’s very WordPress. And so the baked in nature of Gutenberg, um, you [00:36:00] know, versus, you know, these other options is, um, and I think, you know, that’s the, that’s the problem. It’s a bit sad, really.
I kind of, you know, it, it, it’s, I, I, I wish it had just stayed as a theme that, you know, um, Maybe automatic could have made it a competitor to these things, you know? And they tried to grow it in the same way as they’re doing jet pack and those things. And that’s great. And I think, um, it would’ve had a better chance as well because it would’ve been pushed by other people in that competitive space and direction and just make it a purity commercial model rather than, this is the thing as well.
I mean, as a commercial model, like the stuff I’m doing, obviously WordPress is, is, is great and it’s wonderful. And the open source community and the way that they work through it and the way that it’s learned and matured is brilliant. And I. Everybody’s on it with all my heart because I wouldn’t have a business otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this stuff without them.
It’s absolutely brilliant. But cause I’m a, I’m a private company. I am, we are a private company. We don’t have investors at share those sort of things here. We [00:37:00] can make decisions that are unpopular. Or that, um, that people don’t like. We kill 90% of our plugins. You know, we, we, we can do things that you can’t do in an open source community because like, well, you can do them, but everyone will leave or hate you or just have a huge palava and things there.
I, I, I think innovation doesn’t happen. That well in that environment. I think lots of great things do, but I think innovation happens when we are competing against each other and trying to do cool new things and get stuff out there. Yeah, I totally see that end ran .
Cory Miller: No, I totally see that. I think that’s such a good perspective to share in, in the space in our ecosystem or community.
Um, if you don’t mind, uh, we were talking before and you’re like, I, I think it should have stopped at this version. And I was like, What do you, what happened to that version? And would you share that too? Because I think
James Farmer: I, I think I said, I think I said that. Well, yeah. [00:38:00] Just before, I think I said that WordPress peaked at 0.72.
Yeah. , and I, I heard obviously WordPress now is vastly better than North 0.72, but, and, and I’m not entirely sure. It’s no 0.72, Please fact, check the hell outta me. Whoever’s out there. But essentially as soon. As soon as, um, the, uh, integration, the seamless, beautiful, amazing integration of plugins and themes and the hooks and everything that allowed that to, it rolled into WordPress.
That was the peak of WordPress innovation, and it was brilliant. And it has been led to all of these different things here. Um, and. Since then, WordPresses has not been revolutionizing things, It has not been transforming things interesting in the way that you talk about interesting Emberg name. Cause of course Emberg, you know, was a revolutionary technology.
I don’t think it’s a revolutionary theme or revolutionary, you know, way of processing or making things. Um, because I think that’s when, that’s when WordPress kind of peaked and with, [00:39:00] has just been kind of evolving since otherwise, um, whereas the innovation’s been happening on the side.
Cory Miller: Well, so that that kind of times was a lot of the discussion.
In the product space, particularly with plugins around wordpress.org and things with our product members at post status. And I think that’s so compelling to say too because I, I really appreciate there’s a, in that, is that there, the ecosystem, the product ecosystem. We might have called them premium one day, but another commercial, whatever name we’re gonna put on ’em.
But, um, and, and when this conversation came around that, around the active installs, um, data, you know, my first question was, and this is one I want to kinda ask you too, is our plugins, our plugins, themes, third party stuff, whether they’re free, paid, whatever in between, essential to WordPress, Past and essential to WordPress future.
And so I’m gonna submit that to you because I wanna hear your thoughts on that. I have [00:40:00] my own opinions, but I wanna hear
James Farmer: your . There’s a lot of opinions aren’t there, about the, um, the in-store thing? I, I, I have to admit, I’ve been, uh, I’ve been lurking quite actively in those discussions and yeah, we’ve been having a few internal chats about it as well, because of course, it’s important to us, you know, we want to know how well our or, or not, how well our plugins are doing.
I mean, we, for example, we’ve seen. Uh, SMASH recently, um, over the last year or so was one of our, our leading plugin. It’s the big thing that, you know, people really like. Um, and actually started to lose, um, some market share to, um, some of our competitors like, uh, u and um, short Pixel and those things. And these are, these are fine plugins and they do great job and, you know, but I was.
Hang on. You know, I thought we were really good at this and we’re doing this really well. Why are we losing this? And the reason we were, And so we looked into it, we did a huge amount of discovery and um, we, we found some things which we thought, Oh, okay, our bulk must limits too low. Okay. [00:41:00] Alright. Our background image optimization isn’t working.
We’re having to have people keep it over. Our new user experience for the first, like kind of five clicks, um, things. There isn’t that. Compared to these guys. And so we dived into it and we worked our butts off to improve it. And we’re rolling out improvements at the moment. And just, just as the, uh, the plugin active install growth stuff disappeared, we were back to level, like up from North Point one to North Percent and we were all cheering.
We were like, every week we’d see it update on Sunday and we’re like, Yes. You know, And it started to get towards positive territory. We’re back baby, and. Yeah, it was, um, it was pretty gutting to kind of suddenly have it go and to not get that kind of feedback loop that we were doing good things and creating good things.
Now, having said that,
I think the reason the most, the most the reason for the active installs being removed, which was [00:42:00] given in the track ticket or whatever things, there not enough obs. Not sufficiently obs. If I pronou, I can’t remember. It’s one of those words. I can never, I can never get out. No, not sufficiently hidden.
Let’s say that, let’s translate it to there. I think that’s, um, a good reason to get rid of it. I think that, not to get rid of them to improve, I think that, um, I think that a good way to think about this is think about what the internet would be like if Google published their algorithm, like literally published it.
I mean, they, they will say, We do publish it. We’ve got a page guidelines and 60 pages, 90 pages. I’m. Yeah, that’s good. And that’s a guide and we go by that, and that’s really helpful. But I wanna see the actual algorithm, the actual code that shows how you display these things here. I will tell you what will happen if that happened.
If that happened, the entire internet would be destroyed because it would be immediately dominated by a bunch of machine [00:43:00] learning bots going through Google’s algorithm and spitting out things that matched it. The people who were able. When it updated the people who were able to more quickly respond. So this would be why.
It’d be machine learning AI stuff and change their sites to fit into this new algorithm would be the winners. And so you would have an internet that was basically written by computers for computers and it would be absolutely rubbish. And that’s why. Google don’t publish one of the reasons, but that’s a very, very good reason for Google not publishing its algorithm.
And the same is true for plugins and plugin pages and all of those different things. If we know exactly as a, as a business owner, if I know exactly how it is, I can get my plugin to rank above yo and get smarts. That position. Yes. Well, I’m damn well gonna. And I’m gonna do it hard, and I’m gonna actually devote probably most of the resources of the company to figuring out how that happens and how we can quickly respond things there.
And then all that we’re gonna get is a sea of plugins [00:44:00] with solitary purpose is to rank hires and yos and not immediately use a users once they install them, or at least get them to create an API key or give me a lead or do whatever it is, these sort of things. And that would not be good for WordPress or plugins.
And essentially what they’re saying is that the plug. Code for ranking the code for, you know, kind of making plugins, appearance things. There wasn’t actually, it was a bit too obvious. And there are people out there who are a hell of a lot smarter than I am. Lots of, not very hard. There’s lots of people out there, lots smart than I am who have essentially cracked the code.
They’ve figured out how to do it, and they’re constantly cracking the code and they’re constantly going through it. I think I remember, um, one, there was something about how many support tickets you had and how many support tickets you closed, and so people were creating support tickets for themselves, and then I swing them with somewhat general things and stuff and attaching it to the plugin, all sorts of sketchy.
Happening left, right, and center. And [00:45:00] essentially, yeah, the, It was too obvious. It was too, there. People were gaming it and this was gonna produce a world of ship plugins that are basically existing in order to just climb the charts and do the machine learning thing. Now, what would’ve been better would’ve been if they’d just improved the algorithm.
Or made it to the point at which ally Google, you know, back in the day in 2002, you could game Google. You could SEO hack. Yep. You could do, You could do these things. You can’t anymore. Right? You can. You can. I mean, there are bits and bobs, but you wouldn’t want to because it’s too dangerous. You might get caught.
And also it’s just a bit too challenging and it’s too clever in these thingss here. What would be great would be just, they just, they just improved that they just had a big ass project to improve the plug, the plugin algorithm, I don’t care if it’s open source community, I don’t care if it automatic, writes every single part of that code and contains its proprie information and never lets anybody see it.
But then that would enable those stats to stay in place. And that’s my complaint. That’s my complaint about it, is like, [00:46:00] Guys, you just pulled something. It was so bloody important and I know why you pulled it. It makes perfect sense why you pulled it. Like, couldn’t you have just, you know, been done something better?
Yeah. Could you have been smart enough to actually solve it in another way? And they, they say that they will, um, you know, this is, the intention is to come back with the bigger and better and things here, but like, man, was it, was it that bad? Was it that much of a problem that, Cause it wasn’t, we weren’t like machine, like I said, learning.
We were. We were checking out our onboarding process. We were reviewing our complaints by users. We were doing deep surveys. We were doing third party like kind of um, user testing.com, things where people actually log in and you watch them talking through the process and the problems we have to improve our stuff.
And now we are like, Oh know if this is working . And I’m like, I mean like we could a shooting in the dark and that’s the majority of people. And there might have been some people who were getting an advance and screwing around with it, but couldn’t you have just spent the time to [00:47:00] improve the algo and then just switched it rather than dumping us on us, which feels horrible and draconian and alienates people, and stops me from improving smush like I’d.
Cory Miller: Yeah, and I go back to what you said, which is, you know, the, the what, the third part, you know, the plugins and themes out there have done is helped WordPress innovate and continue to say simple enough as a core, and then you extend as you need it for those complex things that you might have. And you know the question I ask.
It. I think, I hope when I say our plugins essential to WordPress is continued growth and health. I think that, I hope the answer is, uh, resounding heck yes. The second question that I think this particular issue illuminates is how do we continue to better support, and this is part of the role post status, is how do we continue to support plugin, the plugin ecosystem.[00:48:00]
Uh, even better, you know? Mm-hmm. is take this as an opportunity to say this is essential. This is why WordPress has grown. It will continue to grow. Mm-hmm. , and it will continue to innovate. And then the question becomes, how do we continue to foster and grow the health and support of those vital plugin developers out there creating the next whatever thing it is.
James Farmer: Well, yeah, go ahead. I mean, I, I dunno, it, it’s your business and I, I, I, you know, there are loads of different ways to do it. I didn’t wanna straight off just answer it, but I, I think what you could do in this first instance is you could look at a community project, um, where people actually collect, um, plugin, um, install.
And pool it so that you are able to have a bunch of people sharing data to say, This is how things are going, and this is how things are not going. I mean, if wordpress.org won’t do it, then why don’t we? Yeah, that’s, that’d be, that’d be my thought.
Cory Miller: Well, I [00:49:00] know we’re, we’ve run it over time actually, but I really appreciate this.
Maybe this’ll be part two is where we dig into some of these things too. Cause I really wanted to, I think you got to, um, to share some of the things you’re doing, but I wanted to talk about. Wmu and your future there and what you’re planning. Um, but maybe that’ll be part two. I know we’ve kind of gone along, but James Farmer, thanks so much for this.
I think this was our teaser for part two, by the way, . Oh no, I’d love to. Thank you. Uh, we gotta talk more often cuz uh, uh, we’ve got a lot to talk about still, but, uh, James, thanks so much for being on the, uh, post status draft podcast and, uh, I appreciate your time and it’s good catching up with you and hearing your story, sharing some of your thoughts too, I think are, are really critical for our ecosystem as a whole.
James Farmer: thank you. Ah, it’s, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Corey. You bet.
Cory Miller: Thanks James Farmer. And by the way, tell, um, Wpm U Dev, uh, check out what they’re doing. Um, cool stuff they’ve got going on there. You got so many things going on that they, I can just say go [00:50:00] check it out. See what they’re doing.
James Farmer: Yeah. Yeah. A we’ve got a, yeah, we’ve got a free level. People can play around with stuff as well, so give it a go. We didn’t used to have a free level. It’s a have fun, have a, have a, have a tweak.
Cory Miller: Will do. All right. Thanks everybody for being, uh, listening in and, uh, we’ll be talking to James I’m sure very soon.
This article was published at Post Status — the community for WordPress professionals.