WordPress as the First Step to Learning Other Technologies

When I initially got involved in the WordPress project, I didn’t know a thing about open source. For all I knew, open source meant that the software was free and of poor quality compared to a commercial solution.

Fast forward several years and I truly understand what open source means. People from all walks of life contributing there knowledge to further a software project. This can be in the form of code, support forums, translations, bug reports, and a number of other things.

These days, I don’t look at open source projects as junk. Instead, I see them as opportunities for people and generally, the software is decent. Open source has come a long way in my time. Most of the open source projects used to be hosted on SourceForge which isn’t the case anymore for a number of reasons. Instead, GitHub is where I see a lot of projects being hosted.

WordPress has given me the opportunity to learn about PHP, CSS, dependencies, and several other technical subjects. As many others have found out, WordPress is a gateway drug to technologies used on the web.

If you want to learn about CSS pre-processors, PHP, open source software development, PHP, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript, dependencies, backwards compatibility, and more, you could do a lot worse than getting involved with the WordPress project.

At Some Point, I’d Like to Write a Book

At some point, I’d like to write a book or an eBook about my journey to and inside the WordPress ecosystem and the struggles I’ve tried to overcome by being paid to write about the project full-time. One thing I’m struggling with is deciding when the right time is to write the book.

I want it to be raw, uncensored, where I’m free to express my emotions the way I see fit. Considering this, now is not the time. Perhaps when my WordPress journey is complete or I move onto the next stage of my life. The caveat to this is that my next stage of life might be death. How do I write a book if I’m dead?

I should start writing chapters while I’m alive and save them as drafts in case something happens to me. That way, someone, somewhere, I hope will publish them. It would be a shame not to be able to see and read people’s reactions to the text.

Advice for Those Entering the WordPress Community

My name is Jeff Chandler and I’ve written about and have covered the open source WordPress project for 7-8 years. There is little difference between myself and those who have just entered the WordPress community. Just like any community of people, there are unwritten rules, things you must do to become well-known throughout the rest of the community. That’s just the way it is.

Unlike a lot of other people you may meet, I’m forgiving and willing to listen to your pitch and discover why it is you’ve chosen this path. However, if you decide to enter the WordPress community with guns blazing, be prepared to suffer the consequences. Like many other communities, there’s an inner, middle, and outer circle of influential people. Those who are closest to the WordPress project I feel are most influential.

If you enter the WordPress community these days with guns blazing, chances are that you’ll fail. The recipe for success is pretty simple. Sit outside the ring and observe how the WordPress community interacts for at least a year. There are nuances that people will have to understand and abide by, that’s just the way it is.

If you think you’re going to enter the world of WordPress and change the rules, you’re mistaken. Kudos if you think you’ll be able to radically change the direction things are heading, but it doesn’t work that way.

Learn how the WordPress community speaks, acts, views various opinions, and observe as well as follow the rules put into place before you enter the WordPress community.

It might sound like I don’t like those who show up unannounced and expect the world to change around them. How can anyone appreciate someone like that? If you enter the WordPress community, do your research, don’t act like you’re god.

Respect the decisions and guidelines that have been set forth before your time. If you disagree with them, use the appropriate channels but try not to fuck up things for everyone else.

WordPress’ Road To 50% Market Share and A Few Thought Experiments

Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend my first PressNomics event in Phoenix, AZ. I had a great time, even if I fell ill after returning home. There were a lot of great sessions packed with useful information, but the granddaddy of them all was the on-stage interview between Pagely CEO, Joshua Strebel and Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

Since that memorable interview which I’m still kicking myself for not recording, there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding Mullenweg’s thoughts on Jetpack and its impact on growing WordPress’ marketshare to 50% or more. Prior to his appearance at PressNomics, Mullenweg appeared on the KitchensinkWP podcast hosted by Adam Silver, where he discusses how feasible it would be to obtain 100% marketshare.

The next goal is the majority of websites. We want to get to 50%+ and there’s a lot of work between now and then. As the percentage increases, it gets harder and harder to grow the market share, and we have to grow the market share by doing things we haven’t done in the past – really thinking about the onboarding process, really thinking about the integration with social networks, and with how WordPress works on touch devices, which is going to be the predominant computing platform of the future. These things are going to be really important.

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do.

During his appearance at PressNomics, Mullenweg said that he’s, “Worried we have become too much of an inward facing community and afraid to make a painful leap forward to make the next WordPress.”

Outside of a very long and detailed thread on the Advanced Facebook Users group (you have to be a member to view the thread), no one has talked about this statement. Granted, I’m sure the Jetpack and market share comments have overshadowed it, but it’s worth exploring in its own right.

The Next WordPress

For starters, what is the next WordPress? I don’t know and I don’t even think Mullenweg knows, but maybe he has an idea. We know mobile is likely involved, but it’s anyone’s guess after that. Who’s to say the next WordPress will be WordPress? If you’ve listened to Mullenweg in interviews or even during the State of the Word when he answers questions about the future of WordPress, he routinely brings up Theseus’ paradox.

The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’ paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object which has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late first century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts remained the same ship.

An interesting thought experiment for sure. However, for it to take place means WordPress would need to radically change in the next few years, which brings me to the other part of his statement.

Inward Facing Community

This is a highly controversial statement, one that only he knows more about. However, I think several people on the Advanced WordPress Group were close with their interpretations. As the group is closed, I can’t cite the names of the individuals without permission so instead, I’m quoting from several different comments I agree with.

If you think the version of PHP is important at all, you’re not going to create the next WordPress, meaning the next thing that’s as big or impactful as WordPress is.

Not enough community outreach or venturing outside of the WP community for innovative ideas taking WP to the next level, which I’d have to agree with– if that’s what he meant.

Most innovation is done outside in, not inside out. But to be honest Matt, that’s where the problem lies too… The “inside” is very negative towards change, constantly throwing up hurdles… They like small incremental steps, but fear bigger ones… – Joost de Valk

These interpretations mirror my own in that, the people very close to the core of the project are looking inward and iterating in baby steps, blocking big changes/innovations from occurring from outside the community.

I’m not a core contributor, so I can’t confirm if this is the case or not, but it’s an attitude I’ve witnessed several would be contributors have towards furthering WordPress. It’s a complex situation that can’t be summarized in a paragraph alone. Part of me also thinks this is one of several reasons Mullenweg wants to lead another release of WordPress.

The Painful Leap

The only thing I can reference to the painful leap is WordPress’ backwards compatibility. After all, it’s only an 11-year-old software project (turns 12 in May). It’s one of the primary reasons it’s been able to achieve such a high market share. A look at the minimum requirements page tells you all you need to know.

The charts on WordPress’ About page display WordPress and PHP versions in use are visual reminders of the sad state of affairs.

YUMMY WordPress Pie Charts!

YUMMY WordPress Pie Charts!

Supporting old versions of PHP continues to be a pain point for WordPress. However, according to one individual, worrying about PHP versions isn’t important if you’re creating the next WordPress or something that’s just as impactful.

If you think the version of PHP is important at all, you’re not going to create the next WordPress, meaning the next thing that’s as big or impactful as WordPress is.

The quote makes it seem like the next WordPress is likely to be some sort of SaaS offering like Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace. When I wrote about what could lead to the downfall of WordPress late last year, a competitive service was not one of the choices. Now I think if anything were to disrupt WordPress, it would be a SaaS offering.

Outside of backwards compatibility, I don’t know any other painful leaps WordPress has to make in order to get to 50% market share. Perhaps Mullenweg could enlighten us with a listicle on his personal site.

A Few Thought Experiments

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do – Matt Mullenweg

What processes and changes will evolve to get us there? How much internal friction will there be? It’s mind bending to think about what WordPress would need to be to people in order to gain 50% or more of market share. It’s a an enormous amount of websites/people and if WordPress can’t be all things to all people, who makes up the majority of a 50% market share userbase?

My Use of Facebook and WordPress Intertwined

I’ve used Facebook for a long time and most of my friends are people who I’ve worked with or know in real life. Recently, I’ve accepted a number of friend requests from people I routinely interact with in the WordPress world. It was a tough decision and one I don’t take lightly.

For the past few years, I’ve kept Facebook at a point where the only people I’ve accepted as friends are those I consider actual friends and know in person. My Facebook feed is completely different from my WordPress persona. I share pictures of what I have for dinner, food I eat, things I discover, pictures of my dog and wife, etc. It definitely represents more of who I am as a person versus a blog or Twitter.

I’m on the fence whether I should allow so many people to see deeper into my everyday life. It’s something I’m struggling with. I don’t want personal Facebook relationships to creep into my work. I’m friends with some of the people and companies I write about all the time on a major publication. I certainly wouldn’t want a conflict of interest thing to come up or something more sinister.

Since accepting a number of friend requests from those in the WordPress community, my timeline has blown up. In several instances, I’ve removed their feeds from my timeline but have remained friends. This has given me the best of both worlds: Following the people I care about while showing everyone else what I’m up to.

We’ll have to see how this goes as a lot more people in the WordPress realm know what’s going on in my life. I know for a fact that at the first sign of a conflict of interest, I’m unfollowing everyone on Facebook that has anything to do with WordPress.

The last thing I need is a bunch of Facebook/WordPress BS in my Facebook life. No thank you!

I’ve Got a Problem and The Solution Isn’t More Cowbell

I’m struggling with my day job. I recently completed a week of vacation in which I discovered that I want to write about WordPress when I’m not required to write about it. Go figure! Returning from staycation, I’ve had a difficult time finding things that inspire me to write about WordPress. More often than not, my FeedReader is filled with items that make me go Meh at best.

Since my job is to write about WordPress on a daily basis, this is not good. My FeedReader is filled with tutorials, questions, crap, and other things dealing with WordPress that don’t create that spark of creative writing.

When I initially applied for the job, I said that all I wanted was for someone to pay me to sit on my ass all day and write about WordPress. I have what I wanted but I’m not happy. Things have changed and no matter how hard I try to replicate the environment which generated success 4 years ago, it doesn’t seem to show up.

With WordPress powering over 23% of the web, you’d think it would be easy to find something to write about. Well, it’s not as easy as you might think. A lot has to do with my interests and whether I see something that readers may find interesting or helpful. For the most part, it has to interest me first before I start writing about it.

There’s a part of me that feels like WordPress has passed me up. It’s like everyone is using or developing WordPress in ways that go way over my head. I have no interest in learning what Sass or Less is yet, there is definitely a crowd yearning for that knowledge.

After nearly a decade of writing about WordPress, I’ve almost reached a point where I don’t want to be a journalist anymore and instead, just want to mingle in the community. I’ve thought about this a lot and if I could start over with a WordPress centric site, I’d make the whole thing a forum. Forums are a great way to archive things and have discussions about sites or articles that don’t need a front page mention.

A forum is a great way to establish a community and an identify. It’s a way to feel like you belong somewhere. I’m passionate, enthusiastic, and have a knack of connecting the dots for people. This is why I think I’d be able to successfully build and maintain a rocking WordPress forum. I’m a down to earth, no bullshit kind of guy that is able to listen to people, no matter what their status is in the community.

That’s not to say every now and then, I wouldn’t want to write a long, thoughtful post on a particular subject. But doing it everyday even when paid is a pain in the ass, especially when you can’t find anything to write about. Funny how when I’m put into a position I thought I’d be happy in, the opposite is true.

I think a lot of people would love to be in the position I’m in and yes, I do realize the position I’m in. It’s just that, the things you think would make you happy sometimes don’t and you don’t realize it until you’re in the thick of things. I’m working towards putting myself into a work environment and situation that makes me happy but until then, I’ll need to buckle down, trudge through the tough creative times, and gitter done.

I’ve Inspired People To Get Into WordPress?

Earlier this week, I was involved in a few different conversations where something like this was said, You’ve inspired so many people like myself with WP Weekly or You inspired me to get into WP. I find it hard to believe that someone like me could inspire someone to get into WordPress either personally or through WordPress Weekly. I just don’t think what I do is very inspiring to others but I’m routinely reminded that it is. Maybe this is a sign that I should take more pride in the work I do?