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Midway in our life's journey, I went astray  
     from the straight road and woke to find myself
     alone in a dark wood.

—Dante's Inferno, John Ciardi's translation

If you’ve been trying to follow the ongoing debate over the future of the internet but got lost, gave up, or just tuned out, you’re probably in good company. Serious problems seem to generate unhelpfully broad and exaggerated headlines, like Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic describing “the coalition out to kill tech as we know it.” He provides a good breakdown of the many interest groups and the perspectives in play, however, from Antitrust Theorists to Shoshana Zuboff, who coined the term “surveillance capitalism.”

Writer and Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler says the internet is becoming a “dark forest” as people retreat to “wild” spaces.

Madrigal is probably right that people are tired of hearing that publishing platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have no role in policing “provably false information” posted by their users. Brian predicted this several years ago before WordPress.com came under pressure to shut down sites denying the Sandy Hook school shooting ever happened. Now the boundaries of acceptable content are more actively guarded but not consistently or well, and in some cases like Facebook or YouTube, if the cure is human moderation, it’s as bad as the disease.

Former Google product manager and Center for Humane Technology founder Tristan Harris is near the top of Madrigal’s list of tech-killers. Harris recently testified before the US Senate with such stark examples of manipulative interfaces that one senator said he was thankful he would “be dead and gone … when all this shit comes to fruition.”

While Harris is good at generating outrage by publicizing truly outrageous things Google, Facebook, and others are doing, it’s not always clear what he thinks should be done. Does protecting our attention, or children’s developing brains, or democracy itself require platforms to police themselves or be policed by someone else?

Compared to Harris, Pinboard owner and widely read blogger Maciej Ceglowski made a less dramatic but similarly urgent statement about privacy and data collection to the Senate back in May. (Web version and video link.) A more recent post on Ceglowski’s blog called “The New Wilderness” argues we need laws protecting the digital environment from surveillance, so it retains a “wilderness” of “ambient privacy.” Like Harris, Ceglowski focuses on Facebook and Google as “the world’s most sophisticated dragnet surveillance operation, a duopoly that rakes in nearly two-thirds of the money spent on online ads.”

In line with Ceglowski’s imagery, writer and Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler says the internet is becoming a “dark forest” as people retreat to “wild” spaces.

Strickler isn’t talking about “wild” spaces on the web that offer unmoderated, possibly objectionable content; he means areas without algorithms that keep “unpopular” material out of our monetized attention:

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.

The problem Strickler sees with our retreat from the “mainstream” parts of the internet is the possibility of their discredit and loss. We may already be past that point, as Matt Taibbi has argued about the press.

Cory Doctorow has been working this beat for a long time and has some excellent, recent contributions to the debate:

Doctorow’s Op-Ed from the future comes from a time “in which we have decided to solve the problems of Big Tech by making them liable for what their users say and do.”

In this possible future:

[A]ll our speech is vetted by algorithms that delete anything that looks like misinformation, harassment, copyright infringement, incitement to terrorism, etc — with the result that the only place where you can discuss anything of import is newspapers themselves. [1]

Doctorow describes the alternative to picking media winners and tech losers on his blog:

We can either try to fix Big Tech (by making it use its monopoly profits to clean up its act) or we can fix the internet (by breaking them up and denying them access to monopoly profits) — but we can’t do both.

I’m not sure what Option A (self-regulation) would look like or how it could help, which is partly Doctorow’s point. If Option B (trust-busting) happens, it would probably leave a lot more space for wild things to grow. But even in the shadow of Big Tech monopolies, WordPress and other mature open source ecosystems still represent their antithesis, like a vast network of old-growth forests connected to small stands of young saplings. That analogy reminds me of Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s reflections on WordPress’s 15th anniversary and his hope that his “son will be building his own web experiences using software that traces its roots back to [WordPress].”

The wild, biodiverse forest image is a good one for us because it is an image of social, interdependent, and very different individuals. Peter Wohlleben’s book on The Hidden Life of Trees could just as easily describe the cooperative, distributive, and passionately interconnected, democratic nature of open source communities at their best:

When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft. They send messages out to their neighbors in vain, because nothing remains but stumps. Every tree now muddles along on its own, giving rise to great differences in productivity. Some individuals photosynthesize like mad until sugar positively bubbles along their trunk. As a result, they are fit and grow better, but they aren’t particularly long-lived. This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. And there are now a lot of losers in the forest. Weaker members, who would once have been supported by the stronger ones, suddenly fall behind. Whether the reason for their decline is their location and lack of nutrients, a passing malaise, or genetic makeup, they now fall prey to insects and fungi.

Even the giants are in trouble if they are the last trees standing. Wohlleben explains they will end up presiding over a barren desert where little more than weeds can survive:

“But isn’t that how evolution works?” you ask. The survival of the fittest? Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupt the moist, cool climate. Even strong trees get sick a lot over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.

If we maintain open source communities that are accessible and inclusive
— for big and small, young and old, established businesses and new ones — then we are doing our part to keep the web wild and healthy.

Notes
  1. Jeff Jarvis thinks that’s what newspapers want — a “war with the internet,” i.e. the major platform providers — out of the hope this might restore their previous command of advertising and attention. Jarvis is far less critical of big tech and defended them in the past as a check against big government.
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WP Engine has acquired Flywheel — a competitor in the managed WordPress hosting space. Flywheel has 200+ employees, a high growth rate, and $18 million annually in revenue, according to WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner quoted in Techcrunch.

Flywheel had raised a little over $14 million, but that revenue and employee growth could put a heavy burn rate on the company.

Eric Jones, WP Engine’s VP of Global Communications, said to me in an interview that WP Engine considers itself to be geared “more toward enterprise and as a ‘digital experience provider.'” In contrast, Flywheel is oriented “more toward ‘managed hosting‘ and really good at servicing slightly smaller brands, and also smaller agencies and freelancers,” while WP Engine “excel[s] with the bigger enterprises and bigger agencies…” Put that all together and “there’s actually quite a bit of synergy.”

To my eye, Flywheel and WP Engine carry a broad spectrum of similar customers, although I certainly see that WP Engine can attract a higher tier of enterprise customers.

Flywheel is a great brand and has made some strides that I think are endearing to the freelance and developer community, such as their development of Local by Flywheel for local site development.

Eric said that WP Engine won’t be making any immediate changes to either product and that they are doing a brand audit over the coming weeks to “examine the assets of both companies and see what makes sense.” They’ll base future plasn around the results of that audit which is expected to “shed a whole lot more clarity on how the products and portfolios look post acquisition.”

There are no major changes to Flywheel’s executive team. Flywheel CEO Dusty Davidson will report to Heather Brunner directly and join the WP Engine executive team. Flywheel’s head of Finance will also report directly to WP Engine’s CFO.

WP Engine is not being shy about their desire to hit both a $1 billion valuation and go public in the coming years. Their current annaul revenue is $132 million, and (again according to Techcrunch), Heather estimates they will reach $200 million annually in combination with Flywheel by 2020.

WP Engine has raised a total of $290.7 million according to Crunchbase — the majority of which ($250 million) was raised in 2018 from Silverlake, which also served as an exit for some prior investors. Despite having those funds in hand, WP Engine still needed to raise some additional funding to close this deal — which they’ve described as “the largest acquisition in WordPress” history.

I pressed Eric on that statement, but he declined to provide further detail. I take it to mean they paid more than the $30 million reported for the WooCommerce acquisition by Automattic. With $14 million raised and revenues of $18 million, it’s hard to say how much more (probably not a lot), but that at least can give you a conservative estimate.

WP Engine is also likely motivated by Flywheel’s presence in Omaha, which offers another hub for growth and employee development in a fairly low-cost region, with what looks to me like a great company culture.

I think WP Engine acquiring Flywheel is fine; it feels natural. Both are good brands with some overlap but also their own unique takes on the managed WordPress market — despite WP Engine clearly trying to define themselves beyond the confines of “managed WordPress.” That larger identity and market will be easier to lock onto with an in-house Flywheel product.

Consolidation is a long tradition in the hosting market, and it continues to be an emerging trend in the WordPress space. Expect more.

Image provided by WP Engine.

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I want to make Post Status content available to as many people as possible, and support a thriving and dynamic professional community.

I’m now ready to try something new. It includes changes to content and Club membership structure.

The Post Status weekly newsletter is now free for all to subscribe. The Club-only content will evolve further, but the now free version will look similar to what Post Status members are already accustomed to (here’s an example).

There is still a Club Membership, but the structure of benefits are now:

  • The baseline weekly newsletter will be free to all, not exclusive to club members.
  • The Slack chat will remain to be members-only.
  • On-demand access to corporate deals will be member only. The “deal of the week” will be available by newsletter to all.
  • Organization and profile listings will continue to be members only.
  • Job postings and deal postings will be for member organizations only.
  • New Post Status Reports will be long-form member only content with specific focus areas:
    • These will be structured as “State of _____”; ie: hosting, themes, plugins, etc, as well as other areas. These can be expected to be published about once per month.
  • Non-stream complete access to Publish Online events will be member only (unless speakers choose to publish their sessions themselves, which I’ve given each the opportunity to do).

I am introducing Team Patronage so that companies can help support Post Status to keep publishing great (free and member content).

I have historically had yearly partners, from 12 initially to 6 now, which has always raised about $30k annually in revenue. I will be doing this again, and hopefully give them greater access to Post Status with a free newsletter that can get more attention from more readers. Partners receive all the benefits of a Team Patronage, plus advertising space. Partnerships are renewing now. Contact me if you’re interested in this option (note: existing partners have first choice on these renewals).

Team Patronage is a separate, non-advertising, corporate contribution to the site. Team Patrons get everything members get, but for their whole organization. It is tiered by company size.

Team Patronage benefits are:

  • Every member of your team has full Post Status Club Member access.
  • Your organization gets 2 free job postings per year (a $198 value) which go out to the free newsletter, and this is becoming a well known resource in the broader community for folks seeking employment.
  • Each company that’s a patron will be displayed as such on the website, on their organization listing (example) and on a special page to recognize them.

Team Patronage is priced as follows:

  • Up to 10 employees: $600 per year for your entire team.
  • 11 to 25 employees: $1,000 per year for your entire team.
  • 26 to 49 employees: $1,500 per year for your entire team.
  • 50 to 99 employees: $2,000 per year for your entire team.
  • 100+ employees: $3,000 per year for your entire team.

Supporting Post Status with a Team Patronage ensures continuous education for your team, will help you keep your entire team apprised of what’s happening in the WordPress ecosystem, and you’ll be supporting a stronger independent news and research outlet for the WordPress and web community.

For people who are already Post Status Members, your membership will be rolled into your Team if your organization joins Post Status. Encourage your team to join if you know a lot of folks in your company are members already. Everyone will save!

This program is also designed to encourage a more distributed method for ongoing monetization of Post Status, and enables companies of any size to participate for less money than it costs to contribute to most conferences, and your whole team can benefit as well.

I hope that you and your company will consider a Team Patronage for Post Status. I am grateful for the support of this site over the past four and a half years, and look forward to many more. This is another step toward making that happen.

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I’m always trying to think of new ways to help Post Status members get quality returns on their investment, help quality companies gain exposure to the market, and (obviously) help myself sustain Post Status as a business.

I’m excited to announce the new Deal of the Week feature on Post Status.

This is a paid listing opportunity for companies to highlight a deal for their product, during a given, predetermined week. The listing will be displayed on the site homepage and the deals page for members, and will be emailed out to the main (free) mailing list once per week.

How a deal looks on the site

You have to subscribe to the free newsletter list or be a member to see these deals. Deals can remain on the member deals page for any period of time after the featured week, defined by the company who purchases the placement.

I have been asked dozens of times from companies to feature a special deal they want to create for Post Status readers. This is how you can now do that. I think this feature is especially useful around product announcements, so that it flows well with a corporate marketing agenda.

For members who take advantage of these deals, using two of them in a year will typically save more than the entire cost of a Post Status membership. I try to make joining Post Status an obvious win, and I think this new feature helps with that.

In the first example, you can see how WP Sessions is offering 33% off of memberships, a ~$50 value! These savings can really add up.

Of course, non-members will be able to get a weekly deal as well now, but members will have access to all deals, all the time, whenever they need them.

If you’re interested in purchasing a Deal of the Week, I look forward to helping you reach the Post Status audience. For members and readers, I hope you enjoy this new feature.

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Automattic has acquired Prospress, the team led by Brent Shepherd, and the makers of the largest WooCommerce extension, WooCommerce Subscriptions.

The acquisition secures a future for Subscriptions under the primary Automattic umbrella, and it’s an increasingly important part of WooCommerce’s success.

Subscriptions offers the most powerful and flexible subscription option in the eCommerce market, and it’s common for stores to use WooCommerce because they need Subscriptions.

Other providers, namely market leader Shopify, do not offer an in-house subscription option, and their third-party options are not nearly as advanced as WooCommerce Subscriptions.

Prospress brings a couple other products and services with them
AutomateWoo and Robot Ninja primarily — but Subscriptions is the real breadwinner. It has long been the highest revenue extension in the WooCommerce marketplace.

Paul Maiorana, WooCommerce’s Head of Payments, Shipping, and Partnerships, tells me, “Subscriptions is an important differentiator for WooCommerce amongst eCommerce platforms, and we’re really excited to now be working closely with the Prospress team to create a more unified experience.”

I have known Brent and his team for a long time, and I’ve used Subscriptions for many years. It’s an outstanding and complex project that requires enormous amounts of testing, a skilled development team, and a lot of care.

In 2017, the support structure changed for third-party WooCommerce extensions, which led to an immediate surge of support hiring by the largest extension providers — namely Prospress and SkyVerge — for whom, for the purpose of disclosure, I do contract work.

Support is the biggest component of a plugin company, especially for a complex one like Subscriptions, which interfaces (sometimes in very different ways) with dozens of payment processors. I have seen spec documentation for their proposed new features, and it is astounding how much detail is required to be outlaid before a single line of code is changed or written.

With Automattic, a company that formerly consisted of a few dozen folks now has the backing of hundreds of “Happiness Engineers” to help manage the load.

The primary risk I see for Subscriptions with Automattic is that it will get lost in the fray if Prospress developers are pulled to other work and more pressing needs. I have perceived this to be the case with their ownership of WP Job Manager, WooCommerce Bookings, and some other extensions — though none with the significance of Subscriptions. I think the strategic importance of Subscriptions should keep that at bay under good management, and I know Automattic management understands that strategic importance.

Automattic will eventually go public, I’m almost certain. Strategically, I fully believe the Prospress acquisition is the right move for them. If I were involved, I would’ve been trying to make this acquisition for years now.

Having significant revenue streams under the scope of a company out of your control is a risk, to my thinking as a theoretical investor. I would take this now in-house feature set direct to marketing channels against Shopify
— which is an absolute juggernaut in the eCommerce space today, particularly among high revenue generating stores.

I don’t know what led Brent to make the choice to join Automattic now, but it’s a much-deserved exit after something like eight years of work.

Brent said the following in the announcement Q&A:

I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved at Prospress. I’ve had the great pleasure of having some amazing people join me over the years. Together I believe we’ve advanced a mission that matters to me — so much so that it predated Prospress and even WooCommerce.

I believe joining Automattic is the best next stage for Prospress, and I am personally excited to lead the transition and work with the Automattic team to further WooCommerce.

I’m very happy for Brent and the entire Prospress team. I hope they made a fortune with this acquisition; in my mind, Subscriptions is one of the key reasons for WooCommerce’s amazing growth as a platform. I think they will do great there, and I have no doubt they will stay committed to making Subscriptions continue as a terrific tool in the toolbox that is WooCommerce.

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Previously known as Worona, Madrid-based Frontity is close to launching their eponymous public beta, described on Github as both “an alternative rendering engine for WordPress,” and “a React framework to create WordPress themes.” Frontity, the framework, runs separately from WordPress on Node.js and uses the WordPress API to generate HTML and AMP pages. Unlike other approaches to “headless” WordPress, Frontity is the first to be built exclusively for WordPress.

PS: Can you give us an overview of Frontity’s history and how your company, product, and brand has developed?

Reyes Martínez

RM: It all started back in 2015 when Pablo Postigo and Luis Herranz created Worona, a free WordPress plugin to turn blogs into mobile apps. Pablo and Luis discovered a lot of people were concerned about the way their WordPress sites performed on mobile devices. They thought it would be a powerful solution to build an open source platform that could be extended by other WordPress developers.

I met Pablo and Luis in late 2015, loved their project and joined them. I was used to working with WordPress as a content editor, but I didn’t have a technical background. So I mostly started helping by writing blog posts, social media content, documentation, and providing user support. Now I’m in charge of Frontity’s marketing and communications. (I still don’t code but would love to learn at some point!)

After that first prototype, they decided to develop a free platform not just for creating mobile apps. The idea was that any WordPress user could build mobile apps, progressive web apps, or add Google AMP to their blogs in a very easy way. This was Worona 1.0, which was launched in February of 2017. Thousands of WordPress users joined that journey, and we’re truly thankful for that. At that time we already used React and fetched the blog’s content using WordPress’s REST API. The mobile apps were created with Cordova.

Although Worona had a loyal following, we were aware that mobile app usage was slowly declining. People don’t want to download an app for every blog they read. Plus, Apple stopped supporting apps from app generation platforms like ours. This became a serious problem as we couldn’t grow under that scenario.

That’s when we decided to bet on the mobile web and started working on a new framework for building Progressive Web App themes (based on React) on top of WordPress. In 2018 we rebranded to Frontity and got financial backing to make the project grow. Although our main goal was to keep the code open source, we decided to use it internally and release a product exclusively to WordPress publishers (we called it Frontity PRO), so we could see what happened and gather feedback.

Frontity PRO is a proprietary mobile theme built on React for WordPress blogs and news sites. It implements Progressive Web App technologies and uses the REST API to fetch the content, along with our WordPress plugin, WordPress PWA.

By the time Frontity PRO was created, we also contributed to the official WCEU PWA. Building a PWA from the ground up is a difficult and time-consuming task, but we had created a framework to precisely solve that problem. It was the perfect time to test it out and give back to the community.

We have worked with Spanish media companies since we launched Frontity PRO, and the result has been great. Our theme has allowed them to deliver faster and more engaging mobile experiences, which has been proven to increase their pageviews and ad revenue. Our internal framework has served content to more than 20 million readers. Some of our major clients were part of ADSLZone group, like Medios y Redes, Tendenzias or Coches.com. They all use WordPress.

During this time, we realized that many of our clients’ tech teams were considering using our framework to develop their own custom themes. This was one of the main reasons that made us think about open sourcing it — it seemed the perfect moment. Plus, this was our original vision.

A few months ago, we finally decided to go straight for that vision. We set aside the development work of Frontity PRO to place all our focus on Frontity.org, the open source framework. Our next milestone is to release the first beta version in the next few weeks. (Early May 2019.) More than 300 developers have already signed up to try it out. We are really excited about this project and believe it can make a real impact in the WordPress ecosystem.

Since our resources are limited, we are looking for some financial backing again to bring contributors on board and build a thriving community of people interested in WordPress and React.

PS: What problems does Frontity solve? (And whose problems are they?) Will Frontity make frontend development more accessible to people who are new to React?

RM: In order to create a WordPress theme with React, developers need to learn and configure lots of different things: bundling, transpiling, routing, server rendering, retrieving data from WordPress, managing state, managing CSS, linting, testing,…

There are already some amazing React frameworks, such as Next.js and GatsbyJS, that can work with WordPress, but they’re not focused exclusively on it. As a result, there’s still some complex configuration and additional tooling left to the developer.

This is what Frontity aims to solve; we want to make everything much simpler for WordPress developers and more accessible to those who are new to React. Each part of the framework has been simplified and optimized to be used with WordPress, and developers don’t need to figure out what tools to use for things like CSS or state management.

Everything is ready so they can get WordPress and React to work together in an easier way.

How does Frontity differ from Genesis, _s, or WP Rig — from the developer and designer’s perspective, and in the end user’s experience?

RM: Genesis, _s or WP Rig are fantastic frameworks to develop WordPress themes based on PHP. These themes use the PHP WordPress rendering engine, which means they rely on a server-side architecture where almost every interaction that is made by the user on his device needs to wait for the server to render the new result. Our framework is focused on developers who want to create a React frontend and connect it to a WordPress backend using the REST API. We can call this a client-side architecture, where all the logic and rendering happen directly on the device and the calls to the server are limited only to data sourcing.

In the last few years, web development has evolved a lot. One of the main reasons is the shift to mobile devices and the need for fast web experiences. Achieving this is not easy using a server-side architecture. This is why client-side libraries like React are becoming so popular.

From the developer perspective, everything changes! A theme developed with Frontity and React has zero PHP in it, only JavaScript and CSS. This might sound like a radical change, but there is a trend of developers using WordPress as a headless CMS with a decoupled JavaScript frontend for whom our framework can be quite useful.

How does Frontity the framework fit into a business model or revenue stream for Frontity the company?

RM: We won’t develop any business model in this initial phase. The framework will always be 100% free and open source. Right now, we are focused on building a community of developers and contributors around the framework.

Possible monetizations in the future are a hosting solution, premium support, or a marketplace of paid themes.

What opportunities do you see for WordPress developers now and in the near future?

RM: With the shift to Gutenberg as well as the rise of headless CMS approaches, the WordPress community has started considering React for their projects. Beside this, modern libraries like React are becoming essential to rich user experiences.

The client-side approach to theme-building opens a world of new possibilities: storing and pre-fetching content, animations within themes, offline experiences, and more. It also has enormous benefits in terms of performance, UX and design.

React presents an opportunity to accelerate things in the WordPress ecosystem, build modern and engaging frontend experiences, and extend what developers can do with this powerful CMS.

Pictured in the Frontity team photo above, from left to right, back row first: Eduardo Campaña (developer), David Arenas (developer), Carmen Fernández (no longer with the company), Mario Santos, (Community), Reyes Martínez (Marketing & Communications), Pablo Postigo (Founder & CEO), and Luis Herranz (Founder & Lead developer).

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Reyes Martínez directs Digital Marketing and Communications at Frontity. She gave us some background and answered a few of our questions about the company and the project.

PS: Can you give us an overview of Frontity’s history and how your company, product, and brand has developed?

Reyes Martínez

RM: It all started back in 2015 when Pablo Postigo and Luis Herranz created Worona, a free WordPress plugin to turn blogs into mobile apps. Pablo and Luis discovered a lot of people were concerned about the way their WordPress sites performed on mobile devices. They thought it would be a powerful solution to build an open source platform that could be extended by other WordPress developers.

I met Pablo and Luis in late 2015, loved their project and joined them. I was used to working with WordPress as a content editor, but I didn’t have a technical background. So I mostly started helping by writing blog posts, social media content, documentation, and providing user support. Now I’m in charge of Frontity’s marketing and communications. (I still don’t code but would love to learn at some point!)

After that first prototype, they decided to develop a free platform not just for creating mobile apps. The idea was that any WordPress user could build mobile apps, progressive web apps, or add Google AMP to their blogs in a very easy way. This was Worona 1.0, which was launched in February of 2017. Thousands of WordPress users joined that journey, and we’re truly thankful for that. At that time we already used React and fetched the blog’s content using WordPress’s REST API. The mobile apps were created with Cordova.

Although Worona had a loyal following, we were aware that mobile app usage was slowly declining. People don’t want to download an app for every blog they read. Plus, Apple stopped supporting apps from app generation platforms like ours. This became a serious problem as we couldn’t grow under that scenario.

That’s when we decided to bet on the mobile web and started working on a new framework for building Progressive Web App themes (based on React) on top of WordPress. In 2018 we rebranded to Frontity and got financial backing to make the project grow. Although our main goal was to keep the code open source, we decided to use it internally and release a product exclusively to WordPress publishers (we called it Frontity PRO), so we could see what happened and gather feedback.

Frontity PRO is a proprietary mobile theme built on React for WordPress blogs and news sites. It implements Progressive Web App technologies and uses the REST API to fetch the content, along with our WordPress plugin, WordPress PWA.

By the time Frontity PRO was created, we also contributed to the official WCEU PWA. Building a PWA from the ground up is a difficult and time-consuming task, but we had created a framework to precisely solve that problem. It was the perfect time to test it out and give back to the community.

We have worked with Spanish media companies since we launched Frontity PRO, and the result has been great. Our theme has allowed them to deliver faster and more engaging mobile experiences, which has been proven to increase their pageviews and ad revenue. Our internal framework has served content to more than 20 million readers. Some of our major clients were part of ADSLZone group, like Medios y Redes, Tendenzias or Coches.com. They all use WordPress.

During this time, we realized that many of our clients’ tech teams were considering using our framework to develop their own custom themes. This was one of the main reasons that made us think about open sourcing it — it seemed the perfect moment. Plus, this was our original vision.

A few months ago, we finally decided to go straight for that vision. We set aside the development work of Frontity PRO to place all our focus on Frontity.org, the open source framework. Our next milestone is to release the first beta version in the next few weeks. (Early May 2019.) More than 300 developers have already signed up to try it out. We are really excited about this project and believe it can make a real impact in the WordPress ecosystem.

Since our resources are limited, we are looking for some financial backing again to bring contributors on board and build a thriving community of people interested in WordPress and React.

PS: What problems does Frontity solve? (And whose problems are they?) Will Frontity make frontend development more accessible to people who are new to React?

RM: In order to create a WordPress theme with React, developers need to learn and configure lots of different things: bundling, transpiling, routing, server rendering, retrieving data from WordPress, managing state, managing CSS, linting, testing,…

There are already some amazing React frameworks, such as Next.js and GatsbyJS, that can work with WordPress, but they’re not focused exclusively on it. As a result, there’s still some complex configuration and additional tooling left to the developer.

This is what Frontity aims to solve; we want to make everything much simpler for WordPress developers and more accessible to those who are new to React. Each part of the framework has been simplified and optimized to be used with WordPress, and developers don’t need to figure out what tools to use for things like CSS or state management.

Everything is ready so they can get WordPress and React to work together in an easier way.

How does Frontity differ from Genesis, _s, or WP Rig — from the developer and designer’s perspective, and in the end user’s experience?

RM: Genesis, _s or WP Rig are fantastic frameworks to develop WordPress themes based on PHP. These themes use the PHP WordPress rendering engine, which means they rely on a server-side architecture where almost every interaction that is made by the user on his device needs to wait for the server to render the new result. Our framework is focused on developers who want to create a React frontend and connect it to a WordPress backend using the REST API. We can call this a client-side architecture, where all the logic and rendering happen directly on the device and the calls to the server are limited only to data sourcing.

In the last few years, web development has evolved a lot. One of the main reasons is the shift to mobile devices and the need for fast web experiences. Achieving this is not easy using a server-side architecture. This is why client-side libraries like React are becoming so popular.

From the developer perspective, everything changes! A theme developed with Frontity and React has zero PHP in it, only JavaScript and CSS. This might sound like a radical change, but there is a trend of developers using WordPress as a headless CMS with a decoupled JavaScript frontend for whom our framework can be quite useful.

How does Frontity the framework fit into a business model or revenue stream for Frontity the company?

RM: We won’t develop any business model in this initial phase. The framework will always be 100% free and open source. Right now, we are focused on building a community of developers and contributors around the framework.

Possible monetizations in the future are a hosting solution, premium support, or a marketplace of paid themes.

What opportunities do you see for WordPress developers now and in the near future?

RM: With the shift to Gutenberg as well as the rise of headless CMS approaches, the WordPress community has started considering React for their projects. Beside this, modern libraries like React are becoming essential to rich user experiences.

The client-side approach to theme-building opens a world of new possibilities: storing and pre-fetching content, animations within themes, offline experiences, and more. It also has enormous benefits in terms of performance, UX and design.

React presents an opportunity to accelerate things in the WordPress ecosystem, build modern and engaging frontend experiences, and extend what developers can do with this powerful CMS.

Pictured in the Frontity team photo above, from left to right, back row first: Eduardo Campaña (developer), David Arenas (developer), Carmen Fernández (no longer with the company), Mario Santos, (Community), Reyes Martínez (Marketing & Communications), Pablo Postigo (Founder & CEO), and Luis Herranz (Founder & Lead developer).

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Rich Tabor is transitioning to a new role now as Senior Product Manager of WordPress Experience with GoDaddy. In the past three years, Rich founded a digital agency, launched a popular PhotoShop resource site, and started ThemeBeans, a successful WordPress theme shop.

ThemeBeans and CoBlocks, Rich’s suite of page builder blocks in a plugin, have gone with him to Godaddy. (CoBlocks remains free, and now all the ThemeBeans products are too.) Rich took some time to reflect with us on his path so far and where he sees the WordPress ecosystem going in the future.

Q: What led you to dive into the new post-Gutenberg reality of WordPress and create CoBlocks and Block Gallery?

I’ve been fascinated by the block editor ever since Matias’s Gutenberg demo during WordCamp US 2017. I was instantly convinced that Gutenberg would lead us into the next era of creation in WordPress. I saw an opportunity, was in a position to execute and had enough expertise to take it on.

Q: Did sales for these products meet your expectations?

I actually did not release paid versions for either CoBlocks or Block Gallery. There were plans to monetize both plugins, but at the time we were focused on delivering innovative solutions to Gutenberg and pushing the editor to its extremes. Adoption-wise, both plugins grew particularly fast, and are continuing to do so. In that sense, they most certainly exceeded my expectations.

Q: What do you see as the near and long term future of the WordPress ecosystem? As solo developers and small firms are increasingly hired by bigger fish, especially hosting companies, will there still be a place for small entrepreneurs?

I believe that the WordPress ecosystem will continue to be an innovative field for both entrepreneurs and larger companies. It’s all about innovation and being able to execute — regardless of the size of the team behind the product or idea.

And over the last few years, the WordPress economy and its entrepreneurial leaders, have evolved into quite a mature ecosystem. I’d say the fact that companies such as GoDaddy are investing in the future of WordPress is a huge sign of that maturity and growth in our industry. Hosts, in particular, are uniquely equipped to make a huge difference in how so many folks use WordPress. Investing in products and talent that level-up the overall WordPress experience is good for us all.

Q: What about GoDaddy made it seem like a good fit or you? Did you consider any other types of companies outside the hosting space?

I flew out to Phoenix to meet the WordPress leadership team at GoDaddy and it became quite clear that they were all-in on this new future of WordPress + Gutenberg.

GoDaddy has assembled a passionate and highly qualified team of folks who are hyper-focused on improving the WordPress experience and leading the next wave of innovation in this space. Joining this team and leading the efforts as the Senior Product Manager of WordPress Experience is a good and logical fit to fulfilling my personal mission to help make WordPress beautifully simpler. I knew that what we’d build would touch millions of sites and empower people all over the world to succeed online.

Q: Before GoDaddy came along, what was your plan in terms of growth and long-term sustainability?

Having run a successful theme shop for a number of years, I understood the importance of having a solid plan for growth and sustainability.

My plan for both CoBlocks and Block Gallery was to release top-tiered paid versions of each, with innovative tools, blocks and design systems. Those would have likely arrived in Q3 of 2019, as our focus for the first half of the year was to innovate and grow our user base. Now I hope to continue on that same development trajectory, adding many of those same features to the current plugins.

Q: What is your best advice for someone who is currently independent and wants to build a small business in the WordPress space today? What are the best lessons or advice you can provide?

First off, don’t let an opportunity get away from you. Learn to identify opportunities that you are perfectly suited to execute on, then dive right in. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and don’t be afraid to try something new. Learning how to learn and then taking that a step further by continuing to learn every single day, is a catalyst for enormous personal and professional growth. It’s not all about making cool stuff, it’s about challenging yourself to become the best version of yourself; the rest will fall into place.  

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You may not know Peter built the first version of WP Pusher in a shopping mall in Thailand while traveling the globe for four years. Originally from Copenhagen, today Peter is settled down in Glasgow and has just launched Branch, a Docker-based build and deployment tool for WordPress developers that goes quite a bit further than WP Pusher. Branch is a continuous integration service for WordPress that adds “the ‘build’ and ‘test’ steps” before deployment.

DK: You’ve launched Branch with a manifesto that declares “WordPress developers are developers too” before outlining the well-known lack of modern tools for WordPress development. Why do you think that has been such a long-lamented situation and was there something unique in your experience that drove you to do something about it?

PS: One of the things that makes WordPress really special is its low barrier of entry. The 5-minute install and all of that. The WordPress community proudly consists of a large percentage of amateurs and hobbyists. A lot of people have their first experience with programming because of WordPress, which is great and something WordPress should be really proud of. Most development frameworks exist to make the developer more productive, but I think WordPress has another purpose. The purpose of WordPress is to democratize publishing (which is something user facing), not to be an awesome tool for developers. There are obviously some political decisions behind this lack as well. Religiously supporting outdated versions of PHP is just one of them. Not having any sort of dependency management, so everyone has to reinvent the wheel on each project is another one.

Every WordPress developer is asking the same questions. “How do I manage my dependencies?” or “how do I migrate changes to the database?” These are questions people literally ask me because I sell WordPress developer tools. Personally, I didn’t get into programming because of WordPress. I have been doing PHP development since my early teens, and my first job was as a Ruby on Rails junior developer. “Growing up” as a developer, I was raised very strictly! My co-workers would write failing unit tests for me, and I’d have to implement the code. This made me pretty religious about best practices, testing etc. After RoR I discovered Laravel in 2013 and helped build the Laravel community in Copenhagen. However, during high school, I had built quite a few different projects using WordPress for myself and my clients. Once in a while, I’d have to update these old WordPress sites, which always involved installing an FTP client. This was rough after five years of continuous deployment using Git and automated tests. I hate FTP with a passion. It’s an error-prone and outdated way to deploy your code.

Inspired by some of the tooling I knew from RoR and Laravel, I set out to build a better way to deploy WordPress code. After a lot of experimentation, I landed on WP Pusher. However, WP Pusher only moves the code. It doesn’t run your build scripts or your unit tests. It just blindly moves your code from a Git repository to WordPress. I was intentionally ignoring this problem for a while, being kind of intimidated by it I guess. However, people kept asking me the questions I described earlier, so I started experimenting again and believe I found a really cool solution with Branch. Branch is built on top of Docker, so everything you can imagine doing inside of Docker containers will eventually be available within Branch. A major part of building Branch is to make this great, but highly technical, stack available to WordPress developers.

The Branch Dashboard showing the configuration options for a theme’s build steps.

DK: Does Branch build on or incorporate WP Pusher, or are these totally separate technologies? As SaaS businesses, will they remain separate or merge? I imagine some of your agency customers for WP Pusher might want to move up to Branch, if they don’t lose anything in the process.

PS: The best way to understand Branch, and why it’s different from WP Pusher, is to imagine it as two separate parts: The build + test part (continuous integration) and the deployment part (continuous deployment). The deployment part of Branch very much builds upon WP Pusher. The build part is what’s new. It’s the missing link between developing on your local machine and shipping to production.

One of the things that excite me the most about Branch is that it’s a hosted SaaS, compared to WP Pusher which is “just” a WordPress plugin. That allows me to add a much more advanced feature set and ship much faster. With a SaaS, you are in control of the environment in which the software runs. That gives you a lot more flexibility and opportunity. I want WP Pusher to stay around for everyone to keep using. However, I want to make Branch so good that everyone wants to switch eventually. But WP Pusher will stay around. That’s for sure.

DK: What did you learn from life as a digital nomad? Have you given it up for good now, or do you plan to do more traveling?

PS: That’s a good question, I should probably spend some more time thinking about! I came into the “nomadic” lifestyle sort of by accident. It wasn’t very purposeful. I think on a personal level the number one lesson has been how important for me it is to have a base. Traveling for a long time, you become very aware of your roots. You spend a lot of time thinking about the good and the bad parts of being back home. I think ideally it allows you to go “home” and have a better idea of which parts of settled life you like, and which ones you’d rather be without.

On a business level, WP Pusher was born on the road and has a very different nature than most businesses. From day one it’s been a premise that I wasn’t always around 24/7. It’s never been a problem, because it’s never been an expectation. I’ve never had to change anything about WP Pusher to allow me to travel, because I was already traveling when I built it. Now I’m pretty settled, and I live with my fiancé and only travel for smaller trips. I’ll never stop traveling, hopefully, but I don’t think I’ll ever live on the road again! 

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