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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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Welcome to the Post Status Draft podcast, which you can find on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, and via RSS for your favorite podcatcher. Post Status Draft is hosted by Brian Krogsgard.

In this episode of Draft, I talk to Anil Gupta, the founder of Multidots. Multidots is a 100+ person company and Anil has established a very people-first environment. We discuss his journey and philosophies building the company.

I met Anil at CaboPress and we had a great chat, which we followed up with in this episode, recorded at WordCamp US. Anil has a great story and a lot of insight. I hope you enjoy.

Sponsor: Jilt

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Stressing subscriptions over scale, De Correspondent launched in 2013 with €1 million from 15,000 members. Membership has grown over fourfold since then. Subscriptions and book sales are De Correspondent‘s primary revenue sources. Today The Correspondent is closing on its first 50,000 subscribers with $2.6 million raised in pre-launch funding.

Ernst is a long-time WordPress user, but his vision for journalism led to the creation of a technology company built around a proprietary CMS called Respondens for De Correspondent and now The Correspondent. Respondens’ unique design reflects an ethic where subscribers are treated as a community of people who want to be involved in the production of the news they read. In the future, Ernst hopes to market Respondens to support its development and spread the practice of what we might call “responsive journalism.”

Ernst and his colleagues intend to avoid the churn of breaking news by taking a structural focus on the issues they cover, working in the tradition of constructive, problem-solving, or “solutions journalism.”

9/ Not just the problem, but what can be done about it. In Europe, they call it "constructive journalism." In the US, solutions journalism. The idea: Your report is incomplete — lacks depth — unless it includes what we can do: as individuals, as a society or political community.

— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 20, 2018

Finding solutions as journalists means listening, engaging, and collaborating with readers. In his predictions for journalism in 2019, Ernst told Harvard’s Nieman Lab,

“To really be a reader-driven organization, every journalist that works there should be open to the knowledge, ideas, and concerns of their readers. You can’t outsource that interaction to an engagement editor.”

This approach to journalism slows down and deepens communication by focusing issues around the people and the communities they concern. The constructiveness of this approach may have a lot to do with its calming and humanizing effects.

Ernst has written several Dutch best-sellers, including a Thank-You Book or “gratitude” journal that came out of his efforts to overcome anxiety about public speaking. In his reflections on work, overwork, and gratitude for TEDx, Ernst emphasizes that resistance to “the burnout society” where “creativity is crushed” is a collective task: everyone needs to make daily space for their close relationships where work and media do not intrude.

I am grateful Ernst took some time after the holidays to talk about his experience with WordPress, collaborative online communities, and democratized journalism. Here is the conversation we had.

DK: What are your thoughts about WordPress today? Have you made any connections or maintained relationships with the WP community in other ways?

EP: I started using WordPress in 2006 when I launched my personal blog ahead of an internship at a press agency in the United Nations HQ in New York. The fact that I then, as a twenty-year-old, could start a publication in such an easy way, has been crucial in my career and something I will be the WordPress community eternally grateful for. Since then, I have started several sites, most of them running on WordPress. In 2007 I co-founded the blog of The Next Web Conference, now known as thenextweb.com, in 2009 I started a news blog for the Dutch daily nrc.next, and in 2010, as head of digital at the Dutch quality newspaper (NRC Handelsblad), I switched their main site from ‘Escenic’ to WordPress. The fact that we could so easily build our own plugins (for example, a liveblog feature to cover the Arab spring) was crucial in the success of that news site. Also, the developers enjoyed their work more, since they could give back to the community.

I still run my personal site on WordPress, and even though I don’t publish there anymore, I love to stay in the loop of new WordPress releases and the ever-increasing user-friendliness of the software. In lost moments, I enjoy reading the developers forums and checking their discussions about new releases (I admire the distributed, self-organizing and voluntary efforts of the community) but I’m not in touch with one of the members. I’m just an admiring bystander.

DK: Can you explain when and why you came to see community and membership features as essential to a CMS? What does it look like when the idea of membership/audience inclusion is integral to the software architecture and vision? How are you doing this in Respondens?

EP: The main consideration was focus. We wanted a CMS that only had features for our writers that we deemed important. We didn’t want to create any distraction by having other options available — both to our developers as to our writers. If we build it ourselves, we force ourselves to make conscious decisions about every new feature we add. I.e., we wouldn’t just switch a ‘like’ button on in the comment section, simply because it’s already there. Forcing ourselves to do this made sure we built a laser-focused CMS and publication. The focus and the calm that follows makes it unique. (See “Cultivating calm: a design philosophy for the digital age.”)

Also, our approach to reader interaction —as you mentioned — is a unique asset of our CMS. I elaborate on that in this Medium post, “Reinventing the Rolodex: Why we’re asking our 60,000 members what they know.” We believe in the democratization of the journalistic research process. Anyone could be a source, anyone has expertise and knowledge to share within a specific niche.

1/ THREAD: There’s a great untapped resource in journalism, and it’s available to every journalist right now.

It’s the experience and expertise of your *readers*.

Giving them the opportunity to share what they know, could fundamentally transform journalism.

— Ernst Pfauth (@ejpfauth) December 11, 2018

DK: How does your model of membership-based journalism change at scale, when you have potentially the largest possible national and international audience? Will you still ask your journalists to spend 30-50% of their time reading and responding to member comments and other feedback? Is this essential (or even possible) to sustain at scale?

EP: The thought that you see your readers as sources of knowledge and expertise is crucial. It works for the local examples you mentioned, but it can also work for global topics. For example, we interviewed Shell employees from all over the world — who we found through our Dutch members forwarding a call-out. (“How reader engagement helped unearth the Shell tape.”)

Yes, there are scale challenges. We see our journalists as conversation leaders and our members as contributing experts. We notice when a journalist gets more feedback from their sources (their readers), they need a research assistant to keep up — for example by highlighting interesting contributions to them or taking over some interviews. These are tasks that can be easily outsourced, as long as the correspondent remains the main point of contact in the comment sections and guides the conversation.

I don’t see the 30 and 50 percent as time to spend on ‘responding to comments.’ The comments are just a means to an end. The end goal is to involve your audience, so you can get a wider set of sources, become more inclusive and publish richer journalism. We estimate it takes 30 to 50 percent of your time to live up to that mission.

DK: On the other end of the spectrum, does your model have things to teach small, local journalism and other membership-focused businesses that they don’t already know? In the new membership-based local journalism I’ve been watching in the US and Canada — local media startups where there’s no history or expectation of a printed product or advertising — there’s a definite limit on the subjects that can be curated and written (or spoken) about in a deep and penetrating way. Is this a low or slow-growth model that simply must be accepted?

EP: It starts with being open about your mission as a journalist (all our new correspondents publish a mission statement when they start working with us) and then telling your audience what you expect from them. It’s about that personal relationship. The CMS, practices, technology and resources all follow. But it’s the being open to your audience input and being open about your shared goal with them that’s crucial. Anyone can do that. And when you start, it might even be easier to do it on a small scale, but it’s more intimate, and you can scale up as you get better at it.

The Correspondent team browses their unbreaking newspaper. From left: Zainab Shah, Jessica Best, Rob Wijnberg, Baratunde Thurston, and Ernst Pfauth.

DK: What do you do to keep sane and whole amid the busyness and stress of work? Are you still a practitioner of journaling and daily gratitude? Have your thoughts on that changed or deepened? 

EP: I still write in a gratitude journal every night and noticed this three-year habit has really made me more aware of ordinary but beautiful moments in life, and also taught me to enjoy the process instead of the end goal. I save my evenings and (80% of) my weekends for family and friends — and always have my phone on DND in those hours. Also: I don’t check my email before I have left my apartment. Setting these clear boundaries and turning them into routines have really helped me to stay sane in the busyness of the campaign.

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Welcome to the Post Status Draft podcast, which you can find on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and via RSS for your favorite podcatcher. Post Status Draft is hosted by Brian Krogsgard.

In this episode, I am joined by Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic.

Just after releasing WordPress 5.0, and on the heels of WordCamp US, Matt and I review the event, the release, and discuss how he thinks things went, what could have gone better, and what he sees ahead.

We also dig into WooCommerce, various plans around core development processes, Automattic, and more. I hope you enjoy.

Interview with Matt Mullenweg on Gutenberg, WordPress, and the future - YouTube

And an audio version.

Full transcript is coming soon.

Episode Links Sponsor: iThemes

iThemes makes great WordPress plugins, themes and training to help take the guesswork out of building, maintaining and securing WordPress websites. I talk to iThemes CEO Cory Miller during the break to hear about what they are working on, and excited about for the coming year.

Thanks to iThemes for being a Post Status partner.

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Matt started by “reintroducing WordPress” and the four freedoms, stressing that “WordPress isn’t a physical thing or code, it’s an idea.” Additionally, a “robust commercial ecosystem” supports WordPress, and Matt noted that current estimates indicate WordPress generates about $10 Billion (USD) annually.

After two years of development and just after WordPress 5.0 officially launched, it’s not surprising the focus of Matt’s talk was on Gutenberg. “We’ve gotten a lot of questions about why we are doing certain things… why we are working on Gutenberg. And it’s good to return to users to find that,” Matt acknowledged.

Enhancing editor usability

A video of new WordPress users testing the classic editor (WordPress 4.9) was shown projected on the big screens over the stage. These clips primarily showed people having difficulties with relatively simple tasks in the editor.

Matt’s point was that we’ve become accustomed to the custom editor’s quirks, but blocks offer a better experience — from copying and pasting from Microsoft Word and Google Docs into WordPress to quickly creating a responsive website.

Community Gutenberg adoption

Matt continued with a summary of how Gutenberg has performed in Phase 1 of its release. Before the WordPress 5.0 release, 1.2 million active installs and 1.2 million posts were published, with about 39,000 posts written daily. Phase 1 had 8,684 commits and over 340 contributors. The ‘Gutenberg’ tag is already available for plugins in the WordPress repo, and it will be “coming soon” for themes.

Notably, over 100 Gutenberg themes are already present in the WordPress repo — including the new Twenty Nineteen theme. Matt highlighted two websites — The Indigo Mill and Lumina Solar — as examples where Gutenberg blocks have been used well to create effective layouts. Matt riffed on the “Learn JavaScript Deeply” mantra by repeating “Learn Blocks Deeply.” Blocks are the DNA of the new editor. Currently, 70 native blocks and over 100 third-party blocks exist for Gutenberg.

Community Gutenberg development

He highlighted some of the third party blocks in the wild:

Matt mentioned several block libraries and frameworks that have appeared:

Mobile Apps

Matt gave the audience an update regarding the WordPress native mobile apps: In the past month, app users published 1.3M posts and uploaded 3.1M photos and videos. Gutenberg will be going into the mobile apps, with a beta release expected in February 2019; I heard February 22nd is the current target date for a beta release.

The Next Phases of Gutenberg

Matt highlighted the next phases of Gutenberg’s evolution, which included new information about Phases Three and Four:

Phase One

Fundamental blocks for writing and editing in the backend editor. These are complete now, although Matt later said that work on the editor would continue.

Phase Two

Customizing outside of the page/post content will be the next point of emphasis. It may include widgets, menus, and miscellaneous content. Matt notes that menus “will need a bit more experimentation”. “2019”.

Phase Three

Collaboration, multi-user editing in Gutenberg, and workflows. The target for this to phase to be complete is “2020+.”

Phase Four

“An official way” for WordPress to support multilingual sites. Also slated for “2020+.”

Other Announcements

There were several non-Gutenberg tidbits of note:

Auto updates on major versions of WordPress

On a list of items to work on in 2019, Matt said he wanted to make it a goal to add optional auto-updates for plugins, themes, and major versions of WordPress.

Updated minimum PHP versions

A proposal written by Gary Pendergast makes a case for WordPress to start updating its minimum PHP versions. The proposed plan is to move to PHP 5.6 by April 2019 and to PHP 7.0 by “as early as” December 2019. Notably, security support for PHP 5.6 expires in a few days, and the “end of life” for PHP 7.0 just passed.

After Matt mentioned this proposal, it received an enormous amount of applause — far more applause than most of the Gutenberg news that came earlier, and Matt noticed. It is definitely welcome news!

WordPress release adoption

During the life of the WordPress 4.9 branch, there were over 173 million downloads with 68.4% of all known WordPress installs running 4.9.

Matt notes that the early adoption numbers for WordPress 5.0 were very similar to WordPress 4.7, which was also a December release back in 2016.

Lessons learned in 2018

Matt took time to summarize the lessons he learned in 2018, starting with the need for teams to improve how they work together: “There should be no reason for accessibility, testing, and other teams not to be working together since these features should be a feature of everything we develop from the very beginning.” No doubt this came as a response to the concerns about accessibility in Gutenberg that surfaced before WordPress 5.0 was released.

Community Update

Matt offered some community-related data as well:

  • WordCamps: In 2018 there were 145 WordCamps in 48 countries, with over 45,000 tickets sold. A total of 1,300 organizers (a 33% increase!), 2,651 speakers, and 1,175 sponsors made it all possible.
  • Meetups: This year saw 50% member growth in meetup attendance, with over 687 meetup groups and 5,400 meetup events.

And with that, he began Q&A.

You can view the State of the Word on YouTube in full, and it should become available on WordPress TV very soon.

Photos by Brian Richards, for Post Status.

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WordPress 5.0, “Bebo,” is a shift of the highest order for the platform. Block-based editing, under the name of “Gutenberg,” is an entirely new way to publish content. It adds a world of flexibility when writing, and it opens the gates for transforming much of the broader WordPress experience moving forward.

Introducing WordPress 5.0 "Bebo" - YouTube

TinyMCE has been the core of the WordPress writing experience for, well, forever. Users will be able to continue using TinyMCE with the Classic Editor plugin, which will be especially useful for those web applications with significant amounts of structured content that will take time and reprogramming to fit the new editing experience.

The need for a new editor has been a wide-held concern in the WordPress community for a long time. Gutenberg has been more than two years in the making, and it involved dozens of full-time or near full-time contributors at times. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and other popular WordPress products, has invested a great deal in Gutenberg’s development, as have many other companies and individuals — but the bulk of development and decision-making has been by Automattic employees.

There have been critiques that the process for decision making has been too closed off and rushed toward the end of the development cycle for the purpose of delivery by WordCamp US despite ongoing concerns, particularly around accessibility.

5.0 had to ship eventually, and the process has been a long one. It was a complete shift from the traditional development cycles, which I discussed with Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp US two years ago.

I have personally held the view that now is as good a time as any to release 5.0, though the exact timing is a burden on folks traveling to WCUS, particularly considering that it was just a few days notice; it is putting a kink in the plans of many.

Timing aside, Gutenberg is, I believe, an important step and a big test for WordPress. It is imperative that the platform evolves to be both more powerful and easier to use — an enormously difficult dual challenge that I have advocated as an important feat to accomplish for several years now.

WordPress is the easiest full-featured content management system to use. But it is more difficult than many alternative publishing platforms — particularly hosted ones. Drastic changes, like Gutenberg, are necessary to continue being a preferred platform for end users. Being easy to use and customize got WordPress to the dominant position it is in today, and I believe it is extremely important to continue in that trajectory to maintain that position.

At the same time, as WordPress is being used in ever more advanced applications, developers need powerful, scalable solutions. WordPress has made great strides over the years to accommodate this use case, from various APIs to assist in new data structure creation, to the REST API. Gutenberg offers much promise to continue this trend, as it is quite extendable and also flexible for deployment on the web, in native apps, and on both front-ends and backends.

I believe 5.0 is a huge step forward for the platform. The journey is not without its issues, and there is much work to do, but WordPress needed and continues to need big changes and advancements to maintain its position at the top of the content management food chain.

People are using WordPress for all sorts of things, whether traditional publishing, eCommerce, application frameworks, and much more. I’m excited to see what Gutenberg brings to further these applications. Strictly as an editor, it’s far from perfect, but it’s an important step in the right direction.

Get familiar with WordPress 5.0

Here are some links to places to learn more about the new editing experience and WordPress 5.0.

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