Yesterday, Troy Dean from WP Elevation hosted WP Think Tank 2. It was the second panel discussion about the future of WordPress this year. This time the, panel covered the demands of three distinct users of WordPress, including enterprise level business, small business and entrepreneurs, and new bloggers.
From making WordPress more simplistic to making it an application framework, to the popularity of new drag and drop plugins for full customization, this panel wrestled with the unique position WordPress is in today and where it might go.
Unlike the team that works on the core of WordPress software, this panel was made up mostly of users and business developers who have a very diverse take on the vision Matt Mullenweg has for the future of the software. Watch the 2:00 hour video yourself, or get the skinny (below the video) on where they think it’s going, and what this will mean for the way you use it down the road.
The WP Think Tank 2 panel consisted of:
- Matt Medeiros from The Matt Report
- Brian Clark from Copyblogger
- Alex King from Crowd Favorite
- Lisa Sabin-Wilson from WebDev Studios
- Miriam Schwab from Illuminea
- Cory Miller from iThemes
The First Half – Go Bigger
Right off the bat, the panel started the two hour discussion with how WordPress has started to become the foundational platform for enterprise-level development.
The conversation easily drifted into ecommerce integration and application development. Both Cory Miller and Alex King did a good job of injecting that many users are complaining about just how complex WordPress has become and that they are jumping ship in favor of simpler systems such as Medium for just blog posting.
At the same time, WordPress is just now working its way into being a platform for the small to medium sized business market via 3rd party add-ons.
Struggling with Perception
Brian Clark brought up an odd perception that the rest of the panel backed up, saying that enterprise-level clients think that because the base software is free, and the 3rd party add-ons are relatively inexpensive, that they simply cannot be worthwhile.
He said that if WordPress were to be taken seriously by that level of client, it would have to emulated Red Hat. “How do you sell Open Source to enterprise? You make it very expensive. That’s kind of crazy.”
At the :30 minute mark, Troy asked how WordPress could be better positioned to be more attractive to the corporate and enterprise-level client and shed their current perceptions that it simply isn’t powerful enough and not made for real business.
The 1% is not a Sustainable Market Yet
Cory Miller, of iThemes interjected that while there is a future to WordPress as an enterprise-level foundation, they are perhaps only 1% of the user market. They’re really big, and they spend a lot of money, but that the customer base that sustains most WordPress related businesses are the bloggers, freelance developers, and small businesses that “don’t get the traffic The New York Times does.”
At the :45 minute mark, Brian Clark brought up the philosophical reasons for growing WordPress, via custom enhancements, to position Open Source as a legitimate way to go for enterprise.
But he also suggested that the majority of the market is going a different direction. They want something that has demonstrated it is solid at a reasonable price versus building a fully proprietary system.
He said he was delighted to hear Matt Mullenweg’s recent comments on the future of WordPress and that they coincide with the Copyblogger team’s vision, and that is to continue to evolve content marketing and use what the publishers use, which is WordPress.
This is in line with Copyblogger’s new product, Rainmaker. It serves folks who don’t want to use a publishing platform, but don’t want to concern themselves with updating WordPress, plugins, and security. Managed WordPress hosting is a growing market, into which Copyblogger has recently entered with Rainmaker.
At the :54 minute mark, Cory Miller reiterated that it would be great to have less customers that pay more from the enterprise level, but in the six years that iThemes has been in business, that has just not been the case, and is not for the bulk of the WordPress world.
The Second Half
At 1:06 mark, the second half of the live stream started after a bit of an audio glitch. Troy, voiced one of the big frustrations that has been voiced often in the emails and in the live chats he receives, and that’s the fact that WordPress is not easy for the beginner.
He posed the following questions.
- How do we overcome this challenge when we know that WordPress is relatively easy to use compared to the other solutions on the market, but there is still an on-boarding process involved?
- How do we make WordPress more seamless for the user to use?
- Is the Dashboard going to be stripped back and made bare?
- Are we going to see more customized Dashboards?
Alex Miller answered that WordPress will not be able to serve all markets. “The opportunity is to create verticalized versions of WordPress that serve specific markets.”
That’s already being done by Copyblogger with Rainmaker as well as the Happy Tables plugin by Tom Willmot, which is specifically for the restaurant industry.
Alex stated that he would also like to see more customization support within the admin area. He said that there has been a bit of push back on that idea from the WordPress core development team. Their reasoning is that there are a lot of tutorial providers and if someone wants to know how to do something with WordPress, it’s best if all the screenshots look the same. Alex suggested that “the benefits of verticalized versions would outweigh the drawbacks in the long run.”
Brian Clark suggested that it’s the core developer’s responsibility to consider hiding functionality and features just to simplify the admin area. He thinks “that’s the responsibility of us in the vendor space.”
He went on to say that WordPress is basically divided into three parts, “Editorial, support, and development.” He suggested that education should be vertical, and that the interfaces should be developed according to task. So, all those, in any industry, who are doing publishing all have a similar set of tasks they carry out on a regular basis.
Drag and Drop Page Builders
At the 1:11 mark, Troy turned the discussion to the emergence of so many new drag and drop page builders for WordPress. He mentioned the Visual Composer by WPBakery, which helps you create complex layouts for any page. Troy suggested this stems from the user wanting to have more control over how WordPress looks and functions without using shortcodes in the Visual Editor of WordPress.
No More Free or Cheap
Brian Clark suggested that it’s good for business to be more inclusive with single platform packages.
Matt Medeiros agrees. He says the perception of enterprise-level businesses hangs on the price point for themes and plugins being so inexpensive. He agrees that prices for WordPress products is currently, and has to, go up. He injected that it takes more than a theme and a few plugins to create a business-level site. For the security and add-ons, the investment is actually a few thousand dollars.
Matt also suggests that’s the motivation behind the growth of managed WordPress hosting. Business owners don’t want to concern themselves with multiple annual license agreements to a variety of services and add-ons. An all-inclusive package is much more desirable. He compared that to the $600/mo platform that Hubspot offers. It’s attractive because it’s all on one platform and easy.
WordPress as an App Driven Platform
At the 1:17 mark, Troy brought in the change of vision that Matt Mullenweg has currently made public. WordPress started as a way to democratize publishing. He now sees it as a way to also democratize development.
User Control Panel
Troy returned the conversation back to users wanting more control and minimalizing the dashboard, and to keep WordPress out of the box very simple.
Miriam Schwab spoke about the dilemma of whether WordPress is simple enough, yet has enough features to be powerful and give users control over their site.
She suggested that part of the confusion was due to the way all links in the sidebar are given the same weight. She suggests a reordering so that admin pages that are used all the time have more prominence, and those that are rarely used become less prominent. She suggested that Posts, Pages, Plugins, Widgets, and Menus be brought forward, and items such as Settings and Themes (under Appearance), either be somewhat hidden, or at least in lower sub-links. She would like to see a much better grouping.
She says that drag and drop is useful, but that “too many features means too little that can be done.” It’s actually overwhelming to most users. She would like to see more simplicity on the back end and on the themes and then let users build on top of that.
Keep it Simple
Cory agrees that what made WordPress so popular was simplicity. WordPress is now 11 years old and has become quite bloated. The reason Medium, Ghost, and Tumblr have become popular is the philosophy of simplicity. He thinks that is should be made simple for the broadest base, and then add complexity as needed. That is the same philosophy that he uses with the iThemes e-commerce plugin. The base is simple and then add-ons are available.
Never See the Backend Admin Again
At the 1:23 mark, Troy mentioned one of the newest drag and drop plugins, VelocityPage. The developer, Mark Jaquith, is also a lead developer of the WordPress core. The plugin promises to allow you to “never see the WordPress admin again.”
Troy also brought in the fact that there is a huge disconnect between what you see on the backend of WordPress and how your content appears on the front end.
Alex commented that simplicity and power functionality really “fly at odds with each other.” He thinks that’s the “crux of the struggle that WordPress has right now. It’s serving such a large segment of the web, that there is no one-size-fits-all.” That opens up the opportunity for vertical solutions. He cited that the Happy Tables product is an excellent example of that. It’s very specific for its industry.
CMS vs App Framework
Troy mentioned Matt Mullenweg’s vision of developing WordPress so that more custom solutions could be added like building blocks.
He notes how many wonderful things that WordPress has in the core, such as user registration, lost password, and such. All of that does not have to be built from scratch as it does in other applications. There are merits to using WordPress as an application framework. But then, there are all the features built into the core that are for content management as well. And those are not going to be stripped out to make it an application framework.
He suggested that perhaps it’s time to fork WordPress into something that can develop into that application framework.
Matt Medeiros would prefer for the core of WordPress to remain a CMS because we really don’t know where we are going to be consuming our content in another year. He suggested that various new multiple display devices may become common.
Brian Clark suggested that Matt Mullenweg might be saying that the core of WordPress is right where it needs to be and that the open marketplace will take that and develop custom solutions.
Cory Miller suggested that all of those enterprise-level functions can be there, but perhaps not have them turned on by default. That would allow the best of both worlds.
Lisa Sabin-Wilson said it all comes back to the user and what they need. New users just don’t need all of that power and expense. And, it also comes down to educating users that WordPress is a CMS. But, it isn’t something that you can turn into a site like the New York Times out of the box.
For a casual blogger, WordPress is perfect as is. For power users and businesses, WordPress requires plugins and other custom solutions.
WordPress Out of the Box
One commentator, who was new to WordPress, found it odd that it did not contain an inbuilt backup solution.
Alex King offered that WordPress, as a product, is competing directly with managed WordPress hosting that does offer such integrations that meet those expectations.
Brian Clark suggested that there is a variety of managed hosting that is trying to meet all needs, from simple and affordable, like Squarespace, to Hubspot for serious content marketers. WordPress managed hosting is somewhere in the middle.
For the last :15 minutes, the panel took questions from attendees on how design professionals set themselves apart, backward compatibility, the need to better serve the different verticals, like content marketing, video sites, small e-commerce sites, and app platform, and more.