[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the WP Builds podcast, bringing you the latest news from the WordPress community. Now welcome your hosts, David Waumsley and Nathan Wrigley.
Hello there and welcome once again to the WP Builds podcast. You have reached episode number 318 entitled Rob Howard on what they're doing at Master wp. It was published on Thursday, the 16th of March, 2023. My name's Nathan Wrigley and a few little bits of housekeeping before we. . The first thing is to say that if you are not subscribed to the WP Builds newsletter, why not do that?
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Okay. What have we got on the show for you today? We've got Rob Howard, and he's on the podcast today to talk about all of the things that they're doing over at Master wp. If you've not heard of Master WP before, you're in for a treat. They have loads of different things going on, and we split the conversation in this episode into two halves.
The first half we talk about the community that he's trying to build up over at Master WP, where all the financing comes from, how the team works, and how they're giving a proportion of time to their employees each week. They've got a pretty impressive roadmap for all of the different content types that they want to produce.
That kind of leads us into the second half where we talk about all of the courses that they're running. They're hoping to put out a laundry list of new content. This podcast was recorded several months ago, so it may well be that all of the things that they talk about are now. Superseded by brand new content.
Like I said, they've got a pretty aggressive roadmap of the things that they're gonna be releasing. Hopefully, if you enter the coupon code, WP Builds 10. You'll be able to get 10% off for a month after the podcast episode airs. Hopefully that code works. If it doesn't, let me know some gremlin would've been discovered in the system.
We also get into a chat about a WP Drama, which was happening at the time that we recorded. The stats were removed from wordpress.org, and so we talk about the impact of that as well. Anyway, it's a really interesting subject. You'll be able to discover all about Master WP, and I hope that you enjoy the podcast.
I am joined on the podcast today by Rob Howard. Hello.
[00:04:29] Rob Howard: Hey, Nathan, how's it going? Yeah,
[00:04:30] Nathan Wrigley: really good. We've had a, you know how these things, it's all very contrived, isn't it? Me saying, hello, Rob. , we haven't been chatting for the last minutes, which of course we have. We've had a lovely little chat.
I've not met Rob before, but I'm gonna be fairly confident that if you've been in the WordPress space for the last wha let's say year or two years, you've probably come into contact with the content that Rob and Rob's team have been producing. Rob is behind, or I say behind, I don't know if it's Rob and others particularly, but we'll find that out in just a moment.
Rob is behind Master wp, a growing and important channel for all things WordPress courses and news and newsletters and all of that kind of thing, podcasts as well. Before we get stuck into the interesting content there, first of all, Rob, give us a little bit of a rundown. Tell us your history, how you came to be on this podcast today in the WordPress space and all of that.
There's more to it than that. And I think if you read master VP for a few weeks, you'll start to feel that mission around, really bringing more people into what we've discovered is just a really great industry. Has a lot of great communities within, it, has a lot of great economic opportunities.
And as I'm sure there's a lot of people who. are eager to get into tech who have that same kind of accidentally discovered passion for coding and computers and technology. So we really want to give them a pathway to get more involved and get their voices heard. We do that through our writing, like blog style newspaper or magazine style writing and articles as well as, publishing guest posts, doing podcasting as well as now doing workshops.
So educational, one to two hour webinars that are then recorded and shared. You can pop in to our workshops catalog and choose topics that you know are most interesting to you. You can subscribe to all of them. And that's something that we've really been having a lot of fun with and we're doing.
stuff that's very technical. Like we did one on WP CLI recently, which is Command line. But I also am doing some, unlike growing an agency business we're doing someone starting your first blog, like very beginner stuff. So we really try to give everybody greater voice give everybody a platform from which they can jump off to do the things that are interesting and fun for them.
And also experience that economic growth that I've been lucky enough to really get involved in since I was like essentially a teenager, yeah. So we want to share that with as many people as we can in a way that is. Fun and accessible and spreads kind of the word about the great things about tech, while also welcoming new people into tech.
[00:07:49] Nathan Wrigley: The website Master WP, as you might expect, it's master wp.com. Go and check it out if you haven't checked it out before. I don't know exactly. No, like I alluded to earlier, I don't exactly know when I first came across your site, but it was one of those things where you stumble across it. So for me it was probably about 18 months ago or something like that, or probably a year, I dunno, something like that.
And I came across it and it was like, oh, hang on a minute, where's this been? How did I not know about this? So what I'm trying to emphasize there is it, for me, it went from zero to wow. Lots. There's a lot of stuff on here now. In order to generate a website like that and keep that kind of website going with content being updated all the time and moving into new content areas like podcasting and so on, and courses and so on, there must be something underpinning it.
You don't start something like this unless you've got some way of financing it. So I'm curious about that. What, in the beginning was the thing that kept it going, what was the thing that you were pivoting away from and, giving a little bit of time each week to this new project?
[00:08:53] Rob Howard: Yeah, so the majority of our business, we have a about 20 employees right now in the US and Canada. And we, the majority of our time and the majority of our revenue comes from client services and that's largely WordPress. But we also do lots of other web development in other areas as a company.
So we're effectively a digital agency. We're more development focused than design focused, but, we're growing it and doing kind of all those things. , you can come work with us on a web development or design project if you want to. And on top of that, we have a goal of essentially expanding our horizons in a positive way into things like content products in other services, if that makes sense.
And I think, what we've discovered is we've done a lot of experimentation in very intentionally like a startup within a digital agency in a lot of ways. And what we've really found is that master WP as a magazine and newsletter, and now our new workshops just have been such a surprise hit.
Not that I didn't think that they. exciting and popular, but they've just far exceeded my original expectations. That's allowed us to say, Hey, this is a thing that's really working. We wanna do more of this. It's helping people. People are learning, people are having fun reading it and participating.
It started basically as a way for us to diversify our business as a digital agency. Obviously you see this a lot with developers and designers where they say, Hey, I have this product idea that I want to build. Wouldn't it be super cool if I could do that and not have to work for clients anymore?
We take a different angle, which is that we plan. Do client service work forever as far as we're concerned. And we want to build other elements of our business in an additive way, if that makes sense. The way that I look at it is our WordPress magazine feeds into our client services, which then feeds into our theme framework, which is under strap that we acquired a couple years ago.
It feeds into our podcast. All those things increase our, the awareness and authority of our business and our organization here. So we're simultaneously doing cool stuff, having fun, helping people, and building a bigger ecosystem of ways that you can interact with us. And I think what we've seen in the last year is that's actually.
Every component of that ecosystem, if that makes sense. Yeah. So we get clients from Master wp, our clients go read and listen to our podcast and then find us more authoritative and so on and so forth. It's
[00:11:52] Nathan Wrigley: interesting because. We have this mantra, which has been going on for forever, since the web started.
And, specifically tools like WordPress was, if you've got a business website, do a blog. Just get content out, keep pushing out content, and eventually there'll be some kind of feedback loop there where the content that you are put putting out in whatever niche or industry you're in will in some way, give you more kudos.
And therefore, the , the clients will come and then more content will be allowed to be created. Typically, though, I've gotta say, Often seems to be a failure. People lose interest. They can't be bothered to create the content. And as soon as you, as soon as that sort of cycle of stagnation sets in, the whole thing dries up.
But you seem to have done the opposite. You seem to be turbo charging it each, almost like each kind of season. By season, literally, autumn, winter, spring, and so on, so every three months or something, you seem to come up with a new idea and push that out. I'm guessing you are either taking on people to saddle this burden or you are sequestering people from in your organization.
I think you said there was 20 of you now and giving them a little bit of time to dabble in different content types. How are you actually getting the personnel, the boots on the. .
[00:13:06] Rob Howard: Yeah. So I'm very aware of that dynamic and I think I don't know who said this, but basically it's way worse to have a blog that you haven't updated here than to just have no blog at all.
It's just like a sad little like car. Like
[00:13:21] Nathan Wrigley: certainly don't put the dates on it. if you
[00:13:23] Rob Howard: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So there's evergreen content and then there's a blog that you just haven't updated in three years because you forgot about it. So obviously you don't want that. We've actually had a lot of good luck even before we dove head first into content.
We've actually had good luck with selling small courses, selling, doing like ultimate Guides where it's like, Hey, here's like my 20 page pdf describing, how to do core web vitals or whatever. And, clients will download that or see it as an authoritative thing.
So we definitely. Have had this type of strategy on our radar for, probably 10 or 12 years dating back to kinda like the early days of information, products becoming a thing. So this idea of Hey, you need a lead magnet, Hey, you need an information product. That's not new to us.
So it's not like we were learning everything from scratch in the last two years, right? But what we did do is very intentionally say we want to diversify into other areas beyond just client services. Both because. There is a potential financial opportunity there. And also because it's fun, right?
So one of the big things is that I think we can all agree that client services is not the most fulfilling and exciting thing that you could do with your time. And it's very easy to , it's very easy to burner. I agree. In fact, pretty much everyone, I'd say like a significant percentage of the blog posts on the company blogs that are supposed to be about promoting your company actually end up being about how you burned out and you hate client services.
So that's very common. It's something that I want to very thoughtfully avoid for my team both because it's a bad experience and because it has cascading negative effects across, the company and the business, right? So if two people burn out and quit. What's gonna happen is that's gonna cascade to the three people who have to take over their work burning out faster.
And it's just, it's such a vicious cycle, right? So one way to make work more fun is to carve out some of your time for fun stuff, right? So pretty much everybody in our team has that kind of like coder inventor spark at some to some degree. So we started working on new product and service ideas.
One of those was WP Wallet, which is about organizing your plugins, being able to invoice clients more easily. This was a thing where we were scratching our own itch and saying, isn't it horrible that you have to track 11 different e-commerce sites? None of them really make a, they don't remind me properly.
I'm always forgetting stuff or, Getting this credit card bill from this company. I don't even know what it is, but I actually do need that plugin. But the client was supposed to pay for it. It's just there's like a whole mess there that we were, we built software to help ourselves with that, that we've now put out there as a freemium product.
So that's WP Wallet. And then from that, we also knew that if you're gonna go build a software as a service product or freemium plugin or whatever you also need an audience to share that with, right? So that is where some of our acquisitions came in. So we acquired Under Strap, which is a very popular theme framework.
It's used by Facebook and Intel. And we'd been using it in our company for many years. And the people who owned it and were maintaining it as an open source product. Just wanted to go do other stuff. So we purchased it from them that also had a very large audience of email subscribers associated with it.
Nice. So that we started, a bit of a mailing list there. And then in January, February of 2022 the original creators of Master WP put it up for sale. So we actually bought that brand from someone else who'd been running it as a newsletter for almost five years. So that brand was preexisting.
It did have preexisting authority. But the owners of it essentially didn't really want to focus on that anymore. They had other businesses that they wanted to pursue instead. So we purchased it from them. And at that point, I think that's probably where you started to notice like the very intentional like content supercharge that we've done over the last year. Yep. Because we said, okay newsletters are awesome, but like newsletters that actually have a website associated with them are even more awesome, right? . So we actually launched a website with the articles on it, so more like a magazine, right? Than just a simple email newsletter.
And then we started creating, I think, significantly more longer form original content, primarily from our staff, but also from guest writers. We committed to paying all of our guest writers, which I think was a really cool change in the in the ecosystem. And from there, as you've seen, like we've been able to, pump out, three to six really interesting articles per week.
We're covering industry news. We're covering, our own opinion and analysis stuff we're doing. deeper looks at culture and diversity in tech. We're doing deeper looks at code and, where WordPress is going. And I think, probably will grow into just covering open source and tech in an even broader way over the next few years.
[00:19:12] Nathan Wrigley: It strikes me that there was a possibility here for it to potentially go south. The boss comes in and said, I've got this really exciting idea. We're gonna produce loads of content, you're all gonna be involved, you're gonna love it. And then everybody groans and thinks, oh, really?
But obviously that's not the case for you. How do you incentivize or what are the sort of the benefits, the kickbacks, if you like, for the people involved specifically in your company? Let's deal with that because we know what the freelance model probably looks like for writers and so on.
How does the sort of, how do your staff view it? What benefits are they getting on the flip side of doing this? .
[00:19:51] Rob Howard: Yeah. So I can speak to, from my personal experience too, in that it's just fun, so I think for me writing, publishing, informing and entertaining people has always been a fun element of my work.
I really got into tech. I got into tech as a teenager, right? So this is decades ago. But when I did that, it was like, hey it wasn't like, Hey, I want to go learn computer science. It was, Hey, I wanna learn how to publish cool stuff on the internet. . And part of that is understanding how to build websites, and then that sort of, took off from there.
So I think coming at it from an angle of communi, I like publishing, I like communication. I think that I probably gravitated towards employees who shared that interest without intentionally think, without really thinking about that. If I hired somebody, Three or four years prior, like I might I probably was inadvertently building a company full of people who would love to run a WordPress newsletter.
, before we even considered that possibility. Yeah. That being said I think the approach that I take as a publisher is that you should be able to write stuff that feels like it's coming from you. I don't want to edit it. So it sounds like the voice of like the sort of imaginary like monotone voice of the newspaper.
Or every article in The Economist sends the same, every article in New York Times is basically the same structure and style. I really wanted to give people more freedom than that to be themselves. I think that kind of also adds in. Or plays into the whole, like bringing more voices into the community and the industry, right?
So I think giving people more freedom really helps in terms of getting people involved in the newsletter or in the magazine or the publishing business or even podcasting. Also paying people helps, right? , I think one of the issues is that asking for it's not necessarily framed as volunteer work, but hey, you can write a blog post for exposure.
That's great, but not everybody can take advantage of that. Yeah. So what we do is you're being paid as an employee for your time. If you were hired as a developer, you're getting paid developer rates to go write an article for three or four hours, they're not really making a trade off in terms of the employees of the company.
What they're doing is they're saying, Hey, now, like 10% of my time or 5% of my time or whatever is gonna be carved out for this sort of Fun, creative activity. . So I think, we don't force people to do it. There's certainly people who have said oh I'm nervous about writing, but I can do the podcast.
Or vice versa. And so we're very aware that it's not for everybody, but I think that. There's enough people on the team that, we pretty much can fill the the magazine Yeah. Every week.
[00:23:03] Nathan Wrigley: So here's an interesting question. So you've got your team and you've got some freelance writers who get paid for their work as well and obviously you've allocated some time within the team for, to them to do it.
The, the problem with a beast like this is once you create this beast, the beast needs feeding. And in order to keep a community such as this with all of the different arms that you've now got all these different tendrils of content types in order for that to maintain its authority, it's either got to at least be as good as it was last month or it's got to be better.
And I just wonder how that works, in terms of the staff that you've got, do you allocate time to them? Like you've got four hours a week, or you've got 5% of your time available this week. Is a available for this and this only? And also which comes first, does the client services work Always trump the content creation works?
Just really you can see the thread of my poorly formed question. How do you manage it? .
[00:24:04] Rob Howard: So the biggest way that I do that is I think you alluded to this basically setting aside a percentage of each employee's time to focus on certain things right? The thing about a web developer is that they're gonna be most efficient and most happy if no one talks to them for eight hours at a time, while they code, right? So we really try to facilitate that, through our project management and scheduling and, meeting schedules and stuff like that so that people really do have, lots of heads down coding time that is effectively uninterrupted.
And I think that really helps us deliver great projects to clients. But what then also helps is to say, okay, and, 10% or 20% or 50% of your time is gonna go towards this. Project, which is producing the podcast or producing articles for the newsletter. We have developers who do audio editing for the podcast because they like doing that.
We have developers and designers who write for the newsletter because they like doing that. I really try to play to people's individual strengths and help everyone enjoy their day. But from a very like mechanical and logistical standpoint, we are doing our best to predefine where people's time is going to be spent on like a weekly basis.
Yeah. 20 hours on s wp, 20 hours on client development or five and 35 or five and 20, if somebody works part-time, whatever that is. I. People need to go into their week knowing what to expect. Yeah. And knowing what is expected of them. That I think has helped us grow in a way that is somewhat, is essentially steady and also predictable, and also not burn people out.
Yeah. And I think that's really the big thing is I have to sometimes say Hey you need to stop working at this point in the week, or you're gonna burn out. So that's something that we very much build into our company culture. People are going to we, we've set it up so that people naturally tell people to take a break as opposed to telling people to work late.
So I think that really helps. And I think, the other bigger picture financial question about all this is I think there's a lot of long-term payoff to what we're building. But in the short term, it is an expense, right? As, as you alluded to, like, where's.
This time and investments really coming from however, there's also a lot of intangible benefit to people having fun at work, doing creative stuff. And I think what will, what I think I've already seen and I think we probably, if we look back a year or two from now, we'll probably be able to measure, is like our ability to recruit and retain employees as well as the morale of our employees is much higher because we have fun, creative opportunities that allow you to take a breath and do something other than client work, which is very rewarding financially, but also can be very stressful.
So having that combination. Is a direct but hard to measure benefit
[00:27:35] Nathan Wrigley: to the company. Yeah. Yeah. Everybody, if they're working a nine to fiver Monday to Friday, everybody likes that occasional day where you get to do some sort of out of the office training or whatever it might be. Just that, that expression of the grass is always greener or a break is as good as a holiday or whatever it might be.
The, just the fact that you've got something. In the week, there's something on the horizon, which is a bit different from the project that you would typically be working on. Speaking of projects, one of the, one of the more recent things that I, I say more recent, steer me in the right direction if I'm wrong, but I think it's more recent, is your workshops.
And if you go to master wp.com right at the top you'll find a link in the main navigation menu and it's gonna link you to workshops dot master p.com. And it's a whole subdomain of new and interesting courses that are on the horizon. Tell us about these. How are you pricing them? How often are you releasing them?
What are the constraints in terms of subject matter that you're going to be dealing with? And it may be of interest to the people listening to this because, they're into WordPress and they wanna learn.
[00:28:40] Rob Howard: Yeah, and we're really excited about this because I think it just parallels with kind of all the things that we enjoy doing and the overall mission of just bringing more people into tech in various ways.
If you go to workshops.master.com, you'll see we have a catalog of, as of this recording, there's probably six or seven six Yeah. In there that are planned out. We have a lot more actually on the docket. So what we're planning on doing is just really ramping up our creation of short and sweet and interesting and valuable learning content, educational content, and really becoming more like a tech education company than just a magazine, if that makes sense.
Yeah, it does. And what we've found is that, , it is again, fun for us to create these. It is clearly valuable for people. We're seeing a lot of uptake even in the last month on like people actually showing up and buying stuff, people actually showing up to the webinars. So I think as a business model it's already proven itself and now it's up to us to continue to create new, fun, interesting and educational workshops.
So I think, one of the challenges is beginner workshops are really common. So we want to have those, and those are always gonna have a little bit of a larger audience because there's just inherently more beginners than there are experts and any given topic. But we also want to produce a lot of that intermediate and expert content, I think, which is lacking.
And the combination of all those things allows us to basically do that. So like the expert content, it doesn't exist as much out in the world in terms of Other learning platforms because there's fewer experts who want to teach it and there's fewer people who are ready to learn it, right? But I think if we combine all those things together across the different, the spectrum of skill level or, the level at which you're entering, it allows us to produce really cool intermediate and advanced content in addition to beginner content or business focused content.
That's something that I'm personally doing a lot of, as, the owner of the business. I'm gonna do stuff about recession proofing your agency, about reaching out to new clients and doing new marketing techniques and stuff like that. We're really gonna mix it up. And I think give a, some have something for everybody who's in the WordPress space or even the broader tech or digital agency space.
[00:31:17] Nathan Wrigley: At the moment, there are six courses on the website at the moment. But you mentioned that there's several more in the planning stages. The cost of the courses as of this point, caveat eor, who knows what's gonna happen with the pricing that's in Rob's hands is $47 per, let's call it a module per course, thing like that.
. But also I noticed that there's an opportunity to go all in. There's a $99 per year and you call this Master WP Premium. Is that kind of like your your bundle where you get everything for that, that, for the, basically the cost. Exactly. Two courses. You get the whole thing for a year.
[00:31:53] Rob Howard: see. Yeah. It's effectively the all access pass. Yep. To everything. My goal, I don't think we'll reach this point in the next few months, but my goal is eventually to have one every week. And we're staffing up to accomplish that. The way we're doing it is basically most of them are live webinars that we then record and share back.
So for example, if you miss the live event or you just wanna rewatch it, you can log into our course platform and watch it again as a video. But we also love when people can to have them come to the live events cuz they can ask questions and it's just very interactive. So we're planning on expanding it a lot.
Also we created a coupon code for WP Builds oh listeners, which is WP Builds 10 for 10% off. Nice. Anything on the site. So feel free to head over there and use that if you'd like. We also have a 30 day guarantee on everything. So you can literally. Log in and watch everything, and if you hate it, you can get your money back
So we try to make it very easy and risk free . Let's hope and let's hope you don't get too many of those. So far so good. We haven't gotten a ton of hate mail yet, but, but anyway we really see this as a major sort of future investment and a future area that just fits really well with what our team likes to do with our team's, existing skillsets and with our overall mission.
Like we have multiple employees who have done other information products and teaching products over the course of the years, even, before working with us. We have multiple employees who are just already teachers, right? Like in the literal sense of Hey, I, like I used to be an adjunct professor.
And also in the sense that we are a large enough company now that we are doing our own company trainings. So one of the cool things about doing workshops is that, Workshops also train our team. Double duty. Very nice. Yeah. Like a intermediate to advanced development workshop. That actually is an internal training that we are also then putting out for public consumption.
So it has that same you see how there's this like virtuous cycle Yeah. With a lot of these feedback there isn't it that we're doing. Yeah. In fact, we have a course that's available now called Instant Unders Strap that is also on the, it's on the workshop site that you mentioned.
Yep. And that course is the first thing that our new hires do when they join the company. So we recorded that course a year ago, but it's remains like you are welcome to being a developer with US training so we don't have to manually teach people that stuff. It's recorded, it's set up as like an educational experience already.
And they just basically log in and they're good to go. It really there's just so many ways that these different things like layer on top of each other or work together. So you can see where there's you could look at it as a financial expense in some ways, but really it's there's just so much intangible benefit.
Yeah. That, it doesn't necessarily show up on the bookkeeping, but it shows up. Faster training, employee morale and all those other things. Yeah. You've got
[00:35:16] Nathan Wrigley: the, there is a difference to be drawn here. You've got two courses which are charged at 97 dollars. And then the ones that we've been talking about largely apart from, you mentioned the under strap one, that is in fact a course.
The courses at 97, they have multiple steps inside. Are they multiple videos or whatever it may be, whereas the workshops, which are at 47, that's the kind of call that you've just mentioned, the webinar if you like, and it's prerecorded and so on. Exactly. Okay. So that's one piece of content.
If you get to, if, wow, just I can't even imagine the workload requiring that, but if you can get to one a week, let's say, let's imagine you have a few weeks of failure. Let's say you do 40. Of these workshops each year assuming you keep the price at $97 that is, or $99 apologies, that is pretty, pretty aggressive pricing.
Do you intend to keep it that way? Should you step up and churn out content at that level? Or is this pricing kind of for now on the
[00:36:18] Rob Howard: review? I like pricing things aggressively. , the nice thing about this business model is that there is a very low marginal cost to that next learner coming in, right?
So with client work, you need to go more on the luxury side and on the higher price side, because ultimately yeah. Every dollar that client pays you requires a person to do something, so I think what's nice about a more inherently scalable business is that we can keep prices.
Very affordable while also doing good work and making money off of it. So I think, the nature of that monthly or the annual fee is it should be a no-brainer. It should be like such a good deal that you can't say no to it. Yeah. And I think, as you said, if we have a catalog of 40 or 50 courses on there, like that becomes a no-brainer pretty quickly, right?
Yeah. Yeah. It's two, $2 a course or something. Exactly. Incredible. Yeah. And the, and the flip side of that is that we are not doing extra work to provide that course that we recorded six months ago. So you can essentially, Infinite number of customers for an upfront investment.
Whereas, so in other words, creating a course is a large upfront investment that has essentially infinite future scalability. Whereas working for a client requires very little upfront investment, but has very little long-term scalability like in, in the sense that like they're, no matter how you price your projects, they're always at some level paying for the time of a person who's doing something.
, right? So two different business models and two different pricing philosophies. I think especially, it's October right now of 2022, like it's possible that we'll see a significant economic downturn over the next year. I think keeping edu tech education opportunities at a lower price point is gonna be good.
For our customers and also allow us to reach more people and ultimately, bring in more revenue in the sense that we're not pricing people out who might not be able to afford, a thousand dollars a year, even if they're getting that much value. I'd rather give them something that, as you said, is just.
Bafflingly. Inexpensive and easy to dive into.
[00:39:02] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I think it's always nice to be able to diversify a little bit, especially when you can smell the on the horizon that things are gonna be po potentially a little bit harder economically than they, they were for the previous couple of years. If you've got a different revenue stream and from the sounds of.
I can't remember if we were saying it during the recording or prior to the recording, but it does sound like you've you've managed to convert some people from just browsing on the website to actually taking these courses and paying, opening their wallet and giving you some money for them. So it would seem that is definitely an opportunity in the future.
So all of the stuff that we've talked about so far has been [email protected] Go check it out. They've got their workshops, they've got the website full of constantly updated content. I'm just looking as of as, let's have a look. So yeah, two articles released yesterday. To the day prior to that by the looks of things.
And then, you've got the weekend, so fair enough, you're allowed a weekend off and then several things the week before that. Very consistent and excellent stuff. So go and check that out. Just before we finish, we're gonna have a quick foray into the recent stuff that's been going on in WordPress.
Hopefully it's not too stale. By the time this podcast episode comes out, I know that you've got some thoughts on this. A couple of weeks ago, some stats were removed from the wordpress.org repo, which gave some information to plugin developers about how their plugin was being installed over time.
Was it going up, was it going down? And so on. And whilst that piece of the puzzle, probably, there's not a lot to talk about there. Some people did feel it was a bit of a. A bit of a bellweather indication of the way the WordPress community is going. You are obviously massively into the WordPress community.
I'm into it as well. Any hint of cracks or fishes in that community alarm me and worry me greatly. So what were your thoughts on that whole episode?
[00:40:56] Rob Howard: Yeah, so I think, as you mentioned, I think that an argument can be made that the number of people directly affected wasn't not in the millions, right?
It's more like a few hundred or a few thousand plug-in developers who are seriously looking at that particular statistic that was removed. What was more concerning to me is that I think it's part of a pattern of either a lack of awareness of what WordPress community members and customers need and want and what they're doing.
Or on the more negative side, like almost a negligent disregard of what the community needs. So I think, There's an old saying that we shouldn't attribute to malice, what can be explained by incompetence. And I think that might be a, an appropriate way to look at this, right?
So we have a bunch of people who are great developers, who are great inventors and builders who are now being tasked with managing the expectations. And business prospects of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of developers and designers who in, at various degrees rely on WordPress as a product to help them make money, help them, feed their families, help them, with their livelihood.
So I think the folks who were great inventors don't always become great communicators or community leaders or bosses, right? And I think what we're seeing is that there's a. Pattern that has happened at least several times this year. I'm thinking of this particular plugin chart that was removed essentially with little to no reasoning or explanation or public comments or anything like that.
I'm thinking about, changes in [email protected], which created a real backlash from bloggers who were using that commercial service that is obviously related to the WordPress brand. There's been conversations around accessibility of some of the new software that's being released.
I can't use this with a screen reader. I can't use this without a mouse if I have a disability, stuff like that. So I think, what we're seeing is a pattern of it's hard to pin down the exact reasoning behind it because no one. is really saying much about the reasoning behind it.
But I think, what we're seeing is the result is people are feeling ignored. People are feeling essentially not cared about. And in a community where things are supposed to be open like you can put open like in quotes if you want. I know that people own companies, but we're all trying to, I think, create a more open future and more open internet.
When you have a community that is founded on these ideas of openness, and then people are acting in a way that is harming others when decisions are made essentially in very small groups in a non-public way that's not a good pattern. And I think that I wrote an article that, that basically said, WordPress as a organization should really be supporting its super fans because they're the ones who.
Provide the vast majority of the brand value to WordPress, right? These are people who build stuff, who do podcasts, who, create plugins and themes who are not necessarily employed by a big WordPress company, but are in fact just really big fans that are creating cool stuff, right? I think personally, that's where the value WordPress provides to me, has come from.
Yeah. When I think about the plug-ins that I use, the themes that I use in my day-to-day life and business most of those things are coming from superfans, not from any sort of centralized for-profit company that's building WordPress stuff. What usually happens is the for-profit companies buy the stuff the super fans built and then scale it up, right?
But, without these superfans, I think the ecosystem naturally would start to fall apart or to be worse for everyone. And the pattern that I think is concerning is, If wordpress.org or, automatic or Audrey Capital or any other company is making decisions that harm superfans and then not really explaining it or not really giving people a fair shake that, over time I think hurts everyone and hurts everyone's business prospects who has any association.
The software or the WordPress brand, it's such
[00:45:53] Nathan Wrigley: a curious ecosystem that we're in. I could substitute the word ecosystem there for community. If I worked for a company, let's say example.com and example.com, were doing things which I thought were not in the best interest of example.com.
As an employee, I would probably go and see my line manager and express, what are we doing? How has this happened? And then I would probably be told a story of we decided to do something and we went through the standard operating procedure and we figured out that yeah, this was for the best and we communicated it weeks and weeks ago.
So don't worry about it. I know it's affecting you, but we've had some feedback and everybody in the whole seems to be okay. We know it's affected you badly. Everybody else seems to be okay. The system that we are in, because it's driven in the open, in, in open source. And a lot of the people that are contributing are just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
They're not employed by companies, they're not seconded. They're just doing it. It's really difficult to make these decisions. And also when decisions appear to go astray, it's also it can be quite deafening when there's just a wall of silence on the backside of those decisions, if it's not explained quickly and carefully.
And I think the problem is that people get people get upset and it appears, they, they fracture, they leave maybe not on mass, but they leave in dribs and drabs and that's not good.
[00:47:16] Rob Howard: One of the funniest it's funny from a distance, and it's sad because I know people who were directly affected by this, plug-in chart decision.
If you give yourself a little bit of emotional distance from it, it's just a. almost in a comedy of errors in some ways. And the biggest example for me was I was listening to the WP Water Cooler Podcast from a couple weeks ago. And there was one person there who had been involved in the Slack conversation that led to the removal.
And there was another person who had he had reviewed the code, but he wasn't directly involved. And one of those people said, I don't know why everyone just went right to like conspiracy. Like why is conspiracy the default explanation for this? And the other person literally had just finished explaining that this was a decision that was made by a group of people in.
That harmed other people who were not involved with the decision. So it's , it's a cons, like people have conspiracy theories because decisions are being made in secret that are harming people. That is literally the definition of that word. So I don't think that they, I think they didn't realize people were using it.
That's what they, that's what they've said. They said, Hey, we had this conversation in a private, slack dm. We were like, ah, this data's not really coming out how we want it to come out. They had some preconceived notions about not wanting to show exact numbers. Which I think I think I would even challenge that premise.
I know that's a long standing tradition that we wouldn't show an exact plug-in install count, but like I go on YouTube and I can see exactly how many subscribers you have to the number. If you go to
[00:49:03] Nathan Wrigley: a rival platform like Google Play Store or something, I'm pretty sure that they show fairly specific
[00:49:08] Rob Howard: numbers as well.
Yeah. And I think, ultimately, like that's a judgment call. I wouldn't necessarily say that there's a right or wrong answer to that, but I would say that I don't necessarily agree with the premise that precision is bad. But I also will grant the decision that somebody else could make the opposite judgment, right?
. When I look at YouTube, I don't see people. Being harmed by knowing exactly how many subscribers they have. If I'm a plugin developer and I know that I have a hundred thousand or between a hundred and 200,000 that's an example of the scale of the rounding that's happening.
I could see that, maybe you don't want to get that precise because you don't want it to feel like a scoreboard, but, I think that's a debatable point. What came out of that private slack conversation that's now been relayed to us by one of the people who was there on that water cooler podcast is, they basically said, okay, people are reverse engineering more precise numbers than what we want them to see.
And we also are th we think that reverse engineering, because it's being done by a third party, is not really accurate. It's showing higher numbers than reality. , we'd love to fix this, but we tried a few things and we couldn't figure it out, so we're just gonna turn it off. Now this all happened in private, it sounds like maybe there were between like three, maybe five or six people involved in that discussion.
When I hear that, I say this actually seemed to me like it would've been the perfect thing to put as a ticket on the wordpress.org site so that people could contribute to it. Like literally several people notice the problem. If we accept the premise that it is a problem, then you know, what's the reasoning behind not.
Going to your open source community and saying, Hey, can you help us fix this? I'm sure that people would've given interesting feedback. Some, maybe somebody would've actually contributed some code that would've helped. Maybe there could have been like an interesting debate around to what degree do we want to round the numbers?
Do we want to show that it's 10 and 20, but not the difference between 10,000 and 20,000? I think that there's like an interesting discussion to be had there. But instead it seems, based on what's been said, it seems like they had a very small group of people in a non-public space make a decision that was really not very well thought out and ended up hurting people effectively by accidents.
So even if you say okay, this is water under the bridge. What I would be interested in seeing is. a plan for preventing this type of mistake from happening next time, right? , there's a degree to which a for-profit company can make mistakes and, they're allowed to do that.
A, as many people have said, like there are private companies that own stuff in this ecosystem and ultimately, the market responds if they do things that are good or bad or, positive or negative or whatever. But there's also a public good and a public service here that at least in theory should have some sort of ability for people to contribute ideas, to comment to, have some sort of reasonable public decision making process.
Like even if ultimately there is an individual making that decision, or a group of two or three people I think what happened here was. They made a decision without seeking public feedback, without seeking help from the thousands of developers that would've been interested in helping with this problem, right?
. And it I think it backfired. I think that they did something that made them look less authoritative and less serious in the eyes of many of their super fans. Now, the degree to which like that shows up on the balance sheet may be minimal, right? But what I am worried about is if that pattern continues, people are eventually going to get.
discouraged. And I actually don't think that, the whole Exodus scenario is that big of a threat, , and I actually think it's almost a little bit disingenuous to say oh, if you don't like what we're doing in WordPress, you can always fork it. I feel like that's like a very off-putting way of framing things. And I know that people don't usually say that quite that explicitly, but it basically gets insinuated a lot, right? If you don't like this, why are you here? And I really I find that to be a bit disingenuous. I find it to be, very almost like a cruel approach.
It's like when people say if you don't like the laws in America why are you here? It's yeah. The process is intended to reflect. What people want and need and what can be like, helpful to the public good. Saying it's my way or the highway, I think is not the best way to do that.
And I have heard that feedback, from some people like there, there's especially a class of commentators and developers who they seem to think that it's in their best interest to defend the bad decisions of leadership in a very aggressive way. And they always end up at that place of if you don't like it, you can leave.
What I would say is that I don't think people are gonna leave en mass because I think that there actually is real value to using the software, even if you never communicate with anyone who's building the software. And that's always gonna exist. I think the bigger concern is more like quiet, quitting.
Which is a new buzzword. . Yeah, it is. Yeah. In in the world, in the industry. And the idea that you're gonna transition from having super fans who are really active, who are building new stuff, who are advancing the software, and thus causing the for-profit companies to make more money, right?
You're gonna go from that, which I think was, is a reasonable a reasonable way to describe how things have been going for the past five or 10 years, right? There's been a lot of cool new stuff. I'm thinking about advanced Custom Fields was a really awesome plugin that changed the way that I ran my business.
It didn't come from, like a big for-profit company. It came from a super fan, right? I think Under Strap is also an example of that. We didn't start that. It was started as an open source project in 2013, and it, really revolutionized how we build stuff with WordPress. Like those are the things that.
are making a difference in bringing in new stuff rather than Hey, we release a new feature in Jet Pack. That's cool, but that's, I don't think has ever really been the driver of people loving using WordPress, people building their businesses on this software. Yeah. I think the pattern, if the, the pattern of ignoring the super fans is not gonna make them like revolt in a obvious way, but I think it is going to chill participation in a way that may not be obvious, but may actually show up on balance sheets, three or five years from now in the sense of lower productivity, lower innovation lower participation in events and, lower participation in the community.
And then eventually you get into. A downward spiral that is very hard to escape.
[00:57:10] Nathan Wrigley: So yeah, you can definitely see that in other industries, can't you? Something which seemed a permanent fixture, immutable, something that couldn't be upset or removed or changed in any way. Give it a few years and the slight crumbling turns into a bit of an avalanche and yeah, that's the last thing that I imagine either of uswa at least anyway.
[00:57:35] Rob Howard: And I think the bigger picture is for-profit companies come and go and that's okay. However, the bigger benefit of WordPress is that it is one of the few organizations that genuinely cares about and lives by open source software philosophy, right? So I think. Worst part of that, dystopian future that I just described is not solely that for-profit companies might make less money.
Like most of us can go get like different jobs if we really needed to, cuz we have, those preexisting tech skills. But the problem is that I don't want to see the space that is now occupied by WordPress be replaced by a closed source for profit software as a service alternative that, eventually is just like a vehicle for private equity or venture capital or something, right?
. So I think that there's real value to pursuing a more open internet and a more open future. Open source software comes in various forms, but I think is pretty much always, at least philosophically a better approach than, closed source. I own the data, I own the platform type of stuff.
, it people's incomes will be affected if things start to go south or if we see like a just lower level of innovation or if WordPress just kinda can't keep up because people are quiet, quitting from innovating. But the worst thing is this whole bigger picture that I think Matt Mullenweg talks about a lot.
I agree with his sort of long-term philosophy as of like open source, the future. He often talks about that in like a 50 or a hundred year timeline. My concern is that it also needs to be a winner on a five year timeline in order to get to 50 years. And if we're doing stuff that is hurting the five year outlook, we are also inherently hurting the 50 year outlook.
You can't get to 2100 if everything collapses in 2030, right? Yeah. So to me, like I think that , there's a missing the I don't know looking at, in such a long term big picture way that you ignore the short term threats to this open source idea I is an area of concern that I have and, I, but I think, the takeaway for me is I actually don't wanna stop or quit, or quiet quit, or any combination of those things.
If there's other people in the community that are not going to value the super fans I'm going to counteract that by valuing them even more myself. And I think that's something that every individual can do. If you wanna be a part of this open source mission to the degree that involves WordPress contribution or WordPress participation, like you can actually go in.
in an even more intense way to compensate for your dissatisfaction with leadership. And I actually think that is a much more productive way to do it than exiting or, quitting or going into this sort of exodus mode or saying, oh, we're gonna, like that's one of the challenges, like with the forks that have happened, like classic press is like you quit in a huff and then it doesn't really go anywhere, and then it just doesn't really help anyone, right?
. But if those folks instead focused on creating like the world's best alternative plugin for content editing and it's way more accessible, it's easier for, certain users to use I think that actually is a more productive approach, right? So the way I look at it is, similar to the way I look at, like living in a country, right?
When the United Kingdoms when the United Kingdom has a bank crisis, , everyone's not gonna move to France. They're gonna try to fix the problems within the UK government in a, as quickly as possible by participating more actively. And some Americans threaten to move to Canada every year, the Americans that are making a difference are the ones that are getting more involved rather than less involved.
Yeah. So I think that to me is the ideal approach here, which is to say, I don't want to just throw up my hands and give up or say, oh, people aren't listening to me, so I'm gonna abandon this community. What I wanna do instead is say, Hey, there's. , some level of disagreement about like tactics and minutia here, but we actually are all seeking the same thing.
And there is a significant opportunity for individuals to make a difference. So that's kinda how I'm approaching it myself. I'd rather work harder to make a positive difference than throw my hands up in bail. That being said, I also wanna acknowledge that there are people whose businesses were directly hurt by the plugin data change in it should really be resolved as soon as possible.
Yeah, like that data could come back in a better way. They've talked about that, but now put a timeline on it. I feel like that should be an all hands on deck situation. I'd be happy to personally contribute to that and have my team contribute to it. But the bigger picture is we really need to make sure that.
We are not letting the whims of individuals discourage us from the long-term goal or send us into this kind of like downward spiral as a
[01:03:40] Nathan Wrigley: group. Yeah. Yeah. Couple of things to say about that. Firstly, I do wonder if the new stats will come back, but also a better set of stats. We'll come back.
Let's hope that's the case and that's very kind of you to offer your team's time to that. But all but I wonder if there's maybe some sort of silver lining to this. A problem has been identified. Sure enough, it seems to have bifurcated the community. There's definitely people who were affected negatively and rightly expressed their opinion about the way it was handled.
But perhaps you never know. Maybe it'll force a light on the Word press repository in general. There's been some commentary around that from people like Alex Denning and Macron while over the last few days, highlighting potential deficiencies and also some good things that are in the repo and maybe things will be done to improve search and the visibility of new endeavors, new plugins, and so on.
But also just the mere fact that we forget sometimes that the internet is still new. We are figuring it out. And although we've been at. This experiment, let's call it that, for 25 years plus, in the case of the internet, 16 plus years in the case of WordPress it is still just, it's in its infancy.
We're just trying to figure out what this whole internet thing is. Is it a utility? Will it stretch into our homes? Are we gonna be talking to it in the future? And so on and so forth. So there's definitely places to go and things to do in the near future. And for me at least, anyway, the the endeavor is to double down on WordPress and hope that it keeps getting better.
[01:05:16] Rob Howard: Absolutely. And I think, WordPress may evolve into other bigger and better things and ideas in the future and probably will. And I think the main thing that we want to avoid is allowing it to sputter out, because people don't feel like they're being given a fair shake . But when they're participating. And I also think that, what you just said, just, it, it shining a light on things, giving more people voices like, , these are essentially always good things. Like it's pretty much always better to allow more voices to speak than the opposite. And I think that, goes right along with WordPress's core mission of democratizing publishing, which, I take to mean, make it easier for more people to have a voice.
Publishing on the internet gives more people a voice. WordPress makes it easier to publish on the internet. And when organizations, whether they're for-profit or non-profit, or open or closed, like when those organizations make decisions, hearing more voices and allowing more people to be involved is almost always going to be a better approach than making.
decisions in secret, right? And making decisions in a way that is opaque. And what I think we've seen is that the opaque decision making pattern has now repeatedly failed and actually harmed not just the people who were affected by that decision, but also harmed the decision makers in terms of their reputation, their ability to go be trusted in, in the same capacity in the future, right?
. One of the things that we try to do is open things up to more people. That's why we publish rebuttals to our articles. That's why we pay our writers so they can afford to take the time to create a thoughtful article about a topic they're interested in. So to me, bringing in more people and hearing them and respecting their opinions, even if ultimately they don't necessarily get everything they're hoping for I don't think that it's it's necessary for everyone to always.
Get everything, their request. But what is necessary is for everyone to feel like they got a fair shake when that decision was made. Right? . And I don't think that's been happening in the last sort of like few big decisions or controversies that have come up. I don't think that it is correct to characterize it as drama.
Cause I think that's dismissive. I think it is an issue with people identifying that their needs are not being met and that their opinions are not being valued. And I think that is something that, kenon should change. We can't control the actions of everyone around us, but we can control our own actions and we can, as you mentioned, endeavor to.
Do better in our sort of small circles of the world or the community that we have control over and encourage the people around us to do better. And I think that is one of the sort of underlying goals or missions is to be able to say, Hey, we have this platform. We're gonna let more people speak and we're gonna let people push the people around them to, treat other people.
[01:08:42] Nathan Wrigley: what a broad and interesting conversation we've just had. That was absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, we've topped out in probably in the region of just over an hour, so I'm gonna have to in the it's the phrase we use in the uk. I'm gonna say we're gonna knock it on the head, which means we're gonna have to end it there.
But yeah, really fascinating conversation, firstly about Master WP and all the things that you're doing over there. And then secondly about the community and the various things that have been happening at this this particular juncture in its journey. Rob, where do we best find you? It may be that you just point us to the Master w master WP website, but there may be some other channel that you wish to emphasize.
[01:09:18] Rob Howard: Yeah, so definitely go to master wp.com. The workshops and the magazine are there, and our client services [email protected], so that's HD as in dog and C as in charlie.dev.
[01:09:32] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. Thank you very much, Rob Howard, I appreciate you coming on the podcast today. I've really enjoyed it. Thanks for speaking to me
[01:09:37] Rob Howard: today.
Thanks for having me. Talk to you next time.
[01:09:40] Nathan Wrigley: I hope that you enjoyed that. Very nice chatting to Rob Howard all about the different bits and pieces that they are doing over at Master wp. Don't forget if the stars align, Rob will have enabled a coupon code to get 10% off the courses. The coupon code is WP Builds 10, and that should be valid from one month after this podcast episode goes live.
If it doesn't, just reach out and I'll figure out why that's not working, but I hope that you enjoyed it. If you've got any commentary, head over to WP Builds.com. Search for episode number three 18. Leave us a comment there. Alternatively, take it to the socials. You could use our Master on install, or you could go to Facebook or Twitter. All of those details are on WP Builds.com/subscribe.
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Okay, as it was an interview episode this week. Next week I'll be joined by David Wamsley so that we can have a discussion in our thinking. The unthinkable series, we will be back for that in a week.
So that's Thursday, but don't forget, we've got a show Monday this week in WordPress. We do that live and we always enjoy it when people. 2:00 PM UK time. You can find it at WP Builds.com/live. Bookmark stick a calendar event in for each week because we are there each week. But that's it for this week. I'm gonna fade in some cheesy solo music this week.
It's just one instrument, which is not typical. I hope that you have a good week and that you stay safe. Bye-bye for now.