cult members

WordPress is a Cult

Yes, WordPress is a Cult

I recently got into a discussion on Twitter with Joost DeValk, the creator of one the most downloaded WordPress plugins ever, WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s an awesome plugin and he’s been very successful in marketing it over the years. Like many people that are household names in WordPress, and not unlike WP itself, he was working on the right thing at the right time. I like Joost, and am not bashing him personally whatsoever, and I’m not even stating a cult is a bad thing, necessarily. To each their own. But he, and others, don’t seem ready to face facts and accept reality. Possibly due to pride, or some other reason such as relinquishing individuality and uniqueness. I’m no psychiatrist and don’t claim to be. But they are in serious denial if they claim WP isn’t a cult.

He spent the weekend at WordCamp USA, 2017 which was in nearby Nashville, TN this year. He hauled himself all the way over from Norway or Sweden or which ever nordic country he hails from. On his own dime, of course. WordCamps are weekend meetings of WordPress “fans” who gather to talk WP, attend a string of lectures, and hand out swag and drink a lot of beer together. It’s also primarily used to recruit and retain WordPress cult members. WordPress meetups are basically the same thing, and are held monthly all over the world. WordCamps are held annually, and are bigger deals, with “stars” of the WordPress world. My first WordCamp included Pippin Williamson who also is well-known in the “WordPress world.” I’ve attended quite a few WordCamps. Some valuable, some quite a waste of time for my level of experience. But I do enjoy helping others learn the ins and outs of the program and scene. It’s easy for someone who’s worked on it for years, like me, but can be intimidating for newcomers.

The definition of a cult, before I go any further, according to Merriam-Webster is:

A situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.

There’s usually a religious aspect connected to it, perhaps like Scientology, but there doesn’t have to be. And it’s usually held together by some dominant, often charismatic individual. Such as the recently passed Charles Manson, for his little cult back in 1960’s California. Or the Branch Davidians, whose members and their children met an ugly ending thanks to Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. The association of such men gives the term “cult” negative overtones. But it’s not necessarily a group of evil, crazy people. It’s a group of people/community that is simply obsessed with something to a rather unhealthy point, basically. That point is the source of the debate, I suppose.

WordPress, which I’ve been involved in for around 8 years now, completely fits the definition. When I mentioned that it was a cult, Joost’s reaction was that he resented the comment. My tweet was a response to a Tweet of his exclaiming “Ask not what WordPress can do for you, but what you can do for WordPress.” For no particular reason except a knee-jerk disagreement. In fact, his very next comment, which was his defense, was that he gives 20% of his earnings, no small sum to be sure, every year to WordPress because he believes in the product and community, proving my point exactly.

I’m not in the business of convincing self-deniers to change their views, but I dare anyone to provide a reason WordPress isn’t a cult. I’m ready to debate that stance quite easily. And I have an open mind; I can be convinced otherwise if given compelling enough reasons to the contrary. But I can’t think of any. If you know of any, by all means leave them in the comments section.

It relies heavily, almost exclusively, on the efforts, time and resources of people to sustain it, for free to the foundation. Donations always accepted, of course. It’s a billion-dollar plus business to be sure, so it’s not like the non-profit is in any more need than the NFL for funds. Matt Mullenweg, one of the developers who began WordPress 14 years ago along with another man, Mike Little, who never ever is mentioned or really credited for some reason, is the relatively reclusive and softspoken CEO who appears at WordCamps and is treated like a celebrity. The “leader” if you will, who hapily sits on many Silicon Valley boards for his extensive business acumen. I don’t support his managerial tactics much, which I’ve expressed many times. That’s not sour grapes, and has no influence on this essay, however, I assure you. I believe I’m entitled to that opinion, and as an MBA and experienced businessman, have somewhat of a credible background in that area. I’ve conversed with Matt when once applying for a job at Automattic, the self-named offshoot business of WordPress along with several others such as Audrey Capital, all quite profitable due to the association with WordPress.  Whether they would be so successful without that association is anyone’s easy guess. Incidentally, Matt explained the reason he wasn’t interested in having me join his company was due to not being involved enough with open-source. I hadn’t donated enough of my time and resources and paid my dues, in other words, even though I was highly qualified if not over-qualified for the position. No big deal.

But the people/developers that get wrapped up in WordPress get REALLY wrapped up in it. Tattoos of the logo on themselves, expensive treks across the US and even abroad to attend weekend WordCamps, etc… It becomes their lives. The unhealthy obsession earlier described.

WordPress, being open-source, is the real key to it’s success. Open source is the invitation to pour a lot of your life into sustaining it, along with thousands of others toiling away at keyboards around the world. At no charge to anyone but the donors themselves.

WordPress’ popularity is being in the right place at the right time, in my opinion. Same with a lot of internet businesses and businesspeople. I’m also willing to debate that statement at any time, and have a long list of resons to back the sentiment.

wordcamp
Come to a WordCamp, leave a believer

I recognized the fact it’s a cult several years in and noticed the very cultish characteristics that WordPress and its community has, and largely removed myself. I personally don’t like being that attached to something in that manner, as it almost represents an addiction. I still use the product and keep up with the development of it closely though for business reasons.

But contributing to core and hanging out in the forums to answer people’s questions a la WP customer service, is something I personally don’t have the time or desire to do. Mention that fact to hardcore WordPressers, and you’ll get a quick tsk-tsk.

Automattic, the company I mentioned that “runs” WordPress used to brag that it only employed around 100 people for a billion dollar-plus business. That is literally unheard of in the legitimate business world. That was also before Matt went on a hiring and M&A binge, scooping up some of the best individual devs and 3rd party companies around before competition hired them, which is what rich companies with no real organic growth strategies do, such as WordPress/Automattic. The lines between all the entities is legally definied, but quite blurred otherwise. The ability to acquire the best and most valuable because of all the charity it receives and, in fact, expects. If there was a WP commune in San Francisco, I assure you there would be a line of people around the block to move in. Many WP developers do, in fact, live a nomadic lifestyle. They’re young and unattached, except to WordPress.

In any case, facts are facts, and whether peole want to admit it or not, WordPress most definitely is a cult. That makes, and has donated to it, a lot of money by it’s generous contributors. If you’re interested in joining, attend a WordCamp and you’ll be happily recruited. You’ll be responsible for paying admission, lodging, travel, etc… however for the privledge of using the open-source code, however. Or you can sponsor a WordCamp, because sponsors are also required. There are many ways you can repay.

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marketingdesk.io

Cranking Marketing up to 11

MarketingDesk.io

If you’re in the marketing business, you surely are familiar with what the marketing landscape looks like online: it’s packed with tools, tips, articles, software, and “pros” offering advice and products to help you learn more about, boost and help you and companies with all types of marketing. Sounds great, right?

Problem is, there are a lot of different types of marketing. Inbound, content, SEO, SEM, digital, automation, branding, product, email, affiliate, and over a hundred more at least.  And then subcategories of those. It gets to be messy fast, and marketers being marketers, many of them are in it to make a buck or two. Or a lot more. And the range of knowledge and experience and authenticity of those marketers that want to help you is all over the place. People with no marketing experience at all, who’ve gotten their “skills” from reading other people’s articles, to marketing professors who are into academic marketing, to legitimate digital marketers, to hobbyists, to…. You get the point. A lot of what you see online is about affiliate marketing, which personally I’d put near the bottom of the list of legitimacy, to more academic and B2B marketing/digital that incorporates a bundle of skills which includes SEO, content, SEM, display, and a pretty big marketing mix. That may or may not include developing one or more sales funnels that rely on inbound marketing using platforms like HubSpot and Salesforce. I’d place that somewhere near the top, alongside “academic” marketing, although academia is woefully outdated and out of touch with the realities of practical marketing in the modern world. It’s where much research and marketing studies are generated, alongside consulting firms that release complex case studies like McKinsey.

What you tend to learn in school is purely theoretical, with possibly a few case studies and maybe some real-world experience comprised of teamwork, working on an actual marketing problem that a business is willing to let students work on for free/experience. That’s typically found in graduate-level work at the better schools, and even then, it doesn’t teach you much of anything about real digital marketing whatsoever and what the skills and tools are you need to know to get a job doing it. You have to teach yourself or learn on the job, which is more and more unlikely that you’ll find an employer willing to pay to train you in 2017 when there are a lot of people that already are trained. My tenured professor wife knows nothing about business itself and wouldn’t know what she was even looking at if you showed her a Google Analytics or Infusionsoft dashboard, or anything about SEO at all, for example. It’s the same with law school; it doesn’t teach you lawyering or how to practice law, just the dry research and academic aspects. It’s also why we’re seeing people like Steve Wozniak and organizations/companies like Google funding and setting up schools and other training programs that simply leapfrog underperforming, overpriced colleges that aren’t preparing students for actual work whatsoever.

There’s also a wide range of quality when it comes to marketing programs in Universities as well. Top-tier schools, of course, will offer that in spades, but 80% of marketing degrees come from schools most people have never heard of, in accelerated 1-year programs that aren’t really worth much all.  And even if they do offer a respectable opportunity to learn marketing, that’s not to say the students will take advantage of it. I cite my own experience of teaching marketing management at a local University to 35 students as an adjunct professor. The top students were motivated and walked out with some good tools and knowledge. The bottom never bothered to even learn the definition of marketing, even though I told them repeatedly if they only learned one thing in that class, the definition of marketing should be it. And the last question on my final exam was: “What is the definition of marketing?” Guess what? People still got it totally wrong.

So the point is, it’s like wading through an ocean of misinformation and an overabundance of barely-relevant information and tools and advice, much of which contradicts or is poorly-communicated to the point of being utterly confusing. I know this because I’ve spent the past 6+ years online plowing through it all on almost a daily basis. I also have an MBA with a concentration in marketing strategy. I’ve also taught marketing management at the University level, as I mentioned And if that wasn’t enough immersion, I’ve been married to a marketing professor who I traveled alongside with through her Ph.D. program and all which that life entailed. Marketing has been the world I’ve inhabited for nearly a decade. And I’m presently on the hunt for a digital marketing job now myself and am preparing myself for such a role so when I get one, which hopefully is soon, I can hit the ground running in every way.

What I’ve decided to do is create a website that will be the headquarters for a digital marketing hub, with a Facebook page and a Facebook group to supplement it, and grow a community around it for relevant discussion and ideas. It’ll take time to grow organically which I realize — I don’t plan on advertising to grow it or worry about monetizing it or anything, and I’ve built some decent sized communities online before for various concerns like web development and design, so I know what it takes and what to expect. And that’s fine; what that strategy eventually yields is high-quality and manageable, which are among the most important criteria.

Plus I think it’ll not only be fun but will serve as a great resource for my new digital marketing job. If I get the one that I really want and think I have a great shot at, it’ll be perfect. And it’ll be something rewarding I can share and work on as a highly productive side project as well.

So if you’re into digital marketing or any type of “legitimate” marketing, come take a look, join and participate! And let me know what you think; criticism and ideas are the driving force behind its growth and quality standards. There will be tools, tips, strategy, discussion and marketing resources galore.

marketing desk

wordpress logo

WordPress and Medium

If you blog you’re familiar with WordPress and most likely Medium. WordPress has been around for over 10 years and is a mature platform. Medium is younger and was launched by Ev Williams of Twitter and has become a publishing platform for both amateur and professional writers. There are, of course, other platforms like Wix, Weebly, Blogger, Drupal, Squarespace, and Joomla, which are different variations of basically the same thing.

I’ve been using WordPress for over 7 years and follow its development closely. I use it nearly exclusively for client’s websites and consider myself an expert at it. “WordPress” as an entity is sort of a mess, in my opinion, which I’ve written about in depth before. I’ve also talked about how, back when Medium was a different product, is WordPress’ main competitor, and not Drupal and Joomla as most people believed a few years ago. With the unveiling of WordPress’ new editor Gutenberg, it’s now evident that Matt Mullenweg et al. agree.

Ev Williams keeps changing the interface of Medium, and most users seem to applaud his efforts. That’s a play on words since the latest Medium update includes “claps” to show love and appreciation for writers’ work instead of thumbs-ups and downs. Basic gamification strategy.

Matt and WordPress do things a little differently. They make huge changes despite what the core users and customers think, and those are two very different and large groups of people. In my opinion, he’s not only risking having people defect but start up competing CMS/blogging platforms(WP can’t decide what it is). There’s a HUGE market out there which WordPress is trying to fully dominate, despite not ever putting forth a material plan for doing so. Iterate and pray seem to be the daily plan, and let other developers work on it for free as open-source software is the long-term plan. The profitable markets that have spun off in the form of plugin and theme shops, WordPress developers, and other niche businesses are what keep it propped up more than anything, and is what Medium and other competitors are missing. Medium has a payout scheme for popular writers, but that’s a small market comparatively. WordPress’ model isn’t unlike Apple’s app store, which is responsible for Apple’s astounding rise to financial and market dominance.

I have a feeling someone soon will create a platform that will take a large chunk of market share from Medium and WordPress. Ghost had the potential and still does to an extent, but it needs to become much more user-friendly and be marketed much more aggressively. I’m a big fan of Ghost and hope John and Hannah, the founders, succeed. Bootstrap could even come to be in the CMS/blogging space one day, although I don’t think that’s what Mark Otto and the Bootstrap community are aiming for, or is it the core competency. Bootstrap as a development framework is awesome and has a really big, and growing, development base. It’s the biggest repo on Github and has been for a long time. I’ve even published a lengthy book on developing with it, back when it was “Twitter Bootstrap.”

WordPress enjoys being a first-mover, although they weren’t really the “first” to offer an open-source blogging platform. They just emerged as the most popular back in the days of blogging infancy and took some bloggers and newbie developers along for the ride to make them pretty wealthy along the way. That’s given WordPress/Automattic/Matt a lot of wiggle-room and revenue to make mistakes without getting crushed, which is a good thing considering the noticeable lack of leadership at the top. There may be a vision but it isn’t made very clear to anyone, and the heaviest users of WP like to know what the roadmap contains beyond the next update or two because they come fast. And WP needs to be backward-compatible and is legacy software.

Gutenberg is all the WordPress world can talk about, which as I predicted years ago, is a response to Medium. Here’s a white paper by Human Made, and Medium is mentioned on the second page of the thing. It’s sort of a disingenuine piece. The author asks why did they decide to build Gutenberg, and then never answers the question. He calls it an “experiment” which of course it isn’t. It’s a strategy. You don’t experiment with something as crucial as the essence of the core product at this scale and Matt knows it. Ironically, the “blocks” direction which is the core concept of the new editor, keeps making me think of the Thesis theme, which very well may have just been ahead of its; time. The story of Thesis is rich. Not as Rich as Matt, unfortunately for Chris Pearson.

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Just trying out new stuff

Vectr WordPress Vector Editor Plugin

This is a WordPress plugin for editing and creating vectors right within the WordPress post page I’m trying out and it seems pretty powerful, if it works as imagined. And so far it’s delivering. It’s a vector editor that I can pull up right in my posts/pages. They have a desktop app available for OS/PC/Linux, as well as a browser-based editor, and this plugin, and by looking at their roadmap seem to really be on the ball. The editor seems to have most everything you need. It’s no-frills for sure, but I’m comparing it to Adobe Illustrator, which I consider the standard for vector illustration and graphics. I haven’t checked out the SVG capabilities yet, but for a free vector editor it’s fast and full featured. And easy to use.

Some limitations I’ve hit: no way to align objects on the page easily, and no way to edit gradients. If I want to make a linear gradient that’s -96 degrees, I have to come up with a tricky solution.  I have a feeling these are basic features that the people at Vectr are working on though. I’m sure they know what people use. Also a bug I’ve found is it sometimes posts the extra images WordPress generates when you upload an image. By default, when you upload a photo, you immediately get weighed down with 3 other copies, so it’s a great idea to optimize your images as much as possible.

EDIT: I was contacted by the astute folks at Vectr who set me straight on gradients and a few other things(I’ll elaborate as time allows, which isn’t right now). Here’s a video explaining how to work with gradients in Vectr:

Incidentally, that is John Paul Jones in the featured photo. He hasn’t slowed down one bit since those days and can play any instrument in the galaxy.