#5 – Robert Jacobi on Why He’s Putting Gutenberg First – WP Tavern
About this episode.
On the podcast today we have Robert Jacobi.
Robert is Director of WordPress at Cloudways. He’s been working with open source software for almost twenty years, and has been the president of Joomla, a member of Make WordPress Hosting and contributor to ICANN At-Large. He is well known for his public speaking about open source and so the discussion today is broad and thought provoking.
We talk about Robert’s ‘Gutenberg First’ approach in which he places the WordPress Block Editor at the heart of all that he does. He sees Gutenberg as a critical component for WordPress’ future; a future in which as yet unimagined technologies will be built on top of Gutenberg and leverage the ‘atomic’ way data is stored.
This leads to a discussion on how 3rd party developers will be able to use Gutenberg as an application platform, with unique pathways to create, store and display content.
The heritage of Gutenberg’s development is also discussed. Right from the start we knew that the intention of the project was ambitious; it’s aim to become a full site editor was explained at the outset. This has led to comparisons with other editing tools and Robert takes on why he thinks that the incremental steps that the Gutenberg project has taken are making it a vital part of WordPress.
We also look forward and get into the subject of how technology never stands still. The underpinnings of WordPress are shifting. New skills and tools will need to be learned, but that does not mean that existing ones are obsolete.
Shifting gears, we move into community events and how we’ve managed events during the last year. Robert is a huge proponent of in-person events, and is hoping for their return. He loves the accidental situations which arise when you’re in the same space as so many other like-minded people. Perhaps though, there’s a place for hybrid events; events in which there’s in-person and online happening at the same time?
Towards the end we chat about the plethora of mergers and acquisitions which are happening right now, as well as a discussion of Openverse, a search engine for openly licensed media, which was launched with little fanfare recently.
Welcome to the fifth edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast all about WordPress and the community surrounding it. Every month, we’re bringing you someone from that community to discuss a topic of current importance. If you like the podcast, why not subscribe on your podcast player?
You can do that by going to WP Tavern dot com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. If you have any thoughts about the podcast, perhaps a suggestion of a potential guest or subject, then head over to WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. There’s a contact form there, and we’d certainly welcome your input.
Okay, so on the podcast today, we have Robert Jacobi. Robert is director of WordPress at Cloudways. He’s been working with open source software for almost 20 years and has been president of Joomla, a member of Make WordPress Hosting and contributor to ICANN At-Large. He’s well known for his public speaking about open source, and so the discussion today is broad and thought provoking. We talk about Robert’s Gutenberg first approach in which he places the WordPress block editor at the heart of all that he does. He sees Gutenberg as a critical component for WordPress’ future, a future in which as yet unimagined technologies will be built on top of Gutenberg and leverage the atomic way that data is stored.
This leads to a discussion of how third party developers will be able to use Gutenberg as an application platform with unique pathways to create, store and display content. The heritage of Gutenberg’s development is also discussed. Right from the start we knew that the intention of the project was ambitious. It’s aim to become a full site editor was explained at the outset. This has led to comparisons with other editing tools and Robert takes on why he thinks that the incremental steps that the Gutenberg project has taken are making it a vital part of WordPress.
We also look forward and get into the subject of how technology never stands still. The underpinnings of WordPress are shifting. New skills and tools will need to be learned, but that does not mean that existing ones are obsolete.
Shifting gears, we move into the community events and how we’ve managed events during the last year. Robert is a huge proponent of in-person events and is hoping for their return. He loves the accidental situations which arrive when you’re in the same space as so many other like-minded people. Perhaps though there’s a place for hybrid event. Events in which there’s in-person and online happening at the same time. Towards the end, we chat about the plethora of mergers and acquisitions, which are happening right now, as well as a discussion of Openverse, a search engine for openly licensed media, which launched with little fanfare recently.
If any of the points raised in this podcast resonate with you, be sure to head over and find the post at WP Tavern dot com forward slash podcast, and leave a comment there.
And so without further delay, I bring you Robert Jacobi.
I am joined by Robert Jacobi on the podcast today. How are you Robert?
Doing well. Fantastic to be here. Thank you Nathan.
Would you mind introducing yourself? Tell us who you are and what’s your relationship with technology and work?
I’m Robert Jacobi director of WordPress at Cloudways. I’ve been in the open source space, wow, for almost 20 years, I’m feeling old and actually got my raising on open source with the Joomla project, which is a hundred percent volunteer, open source content management system as well, and picked up WordPress slowly got into there. And boy, that’s a lot of ands.
I love the community. I love the greater goal. That open source, espouses and tries to reach. And we’re never, always successful. But having code and information more freely accessible is something I really believe in. And I think empowers people globally and provides opportunities that wouldn’t happen if these ones and zeros were siloed away in golden towers. I’m always just so tickled to talk about open source and all the interesting things we can do with it. It powers communities, it powers, politics, powers, freedoms, it powers companies. It’s really amazing. And we talk about WordPress all the time as one of the defining tools in this space. You look at something like Linux, which pretty much literally everything uses these days. It’s crazy how, to use Matt Mullenweg’s, favorite phrase, these things democratize all of us in so many different ways.
We’ve got a really broad pallet of things that we’re going to discuss today, ranging from Gutenberg, right through to WordCamps and all sorts. So we’ll crack on with the smorgasbord of what we’ve got to discuss. The first of our little laundry list is Gutenberg. You wanted to talk to us a bit today about Gutenberg, what you think of it, and so on. There was an event that I attended recently, which you were also in attendance at, and you were on a panel there, and you mentioned that in the face of proprietary page builders, you always had the approach that Gutenberg should be the first relation. It should come first. And I’m curious to know, what did you mean by that? What is Gutenberg first? What is this approach?
So Gutenberg first to me is that we recognize the benefits of Gutenberg, and don’t try to subvert them or sneak around them. I think Gutenberg is one of the most critical backend, frontend changes that has happened to WordPress in its last umpteen years and the potential for all the interesting future forward things that Gutenberg can do should be taken into account. So page builders are wonderful. They offer all this functionality, ease of use, but I think that, they should also take and utilize Gutenberg concurrently.
The advantages are, one, that Gutenberg’s not going anywhere. So God bless all the classic editor folk who loved that experience. More than just being deprecated, it’s just, that is not going to be the way of the future.
And secondly, the potential, what can happen when you start making all that content a bit more atomic. I come from a lot of database work. So you think of atomic data points and Gutenberg does that sort of automagically for you? So there are opportunities in the future with Gutenberg to start parcing that data more finely.
That’s why I think it’s very exciting and why everything should be Gutenberg first. Again, that doesn’t mean get rid of page builders or different types of themes and theming systems. It’s just that at the base, Gutenberg should be a core building block of what you’re working with going forward.
The way that I think many people are using Gutenberg at the moment, I should probably say the block editor, but if you’re using the Gutenberg plugin, you’ll obviously have an enhanced experience. But if you’re using the block editor at the moment, it feels as if it’s prime time for editing text, inserting images and some pretty basic stuff like that. But I can see on the horizon a whole plethora of interesting, curious, let’s call them plug-ins for now, because that’s what they are. Different block components, different plugins, which adapt and amend the capability of Gutenberg. And it feels to me as if that’s where its strength might lie. I know we’ve got the full site editing and all of that coming down the road, but it feels to me that, there’s going to be a whole plethora of third-party tools, bringing all sorts of added benefits into the ecosystem, a block for this thing, and a block for that thing. And whilst that might create some kind of bloat, that to me is an exciting area, and I just wondered if that’s something you’re interested in, if there’s any plugins or blocks that you’ve been looking at and thinking, oh, that’s curious. That seems to be stretching things a little bit.
So, you make a, first of all, great point that there’s block editor and then Gutenberg platform as a whole, and what end users typically experience is the block editor, but the Gutenberg API, Gutenberg platform as a whole is going to allow for all sorts of crazy third party integrations. That’s great. And it might even be a little, you said the perfect word, there might be a bit of bloat and craziness. I’ll say that’ll probably exist for the next 12 to 24 months. Sure, that’s fine. As people figure out what works and doesn’t. This is a dawn of a new age around taking WordPress to the next step. We’ve talked about for many years, WordPress is just a blog, blah, blah, blah. Okay. We’ve gotten past WordPress as a blog. Now WordPress as a CMS. That’s great. I think what happens with Gutenberg is we look at it and say, WordPress is an application platform, and this is just another API that we can take advantage of in very different ways. So we can have forums that are much more catered to content creators, that get rid of all the WordPress backend and admin stuff. Okay, you’re authenticated. You’re logged in. Here’s your daily news forum that you’re going to add content to. And because we’re using Gutenberg, that makes it a lot easier to publish that content and gets rid of the technical cruft, and allows developers and third-party plugin providers to have wholly unique and valuable experiences around that. And that’s where the magic I think of Gutenberg really comes into play is where will all these third parties start finding those unique value propositions for specific content, whether it’s an, a vertical, like travel or e-commerce, in a generic sense or news or publications or whatnot. It’s really expanded the opportunities to create workflows and interfaces and make content production speedier and safer.
I think one of the curious things that I’ve observed over the last couple of years about it is that perhaps if we had the magic rewind button, we could go back a couple of years and potentially not really get into a conversation where it was… okay, we’ve got stage 1, 2, 3, and 4, and stages two, three, and four, start to add in functionality that things like page builders, can currently do, full site editing and all that. If it had just been touted as, we’ve got a new editor for you, here it is, I think it would have taken people along for the ride much more easily, but we’ve got this problem now, this impasse where, it got sold as it’s going to become a page builder, but the pace of development and the fact that they’ve got the legacy of 40 percent of the web, 40 plus percent of the web, to protect and so on it hasn’t been able to move in that direction potentially at the speed that people thought… well, it’s going to be a page builder. It hasn’t been able to mature at the rate that they would have liked to have done. And so I’m just curious in the next year, two years, whether it will do those things, but also I wish we could rewind and say look, slow down. Let’s get the editor experience sussed out first, then we’ll do the full site editing and don’t expect it to be all these things. Beause at the minute I hear a lot of people saying it’s not as good as the tool I’ve got over here, and it’s not as good as the tool I’ve got over there. Speaking of which do you think there’s a case where it isn’t the best tool where you would say actually, do you know what, I’m just going to relegate that and not use it first. Or is it literally, always the first thing in your toolkit for WordPress?
It is literally the first thing in my toolkit, because it will provide the greatest longevity in whatever’s built. Gutenberg’s not going anywhere. There was a massive commitment to it from the project side of the universe. And to answer one of your earlier questions about, has it done enough? I think it’s exceeded all expectations and this is where I’ll get to it. They’re always going to be a voices like, okay, it doesn’t make bacon and eggs for me in the morning. Okay, That’s fine, it doesn’t. I think, and I truly believe what the magic of Gutenberg is, is the paradigm shift in forcing people to look at other things. So it’s hard to make a giant feature change in anything, whether it’s proprietary project, open source project. There are going to be plenty of people who are like, no, this works for me. This is great. Please don’t change. I get that. But technology moves forward. People’s expectations increase. Ten years ago, we barely had iPhones. All of a sudden we do, and now we expect everything to be infinitely easier and simpler and more responsive. I guess it doesn’t do everything that page builders do. That’s great. That’s fine. We’re not trying to cut out the middle man here, and I say we, I’m not actually involved directly in Gutenberg at any point, but it moves the technological user experience goal posts forward. All things being equal, the page builders of the world, Beaver Builder, Elementor, they’re all going to go their own way. Having Gutenberg as a critical component, soon enough, it will be just a mandatory component, that’s the end of the conversation. Says, listen, everyone, this is what we need as part of the ecosystem. This is how you’re going to connect with tools. You can absolutely go around those, but why would you want to, because this will be supported by a worldwide community.
It’s not just going to be supported by the Beaver Builder community or the Elementor community, yada yada, this is now the new core and that’s very difficult to do, and it’s not, jumping back to what I said earlier about it, I think just making that change in and of itself and committing to that change is more important than full site editor or anything else. There’ll be incremental steps, but that was the big milestone step. Wow. Okay. This is the new tech, and we’re going to have to take advantage of it.
You said two words in that last little bit, well you certainly said paradigm shift and you said atomic. And I think for me, the atomic bit is really interesting because what I think many people haven’t had a chance to get to grips with is literally the atomic nature of it. This little section of your blog post or whatever it may be. You can just have this little interactive thing. It might be that you’ve got a block which does, I don’t know, lead generation, or you’ve got a block, like the cover block, which will just take care of the top of your posts. And each one of those things will have a different array of settings and it doesn’t have to be built inside a proprietary thing. It’s being built inside of the default editor for WordPress. So it’s going to bring a ton of functionality and a ton of interesting things. Some of it will be bloated. I’m sure there’ll be many people who fall into the trap of installing fifty times more than they need to, or five times more than they need to. But for those of us who were curious and check things out and look and see what the end result is, you’re going to be able to create really unique experiences on this one surface, and that to me is really exciting, but have the feeling that the community got left behind in the conversation about this a little bit. So the confusion that it was going to be a page builder leads me to the whole community conversation. I know you’re all about community. This is something that you thrive on. You love the WordPress community, as you have had loved many other communities in the past. Do you have any feelings around whether there’s been enough involvement. Asking the questions, what should it look like? How should it behave? What do we want to leave on the floor and edit out that we just, it was a blind alley, we shouldn’t have had that because there are some things that I think a really excellent, there are some things that I think I’m not sure anybody’s actually going to make use of that, but there it is. And just wondering what your thoughts were around, whether the community had been involved, whether it could have been involved more.
I’m getting chuckles about a lot of these things. Could there have been more all the editing and whatnot. Since community is, especially in WordPress, a huge word, it’s always difficult to get every stakeholder, give them the space, give them the time given the vote.
What I like about what happened with Gutenberg is that it did move, in my mind, relatively quickly, and expeditiously and said, this is what we’re doing. And I think it’s too easy to be bogged down in the politics of community to actually get stuff done. So if things fall to the wayside, if things were not edit out properly, that’s where I think, the greater ecosystem can come into play and say, we’re going to tweak this, with a plugin that makes this just a bit better. It takes this out and we have such a robust economy in WordPress. That yeah, go for it. I like to see a bit more activism from people as a whole on these projects, but it’s hard. We all have day jobs. We all have stuff to do, and I’m not going to blame the leaders of the project for trying to get stuff done. In fact, I’m going to give them kudos to just doing it because it’s very easy to get pulled back and say you didn’t listen to so and so, at some point we have to fish or cut bait, we need to do something and we need to move the technology forward because everyone else is doing it. And open source projects have a tendency, especially at their, let’s say late teens, early adult stages, getting sucked into managing the community more than managing the project and pushing it forward.
You have to do both. It’s such a tricky balance. All kudos to everyone at Make dot WordPress, that they were able to do this. And it’s a large scale change and get it done. Fine, if you want to complain, that’s great. Guess what? No software lives, at that moment in time, it’s always updated and tweaked and there are still opportunities to make changes, advocate or different functionality. Expand the API, shrink the API, all those kinds of things. I do love that WordPress was able to cut bait and just go with it.
One of the underpinnings of WordPress since the inception really was PHP. And obviously now we’re moving into an era where these technologies are being inspected, and improvements have been created along the way. And so now we’re moving into an era where other technologies, for example, React is coming along and that requires quite a bit of relearning, you’ve really got to down tools, get the manuals out, start to read again. Do you have any concern that that kind of thing could be a bit of a roadblock? It will be a bit of have a roadblock for certain people, but the technology has to move forward. Just curious as to what your thoughts are about how that’s being implemented and whether or not we’re taking it at a slow enough pace or whether we should have just stuck with good old PHP?
I like to use the right tool for the right projects, And I’ve been a coder, developer, engineer in multiple languages. I’ve actually never done anything with React, that’s one of the first ones. And that’s okay. We evolve. If we hadn’t evolved all these still using C from 1969 or whenever it came out. So this stuff has to move forward. And if React is the best solution to do that on the front end, that’s great.
Some people will be excited by that. Okay. I can expand my personal knowledge and horizons by adding to React. Honestly, a lot of the headless stuff that we see these days is also React. So it’s not a bad thing to learn if you want to learn that. If you don’t want to learn it. Okay, that’s fine. There are plenty of opportunities to still expand your WordPress activities solely with PHP. Okay. Those are more personal choices. Do I want to learn another language? Do I want to improve on what I already have? Yes. Those are choices you have to make, but none of this lives in isolation. So we have to understand that a WordPress, plain old PHP site, might still need to connect up to a bunch of different things and not all those things are going to be on PHP. You still might be connecting up to something with Perl or Python. No, one’s forcing you to learn it. Granted Gutenberg injects this react universe into your face, but you can focus on the core things that you need to do without necessarily running into React. It’s a tool that more people are… here’s the trick, there are plenty of new people who are entering coding, development, open source communities, and they like React. So it makes sense to take advantage of all this new found wealth, and then also draw them back into the community. Great, you love running with all this JS stuff. Fantastic. Hey, by the way, did you know you could actually implement that as part and parcel with an old-school PHP content management system? Yeah, we can do that. That’s great. And look how you can expand your horizon. Yeah, it stinks if you don’t want to learn any kind of Node, React stuff. Okay. But, it’s sort of the nature of code. If we really want to take the analogy to the extreme, why aren’t we still coding on punch cards with ones and zeros. We’re going to abstract it and find the best tool to implement the functionality we want to see.
And I get it me personally, I’m not going to go out and learn React today. Me twenty years ago, though, I would have added it into my tool belt in a heartbeat, just because it was just one of those things that you needed at that time, that was the case. People are going to go through their own personal and professional sort of life cycles of what they think they need to have on their knee or in their tool belt to be successful. We can’t stop for people who don’t want to do anything outside of PHP.
We’re going to shift gears now and talk about in-person events. Under the auspices of things like WordCamp Europe, which is depending on when you’re listening to this podcast that may just have happened, or it may be it’s coming around in a year’s time or something like that.
Clearly we’ve been through a period that has really shaken the community. I feel that as a community, we were probably as well-prepared as any community could be because we were already working via the internet. We all had our computers out and so on. And yet still there is a concern. And I know that for example, people like Josepha Haden Chomposy has mentioned things like this, that the community in the absence of in-person events, there’s been a modest disengagement. And what I mean by that, this is the project, the WordPress project was propelled forward in a large part by those in-person events. So you’ve got contrib day, you’ve just got the handshaking, you can actually meet people for the first time. You can build relationships and so on. And none of that’s happened. We’ve had a year out. We don’t know quite when that is coming back, hopefully at some point in the near future, but we don’t know. And so just curious about your thoughts on that. What do you have to say about events coming back and how a project as big as WordPress, where there’s no central office where there’s no boss telling everybody what to do. So if you’re on the payroll, you’ve got to do this today and fix this thing, but that’s not how it works. And so the open source model, there may be a chink in its armor here where in-person events don’t happen, that camaraderie and those solutions don’t present themselves. And so the project, I’m going to use the word stalls, that’s a complete over-exaggeration, but bits of the project stalled because nobody’s meeting up.
I am a huge, huge advocate of in-person anything. Whether you’re extrovert or introvert, there’s always going to be someone that you really want to talk to sit down in a corner, or have a cup of coffee with and build that relationship. I’m no anthropologist or anything, but feel that those kinds of human connections help us grow stronger in light of all the mundane things we do day to day. I don’t think the project has suffered because of a lack of in-person events over the last year. I think it’s suffered because everyone else has had a lot on their mind and there’ll be a, certainly a renaissance of activity as soon as we get into in person but this is one of those things where I don’t think correlation and causation match up. If you are worried about friends and family getting ill, did the economy, my personal economies take a downturn. That’s going to weigh a lot more on someone than, oh, did I catch up on the latest WordPress dot org, Slack notification about Full Site Editing. So I don’t think they’re completely tied together, but I will certainly tell you that as those in-person meetups start ramping up, I think that’ll be a flurry of excitement and activity. Part of that will be just because we’re not still trapped in our tiny little Covid bubbles.
What personally do you miss from the in-person events? You mentioned about having a coffee and sitting in a corner with somebody and so on, but anything that you find you’re missing, it could be something quite banal or it could be something a lot deeper.
It’s really the accidents that happen at in person events. With a completely regimented online experience, I know I’m going to be talking with Nathan at such and such time. I know I’m going to be talking to whoever everything’s organized, calendars. Okay, there’s digital here, digital there. We may edit ourselves more on these platforms. When you’re in-person accidents happen. We may be walking through the sponsor hall and accidentally bump shoulders. And it’s oh my goodness, Nathan, great to see you. I haven’t seen you in 14 months. This is amazing. And you just start a conversation and those kinds of conversations are organic and random and not necessarily so overly planned and well thought out. And at those moments, I think unique ideas, exciting things can happen that just don’t happen in a much more shrunken space. I love the distributed world. And to your point, I think WordPress is not only just gone through well, it’s actually succeeded because we’ve already been in that position. We’re already ready to be online and take care of the day to day.
We need those accidental bumpings of atoms to create new kinds of alloys. Oh my goodness. carbon and oxygen linked together. Oh, no, look what happened here. I don’t know what they do, I’m not a chemist! But my point being is when you’re in person and I’m going to keep calling them accidents, but not like in a pejorative kind of way, accidents happen, and it allows for very random, unique ideas, conversations, thoughts, whatever to happen, or just even a personal pick me up. Like you do remember me from being on slack for the last year. That’s fantastic. There’s an affirmation I think that happens for all of us when we’re in that kind of proximity with other like-minded people.
I think one of the, there’s two points about the online events that I seem to keep coming back to. And the first one is that I feel it’s taught us that we ought to have hybrid going forward. What I mean by that is that WordCamp EU, I feel it’s going to be difficult to put the genie back in the box of you have to go to the place where the event is. I feel that the future is going to be, sure enough, if you want to turn up and you want to benefit from the hallway and all of those things, go for it. But also if you’re living halfway around the world, that now needs to be a door which is not closed to you, you need to have it open. There needs to be streaming of those talks that are happening each day so that everybody can take part. That’s one of the things that I feel is going to happen.
I completely agree. There are events that I would have never been able to attend on a very regular basis without there being an online component. Someone will solve this puzzle, but I think it’s going to be difficult to do a online and in-person event concurrently. I feel that you’ll get the worst of both worlds in that case. What I’d like to see, let’s take WordCamp Europe 2022. There’s going to be a three, four day in person spectacle. That’s fantastic. What I would like to see is maybe two days before the in-person starts. There’s a whole online portion of that. I’d be concerned about trying to do them concurrently. Are we really going to have, we can do all the live video for example, but how interactive can we make those live portions? Oh, look from online, we have a question to the speakers. Okay. That works. But outside of those sessions, how are we going to integrate the sponsor hall, the hallway track as we talk about it? Those are those accidents that I like to refer back to just walking up and down and bumping into each other. I don’t think that’s an easy problem to solve, but I’d love to see some kind of greater online kickoff onboarding experience, where you can meet the speakers, do some quick Q and A’s, and conversely, have the speakers say, make sure you don’t miss my session on such and such date and time, then that will, of course be also livestreamed.
It’s going to be expensive. It’s going to be complicated. And I think there’s going to be multiple variations of attempts at making that succeed. I like to go with baby steps to see results. And I think just starting out with maybe a one or two day virtual camp tied to the in-person camp would be a good starter.
That’s what I was meaning really is just basically a camera at the back of the room where there’s a presentation going on with the possibility of questions coming, not just from the audience, sat in the auditorium, but from people in a different part of the world. And in fact, I feel it in a way, these kind of like skeuomorphic pieces of software, which tries to replicate the real world, you’ve got these AI representations of the hall. It’s nice. It’s a bit of fun. I feel it’s a dead end. Nobody ought to be under the illusion that’s what they’re going to do. But I do like the idea of just, here’s the talk, you can watch it at the same time as everybody else. And then maybe you and your pals can hang out. You can do your bit online and we can do our bit in the real world, and so it goes. It’s really just an opening up so that you don’t have to attend because the problem there would be that nobody actually makes the attempt to attend, but I don’t feel that’s the case. And my second point is that I feel that we need this stuff back just because the online stuff, there’s a fatigue associated with that, and I don’t for a minute think that everybody’s fatigued and I don’t for a minute, think the online events don’t have merit because they have enormous merit and they’ve been an amazing bridge, but I feel that there’s a proportion of the people who would love to be at live events who just can’t make the transition to the virtual events. There’s something about it. Something stifles them, perhaps they have the best will in the world, and then it’s on the screen. But then something in the real world occurs to them. The cat decides to chew up the sofas, so off you go, you’ve got to deal with the cat. You get distracted, you want to go and make a cup of tea, so you get distracted. Whereas if you’re at the WordCamp, you’re fully there. You’ve engaged, you’ve committed. You’ve potentially got on a plane. You’ve booked a hotel, all of that. And there’s no substitute for that. So that really was my second point is that I want to get the people who’ve been disengaged back in and ready to take on all of the challenges that we’ve got.
Yeah. I think we’re on the same page. I can do virtual events. I certainly prefer in person. And the best example of how we know that in-person is very valuable is when you go to a lot of these virtual events, the networking spaces are generally very empty. People aren’t having those conversations, those random accidental conversations that they would add an in-person event because at an in-person event, you are physically, quote unquote, stuck in that space. If you don’t want to talk to someone, you’re just going to go your own way. That’s great. But if you do, who knows who’s next to you and you’re going to overhear things and interrupt the conversation and be interrupted and that’s that magic that occurs.
Okay. Let’s talk about the third point that we wanted to discuss today. I’m straying into an area where I don’t have a great deal of experience because I watch these things happen from afar. There’s nothing that really concerned me. That concerned me in the sense that I might be a consumer of some of the things that are being bought up. But you wanted to talk about, as you described it, the WordPress economy acquisition madness. Now, what did you mean by that? Just kick us off. Explain what you mean by that phrase.
Here’s the beauty of being a successful project, people with money will find ways to make money from it. And that’s okay, and that’s a good thing. We’re seeing the likes of Automattic, WP Engine, GoDaddy, Liquid Web, Cloudways, yada, yada, yada. All these companies, wink wink, they’re all hosting companies because they’ve been in the space for awhile under different platforms and have recurring streams of revenue and cash on hand, they’re going to look to grow their businesses, and one of the easiest ways is to find valuable niche projects, that not only will bring cool bit of code into what they’re trying to do, but also allow them to reach out to all the people who have installed that plugin.
Do you have concern then that certain parts of the WordPress, let’s say plugin or theme space, are going to be consumed by these bigger entities as you described? In many cases, there will be hosting companies for reasons you’ve just explained. Do you have a feeling that silos in the future are going to occur? Where if you really want a decent, let’s go for, I dunno, membership experience, you really are better off going in the direction of that company, with the brands that it’s acquired over time. Or if you want to go for a WooCommerce experience, your best bet is going to be over here, and everything else is a poor relation of that. So we get silos, which we haven’t had until now.
I think that’ll happen in the short term, but when that happens, a vacuum is created in the overall ecosystem. So if hosting company X has a, quote unquote, monopoly on that membership plugin, you know what, first of all, it’s all open source. All it takes is company Y to be like, we want to be in that space as well, and we’re going to re-imagine the underlying open source code base in XYZ format. Yes, a lot of letters there, but it’ll happen. These kinds of acquisitions and changes in economy I feel are okay. We’re all working from an open source code base. If this was all proprietary stuff that you can never take advantage of, I think that would be bad for the community as a whole, but that’s not the case. It’s just one company saying we’re going to be owners of this project. You can still fork that project any day of the week, don’t forget. Cause it’s all GPL. So I don’t think we’re losing anything in the long run. There’ll be short term hiccups. People won’t be happy. If that plugin doesn’t do exactly what they want, but they probably wouldn’t necessarily be happy even if it wasn’t taken over by someone else. I think there’s a percentage of people that will always want to see all this independent software, but all these companies are technically, okay maybe they’re not all independent because some of them are actually listed on public exchanges, but the opportunity hasn’t been taken away, and if such and such plugin gets acquired by such and such hosting company, I certainly see another hosting company looking for that competitor also happening.
Do you feel that, okay, again, rewinding the clock for the second time in this podcast, if we could go back maybe 6, 7, 8 years, something like that, before these companies were buying up suites of plugins and what have you, to bulk out their offering. We basically had independent plugin developers. There may have been a team that grew up over time and they were inventing a solution for a particular problem, and they were really invested in that, and that was great. We want to solve the calendar thing or we want to solve the, I don’t know, the menu thing, whatever it may be. I’m just wondering if we’re maybe getting into the territory of designing things to be acquired. We designed something so that this can happen, so that we can become bought up, taken along for the ride by a big hosting company, and just really whether or not there’s any dynamic that changes the way that instead of serving the customer and always trying to offer the best support for the product, really your whole intention for that business isn’t to create the product for the customer, it’s to create the product for the sell in the future.
I agree. I think there’s a potential for that. On the correlator, are you getting value in what you want out of that product? So if I use, there’s something I’m going to jump into because it’s happened recently, but on the face of it, it’s a product that is so useful to me that I’m not going to have to do custom code. It’s above and beyond every other plugin competitor in that space. Am I going to use it? I’m going to use it, yes. And to some degree it doesn’t really matter what the incentives for the developer are at that point. If it’s doing what I wanted to do, that I’m going to use it because that’s what I needed to do, and it’s going to save me 10 50, 200 hours of development time to use this plugin as opposed to trying to create something on my own. And that’s question one, or the answer one. Answer two is there certainly is an issue with, what’s a nice word for miscreant. I guess it’s gonna be miscreant, where we’ve seen recently some plugin developers literally switch out what that plugin does and what its value proposition is with, quote unquote, upgrades. And they’ve done it behind your back. Oh, well you signed up for this cute little plugin that makes banners, guess what, now it’s going to do all these things and you have to pay for it just to get banners again, and it’s like really, really is that really what you want to do? And I think those developers are getting called out on it.
The agencies and content creators, certainly in the nearby community are aware of that. I think those kinds of, yeah, they’re not necessarily illegal in any way, shape or form because you can do that, but it doesn’t really stick by the unofficial developer third party ecosystem code of conduct. And I think we’re always going to see exceptions to the rule, but as long as those are just exceptions, I think we’re in a good spot.
Let’s pivot again. Openverse. I’ve got to say, this is something that kind of passed me by. The radar wasn’t working properly over the last few weeks since Openverse came along. I’m going to ask you to tell us what Openverse is. I have a very vague understanding of what it is, but I’d like you to tell us why you think it’s important.
This is a new project in the WordPress ecosystem. I should say WordPress dot org ecosystem. It comes from creative commons search project that was languishing at creative commons. They didn’t have community and developers interested in pushing the search component along and, with support from Automattic, it came into the welcoming arms of wordpress dot org. And it has it’s own thing called Openverse. I’m excited by it. One, because it expands the open source vision of WordPress, WordPress becoming even a greater open source proponent. It’s not just the CMS, but now we also have additional things that we’re caring about, which I think is fantastic. It simultaneously is going to be working on technical aspects as well as open libra software model, or content model, I should say, where the tool will be helping WordPress as well as anyone else, obviously on finding creative commons, open licensed media. So in this case, images. I think it’s a great expansion that’s completely in line with what the project is looking to do. And I think it’s going to be surprisingly helpful and people won’t even realize what’s going on, but they’ll all of a sudden be able to access a bunch of new content natively in whatever application, obviously WordPress will be at that top of the list, but, you’ll be able to access it with Drupal or proprietary systems.
What was the problem with the old licensing model? What was broken with it?
What was broken was there was no one who was going to commit to keeping up the code base to make CC search working and functioning, tweaking it, bug fixes, whatnot. So, as part of the WordPress project, there will actually be active development and maintenance of the creative common search.
Okay, so was there any concern that things which you may have downloaded from third-party sites, we all know the ones that we customarily go to, that they were often perhaps changing the license after you downloaded things, and then suddenly you didn’t realize that you were in contravention of a license, which you thought you had full access to download, redistribute, do whatever you wanted and suddenly you realize, oh, okay, that’s no longer the case. This image that I’ve got, I need to take down.
So, licensing is so fun and entertaining. So a lot of these download an image sites, those licenses still stand. So if you have downloaded it and are using an image that was licensed under creative comments, that’s not going away. Will they relicense new images? Possibly. The point is how easy will it be to find more creative commons based media? And I think that is the purpose of Openverse, to make that as easy and intuitive as possible. So again, it’s taking what used to exist as part of creative, common search, almost like a fork, rebranding it under Openverse and, making it part of an ecosystem that’s open source.
And this is going to be completely available inside the WP admin. So you’ll have search integrated there, and if you want to search for, I don’t know, a cat on cushions, for example, you’ll be able to do that and everything that’s returned, you’ll be able to use, hopefully because the search will have returned something valuable to you in this case cat’s on cushions.
So that is my expectation. Obviously it’s not built into any of that yet, but yeah, that is that’s where I see the project going.
But it was a nice philanthropic gesture of Automattic to take this on board and just basically put it into WordPress so that the likes of me, and you can find our cats on cushions whenever we please.
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