On WordPress and Business

Recently one of the trendy discussions online has been the involvement of business tracks in WordCamp programs.  I’m one of the supporters of that for various reasons.

The Key Difference

First off, the “business” is one of the key differences between WordPress and various platforms or systems available for the public at the moment. Over the past 10 years I have been involved in projects and teams in platforms in languages such as Delphi, C#, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby, and eRPs, CRMs, CMS, frameworks and many more requiring integration or development for customers.

Last time I had the freelance epiphany and switched full-time on my own, I had the plan of building Java-based CMS for clients. I just had a diploma project ready, built in JSF, that was utilizing articles/news, users, general capabilities, comments and basic templating. I thought that it’s my niche due to my experience and a product that has few competitors on the market (there were two or three Java CMS available, lacking number of important features or introducing annoying problems here and there).

After some obvious business analysis I concluded that:

  • my Java projects would cost more since customization takes way more time and code than PHP projects
  • the hosting would be way more expensive – there aren’t many hosting vendors for Java and the platform takes more resources, therefore costy servers.
  • the product would be slower overall and extensions would take more time as well

Already had my job left, so I was looking forward to find a place, suitable for freelancing. Enterprise projects were led by enterprise clients looking for high end companies with dozens of people administrative personnel, hundreds of pages of specifications and so forth. Some platforms were too exotic with less interest for them, some required specific hardware, some had other cons.

WordPress Has it All

Fast-forward few years and you could see that WordPress has it all. It’s widely popular, cost-effective for broad range of clients, it could run a blog or a large multisite platform, it scales fairly well. It’s based on PHP and MySQL – free and available in almost every hosting. It allows for a single person to concentrate on development, or design, or SEO, or marketing, or blog posting, or general customizations, and more. It makes it possible to run a business with no extra cost or initial investment – just a regular computer with Internet connectivity and experience enough a small group of the millions of customers.

Second, the standard WordPress tracks are boring. Yes, I mean it. Once you’ve been to a few WordCamps or spent some time on WordPress.tv, and having a decent experience in WordPress development (as the majority of people living thanks to WordPress do – more or less – development, or customization, or small website setup) people are aware of all the fancy major features offered by the platform. Talks on: custom fields, post formats, CPTs (I did it too), building themes, using theme frameworks etc are usually the 101 of the WordPress development and the first things a junior would knock his head into starting his first website. The prevailing feeling at a WordCamp is usually covering at least few of these topics, already taught by several speakers, with many tutorials and videos online, related to code one could read in 80% of the plugins.

Third – WordPress is the perfect product for business. Yet, it’s pretty much developed with little to no marketing. Acquia, the head of the Drupal (a.k.a. Drupal’s Automattic) had hired dozens of sales/marketing/PR people to promote their platform, to evangelize over the product. I’m 100% confident that Drupal wouldn’t have been the second platform behind WordPress if that wasn’t true.

What could be done to boost up the popularity and significance of WordPress even more?

  • PR – active work into promoting the benefits of the platform and all of the happy VIP customers running their businesses on WordPress
  • training – while Acquia have a complete training program with tracks for users, developers etc WordPress have small companies or freelancers running the show unofficially. I have led several training courses on WordPress, Christine is also a trainer, there are few US universities with our people teaching WordPress. Did you know that Mike Little has been offering WordPress courses too? Probably not, unless you live in the UK, which is hilarious! 🙂
  • more Q&A and feedback from users – as we have yearly polls for WordPress users, we could do that way more often, to gather stats on how do WordPress people do their work, what have been used and so forth. This could even influence the development of the platform as the Ideas page on WPORG does to some extent.
  • more support for small businesses from the WordPress foundation, Automattic and larger companies – this is not really ‘required’, also Matt has been promoting GPL businesses, sponsoring some of them and so forth. Audrey has been helping businesses as well through his guidance. It’s a great direction, but there is much more to be done so that the industry is growing with the entire ecosystem around.

That’s why business talks are great for WordPress events – WordCamps, meetups, regular folks hanging out too. And not only business – other related aspects from the ecosystem should be covered more and more, including: UX, SEO, HTML5+CSS3, JavaScript, high quality code, tools for deployment, testing. Most people use the general WordPress tools, APIs, plugins and libraries that are widely available and popular and don’t optimize or extend their knowledge and experience to provide the best end product for their clients. WordCamp.tv has been featuring a video of Iliya from WCSF on their server setup in High-performance WordPress for few weeks in a row – because people were interested in that, as it’s not popular and there are not so many resources for the people who want to do the next step.

The best possible way to organize a WordCamp IMO is an event with two parallel tracks – one would be entirely WordPress tech/design oriented, the other would have talks on business, writing, SEO, UX, support etc.

9 thoughts on “On WordPress and Business

    1. Hey Miriam, thanks for replying here. I’m happy to see that people are open to business tracks as this is a key topic in that industry in my humble opinion.

  1. Awesome post. I’m always thinking why the hack tracks got named. Why not just room 1 and room 2. A possible problem can be that WordCamp organizers don’t really search for speakers on topic but that speakers apply with a proposal. And speakers mostly have no idea what the audience will be like.

    I’m not sure how to translate business. I hate to see talks from people about their company or product. However I would love to see more showcases and things they did to make WordPress work for them. Like Happy Tables and websites for tv shows like “The voice”. But yeah a combination with other topic would be awesome to see. I did had some talks with people who had the idea to have a complete track with business talks and that is something that doesn’t seem like WordCamp but better fit in something different.

    Thinks like support and writing is something we do miss indeed. For writing it is easy to have that at a WordCamp but talking about support can be harder. Specially if it’s about support plugins for example. Not a lot of people are doing that in a scale that is big enough. Happy to see that there are some talks you can watch online about these topics :).

    1. It’s really hard to predict what would be interesting for people and who in particular would attend the event. I actually think that one of the important things to add to the WordCamp ticket payment form is a quick survey for the attendee – what would be interested for the people to see/hear, preferred speakers (if any), background in WordPress etc.

      The “chicken or the egg” argue here is for – whether speakers should be preselected first or people should buy tickets before everything. If you find speakers first, the audience might not be appropriate, otherwise attendees would need to buy tickets for show that doesn’t exist yet 🙂

      However, sharing experience and talking about the entire ecosystem seems more reasonable to me. Unfortunately WordCamps couldn’t get organized in a way DevReach does – 6 parallel tracks and an entire cinema booked for the event. You can hardly not be able to pick a track with that choice, but having 1 or 2 tracks at most for our WordCamps it would be great if we could at least add some value for business owners, freelancers, companies building crappy custom CMS and experienced people.

      1. Yes, a pre and post survey is really needed. I spoke at 5 WordCamps and only once I got feedback from the organization about what people thought about my session. Obviously you talk with friends about how good the talk was but they will always be more positive then others.

        I did like the conference Fronteers in The Netherlands what sold all their early tickets first before announcing speakers. This way you can have some feedback from the audience what they really want to see. Not saying this is something a WordCamp should do but playing with it wouldn’t hurt much. Like announcing several speakers every week.

Your thoughts?