Magne Ilsaas wants WordPress to be more than the pragmatic choice for enterprise clients. He wants WordPress agencies to be known for a distinct WordPress culture and mindset. Alain Schlesser, Carole Olinger, Carl Alexander, and Zach Stepek have a frank talk with Bob Dunn about the costs of not supporting WordPress contributors. Post Status members including Dave Loodts, Marius Jensen, Jeremy Ward, and Chris Reynolds discuss the looming PHP 7.4 EOL. Plus Jb Audras‘ breakdown of contributions to the WordPress 6.1 release. For your weekend reading, some news and insights from business, workplace, webtech, and govtech writers beyond the WordPress bubble.
Estimated reading time: 36 minutes
Magne Ilsaas goes back a long way as a WordPress agency founder serving large enterprise clients. Why WordPress has been such a success in that space is now a barrier to its growth, Magne argues. It is not enough to be the pragmatic choice — the “tool that gets the job done, cheaply and effectively.” This leads to short-term engineering-focused solutions while “other [non-WordPress] agencies are helping clients with strategic decision-making, design and communication, user testing, conversion optimization, and digital marketing.” Magne wants WordPress agencies to be known for a distinct WordPress culture and mindset:
What if we did business the same way we've built WordPress? What if we leverage our biggest asset, which is not WordPress the tool. It’s WordPress, the community, the culture, the openness, and the inclusiveness. What if we create our own way of integrating our open-source mindset into how we conduct our businesses?
While talking with Magne and working on this article, which was originally drafted a few years ago, he confirmed a couple of things that have kept coming up in my reading and conversations. They each represent both threats and opportunities:
- All the complaints, hazards, frustrations, and wishes of big agencies and their customers are very much aligned with small agencies, freelancers, and their customers. In particular, everyone wants clear quality signals for selecting plugins that meet their needs and don't distort, complicate, or disrupt the user experience, especially in the admin interface.
- The agency space has been a boomtown, and there are established companies, some with hundreds of employees, who do work heavily or even exclusively with WordPress but have little or no involvement with the project and community. They hire specifically for WordPress knowledge and expertise with varying degrees of technical fluency. WordPress needs them, and they need WordPress agency peer networks and gatherings whether they know it or not.
- Unfortunately, those connecting networks, events, and trade publications don't exist or are very underdeveloped in WordPress compared to the larger digital agency scene and web tech industry at large. It's important for WordPress agencies to be there too, in organizations like SoDA (founded in 2007) for the reasons described by Brian Williams, co-founder and CEO of Viget, when they joined back in 2013.
- Large WordCamps aren't meeting that need, and with the challenges of the volunteer model why should they be expected to? (We've said this before.)
Supporting WordPress Contributors
Some of the best conversations that expert listener Bob Dunn has recorded for Do the Woo are open conversations with people the WordPress community is lucky to have. This time it's Alain Schlesser, Carole Olinger, Carl Alexander, and Zach Stepek. An alternative title for this talk could be “Why Can't Contributors Have Nice Things? (Like a Living Wage).” Carl's impactful Twitter thread a few weeks ago inspired the conversation.
Alain, Carole, Carl, and Zach all speak about the technical debt they see being piled onto WordPress — the project and the community — because of the high cost of contributing without solid or sustainable backing. Carole and Carl discuss the WordCamp volunteer model, which Carl thinks may be broken beyond repair, and with it, many years of institutional knowledge will be lost. Deep disconnection from the PHP community presents all kinds of risks and missed opportunities Alain addresses.
Behind Alain's voice, it's impossible not to hear Milana Cap‘s as they are both pointing out “The Elephant in the WordPress Community.” As Gutenberg truly starts to round the corner with the adoption and knowledge-sharing of standard-setters like 10up, maybe there will be a collective realization: it's time to feed the elePHPant, or at least support some of our best elePHPant handlers.
In that vein, Bob mentioned in the show (and in a conversation we had this week) that next year he will be putting significant funding back into the community from Do the Woo's generous sponsors. But you can support Carl and Alain right now with any amount you choose via GitHub Sponsors.
End of the Line for PHP 7.4 in 23 Days
On the themes of maintenance, technical debt, and “pay now, or pay later,” unless it gets changed as WordPress project leadership has requested, PHP 7.4 will no longer be supported with security patches as of November 28. Some hosts are forcing customers to upgrade or leave. Dave Loodts, who has found himself in the forced-to-leave category, started a discussion about it in Post Status Slack. The views offered were broad-ranging, thoughtful, and relevant to the topics mentioned above.
Marius Jensen pointed out that WordPress developers “are spending so much time keeping up with changes” to PHP in a never-ending maintenance loop “that it's hard to pick up new things [that can be done as PHP evolves] and innovate and use all the goodness PHP offers.” He feels “that's hurting our ability to move forward as well.”
Jeremy Ward countered that “three years of support per release feels aggressive, particularly within our community due to the nature of our platform,” but “we can do a better job as a community at choosing an entry point with each major release to get things compatible. We knew PHP announced a change to their cadence, and to a degree, I don’t think we took them seriously that they’d stick to it. Until the PHP Federation, WordPress has more or less opted out of any language community initiatives, most notably PHP-FIG. I think all those smaller decisions kind of contribute to the challenges we face today…”
Chris Reynolds noted that even though WordPress core rarely has problems with a PHP 8 environment, PHP 8 only has beta support, and enterprise customers aren't interested in anything “beta.” They need “official communications” and documents affirming full support, but WordPress's “official communication says it's not ready yet.
- Jb Audras has another fine report on contribution statistics, now for WordPress 6.1. Here's the tl;dr in a Twitter thread with a bonus graph of company rankings by number of commits. Automattic is #4.
- The Only Crypto Story You Need by Matt Levine at Bloomberg: “Crypto, in its origins, was about abandoning the system of social trust that’s been built up over centuries and replacing it with cryptographic proof. And then it got going and rebuilt systems of trust all over again. What a nice vote of confidence in the idea of trust.”
- From Workplace, did you know Performance Reviews Don't Actually Assess Performance? And What Work Actually Looks Like, from Jim Nielsen.
- Emily Peck at Axios Marketplace reports that remote work may have fueled a baby boom among U.S. women. This has never happened in a recession before among knowledge workers. Lots of interesting takeaways from this data.
- Google has backed the US Senate security bill aimed at “securing open source software.” Here's a good backgrounder from Menghan Xiao at SC Media. And here's what compliance is going to require. Get familiar with CISA and SBOMs.