Thank you from VIP Workshop 2017

We spent most of last week with many of you at WordPress.com VIP Workshop, our annual gathering of clients, partners, Automatticians, provocative thinkers, and invited guests. It brought together folks from all over the world, including India, Australia, across Europe and the UK. The main focus of the event is to convene the community of enterprise WordPress users to share knowledge, forge relationships, and spark ideas. But there are lots of other great things that always fall out of it as well, including the chance to hear directly from our platform users in a more relaxed setting, and the chance to renew and strengthen the bonds between lots of folks distributed throughout the world who work together all year long.

The first night and each day started with big picture thinking about issues broader than our day-to-day work. Innovation Catalyst Lee Kitchen offered a few examples and approaches to creativity that help his team get unstuck. Automattic’s Head of Design and Inclusion, John Maeda shared his real-world experiences in leadership challenges and his overarching mission of inclusion for WordPress and other platforms. And Matt Mullenweg reflected on VIP over the years, and a look at what’s coming to the Customizer as well as the Editor.

Sessions focused on many of the challenges and opportunities we all face every day. In the business track, a few highlights among a slate of stellar talks all around included Nicole Wilke of TechCrunch on how to approach major redesigns, Google’s Ilya Grigorik on key trends in Search, and Automattician Luca Martoni, who presented a methodology and case studies for A/B testing.

The developer track featured explorations of Google’s Progressive WordPress Sites and AMP with Alberto Medina, multi-format publishing with Facebook by Diego Quintiero, and Automattic’s testing infrastructure with Lauren Mermel. Several talks focused on using the REST API, including Jason Bahl of Digital First Media on GraphQL. Automatticians also led sessions about WooCommerce, the Calypso project, the VIP Go architecture, and the history of Jetpack’s redevelopment as a React app powered by the WordPress REST API.

Planning for next year’s has already begun. We take great care in gathering and reflecting on lots of feedback from participants, and we’ve just started the process of compiling all of that and taking a look at it together. In the meantime, we wanted to say thank you to everyone who took the time out of their busy schedules to be a part of this great event.

April VIP Roundup

Welcome to the first edition of VIP Roundup, your monthly review of news and perspectives from across the enterprise WordPress ecosystem, and the digital media and marketing landscape.

This is brand new, and we want to serve your interests, so please send us feedback anytime to steer it towards what would be most useful for you.

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP and our agency and technical partners.

  • On April 7 we launched our phased rollout of required two-factor authentication, an important step in helping keep your sites secure. 2FA is now required for all users who publish on a VIP site. Thank you to everyone for their cooperation in making this process as smooth as possible.
  • 10up released WP Docker, an open source Docker configuration optimized for local WordPress development. As we previously noted, support for VIP Quickstart officially ended on April 21. If you’re still working on migrating away from Quickstart, WP Docker is a good option in addition to VVV and Chassis. If you have any problems migrating, we’re happy to help.
  • Playbuzz released a new version of its plugin which adds the new Playbuzz Creator feature so editors can easily create Playbuzz items directly from the WordPress post editor.
  • XWP offered a digital treasure hunt they developed as an outgrowth of their new visual identity.
  • 10up Senior Engineer Derrick Koo wrote a step-by-step guide as an easy jumpstart to help anyone who wants to contribute code to the WordPress Core.
  • Automattic, Mash-up Americans, and MIT Center for Civic Media hosted Design and Exclusion, a remote conference focusing on how the design of technology platforms excludes people. All of the talks are archived here.

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Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

The latest moves on the social platforms to address “fake news” include an algorithm update for Google and a broader preview approach on Facebook. Facebook will also invest time to train local newsrooms. Jimmy Wales launched Wikitribune (running on WordPress) this month, as a new model for journalism and publishing. Wikitribune joins a field of new approaches including Jay Rosen’s efforts to launch De Correspondent in the U.S.

“Absent any additional warnings other than the disclaimer, [and] fewer than 1 in 5 people recognized native advertising when they were exposed to it – and these were native ads labeled as ‘sponsored content.”  -A recent Boston University academic paper suggests caution and transparency for publishers experimenting with native advertising.

“…if you write a great story about an event, brand, or person not immediately recognizable, you need to explain what it is and why it matters within four words. More than that, and you’re meandering.”  -Ryan Craggs at CJR looks closely at the art and science of headlines and featured images in social media posts.

“We don’t need bigger numbers, we need saner numbers.” -Josh Topolsky reflects on what’s working with The Outline so far and what all media companies should be focusing on in editorial and advertising.

April VIP Site Launch Spotlight

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This month we highlight Anthony Bourdain’s newly launched online travel guide Explore Parts Unknown. The site features compelling stories, recipes, features, and video snapshots from all of the places Bourdain visits. At launch destinations include Madagascar, Senegal, Hanoi, Korea, Manila, Punjab, London, Rome, the Greek Islands, Istanbul, Vegas, LA’s Koreatown, Montana, New Jersey, Buenos Aires, and Colombia.

Awards and Recognition

  • East Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for their Ghost Ship coverage.
  • Agency Partner Hello Design was recognized in HOW’s International Design Annual for their work on #Sonos and #ArtCenter.
  • Technology Partner Sailthru was named to Gartner’s 2017 Magic Quadrant for Multichannel Campaign Management.

Upcoming Events

Further ahead: Calls For Speakers have been issued for WordCamp US, taking place in Nashville in December; and the first WordCamp for Publishers, aimed specifically at journalists and publication managers, happening in Denver in mid-August. Proposals for Denver must be received by May 10th; you have until mid-June to submit ideas for Nashville.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue.

The State of the News Audience, Post-Election

Dan Maccarone of Charming Robot has spent much of his career conducting user research with regular people about how they use various forms of news media. He and his team spend time with them inside of their homes, learning how they get their news and looking over their shoulder to retrace their steps together. Having conducted this type of research repeatedly and over a long period of time, he has developed a keen sense for spotting emerging changes in perception and action. Based on his most recent batch of conversations he identified a few emerging behavior patterns, useful to think about for media companies and brands alike.

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Dan shared insights he derived from interviews shortly after the 2017 Presidential Election, at the BigWP meetup in New York in March.

Video is in a new moment

For years video was a feature that users universally scowled at across Dan’s research. The use of video in lieu of text-based articles has finally found strong support among an audience segment. He reports that there’s still a strong negative contingent, but that it is now a polarizing topic – some people seek it out, while others still specifically avoid it. He found about half of the interview subjected preferred video.

Trust has likely never been harder to secure

Viewers are judging everything that passes through their browser with heavier doses of skepticism than ever. This, combined with the feeling that there’s no way to keep up with the ongoing onslaught of new information, makes it a particularly challenging time for publications to foster engagement from their audiences.

Negative news has exhausted viewers

With what feels like a constant barrage of hard news, scandal-chasing, cliffhangers, and fear mongering, viewers feel like they are overwhelmed, and need a break. This seems to be more of an issue with national news, and less so with the local news mix.

Content has to travel to succeed

It’s been the case for many years that most people are visiting sites through side doors rather than home pages. Likewise, Facebook has long since earned a spot next to Google as the starting point for most content journeys. What Dan observes about the current moment is that people are often not noticing where they end up at the end of that journey, and when they do they are holding on to that overarching skepticism. In the video below, Dan shares a conversation he had with an interview subject about what you’d expect to be a benign and non-controversial article.

You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanMaccarone.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

The Coral Project – Community Tools from Newsrooms, for Newsrooms

The ongoing critical interest in the relationships between news publications and their reader communities has only escalated throughout the 2016 US election cycle and beyond. The practice of journalism as a craft and a business is in the national spotlight, and broad cultural issues relating to credibility, truth, and trust are also under exploration. As a part of this, there’s a renewed focus in the industry on ways to improve how media companies build and sustain meaningful relationships with their audiences.

Andrew Losowsky, The Coral Project

The Coral Project is a non-profit initiative focused on these challenges. It’s a collaboration between Mozilla, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, and is funded by a Knight Foundation grant. In addition to ongoing research projects, they’re developing open source tools that help journalists and community managers with the thankless tasks of working with community-sourced material and improving the quality of the discussions in online comments.

Forms purpose-built for community sourcing

Andrew Losowsky, Project Lead of the project at Mozilla, stopped by the March BigWP meetup to tell us about the tool set and the thinking behind it. Ask, a tool designed for journalists working on data collection through forms, is purpose-built for the kind of sorting, archiving, and display tasks newsrooms go through any time they put together these kinds of stories.

In the clip below, Andrew explains that use case and how Ask works better than the other tools commonly used today:

Another element of Ask, the Gallery Manager, allows an editor to embed a curated entry into a story using a WordPress shortcode, while allowing edits and omissions as needed, in such a way that preserves the original full set of collected data.

Univision recently used Ask to take in, sort, and use responses from their audience during a special live town hall edition of the weekly news magazine show Aquí y ahora.

Filling in the empty box

When it comes to comment tools, the team at Coral is seeking to improve quality by addressing both cultural and technical challenges. Many online communities suffer from a lack of direction and human tending from the outset, which dooms them to negative interactions and unmet expectations from the start. Using a metaphor popularized by our own Derek Powazek(@fraying), Andrew explains why one of the critical features of Talk, the Coral comment system, is the ability to place a question at the top of the empty comment box:

Andrew concluded with a plea for site owners and operators to carefully consider with which companies they entrust their comment data and systems. Taking the open source approach puts you in control of your community for the long haul. This creates the most direct relationship between you and your readers and participants, who you may be looking to as paying subscribers and sustainers at one point or another if you don’t already.

The Ask tool has been released and is available for use, and the Talk tool is in beta testing and will become a WordPress plugin. The Coral Project is also working on guides to best practices in journalism and community management, which will be released later this quarter. Their blog offers a wealth of information, research findings, and calls for participation.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter at @Losowsky and the project at @coralproject.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

 

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

 

 

USA Today Sports Media Group on the Benefits of a Common Theme

When newly acquired publications and sites come in to a large publishing group, they often come with baggage: their own approach to UX and underlying technologies. These unique themes and feature sets can add up to significant technical and operational debt. It’s a whole lot of tools and processes that only exist for one project’s benefit. And in most cases, those unique systems bring with them a distinction without a difference – there’s little benefit to the end user that’s gained from that diversity of approach. It’s just history.

This is a set of issues that we’ve seen again and again. Bringing groups of publications together under a common theme and architecture can reap tremendous rewards, across speed, productivity, and cost savings.

David Parsons, USA Today Sports Media Group

Earlier this month at the BigWP meetup in NYC, David Parsons of USA Today offered a peek into the evolution of the company’s Sports Media Group and its underlying systems. His team worked with WordPress.com VIP to migrate a number of sites, each with its own unique theme hosted on Amazon, over to VIP. All of the sites are now under their shared Lawrence theme, with a system called Wasabi that can turn on and off features from site to site.

Here’s David explaining the history of the project and the ways working with WordPress.com VIP frees his team up to focus on what’s most important:

“When we first started off, we wanted to be as lightweight as possible and we were picking up these extremely heavy CMS’s that aren’t necessarily WordPress. So what we initially did is move everything to WordPress as fast as possible, and we hosted this ourselves on the Amazon platform. And we had site-specific themes, so every codebase for every site was completely unique.

We soon realized that there were a lot of issues with this, especially when a site goes down, or we have an issue overnight. Obviously there’s the potential of losing thousands of dollars. As soon as possible we moved to WordPress.com VIP, and we moved to a platform called Lawrence, which is essentially a shared theme. By moving to WordPress.com VIP, we were able to not worry about downtime, and whenever we push our code up for deployment, they run an additional code check to make sure we’re not pushing anything up to production that could potentially be catastrophic. Things like security we no longer have to think about. So this allows our team to focus on building awesome stuff.”

USAT-image.pngThe ability to create and launch new sites quickly, and centrally control the feature set for each one or a group of them, enabled the Sports Media Group team to quickly test a concept for a new set of NFL team sites, and then roll it out across all 32 teams:

In this next clip, David explains how the WordPress Customizer manages various look and feel elements for each site.

Site-by-site feature interface

He also describes the plugin interface, depicted above, that allows the team to easily control features site by site, and apply functionality created for one to any or all of them:

You can follow David on Twitter at @dpjustice.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

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