The second annual WordCamp for Publishers went down last week in Chicago with the theme “Taking Back The Open Web.” This theme was sparked from questions explored in a 2016 post by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert:
Do we want the experiences of the next billion web users to be defined by open values of transparency and choice, or by the siloed and opaque convenience of the walled-garden giants dominating today?
As conference organizers, we challenged speakers to touch on whether an open web ever truly existed, what state it’s in now, the consequences of a closed web, and how publishers can protect and encourage an open web.
Overall, we saw common themes emerge around empowering publishers to innovate and evolve. There was a shared belief that ethical journalism depends on an open web, with inclusivity as a fundamental building block to creating responsibly for the future.
Each of these topics has raised significant discussion in the WordPress community, and we envisioned #WCPub as a platform to discuss the state of the publishing industry and future of WordPress in the open web together, with folks from all different backgrounds in the industry. Thankfully, our speakers and attendees were more than up to the task!
Where Code Meets Community
John Eckman, CEO of 10up, was particularly drawn to the challenge of the event’s theme as it related to identity, inclusivity, and imagined communities. John explored the philosophical roots of the open source movement and how those ideas influenced modern-day open source ethics, software freedom, and netizen empowerment.
“Accessibility should be a pervasive feature and not shoved in. We have allowed ourselves to walk away from it. Inclusivity should be a core principle.” @jeckman#wcpub
Austin Smith, CEO and co-founder of Alley, presented his research on the narrow path for local news. He argued in order to protect hyperlocal journalism, we’ll need to convince more readers to pay for the content they consume. We’ll also need to empower local publishers to innovate formats, ownership, and distribution.
Tyson Bird, projects designer at GateHouse Media, and David Parsons, senior software engineer at USA Today, spoke about their use of WordPress at scale to enable publishers to manage large media networks with a variety of markets and staff.
An Emphasis on Engagement
Caroline Porter, consultant for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Harry Backlund, co-founder and director of operations at City Bureau, and Sarah Schmalbach, resident at the Lenfest Institute, discussed the ethical collection of user data, experimenting with innovation around reader engagement, and two-way audience communication in a panel session moderated by Sherry Salko, director of the Amplify News Project.
Eric Ulken, a consultant, and Nick Johnson, founder of Pigeon Paywall, shared differing viewpoints on monetization strategies that ultimately focused on catering to users and their needs.
Key challenge of modern journalism: “There aren’t enough good ways for online readers to compensate publications in ways proportionate to the value they receive.” –@eulken on paywalls #wcpub
There was a lot of excitement around Gutenberg, and Chris Van Patten, founder of Tomodo, open sourced his team’s documentation project on best design practices using Gutenberg live during his presentation.
Chris wasn’t the only presenter to live open source a project during a talk. Russell Heimlich, lead developer at Spirited Media, open sourced his team’s image CDN project to much applause.
Sina Bahram, president of Prime Access Consulting, and Pattie Reaves, senior user experience developer at Alley, discussed the importance of developing with accessibility in mind.
Two lightning talks also addressed site accessibility concerns: one focusing on the particular needs of those with dyslexia, and another which offered a solution to accessibility through integration with Alexa.
Shayda Torabi, director of marketing at WebDevStudios, and Jodie Riccelli, director of client strategy at WebDevStudios, demoed a number of workflows with streamlined editorial experiences all contained entirely within WordPress.
Brands big and small are using WordPress. But when we look at the editing workflow, we're all piecing together stacks of frankentools before content gets into WordPress. Premise: Can we centralize everything in WordPress instead? #wcpub
Keanan Koppenhaver, CTO at Alpha Particle, showcased a few modern use cases of the REST API, from the Techcrunch redesign, a mobile news simulator, Amazon Echo integration, virtual reality, and more.
Barb Palser, global product partnerships at Google, argued we should look at site performance as a product, with a focus on quantifying the opportunity to increase user engagement.
Leo Postovoit and Ryan Kienstra of XWPwent a step further and demonstrated how to improve performance “up to 85%” simply by integrating AMP.
On the flip side, Brian Boyer, VP of product and people at Spirited Media, delivered a passionate talk explaining his team’s decision to leave the AMP platform to focus on engaging readers in a different manner.
The always-quotable @brianboyer on user experience: "We want people to love us, and nobody's going to love us when we're punching them in the face." #wcpub
Attendees voted on Unconference session proposals to explore hyperspecific themes. The winning topics (“Gutenberg Therapy Session,” “Direct Revenue Discussion,” and “The Future of WordCamp for Publishers”) served as an opportunity for many to share their concerns about specific industry trends.
Workshops dealt with a variety of topics important to the community:
Joshua Wold, design strategist at XWP, dove into creative thinking through development problems by sketching.
Ernie Hsiung, CTO at WhereBy.Us, fostered a discussion about communication across stakeholder groups.
We held a series of lightning talks that ranged widely in topic: from determining whether WordPress was a product or community, to implementing transparency standards for news; from solving content reuse and syndication woes to finding smarter and more efficient ways to create responsive HTML emails and manage media at scale, and even a case study of the need to combine mobile and AMP themes.
10up is a digital agency focused on delivering finely crafted websites, apps, and tools that advance business objectives. They have been a WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner since 2013. Founded in California with a fully distributed team, 10up’s Webby-winning and Emmy-nominated work includes projects with household names like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and The New York Times.
What’s your agency’s origin story?
10up was founded by Jake Goldman in 2011. Jake helped his prior company abandon proprietary CMS software starting around 2008, giving him a front-row seat to WordPress’s rapid iteration from a basic blogging platform to a compelling content management system, and the delight that it created for its customers. Jake was eager to master WordPress: he built plugins that became popular, contributed to WordPress itself, and traveled around the country to participate in WordCamps.
With training in business, information systems, and software development, and an eye for beautiful craftsmanship, Jake saw an opportunity to start an agency that could position itself as a leading provider of integration and delivery of WordPress. The rise of “distributed” remote-work companies, the remote nature of WordPress core itself, and the rising international WordPress community suggested it was also time for a 100% distributed agency.
Jake set up shop in his small home office and got to work bootstrapping 10up. From its earliest days, 10up focused on superior engineering quality and elegant editorial/administrative user experiences Leveraging a strong network of connections, Jake quickly welcomed exciting clients like 9to5mac, Trulia, and TechCrunch.
With the help of the earliest additions to his team, many of whom still remain at 10up and some of whom have gone onto to impressive roles elsewhere in the industry, Jake grew 10up from 1 employee – himself – to more than 100 in less than 5 years – without an ounce of outside investment.
The name 10up comes from finishing that last 10% — the difference that extra polish, that extra level of attention, makes. –Jake Goldman
Pick three words that describe your agency culture.
Dedicated. Our team understands that we’re a services business; our values are rooted in an empathy and dedication to the needs of our clients and colleagues, as well as the broader open-source and WordPress community. 10uppers consistently go above and beyond expectations to jump in and help when a client or fellow teammate needs support.
Creative. This is a team of problem solvers – strategists, designers, engineers, and so on. Whether it’s a discreet and specific solution to a customer need or an innovative approach to synchronizing developer environments or managing new standards like Ads.txt, this team is constantly finding new ways to solve the challenges we face every day.
Welcoming. Maybe it’s something about our remote culture, our in-depth orientation, or a high growth team culture… but almost everyone who starts at 10up comments on how inviting their team lead, fellow teammates, and craft leadership are in welcoming them aboard and offering support through their beginning and tenure. Even though we’re infrequently in the same room together, there’s a palpable sense of camaraderie and cheer at our annual all-hands summit.
Tell us about a client project you are especially proud of.
Where to start! If we had to pick one, we’d highlight our work with Mayo Clinic, building out an internal knowledge portal and management intranet that tens of thousands of nurses use every day, around the country, to collaboratively participate in advancing patient care. It was a multiyear project, and our team did a brilliant job of designing the user experience, engineering a scalable solution, supporting change management, and training both developers and administrators. As a service-centric organization, it’s immensely rewarding to know that our work is helping other incredibly dedicated service professionals (nurses) and their patients, every day, in some small way.
What are you most excited about in the WordPress community right now?
We’ve been very focused from day one on the experience of creating and managing content – the back end and editorial user flows that can have an enormous impact on the efficiency of the business and the happiness of the staff responsible for pushing out content. It’s why we chose WordPress as our platform – a user experience-centric ethos to our practice.
With that said, it’s hard not to call out the massive effort to revamp the writing and content layout experience – Gutenberg.
It’s exciting in the sense that it shakes up the way we think about editorial page creation and curation, and forces us to think about some old and stale paradigms in new ways. It’s cause for us to go back and take another look at some of our solutions and plugins, and breathe a bit of new life into them. Some of the principals of the block-based layout authentically offer an opportunity to improve the way we think about modules. That’s been especially evident as we approached support for the classic and new editor for some new open source projects – like Simple Podcasting – and found that the user interface made a lot more sense in the new context.
What’s your favorite conference or event of the year, and why?
We love seeing the WordPress community evolve a set of professional industry and market-specific conferences. WP Campus and WordCamp for Publishers provide a nice, focused iteration of the wide-appeal community events.
On a very different note, our team also gets quite a bit out of the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) event, in terms of professional development and peer inspiration.
(And the sixth: Ask yourself a question and answer it)What are you looking to accomplish in 2018?
We’re pushing on several fronts. Our team is growing again this year; we expect to expand our team by ~25-30%, and we hope to achieve that while retaining an engaging and supportive culture and employing systems that ensure we uphold the highest standards for craftsmanship. Some major growth areas include the 10up Europe team and our strategic consulting including Audience & Revenue.
We’re also more invested than ever in contributing to and helping WordPress succeed as a platform, through our Open Source Practice. We want to see growing adoption of some of the solutions we’ve put out there that push WordPress forward as a platform, like our Distributor plugin.
We also want to do a better job of communicating the exciting and innovative work we’re doing, and the ways in which we’re growing, to our customers and a larger community interested in 10up. Expect to see more stories from 10up and more effective ways of staying apprised of those stories.
Thank you, 10up!
More on 10up:
Agency focus and specialties:
Editorial/administrative user experience and workflow design
Audience and revenue strategy
Integrations and migration between WordPress and other platforms
High scale and forward-thinking implementation of WordPress
Internal communication & workflow tools
24/7 site management
Currently working with: Microsoft, Facebook, Google, The New York Times Co, the State of California, Walmart, ESPN, and AARP
More than 150 full-time staff working from around the world.
In-house expertise includes Front and Back End Engineering, Visual Design, UX Design, Systems/Cloud Infrastructure Engineering, Online Advertising, Analytics, SEO, and general project management and strategic consulting.
Delivered hundreds of successful, enterprise-grade projects over our 7.5 years of existence.
Two of our interactive projects with AMC Networks were nominated for Emmy Awards. Our client projects have been nominated for numerous Webby Awards, with several wins under our belt.
We’ve produced outstanding projects across most major verticals, including collaborations with household brand names in finance, healthcare, media and publishing, academia, retail, food and beverage, and nonprofits … to name a few.
The new WordPress editor Gutenberg hit a major milestone in July, completing its MVP feature goals and moving its focus to bug fixes and compatibility. VIP client Quartz shipped v.5 of their site, an incredible fifth full version in six years and this one faster than ever. We welcomed Slack’s SlackHq.com to the VIP family. And Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg joined Kara Swisher on her Recode Decode podcast to talk about WordPress, the future of the open web, and lots more.
Read on for updates from all over, including an in-depth client spotlight with the founders of Civil, and a talk by Airbnb content lead Hayley Nelson on the content strategy principles behind major brand marketing campaigns. We’ve also added a platform updates section, where you can get a quick summary of all of the changes to our platform in the last month.
Gutenberg News and Notes
The latest tools, demos, and updates around the block-based editor coming to WordPress 5.0.
Gutenberg is officially considered ‘feature complete‘ as of version 3.2 released in early July! Two successive releases this month (July 20 and July 30) included a multitude of improvements, from strengthening the API surface to converting existing content to blocks.
We explored one of the more frequently asked questions about Gutenberg – plugin compatibility – and shared our findings and advice for evaluating your own plugins.
Inpsyde’s David Remer gave a talk on Gutenberg’s state management, introducing the Slot/Fill concept
Every other week, Zac Gordon and Joe Casabona get together and talk about the latest developments in Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.
News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.
Congratulations to the entire Quartz team on their launch of the latest version of QZ.com, which we’re honored to host on VIP. Earlier this month, Elan Kiderman, senior product designer at Quartz, shared his approach to building ambitious editorial projects (Map of the Internet, anyone?).
The open source WordPress Coding Standards (WPCS) project released milestone version 1.0. This project has had 54 contributors in its 9 year span including 5 from VIP.
Kara Swisher interviewed Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg on the Recode Decode podcast, covering current industry issues like data privacy and advertising, the future of the open web, and our approach to distributed work at Automattic.
Facebookannounced that starting in August, third-party tools like Publicize (the tool for WordPress.com and Jetpack-powered sites that connects your site to major social media platforms) will no longer share posts automatically to Facebook profiles. VIP clients can consult this Lobby post for details on navigating the change.
The Wikimedia Foundation announced a global collaboration to increase offline access to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia sites.
Adam Silverstein of 10up published a guest post on Google‘s Open Source Blog reflecting on his experiences as a contributor, and received a Google Open Source Peer Bonus for his work bringing MathML to AMP.
HumanMade helped UNISON tell a story of digital adoption inside a trade union. Libby Barker was interviewed at WordCamp Europe about how a decoupled WordPress admin can make enterprise sites more flexible and engaging.
Efficiency was the name of the game at Reaktiv Studios this month. Nick Croft wrote about jumpstarting projects with WP CLI scaffolding and Chris Ford discussed his recipe mix of project management tools at the Dungeons & Dragons-themed WordCamp Orange County.
Maintenance: Removed TLS v1.0 from our VIP Go platform on July 11 (Lobby post)
Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.
There’s a strong parallel between what Disney has accomplished and what today’s brands are trying to do: Find the intersection of strong stories, customer emotions, and constantly evolving technology. For marketers, that can be a hint—not only at how to approach creative problem solving—but also how to explore new approaches to your hiring and staffing strategies.
Time and again tech reporting gets caught in the hype rather than reality; a super-fast but impractical rail alternative proposed by Elon Musk gets tons of coverage, but it’s difficult to get real rail projects funded … Maybe we should simply scrap the idea of a “tech desk” altogether.
Civilis a new WordPress-based platform using the blockchain to support, distribute and protect journalism, developed by partner Alley and launched recently on VIP. Civil’s first fleet of newsrooms launched earlier this summer and continues to grow. Read more about the project and its underpinnings in this extended spotlight interview. And watch for the CVL token launch, the token that allows a journalist to open a newsroom or a citizen to have a stake in challenges and votes, on September 18.
We’re starting to make packing lists for #ONA18, the Online News Association‘s annual conference, Sept. 13-15 in Austin, Texas. VIP is proud to support ONA as both a sponsor (look for our booth at the Midway!) and as a hosting and support provider for journalists.org and ONA’s other sites. Don’t miss our very own Steph Yiu serving up double the trouble at the event: she’ll be hosting a Table Talk and presenting alongside New York Times’ senior editor Hamilton Boardman in a session called, “OMGWTFBBQ: Breaking News Without Breaking Your Site.”
The next BigWP London meetup, our gathering of developers, product people, and editors who work on enterprise WordPress sites, is set for September 18 and will fill up fast. Reserve your place now. Here’s a YouTube playlist with talks from last December’s BigWP London event.
WordCamp for Publishersis right around the corner, August 8-10 in Chicago. The full tickets have closed, but you can still reserve your spot to attend without the guarantee of swag and evening social event attendance. It’s a fantastic event and we are proud to both sponsor and participate again this year. Hear directly from one of the organizers on what to expect.
Rumor has it Tracy Levesque will grace the stage at WordCamp Philly, which goes down October 27 and 28. Call for speakers closed this week, so keep a close eye as the first presentations get announced. In the meantime, you can enjoy Tracy’s talk, “Diversity Works” from this year’s VIP Workshop.
Major WordCamps are going down this month in Montréal, Moscow, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Omaha, and so many more. Check out the full schedule for your next chance to join the fun.
Hayley Nelson has spent the past two decades of her career bringing digital tools and technology to journalists. Among other accomplishments, she helped shepherd the New York Times into the era of digital media by launching its first blogs, built an award-winning digital team at Wired Magazine, and launched CNET in four Asian markets.
As head of content at Airbnb, Hayley is focused on value-based storytelling that engages consumers across platforms and devices. Her work has been building off their 2018 We Accept Superbowl commercial.
In her talk, “Content Ecosystem Thinking” at the 2018 VIP Workshop, Hayley outlines a path for marketers to leverage the tricks of the publishing trade to put the reader at the center of their digital efforts. The most successful brands, she argues, are tying every piece of content to their company’s core values. Think Everlane’s transparent factories and the commitment from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to hire 10,000 refugees. “Who are we, and what are the values that we want to stand up for? How do we bring our mission to life? … It’s the brand’s job to become a great storyteller.”
Patagonia did a documentary on people whose lives are transformed by the sea. One person profiled is this woman who is a deep-sea spearfisher who catches fish and makes sushi, another is this surfer guy in Tahiti, and it’s just a really compelling documentary — and you hardly notice but they may or may not be wearing Patagonia swimsuits. That’s how subtle it is.
Watch the full video to go behind the scenes on Airbnb’s Not Yet Trending campaign, which ties beautiful videography of destinations on the cusp of trending into two of the brand’s core messages, “it’s a host-led world,” and “the magic of travel,” to drive would-be travelers to book on the platform.
I want you to think of us as that edgy, underground friend that’s telling you where to go because it’s the most interesting place in the world — and maybe you come back six months later when you’re ready to book a trip.
You’ll also learn her ten-step process for organizing a global content strategy, including the non-trite way to capitalize on social media holidays and how introducing agile to marketing processes has transformed the way she approaches campaigns.
If you weren’t able to join us at VIP Workshop this year, you can still catch dozens of the sessions, including speakers from TechCrunch, Google, Cloudinary, the VIP team, our agency partners, and many more on this YouTube playlist.
Our team is excited to see Gutenberg’s full integration into WordPress on the horizon. Our clients, partners, and colleagues are shipping useful, powerful projects with the new content editor everywhere you look. However, if you think back a few months, there was some initial anxiety around how we’d get our arms around a big bag of unknowns.
One of the most challenging of those unknowns was plugin compatibility. Like any group that supports active plugins, we wanted to make sure our code would work with Gutenberg as quickly as possible. And until we dug into it, we didn’t know if that was going to require a little work, a ton of work, or something in between.
Facing this uncertainty, we took a big deep breath…and started testing! We’re in a pretty good place now, and want to help others get there, too. We’re sharing our findings and process here for those who may be at that “I don’t yet know what I don’t know” stage in their Gutenberg transition.
First, we had to decide where and how to focus our efforts. For us, we needed to think about how our plugins are used within VIP/Automattic and how they’re used by the WordPress community at large. We also had to consider all the third-party plugins clients may be using on our platform. And although we can only directly impact the first of those two areas, we decided to cast a wide net and study all three, to see what we could learn and share.
We’ve been advocating for a transitional approach to Gutenberg, so we decided to break this project into manageable stages for ourselves:
Assessment > test plugins to ascertain their level of Gutenberg readiness
Compatibility > make sure stuff doesn’t break with Gutenberg
Optimization > update plugins to make full use of Gutenberg’s features (Gutenberg native)
Next, we had to define “compatible”, and come up with concrete testing steps for our team. Daniel Bachhuber has already done awesome work in this space. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we based our approach on his very well thought-out definitions he developed as part of the community plugin compatibility database project here.
A plugin is compatible with Gutenberg when:
A user can perform the same functional task with Gutenberg active (feature-parity), and;
There are no (obvious) errors when the plugin is active alongside Gutenberg.
A plugin can be marked as ‘Likely Compatible’ based on reasonable assumptions (e.g. a caching plugin probably doesn’t expose editor-specific functionality).
A plugin can be marked as ‘Optimized’ if it is making best use of Gutenberg features (e.g. shortcode has been converted to blocks).
Finally, we had to collate a list of plugins for testing, and enlist volunteers*! We divvied up our own plugins amongst VIP team members and reached out to 3rd party plugin vendors encouraging them to test their work and share their results with us.
*A HUGE thank you to all the plugin authors who responded: Daniel Bachhuber, Michael Bester, Lester Chan, Brad Kofoed, Chris Northwood, Chris Scott, Justin Tadlock, 10up, Alley, Codepress, Delicious Brains, Getty Images and @scribu. Your contributions were extremely helpful for us, and will help the entire community as we all work towards this brave new Guten-world!
Helpful Tips for Plugin Testers
Breaking it down into realistic, manageable stages made this task achievable. We’d definitely recommend this approach to other developers with a similarly large portfolio.
Be on the lookout for plugins which add media buttons in the classic editor. Those buttons are unlikely to be exposed in Gutenberg unless the author has made special provision for it, making this a common culprit for incompatibility.
Plugins that contain metaboxes may be compatible without doing anything. If they are, the compatibility argument should be added in the short term. Long-term, metaboxes should be converted into blocks to be considered optimized.
There are ~167 different plugins running on VIP.
39 of those plugins are maintained by Automattic/VIP, of which:
All 39 have been tested
34 are compatible or likely compatible
5 are not compatible
128 of those plugins are by 3rd party developers, of which:
14 have been tested
10 are compatible or likely compatible
4 are not compatible
If your assessment reveals that you support active plugins that haven’t yet been accounted for, the best place to share what you find is the plugin compatibility database.
We will take a closer look at the 5 Automattic/VIP plugins found not compatible and take appropriate action to remedy. Testers have recommended 3 of them to be deprecated. Others will be updated for Gutenberg compatibility.
Civil is a new platform using the blockchain to support, distribute and protect journalism. Last month, Civil launched its “First Fleet” on WordPress.com VIP. A group of what will ultimately be 13 Newsrooms focused on local, international, investigative and policy journalism that received grants from Civil to be the first to officially publish on its platform, Civil’s First Fleet share a common commitment to the ethical standards enshrined in the Civil Constitution and enforced through Civil’s blockchain technology. Civil itself has an ambitious and worthy mission: to “help power sustainable journalism throughout the world.”
Prior to launch, VIP’s Ryan Sholin caught up with two of Civil’s co-founders: Matt Coolidge, Brand Strategy and Communications lead, and Dan Kinsley, Engineering lead. Both were excited to discuss their work at Civil and what blockchain and crypto-economics can do for journalism.
Can you talk a little bit about the idea behind Civil and what it has been like to build out new models? It seems like you’re doing a lot of trailblazing right now.
Matt Coolidge: It’s interesting when we’re talking about “building new models.” I always think it’s a really helpful baseline to start any conversation like this by really making clear that Civil’s mission is journalism. There’s one very key thing that we don’t need to reinvent and that is what constitutes ethical journalism.
I think that the models that have proliferated in recent years have made it harder to incentivize quality journalism in a sustainable way. We’re introducing a new model that’s based on blockchain and crypto-economics that is incentivizing quality journalism and rewarding individuals for helping to curate a marketplace for high-quality journalism.
You mentioned incentivizing people to contribute and incentivizing people to participate. It seems there’s a whole democratic process built in.
Matt Coolidge: When we talk about incentives, I think there’s the obvious ideological incentive. Certainly, we want people that believe in quality journalism to identify us as a marketplace that shares their values, and certainly, support the independently owned and operated newsrooms that run on Civil.
Going a level beyond that and recognizing that human nature is not always pure or idealistic in its intent, we think that there’s a great opportunity to introduce very real economic incentives that also help this model proliferate. Part of that is, how can we introduce incentive structures that essentially outline an economic gain, which is, spot the unethical newsroom and keep it off the marketplace and if you do so successfully, you can be economically rewarded.
“How can we get people onto a new marketplace that offers what we think is a healthier and more pro-journalism incentive structure?” –Matt Coolidge
What is the day-to-day role of blockchain in the production and consumption of journalism at Civil?
Dan Kinsley: The key part of Civil’s protocol is a crypto-economic system called a Token Curated Registry, a whitelist of approved newsrooms. We have a token called the CVL Token, that is essentially used to provide financial incentives for people to curate this list.
If I’m a newsroom, I could apply to be on this registry. I want to be on this registry because it’s going to be a sign of credibility. When people come to my newsroom, they’ll trust that we’re following the rules of the Civil Constitution.
When you apply, all of the other token holders can then play this game where they say, “Will having them on the list increase the value of the list and increase my holdings?” Then as the value of the list gets better, it increases the demand of other newsrooms to be on that list, so then it becomes this virtuous cycle of, as there’s more demand to be on the list, the list gets higher and higher quality and more people want to play the game of curating the list.
Matt Coolidge: One parallel I’d draw is Airbnb (or you can just as easily plug in Uber, Amazon…pick a platform model). Airbnb we admire in particular for its ability to say, “Hey. You want to travel? There are two ways to travel. You can travel like a tourist and go to Expedia or whatever and stay at a Hilton or you can travel like a local and you can stay with an Airbnb host in a neighborhood of your choice.”
Certainly, Airbnb is not the only platform that is doing what they’re doing, but they’ve been so effective in creating this network effect. I think we have the same opportunity with a platform model with Civil to say, “Hey. Civil is ultimately a protocol and it has this definition of what does and does not constitute ethical journalism that is spelled out in a document known as the Civil Constitution.”
Do you think a statement of core values has been missing from the corporate media world?
Matt Coolidge: I don’t think we’re looking to vilify say, “the corporate media world,” but there is certainly an issue of trust and questioning bias and what is information and what is misinformation and where is this really coming from? When you look at the mass consolidation right now, something like 85% to 90% of mainstream outlets is owned by five corporations here in the US.
That does not engender trust and it questions who is the holding company and what shareholders are they beholden to? [Civil creates] a decentralized network where ownership of this network is represented by owning these Civil tokens. Come here and launch a platform knowing that you’re beholden to your readers alone.
How will you know what success looks like? What is going to make Civil sustainable in the long run?
Dan Kinsley: A sign of success is having diverse opinions: having conservative newsrooms, liberal newsrooms, newsrooms in Asia, newsrooms in South America. Having everybody with a voice being empowered to tell their stories. Providing tools for these publications to establish credibility and trust with their constituents.
Matt Coolidge: Attracting additional readers and compelling them to support Newsrooms is the most important metric. We’re committed to always placing the reader <> journalist relationship at the center of Civil, and never standing between the two. Along those lines, we’ll never take a direct cut ourselves from a subscription fee that a reader pays a Newsroom. We don’t want to have a stake in that process and risk compromising that relationship by ever seeking to influence the behavior of one party or another.
Developers will also play a significant role in Civil’s growth. With this crypto-economic structure, there is a very novel and interesting opportunity for open source developers to come in and to really be fairly compensated for their work in a way that doesn’t necessarily thrive outside of these crypto-economic structures. This is hopefully going to be a compelling draw for some really talented developers to come and help build the apps, the tools, the services that we think readers will very quickly demand and that will definitely outpace our own capacity to do so.
“We want to find the best of breed providers in each part of this value chain, give them a big hug, and say, ‘Hey. Do you guys want to start a newsroom?'” – Dan Kinsley
How did you approach the selection process for Civil’s First Fleet?
Matt Coolidge: We wanted to focus on areas that we saw as hardest hit by 20 plus years of mass media consolidation. We decided to focus broadly on local, international, policy, and investigative journalism because we think that there’s a huge demand right now that far exceeds the supply of quality journalism serving those markets. Each of the 13 newsrooms we have right now are a nod to those four beats.
Now, certainly the Civil marketplace is not going to be confined to those, but those are areas that readers are very passionate about and already very inclined to support. Introducing this subscription economy predicated on reader support, I think is going to help newsrooms get to sustainability very quickly, especially when they’re run by folks like Nushin Rashidian from the Tow Center or Seamus Toomey who used to be the managing editor at DNAInfo who really understand not only the editorial but the publishing side and can really help set important precedents around best practices.
What about WordPress made it such a good fit for the First Fleet newsrooms to get started?
Dan Kinsley: Everything we do, we want to do open source. Like I said, we’re a protocol and we found WordPress just aligns very tightly with our values. It’s a great solution because it just works, right? We actually started to go down a path of building our own CMS and we upended it and we said, “Well – why – when we can have way more reach with WordPress?” They have an extensive plugin system so we can build plugins there. Once we went down that path, it seemed like a no-brainer.
Is the plan to open source everything?
Dan Kinsley: The core protocol, and everything you need to build anything that we would ever build, will be open source. Some people call that model “Open Core.” In the future, we envision building what you could call a Civil version of the Twitter Firehose, so there’s all this activity that happens on the blockchain. You have all these little islands. Each newsroom is publishing to the blockchain and there is all this activity.
Then we’ll have a service that listens to all that and then builds an API. You could then subscribe to that Firehose and build either your own client or your own curation service. Maybe it’s built for screen readers or it’s focused on certain industries or whatever. Stuff we haven’t even imagined yet. I imagine you could build your own Firehose, but we’ll probably have a proprietary version that we’ll have. Other than that, everything will be open source.
“To “experience Civil” can be as simple as coming and reading and supporting an outlet in any payment method that you choose.” –Matt Coolidge
What qualities are you looking for as Civil builds partnerships, and how did you land on VIP as part of that process?
Dan Kinsley: What I liked about WordPress.com VIP is they get our model and the value we want to bring to the industry. We want to empower newsrooms. We want to lower the barrier to entry. I think that’s actually in your mission statement. Like, democratize publishing. That’s what we want to do, right? We want to find the best of breed providers in each part of this value chain, give them a big hug, and say, “Hey. Do you guys want to start a newsroom? Go talk to WordPress.com VIP if you need hosting. Go talk to our friends over here at Pico if you need payment. Go talk to our friends at Alley if you need site development.” Again, just really lower the barrier to entry.
Matt Coolidge: We want to upend a system where you have this duopoly between Facebook and Google where they’re controlling something like 70% of digital ad revenue. It’s choking publishers off. It’s not giving them many options.
How can we get people off and onto a new marketplace that offers what we think is a healthier and more pro-journalism incentive structure? I think part of the way we do that is to breed familiarity and to really reward and promote beloved tools and approaches that journalists and publishers are already using to great success.
As the First Fleet launches, what should people know? What’s the next step for them after they read a story?
Matt Coolidge: One of the most important things that we can’t stress enough about Civil right now is that we have this novel economic game-based approach that is running on this token economy.
The vast majority of people at least initially that are coming to Civil to read and support journalism are probably not going to touch that system. They are more than welcome to, and we want to be very transparent and encourage as many people as possible to do so, but at the end of the day, Civil is a publishing platform on which this great new crop of journalistic outlets are going to launch and to “experience Civil” can be as simple as coming and reading and supporting an outlet in any payment method that you choose.
If you do want to go below what we call the ‘water line‘ and play this economic game and help to really promote a high-quality marketplace for journalism, you can absolutely do so.
Dan Kinsley: This First Fleet is just that. The first ones; they’re the vanguard. There’s such a pent-up demand for independent publications. I would encourage people to don’t think that they can’t. If they have an idea, then there’s probably something there. We can provide the tools and don’t sell yourself short. I know that sounds corny, but there are lots of publications that I think could be created on this model.
Check out Civil’s First Fleet:
Documented NY covers New York City’s immigrants and the policies that shape their lives
Sludge focuses on the nontraditional, often shadowy ways that special interest groups advance agendas
ZigZag is a podcast about capitalism, journalism, and changing the course of women’s lives
Note: The following post was originally written and published for an internal audience here at WordPress.com VIP.
Since Annapolis is my home, I wanted to share some thoughts on the tragedy in my community that occurred on June 28, 2018, since it has a ripple effect on our industry. On that day last week, I was at SRCCON 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota – an interactive gathering of journalists, editors, technology professionals and media publishers of all stripes in the news industry. Just a few hours before the attack, I was engaged in friendly conversation with an engineer from the Baltimore Sun about local Maryland publications and shared my appreciation for the valuable information his team published for the recent Maryland primary elections. My wife texted me that she was at a store near the area when heavy police activity began but was safely on her way out. Later, we would learn that a journalist who wrote occasionally for the regional magazine my wife worked at was among those killed. The Baltimore Sun engineer who I had just met also found out that someone he knew was killed.
The attack on my local paper was a direct assault on media publishers and their freedom to publish. The Capital Gazette and its parent organizations, The Baltimore Sun and tronc, have the same mission as many of the people we support every day at VIP. A free press is a cornerstone of American democracy as well as for free countries around the world. The free press in my community was maliciously targeted by someone who did not agree. This fact was not lost on the organizers and participants at SRCCON who shared information about the tragedy and donation information to benefit The Capital Gazette. This gunman may have held a personal grievance but given the current divisive and threatening rhetoric recklessly issued from the highest levels of American government and echoed in some media outlets, it is not difficult to imagine any other media publisher counted among those branded as the “enemy,” especially when the truth happens to be inconvenient.
Stories like this one are an unfortunate reality in America today. My belief that one day, peaceful citizens in a peaceful country should be able to do their job in a public space without fear of it being converted to a war zone is strong. My belief that a free press in a free country should publish without fear of retribution is uncompromising.
If there is some hope that can be drawn from this tragedy, it would be that The Capital Gazette courageously continued publishing within hours of the attack and published the news on schedule the following day. Let that be an inspiration for us all to keep publishing. Let that inspire us all to help our clients and other publishers around the world to do the same.
“We’re here to report the news. Whatever the news is… I guess there might be bad people but I don’t care about them. The world is full of good people.”
There are lots of summer launches across the VIP family to celebrate, including Rolling Stone, Civil‘s First Fleet, and top Venezuelan news site La Patilla. A bigger, better, and bolder WordCamp Europe brought news of the next steps and roadmap for the Gutenberg project. And we released the first building block in our focus on empowering developers on VIP, the VIP CLI.
Read on for June highlights from across the enterprise WordPress community, including a look ahead at must-attend summer and fall events including ONA and WordCamp for Publishers.
Gutenberg News and Notes The latest tools, demos, and updates around the block-based editor coming to WordPress 5.0.
As of June 21st, the Gutenberg plugin is at version 3.1, and includes a tips system for new users, improvements to the block sibling inserter, and much more as detailed in Matias’ latest What’s New post.
The public version of our Gutenberg Ramp plugin is now available (Lobby post for VIP clients). We created this version for anyone in the community with sites hosted elsewhere who want to take advantage of the same functionality we created for our users on the VIP platform (Lobby post about using Ramp on VIP Go). The plugin allows users to turn Gutenberg on for certain post IDs, page IDs or content text, making it easier to test and activate Gutenberg at your own pace, instead of flipping the switch site-wide in one go. We have lots of additional resources as well, including how-to videos and TestGutenberg.com where you can experiment with the latest version.
10up published the results of a Gutenberg usability test, including heatmaps and verbatims from participants.
News and Releases Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.
Earlier this month we released VIP CLI, a new and direct way for developers to interact with their applications hosted on the VIP Go platform. (Lobby post, announcement post)
The new automated build and deploy workflow for VIP Go means you no longer have to manually build, commit, and push your code (Lobby post).
We profiled agency partner Big Bite Creative in our latest Six Questions With…. Read all about their origin story, their values, and the impressive work they’re doing in enterprise application development using Gutenberg and React Native.
SketchPress is 10up’s new library of WordPress admin interfaces, symbols, and icons aimed at saving designer’s time when wireframing. 10up also created Simple Podcasting, an intuitive and lightweight plugin that includes beta support for Gutenberg. Check out what went down at their annual summit in this video.
Alley joined the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual meeting to present their work with Freer|Sackler including TMS Connect, which allows museums to synchronize their collections and objects into WordPress, and an Alexa Skill that works with their VoiceWP plugin.
Big Bite Creative redeveloped PMC’s recent acquisition Sourcing Journal, integrating Vamp footwear and Rivet denim as well.
Siobhan McKeown of Human Made spoke on the Yonder podcast about hiring remote workers.
Inpsyde implemented an encryption feature in their plugin BackWPup Pro to make backups GDPR Compliant.
Reaktiv Studios wrote a prediction for the future of Gutenberg (tl;dr the ‘Gutenlook’ takes over the world).
#NABJ18, hosted by the National Association of Black Journalists, goes down Aug. 1-5 in Detroit. This year’s theme is “Driving Journalism, Technology & Trust.” Drawing over 3,000 journalists, media executives, PR professionals, and students, this annual convention is part conference, part job fair and features special events with Tyler Perry, KEM, Tamar Braxton, and more.
Tickets are still available for the second annual WordCamp for Publishers, Aug. 8-10 in Chicago. This is a community-run event with organizers volunteering from Alley, Mother Jones, PMC, Dow Jones, iOne Digital, Hand Built, and here at VIP. The sessions listing is now available on the site and there are topics of interest to engineering, product, and editorial teams, with speakers from national media organizations, niche publications, and agencies. Last year’s event produced incredibly useful talks and materials, and this year’s is sure to offer the same.
Big Bite was born in 2011 and we decided from day one that we were going to build the agency we wanted to be in the future: no shortcuts, lay the groundwork before we needed it, experiment and embrace what’s new. All three of us — Iain, Jason, and Mark — were working our first jobs in the industry. We were eager, a little naive, learning hard lessons fast, and quickly realizing that there was an opportunity to do things differently.
We wanted Big Bite to be a place where talent and ideas mattered more than background or fancy job titles and in 2012 we got the chance to really put that concept into practice. Our work with Elizabeth Weil, the Corporate Design & Development lead at Twitter, generated the interest of our first international clients like Netazine and a large project for Clicksco allowed us to start hiring new talent. Those new people, from experienced devs and designers to self-taught interns who are now permanent members of the team, kept pushing us onto bigger and better things. Soon a number of our clients were being acquired by Dropbox and we started peaking the interest of some of the biggest names in digital publishing.
As a WordPress.com VIP partner we’re regularly building innovative apps and doing high-traffic site migrations for the likes of DMG Media and Penske Media Corporation. We’ve won awards for our work and business, taken more prolific clients, and are pushing the future of WordPress with things like Gutenberg, but we’re still very much plugged into our local community. We’ve grown in size and grown up, but we’ve managed to keep what makes us unique intact and we’re very proud of that.
Pick three words that describe your agency culture.
Curiosity – Many of us started on this road by taking apart computers to see what made them work or by teaching ourselves to code. We decided early on to embrace curiosity and create space within the company for people to experiment, whether that was a fun project for the office, an open-source product for the web, or coming to grips with whatever promised to be the next big thing in our industry. It keeps things interesting, encourages creative thinking, and we can offer our clients work that’s built for the future rather than just being ‘on trend’.
Community – The web’s ability to transcend borders is amazing and is the reason a company like ours can have a global reputation without being based in London or San Francisco. But it’s also an ocean where it’s easy to find yourself adrift. We’ve always thought of community as our anchor and that’s only become more important as we’ve grown. We started by attending local industry events, then helped organize a few, and now we sponsor a new wave of them. Our team still collaborate on open source projects within the WordPress community and we’re as happy hosting barbecues for the our local creatives as we are to hop on a flight and share notes with our peers at events like WordCamp US.
Agility – Big Bite was never typical. We stayed local when the consensus was that you had to move to a big tech hub. We focussed on developing a small team with a depth of talent rather than mass hiring. We decided to grow slowly and keep control of our own agency in order to adapt to the changing industry. It allows us to think about the future and build for it in a way that a lot of bigger agencies struggle with, but it’s also helped define who we are, as well as the kind of forward-thinking businesses that work with us.
Tell us about a client project you are especially proud of.
We excited to be soon launching an internal news and comms app for one of the largest global financial institutions and their 200,000+ employees around the world. That’s a point of pride for us of course, but most interesting is how we did it.
We built it using the soon-to-arrive Gutenberg. Not only was getting the opportunity to work in an interesting new way a thrill, it allowed us to push what’s possible for a project on that scale and that level of complexity. We regularly deal with extremely high-traffic sites and apps, but this project required developing two apps for Android and iOS in React Native and also exploring building the product as a progressive web app (PWA). PWAs are still relatively new, only being supported by iOS 11.3 onward for example, but are sure to become a more and more important aspect of web development for global organizations in the coming years.
What are you most excited about in the WordPress community right now?
Honestly, just how much it’s grown and evolved. In some ways our story has mirrored WordPress’ in that way. Most of us have been a part of the WordPress community from back before we had our first jobs, before starting Big Bite. The fact that WordPress is increasingly the go-to solution for enterprise on the web is exciting, and a confirmation of our long-held belief in it as a platform. We’ve achieved a lot of firsts with WordPress, but we’re just as excited about what comes next. Our team is already building great things with Gutenberg, for example, and we’re excited to see what happens when the whole world realizes its potential.
What’s your favorite conference or event of the year, and why?
We’ve been attending the various WordCamp events around the world for years now and they never fail to be a fantastic opportunity to share notes, as well as a few drinks, with our peers and colleagues. That sense of community is often an inspiration, but this year’s WordPress.com VIP Workshop in Napa Valley was particularly poignant. Jason and Mark both turned 30 while we were out there. We celebrated with vineyard visits and hot air ballooning, but it was also powerful moment of reflection, looking out across these amazing views while taking stock of everything we’ve achieved both personally and with Big Bite.
Yet some of our favourite events of the year are the least dramatic. Our infamous Big Bite barbecues are informal affairs where friends, colleagues, and everyone from the local creative industries gather, rain or shine, to eat, drink, and relax. It’s rejuvenating and being able to offer that sort of thing for the people in our local community is a point of pride for us, plus it keeps our feet planted firmly on the ground.
(And the sixth: Ask yourself a question and answer it) What will change the way you work most in the near future?
Right now that’s Gutenberg, no question.
We feel like we’ve already begun proving its potential with our recent work, but we know there’s so much more that can be done with it. Our clients are already realizing that embracing something new, especially with all of Gutenberg’s benefits, ensures they’re ready for the future instead of playing catch up. The ability for us to provide clients with blocks means that we can offer them more control over their content. It offers a flexibility that stops changing parameters or requirements derailing projects. It also means that clients don’t have to come back to us for every little change, saving them time and money, while we get to work on the next big thing.
Thank you, Big Bite Creative!
More on Big Bite:
Agency focus and specialties
Native Mobile Apps – React Native
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) – React
API/CLI driven WordPress Migrations
Migrations to the new Gutenberg Editor
Currently working with: Penske Media Company, NewsCorp, DMG Media, Metro UK
Currently launching a news and comms app for one of the largest financial institutions in the world
Won ‘Best Lifestyle, Sports, & Entertainment App’ at the 2017 European Digital Media Awards for soccer news app 11vs11
Implementing ISO 27001 and ISO 9001 information security standards
Supporting local community events and industry meetups
We are excited to announce our latest technical integration, LaterPay! LaterPay offers publishers a frictionless deferred payment approach to monetization that saves users time and increases conversions.
Instead of requiring upfront registration and payment – which derails over 98 percent of all intended purchases – LaterPay defers this process until customer purchases across websites reach a $5 threshold. With this approach, publishers can simultaneously expand existing subscription models, increase their paying customer base, and improve their user experience.
Publishers that integrate LaterPay on their VIP-hosted site can choose from a number of monetization solutions that best suit their needs. For instance, publishers can prompt users to purchase a specific article, timed access to content, or a full subscription. Single purchases and time passes complement the full subscription model by pulling new potential subscribers into the publisher’s ecosystem while generating incremental revenues.
At this year’s VIP Workshop in May, LaterPay CRO Hal Bailey shared his view of the current online monetization landscape in a joint session with TechCrunch’s Head of Product Nicole Wilke. Flip through the slides from their Rethinking Revenue presentation.
If you’re interested in using LaterPay, reach out to the VIP team, or fill out the form on the partner page. Installation details for current VIP clients are available in the Lobby post.
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No matter where you are in the planning process, we’re happy to help, and we’re actual humans here on the other side of the form. 👋 We’re here to discuss your challenges and plans, evaluate your existing resources or a potential partner, or even make some initial recommendations. And, of course, we’re here to help any time you’re in the market for some robust WordPress awesomeness.