XWP has been a WordPress.com VIP Partner since 2013 and have been building big with WordPress since 2009. Their earliest at-scale WordPress gig was a 50 brand migration with Rogers Media, followed by 9 more years of leading the industry.
Some companies are born in a moment, and others emerge over time. XWP is one of the latter. Part of the X Company family, we started as the WordPress team within X-Team, one of our sister companies. 2014 was when we officially spun into our own company with our first major project being the high-stakes migration of 15 News Corp Australia properties to WordPress. This project set the standard for the type of work we would pursue and excel at over the next 4 years: complex, business-centric engineering for high-traffic websites. The News Corp Australia project also established something fundamental to who we are now as a group of people: a team committed to contributing to the Open Web and the Open Source Community. Translating the work we do with clients back in to WordPress was something kicked off with News Corp Australia, and has been something we have brought to every project and client relationship since.
Today, we continue to adhere to the characteristics of our earliest projects. We take on projects that are complex, interesting, and reciprocally valuable to the WordPress ecosystem. Our remote team has grown from the original 8 to 45 and now covers 14 different countries across 6 continents.
Pick three words that describe your agency culture.
People (are of the Highest Value): We treat them with care, respect, and generosity, always.
Visionary: We believe in the Open Web and its undeniable value to humanity. We work to ensure it has the strongest possible future and look for opportunities to break new ground on open source projects.
Best Practices: We champion development best practices in the community and bring this commitment to our clients and projects.
Tell us about a client project you are especially proud of.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to work on some very cool projects with some very cool companies. One recent project that stands out was a front-end performance engagement we did with Heavy.com. Our engineers were given the ultimate brief: “Make it blazing fast!”. The team seriously went to the next level in diagnosing, building, and testing and have achieved results on low-speed devices/connections that the majority in the industry didn’t think was even possible. It was very fun to see this project unfold and very rewarding to hear of the impact it’s made on the client’s business.
Our partnership with Google is also worth mentioning. We’ve worked with them on a couple of projects, including the Coding Standards project Tide. More recently we’ve worked with them on AMP and its intersection with WordPress. Not only are we bringing the latest of AMP to the WordPress plugin, but we’ve been able to technically contribute directly to the AMP Project, engage and educate the WordPress community on AMP, and even present on the work at this years AMPConf.
What are you most excited about in the WordPress community right now?
We shared this question with the whole team. 🙂 Their responses can be best summarised under: Gutenberg, Tide (Coding Standards), and the impact of Design.
Gutenberg: I dare anyone to suggest Gutenberg is not the biggest deal in WordPress this year. Its impact seeps through every layer of WordPress. It will change the editing experience for all, small blogs to big media. It will change how developers, of themes and plugins, architect their work. It will changetransform the entire site building experience for WordPress users in years to come. It’s bold, ambitious, and convinces us that WordPress has an important role to play in the Open Web for next 15 years of its life.
Tide (Coding Standards): Coding best practices have alway been a core part of who we are. We’re excited that code quality, and general coding standards, is receiving even more attention by the community. Our contribution through this with Tide reflects the importance we place on this and our commitment to helping the community in this area.
Impact of Design: Over the last year we have deepened our appreciation for UX and design-led projects. The understanding of the user experience and allowing it to influence product development is something we believe is really going to unlock the potential of WordPress even further. It’s been inspiring to see these kind of practices in those working on WordPress Core.
We’ve been seeing amazing work from the team tackling Gutenberg, design support for major Core focused initiatives, and organizational changes for how design and development can work together. – Joshua Wold
What’s your favorite conference or event of the year, and why?
This is a great question and the responses from the team have been interesting. The big theme though is something along the lines of “whatever event is next”. This sounds a lot like a cop-out answer, but the reason is we are a remote company and there are only a couple of cases where 2 or more people live and work in the same city. Events for us represent opportunities to get together and get some face time with friends. Connecting with the open source community IRL is fantastic as well, but time together with colleagues is something we enjoy finding excuses for.
With that said, we are big fans of LoopConf, with its deep dive focus on engineering, and WordCamp for Publishers, launched just last year, with its focus on an industry we work closely with.
(And the sixth: Ask yourself a question and answer it) What does “building a better web” practically look like?
Our company call-to-arms is “Let’s build a better web”. It’s unpacked further in the statement “We work for a future where the open web is more performant, secure, reliable, and accessible.”
The application of this could be as simple as that when we work for our clients, we adhere to best practices and ensure we build the best possible version of what can be built. We do do this, but “building a better web” is even more than that. Just as we go deep on the work we do for clients and partners, we look for opportunities to go wide and influence the standard of the whole internet. If we can improve that standard by even a small percentage, how many lives and businesses will be positively impacted. Two current examples of this kind of work are Tide and our work on the AMP project. Tide will help improve the quality of code across the entire WordPress ecosystem (that’s 30% of the web) and AMP represents a widely used standards based technology.
Building a better web means adhering to best practices ourselves and lowering the barrier of entry to best practices for everyone else.
Thank you, XWP Team!
More on XWP:
Agency focus and specialties
Experience with largest enterprise-level platform migrations to WordPress
Collaborative and caring approach
Custom workflow development
Currently working with: NewsCorp Australia, Heavy, Rogers, Fairfax Media, Google, Beachbody, Rolling Stone, Automattic, Variety
WordPress Core Lead Developers and Project Leads
Specialists in complex, at-scale, never-been-done-before WordPress engineering
Lead advocates on the WordPress Coding Standards Project
In our last Gutenberg update, we shared our high level recommendations to help enterprise WordPress users fully embrace the block while planning for WordPress 5.0 and the new Gutenberg editor. That included an initial set of Gutenberg educational videos we’ve developed exclusively for VIP clients and their teams.
Today we’re releasing a second set of videos that are available for anyone to use. These are aimed at helping you convert current customizations including things like ACF codes and shortcodes, and build block templates to get your sites running Gutenberg well before WordPress 5.0 ships.
These videos are the culmination of weeks of research with our clients. VIP went to some of the biggest enterprise users of WordPress and asked “What are your questions about Gutenberg? What do you loath to explore about the new editor?” Their answers drove a curriculum exploring how to convert custom content to Gutenberg and access control with user permissions.
As we mentioned in our previous update, we’re also developing a plugin to help make it easy to test and implement Gutenberg at the Page and Post level. We’ll have updates on that soon.
In the meantime, if you’re a VIP client and you have questions about rolling Gutenberg out on your sites, get in touch with our Support team.
If you’re not currently on VIP and are feeling less than ready to embrace block-based life, drop us a note.
We’re excited to announce Yoast as a VIP technical partner! Over the last year we’ve been working with the Yoast Premium plugin on our VIP Go platform with a number of our clients with great success, and we are proud to add them to our VIP technical integration program.
Yoast is a household name for anyone in the professional and enterprise WordPress community. As one of the most popular plugins perennially in the WordPress.org marketplace, their SEO tools help over 8 million websites to optimize their pages for search engines. With their easy-to-use guidance, you can easily write and maintain optimized pages for the keywords you want to rank for.
Yoast guides you with focused recommendations for both SEO and human readability, and provides easy-to-update interfaces to test and refine over time. These analyses and recommendations are evaluated and adjusted on a frequent basis, to match the latest developments in SEO.
The Premium version, recommended for enterprise WordPress teams, offers a ton of helpful features including the following:
Optimize every page for up to 5 keywords
Internal linking suggestions for better cross-linking
Redirect manager: your visitors don’t get stuck on a 404 Not Found page
Preview of your page in social media
Content insights: are the keywords you’d like to rank for in line with what you’re actually writing about.
“VIP is an excellent platform for enterprise WordPress applications. It only made sense to formalize our connection. We’re excited to work with VIP and continue to fulfill our mission of SEO for everyone,” said Joost de Valk, CEO and Founder of Yoast.
“At VIP we’re relentless about providing our customers great flexibility in addition to performance, speed, and security. As a part of our vision to make it easy to take advantage of the very best that enterprise WordPress has to offer, we seek to identify the tools and technologies clients rely on most, and forge a deeper tie with them and their development teams. As Yoast is a trusted component of many of our clients’ ongoing SEO testing and optimization cycles, we’re excited to welcome them officially as a VIP technical integration,” said Nick Gernert, CEO of WordPress.com VIP.
If you aren’t yet a part of the wave of activity around Gutenberg development, experimentation, and planning across the WordPress community, now is a great time to join in. We have a slew of March updates and tools to share on that front in this roundup, along with news from across the community, and a run-down of Spring and early Summer events including our own VIP Workshop!
Read on for all this, plus a spotlight on TechCrunch‘s redesign, rebuild, and relaunch on VIP.
Gutenberg News and Notes The latest tools, demos, and updates around the block-based editor coming to WordPress 5.0
Have teammates who haven’t yet played around with the Gutenberg editor? No problem! They can use our TestGutenberg.com site to try out the latest version on a standard WordPress site.
For VIP clients, we’ve partnered with well-known WordPress educators Zac Gordon and Joe Casabona to develop our own videos on the Gutenberg project. Get all the details on how to access these videos on the related Lobby post.
We are committed to helping all of our clients integrate the new editor into their workflow smoothly. We’re working on a tool that will help you incorporate Gutenberg in to your production environments by Page and Post. The Gutenberg Ramp plugin will allow you to make granular choices about where Gutenberg appears so that you can get teams working with it sooner on live sites, test all of your customizations, and get everything squared away ahead of WordPress 5.0 deployment. Once we have this tested and in place on our platform, we’ll release a public version as well that anyone can use. More on that soon!
News and Releases Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.
Our new, streamlined Data Sync process for VIP Go allows you to easily and quickly replicate all of your production data to non-production environments. A self-service option is on the way soon!
We have an amazing group of speakers lined for VIP Workshop May 14-17th in Napa, California. Ticket sales end next Friday – more details below in Upcoming Events.
AMP version 0.6.2 rolled out across WordPress.com, including VIP sites hosted there (Lobby post).
Ads.txt manager, developed and maintained by featured partner 10up, is now available on VIP Go. This helpful tool allows you to manage and validate the contents of your ads.txt file through your admin interface (Lobby post).
The PHP 7.2 upgrade has rolled out to all WordPress.com servers (Lobby post). It’s scheduled to deploy this week (#) on VIP Go.
Technical integration Ooyala version 3.0 is now available (Lobby post).
Trew Knowledge shared a look back at the work they did in collaboration with us at VIP in optimizing Olympic.ca and Olympique.ca for the heavy traffic expectations of the 2018 Games. The site’s visitors enjoyed gold medal performance throughout, despite it’s “exceeding projections by more than 200% and doubling what was generated in Rio 2016 with more than 17 million page views.”
Alley Interactivelaunched the 2018 State Science and Engineering Indicators data visualization project for the National Science Foundation.
rtCampcelebrated the company’s 9th anniversary at their annual team gathering in Goa.
Weston Ruter, CTO of XWP, and Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate with the Web Content Ecosystems team at Google, were featured in an episode of WPWeekly this month on the AMP Project.
Media and Marketing Notes Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.
“One of the biggest challenges facing newsroom innovators is transferring one-off prototypes to product teams. This can be exacerbated when there are simply too many new experiments for any one team to take ownership of.”
-Allie Schultes, Social media and outreach producer at BBC Labs, in notes from the team’s first Media Innovation Unconference.
“We spent a lot of time literally watching them use it on their phone. When does their face light up because they love it, or their eyebrows scrunch up because they’re stuck?”
-Arizona Daily Star product manager Becky Pallack as quoted by Meg Heckman in the Columbia Journalism Review, on the research they did in developing and evolving chatbots.
Client Spotlight: TechCrunch
Big congratulations are in order for Nicole Wilke and the entire TechCrunch team, along with Human Made, for launching a brand new TechCrunch on VIP in March. It was a complete rebuild from the ground up, including design, user experience, and architecture. Nicole’s introductory post traces the project from first principles all the way through to launch, and explores the rationale behind the TechCrunch team’s choice of a decoupled setup.
BigWP NYC is coming up on Wednesday, April 11th! If you’ll be in the area and want to attend, RSVP soon via the meetup group to hear talks by Paul Schreiber from FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Fleming from Dow Jones, Tom Harrigan from Alley Interactive, and Kevin Langley from Human Made. It will take place at USA Today’s new offices in Midtown. Doors will open at 6:30pm. Space is extremely limited.
SRCCON 2018will be June 28-29 in Minneapolis and the call for participation of all kinds is open! It’s the fifth anniversary for the event that gathers over 300 journalism-technologists, newsroom leaders, and others working to change journalism for the better. VIP typically sends as many folks as we can to this event and it comes highly recommended.
VIP Happiness Engineer Shannon Smith will be giving a talk on code review April 11 at Web a Québec, the largest French-speaking digital event in North America.
rtCamp is sponsoring FOSSMeet at College of Engineering Pune (COEP), one of oldest and top engineering institutes in India, April 7-8. Rahul Bansal, rtCamp’s CEO, will be speaking there about the WordPress ecosystem.
WordPress 5.0 will bring the biggest and most exciting change to the WordPress editor experience, ever, and we want you to be ready. Much of this post will be useful for anyone running enterprise WordPress applications, anywhere, but it also mentions some things we’re doing specifically on the VIP platform or for our customers. Wherever possible we’re taking the tools we’ve developed for our own systems, and making them available for the community to take advantage of as well.
Try out the Gutenberg editor as a front-end experience. At our TestGutenberg.com site, you can easily try out the latest version of the Gutenberg editor on a standard WordPress site to get a feel for what it’s like to compose and edit with blocks. If you don’t already have a test environment with Gutenberg set up, this is an easy way to introduce your whole team and everyone who touches the WordPress admin to the new interface. This site is free and available for anyone to use.
Prepare your teams.There are a wealth of learning materials across the community thanks to the work of countless creators, including both free resources and videos and courses offered for a fee. Our documentation page points to a number of community resources and write-ups, and Gutenberg.news tracks just about everything that comes out across the community.
For VIP clients, we’ve partnered with well-known WordPress educators Zac Gordon and Joe Casabona to develop our own videos on the Gutenberg project. VIP clients can get all the details on how to access these videos on the related Lobby post.
Test your customizations. No matter where your projects are hosted, you’ll want to start testing and planning now. We recommend developers to set up a local testing environment in which you can test all customizations and integrations to see how they work with Gutenberg prior to exposing it to users. To assist with that effort, we are working on compiling Gutenberg readiness information from partners and will share it when available. There is also a recently released Gutenberg compatibility library that may be helpful: https://github.com/danielbachhuber/gutenberg-plugin-compatibility#gutenberg-plugin-compatibility
Plan for a smooth transition. Based on testing and conversations with your teams, determine how and when you want to implement the new interface in your workflows. As mentioned previously, installing the Classic Editor Plugin will allow you to maintain the legacy editing experience after you install WordPress 5.0.
For VIP clients, we’re developing a tool that will give our clients fine control over how Gutenberg surfaces at the Post and Page type level, both before and after 5.0 is deployed. This will give teams the ability to test more granularly ahead of time and phase the new editor in as needed based on team needs. It will also allow them to easily set a state that will persist after 5.0 launches, and we will have it set it to keep the legacy editor on by default.
We are working on a public version of this plugin as well and will aim to release it shortly after we have it squared away for use on our own systems. More on this soon!
With ticket sales ending on April 13th, you’ll want to register soon for VIP Workshop, our annual enterprise WordPress gathering taking place May 14-17th. This marks the seventh year for a very special event that gets the whole extended VIP family together, including clients, partners, and community.
The speaker lineup is nearly complete, and it is shaping up to be a phenomenal three days in Napa, California. Topics run the gamut from big picture thoughts on organizational change, fostering diversity, and the future of digital, to the latest advanced topics with the Gutenberg project, to retrospectives, case studies, and best practices.
And kicking us off will be WordPress.com President and veteran of The New York Times and National Public Radio Kinsey Wilson, and celebrated technology author and lecturer Howard Rheingold.
The schedule is split in to business and developer tracks, and includes ample opportunities for informal networking and conversations among the whole group. Session formats include joint-track full conference discussions, individual track case studies and featured topics, and flash talks. Get the full details on speakers, formats, and topics, and all of the logistics on the Workshop site.
We keep the attendance deliberately small to make sure there are lots of opportunities for chance conversations and informal breakout discussions. Get your tickets soon!
Founded in 2010, Human Made has been a VIP Featured Partner since 2013. We asked Commercial Director, Ant Miller, and Communications Manager, Ana Silva, six questions to help you get to know who they are as an agency.
What’s your agency’s origin story?
Human Made was founded in 2010 by Tom Willmot and Joe Hoyle, who had previously worked as freelancer web developers building WordPress projects for small clients.
Eventually, Tom was hired by a large US based organization who had purchased a number of sites and wanted to build niche WordPress powered social networks. Joe soon joined him and here they gained experience working with clients and building sites that eventually grew in scale.
When they left the company with an impressive portfolio, they continued freelancing but with increasing workloads and more clients, they soon realized they could combine their skills and take on different aspects of the business. Tom took on the business operations as CEO, and Joe took over the engineering department as our CTO.
Our first few hires were local, and the opportunity to hire remotely arrived with Daniel Bachhuber and Paul de Wouters. Daniel had previous remote experience and bought many of these processes to the company, some of which are still being practiced today. Within a few months of the remote hires, the company pivoted to being entirely distributed. Although some people still did (and still do!) work in our first home, the Matlock office.
Fast forward to 2014, and Noel Tock completed the trio as a partner and CPO with a new Product team, managing projects such as Happytables, Nomadbase and BackUpWordPress.
Today, we’re a team of 60+ people based in five continents working with clients across the globe, and one of the leading providers of large-scale enterprise publishing platforms.
Pick three words that describe your agency culture.
Sustainable, supportive, open.
Our culture is guided by our commitment to being open and inclusive, with each other, our clients, and the wider community. It’s also something we have to maintain remotely, and as we’ve grown, we’ve had to find new ways to adapt and ensure our culture survives and thrives. Keeping that growth sustainable, demonstrating support for each other, and adopting openness in our collaboration and communication, are fundamental to who we are.
Tell us about a client project you are especially proud of.
We’re extremely lucky to have worked on some really exciting projects in the last seven years, and there’s certainly some we won’t ever forget. Back when we started, we built the digitaltrends.com website and in those days, it was one of the largest websites being built with WordPress. It was an exciting time for the community, and we’re delighted to see that even with astronomical growth, the website remains on WordPress.
In more recent times, we’ve had the privilege of working with big media publishers, such as Fairfax Media and Capgemini; the latter, a project we completed alongside WordPress.com VIP, and which involved a complex replatforming effort from Drupal to WordPress. It required a huge collaborative effort between several agencies, and ushered in a new and more effective culture of digital creation for the Marketing and Communications team at Capgemini.
What are you most excited about in the WordPress community right now?
The Enterprise Growth Council, and its focus on WordPress agencies working together in the commercial space to a common end goal, is a really exciting opportunity for all of us. We’re passionate about WordPress’ capacity and potential, and really want to get behind a bigger push to market and deliver WordPress as an enterprise-grade CMS. We feel this is something best accomplished as a wider community, and we’re eager to continue the conversation, and build momentum around the project.
What’s your favorite conference or event of the year, and why?
WordCamp Europe used to be the event we focused our company retreat around; now that we’re 60+ people it’s no longer as convenient as it used to be, but it’s still a hugely important event to us, as is the equivalent WordCamp US. We usually have several people leading teams during Contributor Day, speaking, organising, and participating in events such as the Community Summit. As a remote company, it’s also a great opportunity to meet with your team and spend time socialising together.
(And the sixth: Ask yourself a question and answer it) What are your goals in 2018?
It’s important to us to maintain sustainable growth, and ensure we’re keeping our culture every step of the way. This new initiative saw us appoint Siobhan McKeown as People Director late last year, and we’re already implementing processes and standards that will help us stay true to who we are even as we continue to expand.
As previously mentioned, we’re eager to explore the opportunities in repositioning WordPress as an enterprise-grade CMS, and one that can help solve common issues for large enterprise publishers. It’s important for us to challenge some of the misconceptions and concerns around WordPress in enterprise, and to communicate the change and success we’ve witnessed in enterprises adopting WordPress—not only for our clients—but for a large number of high-profile brands.
Thank you, Ant and Ana!
More on Human Made:
Agency focus and specialties
Bespoke WordPress development
Strategy and Consultancy
Currently working with: Airbnb, USA Today, News UK, Skype, Newton, Capgemini, Thunder Head, Unison, TK Maxx
Human Made consists of some of the world’s most respected WordPress developers, including WordPress Core lead developers, the lead developer of the WP REST API project, the European WordPress Polyglots team lead and many more
If you got through February without stumbling across the word “curling” once or twice, you clearly don’t follow Mr. T on Twitter. Kudos for podium performances from VIP clients Olympic.ca and Pyeongchang OlympicChannel (which also handily delivered content to the main Olympic.org homepage via widget), and to the FiveThirtyEight crew, who scored an Up Close And Personal shot with the victorious US Curling team. Read on for huge news on the AMP Project and WordPress plugin, loads of partner updates, and a special extended spotlight featuring VIP client Harry’s Five O’Clock.
News and Releases Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.
At AMP Conf, we shared exciting news about the latest plugin, AMP for WordPress 0.7, co-created along with our partners XWP and Google. This version debuts a new AMP native mode that makes it much easier for publishers to create a single version of their content in WordPress and still take advantage of all of AMP’s benefits. (Additional thoughts from Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate at Google.)
We kicked off our partner profile series, Six Questions with, starting with Trew Knowledge. Trew Knowledge released a GDPR plugin this month designed to help manage efforts to meet GDPR requirements and obligations.
WordPress 4.9.4 maintenance release rolled out this month. (lobby post, announcement) Jetpack version 5.8 deployed (lobby post), including updates to Jetpack Search, Lazy Images full availability (now out of beta), significant reduction in the JS and CSS footprint for certain features, and a new global filter to filter the list of active modules.
Alley Interactive completed a custom billing report and time tracking plugin for VIP client ThinkProgress. It allows their editorial staff to keep track of how and where their time is spent. Records are available for admins to export in bulk or review individually, along with advanced filtering options and basic analytics on data.
A month chock full of news from 10up included: integrating Amazon Polly technology to transform POLITICO in Europe’s daily newsletter into an engaging podcast, a core contribution to AMP which brings native support for MathML, by Lead Engineer Adam Silverstein, a tutorial authored by Engineer Nicholas Andre walking through 10up’s WP-Migration plugin for WP-CLI, featured on Smashing Magazine, a v1.1 update to their Ads.txt manager plugin, now in use on several VIP client sites, updates to their ElasticPress plugin now with full Elasticsearch 6.1 support, and a look back from the vantage point of their 7 year anniversary.
Marketing technology partner Sailthru released v.3.2 of their plugin. (lobby post for clients, GitHub repo).
Trevor Kaufman, CEO of monetization partner Piano sat down with Ricardo Bilton of NiemanLab for a conversation on the state of paywalls, revenue, and marketing in big media.
Gutenberg News and Notes The latest tools, demos, and updates around the block-based editor coming to WordPress 5.0
New enhancements released in February included block nesting, block shortcuts on empty paragraph blocks, a new experimental columns block, and improvements to “undo” and “saved” states.
“It’s not inexpensive to produce the content in all the different formats we produce it, so the fact that we’re investing this much into platforms like Facebook and Instagram and getting nothing in return is incredibly tough.”
-An anonymous snippet among many curated by Hilary Milnes from candid conversations at the Digiday Retail Summit in February.
Client Spotlight: Harry’s Five O’Clock
This month we are excited to share an extended spotlight featuring Harry’s Five O’Clock, which launched in January on VIP. This extended interview with Editor Caitlin Ganswindt covers the pioneering native brand publication’s evolution as a platform as well as the new social mission Harry’s has unveiled with a new short film last week.
VIP Director of Business Development Peter Slutsky will be featured on the Remote Work Summit this week. His talk will cover building and scaling remote teams.
VIP Happiness Engineer/Wrangler Shannon Smith will be giving a talk on code review April 11 at Web a Québec, the largest French-speaking digital event in North America.
Kicking off VIP WorkshopMay 14-17 at the Carneros Resort in Napa will be new WordPress.com President Kinsey Wilson! Kinsey previously held executive roles at the New York Times and NPR and will share his insights on the future of digital and organizational change. We’ll be making more speaker and schedule announcements soon. Join us in Napa!
Fresh from the January relaunch of Five O’Clock on VIP, men’s grooming brand Harry’s is in the process of launching a major initiative and set of partnerships that evolves the brand’s mission in culture and sharpens its editorial focus. Last week Harry’s released a new short film emblematic of the new approach, entitled “A Man Like You”:
We caught up with Caitlin Ganswindt, Editor at Harry’s, to hear about what’s in the works and the journey that brought her, and them, here.
Ganswindt came to Harry’s in late 2015 after serving as managing editor at Shinola and leading experiments with native, branded content at Urbandaddy. Since its origins in 2013, Five O’Clock has gone through a number of stages in its evolution from pioneering native brand magazine to the bigger cultural mission it is now embracing.
Tell us about the history of Five O’Clock and where you have taken it in since you joined.
We’re coming up on our 5th year anniversary at Harry’s in March. So you’re talking about, in 2013 starting a native publication with a very small group of people. Whatever story pitches we got pretty much went up on site. When I joined the team, they were looking for somebody who could figure out what the editorial strategy should be, and migrate the site on to a non-self-hosted solution. We just didn’t have the engineering resources to support a site, that we didn’t really know how to quantify yet, and didn’t really know the value of yet.
The original site was custom and proprietary, and very, very binary. There were only a couple of formats that we had to choose from. All of the assets were required and very finite. There was no tagging. There was no way to search on site. It was a rudimentary sort of blog…hole.
I spent the first couple of months, November and December of 2015, just doing a complete audit of the site. Everything we had run, things that worked, things that didn’t, and tried to hypothesize the what and the why. Then, in January of 2016, I made a proposal to migrate on to a customized WordPress theme, so that we could get away from the engineering constraints, and actually start testing against our point of view in real time. I started development of the second iteration of Five O’Clock using the Zuki theme, with a full custom CSS overlay of the existing theme templates.
On the last day of March 2016, the last day of Q1, which was a feather in my cap, we went live with that iteration of the site. We received a Webby nomination, and it was met with a lot of love from customers and industry folks. People were into it! They were really excited about the content that we were producing.
What was the new editorial focus?
We started talking about grooming education. We started talking about brand happenings. Business initiatives. Iterations of our products. We introduced people to our factories. We started putting faces to the names behind our products.
And then in November of that year, 2016, we launched Five O’Clock News, which is a monthly newsletter of Five O’Clock content.
That’s also been doing really well. We have very consistent readership, with numbers firmly above industry averages. More than half of everybody who receives our emails are opening them, engaging with them, and sharing them on a regular basis.
Do you have a mental picture of what’s been most popular and what the profile of the readership looks like, based on what works and what doesn’t?
We’ve actually gone through another iteration with this new site launch, but the very clear things that are trending, and are still true today: first, grooming education. Actually learning the “how” and “why” behind the tools we make and products and practices. Highlighting ingredients – the differences between shave cream and shave gel and why you should care. How to match the grain patterns on your face to optimize your shave.
Then in January of 2017, we starting thinking as a brand and marketing team more seriously about our point of view as a company. And have been working over the past year to bring that brand mission and positioning to life in the real world.
In tandem, we realized that while the new Five O’Clock site was really beautiful and doing great things, it was also grounded in three categories: better grooming, better mornings, and better life. Because our original positioning of the brand was – “the shaving company that’s fixing shaving” – being really frustrated by the margins in between what it cost to make something, and how much people were actually paying for razors from the bigger guys. While that’s where our story started, and we realized that we can do a lot more with this microphone.
We started thinking about what we truly believed, and realized that our focus was really more about this idea of progressive masculinity. Harry’s is committed to amplifying the ongoing cultural conversation around what it means to be a man today. Because men can be both strong and nurturing, self-assured and accepting of others. The big overarching picture is that to be a good man is to be a good human. We’ve always felt that existing shave brands weren’t speaking to us in a way that resonated. And again, since launching, we’ve learned so much about our customer values. So we wanted to do our part in opening up that conversation and try to modernize ideas around masculinity, to better reflect who our customer really is.
Obviously we know that shaving is inherently masculine, and the category has been dominated by brands that have perpetuated this traditional idea of masculinity as “being the best, the strongest, the smartest, the toughest.” But in real life, guys are a lot more than those traditional stereotypes. There is no one box that can define a person, and we feel like it’s time for brands to promote a more progressive vision of masculinity. But, moreover, we want to help guys define what it is to be a man on their own terms. Embrace whatever attitude and behaviors actually are resonating with them, and have a safe space to be who they are, or who they’re not, and embrace the parts of themselves that have previously been off limits according to these outdated ideals.
It’s quite a maturation of vision from “fixing shaving” to this bigger, cultural piece, with a lot of area to explore.
Yeah, definitely. We’re rolling out our new social mission over the coming weeks as well. Harry’s is partnering with a few really wonderful charitable organizations, to donate a portion of our profits to, and join the movement behind the initiatives and the conversations that they are pushing forward.
But by and large, as far as Five O’Clock is concerned, we’ve realized there’s a real whitespace when it comes to men’s lifestyle content. With all these fights for gender, marriage, class, equality, all over, men are facing new dynamics that are having them question these traditional ideals of what it means to be a real man. We think that the tension between the past and the future are really important to highlight and have real, candid conversation around.
We feel that Five O’Clock is a microphone to amplify these voices and galvanize this new generation by cultivating a space for real discourse. I think what drives us most is to lead in culture and raise awareness by bringing positive attention to these progressive shifts, rather than just focusing on the negative.
Tell us about where you are today with that mission and project. What has been shared so far?
One of the partners we’re aligning with is The Representation Project. They’re focused on helping guys understand misrepresentation and breaking down barriers of harmful stereotypes. We worked with GSD&M, a creative agency out of Austin and The Representation Project to create this film. We’ve also rolled out on Five O’Clock, profiles with the founders of The Representation Project and A Call to Men, another organization that we’re partnering with for our social mission. In the UK we’re collaborating with an organization called CALM (Campaign against Living Miserably) that focuses on awareness on mental health and also suicide prevention among men. We’ll have a profile and some great initiatives coming out with them soon.
Over the next several weeks and months, you’ll definitely see us putting a bigger stake in the ground around these conversations for sure.
It all sounds amazing. How do Five O’Clock and Harry’s fit together? How does the one connect up with the larger organization?
We feel like Five O’Clock is the place where our point of view can be loudest. It’s the most concentrated as far as participating in these conversations. It serves as a point of discovery and inspiration for people who feel like they’re ethos and values are in line with this progressive future.
It definitely serves as a contrast, particularly if you look in the broader world of beauty across masculinity and femininity – having a strong magnetic pull that says ‘This is what we’re about. If you’re about this, become a part of our…of us.”
Totally, and I think that’s definitely the goal. And it’s not to say anybody else is doing it wrong. Brands have found, and will continue to find success in myriad ways. But taking two steps back and reflecting on the state of culture and the world right now, we feel like particularly that grooming—you can call it beauty, sure—it’s a lot deeper than that. Shaving is important for upkeep, but it’s also a moment to make you feel good. And there are so many other things that are important to feel good as a human.
What do you think about the observation that in the current political moment, skincare is all of the sudden becoming a bigger piece of self care than it was before?
I don’t necessarily know if that is tied to a cultural moment. I think that care routines in general are becoming more center lane, and I think that that’s a little bit more of a technology thing. With social media, if you look at Glossier, Fenty Beauty—it’s the age of bloggers—we’ve never before had such democratized access to product reviews in real time.
If you think back to the original general store, if you needed a product, you went and you talked to the shopkeeper and said, “This is what’s going on and this is what I need.” And they would make a recommendation on the right product for you. You weren’t competing with branded advertorials. It wasn’t the guy who has the most money made the loudest boom, and that’s who you went with.
And now, in the age of bloggers, and independent brands, and direct to consumer, I think that we’re actually coming back to that original moment of …all of this information is available, so it’s about what you need and what you want and then you can find the product and brand that is most in line with that. I think it goes beyond just the quality of the products themselves and ladders up more to, “Is this brand for me in general?”
Tell us about the current iteration of the site, and the move to VIP.
As we were working on this updated brand positioning, we realized we’d also need to overhaul the Five O’Clock editorial mission to be in line with that. So we were thinking, yet again, of overhauling our content space. Part of the challenge we wanted to solve for was to be able to see the whole 360-degree user funnel. We wanted to improve our approach to data as far as who is using the site. Are they Harry’s customers? Are they more valuable because they are reading our content? Those kinds of questions, and that’s how we came to VIP.
In March of last year I put together a proposal for this migration. And then building all of the piping on our end to use the analytics we’re now able to use. We started development in September, and we launched live in January of this year. The whole site is fully custom. We’re doing some really cool things as far as styling on galleries. We have a really lovely dynamic scroll on the homepage as well as all of our article pages that have a gradient treatment, which is not something we see super often. Also, the entire site is set up super scalable to our business needs. For example, we built in hexadecimal code fields for every category on the site. Which means changing the look and feel of the homepage is as simple as changing the color scheme that’s aligned with a particular content category. So, if we had a big campaign or partnership we were rolling out that we wanted to do a whole new treatment for, we have that immediate flexibility without actually getting in to the code.
We’re also now running a reverse proxy for hosting, so the domain is now Harry’s.com/fiveoclock. We’ve also set up a child environment where we can theoretically host all of our acquisition/DR pages. So for the first time everything that we’re creating as a brand is all indexed against the same domain, providing that full 360 user funnel.
Over the next year, two years, and beyond, my focus is going to be figuring out what that attribution model looks like, understanding the real brass tacks – things like profitability of content on long term customer value. And that’s definitely where we’re heading next.
How does this new brand and site relaunch feel for you, to have done so much in evolving Five O’Clock multiple times in such a compressed period of time?
I think that this is a next step in one of the most exciting years for Harry’s as a brand, and Five O’Clock as a publication. I definitely feel lucky that, as an editor, we’ve had such confidence from our co-founders from the start, and that we were given the years necessary to hone in and prove out the channel. And I’m just really excited for the opportunities Five O’Clock has ahead.
You’ve built a very progressive case and grown this thing deliberately over time. Any advice for others who might be trying to develop similar evolutions for their publications?
I think the most important thing is to keep yourself in check. Particularly working at a brand, if you’re talking about native content, there tends to be one editorialist in a room. So that person needs to remember to take two steps back and ask themselves “Do I give a shit about this piece of content that I’m putting out in the world? Do I believe in it? Do I care personally?” If these answers are no, then you’re probably not on the right path. At the end of the day, even if it’s branded content, it’s still content, and as an editor, you’re wasting your mind if you’re putting things out into the world that you don’t feel are spurring or perpetuating culture or conversation.
We at VIP, as well as Automattic as a whole, joined the AMP project early on in 2015 and took on the challenging task of creating the first platform integration, a foundation to serve the needs of individual WordPress users and enterprise users alike.
Why? We want to make it easy for our users to deliver the best experience on the mobile web, and that means, fast.
There has been a ton of work going on across the project since its launch, on the core services and on the integration. We’re excited to announce the AMP for WordPress 0.7 beta, co-created by Automattic, and our partners, Google and XWP, which was officially unveiled at AMP Conf 2018 in Amsterdam earlier this month.
Watch the talk here:
What’s new with the AMP Plugin
Historically, the AMP Plugin has used a pair mode. That means that the plugin used a simple-theme approach, which generated a separate AMP version of your webpage.
Now, we’ve improved the experience, enabling “WordPress AMP,” a native experience that we believe is not only an improved feature set, but also a huge step forward for WordPress.
Since the beginning we have had our sight set on enabling an organic AMP experience in WordPress; that is, an experience where there is no need for a pair mode (unless applied by choice) because there are no gaps, either functional or visually, between the AMP and non-AMP versions of content published in WordPress. Without such a gap, WordPress publishers are able to publish a single version of their content which is beautiful, feature-rich, all-around WordPress, and runs at the speed of AMP! We call this an all-AMP experience.
To get started, you can install and activate the 0.7 version of amp-wp which can be found on GitHub here and will be released on WP.org soon. After that, you can go to your functions.php file and add add_theme_support( 'amp' ); to the after_setup_theme action hook. This will turn your entire site into a valid AMP canonical site (not just single posts/pages like the current plugin)!
The plugin does all of the dirty work of converting relevant HTML tags to amp-HTML valid tags. It also restructures the document head to comply with the AMP spec for how CSS and JS are implemented. We’d like to think it works like a charm!
As a whole, the new release takes as its focus the notion of empowering content creators and non-technical folks to go further with AMP on their own. The 0.7 beta supports: AMP native mode, default widgets, default embeds, commenting, creation of AMP-related notifications and outputting valid AMP. See it live on the full theme demo site today.
“At Automattic our focus has always been on the user. That’s why we’ve been committed to providing support for AMP from the project’s inception. We believe enabling everyone to create content on the open web in a fast and accessible way is key to both users and our business.”, Matt Mullenweg, CEO, Automattic
He also mentioned the goal of making the upcoming Gutenberg editor, slated to be a part of WordPress 5.0, work hand in hand with AMP. And we’re proud to support and highlight the work of our partners Google and XWP, who in the last year have taken a leading role in evolving the AMP for WordPress plugin to make it even easier, more accessible for smaller teams with limited development resources, and more powerful.
In the talk embedded at the top of this post, Fast By Default: AMP Powering WordPress, Alberto Medina from the Google Web Content Ecosystems Team along with Software Architect Thierry Muller from XWP demonstrated an AMP Native WordPress theme that shows off the potential for WordPress publishers to easily take full advantage of AMP’s speed and capabilities.
For example, Thierry Muller from XWP specifically noted these improvements:
The AMP version of the WordPress comments are much more dynamic than the default WordPress UX, and the AMP version of the gallery widget uses the AMP Carousel component instead of output images stacked like it would by default in WordPress.
We’re excited about the direction of the AMP project, and look forward to sharing more updates in the future.
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