#557 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest JJJ (John James Jacoby)

The Future of bbPress and GPL Software in General

John founded bbPress in 2005 while he was looking for GPL forum software with profile pages and hierarchical categories, BuddyPress shortly thereafter, and WordPress as a result.

Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic Podcast where each week Jonathan and his co-host interview, the leading experts in WordPress, e-learning, and online marketing. Jonathan, take it away.

Johnathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show its episode 555. It’s our last interview before our Christmas break, we got a great friend of the show, a great WordPress contributor, and just a great guy in general, we have the wizard, JJ with us the founding developer of bbPress, joint presenter of WordPress weekly just a great going general. Would you like to also introduce yourself as well, quickly in about 20 seconds?

John Jacoby: Jonathan, for a moment there, I thought you were talking about Steven.

Johnathan Denwood: He’s great as well.

Steven Sauder: I haven’t hit wizard level yet.

Johnathan Denwood: But he’s not a wizard.

John Jacoby: Yes, I suppose. I’m just happy to be here. I’ve been involved in a lot of stuff for a long time, so just happy to hang out with you guys. It’ll be fun.

Johnathan Denwood: Great. And I’ve got my great co-host, a wizard in training, Steven Sauder. Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?

Steven Sauder: Yeah. Steven Sauder, from zipfish.io, you can run a speed test there, check out how fast we can make your website.

Johnathan Denwood: That’s great. And before we go, what we’re basically going to be talking about is the future bbPress, what JJ thinks of BuddyBoss. And I’m just a small subject, the future GPL software. So only a few topics are discussed in a half-hour plus some 15 minutes bonus content. But before we go into this, great and should be an interesting interview. I just want to mention one of our great sponsors and that’s Kinsta Hosting.

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I suggest you should buy one for yourself or for your clients. And the main thing, if you do right, is to tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. So straight into the interview. So where should I start with the show, let’s start with bbPress? Are you still actively involved in that? And if yes, where do you think you will be at the end of 2021 with it?

John Jacoby: So bbPress has always been an interesting piece of software in the WordPress world of things because it does power a lot. A lot of people use it. A lot of people rely on it for the support forums, not just like for the plugin’s forums or the general wordpress.org support forums. But the Rosetta forums it’s translated into all the different languages that WordPress is translated into bbPress gets translated into. Even though it is like a critical piece of infrastructure, it is a very small group of people that get to decide what happens in it.

And so, the nice thing is that it is very simple for the most part. So, it is generally like feature complete, which is kind of an odd thing to think of when you think of software, that there’s not much else that really has to go into bbPress to make it be what it is.

And so, it’s not to say that it’s just kind of idling. Like it’s sort of in its maintenance mode not because it’s the end of life in any way, but because there’s not much else to add to it that wordpress.org needs or that forums in general really need. And so, it is just one of those things where like the site could use a refresh, maybe some of the default stylings could use an update, and those things here and there will always happen, but those are largely maintenance items. We’ve got subscriptions, profiles, favorites, forums, topics, replies, moderation tools that continue to get improved here and there.

But there are no major, major features planned for bbPress other than like some Gutenberg Blocks support that’s currently being worked on.

But again, it’s like, those are nice to have, they’re not major features for bbPress. They’re just keeping up with WordPress. So that’s kind of what makes it a fun project to work on? In my opinion, it’s still, there might not be a huge amount of activity and a ton of work going into it, as something like Gutenberg, but for folks that are looking to contribute and get an easy badge on their wordpress.org profile, there are a thousand dumb little things. Typos that I’ve got in there from years ago or weird class names that people can add to stuff.

There’s like a million little ways that it can just get iterated on, improved over time that make it an easy piece of software to contribute to for folks that might be intimidated by stepping up to Gutenberg or WordPress code so.

Johnathan Denwood: So, you say that but what’re your thoughts about BuddyBoss because they’ve taken, he’s grinning. They’ve taken which they’ve got every right to do so because it’s GPL software and they’ve done a sterling job on it. And added maybe some additional functionality and they seem to be doing quite well. So, what’re your feelings about what they’ve been up to?

John Jacoby: So, I think, well, a lot of people expect my feelings to probably be something that they aren’t. I mean, I am only happy for the folks at BuddyBoss Mike and Tom who I’ve met several times at word camp Miami and other word camps throughout the years. They’ve always shown me in person or remotely, like, here’s the cool stuff that we are doing. So, it’s not like it came as a surprise. They are pillars in the BuddyPress community because they’ve always tried to build the best possible experience using BuddyPress that they could.

And so, they are exercising their right with the GPL to fork it and take it and do what they want with it. While at the same time they are kind of doing what is the most successful open-source business model. And they are wholesale taking BuddyPress packaging it with their own software on top of it, making it pretty and then giving users the experience that they want with it

Johnathan Denwood: Before I throw, I throw it over to Steven, and I remember from our last conversation that you said, because obviously you have to pay for your living, but you said if you had had the resources financial and time resources. What they are doing, was that what you would have liked to have done in some way?

John Jacoby: Pretty much. I mean, every time that we talk about any type of website, a social network in a box kind of experience, for the most part, it’s not usually very pleasant. It’s not usually something that we look forward to using Twitter has somehow kind of floated by its like kind of being okay enough to use. But there is a huge amount of opportunity and just being able to roll your own community and websites and communities like Reddit or sort of largely group-ish kind of based apps like Twitch or Snapchat, things like that have sort of proved that like having your community sort of hovering around you and one focal point works and it is sort of what people want out of it. There’s just such a great opportunity to do that in an open and free kind of way.

And without dedicated energy kind of focused on it, it doesn’t get better. And so, the BuddyBoss folks put the energy towards it for years, they’ve put time and effort into making BuddyBoss be that good experience. And so, they deserve all the success in the world because it was one of those things that I couldn’t do at the same time and it wasn’t built for, I don’t have the experience to execute that. And so, they did. And the best part is really, it is whether or not there’s like direct communication from the BuddyBoss folks or the BuddyPress project, I think is kind of irrelevant, like whatever they do will only help BuddyPress in the long run and whatever BuddyPress does will only help the BuddyBoss folks in the long run.

So, it is very sort of symbiotic. And that’s the beauty of forking or go in your own direction is whatever they do is derivative in GPL. And so, if it’s something that’s amazing and they’ve made great strides towards something, BuddyPress can always absorb it and bring it back in. It is an ideal situation. I think it is the GPL at work in sort of the best possible way. I think.

Johnathan Denwood: Over to you, Steven.

Steven Sauder: I think it’s really interesting when you talk about that symbiotic relationship in the GPL world, where you have something that was built and then somebody that takes it, packages, it, monetizes it. How does that work, or I guess, how would you, in your mind frame of the best kind of way to make this symbiotic relationship work, where you have BuddyPress and then you have BuddyBoss? So BuddyBoss implements features into their fork and stuff.

Do you think there is an onus on that person who’s forked it is like creating new features and stuff to be trying to like to contribute and commit those features back or is it up for the person who’s controlling that main branch to be looking at what’s going on in the fork and deciding what they want to pull in?

John Jacoby: I mean, it is like the open-source that is the friction point for every project. If you look a WebKit or any other popular Ubuntu or whatever other popular distros that you want to think of. I think it sort of depends on the team and the people, and then it ends up depending on the feature also. And so, the size of it, or the magnitude of the shift that comes, as a result, a bit, and the most important part is to try and remember that everyone is just focusing on what they can focus on and trying their best to get the job done.

And it’s just too easy to think that it’s personal or to think that someone’s the bad guy. I could very easily be perceived as like I should be paying attention to them and pulling things down that that they’re working on that are cool.

And because the BuddyPress contributors could very easily feel like it’s their responsibility to tell us what it is that they’re working on. And then to pitch us those ideas. But then we’ve all seen, I think, like where that goes wrong, where they continue to pitch and pitch and pitch the coolest stuff that they’re doing. That they fail to get an audience of people excited about it on the open-source side. So, then they’re doing all this extra work to show everyone what they’re working on, and then no-one’s really paying attention or appreciating that.

So, it falls apart fast. And like the only reason it falls apart is that we can only pay attention to so many things. And software like BuddyPress or WordPress or bbPress as simple as they are on the surface, are complex under the hood.

And so front-loading, all that in your brain, it’s just not something that one or two or five people are able to do anymore. So, if someone wanted to, or BuddyBoss wanted to contribute their media managing component because we have BuddyPress attachments. But if they want to say, Hey, we’ve really nailed this media experience, but we want to contribute this upstream into BuddyPress properly. How do we review and contribute and roadmap and scope and put that on a release cycle? Like it only slows them down, frankly.

And it only frustrates them to try and loop us into all of this other, it just ends up being really frustrating, I think for everyone. And so, I don’t know that anyone’s really nailed it, at least that I’ve seen, maybe somebody has. Google and Apple working on WebKit I think is like a solid example of Apple working on a project, being open-source, but kind of closed and having, a little bit of a walled garden, but still inheriting features that everybody needs in a browser.

They’ve nailed it because we’re all using it all the time, but it’s tough, man. Like, I don’t know that there’s a perfect experience for that. Have you seen anything? Do you know of anything? Can you think of it?

Steven Sauder: No. I mean, I was just wondering what your perception of that was.

John Jacoby: Usually, what happens is somebody forks and then the original one dies. Like, Judoshop and WooCommerce or WordPress and B2 or Nextcloud and ownCloud. Recently I forked a chosen. So, the jQuery Chosen was a drop-down, like select two. And the folks at Harvest originally created this JavaScript jQuery based drop-down, and it had been on GitHub without any poll requests or anything merger, any activity from the owners for seven years. I was like, I really like it. And there were like 50 poll requests that haven’t been merged.

And I don’t really know enough about the history of the project, but I really like the way that it works. And I like the way that it looks and I’m just a fan of it, so I forked it. And like literally nobody said anything.

I don’t know that anyone’s noticed that I like spent a couple of days, like merging through a bunch of PRs and forked it. It has its own site on github.io, but I haven’t renamed it because I feel like they abandoned it and it has a following. And so, what good does renaming it do, if nobody cares that I did it. So maybe when they’re like, Hey John, this is not yours to keep named this way. You need to rename it. Then I’ll rename it. The name doesn’t count. I’m not attached to it one way or the other. But the only reason I forked it is because they weren’t working on it anymore.

I’m like, that’s the same with WordPress and B2, but it is different when someone forks an active project. It is active, BuddyPress is getting work done. Maybe not to the pace that they’re comfortable with or happy with, but it has actively developed. So, to fork it and it is interesting, but it is only good, it is only healthy for all of BuddyPress’ and BuddyBoss’ users for there to be another group of people that pull it in and put their polish on it. That’s exactly what you want from an open-source project. Only good.

Johnathan Denwood: We’re going to go for a break. We’re coming back, we got JJ. I was really looking forward to this interview, I think it started off well. We’ll be back in a few moments’ folks.

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Johnathan Denwood: We’re coming back, JJ’s been doing his wizardry in the break, the wizard. So, what do you sense of GPL software in general? Because I noticed on our panel show. We had articles either last week or the week before that, and it was looking at market share and obviously, WordPress still seems to be growing, but other well-known web platforms, like Joomla and Drupal seem to be in a decline by the report we were looking at where things like Shopify and some other non-GPL software platforms seem to be growing. So how do you sense things? Do you think, apart from WordPress, a lot of GPL are in a slight decline?

John Jacoby: Well, I think the suggestion that it is, and it doesn’t make me happy to think that that is the case. I think my personal outlook on it is a little bit more doom and gloom than most people probably want to hear. But I am happy to share it.

Johnathan Denwood: I’m used to doom and gloom, so a declining empire that no longer exists. We leave in the common market. That’s a really bright idea. So, I’m used to the gloom. So off you go JoJo.

John Jacoby: Well, so even though the world of computing is generally hoisted up by open-source software. And by millions of contributors to millions of everything from tiny to monolithic packages of open-source software, we all in the industry understand that. And it’s a very human thing to sort of overestimate your importance in the world. I guess the GPL as a license is only one of many open-source software, as important as it is, is what enables other people to build off of what we think and what we do. We’re all just kind of ants, subtracting, little pieces of it and improving it and building it up over the course of dozens is a beast to have computing be at a point where it is today.

So, it’s not surprising that fewer websites are going up or that fewer CNNs are powering things with the open-source software because frankly, open-source without anything else on top of it is like white rice.

It is great for what it is. It is a perfect foundation for a million different things, but people only really like it usually when you’ve added something to it. And so, like word press by itself is great, bbPress by itself, BuddyPress by itself. They are all great, but they need something else on top of it. So, it’s the experience that you build or that gets built on top of open-source software that needs to be the best. And it’s not usually the best. So then when your choice is, do I want white rice with a little cheese sprinkled on it, or do I want to get amazing Indian food someplace else for kind of the same price. What do you pick? You go for the better experience you go the better flavor.

And it’s a tough competition, if we were competing against, by we, I mean, if WordPress or open-source or the GPL or that part of it is directly competing with a closed source platform like Shopify or Squarespace or something else, we will always be behind always and either you accept it and you know it and you’re okay with it. And it energizes you and it empowers you and it makes you feel like you want to build towards something better. Or you look at the numbers and you see it declining and you think that that’s bad or it’s negative.

But I think it’s completely anticipated that it will eventually when you’re measuring those numbers, that that’s just kind of going to be actively what happens. And like the part of it that is the scariest to me, I guess, is the future generations are simply not using the web like we do as adults do, younger generations are engaging with each other through video game platforms that are specific to that video game with Minecraft or Fortnite or anything else.

Their version of collaboration is with each other on Twitch or on YouTube. They are not trying to contribute to mom and dad’s software. they’re not captivated by publishing to the web the way that we were. We grew up in an era where publishing to the web was like the most amazing experience you could have with a computer. And they have something that is like the culmination of all forms of media TV, video, movie, the web, programming, interaction all rolled into one. And they’re not rolling websites the way that we did, they’re not building websites the way that we did.

And so, I don’t know that we’re or that open source is necessarily competing with closed source. As much as bigger, better, more captivating experiences, completely, other than just a website that is a web page than a header and a content area and a footer and a sidebar. Kids have found something way cooler, and they’re not going to be building something with WordPress because it’s not what they grew up with.

It’s not how they work. It’s not how they contribute to their own communities. The way that they build things and contribute is through the communities that they’ve built through the software that they engage with each other in. So, if there was an open-source video codec or an open-source commenting system that Twitch and YouTube and everyone could sort of build something off of would be different, but they’re all rolling their own because they’re not that complex anymore. It’s sort of a solved problem for them.

The bigger problems are network data transfer and CDNs all over the place. And the title content blocks comments. That’s easy for them. They’ll solve that in a weekend. But with WordPress, we sort of fine-tune it and obsess over it for 10 years, but it’s not a powerful enough piece of software to power, all of Twitch.

So, it’s not their choice. And so, the reason that I think it’s sort of doom and gloom is that it is a sort of, WordPress, the web feels it’s a little bit destined to be a card catalog in a library. It will eventually 20, 30 years from now, it’ll be a legacy system that we all love and enjoy and adore and continue to want to work on and improve. But like the HTTP part of it, the HTML, CSS JavaScript part of it, I don’t know that we will be engaging with a website any more than we engage with an AOL keyword, frankly.

Johnathan Denwood: No, that was a bit gloomy there, folks. we’re all doomed. Well, actually, I don’t know what’s happened to the half-hour, but we’re getting close to it. So, but JJ has agreed to stay on for another 15 minutes, which you’ll be able to watch on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. So, you’ll be able to watch the bonus plus our interview. So, JJ, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and what you’re up to?

John Jacoby: I blog like a regular old blogger at jjj.blog. And if you want to see the piece of software that I’ve generally been spending a lot of time working on lately you can check on Sugar Calendar one of the pieces of software that we have for our primary projects over at sandhillsdevelopmentsugarcalendar.com, calendar software is fun. It’s bent my brain in a lot of different ways.

Johnathan Denwood: Well, we have to discuss that in the bonus content. See what you’re up to there.

John Jacoby: We can talk about that there, for sure.

Johnathan Denwood: So, Steven. And Steven has been helping us with the WP-Tonic website to make it faster and a couple of other website properties that I own, and he’s been doing a fantastic job. So, I recommend that you go over to Steven and well try out your speed optimization service. So over to you, Steven, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to.

Steven Sauder: Head over to zipfish.io and run a speed test and see how much faster your site can be.

Johnathan Denwood: That’s great and dare I could say. This is going to be the last interview show before Christmas. I just want to wish you and your family a great Christmas and a really happy new year. Let’s hope that 2021 is a bit more of a better year than in 2020. It won’t take much will listeners and viewers. Let’s be frank about it. But I do wish you and your family, a safe and healthy Christmas, you’re probably going to stay at home. I would probably advise you to do that, but I do wish that for you. And thank you so much for your support of the WP-Tonic Show, and for being a loyal audience. It is much appreciated. We’ll see you in the new year folks. Bye

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