The Future of WordPress & Gutenberg in 2022
Brian serves as Technology Director for Howard Development & Consulting, where they focus on partnerships with high-end creative agencies and ambitious entrepreneurs, delivering top-notch WordPress development, bulletproof security, and rock-solid performance on every site which we manage.
The Main Question
#1 – Brian how did you get into the semi-crazy world of WordPress and web development?
#2 – What would you say are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the present WordPress platform in 2022 connected to a focus on web development?
#4 – What are your own feeling connected to Gutenberg and full website editing?
#5 – Where do you think are some of the key changes we going to see in the WordPress ecosystem in the next 18 months?
#6- If you are brave can you give some insight into one of the biggest mistakes you have professionally made which you learned the most from?
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS podcast; where Jonathan Denwood interviews the leading experts in WordPress, eLearning, and online marketing to help WordPress professionals launch their own SaaS.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back, folks, to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS. Have a great interview; you just have me as the host. Andrew, he’s unfortunately ill with COVID. He’s still in Portugal, recovering, getting better. My friend John Locke, I asked him to come in, but I think I left it to the last minute, but we have a great guest and a friend of the show, plus you have me, could be worse, couldn’t it, folks? And we have Brian, Coords, I’ve butchered his surname. You got used to that. So, Brian, would you like to quickly give a kind of 10-20 second intro to the tribe?
Brian Coords: Yeah. So, I’m Brian Coords. I’m a developer out of California, my day job is I work at Howard Development & consulting, and we kind of have a few projects; one of them is MasterWP, which is a newsletter and blog and now podcast. And then we also have WP Wallet, which is a software that we run, Understrap, which is kind of a popular theme for WordPress, and then a lot of client services. And so, we kind of cover everything that we can.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great, Brian. We’re going to be discussing this show, all WordPress, Gutenberg, and full-site editing, we’re going to have a dive, it should be great. But before we get into the main meat and potatoes of the show, I have a message from a couple of our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back, folks. And I just want to point out that I have some great special offers from some of the sponsors and some great recommendations for services and plugins. If you want to see and get all those goodies, all you have to do is go over to wp-tonic/recommendations. So, Brian, let’s get straight into it. So, how did you get into the crazy world of web development, WordPress in general? What was the start of the journey?
Brian Coords: Yeah. I was into web development, even in high school, just as kind of a nerdy kid and back in the days of making websites on Tripod and LiveJournal and that sort of stuff. But then my earlier career was teaching, so I was doing that for a while, and then just started building WordPress websites on the side. I was looking through my email trying to figure out when was the first time I used WordPress, because I’ve been asked that before, when did I start WordPress specifically?
And so, I kind of searched through my Gmail and went back and it was about 10 years ago, where I could find WordPress was the first time mentioned, but it was in an email basically of a client. I had built him a website, it was not very good. I think he paid me $200 for it, something like that. He couldn’t really edit it and at some point, he emailed me and just said, what did you build me, I thought you were going to build me a WordPress website so I could edit it myself? And I thought I should probably learn what WordPress is, because I’d never heard of it at that point.
So, that was the first time, it was an unhappy client informing me that there were better solutions than me; copy and pasting code that I was frantically gathering online. And then from there I just started building WordPress websites, working in-house at places, I think a lot of people work, you’re the one WordPress developer at some non-profit or something, I did that for a while. Moved into freelancing and then eventually started working with Howard Development about maybe five years ago and just started building client websites pretty consistently from then.
Jonathan Denwood: So, Howard Development, is there a particular vertical or a particular type of client? What does Howard Development like? What are their ideal clients and the projects they like doing?
Brian Coords: Yeah. Our ideal client is marketing agencies. So, what we do is we really work with marketing branding agencies, who do, they do the logo, they do the brand, they do the design typically, they do all of that sort of stuff. And then they want somebody that’s going to come in and just make a WordPress website, specifically the way they designed it, exactly as they wanted it to look. And so, we kind of jump in at that point and most of our clients are the agencies themselves.
Jonathan Denwood: Right. That’s great. That sounds interesting. I’ll imagine every day is different. So, let’s go into another question. We’re in interesting times with WordPress, I’ve just come back from WordPress Europe, I really enjoyed it. I’m still on holiday mode because I’m recording this from the UK. And then I’m off to Sweden in a couple of days, so it’s a bit of a European, UK odyssey, but I really enjoyed WordPress Europe. What would you say are some of the strengths, but also some of the weaknesses of WordPress in 2022? Because I think there are definitely strengths, but there are also weaknesses.
I think personally, and I want to see if you agree with this, we’re at a very interesting time and position when it comes to WordPress, first of all, would you agree with that? And on your own reflection, what do you see are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the WordPress platform this year?
Brian Coords: Yeah, I think you’re right. I feel it was maybe five years ago when the Gutenberg Project started, there was that similar kind of feeling of where are things going, things are kind of shifting, I think this year sort of matches that year in terms of, there are a lot more questions about what the next steps are and there’s sort of a big open space of what’s happening next. There are a lot of questions about, if we’re growing, if people are joining, if there are enough contributors to WordPress in general, all that sort of stuff, so I kind of agree with you.
Honestly though, overall it’s a strong platform, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, I think it’s pretty popular, I think it’s flexible, and we’re all using it. But I read, it was an article, it was I think Kim Coleman posted an article, basically comparing WordPress to the really strong SaaS offerings like Squarespace or Shopify or something. And she had a good, basically, breakdown of all of the strengths that we love about WordPress, that it’s open, flexible, do whatever you want with it, change it, plugins for everything.
She was basically saying those are also kind of weaknesses for end-users in the sense because everything looks different, no two sites look the same, you have to update it yourself, you’re in charge of maintaining it, you’re in charge of all these things. And she was basically kind of saying, not that it’s good or bad, but just that the things that we kind of like about WordPress and how flexible it is, can also be the sorts of things that maybe are tougher for end-users or make it a little more, I would say harder to jump onto than a Shopify or a Squarespace.
So, I feel that’s the place where the ecosystem is right now, where we’re really trying to decide, do we want to make this extremely simple and easy for end-users? Do we want to make it extremely powerful for developers who are going to build the ecosystem? And we’re kind of seeing some places where we’re losing the freedom for developers to get to control what it looks like, what the website is going to end up being, but we’re also seeing more control for end-users to get to drag and drop and build their own kind of websites.
So, I think there’s definitely a transition point, there are definitely two different ways to look at it. I think the biggest weakness right now is just the overall narrative that WordPress is kind of slowing down or losing popularity; because it can become a little self-fulfilling if we all kind of decide that WordPress is not where the future is for building websites.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I’m just wondering where to take this to reply to what you’ve just said. I’m going to try and not go on too much of a wander, well, because I can.
Brian Coords: Go ahead.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m really struggling to format this in a coherent. Let’s do this. There are two elements to my response. I think number one is, everything your colleague or the, I have the lady’s name that you mentioned, that wrote this article about updating. Well, the truth is there’s an army of companies and WP-Tonic is one of them, if you’re looking to build a coaching membership website, but literally, there’s an army of companies that will maintain, update the plugins, advise you, there’s an army of eight agencies and you help a lot of these agencies.
There’s more than enough help out there if you don’t want to update your plugins and make a bit of a mess on it. So, one of the strengths, and you saw it in Portugal, in Porto, is that there’s literally an army, an ecosystem, a community, a very overused word, but you actually saw some of the reality of that overused metaphor, community, in Porto. But on the other hand, developers are driven by the choices to some extent of the people that hire them.
You have clients that come and say, I want advice about what is, or you have clients that don’t really care what you built it on or build it on, and maybe they should care a little bit more. But then there are a whole group of clients that say, well, I don’t want to build on WordPress because I’ve heard it’s slow, the security problems and it’s just difficult; I want to build on Shopify or I want to build on Wix or whatever it is. And that’s what you build on because you’ve been told because you want to still charge them. So, that’s complicated, and have I lost my plot, have I been wondering, this is the question?
So, you have all that. But there was another point that was a bit better actually but give me a few seconds to recover my thoughts. What were your thoughts about my response to what you’ve just said?
Brian Coords: Yeah, there were a few things. The first one you talked about is that there are plenty of agencies and developers, we’re one of them, we have maintenance contracts for clients and we’re out there. And I think that’s sort of the picture where we’re seeing a lot more power in WordPress given to the everyday user and it’s good and that’s a good thing, but also sometimes we do want experts and we do want somebody who’s helping you with your website who understands accessibility and SEO. And so, when we get to DIY and people are building their own websites, maybe I wouldn’t file my own taxes, I would want an expert to do it.
If you’re a business and you have a website, at a certain point, you probably should have an expert looking at your website because there are things like the block pattern directory, we’ve been talking about where there’s this bad accessibility, bad user experience patterns, things that aren’t going to help you get search engine presence.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, I just want to quickly respond to that and the actual other point has come back to me. Just a quick response is I think it’s a balance because when you look at Shopify, if you look at Kajabi, which is one of the main SaaS competitors in my niche area, there’s a whole ecosystem about hiring Kajabi experts that will set everything up, there’s a whole ecosystem of Shopify developers. If it was that easy to set up Shopify, or if it was that easy to set up Kajabi, there wouldn’t be a whole ecosystem of implementers, developers, and consultants, would there?
Brian Coords: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: The second point, I attended Matt Mullenweg’s question and answer session and I thought one of the key things and he said it before, but for some reason, it came into my consciousness and much stronger, is that he made it very clear in Porto and I’m sure, as I said, he’s done it before, that he actually sees Guttenberg as a bigger vector for Automattic than even WordPress. I actually think he sees Gutenberg being a much bigger project than ever WordPress was. Do you think I’m right? Because that’s what he said, he thought it could be at Porto. What are your own thoughts about that?
Brian Coords: Yeah. Number one, I’m jealous that you got to go to WordCamp because I think there’s something about that live, in-person. The WordCamp US is going to be here in California, so I’m very excited to get back into that real live person energy because I think that kind of changes how we view projects.
Jonathan Denwood: I was told by people that they’re only going to allow 650 people to attend. Is that correct?
Brian Coords: The venue they picked is not a large venue, so that might make sense. So, there might be a scramble to get tickets, that might be true. I’m not sure, I don’t know how it was there, I think everyone has opinions about large in-person gatherings and how strict and safe they should be and that sort of thing, so I’m sure that plays into it.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, it is difficult because I was a little bit off-ish but I’m English anyway, so I’m off-ish anyway, but I was a little bit about, it was strange, I felt a bit, I’m not a strong introvert or a strong extrovert, I’m a mixture of both. But it was my first really large event for about three to four years and it was a little bit intimidating, all these people. I could stand it for a couple of hours and then I had to get away. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I felt like it.
Brian Coords: No, that makes.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, sorry.
Brian Coords: No, I would say that makes sense. It can be energetic, and energizing, and then it can also be draining at a certain point.
Jonathan Denwood: So, get back to this. So, do you agree that he really sees Guttenberg as something that could be even bigger than WordPress?
Brian Coords: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: He seems to see it as a really separate project really, that was the sense I was getting by seeing him live.
Brian Coords: Yeah. I actually wrote a little bit about that part of his speech because some of the examples of where they’re putting it are, Tumblr and Day One, which are owned by Automattic and they’re bringing Gutenberg into these projects, but those are not open-source. Those are closed private, proprietary, for-profit ventures that they own. And so, the example of we’re taking Gutenberg and it’s so big, but then we’re really just pushing it into all of our private projects that are not going to be part of the open-source ecosystem.
I’m failing to see how Gutenberg benefits. Gutenberg is nice, I love the block editor, and I’m a fan, but I’m just saying that sense that it’s more important than WordPress itself, but the only implementations seem to be in these proprietary systems. It seems unclear how that’s bigger in terms of the value for the open-source community, I don’t see where that part of it plays in, and I don’t understand that argument, but I think we’ll see as it matures over the next few years.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I think we’re going to wrap up the first part of the show. We have to ton to discuss, Brian’s up for it. Hopefully, he’ll stay for some bonus content, because our half-hour won’t be enough. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. It’s a bit quieter and more organized, isn’t it, Brian?
Brian Coords: It’s very peaceful.
Jonathan Denwood: He joined us when I was doing the Friday show, folks, last week in Porto. I was attempting to do a live show at a conference for 2, almost 3000 people, that really, we pulled it off in the end though, Brian, didn’t we? You have to admire me for my steadfastness. Alright.
So, I also just wanted to remind you that I do my own weekly newsletter in which I do an editorial. I didn’t do one last week because I was traveling, I will attempt to do one this week. You can get that by going to wp-tonic/newsletter and signing up, and, as I said, I do a weekly one and I do a good editorial and I think it’s interesting. Hopefully, you will. So, let’s delve back into the world of WordPress, I think also Matt, some of the questions were, I think one of the questions that were put to him at the end of the conference was that it’s dominated by PHP developers, that’s the reality.
Jonathan Denwood: I think you just made a really great observation there, may I say, because what you seem to be hinting and I never thought of it that way is because there have always been these breakpoints that have existed in smaller to medium projects and in the world of larger projects and corporate. They’ve always been different, where you had somebody who was a graphic designer that could do HTML and do some things with jQuery and knew a good bit of the functions that made WordPress, but they weren’t a hardcore PHP, WordPress backend developer, they just weren’t.
Now you’ve introduced this whole different bucket of skills and I think the thing that you touched, which was so interesting, a really different mindset where that front-end developer has actually got in mindset, maybe more linkage to the graphic person, how their mind works, than the traditional server-end, plugin, really strong backend, PHP skills. Am I on to anything there, Brian?
Brian Coords: Yeah. I think that’s the fundamental shift in how WordPress has been working recently, where the people who had just those front-end skills if you’re going to use the block editor and you can’t really control what comes out of it, it’s so much easier to build a page in the block editor, but you get that ease by taking out any sense of control; I can’t write my own custom HTML in the block editor, I can, but it doesn’t really work that way.
Jonathan Denwood: And I think it was interesting when he said when he was actively a hardcore PHP, he actually dreamt in PHB. Have you dreamt in PHP code, Brian?
Brian Coords: I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt in code. No. I still have dreams where I’m a writer and I forgot everybody’s order, but that’s as close as my dreams get to my work life.
Jonathan Denwood: A nightmare?
Brian Coords: From 20 years ago.
Jonathan Denwood: So, let’s go on to the next question. Full-site editing, is it the offspring of the devil or? Whoever you talk to, to say, a bit like Gutenberg, a bit like WordPress in 2022, it really depends. I’ve never, never known such diverse points of view from people that I respect. You can get points of view from people that you basically, think they’re just idiots, but I’ve never known from Paul, from WPTuts, who’s not the biggest fan of Guttenberg.
To Spencer and Sallie who have a love affair, well, Sallie has a total love affair with Gutenberg and full-site editing, whereas Spencer likes Gutenberg, but thinks full-site editing is the devil’s [Inaudible – 27:40] or the bridge too far. And I don’t know where I am, I just stay with Elementor and offer it to my clients and that, ‘s because I love the idea of Gutenberg and I can’t wait, but I’m still a little bit reluctant about jumping Elementor into the world of Gutenberg. So, everybody seems to be all over the place, do you sense that?
Brian Coords: Yeah. I agree. It is a very divisive issue. The block editor itself, I love it. I was writing in Google docs the other day and was trying to do things that were like Gutenberg, because I’m just so used to using it now and I write blog posts directly in it and it feels really good, I like that part of it. To me, full-site editing, I’ve made the argument that I don’t think it should have been in the core, I think there’s so much other stuff that could be improved and full-site editing is really useful for one part of a market, but I don’t really think that it’s useful for every single website.
Whereas the backend of WordPress and the media library and all these things, are used on every website and they’ve looked the same for the last 10 years and could really use a refresh. Full-site editing, to me, I think would’ve been a great plugin somewhere with BuddyPress and bbPress and these plugins that you can use and they work really well and they’re supported by WordPress, but it doesn’t show up on every site because I do think it takes a lot of the air out of the room.
And at this point, Elementor, and Beaver Builder, they’re just so much better, so it’s hard to say that I would want to, I actually built my personal blog with the default theme in full-site editing and it’s a beautiful theme, but I cannot get it to look like what I want it to look like, because I can’t change it. So, I’m probably closer to Spencer, I really do like the block editor, but I would love to see the block editor’s styles and that sort of stuff show up in the rest of WordPress instead of trying to bring the rest of WordPress into that full-site editing.
Jonathan Denwood: Do you have any thoughts on why, to me, the full-site editor, it does need some, because I was talking to Christina a few weeks ago on this show and she makes her living by teaching newbies WordPress. And she hates Guttenberg and she won’t teach it to her newbies because it’s, I think one of its problems, it needs some substantial UX love and it needs a good session of sorting out, a well-concentrated spur of investment, UX expertise to get it up to snuff because there’s a lot of potentials I think. But those in the know seem to be determined to push full-site editing, do you have any insight, A, am I correct, and why they’re so determined?
Brian Coords: Yeah. That is a good question. I agree with you that the interface itself, there are a lot of icons that feel meaningless and pop-up drawers and windows and panels and things and everywhere and, yeah, it’s a lot, it feels like a lot. And I think if we took the last three years that were full-site editing and just only made the block editor itself better, I think we’d all be a lot happier because they could have used that attention there instead of trying to do full-site editing.
But I’m not sure, there’s been the theory that they’re trying to take on the page builders, Elementor is growing faster really than WordPress is; WordPress is growing, Elementor itself is growing inside there much faster, and they’re doing really well, they had a really good acquisition, they raised a lot of money last year. It’s very powerful, so is there a sense that the people in charge of WordPress want to make sure that they can compete with Elementor even though it’s all the same ecosystem? I’m not really sure, but I don’t think there’s anything that anyone’s going to say that’s going to stop them from making that the full focus of what goes forward, unfortunately.
Jonathan Denwood: It does seem that way, but I’m just puzzled because it does seem to be linked. But it’s like we’re looking around the corner, but we can’t quite focus. So, we’re trying to work out things and we just don’t have all the information, do we? So, in some ways, it’s a bit pointless, but being that you write a really great newsletter and I run a WordPress in my seventh-hundred and first episode that is our job though, isn’t it, Brian? To peer where others dare not peer.
Brian Coords: Yeah. Somebody needs to have the conversations and think about these things and try to push the leadership to be a little more transparent in what they’re thinking, just because our jobs depend on it, our mortgages depend on it.
Jonathan Denwood: I do sometimes wonder why there has to be this air of mysticism almost, I do understand a company, you have to keep things a bit tight to themselves, but sometimes I think this is more of a cultural issue, which is most bizarre, fundamentally an open-source supposedly community-focused and driven platform, isn’t it? It’s quite bizarre in some ways.
Brian Coords: Yeah. That was my big topic this week was, how open-source, or just the way that we call open-source and the way we’ve framed it for the last 20 years, maybe doesn’t make sense going forward. Because at the end of the day, there are big private companies who do own these things and they’re doing a good job and they’re giving us a lot of great software, but when there’s 43% of this massive internet, a billion-dollar economy running on it, then sometimes the old language of open-source and stuff doesn’t feel like it makes as much sense.
Jonathan Denwood: I see where you’re coming from, I just think it needs some thought, because Matt, I could say in Porto, he seems still to be very, very committed to the principles of GPL and open-source, doesn’t he?
Brian Coords: I think so. I’m a Matt Mullenweg fan, I think so, I think he is. Just that being said, a lot of the work is moving into, his company too, is not open-source. And I know that it’s hard to be open-source, it’s not easy and stuff, but a lot of the things that are getting built today are the WordPress apps, the other sites owned by Automattic, a lot of these things aren’t open in the same sense unless you’re using their ecosystem. So, it’s kind of a tough, it kind of goes both ways.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, before we wrap up the podcast part of the show, and Brian’s agreed to stay on for some bonus content, which you can watch the whole interview, plus the bonus content on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, please go over there and please, if you’re generous, subscribe to the channel, because not only does it help the channel, it also helps the podcast. Just to finish off, I don’t see it as totally zero or one or a black-and-white situation. I don’t want to go into politics, but I am a, I have particular principles, I come from the judicial Christian socialism.
So, I have a particular ideology that drives me, but that ideology, it changes with the facts and with the pragmatism of the situation. So, what I mean by that, is you have others that say everything should be a free market, I don’t believe that nor do I believe that everything should be controlled by the government. I believe that there are some industries that should be owned by the government or there are definitely other areas that shouldn’t have any government involvement.
And I think that’s what you probably will find with open-source, there are parts and areas of it that are best in the open-source arena and then there are probably other areas that are better done by a private, is that making any sense or am I waffling?
Brian Coords: No. No, that makes a lot of sense. I think at the end of the day, a lot of these things are going to be owned by a huge corporation or a huge government type of thing and the nice thing about government is at least you get to vote. But no one’s voting for Mark Zuckerberg to be in charge of Facebook and that’s a little scary.
Jonathan Denwood: You’re getting me hot and bothered now Brian, did you have to mention him? I always get a bit; there are certain names that start getting me sweating, Brian. Right. Brian’s laughing at my jokes, so that’s always good, isn’t it, tribe? So, we’re going to end the podcast part of the show, as I said, Brian’s agreed to stay on. You’ll be able to watch the bonus content and the whole interview on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, please subscribe, we’ll be back next week. Hopefully with Andrew, he will be allowed back into the UK, recovered, and relax from his illness in Porto. And we have some fabulous guests. We’ll see you soon, folks. Bye.
Outro: Hey, thanks for listening, we really do appreciate it. Why not visit the mastermind Facebook group also to keep up with the latest news click wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
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