ohn James Jacoby

This week on Episode 253, John James Jacoby joined host Jonathan Denwood and co-host Kim Shivler to talk about bbPress, and BuddyPress.

John James Jacoby, find him on Twitter at @JJJ, is the lead developer for bbPress and BuddyPress, and the team spent much of the interview discussing these two powerful WordPress plugins. bbPress is a classic forum plugin for WordPress. It is easy to install and configure and provides the opportunity for threaded conversations within your WordPress installation.

Kim Shivler talked about the power of this plugin within Learning Management Systems and uses it in all of her LMS sites. BuddyPress is a larger, more complex plugin that provides a social network within your WordPress installation. When your site uses BuddyPress, it provides everything you would expect from a social network. You can create groups, provide private messages between users, and deliver information to a feed. It’s similar to creating Facebook within your WordPress installation.

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John’s passion for bbPress and BuddyPress sprung from the fact that they are two of the most community oriented WordPress plugins. When he learned PHP, he learned on the web pre-WordPress and loved participating in forums. Forums were more popular then, and he enjoyed the community aspect of them. When he became a WordPress Core Contributor, he was drawn to these features within bbPress and BuddyPress.

Here’s A Full Transcription Of Our Interview With John James Jacoby

Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic show. This is the Wednesday episode. It’s show 253. We’ve got a great guest here, great Wizard. He’s a bit of a naughty wizard but there we go. But he is a great WordPress Harry Potter wizard and that’s John James Jacoby. Like to introduce yourself, John?

John: Oh, hello. JJJ, triple J, J Trip, whatever anybody calls me. Most people screw my name up and so I’ve just been accustomed to being called whatever people want to call me. And a terrible Wizard, like our pre-show, I’m a Weasley for sure when it comes to most.

Jonathan: Yes. He’s under detention in the Harry Potter Training Wizard School. He’s been told off by the Headmaster. So there we are. Off we go. And I’d like to introduce my great co-host that has to listen to this dribble on a regular basis. There you go, Kim. Like to introduce yourself?

Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a Business and Technology Instructor and . . .

Jonathan: You’re speechless, aren’t you?

Kim: I just try to keep Jonathan in line.

Jonathan: In line.

Kim: And I’m not doing very well at it.

Jonathan: Yeah. And I’m not under any medications this week at all.

John: I don’t think Jon can be kept in line.

Jonathan: I’m not sure if I want to be kept in line. There we go.

Kim: We’re going to pull out the cat claw.

Jonathan: Oh God. She’s got the cat claw folks. Watch this on YouTube. She’s got the cat claw.

Kim: You’ve got to watch it. So when Jonathan is good, he gets the nice cat.

John: Oh, look at that. Oh, it’s so cute.

Kim: No. That was the bad cat.

John: That was the bad cat.

Kim: It doesn’t want, oh, there’s the nice one.

John: I like that we’re a minute into the show and Jon already got the bad cat already.

Kim: Always, yeah. Okay, let’s get started on the real stuff.

Jonathan: Yeah. I want to introduce myself actually Kim. I am the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a support maintenance company, specializing only in WordPress with a leaning to helping people with Learning Management Systems and getting them started on that great journey. Before we go into our great conversation with JJ, we need to mention our kind sponsor. And that’s Kinsta Hosting, a specialized WordPress only hosting provider. I host the WP-Tonic website with them. They’re a great company. Small enough to really care but big enough to have all the bells and whistles that you’re looking for, not only for own site but also for your client’s websites. I’ve been totally happy with the service they’ve provided WP-Tonic. I wouldn’t go allow WP-Tonic to be hosted by somebody that I didn’t think was totally up to the job and Kinsta is. So if that’s interesting, go to the show notes. There will be links to Kinsta. They’re affiliate links but you’ll be helping the show as well if Kinsta is of interest to you and just click the link and they will get you up and running or up and running with your clients.

John: I really like the Kinsta folks. They push the envelope with HHVM back in the day. They published a lot of articles. They tried to get a lot of people on board with the faster version of PHP back in the day.

Jonathan: Thank for that actually JJ but I’ve just, really honestly, I’ve been totally really happy with their service. They migrated the site. They helped me backward to get everything set up. It was the best non-painful experience I’ve had with a migration in a long while. And if you need to talk to somebody senior, you just email them and they come back to you. So you can’t ask more than that, can you? So JJ, so where to start this conversation? So, obviously you’re well known for WordPress Weekly and I think you’ve been doing a great job there.

John: Oh, thank you.

Jonathan: And also as the lead in BuddyPress and bbPress. Shall we start with these? I don’t know which one you want to start with, BuddyPress or bbPress because I know you’ve got a real passion for those. Which one shall we start with JJ?

John: So, I mean the thing with those two plugins, with BuddyPress and bbPress, is that they, and the thing I like about them is that they are the most user-centered type of plugins that there really is within WordPress. WordPress is just about your content and those two plugins are about the users. They’re about the community side of it. And so, that’s kind of what drew me into WordPress in the first place. So those are the two pieces of software that I think are the most rewarding to give back to. When I learned PHP, it wasn’t through WordPress. It was just through trying to learn how to write stuff on the Web in the late 90s, early 2002. Probably 2001 is when I really got into it. But that was when forums were a bigger deal than they kind of are today. That was kind of the way that my brain works and thinks. And so, those are the two pieces of software that I enjoy working on I think kind of the most. But WordPress Weekly is relatively new for me. Jeff asked me to know early in the year. I’ve kind of been a friend of the show and been on the show a couple of times. But it wasn’t until Jeff needed a co-host where I was like, “Okay.

I’ll jump in and try and be helpful”. I think that’s a good fit for me because Jeff is so good. He’s such a natural on the mic in a Podcast format that all that I really do is just sit back and try and be his Ed McMahon and laugh at his terrible jokes and provide a little bit of core development side or Developer educational type of side and the occasional opinion. But, yeah. The long and short of it is that there’s a little bit more freedom in BuddyPress and bbPress than there has traditionally been in working on WordPress core itself. There’s a little bit more opportunity to level contributors up with BuddyPress and bbPress than there used to be in WordPress core. WordPress core development has changed a lot. So it’s a lot better than I think it was 5 or 10 years ago.

I think they’re more fun. There’s a little bit more freedom that we have to do things than your average WordPress core contributor might have. The different between 29 percent of the Web and less than 1 percent of the Web means you’re able to make some decisions that maybe you couldn’t make with WordPress core itself these days.

Jonathan: Yeah. You’re a little bit more on the sidelines which has its benefits, doesn’t it? So, how are these two projects going? Are there any major updates, improvements that you want to talk about?

John: So, there’s a bunch. And over probably the past, I would say maybe 2 years or so now since we moved, there’s a woman by the name of Jennifer Dodd, who works at Automattic now, who has been a bbPress contributor for a really long time. And so, she took on the enormous task and gave a talk at WordCamp US this year about migrating all of WordPress.org’s forums over from the old bbPress to the new bbPress. So there’s about 4 million posts that needed to be moved and migrated and converted over.

Jonathan: Wow. Wow.

John: And so, bbPress 2 needed to be tweaked a little bit and needed some maintenance and some performance tweaks and some hooks and actions in places to make some of that happen. And so, bbPress has taken more of my time because it has been more of a need for WordPress.org itself. But consequently, BuddyPress also has more contributors.

Jonathan: Well, actually, I think what we should do is, can you just give a quick outline what the difference between the two are?

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Because I’m just presuming that people know.

John: Right.

Jonathan: And I think that’s a mistake.

John: So, bbPress, the bb stands for Bulletin Board. It is kind of the old school take on bulletin board systems or forums on the Web. It is exactly what you would expect for forums to be and look like. There are forums. Forums have threads. And then people reply to those threads. And so, in typical WordPress fashion, it’s kind of like posting comments but it’s threads and replies and topics and replies. And so, it is a forum. It lets people sign up, create accounts and talk back and forth to one another in sort of a WordPress kind of way, with the WordPress flair on it. And so, that’s bbPress. That’s really all it is. BuddyPress is everything else that you would expect from a traditional sort of social type network. It is robust user profiles. It is an activity log of the things that are happening all throughout your WordPress site. It’s private messages between users.

It lets users group themselves together. And those groups can have their own forums because BuddyPress and bbPress can both be active at the same time and they work with one another really seamlessly. And so, I’ve always looked at them as like if you’re building a community, you start off with a blog, you have some posts and you have some momentum. If people want a place to talk back and forth and comments isn’t that place, then give them a forum. And now there’s a place where they can talk back and forth with one another. And then, once your forum is huge and bustling and moving around, look at BuddyPress because now you can give a lot of control back to your users for sort of a more like a Reddit kind of thing. And they can create their own groups. They can subscribe to those groups. They can have activity streams and forums and talk back and forth. You really give control of your community over to your community with something like BuddyPress. As much as they both have Bs in their names and they’re easy to confuse with one another, they’re two different pieces of software that serve two different kinds of audiences.

And because we use bbPress all over WordPress.org, it is the piece of software that honestly gets the most attention. But BuddyPress, as a piece of software goes, is sort of technologically more impressive and honestly is like 10 years ahead of its time when it comes to how WordPress plugins solve problems today. And so, not to keep going forever, but bbPress uses all the things that people are used to using. Custom post types, custom taxonomies and all of the WordPress built-in internals for doing everything. BuddyPress has always done the opposite. BuddyPress has custom database tables, custom APIs, custom code, hooks, everything to do everything inside of WordPress but also outside of WordPress because it is sort of a separate section of a site.

So a lot of plugins that are really popular right now like WooCommerce or even Gravity Forms has had custom database tables for a long time. But WooCommerce, EDD, most of the stuff that EDD is working or related to stuff, all of the membership type plugins, the Ninja Forms folks, a lot of these plugins all use custom database tables because they need to to scale their application in a way that it works for something like 4 million posts like you end up with on WordPress.org. BuddyPress has always worked that way. And a lot of plugins architecturally are moving towards that model because they’re learning what we knew 10 years ago which is on the scale of WordPress.org or WordPress.com or on really active WooCommerce sites that have thousands of sales a second, it’s not just scaling an application to make WordPress’ posts table work correctly, it’s scaling a very sophisticated thing horizontally and spreading the pain around so that you don’t crash the 30, 300, 3,000 servers that something is working on.

So BuddyPress is ahead of its time with those kind of things because it was architected to potentially have been a thing for a WordPress.com and we do use it on WordPress.org but we don’t really draw a lot of attention to it. And so, BuddyPress and the contributors behind it, I have kind of largely been absent for probably the past year or 2 on the BuddyPress project because everyone else has been working on all of the cooler, more modern pieces of it and I’ve been working more on scaling bbPress for the international forums, the Rosetta forums, WordPress.org, BuddyPress and bbPress forums and everything else. And so it is nice that we have those two alternatives. They do compliment each other really well. And they were like two of the first official sister projects to WordPress whereas now we kind of consider WP-CLI that and we have the concept of core plugins where Gutenberg is kind of one of those and Shortcake and we have all these other initiatives going on. And so, BuddyPress and bbPress are symbolic in a way of the early experimentation in the WordPress community of trying new things and seeing new software and testing the waters for which direction that WordPress and the community could go. There’s a lot of history there. So I’m lucky and happy and fortunate to have been involved in some small way in helping the community out with those two software.

Jonathan: So you’re a happy Wizard.

John: I’m a happy Wizard. Whether or not people are happy with my wizardry is a different thing. But I’m a happy Wizard.

Jonathan: All right. Before we go on to our break actually and then I let my great co-host take over, I want to continue discussing these two great parts of WordPress but I just want to quickly ask about, you attended WordCamp Us, what were your general thoughts about how it went down and your conversations in general with people and their feelings about how WordPress is going in general?

John: So that’s a very broad question that I will try not to go on for 20 minutes about.

Jonathan: Please don’t because we haven’t got 20 minutes.

John: The people that I spent most of my time talking to, I went to two sessions throughout all of WordCamp US. I spent the rest of the time in the hall way hanging out and having conversations like this.

Jonathan: With the other Wizards.

John: With the 1,800 or whatever other Wizards that were there. I went to Jennifer Dodd’s talk which I mentioned earlier and I went to the State of the Word. Otherwise, I accidentally did not make it to any other talks at WordCamp US. But depending on who you talk to, either people are super excited about what’s happening in 29 percent of the Web and all that. It’s all good news. And then, sort of polarizing, there are a group of people that are worried about the Gutenberg of what the future of WordPress is going to be with blocks and all those things. I don’t want to say that the future of WordPress is uncertain because that’s not the right word. But I think people feel uncertainty and I personally don’t think that people should feel that way. If that makes any sense.

Jonathan: All right. I just want to quickly ask you about that because I think you’re spot on there actually in a way. It was a fantastic observation. I think there’s two parts of this and I said the same thing on Friday is that there’s some criticization which I do think has some level of legitimacy about it about how the project was scoped out, how it was initially the management of it and the communication of what its real outcomes and significance was going to be. And there’s been some considerable and also about the data that you utilize for a project of that size. There’s also the discussion that it might be a very opportune moment to really be more realistic about backward compatibility. And also slight concerns that the real data construction and how the new WYSIWYG interface is really going to really work with actual real data in a coherent much better way. So I think they are some of the more legitimate worries. Would you agree with that?

John: I do. We care more than your average person does I think is ultimately, the point that I guess I’m trying to get to with people that are listening to this Podcast, for sure the people that follow me on Twitter or whatever, is that if we do a good job, then no one knows or cares where the data is stored or how it gets in or out or whether or not it scales or whatever. The difference is that because WordPress is open source and because we generally work publicly, that a lot of these conversations happen in public. They happen in Twitter or on a Trac ticket or on GitHub where these types of problems and bigger, they are solved every day. And so when Google or Apple changes the way that they store your iCloud data, it’s a big deal internally within the walls of Apple I’m sure for the 30 people or the 300 people that maybe care.

But if they do a good job, we never notice what happens and whatever happens. So if we do a good job means that, sure web hosts will notice and will notice and because it’s public a lot of stuff happens in a public way. But all of the architectural stuff is interesting but it’s not user facing or impactful in any way that amounts to anything. And so, yes, it’s important that we do a good job. It’s important we think these things through. But we also can’t log jam the whole operation because we’re worried about which direction we want to cut the boards. We’ve got to just cut the boards, build the ship, sail on to the next problem.

Jonathan: I see where you’re going. I don’t totally agree with it but I think we need to go for our break and we’ll discuss this in the bonus content section. We’re going to go for our break folks and when we’re back, my co-host is going to take over a while. We’re interviewing a great member of the WordPress community. A great Wizard of the community. So we’ll be back in a moment folks.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back. We’ve had an insightful discussion about spells, potions, all sorts of stuff. I’m going to let my co-host take over. Kim, off you go.

Kim: Thank you, Jonathan. Actually, I have one question on the last point you wrapped up John and then I want to move forward.

John: Sure.

Kim: Because you very favorite plugins. So I’ll try not to turn into a complete fangirl here today. But I could. I’m warning you.

John: Okay.

Kim: I love what you were saying about the open source and that our conversations happen in public because I, in the past, was part of an IBM team and like you said our software, I was in the software side and things went on all the time that the public didn’t know. And I get that piece. The one place I do think we’re different around the Gutenberg discussions is it is something that affects those end users that aren’t always part of the conversation and those are my students. When I teach WordPress, I tend to teach beginners.

John: Yeah.

Kim: And it’s one of those things that for them to wake up one morning and go to their blog and see everything different, that could be a nightmare. And that’s where I think some of this is coming around, not just the technical piece but the making sure we’re rolling this out for those bloggers and business users that aren’t listening to the conversations we’re taking.

John: Right. Right. No, you’re absolutely right. Software is kind of the newest place where this is a real concern because before software, these decisions happened in an IBM kind of way. You didn’t have a whole lot of influence over the engineering that went into the automobile that you bought or the infrastructure and what went into the asphalt that eventually ended up on the pavement in the roads. Whereas now, we really do have a responsibility to do a lot of due diligence when it comes to what the end result of something like Gutenberg will end up being. And Morton, who I’m going to talk to in a few hours actually, is, in his WordCamp US talk touched a little bit on a lot of this where with user testing and knowing whether or not something is good or bad is useful and would be useful for something that is as critically important as literally the place where content goes in and out of WordPress. When you re-skin the entire thing, people don’t like when you move one link let alone when you move all of the links. And so, yeah, it is going to be jarring. It will be polarizing.

One of the things that Matt, which I’m happy that he did at the State of the Word, clarified. I’ll give a little bit of a spoiler for what I’m going to talk about with Morton on WordPress Weekly. The State of the Word and the live demo that happened was like the most important thing for people that were skeptical because Matt clarified that Gutenberg is for new users. It is for the next 12 years of users that are posting to the Web and that it really isn’t for the previous 13 years of WordPress users. And so him saying that I think helped provide the direction that people were looking for. That like, “Oh well, I guess that makes sense if this is for what’s coming and it’s really not for the previous 12 years, then let’s just accept that that’s what this is”. And so, I think that offered a little bit of clarity but it doesn’t make it any less scary that that’s what we’re moving towards and we’re kind of sunsetting what we have been trying to work on this entire time. So, you’re right.

Then this is where the uncertainty comes from. They want a fork of WordPress that doesn’t have Gutenberg or they want a fork that does and let them eventually converge and come back later. And that is an alternative. User facing changes like Gutenberg are the thing that bifurcates a community, “Oh, okay. Here. Now we’ve got a different trajectory because we really disagree with the direction that this is going”. That can be healthy for a project as long as everyone is on the level and everyone is sampling pieces from one another and working towards a similar goal. I hope that that doesn’t happen because it sort of divides resources and everything else. But, yeah, you’re right. I don’t know what to do.

Kim: Well, thank you. I appreciate that because I think you have some insights or you’ve given us some insights that I haven’t heard before. We’ve had Morton on the show quite often. He is one of our Round Table members and he’s fabulous. And you’ve given me some new things to think about. So thank you for that. Okay, bbPress and BuddyPress. For my own stuff, I teach people to build Learning Management Systems. So I’m combining learning management, membership sites and bbPress is in every single one. Let me just tell you that.

John: That’s awesome.

Kim: And I love it. It’s wonderful. It’s so easy to use. And so, one of my questions was, when you were talking about people knowing more about bbPress than BuddyPress, do you think part of that is that ease of use. Because BuddyPress is much more complex. If I’m teaching a beginning WordPress user, I’m not saying, “Put in BuddyPress right now and configure it”, because it tends to be a little heavier to configure and maintain. What are your thoughts on that?

John: I think you’re totally right. For the people that are, like yourselves, that are deploying bbPress to users, your level of comfortability with WordPress in general is high. And so when you know that bbPress is made with the same ingredients that WordPress is made with, then the recipe is very reliable. Where BuddyPress comes with a whole bunch of different ingredients that you have never worked with before. And so, everything that is delicious is butter, flour and salt. And so, when you introduce chocolate, it melts different, the temperature is different, it cooks different. So, is it delicious? Sure. But do you know how to cook with it all the time? Not necessarily. And so, people don’t use BuddyPress in that way. They use it when they need chocolate. When they need that recipe, they’ll use it for that. Where bbPress is easier because it is more plain, it is simpler ingredients. Believe it or not, a lot of work went into making bbPress be as palatable as it is.

We moved a lot of that technology into BuddyPress later just because BuddyPress was so much more complex. And the part that I’m thinking of is the part where if you want to, you can kind of just activate bbPress and not do any styling tweaks, not do any CSS or Javascripts or custom templates and it will look okay. It might not be beautiful but you don’t have to do a lot of work beyond click and activate and making your forums for it to do what it’s supposed to do. Where BuddyPress really does require a lot of additional consideration for how you set up and shape your community. And so, on bbPress, we handle a lot of the implementation details and on BuddyPress we really have handled none of the implementation details. And so, I think that really is the difference and kind of the guiding principles between them. And plugins like WooCommerce which in its old hay day was a different piece of software called Jigoshop. Took a lot of inspiration back in 2010 from the bbPress way of like make the decisions, be an opinionated piece of software that automatically does all the things that a shopping cart is supposed to do.

People expect for forums to have a root of slash forums. So just always do that because that’s what people expect. Don’t make it too configurable or make them do all the work. Just do the work for them. And so, that’s what WooCommerce does now. It makes pages, it makes the check out page, shopping cart page, it does all these things. EDD does the same thing. And so, that was kind of on purpose was bbPress, in order for it to be popular at all, in order for forums to kind of make a comeback, they need to be super simple. And whereas I think because people are afraid of comments on blog posts because there’s a lot of contention about social media and the positive or negative effects that it has on mankind and all these things that BuddyPress is kind of purposefully still, although to its detriment, it requires a little bit of work, a little bit of implementation. And so, it makes me really happy to hear that you use bbPress on pretty much everything. But BuddyPress would be the thing that you eventually bolt on top of all of it. And then you have a more configurable user profiles or now you’ve got a place to plug the LMS in so you’ve got grades in very specific profile location. So you can start to see an evolution there of how you might use the two together. But, yeah, bbPress is sort of simpler by design.

Kim: Excellent. I have used BuddyPress on two sites and I love it. I do love it.

John: Okay.

Kim: If you look at any of my presentations on building Learning Management platforms, I’ve done a few at WordCamps. BuddyPress is the one where okay, it’s that next step, it’s the big boy if you want to do this. But I do work with it and I love it. But like I said, bbPress is just, it’s my go to. And I am an old forum girl from the 90s. So I don’t do any custom CSS. I just let it go and that’s what a forum to me is supposed to look like.

John: Me too.

Kim: And so, I’m happy with it. I don’t even worry about changing that.

Jonathan: I’m sorry to interrupt Kim.

Kim: Go ahead.
Jonathan: But we’re going to have to go for our, wrap up the Podcast part of the show but we’re going to hopefully continue the conversation which you’ll be able to see on the WP-Tonice website with a full set of show notes and a full transcript of our discussion so far. And hopefully, we’ll be going deeper into more potions, spells and other wizardry things. So, JJ, the Wizard, how can people get hold of you?

John: Twitter and GitHub at JJJ. And you can see some pictures of my dogs and some musings on my blog at jjj.blog. Or Instagram, it’s mostly just pictures of the dogs. That’s probably it, I think. Better there than most places.

Jonathan: And obviously they can listen to you on WordPress Weekly.

John: WordPress Weekly also. Every week. Every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Central I think is when we kick it off on WordPress Weekly.

Jonathan: That’s great. And Kim, how can people find more about your spells and potions?

Kim: You can find everything I do at kimshivler.com or on Twitter @kimshivler.

Jonathan: And if you want to learn more about what the Headmaster of the Wizardry University is up to, you can go to the WP-Tonic website. You can go to our Twitter feed as well or my Twitter feed which is @jonathandenwood. And also try and join our Facebook group. There’s links on the website. I’m going to really try and do some effort on that and get that up and going. Maybe even JJ will join our group and contribute some Wizard remarks. That would be really quite nice. So we’ll see you this Friday. We’re going to have the last show of 2017. Me and Kim are taking a little bit of a festive break after that. But we’ve got some great interviews in 2018 all lined up. Almost fell there but I retrieved it, didn’t I Kim? So thank you for listening and if you don’t listen to the Friday show, which you should, it’s going to be great, we’ll see you in the New Year. And the last thing. If you’re really generous in this festive season, go to iTunes and give us a review. It really helps the show. And it’s amusing, the good Wizard remark, I will speak it out on the show as well. So we’ll see you hopefully on Friday. Bye.

Male Voice Announcer: Thanks for listening to WP-Tonic. The Podcast that gives you a spoon full of WordPress medicine twice a week.

What don’t you join us on Facebook every Friday at 9 am PST and be part of our live show where you can a be part of the discussion? https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

To also see a list of upcoming Friday & Wednesday shows during the month go here. https://www.wp-tonic.com/blab/


How To Us Affiliate Marketing Successfully To Grow Your Business

On episode 252 of the WP-Tonic Roundtable, host Jonathan Denwood was joined by Brain Jackson, Tom McCracken, John Locke, Mendel Kurland, Morten Rand-Hendriksen, and Chris Badgett.

This week’s sponsor is IntelligenceWP, a plugin that helps make more sense out of the information you receive from Google Analytics.

The main topic of the day covered Affiliate Marketing. Can you make money doing this and should you have an affiliate program for your own products?

If you have an affiliate program, the top 5% affiliate earners make you all your money. The key is finding that 5% of affiliates. These are people who love and believe in your product and take the time to market it.

Technically affiliate programs are free other than the time to monitor them. Compare this to Pay Per Click marketing that can easily become expensive without the return. With affiliates, you only pay after there is a purchase.

Brian Jackson mentioned that he not only has an affiliate program for Kinsta web hosting, he also participates as an affiliate on his blog. He only promotes products that he uses and likes.

Jonathan asked if you can have success even if you don’t use and love the products you recommend. The team agreed that there are some marketers who are good at marketing and know SEO and may be able to promote a larger number of products successfully whether they use them or not.

Success as an affiliate marketer requires a lot of work, but you can make good money if you are willing to do the work.

Brian Jackson Chief Outbound Marketing Officer at Kinsta WordPress Hosting . Brian also runs two successful WordPress plugin businesses with this brother Perfmatters  and WP-Coupons. Also Brian runs a highly successful WordPress and marketing information website that gets over 40 visitors per month Woorkup.


Our episode this week is sponsored by INTELLIGENCEWP.Finally, an analytics plugin that provides valuable metrics and results that increase your leads.INTELLIGENCEWP.


This Weeks WordPress News We Discuss This Week 1 – Matt Mullenweg “State of the Word 2017”

2 – Gutenberg and The Impacts It’ll Have on the WordPress Business Ecosystem

By Tony Perez

Gutenberg and The Impacts It’ll Have on the WordPress Business Ecosystem

3 – You Shouldn’t Put All Your Eggs In The WordPress Basket – Interviewing CreativeMinds CEO, David Rashty


This Weeks Panel of WordPress Experts

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: from Lynda.com

Jackie D’Elia: from Jackie D’Elia Design

John Locke: from Lockedown Design

Jonathan Denwood: from WP-Tonic.com

Mendel Kurland: from GoDaddy

Chris Badgett: fromLIFTERLMS

Brian Jackson: from Kinsta Hosting

Tom McCracken: from INTELLIGENCEWP

What don’t you join us on Facebook every Friday at 9 am PST and be part of our live show where you can a be part of the discussion? https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

To also see a list of upcoming Friday & Wednesday shows during the month go here. https://www.wp-tonic.com/blab/


What Are The Best Fully Hosted &  WordPress LMS Solutions?

This week, host Jonathan Denwood and co-host Kim Shivler discussed learning management systems including fully-hosted third party platforms like Thinkific and Kajabi and WordPress Learning Management System (LMS) plugins like LearnDash and LifterLMS.

This Show Is Sponsored By …

In other show episodes, Jonathan and Kim have interviewed Justin Ferriman of LearnDash and Chris Badgett from LifterLMS to discuss their products. This time they ventured beyond self-hosted platforms into fully configured and hosted options including Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, and Udemy.
For many people, a self-hosted plan is a better option. It does provide the limitations of working in someone else’s platform and provides the freedom to create content without worrying about building and maintaining a platform.


Here’s a Full Transcript of This Episode

Jonathan: Welcome back folks. This is the WP-Tonic Show. This is episode 251 and we’ve got a great show here. We’re going to be talking about Learning Management Systems, the best plugins, the best fully hosted solutions. And I’ve got my great co-host Kim Shivler with me. Like to introduce yourself quickly Kim?

Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a Communications and Instructional Design instructor focusing on WordPress, online courses and actually live workshops and presentations too.

Jonathan: And you’re the Queen of Learning Management Systems, aren’t you Kim?

Kim: That’s how I’ve gotten known in this community for the last few years.

Jonathan: Yeah. There’s not much she doesn’t know about it. And basically, I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a fully specialized WordPress support, fix your problems company with an emphasis on Learning Management Systems. And before we go into the show that we’re both really looking forward to, I want to talk about our great sponsor and that’s Kinsta Hosting. I use Kinsta myself for the WP-Tonic website. We’ve been using it now for about a month. It’s just a great company, great support. They migrated the site and it’s just been a joy working with them. They’ve just got a great team as well. The support is amazing. I just can’t say more about Kinsta. They are sponsoring the show but I wouldn’t host my own website unless I was totally happy with the service that they provide and I am. So go to the WP-Tonic, look at the show notes and go to the WP-Tonic website in general and we have banners, links and it will take you straight to the Kinsta site and sign up for them. So, Kim, how shall we start the show? We start with the fully hosted solutions, shall we?

Kim: That’s a great place to start.

Jonathan: All right.

Kim: If we’re talking about fully hosted solutions, as with any other website type hosting, that means it’s all plug and play. It’s already there for you. You don’t have to maintain your site. You just create an account and build your course. The pros are you don’t have to update it. The negatives are you have to play within their arena and you don’t have as much functionality.

Jonathan: Yeah. A good metaphor is learn the difference between WooCommerce and Shopify, isn’t it?

Kim: Absolutely. Or WordPress.com versus your own hosted WordPress.

Jonathan: Yeah. Well, that could get really confusing especially with the changes we’re seeing at the present moment. But I think the Shopify WooCommerce is a good metaphor because obviously all sites are hosted. But what we’re talking about is a turnkey product which they host, they keep maintained which you can get up and running really quick. But you have reduced ability to customize. Would you say that’s pretty good, Kim?

Kim: That’s it. That’s definitely the difference.

Jonathan: So, we’re going to look at some of the fully hosted. I apologize about the pronunciation of this. Kajabi? We’re looking at Kajabi first. Did I do a reasonable job pronouncing that, Kim?

Kim: You did. It’s Kajabi.

Jonathan: Kajabi.

Kim: Yes.

Jonathan: All right. So what do you think of this one? And then give a brief outline of what you think it’s strengths and maybe some of its little weakness because nothing’s perfect, is it?

Kim: Of course nothing’s perfect.

Jonathan: Apart from me.

Kim: Absolutely. You’re perfect.

Jonathan: I wish were. No. I’m definitely not.

Kim: So, Kajabi is very interesting. It’s really a platform to create and sell products. Whether it’s an online course, whether it’s a membership site or even eBooks. You can do all of that within the Kajabi platform. It’s a hosted site. It has email integration. They’ve redone it and I’m just working in it right now for a client. It’s kind of exciting what they’ve got going on. The downside is really the same as all of them. You are playing within their structure. If the way you want to sell isn’t quite working the way they have it set up, then you’re kind of out of luck. It’s also a little pricey. The mid-range plan which is what most people I work with need is $300 a month. That is pricey.

Jonathan: That is pricey, isn’t it? You’ve got to be pretty serious about it, haven’t you?

Kim: Yes. It’s very easy to set up. I do love that. You really could log in and create your class today. That $311 a month gives you up to 100 products and 10,000 active members. So it is a site where they’re limiting your members. Not limiting but you’re charged based on members. Kind of like an email service does.

Jonathan: $311 is a bit pricey. But unless you’re going to do everything yourself, you can spend like $3,000 to $5,000 getting a WordPress site up and running quite easily, couldn’t you?

Kim: Absolutely.

Jonathan: Realistically?

Kim: Oh, easily.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kim: Yeah. You would still need your basic WordPress site though most likely because you’re going to have your blogging and that type of thing.

Jonathan: Oh, you don’t do that? It doesn’t do that bit?

Kim: Not to the extent that you would want in a WordPress site that I have found yet. Let me say that. I am just now really putting it through its paces. And we’ll be writing a review of it here in the next couple of weeks.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. So, it’s one of these systems where you still need your WordPress. And then, can you mask the domain when you go to this or something?

Kim: Yes. For most of what my clients would need, they’re still going to need a website. And that’s true of most of these online learning platforms. In fact, most of the online learning platforms are strictly to sell classes. Kajabi is more advanced in that you could sell any online product. You could sell classes, downloads, membership areas, etcetera. And that’s the one thing I really like about it compared to the other ones we’re going to talk about that are just courses. Because those of you who have heard me speak on learning platforms, I really find the strength of a learning platform is where you have the online course that is your step by step by step piece. But then also a membership wrapped around that. That is your resources pages that doesn’t go into that mark complete lesson. It’s a separate step.

Jonathan: Yeah. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Also, the other thing is that you offer a load of stuff like this system and it becomes a Swiss Army knife. And the problem is it offers a lot but it doesn’t do anything that great. Do you understand what I mean by that?

Kim: Yes. However, I would say for this one I think that its options for the course, the quizzes, etcetera are very functional.

Jonathan: Right.
Kim: In fact, they’re more functional than some of the online course “plugin options” even.

Jonathan: All right. I’ll have a look at it. I’ll have a look at that one. Think it.

Kim: Thinkific.

Jonathan: Thinkific. I just love these names. These are perfect for somebody that suffers from Dyslexia, aren’t they?

Kim: They made them just for you.

Jonathan: Just made it just for me, didn’t they? What’s this one about then Kim?

Kim: So, Thinkific is fully hosted training. It’s very easy to get up and running quickly. It doesn’t have that membership piece. It’s just really that step by step course if that’s all you’re looking to do. It’s very popular. There is a free version so you don’t have to commit. However, most of my people that I’ve worked with do end up in a paid plan. For example, there’s a lot more options if you’ll go into one of the paid plans. And they range from $50 a month or $49 a month to $279 a month. Most of the people I work with are in this $99 a month where they can have multiple instructors if they want. They can have private or hidden courses because Thinkific also has, like Udemy which we’re going to talk about also, it has a marketplace. Now when you build a course, you can put it into their marketplace or if you want to hide it, then it requires one of the premium options. So if it’s just doing for your own company or members etcetera, then you would have to pay for the premium.

Jonathan: Right. My ignorance of these are probably surprising but I just live in WordPress folks. I don’t venture forth. I leave this to Kim, the Queen of Learning Management Systems. That’s why she’s my co-host as well. I live in my little WordPress bubble folks. So there we go. But it looks a nice website. Any kind of real weaknesses you observed with it at all really? Any peculiar weakness?

Kim: Really just the theming. You’re playing with their themes and if you want more or you want it closer branded to what your site is, then you may run into some limitations. We’ve run into that with some people I worked with. But these were people who did not want to build their own, maintain their own or pay someone even to do a separate for them. They just wanted it taken care of. I will say for both of these, Kajabi and Thinkific, the support is phenomenal.

Jonathan: Oh, great. I was going to ask you that actually.

Kim: Great support.

Jonathan: On to the next one, Teachable. Tell us about this Kim.

Kim: Teachable is very similar to Thinkific. It predates Thinkific. Thinkific’s kind of the new kid on the block. They work very similar. Through the grapevine for people I have worked with, a lot of them are moving over to Thinkific. It has some features that people really like more than teachable. I believe they’re both priced the same way. I need to double check that.

Jonathan: What normally happens is you go through all the pain of moving it and then they do an upgrade and it’s probably got better features than you moved to. That’s what normally happens to me.

Kim: Yeah. The pricing is about the same. I believe it was the multiple instructors that a lot of the people I was working with who wanted to kind of build their own marketplace where they could have different instructors, that that was the feature that they liked. But again, I haven’t worked with it in depth. I’ve worked much more in depth with Thinkific and now working with Kajabi for a client.

Jonathan: Kajabi. All right. Kajabi. It’s starting to grow on me Kim. On to the last one Udemy.

Kim: Udemy is a little different in that Thinkific, Kajabi, you can sign up, pay and it’s all yours. Udemy actually is a marketplace and they have to approve your course. So you have to not only follow their guidelines for the platform but they have to approve the course. They want to make sure that they’re delivering quality to their marketplace. Udemy was really really popular. And a lot of people still use it to try to be found because they do have this huge. They have very very strict rules about trying to take people out of Udemy. So don’t think you can just build a course and say, “Oh, by the way, come see me over here at kimshivler.com”. They’re not going to let you do that.

Jonathan: No. You can’t use that. But they don’t stop you from your name and having your own website.

Kim: Right.

Jonathan: Will they stop you from promoting your own courses on your own? They can’t stop you from promoting your own courses on your own website though. Can they?

Kim: Yes. You can’t promote within their courses an outside course.

Jonathan: No. That’s what I mean is, but you can have your URL and promote your own courses. You just can’t talk about them in Udemy.

Kim: I’m not even sure what URLs you’re allowed to give. They’re pretty locked down tight. The other thing . . .

Jonathan: You can’t go to, I don’t think you, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m being rude and I apologize Kim. I don’t think they allow you to go to like to kimshivlermemberships.

Kim: No.
Jonathan: You can go to kimshivler.com.

Kim: Again, it’s very limited as to where you can put that information. But the biggest limitation you have on Udemy if you want the fullest exposure is you lose control of your pricing.

Jonathan: Yeah. Totally.

Kim: And a lot of people have left because of that.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kim: You can have a $300 course but they can put it on discount to whatever they want to their marketplace. They are ways not to do it but then you don’t get the full exposure.

Jonathan: Yeah. Just to wrap up before we go to our break Kim is that the reason I put that in is I think it’s a really good testing ground for somebody that’s not never done any kind of course or anything. Because I understand they are fussy. It’s like your first book. You’re getting a really snotty editor but when you reflect it, it was a good teaching experience. What do you think about that? Or am I talking rubbish here Kim?

Kim: No. I think that that’s true. However, I think that if you’re a subject matter expert and you take the time to learn how to put a good class together, you’ve got to put all this effort into it. I would go ahead and do it and do it one a platform where I can establish a price that is a fair price. Look, if you want to sell $39 courses, do it all day long.

Jonathan: Oh, well, that’s what I meant. I think it’s a good testing ground. You’ve got to meet their standards and try. And also, if there is a market in a way in the future plannings to produce, it’s a good testing ground but I wouldn’t put my heart and soul in it. Because it’s what you just said. You’ve got no control over it. You’re signing it away to them basically.

Kim: Pretty much.

Jonathan: Well, we’re going to go for our break and we’ll be back. We’ll be talking more about Learning Management Systems but this time the WordPress solutions with my co-host Kim Shivler, the Queen of Learning Management Systems. Be back in a moment folks.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back. Kim’s been putting me right on these hosted solutions. Like I say, I live in my little WordPress bubble which I’m very happy about. On to the, sorry, aren’t I? No. I’m just trying to be funny. On to the WordPress solutions. I thought we’d start with the big baddie of this. The CEO has been on this show. Great guy, Justin. LearnDash. Tell us about LearnDash, Queen of LMS.

Kim: Okay. Well, LearnDash is absolutely hands down one of my favorites. It is probably the most powerful of the Learning Management Systems for WordPress. Between what it can do natively and the amount that they’ve put into partnering with people for add-ons, there’s just almost nothing you can’t do with it. It’s fabulous. It is a little harder to learn than some of the others. Now, having said that, within the last 3 years, they have just gotten easier and easier and easier.

But it does take a little bit more planning when you’re working with a course to make sure that you’re going to get it to look like what you want or to get it in the order etcetera that you want. A big part of that is this is really the one that started out very classic for those of us who are professionally trained Instructional Designers. And we would always be coming to our course planning with a little bit more detail than what some people when we’re thinking of more Internet Marketers building an online course would do.

Jonathan: Yeah. I think that’s a really good, the way I see this playing out is that you might be best looking at one of the hosted solutions that we’ve gone through in the first part of the show. If you’re not from a professional education or instructor background or you’re not hiring somebody like Kim to help you do some pre-planning, you might be best to try and work with one of the hosted solutions just to give you an idea how all this works. I don’t know. What’s your feelings about that Kim?

Kim: I think looking at the hosted solutions is great. When I work with people, I really work with them. “Okay. Are you sure you want, what it’s going to take, the commitment it’s going to take to configure this all yourself and then to maintain it? Because that’s one thing, right? WordPress websites are not one and done. Now, what I also recommend is that they hire someone like you. WP-Tonic is there to keep it maintained for you as well as to help you, either build it for you or to help you build it. But it is definitely a commitment you’ve got to make for yourself.

Jonathan: I think also, we’ve had a couple discussions with some possible clients, haven’t we, lately. The main thing is they think it’s just buying the plugin, getting it set up. And then, like what your pre-introduction to LearnDash is, that they learn rapidly that they’ve got to have some understanding about structure, what they’re really wanting from the plugin to get at the end result. They struggle in actually visualizing or understanding how to get there, don’t they?

Kim: Yes. And the other thing that we run in with, with any of the plugins in WordPress is the same question that I get from any WordPress installation and that is, “How do I make the sales pages look good?”. And that’s not a plugin issue. That’s going to have to do with your theme. Or maybe you are going to use a page builder plugin to tie it. But that has the theme combined or that is the theme’s to role to manage that look and feel as opposed to the plugin is not going to plugin and redo your whole site so that you’ve got pretty sales pages.

Jonathan: What’s the one thing, I don’t know if anything comes to mind. Is there any one thing and feature that comes to mind with this that you really really love about LearnDash?

Kim: For LearnDash, I have a couple. I love the add-on that they have for a course catalog. They have a really nice add-on that lays out the course in a grid and it just looks fabulous. There’s another add-on that lets students have notes so they can be in there and have their own notes on what they’re learning. From the just regular perspective, hands down the best quiz options out there.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. On to a company that, he’s a member of our Friday panel, Chris, the CEO and that’s LifterLMS. So, tell us a little bit about LifterLMS Kim.

Kim: Well, another one that I love. We had Chris on last week.

Jonathan: We did.

Kim: And he and I can get together and geek out on this stuff for hours. LifterLMS is fabulous. It is a freemium option. In fact, it’s the only freemium option we’ve got here which means you can start for free. In fact, if you don’t want to sell your courses, if you want to just build a free course, you can keep it free. You have to start buying add-ons and upgrades if you want to do extras. So if you want to sell your courses, if you want to have advanced questions, if you want to have private areas. So, for example, if you’re a coach, this is one of my favorite things that they’ve now added. If you’re a coach or an instructor who wants one and one time, your students can have their own page that you can both share information on. It’s really powerful. Again, that would be premium. Lifter is very easy to configure and it’s very easy to learn, to lay out your classes. The basics are very easy. And then, of course, as you add some of those add-ons etceteras, you are going to add a little bit more complexity as you add more functionality. That’s just true with pretty much any plugin.

Jonathan: Yeah. I find its got the odd little thing. Like Chris said, it’s amazing. They’re in their fourth year. But they’re rapidly developing this product out, aren’t they? Thomas, he’s Joint Founder. He’s coding away. But one of the main things between it and, is they have their own membership solution integrated in it. And Thomas has admitted to me that it works but it’s not as powerful or slick as some of the, on their own plugin membership solutions, isn’t it? Because I think with LearnDash you can utilize your own membership, third party membership plugin, can’t you?

Kim: Yes. So LearnDash works both with MemberPress and Paid Memberships Pro and has a lot of functionality. In fact, most of my sites when I build out a LearnDash, it’s a combination of MemberPress and LearnDash. When I’m using LearnDash, I use MemberPress to control the granularity of where people have access to. Now, I actually love Lifter’s membership piece.

Jonathan: Yeah

Kim: It’s not a robust as MemberPress but again, it is that easy to set up. Any of kimshivler’s sites, one of mine is LearnDash and MemberPress and one of them is LifterLMS. I’ve built with all of them. But the two that I’m actually right now live with from my paying customers, those are the two options that I’m using.

Jonathan: Yeah. I just want to point out folks is that what I mean by that is that it’s fully open code. And if you hire a company that’s got a bit of experience, they can integrate some of the other membership plugins. If you need more power, more customization, it’s quite possible to utilize one of the third party. It’s just that it’s going to need more customization. What I mean by it is where with LearnDash, the two membership plugins, it’s already been adapted to plug and play with those two membership options. But if you choose another one for some reason, you can still get hold of the code and manipulate it. It’s just going to need a lot more customization.

Kim: Right.

Jonathan: I thought I’d just put that in there just to clarify. Otherwise, people think, “That’s the only membership plugins it will work with”. Or, “Lifter won’t work with another one”. Well, it will but it just needs a lot more customization and custom development. So on to another one. I always struggle. Sen . . .

Kim: Sensei.

Jonathan: Sensei. I struggled there. I always do. Sensei. Love it. Tell us about this Kim.

Kim: So Sensei comes from the folks at WooCommerce, WooThemes. And it’s wonderful. It’s very powerful. It has some really cool options for reporting and assignments. The big drawback if you’re not a WooCommerce shop is Sensei requires WooCommerce to sell your classes. If you’re a WooCommerce shop, it’s a perfect fit to plug right in. But if you’re somebody who wants to just sell one or two classes, you don’t have the physical needs, WooCommerce is a lot of overkill for that. For example, you have to do special things to set it to where people don’t have to enter their physical address. And if all you’re doing is selling a virtual product through PayPal, a lot of people don’t want to put in their physical address. So they’re definitely some things you need to consider as far as what that’s going to take if you’re not already a WooCommerce shop.

Jonathan: Yeah. We’re going to wrap up the Podcast part of the show folks. And we’re going to continue the discussion for 10 minutes, 10, 15 minutes which you’ll be able to watch on the website. And also, by going to the website, you’ll be able to sign up for Kinsta as well. So we’re going to continue the discussion which you’ll be able to watch on the website. Kim, how can people get a hold of you?

Kim: You can find me at kimshivler.com where you’ll find all the things I do. And if you’re very specifically interested in online courses, you can look up howtobuildanonlinecourse.com.

Jonathan: And if you want to get a hold of me it’s really easy. We love feedback. Go to the WP-Tonic Facebook page. We’ve just recently started a group. We haven’t done much with it yet but we’ve got plans in the new year. That’s a great way. Or Twitter me directly @jonathandenwood or just send me an email and we love your feedback. And if you’re in a very generous mood, if you could go to iTunes and give us a review for the new year, that would be fantastic. Just to show your support for the amount of content that we have produced for you in 2017. We’re going to wrap up this Wednesday show. We have somebody from the WordPress world or the world in general that’s doing something interesting. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye


WordPress Plugin Solution



What don’t you join us on Facebook every Friday at 9 am PST and be part of our live show where you can a be part of the discussion? https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

To also see a list of upcoming Friday & Wednesday shows during the month go here. https://www.wp-tonic.com/blab/



#250 WP-Tonic: Tips & Tricks On How to Make Your Websites More Mobile Friendly

On today’s round-table, Sallie Goetsch and John Locke joined the show’s co-host Kim Shivler to share tips for making your websites mobile friendly along with recent news stories.

While mobile responsive design has been around for many years, and you would think everyone was designing this way by now, we find that many people still ignore it.


Our episode this week is sponsored by INTELLIGENCEWP.Finally, an analytics plugin that provides valuable metrics and results that increase your leads.INTELLIGENCEWP.

From large background videos that don’t load well on phones to content that is designed for a print layout not online layout, we still see major issues trying to access websites from a mobile device.

John Locke’s top tips included:

Pay attention to the typography. He finds many sites with small fonts that are not legible on mobile. He recommends font sizes of at least 16 pixels.

Tap targets, those buttons you must tap with your finger on a mobile device, need to be big enough to tap on.

He recommends going into the Google Search Console and check your mobile usability. Google provides tips for what is problematic in your content. One he frequently sees is content that is too wide for the screen. This can often be fixed by setting “overflow x hidden” in your CSS.

Sallies top tips included:

Avoid popup ads. Google has warned us about using popups and on phones they are often impossible to close.

Make sure to take advantage of WordPress’s responsive images. Send small images to lighten the weight and make sure the site loads fast.

Beware of sidebars. These usually move to the bottom of the text, so don’t place your most important content here.

Test everything on mobile devices to see exactly how it works.

While we all should be developing our sites for mobile devices, many people are still focused on the desktop. Using these tips, you can make your site more friendly to those looking at you on phones and tablets.

This Weeks News and Discussion Stories


1 – Four Things I’d Like to See in This Year’s State of the Word

Four Things I’d Like to See in This Year’s State of the Word

2 – Video Backgrounds Suck Ban Them From Your Website

Video backgrounds suck and should be banned from your website

3 – CSS Grid Gotchas And Stumbling Blocks



Our episode this week is sponsored by INTELLIGENCEWP.Finally, an analytics plugin that provides valuable metrics and results that increase your leads.INTELLIGENCEWP.


This Weeks Panel of WordPress Experts

Sallie Goetsch: from WP Fangirl

Kim Shivler: from Kim Shivler

John Locke: from Lockedown Design


What don’t you join us on Facebook every Friday at 9 am PST and be part of our live show where you can a be part of the discussion? https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

To also see a list of upcoming Friday & Wednesday shows during the month go here. https://www.wp-tonic.com/blab/



Chris Badgett Joint Founder & CEO of LifterLMS

This week Jonathan Denwood and co-host Kim Shivler interviewed Chris Badgett of LifterLMS (https://lifterlms.com). Chris has been a guest before and often joins us on the WP-Tonic Friday Round-table shows. This week, we talked about what’s on the horizon for LifterLMS and tips for creating successful online learning programs.

LifterLMS is creating new, expanded options for quiz types which will make their quiz engine more robust and give teachers more options. The are also adding assignments and working to incorporate assignments that take place outside the computer. This promises exciting possibilities for people who teach topics other than technology. For example, cooking or hobby instructors could teach skills that students then must practice outside the LMS and report back.

This Episode’s Sponsor


We also discussed tips for creating successful learning programs. Many courses have very low completion rates – frequently as low as 10%. Chris sees successful training programs as a 4 Fold Approach. People need to be:

1) Subject matter experts
2) Community builders
3) Instructional designers
4) Technology implementers

Many are only skilled at one of these. To help people fill the gaps, the LifterLMS team works to help people learn what they need to know from each of these areas through their LMSCast podcast where they explore these topics with experts


Here’s A Full Transcription of Our Interview With Chris  Badgett

Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Wednesday show. We’ve got a fantastic guest on the show today. We’ve got the Joint Founder and CEO of LifterLMS, Chris Badgett. He also comes on our Friday Round Table show. So he’s a friend of the show. Like to introduce yourself a bit more Chris?

Chris: Sure. It’s good to be here Jonathan. I do a lot of different things. I’m a family guy. I’m a traveler. I’m an outdoor guy. I’m a technologist. I’m a prolific online course creator myself. I’m really passionate about online courses. But most people online know me as the Co-Founder of LifterLMS which is a WordPress plugin and ecosystem of add-ons that make it possible to create, sell and protect online courses. But I’m into all kinds of things. Leadership, family, healthy lifestyle. All these things make me tick.

Jonathan: Certainly does. And I’ve got my co-host Kim Shivler. Like to introduce yourself, Kim?

Kim: I’d love to. Thank you, Jonathan. I’m Kim Shivler. I am an Instructional Design Consultant and a Communications Instructor. You can find me at kimshivler.com.

Jonathan: That’s great. And I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a maintenance support company that specializes in Learning Management Systems and Membership websites. That’s what we like to help people with. So, let’s get this show started. So, Chris, with Thomas, your other Joint Founder, how did LifterLMS start? What was its origins? Why did you get into the crazy world of Learning Management Systems, Chris?

Chris: Well, I like to say, just like the Hair Club for Men, I’m not only the CEO, I’m also a client. So, I’m a course builder myself which is part of the origin story. But to give a broader context, we’re recording this at the end of 2017. The LifterLMS project is almost 4 years old at this point. Thomas and I operated a WordPress, Web Development and Design Agency a long time before that for several years and we knew we wanted to get into the product business. We enjoyed serving clients and we ended up getting a specialty in building online courses and membership site websites for people and then often building custom software on top of that, all doing that in the WordPress ecosystem as the foundation of our development stack. But it was through all that. Wanting to get into the product.

Me understanding the industry because I also create and sell my own online courses and partner with other experts to do the same as kind of a publisher model. It was just the obvious choice of where we wanted to go. I’m a big fan in terms of Entrepreneurship and business. Someone came up with a phrase, the corner office test or the stage test which means, “Do you want to, 3 years from now, be on stage talking about this? Will you still be passionate about it? And if so, it might be worth pursuing. If not, the fire of passion may burn out and it may not hold long-term”. But for me, online education and the topic of learning is something that I’m literally devoting my life to. So that’s part of the story as well.

Jonathan: So, how did you meet Thomas?

Chris: Thomas and I met when I first got into technology, I had just left Alaska. I spent a lot of time of my life living without technology and even without electricity. After I had my first daughters and we can talk about the Alaska origin story if you want a little bit. But I was actually freelancing for another company doing Project Management for Web Development and I hired Thomas for a freelance Development job. I found him on oDesk it was called at the time. Now it’s called Upwork.

I kind of developed him as a sub-contractor in this other company. Then I started my own freelance business. I hired Thomas as a sub-contractor for me directly. And then later, Thomas hired me as a Project Manager into this company. And then later, we’re like, “Let’s just end all this. Merge our companies together”. And that was the origin of codeBOX which is officially the company that makes LifterLMS. We used to do a lot of client services but now we’re fully focused on LifterLMS.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. You broke up a little bit there but you came back, Chris. Like you say, it’s been 4 years. What are some of the major lessons that you’ve learned in those 4 years, Chris?

Chris: Wow. There’s a lot. The big one is, kind of like I mentioned with the stage test. Having passion is so critical to our success. Because we’re really into the subject matter of what our software does, we’re not just trying to make money with an Internet business. It’s that passion that not only fuels us through the difficult times but also is one of the number one attractors of people who become interested in our product because they can see the excitement and the passion that we have as a company and how much we get invested and how much we listen to our prospects, our users and our customers and really care about serving what they’re trying to do. It’s one of our unique selling propositions, differentiators.

That’s a big one. Another one I would say is just having an open mind and being open to having our assumptions challenged. So, if we are building a feature, we ask for community feedback. Maybe they want something slightly different than what we were originally thinking. We’re okay with that. We’re not building this for us. We’re building it for them. And I’d say our biggest insight is we take care of our customers and our users. But what we focus most of our attention on is our customer’s customer. So, our customer who’s teaching online, as long as their student’s or their members are taken care of and get the results that they’re trying to get through this online course or membership site, that is the guiding force and principle behind everything that we do. And having that focus is a big part of our success.

Jonathan: Yeah. I can honestly say I think you and your team plus the Beaver Builder and the team are some of the nicest people I’ve met in WordPress actually. And like I say, I think all three companies have the same kind of philosophy and really do the best for their clients. So, I’ve put you on a high level there Chris.

Chris: Well, I appreciate that. And I know those companies too. Yeah. I really appreciate that.

Jonathan: So, how do you, you know, in a crowded market, not only in the WordPress space but a lot of totally hosted solutions, how do you differentiate LifterLMS from the competition, Chris?

Chris: You’re absolutely right. There’s two questions there. The first is . . .

Jonathan: Oh, I’m known for my multi questions Chris.

Chris: You’re right. The first question if someone asked and I will do this. If I’m talking to somebody and if they’re not a good fit for being self-hosted or owning their own platform, I will recommend a hosted solution like Teachable or Thinkific. But that is the first question someone needs to ask themself is, “Do you want to own your platform? Do you want control over that? Do you want to avoid monthly expenses? Do you want to tap into the power of the WordPress ecosystem with all the other plugins and design and unlimited customization that you can do? Or do you want to rent space somewhere else with limited customization with the benefit being that you’re not responsible for the platform?”.

So there is a tradeoff. When you own your platform, you are responsible for it and you’re taking on more technical responsibility. But that’s the beautify of WordPress. It’s made for, in terms of democratizing, not just publishing but also application development. And when you’re building an online course and a membership site, make no mistake about it. It’s not just a website. It’s not just some marketing pages. It is a web application. And LifterLMS is a tool for building a Learning Management System which is a web application. So, once you make that distinction, there’s so much competition inside hosted Learning Management Systems and membership tools that you just take like 95 percent of everything off the table and you’re speaking to people who want to own their platform. They want to control the revenue. They don’t want fixed monthly fees. And they want extensibility and freedom to build their platform. So that’s the first thing.

Now that we’re in the WordPress space, the next question is WordPress LMS plugin versus WordPress LML theme? In my opinion, design belongs in themes. Functionality belongs in plugins. You should be able to change your design and not lose your LMS, is an example. Most people change their website every 2 years, the design but they don’t need to lose the Learning Management System they worked so hard to build. So that takes a lot of the themes out of the way. Now we’re left with a handful of WordPress LMS plugins. And really the big differentiation for us has to do with our levels of customer support, our levels of engagement with prospects, users, and customers. Has to do with our vision for product and it has to do with our focus on creating, not just selling information but creating a tool for people to offer results based learning. What people say they like a lot about us is just how much we listen.

Like I was talking about before, we don’t operate in a bubble and assume that we always know what’s best for online course creators and membership site owners. We’re very engaged in our Facebook group, the Conferences, in other Facebook groups, other online formats, always listening and interacting, making sure we’re serving the needs of the course creators. So it’s counter-intuitive. We actually do very little market research in terms of looking at our competitors. I haven’t used a competitor’s tool in my 4 years. I’m not focused on my competitors. I’m focused like a laser on course creators, membership site owners and their business problems and the needs of their students. And it’s through there that we guide the vision for the product and I think people really like that. And once they get that and they see that, it sways a lot of people to wanting to be on the journey with us.

Jonathan: Yeah. I think that’s great Chris. Because I think what you’re saying is it’s a bit like, what is the differential of one of your clients who’s competing in a competitive membership sector is that the actual teaching experience and service care of those that join the members can be a differential. The other thing I want to ask you about it UX Design because like you say, you are actively in your plugin application platform. Have you learned a lot? I think really good UX Design is not easy. Has that been a thing that you’ve struggled with and learned from?

Chris: I really love that you’re asking that question. First of all, I would say something like just to kind of back into that. Sometimes I wonder like, “Why did we get into Learning Management Systems? It’s really complex. It’s complicated. There’s all these other products that are like, we’re just going to do one thing like get on opt-in or submit some forms”. Learning Management is complex. But we’re okay with that because we love it and we’re passionate about that. But that comes with all these different interfaces. And not only is it for the builder of the website, it’s also for the teacher. It’s also for the end user. So there’s all these different layers to what the interface means.

And I would say over time, I was actually really appreciating that skill set that has evolved for myself and Thomas and other members of our team over time just from all those thousands and thousands of hours developing software and solving business problems with software. We’ve developed that skill set. And they exist out there like a user experience design training program or school. But Thomas and I have kind of evolved through that more through more of an organic way of like, “Okay. We’ve got this business problem we’re going to solve and let’s work together”.

He’s really open. I’m representing the end user. We’re talking through it. Just recently, yesterday and several days this week we’ve been designing the new quiz interface which is going to have a whole new overhaul. All these new question types. The way a course creator builds the quiz is going to get 10 times better. The student experience is going to get 10 times better when they’re taking a quiz. There’s going to be all these different kinds of question types to make the learning engagement much higher and quite frankly, a lot more fun and game-like. And skill has evolved over time. And I feel grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to stay with the same kind of project for so long. That ability to do interface design especially in the LMS world is becoming another one of our assets or differentiators.

But I just feel blessed to work with somebody like Thomas where we have different skill sets to work on that user experience problem. And then, the whole other piece of it which I’m looking to interact with and help more instructional designers or just to understand that world even more. I’m open to learning a lot. I’m trying to connect course creators with more instructional designers because we have all these experts. I’m helping build the tool. And now we have this whole other interface of like, “How do we build the actual course content and the learning journey?”. There’s just so much that goes into it in this world of learning that it’s an endlessly fascinating fun and collaborative experience.

Jonathan: Just a quick question before we go for our break and I turn it over to my co-host Kim. Do you think increasingly, not only your own product but other WordPress LMS products, do you think you’re going to get an increasing foothold in the professional education, universities, schools market as well?

Chris: That’s a great question.

Jonathan: I’m doing well, aren’t I Chris?

Chris: Yeah. From what I’m seeing, from the outside looking in, I’m a believer that we’re still in the early days of the hockey stick growth of online education. We are starting to tip into the majority and things are starting to go mainstream. But the bread and butter of the LMS industry, especially the self-hosted LMS industry which we talked about, right now has to do with experts and solo operators but it is becoming more institutionalized. More businesses are adopting LMS for internal training. There’s people using LifterLMS, college professors who are using it to deliver.

Instead of giving books to their students, they’re giving courses powered by LifterLMS to their students. There’s all these things I see happening. Universities contact me, departments. This is the beginning of the tip into the mainstream. But the early adopter, make no mistake about it was the technologist and the marketing expert looking to teach online. After them is other kinds of solo experts. After them, we’re getting into the businesses and the institutions and the majority.

Jonathan: That’s great. We’re going to go for our break and we’ll be back. And we’ll be discussing more about Learning Management Systems with Chris Badgett, the CEO of LifterLMS.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back. Before I hand it over to Kim, I want to talk about one of our sponsors. It’s a new sponsor. I’m really glad that they’ve come on board with WP-Tonic. They’re going to be with us for over a year and that’s Kinsta Hosting. What is Kinsta? Kinsta is one of the best quality WordPress hosting providers on the market at the present moment.

The WP-Tonic website is hosted by Kinsta. I wouldn’t endorse them unless I was utilizing their product myself. They’ve got a great team. Very similar to some of the companies that I’ve mentioned in this Podcast. This particular episode. They’re a fantastic team. It starts at $30 a month, their plans. Basically, they’re using the best technology on the market at the present moment. I would highly advise you to go to kinsta.com and look at what they’re going to offer you, the WordPress business owner or the Developer. So go to kinsta.com. So, I’m going to hand it over to my co-host Kim now.

Kim: Thanks, Jonathan. Great stuff as always Chris. We always love getting to chat with you. So, I had a couple questions. And I love what you said about the quizzes because I think that that was something you guys have done, in my opinion, a really good job of. You started small to get it out the door. And now you’re really adding on to that. Because that was, I think, in my very first review was the quizzes were a little limited compared to some of the others. But now, it’s just been fun watching you over the last year and a half really growing into that. So other than the quizzes, tease us with something else you’ve got coming out.

Chris: Well, right after quizzes is our assignments functionality. And this kind of ties into our vision of mapping, not just information, selling information, curated information, but results. And the way we’re approaching assignments is all about helping course creators take their learners outside and away from the computer or if it is on the computer, that’s fine too, but to get the results that they’re teaching about through an assignment system that really helps reinforce and apply the learning. So I’m super excited about that. And thank you for the kind words about the quizzes. Yeah. We wanted to build our own quiz system from the ground up without bundling in a third party quiz system. I’m really excited because it has been a long road getting to this point where now we can really focus on that and build on that foundation without any dependencies for the market. So I’m super excited about that.

Kim: That’s fantastic. So I love the assignments idea. Many times I’m teaching technology which is assignments that happen on the computer, but I also, we know, teach communication skills which has teamwork that is completely outside of the computer. So the fact that you’re approaching that. I have not seen another online management system give you really any other ideas for assignments other than, “Create a document and upload it here”, type of thing.
You can kludge it together. Those of us who teach, we can make anything work in our own mind. But I love that you are coming at it from that. Another thing that you’ve recently added and I’m just getting to start playing with it here, is some private options for your students. So if I’m teaching, which I am about to launch a new series of classes that will be in LifterLMS, I can actually have private pages for my customers. Tell me a little bit about that because I think that’s something a lot of people are interested in and they don’t even know it’s available.

Chris: Absolutely. So, before the advanced quizzes and what we call our Infinity Bundle, we rolled out two add-ons which are advanced functionality. One is called Private Areas and one is called Social Learning. So the one we’re talking about here, Private Areas, is built for coaches and one on one mentoring. And again, this all comes back. If we zoom out and look at the vision, we’re focused like a laser on the results capability of the platform on the students.

And if you look at the offline world which is where I go for inspiration, if you have a course, a class, a book, what makes it more effective, it’s one and one access to the leader where learning can be personalized or private coaching. Different people have different limitations, stumbling blocks, strengths, and weaknesses. So, Private Areas is built basically for people who want to offer one and one coaching as either an upsell to their course or as part of their main offering. And at a tactical software level, it is a private page per student per course or per member per membership. That sounds cool but it’s what you can do with that and it’s not just one page. You could do a series of it. It’s kind of like a personal blog. You could just have one private post or you could have multiple and then there can be a private conversation around that private post. As a coach or a teacher or a mentor, you can do so many different things that private channel to facilitate more on top of just the course content and the gamification.

Kim: I love that. I would just like to throw out there for people who are thinking about building an online course or they’re planning to. Even if you don’t consider yourself a coach, really think through what this type of option can do for you. One of the things, when I consult with people, is more and more as we get more into that mainstream of online courses, people want more access to you. The days of just, “I’m going to pop two or three videos in and charge $600 for this”, and it’s all running by itself, that’s going away. Because if people are going to pay you good money,

I don’t mean a $29 course, but a good expensive course, they want a little more access. So, even if you don’t consider yourself a coach, think and look at what you can offer people in these private areas. Even if it’s not something you’re assigning them, but a place for them to process and keep their notes etcetera, it can be their private area. It doesn’t mean you actually have to go into each person’s page and give them individuals, correct? This can be like their private locker where they can process their notes and what does that do? That adds to the interaction. It adds to the learning experience.

Chris: Absolutely. That’s very super solid points. I’d like to also just point out the economics. Like you’re saying, the days of a $2,000, a $1,000 passive course, it may not work going forward. And I think in our society, there’s a love affair, which I have too with automation and passive income and I’m not against those things and I do those things. But I think the hidden gem or what’s the hack, is to do things that don’t scale. So when you’re considering building a coaching program or a learning program, if we just do SaaS Math which is like a dangerous way to look at numbers but it’s fun to do. You may create a $100 course. Say you’re trying to get to the $100,000 a year mark, now you’ve got to sell 1,000 units of your $100 course which is passive income and all that. I would argue, it’s easier in this world, this day to add private coaching to that offer which has some one and one. Let’s say it might have some Zoom or Skype calls and then those replay videos go into the private area, there’s conversation and what not. It’d be easier to sell 100 of those for $1,000 or let’s say 50 of those for $2,000 than to get to the $1,000 of the video version of a book.

Kim: Hands down. That’s exactly what I’m seeing. And as always, for anybody who hasn’t heard us get together yet, every time I get together with Chris we could just keep geeking out on this stuff because our minds go the same way but we’re seeing the same things. Yes, when I first started teaching people online courses several years ago, you could do some of these more automated at a higher price. Now, if you want to be fully automated, you’re going to have a lower price. You also have the benefit of, which the higher price courses and the SaaS Math as you said, very much like something you said already. Part of what helps drive your company and where you go next is listening to your customers. You do yourself a favor also. If you offer some level of group coaching, personal coaching etcetera. Because if you will listen, they will tell you what they want next and what they’re willing to pay for next so that you can keep feeding your own audience. And I think that’s something that I was hearing you say is very much part of what you guys do.

Chris: Yeah. I think it’s counter-intuitive. I think we’re really used to picking up a book and not being able to contact the author of the book. But the rules are different in the online world. You can create stuff and the people can contact you and you can charge much more than $10 or $20 for a book. So the economics can work out. And having that feedback loop open is critical to results based learning.

Kim: Yeah. Absolutely. Jonathan, did you have something?

Jonathan: No. Actually, I think we’re going to have to wrap this up actually for the Podcast but we’re going to continue the discussion. I’ve got some additional interesting questions and I’m sure Kim has. Hopefully, Chris will be able to stay on for another 10, 15 minutes. You’ll be able to watch that on the WP-Tonic website. Plus there’ll be links to our new sponsor Kinsta. Like I say, a great hosting provider. So you’ll be able to see this bonus content with a full set of show notes and other useful content on the WP-Tonic website. So we’re going to wrap up this part of the show. We’ll see you next week where we’re going to have somebody doing something interesting with WordPress. Also, if you could just go to iTunes and be generous and give us a review. That really helps the show as well. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye

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