WordPress needs curation

I really want to help WordPress but I think what is most needed isn’t a new editor or more guidelines but rather someone to take all the stuff in this fractured ecosystem and bring it together. Get rid of all the crap and only show people the stuff worth using.

My first attempt at this is with plugins. Currently when you go to add new plugins you are given two screens (Featured & Recommended) that I don’t (and likely most new users don’t) find all that useful.

For example, let’s take the featured tab. I took a screenshot of it right before making this post and the top four plugins it recommends are BuddyPress, Theme Check, bbpress, WP Super Cache. Those are fine plugins but how many new users do you think will actually use any of them.

Then look at the recommended tab. It’s a bit better but¬†I don’t think the above four plugins are what a new user is looking for. I don’t know if this is really a problem you can solve with code. I honestly believe that a bit of manual curation is necessary. Manual curation isn’t all that uncommon. Look at the App Store or Play store they put together collections of apps all the time.

I know why the core WordPress folks don’t do this. They don’t want to upset people by not picking them. I don’t even know if they could as it would require a diverse group of people to agree on something (which isn’t always easy). I think this works as I have no friends to upset by not picking their plugins and since all plugins are picked by me it’s easy to come to a consensus ūüôā .

So what Better Plugin Recommendations does is remove the default featured and recommendations tab and instead adds a new recommendations tab which only included plugins that I’ve hand selected. These are plugins that I feel are appropriate for every new user and are ones that great examples of why WordPress is awesome.

I’m perfectly aware that the number of regular users¬†who finds this plugin and install it will be small. What I’m hoping is that I can convince the hosting companies to preinstall this (maybe in the MU folder) for their customers. The app blends in seamlessly with WordPress. There are no ads or branding. The plugin is designed solely to help new users find great plugins to help them on their WordPress journey. So if you work at a host please get in touch and I’ll let you know why using Better Plugin Recommendations is the best choice for your customers and the WordPress community.

If you want to check out the plugin here is the WP.org version and the Github repo if you want to contribute or find any issues.

Special thanks to Joey for helping me with this. It’s so rare to find a developer of his caliber who will not only talk to me but even help me with tiny little projects like this ūüôā .

themes without blogs with blog bye

The other day I was thinking what if I could create something that basically got rid of the blogging feature of WordPress. I’m not against blogging (I’m blogging right now) but for some use cases it doesn’t make sense.¬†I don’t like being forced to put blogging features into my themes.¬†My focus is on business themes, blogging isn’t something I think most businesses want to do.

But what can you do. As long as there is the Posts menu in the wp¬†admin you have to at least provide minimal blog styling and such.¬†But what if the theme could decide whether or not they wanted to support blogging. Removing the blogging features of WordPress isn’t a new idea. There are several plugins that already do this, but I don’t think this makes sense as a plugin. To me it makes more sense for the theme to decide which WordPress features it wants to support.

I took a stab at this. I took underscores and removed all the blogging bits as well as added a file that unhooks all the blogging specific parts of the WordPress admin (menu items, widgets, etc). If you’ve never used WordPress before you wouldn’t even know it supported blogging. It’s actually quite amazing how many menus you can remove if you don’t support blogging.

If you are interested in building blog free themes check out the project on github.

Why WP?

Over the past few month I’ve been working on something¬†fun. I think it’s safe to say that I have a different view on just about everything, including WordPress advertising. To me companies are focusing on saying things that are either not really true and or things that people don’t really care about.

I’ve been putting together some marketing type information that I think would help people make the right choice with WordPress.¬†If you are bored and want to see something a little bit different check out why.secretpizza.party.

If you see something you like please feel free to use any or all of it.

Introducing Now

When I left Automattic I really wanted to make WordPress products in a whole new way. The thing I was most excited about was taking all the experience I have in small business and applying it to theme development. I think most people involved in the creation of themes don’t really understand small businesses. I basically took what I felt were the core essence of what small businesses want from a website and created a theme around it. I wanted to create something that could literally be set up in less than 5 minutes. It would only contain things small business owners know off the top of their head and wouldn’t require the use of all sorts of images and other media that regular folks don’t have access to.

This theme is pretty experimental and I’m sure people will disagree with some of the decisions I made. I basically wanted it to be simple, radically simple. Every aspect of the theme is controlled by the customizer. Not only that but we turned the customizer¬†into a wizard where once they get through all six steps their theme will be 100% set up.

Six Steps

Business Name

This section is pretty straightforward. We ask for their business name/slogan. We then take this information and set it as the WordPress title/tagline.

I wanted to try and ask questions instead of using terms like site title or tagline as I didn’t want to use terms that people might not know.

Phone/Address

It really bothers me when themes that support Google Maps want you to generate the embed code yourself. I think that’s just lazy and leaves all sorts of room for error.

With Now I knew I wanted to display the business address so I thought if they are giving me their address anyway why not use that to generate the Google Maps embed code automatically.

For the address input we are using the Google Places API to ensure that the address is in a standard format that we can use to automatically generate the embed code. We also link the address on mobile so it will automatically open up their phone’s map program so they can easily get driving directions.

I also wanted the phone number to be validated as I would hate for the click to call feature of the theme (on mobile if you click the phone number is automatically dials the number) to not work just because someone inputted the phone number in the incorrect format. Joey integrated a phone number library validation script from Stripe to accomplish this. I tried to think of everywhere something could go wrong and fix it ahead of time.

Hours

The displaying of the store’s hours is really important. To me the main purpose of small business site is basically to answer the question are you open and where can I find you. I didn’t want to just have a widget area where I say put in your hours.

I wanted to make a system and standardized the way hours were inputted so they could be displayed in a smart way on the front end. The system Joey came up with is quite clever and it works really well

I also wanted customers to be able to find out if the business was open right now without having to even look at the current time and compare it to the open hours (a feature I love on the Lowes website). So at the very top of the site it uses the current time and the hours you inputted to let the user know if you are still open today and if so until when.

Description

This is probably the most opened ended section. I wanted to give the store owner a chance to tell people a little bit about their business. It could be about what services they offer, their history, basically anything they think their customers would want to know.

It features a TinyMCE editor to allow users to format the text in whatever way they want. This feature was probably a bit more open ended than I would have liked but there is too much variability in what people would want here to put here to make it any different.

Social

Social media has become almost essential for small businesses so I wanted to have a little section for adding links to social media profiles.

The list of supported services is quite small and while I realize there are many more social networks I really feel that these three make up the bulk of the ones that small businesses care about so that is all I included.

Style

I wanted there to be minimal customization options but I recognize that whatever color scheme I picked some people would always want something different. The design we came up with basically uses one color, so the theme includes one color option. It is amazing how different the sites looks depending on which color option you choose.

Also you’ll probably notice by now that the “Site Icon” feature of WordPress is missing. That was done on purpose. I didn’t include a way to upload custom logos¬†as I don’t think it’s necessary as most small business don’t have access to logo files that are formatted in a way that make it easy to add them to their site.

Similarly creating a good looking favicon is hard and it is something I don’t think most people have the time/patience for so I decided that I would generate the favicon for them, using the accent color they selected in the last step. This way it’s still custom to them but doesn’t require them to do anything.

All done

That’s it. Once you run through all six steps your theme is completely set up. If you want to see the theme in action you can find a live demo of it here.

Also I’m looking for someone to help me distribute this theme. I don’t need the money so I’ll let someone have it for free if they can help me get widespread usage. I’m really hoping for a host or something similar instead of a theme company. If you know of anyone who has access to a lot of users who want a really great business site send them my way.

huh — making documentation easier

My current philosophy on support is it is something people should rarely need. If you have a large pile of support docs you are doing something wrong. When some documentation is necessary I think it’s unreasonable to ask your users to visit an external site. If they are using your product inside their WordPress dashboard you shouldn‚Äôt ask them to leave to get help.

I‚Äôm developing a few WordPress themes and while I‚Äôm working really hard to reduce the need for documentation a little bit will be needed. Over at¬†my brother’s company (teelaunch)¬†one of my first projects was getting rid of our external doc site. People didn’t know it was there and it didn’t get much use. So I added the documentation¬†directly to our Shopify app with a little help from elevio. The usage of our docs increased dramatically, which in turn reduced our support load. I like elevio a lot but for my themes I didn’t need something that complex and I didn’t want to use a SASS service.

While I was fleshing out this concept I was contacted by Dan (one of my favorite people in the world). He was looking for a fun project and he know I always had ideas. I explained to Dan what I was looking for and a few day later it was done. It is so fun being able to take something from fuzzy idea to done in days (instead of months).

Fun Facts

  • I used the name huh¬†as I’m really into short words lately and I also wanted something a bit fun. There is enough boring software on the net, I’m not going to add to it.
  • This was designed to be incredibly lean. SPP’s driving principle is simplicity. We worked really hard to distill this down to it’s base essence so we’re not likely to add any new features.
  • The widget is generated from a normal markdown file. I wanted to be able to to update it whenever I wanted so it needed to reference an external file. We used markdown as it’s a¬†format that has a fixed structure that most developers are familiar with.
  • I was going to offer a way for people to easily change the color but instead decided to make the color scheme match whatever admin theme the user¬†has selected. I really wanted huh to feel like a natural extension of WordPress. I know some people want everything to be branded for their company (you can still do that if you want) but I would rather it seemed like huh belonged in WordPress, even if people didn’t associate it with my brand.

If this sounds interesting to you check out huh on github.

Shopify x WooCommerce = the perfect combination

Warning: this is going to be a longish post as I’m stupid excited about this.

One of the projects I knew I wanted to see come to life post Automattic was my Shopify x WooCommerce concept that I call Shopify Connect for WooCommerce (a mouthful I know but since I actually want people to find it by searching I needed to make it a bit long/boring).

Why

I love Shopify & WooCommerce and it’s unfair that I have to choose one over the other¬†(I’m a little selfish that way). So I decided not¬†to choose, I picked both.

You are probably wondering what I like about Shopify? One of my favorite things about Shopify is how they are quickly becoming the master of the sales channels. They have so many integrations and partnerships that only Shopify customers have access to. Want to sell on Facebook, no problem. How about Pinterest, no problem there either. Shopify has made it their mission to let you sell anywhere (watch their Unite 2016 videos to learn more) and recent events have shown that they are serious about it.

Shopify also offers a rock solid hosted platform (being hosted is awesome), an easy to use interface and a pretty large and growing developer community (see their app store).

What I love about WooCommerce is that it inherits all the awesomeness that is WordPress. The plugins, the themes, the community, these are things that no other platform can ever hope to duplicate. With WooCommerce can make your store look and feel exactly like you want with help from the thousands of WordPress developers from all over the world.

Now think of everything you don’t like about Shopify. Does WooCommerce fix those issues? Now think about everything you dislike about WooCommerce. Does Shopify fix those issues? Do you now see how well they compliment each other, how together they make a perfect e-commerce platform?

When I found out about the official Shopify WordPress plugin I was super excited. After playing around with it for a little bit I knew they were on the right track but I couldn’t¬†help feeling like they needed to go a bit further. The plugin works great if you are looking to sell a thing or two but making an entire store with it is really clunky. Then I had an idea, why not integrate Shopify with WooCommerce instead of just vanilla WordPress. Use the structure/layout of WooCommerce with a Shopify powered backend. Over a weekend I put together a quick v1¬†proof of concept that worked surprisingly¬†well.

In the months since I created my v1 I’ve started 5+ Shopify stores and being a multi-store owner has make me realize some¬†additional¬†benefits of this plugin for store owners¬†with multiple stores.

  • It allows you to use one Shopify site to control the backend functions for an unlimited amount of WooCommerce stores from a single dashboard. That means consolidated reports, shipping settings, and shipping/fulfillment dashboard.
  • You can also streamline (i.e. reduce) your¬†Shopify costs (if you are an existing store owner or want to be but were scared off by the cost). To use Shopify as just a backend you only need to pay $9/month (for all your WooCommerce stores) instead of the $29/month for the store function. If you consolidated¬†a few Shopify stores into one account you are talking about some serious savings, not only in Shopify monthly fees but also your apps fees (there are some great Shopify apps) and such.

What

This plugin is based on a shockingly simple concept. It basically involves unhooking the WooCommerce add to cart button and replacing it with the Shopify one (via the official Shopify WordPress plugin). That’s really all my v1 did. Since I was able to bring Joey on board (you’ll learn more about him later) we were able to take it even further by moving the embed code options to the WooCommerce product meta box (to be more consistent), hide/redirect the unused WooCommerce settings/links to their brothers¬†on Shopify and other general stuff improvements making it a much more production ready plugin.

SCWC

What I’ve attempted to do is connect the two together platforms together in the easiest way possible but also keep as much native WooCommerce functionality¬†as I could. I really didn’t want to duplicate any functionality of either WooCommerce or Shopify but rather have the plugin just sit in the middle and make both plugins work well together.¬†I think it works pretty well right now. I’m also excited to keep working on this project (I have some ambitious v2 plans that I’ll run with if people end up liking this concept).

Who

Big props go to Joey Kudish of Spark Consulting for helping me bring this project to life. If you saw how bad my v1 was you would laugh so hard milk would come out of your nose (well if you were drinking milk). When I heard that Joey was doing freelance work¬†I knew I had to hire him to help me. I’m so glad I did as he took my idea and implemented it so much better than I was planning to. I love bringing ideas to life but it’s so much more fun when it involves collaborating with someone else.

Where

If you’re curious how this works with a real shop check out shop.secretpizza.party. That shop is fully functional (i.e. you can buy stuff from it) and contains some super fun bootleg WordPress merch handmade by me (with my laser).

If you want to check out the plugin you can download it on WP.org here.¬†If you find any bugs make sure to create an issue on our github repo there and I’ll (well probably Joey) get it taken care of.

p.s. if you want to see some really neat Shopify apps check out our sister company, PoolParty.

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