It’s been a while since I’ve written here! Actually, I’ve been writing nearly every day. I’ve started work on a novel – I’m around 20,000 words in. Aiming for 80—100k words, which is quite a lot.
Writing a novel has been great for me. I’ve always harboured a secret desire to write fiction. When I was a kid, I loved writing stories, and would win all sorts of awards for them. As an adult, I became more self-conscious about spending time in any sort of fantasy world – like it was an immature or childish act.
For me, beginning to write a science fiction novel was an act of overcoming fear. Exposure therapy – one word at a time.
I’m still nervous about sharing my work publicly, even though I know that there will come a time when I’ll have to be actively promoting it! Just think, at some point I’ll have to ask my friends and family, and even you, dear reader, to buy my book! Gosh, just the thought of that makes me feel ill.
In other news, I’ve started a new job. I’m now at WP Engine, Product Manager for the Genesis suite. There’s been some stressful moments as I’ve onboarded, but mostly things are sailing smoothly.
Block Lab is being forked and rebranded as a Genesis product. It’s a great outcome. It means I’ll be able to focus on it full time from here on out.
I got some film developed yesterday. It was water damaged, so it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. But it got me thinking that I haven’t really shared my photography much on this blog. Maybe I’ll post one photo a month, for a while. It could be a neat way of warming up to sharing other types of creative work with you in the future.
Of course, this didn’t help improve fidelity, but I’ll never forget something that Brendan (top left) said: I can tell that it’s you just by the way you move your head and hands.
Brendan and I have spent a lot of time together in person – this wasn’t something obvious to other participants on the call. But it made me wonder, what would it be like for everyone on the call to be joining me in VR? Would we learn what it felt like to just be present with each other?
Since then, I’ve been involved in a bunch of VR-only meetings, and can attest that the fidelity of communication, while not quite as good as in-person, far outshines a video call.
Aside from a sense of presence, and aside from the dynamics of being able to move between conversations, being in VR also allows you to experience together.
For example, I have a weekly one-on-one with an old mate who I don’t otherwise get to see often. We hang out, chat about work, kids, tech, hobbies, all while floating through an abandoned space station or floating between rapids. Shooting zombies or shooting hoops. The crazy part is – those memories feel as real as the times we’ve spent together in person.
Recently I had to cancel a trip to Thailand because WordCamp Asia was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. At the time I was somewhat critical of the decision to cancel, but turns out I was wrong. Events all over the world are being cancelled. Travel to meet in person is going to be really hard in 2020.
What a good opportunity this could be, then, to start experimenting with meeting in VR? What if we had a WordCamp VR, or a WordPress VR Meetup?
While the main presentation or talk tracks are a big part of WordCamp attendance, my favourite part has always been the “Hallway Track” – meeting new faces, old friends, colleagues, competitors, contributors, and more. This is where VR works beautifully in place of traditional video, which doesn’t allow for side-chats, mingling, or multiple conversations at once.
The tools exist. I’ve seen conferences held in Altspace, Engage, Rumii and others. Even Bigscreen would make a great destination for a WordPress meetup. Maybe Mozilla Hubs, which is web-based and open source, would be a perfect cultural fit for a WordPress Event.
I’ve been involved in the VR space since 2017, and I really believe that now is the right time to start a virtual reality meetup for WordPress. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea.
And please, if you’re interested in helping out, let me know!
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Every marketing campaign has a target. When making a purchasing decision, you look for the market messaging that most closely identifies your use-case.
Use-cases for WordPress hosting are organised along an axis of scalability. Low-traffic hobbyist websites are the cheapest, while enterprise requirements are most the expensive.
We can classify which of these audience each WordPress host targets with some simple analysis of the copywriting used on their landing pages.
For example, GoDaddy’s messaging is clearly targeted at the small business DIY website market:
Got stuff to sell? No problem.
The retail pitch.
Your hosting plan is set up with WordPress installed and ready.
Removing barriers for non-technical folks.
Our WordPress search engine optimization (SEO) plugin walks through your pages and automatically handles your basic SEO needs.
Just in case you didn’t know what SEO stands for.
While WP Engine is targeted at agencies:
We offer the best WordPress hosting and developer experience on a proven, reliable architecture that delivers unparalleled speed, scalability, and security for your sites.
Notice how “sites” is plural?
We empower developers with the Genesis theme framework, dev/stage/prod environments on every site, Git and SFTP connections, automated backups, and WordPress core updates.
Definitely not for beginners.
If we look at all major hosts through this lens, we get a table that looks something like this¹:
Hobby / DIY
WordPress.com GoDaddy Dreamhost Bluehost
WP Engine Flywheel Liquid Web Siteground
WP.com VIP Pantheon DIY Cloud
Relationship + Use-case
Since we’re thinking about WordPress hosts along two different axis, let’s overlay them. Who doesn’t love a good quad chart?
The goal is to move out of the bottom half, and establish ongoing relationships with your customers.
In order to move on up, WP Engine and GoDaddy are building a product ecosystem. WP Engine owns Genesis, which moves them into the “existing relationship” quadrant for Genesis users. GoDaddy own CoBlocks – same deal.
Now that we’ve got this framework to work with, we come to the main point of this post…
Problem #1: GoDaddy’s product ecosystem strategy doesn’t create repeat business within their market.
These are all very compelling products for their target market: small business owners who want to DIY their website. Check one for Use-case column ✔️.
Unfortunately, the DIY website market don’t typically keep coming back for more. I mean, ask any freelancer employed to fix or upgrade this style of website – the client often doesn’t even remember which host they chose.
Compare with WP Engine – Local, Genesis, and Atomic blocks are all agency focused. Check one for Use-case ✔️. Also, agencies will keep coming back for more. Their products establish ongoing relationships. Check two ✔️✔️.
Problem #2: The market is way too crowded.
When you target non-technical people who want to DIY their own website, you’re competing with the likes of:
That’s quite the contest in the top-left corner. GoDaddy are big enough to compete at this scale, but it’s got to be tough going toe-to-toe with some of the most successful brands in the world.
There’s a market for small business hosts – no doubt.
Compared to an agency focused strategy, finding a regular stream of repeat business, plus clear competitive differentiation – that’s going to be really hard.
1. Of course, there’s always a little overlap. Liquid Web would be happy to host your retail eCommerce store, and WP Engine provides enterprise grade solutions.
When you stop to think about it, the WordPress Plugin and Theme ecosystem is a shining example of the Free & Open Source Software ideology working sustainably.
Take a completely open source project, and extend it with purely open source plugins. Keep it up for 16 years, until you power over a third of the internet, with no signs of stopping.
It seems outrageous, but that’s what WordPress has done!
The WordPress ecosystem is a perfect answer to skepticism from die-hard capitalists – it really is possible to build a business on non-proprietary, freely licensed, shared knowledge.
Of course, this doesn’t work without some private enterprise – there’s got to be some money in it, somewhere, if it’s going to last. Here we meet the cast: Hosting, Premium Plugins, Premium Themes, and Marketplaces.
WordPress.org’s laissez-faire approach has, thus far, created an ecosystem perfectly balanced between free for accessibility, and premium for sustainability.
> Enter stage left: Blocks
This year, a new extension paradigm is being introduced to WordPress. We’ll soon meet the Block Directory, and we’ll install and manage Blocks in the same way as Plugins and Themes.
Put briefly, I’d like to propose a new type of WordPress plugin that provides blocks and nothing else: Single Block Plugins. These will be hosted in a separate Block Directory section of the Plugin Directory.