My WordCamp NYC 2012 Presentation: WordPress as Custom CMS

Here’s the slides for the presentation I gave at WordCamp NYC on June 9. Hopefully they’ll post video soon and I’ll follow up with an embed of the full presentation:

The State of Social Media (as I see it)

Facebook is hemorrhaging American users. It’s been slow to evolve. No good Facebook iPad app? That’s unacceptable for the ‘premier’ social network. Twitter has recently been blessed by all-powerful Apple as the sharing destination. Twitter is an amazing informational resource. It’s also a terrible social network. I held great hopes for Diaspora. I even tried to sign up. It looks like it’s not going to happen and its moment has passed. Ironically Facebook still instigates with its privacy trespasses. I’ve read that Facebook is losing users because of the privacy issues. Not true. People really don’t care about or understand privacy. That’s for elite activists (god bless them.) People are losing interest in Facebook because it has bad User Experience design. It doesn’t easily give them the information they actually care about. Twitter is great and very democratic. But it works better in conjunction with an app like Flipboard to distill all the chaos into a palatable format. I’ve gotten into Instagram. I think it’s more about the effects. It doesn’t seem that great unto itself as a social network except that it sends my pictures to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve come to question why we need Twitter or Facebook to be our hub of social. Google could probably shake things up a bit if not for their ADD/disinterest in terms of UX quality. Apple went with Twitter because it doesn’t see a clear way to eek out profits from really getting into the Social Media game directly. No one wants to buy Myspace. Listen Twitter bots and spammers and marketers. People don’t like ads. They are disingenuous. People can smell them a mile away. It really doesn’t work. It’s why Myspace is crumbling. That need to turn a profit leads to the path of least resistance…advertising. And it is certain death in the social space. Facebook already feels dusty. Are they really giving us something we can’t get elsewhere. They are not. Twitter hit the jackpot by getting into bed with Apple. They can actually sidestep the advertising swamp they may have been heading to by continuing to allow real connections through devices. I believe that there’s a hidden and obvious social winner, still dormant. It’s not Tumblr. Tumblr is a nice and harmless fad. No, it’s WordPress. It still has different concerns and hasn’t tackled social in a meaningful way. But it has the power to change the game in an open source and moral way.

Why I Use WordPress

I recently got in a Twitter ‘discussion’ where I felt like I was put in a position to defend WordPress as a superior CMS to ExpressionEngine. Not an argument I’m actually qualified to make as I’ve never used ExpressionEngine. I did consider it about three years ago and perhaps if I’d started then I’d be on the other side of the fence. But I decided over a year ago that WordPress was going to give me the juice I was looking for in a CMS and I dived in head first. The truth is I experiment on the web too much to pay an entry fee for every install (EE). I may have run 50 installs of WordPress in the last year for both client and personal projects including demos and tests. That would be a pretty serious expense on ExpressionEngine’s pricing model. Thankfully WordPress is fully open source and free to experiment with.

Here’s some interesting tweets from that Twitter conversation:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/iAmJasonPaul/status/47870309071720448″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/PXLated/status/47910383712874496″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/iAmJasonPaul/status/48037270770556928″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/PXLated/status/48022168314986499″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/iAmJasonPaul/status/48039051877552129″]

There was a bit more but hopefully you get the jist. Defending WordPress against ExpressionEngine doesn’t happen when I bid for jobs. Usually clients are more concerned with which open source CMS to use such as Joomla, Drupal or WordPress and I’ve come to see strengths in each although I’m strictly a WordPresser for the moment. I’d estimate that it’s difficult to be a master in more than one CMS as a web developer, although probably not impossible. The time one puts into developing on a CMS cannot help but create a kind of myopic point of view on how to develop for the web. So I kind of do understand where PXLated is coming from. He’s invested serious time into EE, he has control of it and intimate knowledge of how to achieve results. That’s similar to how I feel about making sites on WordPress. But not exactly. His point about surgery and makeup is actually quite true. I prefer it that way though. It can be like working on a special car. After I’ve customized a WordPress site I definitely feel like I’ve built something. Often there are moments when I feel like I’m starting from scratch with WP. It’s very rewarding to be able to assemble the right mix of code/plugins to make a site do exactly what I want.

I do have a feeling that he’s right in a way. For certain situations, building a site on EE would be easier and faster than it would on WordPress. WordPress’s native format is a blog structure. If a client is looking for a blog or publication website it’s hard to see how they would choose any other platform besides WordPress. A lot of sites are smaller and more like ‘brochure’ websites. While WordPress may be competing with other CMS’s to prove it’s the ideal platform for page based sites the truth is static content is a cakewalk on WordPress. EE has something called Channels which is extremely helpful in structuring out a website (Not everything should be categorized as a Page or a Post…the native WP formatting). WordPress lacked this kind of taxonomy until version 2.9 and thus wasn’t taken seriously as a CMS until it allowed for Custom Post Types and Taxonomies. Even now these crucial features require either extra functions or plugins to implement. I have a feeling these will be baked into the next major release of WordPress which will make it an undisputed fully functional CMS. Despite the fact that WordPress is the most used CMS on the web there are detractors.

But that’s all boilerplate. I’m not really an expert with stats or on every CMS. I’m a designer and WordPress developer who is also a user. This is important because in addition to it’s usefulness in my professional life, customizing my WordPress sites is also now a hobby for me. This blog/site is a good example. I’m sure it’s evident that I haven’t designed it despite the fact that I earn a living as a web designer. Aside from time constraints (isn’t it hard to design a site for yourself?) it’s strategic. I use this blog as a test platform for all sorts of new plugins, functions and features. I intend to make this site an archive of my entire creative life. It’s a personal project. I have various interests that range from art, tech, music and ideas. How to categorize these things? Well, I wanted to be on an evolving platform. I love that when I have an idea or have seen a new web functionality on the web I can Google around and find either the perfect plugin or function to implement on my blog. It’s actually not always as easy as it sounds. But it’s fun for me. The chase of finding that piece of code that’s going to expand the capabilities of my website. This tenacity to build and expand my personal websites for fun by experimenting has taught me so much about usability and given me great strategic insight into the functionality a site can and should have. This hobby creates useful knowledge that I then apply to client jobs. This kind of integration creates a special appreciation for the work (and play) I do.

I’ve read that some EE designers love that they don’t have to muck around with PHP code. Seeing how powerful and accessible WordPress is I feel the opposite. I’m inspired to learn more code so I can contribute something to the platform if I have my own take on a specific functionality. Seeing and experiencing the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the WordPress community (I went to my first WordCamp NYC last year) I have to say that I feel even more inspired to dig in and help WordPress grow and improve. I got the sense that WordPressers feel they’re involved in something special. Matt Mullenweg is an incredibly pure face/figurehead for the platform. Here’s someone who is arguably as important as Mark Zuckerberg (same age too) yet has chosen to vehemently adhere to the open source values he had when he first forked WordPress (at the age of 18). I doubt he’s rich (but I bet he’s comfortable) and he’s shown something vibrant and innovative can be created without monetizing the daylights out of it. More importantly he’s shown that open source success can surpass commercial products in an overwhelming way (not necessarily in a monetary way.) All these developers, designers and amateurs working and hacking at this one thing is really yielding some amazing web innovations.

Why do I use WordPress? It comes down to community, accessibility, scalability, usability, fun, freedom and yes…philosophy.