Freedom to innovate: VIP at Change Forum 2019

VIP was proud to sponsor February’s Change Forum, where our friends at News UK brought together established media businesses and startups in London, to speak candidly about product design and development.

Speakers from the BBC, The Times, Netflix, Lego and here at WordPress.com shared lessons learned about audience engagement and growth whilst leading product teams.

The common thread across all the day’s presentations was an acknowledgement that a steady flow of new ideas and perspectives was essential to the continued success of a modern business. Teams at one startup were expected to carry out five experiments every single month.

David A Kennedy on stage at Change Forum 2019 London
David Kennedy, design director at Automattic

Data, experience and intuition were all of limited value in predicting which ideas would ultimately move the needle. Several speakers described lengthy or expensive processes which yielded little; whilst tweaks taking only a few hours could have a remarkable impact.

And sometimes, as our colleague David Kennedy explained, ideas expected to deliver one benefit could produce greater gains in another, unexpected way. David’s passion is accessibility in design. He cited the example of NPR, who began posting transcripts of their audio broadcasts to aid accessibility – and saw a significant increase in traffic and user engagement, through the text content’s greater search engine friendliness.

Christina Scott interviews Jonas Huckestein
News UK’s Christina Scott chats with Jonas Huckestein of UK bank Monzo

Jonas Huckestein, co-founder of UK banking disruptor Monzo, confessed that the company’s success had been built on trying things, seeing which ones worked, and keeping on doing them. They spent months developing a peer-to-peer payment function, which was a total flop. But a simple ‘golden ticket’ function, to let friends of existing customers jump up the waiting list, drove steady weekly growth for many months.

Customers loved it when Netflix began sending out brand-new movies on the day of the DVD’s release; but it only reduced customer churn by a tiny amount, so they canned the initiative.

Conversely, when faced with the dilemma of whether to notify customers about the imminent expiry of their initial free trial, Netflix decided to do the ‘right thing’, and send out reminders. It naturally reduced conversion rates, costing the company tens of millions in revenue; but they decided it was good for the brand… and easy to reverse.

Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix

How to decide if an innovation was successful? It depended on what you had hoped to achieve, the data you considered, and who was making the decision. Your CFO might take one view; your community of users, or readers, or consumers might take another. It’s for the culture of the company to decide whose view matters most.

With VIP’s roots deep in the WordPress open source community, these conclusions rang true to our own experience. We believe that the freedoms to innovate on top of WordPress, to share your ideas and efforts with the world, and to choose from many solutions already in circulation, are key factors in the continuing growth of WordPress.

Photos courtesy of Fluxx Studios: posted on Flickr, used under license.

State of the Word 2018 and Enterprise WordPress

Last week saw the release of WordPress 5.0, the project’s first major update in a little over a year. It’s most notable for the addition of the new Gutenberg editor component, which introduces blocks as the new mental model for WordPress content management.

In his 2018 State Of The Word speech, project lead Matt Mullenweg told attendees at WordCamp US that the pace of change would remain high. Gutenberg, he explained, was only the start of a process to address some fundamental problems in the software’s overall user experience.

Here’s our selection of key highlights for VIP clients and the enterprise WordPress community.

WordPress is all-in on blocks

Blocks have been designed to be predictable and tactile. They can cope with the full range of functionality expected of any WordPress site: they can be simple, like a text block, or as rich as an entire e-commerce interface.

They reflect the reality of HTML structure, making it (finally!) possible to meet user expectations on things like copy-and-paste from applications like word processors. But as developers we’re able to simplify their presentation, make their function readily apparent to users, and make them reusable across the interface.

Already we’ve seen an explosion of creativity within the community. Creators of well-established plugins have made early efforts to adapt their interfaces to exploit the potential of blocks: Matt specifically highlighted the popular Yoast SEO and AMP plugins, which provide feedback on a block-by-block basis. And new plugins are being created, bringing structured content into the editor area without the clumsy use of shortcodes.

We’re also seeing the growth of libraries, toolkits and tutorials, making it easier than ever for developers to surface complex functionality or embed external services within the authoring experience. It won’t take long for users to expect to find a block for every purpose.

Matt Mullenweg, State Of The Word 2018

Blocks will break out of the text box

Matt confirmed that the next challenge for Gutenberg is to take the same block concept beyond post content. He showed examples of how blocks might replace what we currently know as ‘widgets’ and ‘menus’. Configuration would take place within the WordPress admin area, in the Customizer – or perhaps even inline, on the front end.

Development of phase two will take place, as before, in plugin form – giving developers plenty of visibility into the process, and plenty of time for experimentation and testing.

Key enterprise functionality ahead

Matt also shared his thinking for the third and fourth phases of the Gutenberg initiative, both with particular appeal to large scale professional content publishers.

Phase three is set to focus on collaboration and workflows. It is likely to include content locking based on blocks, rather than pages as now. This will be especially valuable to newsrooms working on breaking stories: we know many of our clients already have elaborate workarounds to allow journalists to work on different parts of the same article simultaneously.

Matt admitted: “One of the reasons that copy-and-paste from Google Docs to Gutenberg is so good, is that when I’m writing a post that I’m going to collaborate on, Google Docs is better for that. But if we can integrate these workflows directly into WordPress, we can integrate them with user systems, we can integrate them with revisions, and we can allow them to be fully extensible in a way that a SaaS service will never, ever be.”

Phase four will finally bring an official way for WordPress to support multilingual publishing. Numerous proven approaches already exist, of course. But the lack of a canonical solution within WordPress core is often cited as a weakness, and existing solutions often cannot guarantee to be compatible with other plugins and services.

Both these phases, proposed for 2020 and beyond, are likely to have implications for existing solutions, including plugins created and recommended by VIP. We’re excited to contribute our experience in these areas to the core initiatives, and encourage all of our clients to get involved as well. Feedback and participation from VIP clients provided the core team with critical insights during phase one, and those insights become even more pertinent as the team takes on the next areas of focus.

Enterprise takeaways in brief

  • The next phases of the Gutenberg project will continue to take place in plugin form. This will allow enterprise teams to test and adopt new functionality gradually as it comes out, and evaluate it in the context of existing workflows and customizations.
  • Phase two will focus on admin elements outside of pages and posts, further simplifying and streamlining the experience for users.
  • Phase three will focus on collaboration and workflows, which will be particularly useful for busy newsrooms as well as brand and product teams.
  • The fourth phase will take on multilingual publishing, bringing a canonical solution into core.

There are lots of ways for you to participate in the project! Whether directly through the many points of entry outlined on Make.WordPress.org, by sharing a private demonstration and feedback session with us at your offices, or simply by testing and working with the new features as they are developed, you can play a critical role in the project’s success.

Photos courtesy of: Brian Peat, Jen Hooks, Val Vesa. Thank you!

The Sun’s World Cup Coverage Shines with WordPress

Two years on from joining the VIP program, The Sun’s WordPress-powered website has grown steadily to become the UK’s biggest digital commercial news website, with over 30 million unique users each month – that’s fast approaching half the UK’s total population.

Sport, and specifically soccer, has always been a key part of The Sun’s offering; and with England headed to the summer’s World Cup in Russia, the newsroom were keen to make the most of the opportunity.

In a characteristically cheeky talk at our recent London BigWP event, The Sun’s head of newsroom systems, Joel Davies described how they were able to create a new destination section, with the ambition to cement The Sun’s brand as the ‘home of the football fan’.

The new section, built and launched in three months, incorporated a new mobile-first design, reflecting the fact that 90% of traffic was mobile, with full-screen teasers, interactive on-page components, plus new commercial slots and navigation.

Joel explained some of the design elements and special content features the team developed, making full use of the flexibility offered by the WordPress platform. They used the Shortcake plugin, a precursor to the new Gutenberg editor’s block concept, to construct complex page layouts, rendered on the front end by React components.

They produced just under 100 articles per day during the tournament, and almost 1,000 videos, viewed a total of 11.5 million times. The World Cup section alone drew 23 million unique visitors over the course of the competition, with a return rate of 45%. (Sadly, the England team returned empty handed.)

Entries Now Open for the First Automattic Design Awards

Automattic is putting together our first ever Design Awards, and we want you to be a part of it.

Earlier this year, in his talk at WordCamp Europe, John Maeda announced plans for an Automattic Design Award, to highlight and encourage examples of great design work in the WordPress ecosystem.

With WordCamp US fast approaching, we are now inviting entries at automatticdesignaward.blog. Submissions need to be in by November 16, with the announcement of the winners on December 3.

There will be nine awards in total, with three trophies presented in each of three categories – Best Site, Best Solution and Best Style.

We aren’t just looking for your prettiest pieces of work. At WordCamp Europe, John talked about the need for ‘deep design’ – rather than just sprayed-on design, added as an afterthought. Too often we focus simply on shipping; and whilst that may have been acceptable in the past, today’s users know they can and should expect more.

So we’re looking for work which demonstrates thorough processes of discovery, consideration, delivery, and listening to users’ responses.

 

There are two core eligibility requirements. Submissions must be ready for the arrival of Gutenberg, the new WordPress editor; and they must demonstrate accessibility as a ‘need to have’, not just a ‘nice to have’.

At VIP we’re fortunate to work with some of the most ambitious design and development teams in the WordPress space. We see many examples of smart, sophisticated design in the projects we support; and we’ll be encouraging our clients to put themselves forward. But we’re particularly excited to see what’s happening elsewhere in the ecosystem, especially behind the scenes.

Full details of the awards, the assessment criteria, the judging panel and the beautiful trophies can be found at automatticdesignaward.blog.

Photo: Ivan Gatic, via Flickr, CC BY-SA

Choosing the Right Multilingual Solution for Enterprise Development

The idea of multilingual web publishing sounds straightforward enough. A publisher operating in multiple countries, or in a country where multiple languages are spoken, needs the ability to manage content – as well as site features like navigation – in multiple languages.

But having worked on many such projects in my career, I can assure you that multilingual publishing means different things in different situations. Is content always created in one particular language, then translated into the others? Or can content originate in any of the operational languages? Is every piece of content translated? If so, when, and by whom? If not, what do you do when a piece of content isn’t available in the language being viewed?

WordPress has been fully translated into dozens of languages, from Afrikaans and Albanian to Vietnamese and Welsh; but it doesn’t have a built-in solution for multilingual operation. While that might initially seem like a negative, it means there is scope for a number of different approaches, reflecting the different scenarios and workflows associated with multilingual publishing.

At last month’s Big WP event in London, Giuseppe Mazzapica from VIP agency partner Inpsyde reviewed the approaches taken by some of the best known WordPress plugins, noting their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Inpsyde are, of course, the agency behind Multilingual Press, the multilingual plugin we use most often at VIP. Its approach, based on the multi-site mode built into WordPress, stays closest to ‘normal’ WordPress operation. This means other functions, including third-party plugins, are much more likely to work without workarounds.

But the VIP platform also supports other solutions, which may be a better fit for certain clients, their requirements, and their workflows. Our engineers are always happy to talk through the workflow needs of any given project, and help our clients make the right choice.

Thanks to Chrissy at Inpsyde for the beautiful featured image on this post!

Using Gutenberg in production: one agency’s first-hand experience

The WordPress core development team has just announced a draft schedule for the next WordPress release, which will include the long-awaited new editing component, Gutenberg. But for many leading WordPress agencies, Gutenberg has been a fact of life for several months already.

One such agency is VIP partner Big Bite, whose technical director Jason Agnew described the experience of implementing Gutenberg on a number of enterprise-level projects at September’s BigWP gathering in London, hosted by our friends at News UK.

Big Bite have recently been working with a major global bank, to produce an internal news app for consumption primarily via iOS and Android smartphone apps, but managed in WordPress using Gutenberg blocks. And as profiled here previously, they delivered a block-based solution for Amnesty International to build and manage pages in visual form.

Jason describes how Big Bite nominated one team member to become their in-house expert, giving him the time he needed to build his own knowledge, which he could then spread across the company.

Developing with Gutenberg can feel a lot slower, Jason says: ‘you can’t really build the site until you have all the blocks.’ His rule of thumb is that it takes a week to build a block: but if a client is in it for the long run, ‘it’s definitely worth the investment now.’

Discussing Gutenberg with clients has been really easy: some even described the authoring experience as ‘fun’, which is rare indeed in the world of content management systems! Project owners expressed concern at using beta or newly-merged functionality; but Jason has explained that it’s worth a little bit of risk now, in order to save a lot of upgrade costs in the future. ‘Most people can relate to that,’ he says.

VIP has been helping clients and developers prepare for the arrival of Gutenberg. We have a test environment showcasing the Gutenberg experience: just go to testgutenberg.com and start clicking around, no login required. We also have a series of free how-to videos for developers; and a free plugin allowing site owners to manage the rollout of Gutenberg functionality across their site at their own pace.

WordCamp Europe in Belgrade: bigger, bolder and better than ever

 

More than 2,000 WordPress users, designers, developers and entrepreneurs, from across Europe and beyond, gathered in the Serbian capital, Belgrade last week for what proved to be the biggest WordPress event in history.

WordCamp Europe, now in its sixth year, has become a fixture of the global WordPress calendar. Each event seems a little larger, a little more polished, and a little more mature than the last: and this year was no exception. Few of us knew much about Belgrade before we arrived; but we left with many fond memories of a unique and welcoming city.

With two tracks of uniformly excellent speakers over the two days, plus extended workshops and fringe events, it was impossible to see everything and everyone. But the two sessions which seemed to get most people talking were:

Both subjects represent significant evolutionary changes in what WordPress does, and how it does it. Inevitably, passions have been stirred: but those passions are the fuel which drives WordPress forwards.

I was struck to see both Matt and Alberto wasting no time in acknowledging and addressing the community’s concerns. The audience was left in no doubt about the depth of consideration and planning which has gone into both initiatives.

As in previous years, VIP’s agency and technology partners were highly visible at the event: in addition to those already mentioned, Human Made, 10up, Inpsyde and Yoast were all represented on-stage at various times. VIP has chosen these companies as partners because we believe they are at the top of their game. It’s great to see their talents also being recognised by the speaker selection processes for these events.

The main conference tracks were all live-streamed; and are now being edited for posting on WordPress.TV in due course. If you weren’t at the event – or even if you were! – you’ll be able to catch up on everything you missed on-demand shortly.

In keeping with tradition, the conference’s final act was the announcement of next year’s host city. WordCamp Europe 2019 will take place next June in Berlin: a city known for its creative community, in a country more devoted than most to the principles of the open web. It’s certain to be a great event.

If you can’t wait that long, the next major gathering will be WordCamp US, returning to Nashville, Tennessee in early December. But before then, there are dozens of smaller, local WordCamps happening all around the world: check out the full schedule at central.wordcamp.org.

Thanks to the organisers for the fantastic ‘aftermovie’, embedded above; and our fellow Automattician Clicky Steve for the featured image.

BigWP returns to London in December

london-bridge

Our next BigWP London event is only three weeks away, and it’s going to be a pre-Christmas cracker.

Twitter’s central London office will again play host to our gathering for enterprise-level users of WordPress, and the agencies who support them, after work on Thursday 7 December.

Our London events are organised by the WordPress.com VIP team with the invaluable help of our partners at leading global WordPress development agency Human Made. We aim to hold them once every six months: but this will be our third in calendar year 2017.

We’re very excited to announce Tammie Lister, design lead on Gutenberg, as one of our speakers. Gutenberg is the project to reinvent the main WordPress editor component, using the principle of content blocks; and is due to be integrated into the next release of WordPress, version 5.0. It makes content creation beautiful and effortless; and lays the groundwork for exciting developments further down the line.

Gutenberg represents the most significant change to the core user experience in several years. It’s essential for enterprise clients and agencies to understand what is happening, and the implications for custom development, now and in the future.

Tammie will be racing back from WordCamp US, taking place just a few days earlier in Nashville, with Gutenberg certain to be a hot topic at the event. It’s your chance to hear the very latest from one of the project’s leads, and to ask her any questions you may have.

Also on the evening’s agenda:

  • Having been strong advocates for Drupal in recent years, global technology consultancy Capgemini recently moved their entire corporate web presence from Drupal to WordPress. Parker Ward, Capgemini’s global head of digital and content will tell the story of the move.
  • VIP is currently working with our agency partners Big Bite to rebuild our popular Liveblog plugin for WordPress. Jason Agnew will explain how the new version gets around the performance bottlenecks of its predecessor, using React, Redux and RxJS Observables to simplify the overall build.
  • Sotic are a digital agency focused exclusively on the world of sport, running sites for top-flight professional clubs, national governing bodies and international events. Over the past year, they have adopted WordPress as their platform of choice; and senior front-end developer Dan Drave will explain how they used it to power the data-rich website for the British & Irish Lions rugby tour to New Zealand this past summer.

Come straight from the office: we’ll be providing food and drinks. We expect to finish around 8pm, and will go on somewhere for a festive drink or two.

Capacity at the event is limited; so please sign up today via our page at meetup.com to guarantee your place. You will need to submit a request to join the group if you aren’t already a member: this is purely to ensure the group retains its enterprise focus.

We’ll always have Paris: thoughts from WordCamp Europe 2017

Simon Dickson and Matt Mullenweg on stage at WordCamp Europe

WordCamp Europe has become an annual highlight for anyone working with WordPress on this (or that) side of the Atlantic, and it was great to see so many familiar faces gathering in Paris last week for the 2017 event, from Europe and beyond.

The event is now in its fifth year, with each a little more polished and professional than the last; and Paris was no exception, drawing a crowd of almost 2,000 people from 82 countries, with another thousand following the live video streams.

The speakers programme featured some of the most prominent names in the WordPress space, including lead developers Andrew Nacin, Mark Jaquith and John Blackbourn; Automattic’s global head of computational design and inclusion, John Maeda; plus of course, the now-traditional Q&A session with WordPress co-founder and Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

It was great to see a number of faces from the VIP partner ecosystem on stage, too. 10up’s Adam Silverstein led a workshop at a busy Contributor Day. rtCamp CEO Rahul Bansal gave a flash talk on bringing new people into the WordPress community through translation sprints. Human Made’s Petya Raykovska, Jenny Wong and Rian Rietveld gave rousing talks, with Ant Miller bringing his customary energy to the job of MC’ing one of the Tracks. (Or so I’m told: I was MC’ing in the other room at the time.)

A particular highlight was the beautiful and spacious sponsor area, between the registration desks and the main conference hall. Speaking as something of a WordCamp veteran, it felt like the first time I’ve ever seen sponsors receiving the prominence their support deserves – and without detracting from the community feel of the event, too.

The VIP team has always considered the broader ecosystem to be an integral part of our value proposition. When we represent WordPress at enterprise level, our message is all the more compelling when potential clients can see a diverse marketplace of products and service providers. Looking around the sponsor area, few could doubt that WordPress now demonstrates the kind of maturity and sustainability that corporations expect to see when selecting a strategic platform.

A recurring theme throughout the event was Gutenberg, the new block-based text editor component, whose first beta release Matt Mullenweg announced during his Q&A. Although still some way from being production-ready, it’s clear there is a lot of excitement about its potential to take WordPress content creation to the next level, far beyond the current capability of other enterprise CMS solutions. The VIP team will be working with clients and partners over the coming months, to help them make the most of its new possibilities.

The organisers have wasted no time in cutting up the videos for viewing on demand. All the talks, plus a few behind-the-scenes extras are already available at WordPress.tv; many are also available on YouTube. You’ll need to supply your own café and croissants.

But really, there’s no substitute for being there. If you use WordPress for work or for pleasure, and perhaps even both simultaneously, large-scale events like WordCamp Europe or its transatlantic cousin WordCamp US provide an amazing opportunity to meet people and hear stories from far and wide. Your next opportunity will be Nashville in December; or next year’s European event, in the Serbian capital Belgrade. See you there?

Photos courtesy of Val Vesa (@adspedia), published on Flickr under GPL

Challenging times for online journalists: thoughts from ONA Dublin 2017

A few of us from the WordPress.com VIP team were delighted to join journalists, producers and developers from Europe and elsewhere for the Online News Association’s conference in Dublin, Ireland in mid-May. VIP is a long-time sponsor of ONA’s events: this was their third outside North America, but the first to venture away from London.

Dublin’s regenerated Docklands area has attracted countless global businesses in recent years, including many from the tech world. Google were our hosts for the drinks reception on the evening before. Facebook’s international headquarters, just a few minutes walk away, was the venue for the main event.

Mark Little: photo by Leopold Stuebner, used with permission #

The highlight of the day was closing keynote speaker Mark Little, known to many in the audience as a TV journalist and presenter on Irish state broadcaster RTÉ. He left to found social media news agency Storyful, bought by News Corp in 2013; then took charge of media partnerships at Twitter. Few could be better placed to describe the quandary in which journalism, particularly digital journalism, now finds itself.

Social networks had not set out to become the most powerful news distribution platforms of all time, he contended; it was an unintended consequence. Authoritative news content is ‘flowing through a pipe that is ranked and priced on the basis of emotion.’ With revenue dependent on competing for attention, and generating an emotional response, Mark suggested ‘you could not design a better model to erode trust in news and information than the one we sit in right now.’

His remedy lay in a move towards subscription-based funding, perhaps via bundled models as Netflix does for movies, or Spotify for music; and deeper and more direct engagement with consumers. Restore that trust, he proposed, and there was a bright future for journalism as a public utility, telling readers not just what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear.

A theme running through many of the day’s sessions was the uneasy power relationship between publishers and platforms, including our hosts for the day. As a man with a foot in both camps, Mark said it was time for platform companies to recognise and address those unintended consequences of their growth, ‘not through marketing, but through changes to the product’.

But there was no shortage of optimism in evidence, with sessions touching on artificial intelligence, clever use of smartphone notifications, and immersive storytelling techniques. Many of these can be watched on demand via the ONA website.

Online journalism may be going through turbulent times, but sometimes, that’s when the most exciting ideas emerge.

We’re already looking forward to ONA’s main annual event, taking place in Washington DC in early October. VIP will once again be a sponsor, with our Recharge Lounge providing an opportunity to power up your portable devices, whilst talking to us about the VIP service or WordPress more generally. Tickets are available at a reduced rate until June 29.

WordPress.com VIP hosting now certified under Privacy Shield

We’re delighted to announce that we have completed certification of WordPress.com VIP’s hosting service under the EU-US and Swiss-US Privacy Shield Frameworks.

This means global publishers and European residents can host and store data on the VIP platform, with confidence that you’re doing so in accordance with current legal standards.

The EU-US Privacy Shield Framework was agreed in July 2016, following the collapse of the earlier Safe Harbour scheme. It provides certain protections for the personal data of EU individuals transferred to companies and services based in the United States. These include limitations on US government access on grounds of national security, and the provision of several channels for making inquiries and complaints.

A similar agreement was reached between the US and Switzerland in early 2017.

Participating companies self-certify annually with the US Department of Commerce, confirming that they adhere to the Privacy Shield principles.

Automattic has a long and proud history of standing up for the privacy and legal rights of our users, as our twice-yearly Transparency Reports demonstrate; so we were very happy to sign up to the necessary commitments, such as notice, access, security and recourse.

Details of our participation in the Privacy Shield frameworks can be found on the US government’s Privacy Shield List. A detailed Notice of Certification has also been posted on the wpvip.com website, in accordance with Privacy Shield requirements.

Certification applies to our core WordPress.com VIP hosting service, and does not include any add-ons, a VIP client may elect to install and use on their website.

BigWP returns to London next week

Calling all WordPress professionals in the London area! After a brief hiatus, we’re pleased to announce the return of BigWP London, when we invite enterprise-scale users of WordPress and the agencies who serve them for an evening of learning, sharing and maybe a little socialising.

BigWP Meetups are an opportunity to peer behind the curtains at some of the highest-traffic and highest-profile WordPress operations. We usually have a handful of short presentations, usually but not exclusively technical in nature, with a chance to chat and ask questions afterwards.

The first BigWP of 2017 will take place in central London on the evening of Thursday 19 January; and will be hosted by News UK, publishers of The Times and The Sun, at their offices next to The Shard.

News UK moved thesun.co.uk to WordPress.com VIP last summer, becoming the fastest growing newspaper site in the UK, with well over 20 million monthly unique visitors, and tens of millions of page views every week. They recently added Scottish and Irish editions within a WordPress multisite configuration, all managed using the same innovative extension to the WordPress Customiser. WordPress is fast becoming an important part of News Corp’s worldwide publishing infrastructure, powering more and more sites in the US, India and Australia, as well as in the UK.

The schedule will be finalised shortly, but will include presentations from the News UK team, as well as our two UK-based VIP partner agencies, Human Made (our co-sponsors for the event) and Big Bite. Come straight from work: we’ll be providing food and drink.

Capacity at the event is limited; so please sign up today via our page at meetup.com to book your place. You will need to submit a request to join the group if you aren’t already a member: this is purely to ensure the group retains its enterprise focus.

With the US Election, a Landmark Week for WordPress.com VIP

There were mixed feelings on the VIP team last week, when a joke about one of our clients went viral.

Reports of obsessive refreshing of the US election predictions on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, hosted on WordPress.com VIP, began to appear in late October. As Election Day got ever closer, things reached fever pitch.

One of the campaigns even felt the need to send an email to supporters, urging them to “stop refreshing FiveThirtyEight” and focus on getting out the vote instead.

Things really went into overdrive when the team fired up their Election Day liveblog. The first calls were made at 7pm Eastern; traffic surged as visitors looked for guidance on the clues each new result gave to the final, surprising outcome.

By midnight, FiveThirtyEight had posted — in a single day — the kind of traffic numbers we would usually expect of the most popular, mass-appeal sites we host… over the course of a week. Not bad for a nerdy site all about statistics.

We’re absolutely delighted to see a client doing so well, but the VIP team were all too aware of the responsibility on our shoulders. We knew our systems and practices would face their sternest test ever — even if constant refreshing hadn’t become a new national pastime.

It wasn’t just FiveThirtyEight, of course. With so many VIP clients in the news business, many of the sites we host saw significant traffic spikes on Election Day, or for those addressing audiences living several timezones away (like News.com.au or Indian Express), the day after. Follow-up coverage on Thursday saw at least one major site post a new record number of page views.

I’m happy to say that we coped admirably. Independent monitoring by Pingdom shows 100% uptime for the week, and barely a blip in terms of average response time.

Part of VIP’s appeal is that we ensure you’re ready for high-traffic events like this: the ones you can predict, and the ones you can’t. With so many sites, from so many places, covering so many subjects, we simply have to be prepared for the most extreme scenarios.

VIP clients share the same high-capacity global infrastructure as the WordPress.com platform, consistently ranked as one of the web’s busiest properties. And our engineers work with each site’s developers to ensure their code is as efficient and performant as possible.

Clients are often anxious about traffic spikes. But really, they should be something to look forward to: these are the times your website truly earns its stripes.

A vibrant Fourth Estate will be more important than ever in the next few years — and it will need to be fast and performant for readers around the world. If VIP can deliver for FiveThirtyEight, the national focal point on one of the most dramatic election nights in history, you can be confident we can deliver on your big night too. We dare you to put us to the test.

WordPress.com VIP ‘fastest by a wide margin’ in study of enterprise WordPress hosting

We were delighted to learn last week that VIP had ‘easily’ achieved Top Tier status in an authoritative study of enterprise-level WordPress hosting.

Review Signal’s analysis is recognized as the benchmark for comparing the performance and resilience of specialist WordPress hosts. This is the company’s fourth review of the market, but the first time they have looked specifically at enterprise offerings; and it’s the first time VIP has been assessed.

VIP put on an ‘amazing show’, according to Review Signal’s Kevin Ohashi; ‘they blew my (test setup) out of the water.’

“VIP put up the absolute fastest scores that I’ve seen by a wide margin, roughly triple the speed of the next fastest”
– Kevin Ohashi

We were the clear winner in tests conducted using Review Signal’s open-source WPPerformanceTester tool. ‘VIP put up the absolute fastest scores in the PHP bench that I’ve seen by a wide margin,’ Kevin writes: ‘roughly triple the speed of the next fastest.’

In a load test simulating up to 10,000 concurrent users, VIP’s average response time was ‘impressively flat and the fastest of any company by a good bit’. VIP came out top for almost half the global locations used in tests via WebPagetest.org, including Sydney, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and LA.

We were delighted to see our Automattic siblings in Pressable also achieving Top Tier status, along with Kinsta, Pagely, Pantheon and Pressidium. It’s great to see an ecosystem of managed hosting solutions growing around WordPress, allowing publishers and enterprises to choose the solution that’s right for their needs.

We know how much performance matters at enterprise level – for consumers, content creators and search engines alike.

Review Signal’s findings confirm our status as the leading solution for enterprises seeking the fastest and most reliable hosting for their WordPress sites.

Presenting rtCamp, our first partner agency in the Indian market

We’re excited to unveil India’s rtCamp Solutions as the newest members of the WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Program, and our first partners based in Asia.

Unlike many such schemes in the IT industry, our Featured Partner Program is kept deliberately small, and highly selective. Its members are the dozen agencies worldwide whom we can confidently recommend to the largest and highest-profile online publishers, for the most ambitious WordPress projects.

To become a partner, an agency must demonstrate creative and technical excellence on VIP-level engagements. We also expect them to share the user-centric, community-minded values which have made WordPress itself so successful.

Founded in 2009, in the Indian city of Pune (150km inland from Mumbai), rtCamp – rt, standing for ’round table’ – is precisely the kind of team we want to endorse, and present as a role model for their local WordPress community.

Their technical credentials are strong; but it’s their record of community engagement which is particularly remarkable, with members of their staff being named among the contributors to every release of WordPress in the past three years.

The Indian tech sector is booming, and growing in self-confidence, no longer satisfied just to pick up outsourced work from Europe and North America. Interest in WordPress is surging, with a growing number of the country’s leading websites choosing WordPress as their CMS, and a flourishing ecosystem of consultancies claiming WordPress expertise.

It’s high time VIP nominated an agency in the Indian market whom we believe to be capable of delivering those nationally significant projects, and doing so in the right way.

rtCamp have shown themselves to be up to the task; and ready to play a leadership role as the Indian WordPress ecosystem moves to the next level. We’re proud to call them partners, and we look forward to helping them deliver websites which show India’s 1.3 billion people what WordPress is capable of.

The VIP team will be happy to advise on the contribution rtCamp, or any of our Partners can make to your next WordPress project.

New: WordPress Plugin for Facebook Instant Articles

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Facebook has announced that its Instant Articles program will be open to publishers “of any size, anywhere in the world” starting on April 12, 2016. And with the free plugin we’re unveiling today, you’ll be able to prepare your self-hosted or VIP WordPress for the demands of this new channel.

Install it now from GitHub (it’s also coming soon to the WordPress plugin directory).

Instant Articles, now available to people using Facebook for iPhone and Android, load articles in Facebook’s News Feed up to ten times faster than standard web articles, and are optimized for the mobile reading experience.

The native format includes a built-in set of interactive tools like auto-play video and tap-to-zoom image galleries, bringing stories to life on mobile devices. Early analysis suggests that people engage more deeply with the immersive experience and share Instant Articles with their friends more often than standard web articles.

We’ve been working with Facebook, and VIP Featured Partner agency Dekode, on a plugin which takes care of the basics. Activate it, and you’ll have a compliant feed of Posts, wrapping your core content in the markup Facebook requires.

How it works

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Facebook has a review process where they verify that all Instant Articles generated from your website are properly formatted and adhere to their community standards and content policies before you’ll be able to start pushing content to the platform. (You can get more information in our Instant Articles FAQ.) Instant Articles generally should contain all the content a person would see in the web version of an article, so if you have extended the standard WordPress Post template in any way, it’s likely that you’ll need to extend the plugin’s default output too.

If you find any problems in our plugin, please send your feedback as an Issue on GitHub. And if you write a compatibility layer for another popular plugin, we’d encourage you to share it with the WordPress community via a Pull Request.

The Instant Articles program is one of several current initiatives that aim to bring improved speed and performance to the experience of reading news on your mobile device. We are thrilled to be working with Facebook on making it easier than ever for WordPress publishers to reach and engage their audiences in new ways.

Learn more at Facebook.

A warm welcome to Norwegian WordPress experts Dekode

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Norway’s Dekode are the newest members of the WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Program, bringing a dash of Nordic cool to our list of the planet’s leading WordPress development agencies.

Based in Oslo, Magne and his growing team are building not only an excellent reputation for themselves, but for WordPress as a platform for publishing and ecommerce. The Scandinavian CMS market has historically been dominated by one proprietary platform; but Dekode are working to establish WordPress as a credible alternative, even for complex enterprise usage.

They represent WordPress at Oslo’s Webdagene (‘Web Days’), one of the region’s leading conferences for the web industry; and they help organise Oslo’s WordPress meetups, including its very highly regarded WordCamp. (If you’d like to discover if that reputation is justified, the next one is in just a few weeks.)

More than most, Dekode’s focus is on combining creativity and technology. There’s no doubting their developers’ credentials; but what really shines through their project portfolio is the sophistication of their visual and UI work.

Dekode are consistently producing beautiful, modern, innovative websites. They aren’t afraid to take on challenging work, such as reinventing local community journalism, pushing WordPress forward as they do so. And they are doing it all in the right way, recognising the need for solutions to be sustainable in the long term.

So we’re excited to bring Dekode to the attention of a wider audience. They have concentrated on the Norwegian market thus far, but we’re in no doubt, they are ready to do great things on a European level.

If you’d like to find out more about Dekode, or any of our Featured Partners, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Germany’s Inpsyde: our newest VIP Featured Partner

We’re delighted to welcome Germany’s Inpsyde, one of Europe’s largest and longest-established WordPress agencies, as the newest member of the WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Program.

At Automattic, we firmly believe in the development of a strong and sustainable WordPress ecosystem. The invite-only Featured Partner Program is our way of promoting the agencies who not only demonstrate creative and technical excellence; but also share our commitment to supporting the WordPress open source project, and the community built upon it.

Inpsyde are synonymous with WordPress in Germany, Europe’s largest single market. Few agencies worldwide have been so instrumental in building and supporting their local community. They provided technical infrastructure for blogs and forums long before anything central existed. They represented WordPress at industry events, and organised or sponsored WordPress-based events of their own.

When we began to think of potential partners in continental Europe, Inpsyde were the most natural choice. Founded in 2006, they have grown into a company of some 30 employees, scattered across Germany.

If you follow the development of the WordPress core software, you will immediately recognise the name of Inpsyde’s Dominik ‘ocean90’ Schilling, a Core Committer since 2013, who will lead the development of version 4.6 this summer. Attendees of the larger European WordCamps may not know co-founder Robert Windisch by name… but they will almost certainly know his straw boater hat!

There’s no shortage of familiar names on Inpsyde’s client list too, including global brands like Adidas and Mercedes-Benz; and media companies like ZDF, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Arte.

The web industry has particular reason to be grateful to Inpsyde, for their ongoing work with Smashing Magazine, a must-read resource for designers and developers. ‘Thanks to our work with Inpsyde, Smashing Magazine is now loading faster than any other well-known Web Design or Web Development Blog around the web,’ according to editor Vitaly Friedman. ‘If you are looking for professionalism and endless know-how in terms of WordPress and Web Development in general, then seek no longer since you just found what you were looking for.’

We’re proud to recommend them for projects not just in German-speaking countries, but more widely. Their experience in multilingual development, and deep knowledge of WooCommerce will be of interest to many enterprise and VIP-level clients.

It’s also a significant moment for us at VIP. Inpsyde are our first Featured Partner agency for whom English is not their first language (although it’s a very close second). With well over 25% of the top 10 million websites running on WordPress, its success reaches far beyond the English-speaking world, and it’s time our Featured Partner network did too.

The VIP team will be happy to advise on the contribution Inpsyde, or any of our Partners can make to your next WordPress project.

Welcoming Big Bite Creative and Trew Knowledge to the WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Program

We’re pleased to announce two new additions to our list of Featured Service Partners, the ‘premier league’ of specialist WordPress development agencies.

WordPress.com VIP exists to help high-traffic and high-profile publishers get the most out of WordPress. To do so, we work with the best agency partners to deliver best-in-class solutions. Our list has been kept deliberately small and selective: but we’ve been looking to expand it just a little, not least to improve our geographic coverage. And today we’re excited to introduce our new UK-based partner, Big Bite Creative, and our new Toronto-based partner, Trew Knowledge.

Big Bite Creative come from Middlesbrough in the north-east of England, away from the more familiar digital centres of London and Manchester. They are comfortable working with clients in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, or in North America, which currently accounts for about half their business.

They first came to our attention with open sourced projects like Herbert and Ship, demonstrating an awareness of what’s happening on other platforms, and how similar methods might benefit WordPress developers. We also loved their efforts to build a creative community in what they admit is an ‘often overlooked’ part of the UK.

Trew Knowledge is our first Canadian partner, based in Toronto. Although Trew Knowledge is new to the partner program, they are not new to VIP. We’ve worked with them for several years already, as the developers behind the Canadian Olympic Committee website, hosted on WordPress.com VIP.

Trew Knowledge has always focused on building solutions that emphasize speed and performance without compromising security — aspects that align perfectly with our vision for the platform. They’re excited to combine their experience in large-scale digital enterprise solutions with VIP’s robust cloud based infrastructure for clients.

Both teams bring something new to our Featured Partner Program, and we’re delighted to welcome them aboard. The VIP team will be happy to advise on the contribution they, or any of our Partners can make to your next WordPress project.

Have some Shortcake – the plugin which makes shortcodes a piece of cake

Shortcodes can be a useful way of defining complex HTML elements within the WordPress editing window. But as Matthew Haines-Young, senior engineer at WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner agency Human Made, told the London Big Media & Enterprise Meetup, ‘everybody hates them.’

His solution is Shortcake, a plugin developed as part of Human Made’s work with the US media company Fusion. It gives developers the ability to add user-friendly modules to the Add Media window, making the shortcodes themselves (almost) invisible.

You can browse Matthew’s slides below:

Shortcake lives on Github for the moment, but it has proposed as a candidate for future inclusion in the WordPress core software.

See the presentations from previous Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetups. For Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetup groups in other cities, see the full list on VIP Events and join your local group.

Want more information about WordPress services for media or enterprise sites? Get in touch.

WordPress For Weans – how the Scottish education system is encouraging kids to contribute with confidence

It’s one of the largest WordPress multi-site installs we know of in the UK, but few have ever heard of it. Scotland’s Glow was the world’s first national intranet for education, and features WordPress as one of several components offered to pupils and teachers. It supports more than 140,000 websites, blogs and e-portfolios, with hundreds more being added each week.

Glow product owner John Johnston joined us at March 2015’s London Big Media & Enterprise Meetup to explain how WordPress was supporting the Scottish curriculum’s aim to produce successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. You may need to channel your inner Scotsman to make sense of his title, ‘WordPress For Weans’!

John’s slides are also available as a PDF.

See the presentations from previous Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetups. For Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetup groups in other cities, see the full list on VIP Events and join your local group.

Want more information about WordPress services for media or enterprise sites? Get in touch.

WordPress On The Inside – how the UK government is deploying WordPress as an intranet platform

Helpful Technology is a relatively small London consultancy specialising in digital engagement. One area of focus for Steph Gray’s team is corporate intranet development; and they have had great success deploying a WordPress-based intranet solution inside several UK central government departments.

Steph and his colleague Luke Oatham joined us at March 2015’s London Big Media & Enterprise Meetup to talk about the features which had made the project a success. And if you like what you see, their code is available as open source for anyone to use and improve.

For a clearer view of Steph and Luke’s slides:

The GovIntranet theme can be found on Github, with the user community located at govintranetters.helpfulclients.com. Luke also blogs about his work at intranetdiary.co.uk.

See the presentations from previous Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetups. For Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetup groups in other cities, see the full list on VIP Events and join your local group.

Want more information about WordPress services for media or enterprise sites? Get in touch.

Snakes In A Plugin – WordPress plugin security

Duncan Stuart is Head of Products at dxw, a London agency specialising in projects for the public sector. He has a particular interest in security; and at our London Big Media & Enterprise Meetup in March 2015, in a presentation entitled ‘Snakes In A Plugin’, he demonstrated the most common vulnerability they find when conducting security reviews of WordPress plugins.

Duncan’s slides can be seen below:

See the presentations from previous Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetups. For Big Media & Enterprise WordPress Meetup groups in other cities, see the full list on VIP Events and join your local group.

Want more information about WordPress services for media or enterprise sites? Get in touch.

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No matter where you are in the planning process, we’re happy to help, and we’re actual humans here on the other side of the form. 👋 We’re here to discuss your challenges and plans, evaluate your existing resources or a potential partner, or even make some initial recommendations. And, of course, we’re here to help any time you’re in the market for some robust WordPress awesomeness.