Client Spotlight: Harry’s Five O’Clock

Fresh from the January relaunch of Five O’Clock on VIP, men’s grooming brand Harry’s is in the process of launching a major initiative and set of partnerships that evolves the brand’s mission in culture and sharpens its editorial focus. Last week Harry’s released a new short film emblematic of the new approach, entitled “A Man Like You”:

We caught up with Caitlin Ganswindt, Editor at Harry’s, to hear about what’s in the works and the journey that brought her, and them, here.

Ganswindt came to Harry’s in late 2015 after serving as managing editor at Shinola and leading experiments with native, branded content at Urbandaddy. Since its origins in 2013, Five O’Clock has gone through a number of stages in its evolution from pioneering native brand magazine to the bigger cultural mission it is now embracing.

Tell us about the history of Five O’Clock and where you have taken it in since you joined.

We’re coming up on our 5th year anniversary at Harry’s in March. So you’re talking about, in 2013 starting a native publication with a very small group of people. Whatever story pitches we got pretty much went up on site. When I joined the team, they were looking for somebody who could figure out what the editorial strategy should be, and migrate the site on to a non-self-hosted solution. We just didn’t have the engineering resources to support a site, that we didn’t really know how to quantify yet, and didn’t really know the value of yet.

The original site was custom and proprietary, and very, very binary. There were only a couple of formats that we had to choose from. All of the assets were required and very finite. There was no tagging. There was no way to search on site. It was a rudimentary sort of blog…hole.

I spent the first couple of months, November and December of 2015, just doing a complete audit of the site. Everything we had run, things that worked, things that didn’t, and tried to hypothesize the what and the why. Then, in January of 2016, I made a proposal to migrate on to a customized WordPress theme, so that we could get away from the engineering constraints, and actually start testing against our point of view in real time. I started development of the second iteration of Five O’Clock using the Zuki theme, with a full custom CSS overlay of the existing theme templates.

On the last day of March 2016, the last day of Q1, which was a feather in my cap, we went live with that iteration of the site. We received a Webby nomination, and it was met with a lot of love from customers and industry folks. People were into it! They were really excited about the content that we were producing.

 What was the new editorial focus?

We started talking about grooming education. We started talking about brand happenings. Business initiatives. Iterations of our products. We introduced people to our factories. We started putting faces to the names behind our products.

And then in November of that year, 2016, we launched Five O’Clock News, which is a monthly newsletter of Five O’Clock content.

That’s also been doing really well. We have very consistent readership, with numbers firmly above industry averages. More than half of everybody who receives our emails are opening them, engaging with them, and sharing them on a regular basis.

Do you have a mental picture of what’s been most popular and what the profile of the readership looks like, based on what works and what doesn’t?

We’ve actually gone through another iteration with this new site launch, but the very clear things that are trending, and are still true today: first, grooming education. Actually learning the “how” and “why” behind the tools we make and products and practices. Highlighting ingredients – the differences between shave cream and shave gel and why you should care. How to match the grain patterns on your face to optimize your shave.

Then in January of 2017, we starting thinking as a brand and marketing team more seriously about our point of view as a company. And have been working over the past year to bring that brand mission and positioning to life in the real world.

In tandem, we realized that while the new Five O’Clock site was really beautiful and doing great things, it was also grounded in three categories: better grooming, better mornings, and better life. Because our original positioning of the brand was – “the shaving company that’s fixing shaving” – being really frustrated by the margins in between what it cost to make something, and how much people were actually paying for razors from the bigger guys. While that’s where our story started, and we realized that we can do a lot more with this microphone.

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We started thinking about what we truly believed, and realized that our focus was really more about this idea of progressive masculinity. Harry’s is committed to amplifying the ongoing cultural conversation around what it means to be a man today. Because men can be both strong and nurturing, self-assured and accepting of others. The big overarching picture is that to be a good man is to be a good human. We’ve always felt that existing shave brands weren’t speaking to us in a way that resonated. And again, since launching, we’ve learned so much about our customer values. So we wanted to do our part in opening up that conversation and try to modernize ideas around masculinity, to better reflect who our customer really is.

Obviously we know that shaving is inherently masculine, and the category has been dominated by brands that have perpetuated this traditional idea of masculinity as “being the best, the strongest, the smartest, the toughest.” But in real life, guys are a lot more than those traditional stereotypes. There is no one box that can define a person, and we feel like it’s time for brands to promote a more progressive vision of masculinity. But, moreover, we want to help guys define what it is to be a man on their own terms. Embrace whatever attitude and behaviors actually are resonating with them, and have a safe space to be who they are, or who they’re not, and embrace the parts of themselves that have previously been off limits according to these outdated ideals.

It’s quite a maturation of vision from “fixing shaving” to this bigger, cultural piece, with a lot of area to explore.

Yeah, definitely. We’re rolling out our new social mission over the coming weeks as well. Harry’s is partnering with a few really wonderful charitable organizations, to donate a portion of our profits to, and join the movement behind the initiatives and the conversations that they are pushing forward.

But by and large, as far as Five O’Clock is concerned, we’ve realized there’s a real whitespace when it comes to men’s lifestyle content. With all these fights for gender, marriage, class, equality, all over, men are facing new dynamics that are having them question these traditional ideals of what it means to be a real man. We think that the tension between the past and the future are really important to highlight and have real, candid conversation around.

We feel that Five O’Clock is a microphone to amplify these voices and galvanize this new generation by cultivating a space for real discourse. I think what drives us most is to lead in culture and raise awareness by bringing positive attention to these progressive shifts, rather than just focusing on the negative.

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Tell us about where you are today with that mission and project. What has been shared so far?

We have a new brand campaign that came out on the 26th. It is a video called “A Man Like You.” I think that may bring to a finer point the goals of the messaging.

One of the partners we’re aligning with is The Representation Project. They’re focused on helping guys understand misrepresentation and breaking down barriers of harmful stereotypes. We worked with GSD&M, a creative agency out of Austin and The Representation Project to create this film. We’ve also rolled out on Five O’Clock, profiles with the founders of The Representation Project and A Call to Men, another organization that we’re partnering with for our social mission. In the UK we’re collaborating with an organization called CALM (Campaign against Living Miserably) that focuses on awareness on mental health and also suicide prevention among men. We’ll have a profile and some great initiatives coming out with them soon.

Over the next several weeks and months, you’ll definitely see us putting a bigger stake in the ground around these conversations for sure.

It all sounds amazing. How do Five O’Clock and Harry’s fit together? How does the one connect up with the larger organization?

We feel like Five O’Clock is the place where our point of view can be loudest. It’s the most concentrated as far as participating in these conversations. It serves as a point of discovery and inspiration for people who feel like they’re ethos and values are in line with this progressive future.

It definitely serves as a contrast, particularly if you look in the broader world of beauty across masculinity and femininity – having a strong magnetic pull that says ‘This is what we’re about. If you’re about this, become a part of our…of us.”

Totally, and I think that’s definitely the goal. And it’s not to say anybody else is doing it wrong. Brands have found, and will continue to find success in myriad ways. But taking two steps back and reflecting on the state of culture and the world right now, we feel like particularly that grooming—you can call it beauty, sure—it’s a lot deeper than that. Shaving is important for upkeep, but it’s also a moment to make you feel good. And there are so many other things that are important to feel good as a human.

A profile on Justin Baldoni and Man Enough, the new series exploring traditional masculinity

What do you think about the observation that in the current political moment, skincare is all of the sudden becoming a bigger piece of self care than it was before?

I don’t necessarily know if that is tied to a cultural moment. I think that care routines in general are becoming more center lane, and I think that that’s a little bit more of a technology thing. With social media, if you look at Glossier, Fenty Beauty—it’s the age of bloggers—we’ve never before had such democratized access to product reviews in real time.

If you think back to the original general store, if you needed a product, you went and you talked to the shopkeeper and said, “This is what’s going on and this is what I need.” And they would make a recommendation on the right product for you. You weren’t competing with branded advertorials. It wasn’t the guy who has the most money made the loudest boom, and that’s who you went with.

And now, in the age of bloggers, and independent brands, and direct to consumer, I think that we’re actually coming back to that original moment of …all of this information is available, so it’s about what you need and what you want and then you can find the product and brand that is most in line with that. I think it goes beyond just the quality of the products themselves and ladders up more to, “Is this brand for me in general?”

Tell us about the current iteration of the site, and the move to VIP.

As we were working on this updated brand positioning, we realized we’d also need to overhaul the Five O’Clock editorial mission to be in line with that. So we were thinking, yet again, of overhauling our content space. Part of the challenge we wanted to solve for was to be able to see the whole 360-degree user funnel. We wanted to improve our approach to data as far as who is using the site. Are they Harry’s customers? Are they more valuable because they are reading our content? Those kinds of questions, and that’s how we came to VIP.

In March of last year I put together a proposal for this migration. And then building all of the piping on our end to use the analytics we’re now able to use. We started development in September, and we launched live in January of this year. The whole site is fully custom. We’re doing some really cool things as far as styling on galleries. We have a really lovely dynamic scroll on the homepage as well as all of our article pages that have a gradient treatment, which is not something we see super often. Also, the entire site is set up super scalable to our business needs. For example, we built in hexadecimal code fields for every category on the site. Which means changing the look and feel of the homepage is as simple as changing the color scheme that’s aligned with a particular content category. So, if we had a big campaign or partnership we were rolling out that we wanted to do a whole new treatment for, we have that immediate flexibility without actually getting in to the code.

We’re also now running a reverse proxy for hosting, so the domain is now Harry’s.com/fiveoclock. We’ve also set up a child environment where we can theoretically host all of our acquisition/DR pages. So for the first time everything that we’re creating as a brand is all indexed against the same domain, providing that full 360 user funnel.

Over the next year, two years, and beyond, my focus is going to be figuring out what that attribution model looks like, understanding the real brass tacks – things like profitability of content on long term customer value. And that’s definitely where we’re heading next.

How does this new brand and site relaunch feel for you, to have done so much in evolving Five O’Clock multiple times in such a compressed period of time?

I think that this is a next step in one of the most exciting years for Harry’s as a brand, and Five O’Clock as a publication. I definitely feel lucky that, as an editor, we’ve had such confidence from our co-founders from the start, and that we were given the years necessary to hone in and prove out the channel. And I’m just really excited for the opportunities Five O’Clock has ahead.

You’ve built a very progressive case and grown this thing deliberately over time. Any advice for others who might be trying to develop similar evolutions for their publications?

I think the most important thing is to keep yourself in check. Particularly working at a brand, if you’re talking about native content, there tends to be one editorialist in a room. So that person needs to remember to take two steps back and ask themselves “Do I give a shit about this piece of content that I’m putting out in the world? Do I believe in it? Do I care personally?” If these answers are no, then you’re probably not on the right path. At the end of the day, even if it’s branded content, it’s still content, and as an editor, you’re wasting your mind if you’re putting things out into the world that you don’t feel are spurring or perpetuating culture or conversation.

Highlights from Five O’Clock:

A First Class AMP Experience

We at VIP, as well as Automattic as a whole, joined the AMP project early on in 2015 and took on the challenging task of creating the first platform integration, a foundation to serve the needs of individual WordPress users and enterprise users alike.

Why? We want to make it easy for our users to deliver the best experience on the mobile web, and that means, fast.

Stylized shot of AMP Conf stage

There has been a ton of work going on across the project since its launch, on the core services and on the integration. We’re excited to announce the AMP for WordPress 0.7 beta, co-created by Automattic, and our partners, Google and XWP, which was officially unveiled at AMP Conf 2018 in Amsterdam earlier this month.

Watch the talk here:

What’s new with the AMP Plugin

Historically, the AMP Plugin has used a pair mode. That means that the plugin used a simple-theme approach, which generated a separate AMP version of your webpage.

Now, we’ve improved the experience, enabling “WordPress AMP,” a native experience that we believe is not only an improved feature set, but also a huge step forward for WordPress.

As Alberto Medina from the Google Web Content Ecosystems Team, said in his recent blog post:

Since the beginning we have had our sight set on enabling an organic AMP experience in WordPress; that is, an experience where there is no need for a pair mode (unless applied by choice) because there are no gaps, either functional or visually, between the AMP and non-AMP versions of content published in WordPress. Without such a gap, WordPress publishers are able to publish a single version of their content which is beautiful, feature-rich, all-around WordPress, and runs at the speed of AMP! We call this an all-AMP experience.

To get started, you can install and activate the 0.7 version of amp-wp which can be found on GitHub here and will be released on WP.org soon. After that, you can go to your functions.php file and add add_theme_support( 'amp' ); to the after_setup_theme action hook. This will turn your entire site into a valid AMP canonical site (not just single posts/pages like the current plugin)!

The plugin does all of the dirty work of converting relevant HTML tags to amp-HTML valid tags. It also restructures the document head to comply with the AMP spec for how CSS and JS are implemented. We’d like to think it works like a charm!

As a whole, the new release takes as its focus the notion of empowering content creators and non-technical folks to go further with AMP on their own. The 0.7 beta supports: AMP native mode, default widgets, default embeds, commenting, creation of AMP-related notifications and outputting valid AMP. See it live on the full theme demo site today.

Highlights from AMP Conf

As part of the keynote, Malte Ubl gave a history of our work with the AMP project as well as the current state of the plugin. As our CEO Matt Mullenweg shared in a video clip aired during the talk, this year we’re doubling down on our support for the project both directly and indirectly.

“At Automattic our focus has always been on the user. That’s why we’ve been committed to providing support for AMP from the project’s inception. We believe enabling everyone to create content on the open web in a fast and accessible way is key to both users and our business.”, Matt Mullenweg, CEO, Automattic

He also mentioned the goal of making the upcoming Gutenberg editor, slated to be a part of WordPress 5.0, work hand in hand with AMP. And we’re proud to support and highlight the work of our partners Google and XWP, who in the last year have taken a leading role in evolving the AMP for WordPress plugin to make it even easier, more accessible for smaller teams with limited development resources, and more powerful.

In the talk embedded at the top of this post, Fast By Default: AMP Powering WordPress, Alberto Medina from the Google Web Content Ecosystems Team along with Software Architect Thierry Muller from XWP demonstrated an AMP Native WordPress theme that shows off the potential for WordPress publishers to easily take full advantage of AMP’s speed and capabilities.

For example, Thierry Muller from XWP specifically noted these improvements:

The AMP version of the WordPress comments are much more dynamic than the default WordPress UX, and the AMP version of the gallery widget uses the AMP Carousel component instead of output images stacked like it would by default in WordPress.

We’re excited about the direction of the AMP project, and look forward to sharing more updates in the future.

What Goes in to a VIP Client Onsite?

WordPress.com VIP provides a wide range of services to our clients beyond managed cloud hosting. Some of those take place behind the scenes or across Slack, video conferencing, and terminals, but one in particular gives us the the opportunity to be in the same rooms with our client teams for an extended period of time. Our onsite visits get us embedded with client developers and users for as much as a whole week for a combination of shared planning, learning, and collaboration.

An onsite visit is extremely useful in a number of ways – it gets our teams synced up, provides the chance for a shared retrospective, creates opportunities for very hands-on learning and collaborative working experiences, and gives us at VIP a deeper appreciation for our clients workflow and context. That deeper context is experienced by all of the VIP Support team folks who attend but also shared in highlights and takeaways with the entire VIP team. It makes all of our ongoing work that much more connected.

Regular and special issues of Grupo Abril's Exame
VIP client Grupo Abril publishes some of the most popular magazines in Latin America, including Exame and Veja

Recently I joined four colleagues to spend a week with our client Grupo Abril at their headquarters in Sao Paulo for an onsite visit. This one was the third since we started working with Abril. My notes and pics from the week will give you a sense of what the structure looks like, how much we manage to pack into a relatively short period of time, and everything that comes out of it.

The Retrospective

Our week started off with a retrospective which gave us a few extra topics to go through and some actions to take forward. We’re always keen to see what went well and where there is room for improvement, be that tooling, process and support, communications or anything else.

Particularly satisfying for us was to be able to share the developer improvements we have seen over the year. Developer skill and code quality has increased, site performance has been better than ever, and releases have been faster and more predictable. It’s exactly where we want our clients to be.

 

A collaborative look back at the past year working together

Roadmap Updates, in Both Directions

The WordPress.com VIP hosting platform is continually evolving and improving, and visits such as this help us get product and development teams up to speed and share roadmap news on both sides. The new WordPress block editor Gutenberg is also a hot topic and we talked about that too.

 

Exploring the WordPress core roadmap, the VIP platform roadmap, and the upcoming Gutenberg editor project for WordPress 5.0

We talked to editorial teams about WordPress tooling, new and emerging technologies, content and application models, and further possibilities to enable and free their work.

VIP team meeting with Grupo Abril
Hands-on with editorial tooling

We see WordPress used increasingly to power other applications such as mobile and node applications, and also consuming data from other applications thanks to the flexible and powerful REST API. We also talked about syndication models and VIP technologies such as Liveblog which is a great tool for covering real time high traffic events such as sports games, elections of other major events.

Editorial team session on syndication and content models

A Mini-Sprint

Working with product and development teams proved incredibly productive, and the Abril teams set aside some time for a mini sprint working on projects with us for two days.

Abril/VIP mini-sprint

One team experienced their first steps in Gutenberg development creating a block. Another worked on a proof of concept for an intranet site. Another got up to speed on new platform tooling. It was handy that we could pull in Automattic’s Gutenberg team who work on the WordPress core development for assistance.

Abril/VIP mini-sprint

Spotlight on Performance and Security

We hosted a performance workshop exploring best practices and potential issues as well a deep dive on development tooling to support debugging and performance analysis. This material built on sessions we held the previous year.

VIP Engineer Stéphane Boisvert (left) helping with xdebug remote debugging setup

We also talked about security both at a platform level and an application and process level and it was exciting to be able to share details about the new activity log baked into our hosting platform. It’s a big plus for security teams and editorial teams managing workflow and process.

It’s quite common for us on WordPress.com VIP to see clients – especially traditional publishers and media companies – working with legacy editorial and print editorial systems. We’re often helping them streamline and simplify processes as well as manage the move from print first to digital first.

VIP Enterprise Engineer Matt Perry (right) talking through options to streamline mobile content publishing to a legacy system

A Look Back

We finished the week with demos showing off the output of the hackathon work and a final retrospective. It was exciting to see what the Abril teams had produced in such a short time, and working together was just one big highlight. We would have liked even more hackathon time.

Abril developers demoing their hackathon projects: their first Gutenberg block

 

The end of week retrospective

The retrospective brought out lots of individual takeaways and highlights, providing a really good end to the week. The Abril and VIP teams parted with high energy and spirits. Having the chance to work together in person on so many different parts of our shared goals has me really looking forward to the coming months and continuing the great work.

We are hugely grateful to the folks at Abril for their welcome and work together that week. I feel privileged to be working with such a terrific client and proud to be part of WordPress.com VIP supporting and working with clients like these every day. All of us truly care about our clients’ applications as if they were our own, and we live and breathe daily our mission to free our clients to publish.

Klaus Harris, Enterprise Team Lead

Interested in bringing VIP to your team? Get in touch.

PS: We are hiring! If this kind of work sounds interesting to you, check out our hiring page. We have a stellar team within a great company, doing great things with amazing clients at big scale. It’s zero effort for me to get excited about what we do every single day. Join us!

Interested in joining the team?

VIP is hiring, and we’ve recently expanded the roles we’re looking for!

There are a few questions that often come up when we talk to folks about working with VIP. I’ll try to go over some of them now.

Is Automattic / WordPress.com VIP a good place to work?

Well, we’re clearly biased but if you look at the reviews on Glassdoor we think it’s pretty clear that it’s a great place to work! We’re serious about increasing diversity in the tech industry. We want to build Automattic as an environment where people love their work and show respect and empathy to those with whom we interact. Diversity typically includes, but is not limited to, differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political and religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, cultural background, geographic location, physical disabilities and abilities, relationship status, veteran status, and age. To work on diversity means that we welcome these differences, and strive to increase the visibility of traditionally underrepresented groups. Read more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion here.

How do I know if I’m qualified for the job?

That’s a great question! Most of the time people think you need to know everything before applying, but in truth, depending on the position, that’s not that strong a requirement. The most important thing is being able to figure out and solve problems independently. For example, you don’t need to know why something is slow just by looking at the code, but you should be able to work on debugging it, finding the root cause, and finding a fix for it.

The most important skill is being able to learn new things when faced with a challenge you haven’t already encountered. That means being able to search internally and externally and being able to figure out which information is good and which information is potentially wrong. While not required for all positions, reviewing an intentionally vulnerable plugin is great practice for the VIP Development Consultant position.

What kind of work do you do?

Depending on if you’ve interacted with the VIP team before you might think all of our days are spent doing code review! While many of the roles include doing code review, it depends on your role, and your role can change as often as you want. A lot of our time is spent asking ourselves questions: Why is this code behaving in this unexpected way? What would be an efficient way to solve this problem? How can I reproduce what the client is seeing?

What that means in practical terms, for support developers, is working with clients in tickets helping debug functionality. You’ll give advice on how to achieve clients’ goals. You’ll build tools to help improve the client support experience. You’ll help clients launch new sites. You’ll work to improve site performance, sometimes proactively, sometimes in reaction to problems.

What’s the application process like?

1) Application

It all starts by sending us an email. The specific instructions to follow are on each position’s page. We’re very lucky to get many applications, so make sure you read the full job description and follow the instructions if you’re interested in being considered for an interview.

2) Interview

The interview is to get to know you and has a few technical questions. Depending on the position, we’ll be asking various questions to test your skills more then your knowledge. The process for figuring things out is always more important then the right answer. The interview is done via text on Slack.

3) Code test

If you are applying for the Expert Debugger (hiring for this position will resume in the fall), VIP Developer or Enterprise Platform Engineer position, you will take a code test. It involves a plugin that needs some modifications. We’ll provide you with an SVN repo (we use SVN, although we do most of our day-to-day work with Git) and some instructions. We expect you to spend around 10 hours on this task, and this is done asynchronously over the course of 1 week.

4) Trial

The trial period is a unique part of Automattic’s hiring process. For this part, you join the team as a part-time contractor. We give you a contract for up to 40 hours over the course of up to 4 weeks. The pay is standard for all trial positions at USD $25 per hour. We usually recommend at least 10 hours a week, and this can be done at any time of the week. We’ll connect you with a VIP team member at the times you’re expecting to work so we can help guide and support you during your trial. You’ll be given work similar to the work you’d be doing as a full-time employee and you’ll be interacting with other team members similarly to being a full-time employee. The team and your trial buddy give recommendations to the hiring team.

5) Offer

Congratulations, we’d like you to join the team! At this step, we’ll make you an offer!

Where can I learn more about life at VIP?

Our Careers page has lots of great information. You can also find some great insight from posts from some team members. For example, David Artiss wrote a great post on a day in the life of a VIP support team member. Kailey Lampert also has a great post on things she’s learned from working at home.

developers with laptops in a conference room
VIP team members work onsite with client Grupo Abril in Brazil

Do you have any questions? Ask us! You can reach us via Twitter or email.

Six Questions with Trew Knowledge

This post series profiles each of our featured partner agencies.

Trew Knowledge is an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Toronto. They have been a WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner since 2015. We asked founders Anthony Moore and Shawn Barrans six questions to help you get to know who they are as an agency.

Boardroom Mural at Trew Knowledge HQ

What’s your agency’s origin story?

Trew Knowledge was founded in 2009 by Anthony Moore and Shawn Barrans. Anthony, with a background in Digital Media Arts focusing on design and programming, and Shawn with a degree in Marketing, were able to mesh their different set of skills to form an agency that offered clients full 360 solutions.

In our first couple of years in business it was just the two of us, working on a kitchen table in a suburb just outside of Toronto. We were constantly working all day and night building relationships with clients, attending networking events, participating in trade shows, and partnering with other agencies.

When we started making traction and bringing on a lot of clients we decided to rent office space downtown Toronto and hire staff. It was around this time we built a relationship with WordPress.com VIP and eventually became part of the Featured Agency program. In addition, we have become exclusive partners to Gigya and ramped up our services in the Customer Identity and Access Management industry.

Today, we work with some of the largest brands in Canada, as well as globally. Being able to work closely with the talented people at WordPress VIP has given us the ability to take on large, enterprise projects and deliver incredible solutions.

Pick three words that describe your agency culture.

Collaborative, passionate, and forward-thinking.

Our office is laid out in a collaborative, open-concept workspace. This gives everyone on the team the opportunity to speak freely, share ideas, and work together on projects. Since we are currently a small team, everyone gets the opportunity to work on several projects at once. Because of this, we have been able to improve, streamline, and automate several of our processes for project delivery.

When we are looking to bring on talent to join our team we look for someone with a genuine passion for what they do. Whether a creative person or a programmer, their passion must play a large role in their lives. Everyone on our team has an incredible thirst for knowledge.

Anthony Moore presenting at BigWP in Toronto

Tell us about a client project you are especially proud of.

Our relationship with the Canada Olympic Committee goes back more than five years with the development of their flagship site ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics Games. We also programmed the Canadian Olympic Club, the official fan club of the Canadian Olympic Team.

The Canadian Olympic Club, powered by Gigya, is the first ever digital fan club of it’s kind by any national Olympic team. It allows fans to log in via their favorite social network and complete various challenges to earn points. These points can then be redeemed for contests and prizes, including swag, trips, signed memorabilia, and digital downloads.

The success of the website has been honoured with accolades such as an official honoree in the 18th annual Webby Awards for Best Sports website, Communication Arts “webpick of the week”, and Gold for best mobile user-experience in the 2017 W3 Awards.

What are you most excited about in the WordPress community right now?

2018 is going to be a very exciting year for WordPress, and the internet overall. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect on May 25, 2018 we are interested in seeing how website/business owners handle the regulations for data protection. Internally, we are in the process of developing a set of tools to help guide people using WordPress and assist with maintaining a compliant website. We hope to share more details with the WordPress community over the next couple of weeks.

Our team is also very excited for the release of Gutenberg. Our team has been testing the new editor for a few months and are really excited to get this in the hands of clients. While there may be concern for many people, given this is a big change for how they currently use WordPress, we feel this is a very forward-thinking approach and will really create a bit of a standard for content creation.

Panel Discussion on Customer Identity Management (From left to right: Shawn Barrans – Trew Knowledge, Vic Torossian – Corus Entertainment, Georgia Sapounas – Canadian Olympic Committee, Anthony Moore – Trew Knowledge, Sergey Krayniy – Gigya)

What’s your favorite conference or event of the year, and why?

This year our team attended WordCamp US in Nashville. This was our first visit to WordCamp US and we were blown away by the quality of content and speakers at this event. It was great to see some fellow WordPress VIP partner agencies in attendance from around the world and catch up with them.

This was also our first time visiting Nashville, and between the music and hot chicken, we are looking forward to returning next year and doing it all again.

(And the sixth: Ask yourself a question and answer it) What are you looking to accomplish in 2018?

2018 has already been a busy year, and it has just started. As mentioned previously, this is a big year for GDPR compliance and it is something Trew Knowledge is taking very seriously as it impacts several of our clients. For organisations we work with who are using WordPress, we are in the process of developing a set of tools to assist with them becoming compliant. This has certainly been challenging so far but we see this being an incredibly valuable tool for our clients and the WordPress community in general.

As an agency, we are always looking to grow. We are looking to bring on more talent that will allow us to not only expand our client services, but also be able to develop more product based solutions. We have had the pleasure of working with clients from hundreds of different industries, and each one offers its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

Thank you, Anthony and Shawn!

More on Trew Knowledge:

Agency focus and specialties

  • Strategy
  • UI/UX Design
  • Customer Identity Management
  • Gamification & Loyalty
  • Custom WordPress.com VIP themes & plugins
  • Content & Data Migration
  • WooCommerce

Currently working with: The Canadian Olympic Committee, Corus Entertainment, Rubicon Project, Rakuten Viber, The Nation Network, Hip2Save, Barnes & Noble, Toronto Film School, Yorkville University, Sun Life Financial, Walgreens, Arizona State University, and the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

Agency highlights

  • Exclusive WordPress VIP partner in Canada
  • Preferred solution partners with Gigya and Zurb
  • Official honoree in the 18th annual Webby Awards for Best Sports website for Olympic.ca
  • 2017 W3 Award, Gold – Best mobile user-experience for Olympic.ca

January VIP Roundup

After the briefest of holiday breaks in many places, the new year roared to life across the enterprise WordPress community. Most recently, VIP client USA Today’s Ad Meter launched ahead of the Superb Owl of American sport, and just hours ago crowned Amazon this year’s advertising winner. With Alley Interactive, we completed a successful data migration of Women In The World from WordPress.com to VIP Go, helping to decouple it from The New York Times.

The Gutenberg editor plugin reached version 2.1 and gained lots of great enhancements. Featured Partner Human Made implemented it on their site and provided an inside look at how it went. Read on for lots more, as well as upcoming events.

Dekode’s Björn Johansen presenting at WordCamp Stockholm

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

  • New Relic application monitoring, the same tool set we use to monitor and optimize site performance, is now available for all clients on VIP Go. We also released Liveblog v.1.7, developed by partner agency Big Bite Creative, which includes a fully rebuilt React front end.
  • Early bird tickets are now available for everyone’s favorite gathering of the enterprise WordPress ecosystem, this year’s VIP Workshop, May 14-17th in Napa, California. We’re putting together the best lineup of speakers and sessions yet, and we’ll have updates to share on that soon.
  • WordPress 4.9.2 security and maintenance release came out this month (lobby post), as well as Jetpack 5.7 (lobby, public announcement), bringing easier customization for Jetpack Search among other improvements. Jetpack 5.7.1 maintenance release followed shortly thereafter (lobby.)
  • In early January Dekode published an expansive look back at their year, including projects, growth, goals, and their new office in the center of Oslo. From the post: “As we all know…Our work life consists of all the small things that happen as we move forward, the tiny breakthroughs in a complicated task, or a moment of clarity in a workshop with a client, or it could be the sun that blinds your vision as it reflects your computer screen, forcing you to go out for a deserved 2 minute break with your sunglasses on.”
  • Earlier this month, Alley Interactive completed a data migration for Women In The World (WITW) from WordPress.com to the VIP Go platform, which also involved a new url: https://womenintheworld.com.  This was an effort to effectively decouple WITW from the New York Times. After doing an initial data migration to the new Go hosting, Alley planned a specific date and time for the final migration. VIP hosted a launch session with Alley and WITW on Stormchat to ensure that all of the data was properly migrated. Daniel Gale-Rosen at Alley noted, “Everything went off without a hitch and VIP was even able to import WITW’s old site usage statistics to their new site’s WordPress Dashboard.”
  • New Relic is now featuring 10up’s advanced WordPress integration, New Relic Reporting for WordPresson their Connect Directory. Additional releases from an action-packed period for 10up include: Async Transients, an open source Composer library that improves handling of WordPress transient caches especially at enterprise scale, a significant update to Urban Airship Web Push Notifications, and Ads.txt Manager for WordPress, which adds validation and testing tool for the rapidly growing standard.
  • At XWP, Mike Crantea published a set of recommendations for improving Google Page Speed, and Luke Carbis offered a perspective on AMP’s role on the web. And as of January, the AMP plugin for WordPress, which XWP supports along with Google and Automattic, is now at version 0.6. Among other improvements, the new version has merged the AMP Customizer with the main Customizer, and has out-of-the-box support for Pages.
  • rtCamp was the Gold sponsor for the second edition of WordCamp Udaipur, the City of Lakes, January 27-8. Later in February, Rahul Bansal will be speaking at WordCamp Bangkok about the qualities and assurances that enterprises look for while choosing a content management systems. rtCamp is also one of the sponsors of this WordCamp.
  • Getty Images has deprecated plugin versions earlier than 2.4.4 (lobby). We recommend updating to the latest, currently version 3.0.

Gutenberg News and Notes
The latest tools, demos, and updates around the block-based editor coming to WordPress 5.0

We encourage everyone to install the Gutenberg plugin in a test environment and start working with it. For clients, your VIP support team is available as always to help. If you’re already developing blocks or related tools, let us know! We’d love to hear about them. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights from across the community last month:

  • Gutenberg v2.0 came out January 12th with lots of big updates including refinements to copy and pasting, mobile usability, the block API, the block library, and accessibility. Matías ran down all of the changes and offered a demo video as well. As of this post, it’s at version 2.1.
  • Tammie shared a post outlining the basics of Gutenberg design piece by piece.
  • In a tweet, Matías showed off the ability to paste Markdown text directly into Gutenberg.
  • Matt Mullenweg stopped by a WordPress Orlando meetup and answered questions about the Gutenberg project in an open floor, town hall-style session. Here’s an unofficial recap of the questions and answers.
  • Matthew Haines-Young at Human Made wrote up his experiences in adding Gutenberg compatibility to their main site, including 13 custom blocks and a UI for editing them.
  • Aaron Jorbin reflected on six months of using Gutenberg so far, including eighteen posts.
  • Gutenberg.news, Mike McAlister‘s ongoing collection of resources and tutorials, came on line this month. It’s another great way to stay up to date.

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

“Publishers are also using these Interactive Advertising Bureau-backed text files to organize inventory reports they share with advertisers, drive programmatic direct deals and shop for vendors.”

Ross Benes at Digiday, in a story exploring additional uses publishers have found for ads.txt.

“When you create a subscription business model, your incentives change significantly,” [he said.] “You’re trying to build a really deep relationship with your reader. No one is going to subscribe if they think that what you’re doing is not unique … You do want as many readers as possible. You do want people to come frequently. But what you really want them to do is love your stories.”

-Wired Editor In Chief Nick Thompson, in an article and podcast conversation with Peter Kafka at Recode about Wired’s newly unveiled paywall.

Upcoming Events

  • As mentioned up top, we’re excited to share the dates for VIP Workshop, May 14-17, and have opened up early bird ticketing. It’s our favorite time of the year! We hope to see you all there.
  • LoopConf is happening February 21-24 in Salt Lake City, Utah and Automattic will be participating as a sponsor. Automatticians Mel Choyce and Dennis Snell will also be presenting, along with Human Made’s John Blackbourn. Tickets are still available.
  • Recode’s Code Media, an immersive, two-day media and technology event hosted by Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher, is coming up February 12-13 in Huntington Beach, CA.
  • AMPConf is coming up February 13-14 in Amsterdam. Alberto Medina from Google along with XWP’s Thierry Muller will be presenting on AMP powering WordPress on the first day, and Gil Birman and Brian Ta from Airbnb will be on a panel on monetization and retail on the second.
  • Dekode, WooCommerce, and Jetpack are all diamond sponsors of WordCamp Oslo March 2-3. Speakers include our own Tess Needham, Scott Baasgard and Magne Ilsaas from Dekode, and John Blackbourn from Human Made.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

Independent Speed and Performance Analysis Finds VIP Fastest among Top Tier Hosts

WordPress.com VIP has once again been acknowledged as a top-tier provider of enterprise-level WordPress hosting, posting the fastest average response times from a range of global testing locations in independent analysis carried out by Review Signal.

Each year Kevin Ohashi at Review Signal evaluates enterprise WordPress hosts, and again in 2018 WordPress.com VIP joins a strong top tier. In the language of the review system, top tier means, “companies who maintain 99.9% uptime throughout the entire testing and show little to no performance degradation during load testing.”

After putting up “the absolute fastest scores [I’ve seen] by a wide margin” in our first participation in the rankings last year, this year VIP’s performance shone again. In addition to meeting each metric for top tier status, our scores in the WebPageTest.org tests showed off the speed of our content delivery network in accomplishing its main function – serving content as fast as possible to end users all over the world. Of the 11 locations used to test, VIP came out ahead in 9 of them, and we scored second in the two others. In his review, Ohashi concluded “[VIP] were delivering content the fastest on average around the world in the WebPageTest tests. Another Top Tier Performance award easily earned for WordPress.com VIP.”

Raw speed and performance is more than just an area for bragging rights. In terms of both search algorithm ranking factors and the behaviors and bounce rate of site visitors, it translates to real business value.

 

New Relic Application Monitoring Now Available on VIP Go

We’re pleased to announce that our New Relic offering is now out of beta and is available to all clients running on our VIP Go platform.

New Relic monitoring illustration

New Relic Application Monitoring watches your WordPress application to help identify and solve performance issues. Performance data is displayed in an extensive series of charts, and alerting can be configured to surface any issues as they arise.

The new New Relic package also includes:

  • Synthetics Lite, allowing you to monitor availability and uptime
  • Browser Lite, providing visibility and insight into how your users are interacting with the front end of your application
  • Insights Lite, allowing you to create custom analysis and visualizations of your application
The New Relic PHP agent monitors the performance of WordPress hooks and breaks down the time spent in plugins and themes

Our support team uses New Relic’s tools extensively in the course of our ongoing work monitoring and optimizing client site performance, and find them incredibly useful. They take on additional value in the hands of site developers and architects who want to zoom in on the behavior of a particular service or process. New Relic can power customized dashboards and ongoing historical views, or it can analyze narrow bands of performance, such as specific critical transactions that must execute at a higher standard than the rest.

The video below gives you a taster of the information you can access via New Relic:

Find more technical details in our New Relic documentation, and please contact your VIP support team to get set up with access.

Liveblog 1.7 Brings a React Front End and More

We’re pleased to announce the release of Liveblog v1.7, which introduces a completely new React-powered front end, adds new features and provides improved support for liveblogging from mobile devices.

Our Liveblog plugin offers a powerful and easy to use way to cover high profile events on an owned channel. With it you can host frequently updated real time event coverage pages, drawing in collaboration from multiple contributors who may be in multiple places. Many of our clients use Liveblog in their newsrooms to cover awards shows, big sporting events, and breaking news.

The new front end, rebuilt from the ground up, offers the enhanced performance and simplicity of React while retaining the existing Liveblog feature set, including:

  • Key events
  • Hashtags
  • Lazy loading of events
  • Slash commands

Check out the added autocomplete and emoji rendering features in action:

And it adds some of our most frequently requested enhancements:

  • A more mobile-friendly interface
  • Easier image insertion, including on mobile
  • Better formatting tools
  • Pagination of entries
  • Performance improvements for high-traffic liveblogs

Here’s a quick run-through of what’s new for editors:

And for users:

Special thanks to our development partner on the project, VIP featured partner Big Bite Creative, who with this great release have set a new foundation for continued enhancements to a critical newsroom tool.

“It’s been a rewarding few months working with the VIP team on what has been the biggest update since the original release. And it doesn’t stop here! With 1.8 already in works, we’re excited to demonstrate how easy it is to extend the new UI with some exciting new features.” said Liam Defty, Release Lead at Big Bite.

In this talk from BigWP London in December, you can hear Jason from Big Bite introduce the context behind this new release and a share a bit about what’s coming next.

If you’re a VIP client and have any questions about how to upgrade, check the Lobby post for specific instructions, or get in touch with your VIP support team.

Bugs, feature requests, and contributions are more than welcome on GitHub. And anyone can download and use the plugin via WordPress.org.

Announcing the 2018 VIP Workshop

May 14th-May 17th, 2018 @ The Carneros Resort

We are excited to open up ticketing for this year’s WordPress.com VIP Workshop! As the leading provider of enterprise WordPress solutions, we’re proud to host the premier event focused on the needs of enterprise WordPress users. For the past couple of years, the Workshop has had two tracks, one focused on the interests of VIP product owners and the other on developers. In 2018 we’ll continue to follow that format and add additional refinements to make this year’s Workshop the best yet.

Register now

The VIP Workshop provides a unique opportunity to learn from the WordPress.com VIP team in person, as well as exchange ideas and experiences with other WordPress.com VIP clients and partners. The event’s format and setting offers lots of opportunities for both informal and structured knowledge sharing, including networking lunches and dinners, in-depth curricula and exercises, and focused, collaborative conversations. Check out last year’s recap to get a feel for the event.

Here’s a quick peek at the itinerary. Details & agenda will be regularly updated on the WordPress.com VIP Workshop site, powered by WooCommerce.

  • Monday, May 14 — Arrival Day. Check-in, special guest keynote and welcome dinner.
  • Tuesday, May 15 — In depth business and engineering sessions.
  • Wednesday, May 16 — In-depth product sessions and hands-on development workshops. We’ll wrap the day up with the Best of WordPress.com VIP year in review!
  • Thursday, May 17 — Departure Day.

Space is limited for this event, so register now and take advantage of early bird pricing! Early bird pricing is $3,500 per person until February 15. After that, the ticket price will be $4,000 per person.

Header image by CM Howard from the 2015 Automattic WordPress developer summit at the Carneros Inn in Napa, CA

December VIP Roundup

For many, December was a frenzy of activity kicking off with WordCamp US (more in last month’s special edition roundup) and continuing from there, followed by a good chunk of quiet heading in to 2018. As the year turns, once again we share a look back at news and updates from across the enterprise WordPress ecosystem.

From December’s BigWP London, at Twitter HQ (photo by @scottsweb)

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

  • There has been a flurry of Gutenberg-related activity across the community since the exciting updates and live demo at the State of the Word, including new resources, demos, and videos. WP Tavern has gathered many of them in one central post for easy discovery. Human Made published a white paper on Gutenberg with a wide range of contributors including Tammie Lister, Anna Harrison of TinyMCE, Greg Priday of SiteOrigin, and their own Ant Miller, Joe McGill, and Matthew Haines-Young. And 10up‘s Helen Hou-Sandi explored how Gutenberg could bring better integration between ads and content. Also, don’t miss our overview of what’s coming in the Gutenberg editor, and how to best prepare for the transition.
  • Jetpack 5.6 was released in early December (Announcement, Lobby post), followed up by 5.7 earlier this week (Announcement, Lobby). Updates include enhancements to Elasticsearch-based Search, JavaScript minifcation, and various other improvements and bug fixes.
  • You can now find full videos of the talks from December’s BigWP London meetup on VIP News: Tammie Lister on Gutenberg, Jason Agnew from Big Bite on the Liveblog project, Parker Ward from Capgemini on their migration from Drupal to WordPress and VIP, and Dan Drave from Sotic on their work with the Lions tour.
  • Automattic updated our user privacy policy, with changes going in to effect as of January 3, 2018. This policy affects users of our services, but does not apply to the information we collect on our VIP clients’ behalf about their site visitors – that information is covered under our existing agreements with our VIP Clients.
  • Dekode‘s Magne Ilsaas published Modularity by Design, an essay on what modular design and development means at Dekode and how it informs their entire approach.
  • Urban Airship released a WordPress integration for web notifications, developed with 10up.
  • SailThru released version 3.1 of their plugin (VIP News, Lobby post), bringing finer controls for developers and users.
  • Storify notified its users of its sunsetting timeline, with the service and web site going offline for good as of May 18, 2018. (Lobby post, Storify’s FAQ)

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

“The good news: Of those who are not paying for online news now, younger Americans are more willing to pay in the future, possibly because they often already pay for other forms of digital media. The bad news: No more than 2 percent of people surveyed in any country said they are “very likely” to pay for news in the future.”

-Denise-Marie Ordway summarizing a University of Oxford study on paying for news online, in a roundup of the most important digital and social media research from 2017.

 In addition to using the platform as a reporter’s notebook or to fact-check statements, some people used tweets to really explain the journalism they were doing in a really human way. The explanations were amazing, clear and necessary. But Twitter is the worst place for them.

-Melody Kramer evaluates the value and limitations of journalistic tweetstorms as they became a much bigger part of the landscape in 2017.

Featured Launch(es)

With the year drawing to a close and a new one just beginning, this month we wanted to recognize all of the fantastic work done across the VIP family this year. We are proud to celebrate all of you, our clients, partners, colleagues, and community members. This post from the WordPress.com blog highlights some of this year’s moments and launches from across the Automattic family.

Upcoming Events

  • O’Reilly’s OSCON, which takes place July 18-19 in Portland, OR, is accepting speaker submissions until January 30.
  • LoopConf, an annual WordPress developer conference, is happening February 21-24 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Automatticians Mel Choyce and Dennis Snell will be presenting, along with Human Made’s John Blackbourn. Early bird tickets are still available.
  • Recode’s Code Media, an immersive, two-day media and technology event hosted by Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher, will take place February 12-13 in Huntington Beach, CA.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

Sailthru VIP Plugin Updated with Finer Controls

VIP technology partner Sailthru is a consumer interest based personalization platform purpose-built for publishers and retailers. It brings powerful capabilities to WordPress, like high-performance email, onsite personalization, and mobile marketing automation.

The WordPress integration brings it into the WordPress dashboard to seamlessly surface Sailthru and its insights within team workflow.  Site editors can also personalize onsite experiences by using Sailthru insight to post content that is most relevant to their users.

The newly updated plugin, version 3.1, brings more powerful and fine grained controls to the dashboard:

  • Streamlined setup
  • Deploy Sailthru’s latest JavaScript Tag easily to give you greater flexibility on how your site interacts with the Sailthru API
  • Ability to choose between deploying Sailthru JS or just tag manager
  • New fine grain control over source attribution for our list Subscribe Widget and ability to start flows in Lifecycle Optimizer
  • More control over transactional emails
  • Improvements to filters and hooks, giving your developers more control over functionality

VIP clients will find notes on transitioning to the new version in the Lobby(#).

Connect with Sailthru to learn more about how clients use the platform to deliver personalization across multiple channels.

 

 

The WordPress Tool Set Powering the Lions Tour

Note: This is part of a series of posts highlighting talks from the BigWP London meetup at Twitter HQ on the evening of December 7. 

Sotic are a digital agency focused solely on sport, who recently adopted WordPress as their strategic development platform of choice. Senior front-end developer Dan Drave peeled back the curtain on the specialized knowledge and experience they have gained in building digital platforms for some of the biggest brands and governing bodies in European sport. Specifically, Dan’s talk shared the approaches and tools they used to support the British and Irish Lions as they faced the mighty All Blacks (now also running WordPress, by the way) earlier this summer.

The key elements that define Sotic’s approach include:

  • A custom WordPress theme built specifically as a sports CMS foundation
  • Custom Post Types that support unique formats such as quotes and fun facts
  • Advanced Custom Fields to weave the post type fields into templates
  • Sotic Metadata and Widgets that work with their customized API
  • The WordPress REST API

In this clip, Dan explains the mission and functional requirements involved in supporting a high scale sport site such as the Lions Tour:

Watch Dan’s talk in full:

More from this month’s BigWP London:

Capgemini’s Move from Drupal to WordPress

Note: This is part of a series of posts highlighting talks from the BigWP London meetup at Twitter HQ on the evening of December 7. 

Earlier this year, global consulting and technology leader Capgemini completed an impressive replatforming from Drupal to WordPress and to WordPress.com VIP, supported by agency partner Human Made. Parker Ward, global head of digital and content at Capgemini, took to the BigWP podium last week to share highlights of the case study.

The initiative successfully addressed a number of shortcomings of the previous system, from administrative bottlenecks in making changes to a challenging and unfriendly interface that itself caused churn within teams who were required to use it. Where previously the site was dependent on 4 Drupal webmasters, their new WordPress build already had 70 people managing content across 40 markets, with more to follow.

The new WordPress platform also put in place new functionality that will better support the needs of Capgemini’s 200,000 employee global operation. Adding a simple, powerful shared publishing calendar has allowed teams of marketers globally to free up their email inboxes and share an always updated canonical record of what content each team is running, day after day.  Another new feature Parker highlighted involves customized syndication tools that empower local editors to manage their own use of global content and also share content laterally.

In this clip, you’ll hear Parker describe the state of the previous Drupal system and the processes around it, at the time when he was brought on board, and some of the challenges the new WordPress system solved for:

Watch Parker’s talk in full:

More from this month’s BigWP London:

What’s Next for the Liveblog Plugin

Note: This is part of a series of posts highlighting talks from the BigWP London meetup at Twitter HQ on the evening of December 7. 

Jason Agnew, technical director at our agency partner Big Bite, presented an overview of the work they’re doing with us to rebuild and update our popular and powerful Liveblog WordPress plugin, initially released in 2012 and up for a re-release soon.

He started with some perspective on how and why big media companies use Liveblog, to create rolling coverage of breaking news (see: GlobalNews.ca) and high profile events like national elections or the Academy Awards. It’s a fantastic way to host a single, frequently updated page in real time, usually with contributions from a number of writers and editors who may be watching and curating from multiple external locations and sources.

Jason went through some of the advantages of the Liveblog approach over things like Tweetstorms:

  • No item length limitation
  • Support for all kinds of form factors
  • Ability to run more than one at a time
  • Persists after the event without any additional effort

In this clip, Jason talks about the project’s goals and the focus of the next release:

Watch Jason’s talk in full:

More from this month’s BigWP London:

Gutenberg at BigWP London

 Note: This is part of a series of posts highlighting talks from the BigWP London meetup at Twitter HQ on the evening of December 7. 

Fresh from participating in WordCamp US and meeting with several enterprise WordPress teams at big media companies in New York, Gutenberg design lead Tammie Lister (@karmatosed) took the BigWP crowd through an overview of the project and a look at the editor plugin’s latest progress (more background on Gutenberg here).

The strength of WordPress is based on its large, diverse and passionate community of users and developers, and it’s fair to say that passions have been stirred by Gutenberg and its implications. With all development happening in public, it has been easy for anyone with an interest to jump in and participate. The team has welcomed that engagement, providing a range of perspectives that have helped to refine the user experience with each weekly release.

In the clip below, Tammie describes some of the ways the team has brought in feedback and hands-on user participation, including online and via an in person testing booth at WordCamp US.

Watch Tammie’s talk in full:

More from this month’s BigWP London:

Team VIP at WordCamp US 2017

Last weekend, several of us at Team VIP joined the 1,500 people gathered in Nashville, TN for the annual WordPress community conference, WordCamp US. We were there to participate as attendees, but some of us also volunteered and/or led a session. Not only that, but our very own Andrea Bishop took on the huge responsibility of co-organising the whole thing.

If you’ve never been to a WordCamp US or Europe, it’s everything you’ve experienced at a more focused WordCamp, only more intense and with the added benefit of seeing an even wider representation of the WordPress community all around you. It’s thoroughly exhilarating, and exhausting, to be with so many colleagues, partners, and friends for such a concentrated period of time. Here are some of the highlights from VIP’s extended family at WordPress’ flagship event, with links to presentation decks where available.

  • Kickstarting the weekend were Rian Rietveld from VIP partner agency Human Made and VIP client, Digital First Media’s Jason Bahl. Rian went with a great how-to on accessibility testing, including workflow (which is accessible on the Human Made blog) while Jason evangelised – convincingly – about GraphQL.
  • Also of Human Made, Nathaniel Schweinberg talked through how to handle scale with AWS.
  • Friend of VIP and “newmattician”, RC Lations highlighted the importance of contributing to WordPress in the context of journalism.
  • Our very own Ryan Markel spoke about how VIP keeps our clients enterprise applications secure on a daily basis. As another, portable takeaway from Ryan’s talk, you can also check out the page on our site dedicated to WordPress enterprise security best practices.
  • Staying within the Automattic family, our CMO, Chris Taylor provided some thoughts on growth for WordPress, and how the wider community can help WordPress to grow in the enterprise space and beyond.
  • K Adam White, also of Human Made, demonstrated his technical prowess with a very informative talk on Webpack and how to make the most out of builds.
  • Core contributor Gary Pendergast did an excellent job of demystifying Javascript development, and used the exciting Gutenberg project as an example.
  • On that theme, we thoroughly enjoyed Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s well-received talk on Gutenberg.
  • Another core committer and Human Mader, Joe McGill explained how WordPress handles media.
  • Weston Ruter, of VIP partner XWP, took us through concepts and practical examples for building within the Customizer.
  • VIP partner rtCamp sent along Vivek Jain to share his years of experience with clients big and small and how to handle them the human way.
  • Helping to round out the talks, Philip John (yes that’s me, readers) helped to democratise performance by giving non-developers a few tips on WordPress performance.

Of course, the big highlight of the weekend was the annual State of the Word address delivered by WordPress project lead, Matt Mullenweg.

We were excited to lean more about Tide – a collaboration between VIP partner XWP and our friends at Google. Code quality is something we’re super passionate about at VIP and so we’re delighted to see the WordPress project working on a tool to enhance quality across the ecosystem. Come and join us as we get involved!

IMG_20171201_083844.jpg

 

Matt had some folks help him out with the State Of The Word this year (full video) and we were blown away by Matías Ventura’s live demo of Gutenberg – the new WordPress editor experience (more info on what’s coming in Gutenberg). We encourage you to get testing.

Security is another huge passion of ours and so we’re glad to see that the WordPress HackerOne program resulted in 52 solved security bugs, with 39 rewards for security researchers working to make WordPress more secure for everyone.

No WordCamp US would be complete without Contributor Day and members of VIP were happy to contribute, working on – amongst other things – documentation and Gutenberg.

img_0967.jpg

Outside of the main conference it was great to get together with our clients, partners and friends both at our own Happy Hour and the official after party. Ahead of next year in Nashville again, the next chance to join a WordCamp of this size is probably the one in Europe in June. You can already grab one of the early bird tickets or apply to speak through mid-January. We’ll see you there!

November VIP Roundup, Special WCUS Edition

This month’s edition of the enterprise WordPress roundup straddles a bit of December in order to cover news from WordCamp US this past weekend. We’ll start there before bringing you news and updates from our team, clients and partners and across the ecosystem.

photo via @WordCampUS

State Of The Word 2017

An amazing WordCamp US wrapped up this past weekend. Highlights from this year’s State Of The Word (full video) included:

  • Technical lead Matías Ventura performing a live demo of the new WordPress editor experience, Gutenberg, showing off how it all works in the plugin today (read our VIP guide to what’s coming for enterprise users)
  • The target ship date for the Gutenberg editor in core (April 2018) and the areas of focus for the coming year: Gutenberg editor, Gutenberg customization, and then a Gutenberg-specific theme
  • Impressive stats from the Hacker One initiative, with 52 WordPress bugs resolved and 46 hackers thanked
  • The formal announcement of the Tide project, a series of automated tests whose mission is to raise the code quality of all plugins, with participation from XWP and Google in addition to Automattic
  • WP-CLI becoming an official core project

You’ll find more highlights as well as presentations from the sessions in our team VIP recap.

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

  • VIP released our new Cron infrastructure, which handles your enterprise-sized task queues with ease. We shared some of our best practices for WordPress application security. And DC web agency WDG interviewed VIP Director of Strategic Partnerships Tamara Sanderson on how to evaluate a hosting and support partner.
  • WordPress 4.9 went out (Lobby post, announcement, release notes), bringing design drafts, scheduling, and locking to the Customizer, and much more. Security and maintenance release 4.9.1 (Lobby post) followed on at the end of November.
  • XWP interviewed the three leads of the WordPress 4.9 release. XWP also published part one of a series on decoupled CMS.
  • Big Bite released version 2 of of Macy.js, a Pinterest-style masonry layout library. Big Bite also posted a balanced view on AMP, offering pros and cons of implementing it along with some recommendations.
  • 10up released the Distributor plugin, for content syndication and reuse across web sites.
  • Rian Rietveld at Human Made published an overview of Accessible Design, running down principles, methods, and resources.

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

“How could we think more broadly about triggering a paywall or taking it down? What other mechanisms could we use besides article count?”

-Melody Kramer, writing at Poynter, offers a whole host of fresh ideas for how to rethink paywall usage.

“In a first step, the Project has released eight trust indicators that newsrooms can add to their content. This information will help readers understand more about what type of story they’re reading, who wrote it, and how the article was put together.”

-Jeff Chang, Group Product Manager for Search at Google, in an announcing the Trust Project, which is working with 75+ news organizations worldwide to come up with a set of story markers to help readers assess article credibility.

“Rather than frame the online overhaul as yet another “brand as publisher” pivot, Poggenpohl sees it more as an SEO play. After all, most visitors to BMW.com come via search engines rather than directly, he added. ”

-Seb Joseph at Digiday, referring to Jörg Poggenpohl, BMW’s head of digital marketing on the strategy behind the new content-driven bmw.com.

Featured Launch

We are thrilled to welcome global leader in consulting, technology, and outsourcing services Capgemini to the VIP family! Agency partner Human Made led the replatforming of Capgemini’s main site from Drupal and Acquia to WordPress and VIP.

Upcoming Events

  • Early bird tickets and speaker application submissions are now open for WordCamp Europe, which will take place June 15-16.
  • PHP Conference in Brazil is on now, and runs from December 6-10. Automattic is sponsoring and several VIPs are there.
  • Recode’s Code Media, an immersive, two-day media and technology event hosted by Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher, will take place February 12-13 in Huntington Beach, CA.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

The New WordPress Editor: What You Need to Know about Gutenberg

In 2018, WordPress will modernize, streamline, and simplify the content creation experience with Gutenberg. It represents the biggest change to the WordPress user experience in several years. In fact, in the State Of The Word 2017 Matt Mullenweg described its enduring importance as “the editor for the next twelve years.” In this post, we hope to help VIP clients and all enterprise WordPress users understand these exciting changes, and how to best prepare your teams.

Gutenberg technical lead Matías Ventura’s live demo at WordCamp US last week (photo via @photomatt)

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is the codename for the new WordPress publishing experience. It optimizes for direct manipulation of the visual presentation of the content, instead of through indirect means, like metaboxes. The building blocks of a Gutenberg post are, well, blocks. Blocks help simplify the many ways we build a page (shortcodes, widgets, custom HTML, media, text formatting, and embeds) into a single, searchable flow and UI umbrella. The name comes from Johannes Gutenberg, the founder of the printing press.

The new streamlined, modular editor

To get a sense of how the new editor works for yourself, there’s no substitute for downloading the current plugin in a test environment and giving it a spin. However, for a quick overview take a peek at this live demo (video) presented at last weekend’s State Of The Word:

  • The way the block “handles” intuitively appear when they’re needed
  • Simple ways to manipulate assets in a gallery
  • Preview custom HTML blocks inline
  • Cleverly using blocks to temporarily store code and content snippets
  • Bulk editing blocks, for lengthy posts
  • “Unified undo” so you never lose work.

What’s important for enterprise WordPress teams to think about?

Every time the VIP team helps a publisher replatform, we receive an overwhelmingly positive response from their editorial team. The feedback is almost always: “WordPress is so easy to use.” We believe the Gutenberg editor will be no different. The new editor offers content creators a straightforward way to find, insert, and work with elements on the page. We think this experience is so compelling that editorial teams will quickly want to adopt it into their workflow.

For teams who have extensive customizations in place, upfront planning will be required for a smooth transition to Gutenberg. Fear not – VIP plans on helping clients opt-in to the new editor gradually over time. As many of you know, backwards compatibility is a core principle of WordPress, and it is no different with Gutenberg. Any content created in Gutenberg will be editable in the classic editor, and vice versa.

And beyond the modernized editorial experience itself, Gutenberg opens up lots of new possibilities. Let’s explore some that already exist, along with some that could come into play as the project rolls on:

1. Placeholders and Templates

With Gutenberg, editors can build complex story packages with various content blocks: headline, deck, pull quote, video, embed, and gallery. Placeholder blocks can easily indicate exactly what should go where and keep the editorial process moving forward.

As of Gutenberg’s 1.8 release, the project has introduced initial support for templates. This allows a developer to define a specific template for, say, an Event Post. When a user creates an Event Post, they will see a page pre-populated with blocks for Title, Image, Date, Location, Description, and other details.

Blocks can function as placeholders, and elements for easy templating

2. Collaborative Editing

Today, if someone is working in a post in WordPress, the post locking feature prevents writers from overwriting each other. With Gutenberg, it’s possible to imagine locking at the block level, allowing multiple people to work on sections of a draft without interrupting each other.

The flexibility of content blocks means that there could be a block for internal notes, which could allow editors to leave comments throughout a story while editing. The notion of surfacing editorial feedback inline can be useful in other ways as well. Here’s a possibility that the Yoast team has presented, on inline SEO feedback.

3. Block and Embed Discovery

We’ve heard editors complain about the difficulty of finding shortcodes. Gutenberg allows editors to easily search for content blocks, be it a Twitter embed, a Vimeo embed, or a custom template. Not only does this make embed discovery easier, but we could imagine a future with a content block marketplace.

Developers or agencies could create content blocks for unique needs, for media like galleries, or content types like recipes. This could also facilitate better code reuse across teams within an organization.

4. A Standardized Approach to Page Building

In the coming year, Gutenberg’s project focus will shift away from the editor to site creation itself. With that transition, it will bring a standardized approach to page building to native WordPress. Over the years we’ve seen clients create page builders for section fronts or marketing pages using Field Manager, Advanced Custom Fields, or a custom-built solution. Having a well-defined approach within core could provide a framework to support a wide variety of commercial and custom solutions. This common standard could in turn make content and data more readily portable across the various page building approaches.

5. A Foundation for Personalization

With page content all composed of blocks, it’s easy to imagine how that could facilitate conditional delivery of content based on user attributes. For example, on a media site, subscribers could be served a block with a related content recommendation, whereas new visitors would see a “subscribe” call to action. On the backend, the editor interface could offer a toggle so that a site editor could preview a post as various user segments like subscribing member, new visitor, and returning visitor.

So, what’s the timeline and what will rollout look like?

Gutenberg is already available as a plugin, and is set to be integrated into WordPress 5.0 which is planned for April 2018. The Gutenberg team is currently focused on the post-editing experience, but will then expand their approach to template creation, site creation, and more.

In order to preserve publishing continuity, there is a plugin called Classic Editor that will allow teams to use the current editor as they work on transition plans. We will manage the release of WordPress 5.0 to make the process smooth and opt-in for VIP clients. However, we expect that many editorial teams will want to start experimenting and creating content in Gutenberg right away.

The Classic Editor plugin

The VIP team is working closely with the Gutenberg team as they test and roll out the new editor. We know very well that our clients have extensive integrations with the current WordPress editor and will want a gradual transition. We are here to help answer any questions on preparing development and editorial teams for the transition.

What happens to existing content?

The current WordPress editor is not going away. Data storage will still be stored as HTML in post_content, which means nothing will change for existing content. Within Gutenberg, there will be a Classic Text block to handle any legacy content within a block of its own. Essentially, it’s the Classic Editor embedded as a block, and will aid in a smooth and carefully planned upgrade path.

Help test Gutenberg

How can I share feedback?

The Gutenberg Team is especially interested in feedback from VIP clients, who usually have large editorial teams and complex workflows. They would love for you to help them stress test the new builder. At WordCamp US last weekend, the team set up a special booth for in-person user testing, and will be sharing out findings from those tests. Here are three ways for you to test Gutenberg and share feedback:

  • Coming up tomorrow, December 7, at the BigWP meetup in London, Tammie Lister, design lead on Gutenberg, will be presenting on the project and taking questions.
  • Get involved on Github by installing the plugin and sharing feedback.
  • This week the VIP team, along with Matías and Tammie, traveled to New York City to spend time with VIP client editorial teams. On this research trip, we gathered information about different editorial workflows, and ran usability tests with web producers. We plan on doing more of these with VIP clients, both virtually and in-person, in the next few months.

We will be communicating updates in the VIP Lobby as relates to the Gutenberg rollout as the project continues. Meanwhile, as you test the plugin and begin to assess plans for the rollout in April, feel free to reach out to your VIP support team. We’d be glad to help.

More reading:

A huge thank you to Dave Coustan who contributed to the research and drafting of this post.

 

Where to See VIP and Friends at WordCamp US 2017

We hope to see you tomorrow and this weekend, December 1-3 at WordCamp US in Nashville or the next best thing, remote via free livestream. With so many fantastic sessions going on all weekend, we put together a guide to which ones feature folks from across the extended VIP family:

WordCamp US 2016 in Philly, uploaded by Seth Goldstein under CC-BY-SA 2.0

On Friday:

Last year’s State of the Word, uploaded by Luca Sartoni under CC-By-SA 2.0

On Saturday:

And also:

    Stop by the Gutenberg usability testing booth, where Tammie Lister and other members of the Gutenberg team will take you through short tasks and a brief survey designed to gather data that will inform bug stomping and fine-tuning.

And if you can’t make it in person, you can also grab a free ticket to catch the live stream of the entire weekend’s sessions.

Photo by Tammie Lister

A VIP Infrastructure for WordPress Cron

We’re happy to announce a new Cron infrastructure for our VIP Cloud Hosting Service platform. In this post we’ll take you through why we did this, how we did it, and what problems it solves for our VIP clients.

The VIP platform provides performance, speed, and scale to the highest traffic sites. Each component and service we support plays a role in that mission. The new VIP Cron infrastructure ensures your site can schedule one-off tasks, offload intensive processing, and run repeated actions reliably, on time, and without additional developer effort. Our Cron implementation builds on the core WordPress Cron API, for maximum code portability from the WordPress ecosystem and familiarity for your engineering teams.

High Traffic Sites and Cron

The WordPress Cron system allows scheduling of asynchronous events, such as publishing a post at a future date or sending out a survey a few days after completing an order. It also facilitates running repeated tasks, such as syndicating content between sites or ingesting videos from third party video services. The core WordPress Cron system works well for many WordPress sites every day.

Traditionally, WordPress Cron is triggered by normal traffic to your WordPress site. Regular visitors trigger an AJAX request back to the server that identifies and runs pending tasks. This approach works great for many sites, as it has no additional dependencies or setup requirements. However, ease-of-use comes with a few trade-offs:

  • Unreliable triggers – cron is only triggered when there is traffic to your site
  • Shared resources – the jobs run on the same server as regular web requests, so intensive cron jobs can negatively affect site performance
  • Hard to scale – difficult to process many jobs in parallel, or handle very large numbers of scheduled events

VIP sites rely on Cron for mission-critical functionality that must work reliably every time. Our new Cron infrastructure is designed to ensure the reliability and scalability of cron events on every VIP site.

Smarts, Brawn, and Confidence – pick three

We’ve improved three main areas of Cron for our VIPs:

Smarter process control. By default, WordPress Cron processes events serially. This is fine for sparse queues composed of light tasks but enterprise sites often require offloading a long running task to Cron for asynchronous processing. These events function like slow moving traffic on a single lane highway. Subsequent events can be processed late due to being “stuck behind” a slow moving task. An enterprise WordPress Cron needs to be able to process offloaded tasks efficiently without impacting the regular operation of the site.

Handling giant queues. A large Cron queue can cause issues where the size of the queue exceeds the capacity of a single option and object caching. An enterprise hosting platform must handle enterprise-sized queues.

Mission-critical scheduling. Initiating an event in core WordPress Cron relies on unrelated web requests to trigger events. This dependency can cause issues with the event processing regularity and timeliness. An enterprise WordPress Cron solution must run scheduled events on time, every time.

In short, we wanted to ensure that the Cron infrastructure for each VIP site was reliable, powerful, and dedicated to that site, just like the rest of the VIP Cloud Hosting Service. We wanted resource intensive tasks to be offloaded to dedicated containers, rather than running on the same resources used to serve web requests. We wanted to ensure tasks for one site did not interfere with other tasks, or with the operation of another site.

It was also important to us that we fully supported the core WordPress Cron API, so our clients can utilize existing plugins and themes without refactoring code or learning a new API.

A Better Cron

Our Cron Control plugin (open source code) builds on the core WordPress Cron system, and is the basis for our Cron enhancements. Cron Control provides a carefully optimized SQL table for WordPress Cron events. This approach satisfies the highly concurrent querying we commonly see on VIP sites. Each named event in the queue is handled in parallel with other events, allowing a much greater event handling capacity.

Cron events on a VIP site run on dedicated containers using an “event runner” written in Golang (open source Golang runner code). Using our container-based infrastructure allows us to scale the number of containers to meet the demands of the particular site, independently of the site’s web traffic

The Cron Control event runner first spawns a batch of “event retrievers” which collect events to be run. In the case of a WordPress multisite this means spawning parallel event retrievers to collect the events for each individual subsite within the multisite. Once events are all retrieved, they are farmed out to a dedicated pool of “event workers” which execute WP CLI commands to run each event.

Busy sites may have several Cron runners in separate containers all processing the queue simultaneously. Our VIP Cron infrastructure takes particular care to orchestrate the activity of the event workers in the different containers, to avoid clashes with two workers processing the same event.

While the event runner is written in Golang, it interacts closely with WordPress through WP CLI commands provided by the Cron Control plugin. All configuration (such as enabling/disabling cron itself and parallelization limits) is via WordPress hooks in the site code, which makes controlling cron processing easy and familiar for WordPress developers.

Ensuring scheduled posts are published on time is a particular concern for many of our clients. Cron Control gives particular priority to ensuring scheduled post events are run when they are found, and that the list of scheduled posts is up to date.

Good monitoring, smooth operations

The Cron Control system is monitored by a Node.js application, itself hosted on VIP Go (yes, we host Node apps too!). The monitor uses a series of dedicated authenticated REST API endpoints on each VIP site (and each subsite on each WordPress multisite) to ensure that event queues remain within acceptable parameters, that the events within the queue are executed in a timely manner, and that execution is proceeding smoothly. If any issues are detected, the VIP team is alerted and investigates the problem.

On time, every time

Our new Cron infrastructure serves the complex and mission-critical needs of some of the most demanding enterprise applications on the web. Contact us now to find out how you can benefit from the same peace of mind and let VIP give you the freedom you to publish.

For existing clients, we have a separate VIP Lobby post where we take you through the steps to take advantage of our new VIP Cron infrastructure.

 

October VIP Roundup

October happenings in enterprise WordPress included the Online News Association’s annual conference in DC, lots of new updates on the Gutenberg editor project, WordPress 4.9, AMP’s second birthday, and much more.

New mural at Trew Knowledge HQ, by Toronto artist Leeandra Rae Cianci

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

  • Automattician Dan Walmsley took to the Chrome Dev Summit stage to share the exciting findings from his experiments with Das Surma. They used Progressive Web App technologies delivered via an experimental version of Jetpack to dramatically speed up site performance for simulated low-end mobile devices on slow 3G networks, the common setup for the fastest growing segment of the internet.
  • Congratulations to our own Mo Jangda for winning a Google Open Source Peer Bonus award for his work on the AMP Project, which turned 2 this month. We shared AMP success stories from the New York Post, PMC, and 9to5 network.
  • If you’re looking to implement Ads.txt, our new doc provides code and instructions to get you up and running.
  • Through October the Gutenberg editor project rounded version 1.5, which included the first step towards meta box support, and is now at 1.6. This latest release was a big one and focuses mainly on the writing experience. Keep an eye out for the Gutenberg testing table at WordCamp US in December, where you can help the project by taking part in short tests. And for a fantastic project overview, check out Matías Ventura’s Gutenberg, or The Ship of Theseus.
  • WordPress 4.9 will be released this month (November). It’s chock full of updates to the Customizer and the Customize JS API, including the ability to draft and schedule Customizer changes, and generate a Customizer preview link. VIP clients can get a full list of changes as well as update schedule and testing notes in this Lobby post.
  • Designed and built by 10up, BetterNews.org is a new site launched by American Press Institute that helps newsrooms and publishing innovators embrace and accelerate digital transformations. 10up and API collaborated to architect the experience to support practical execution, engage users, and serve as a living resource for best practices.
  • Community engineer Jenny Wong breaks down why and how Human Made contributes to open source.
  • Rob Stinson at XWP offers examples that illustrate how big teams customize their tools and workflow to unblock content creators from reliance on development resources to get things done.
  • Technology partner Webdam’s new Connector for Salesforce integrates marketing and sales assets into Salesforce workflow, offering access control, tracking, and easy curation to identify the right tools for each need.

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

“Micropayments are a middle ground for someone who reads enough content to hit the paywall but isn’t necessarily a candidate for a subscription, [he said.] “That’s the problem with the typical metered paywall.”

-Max Willens at Digiday, on how micropayments might best fit in to the publishing revenue mix.

“…while other livestreaming sites and services have passionate (sometimes niche) audiences, Facebook Live is the only place I can expect that guy I met at a conference four years ago and my grandmother to watch my video together.”

-Poynter digital tools reporter Ren LaForme, in a balanced take on the value of Facebook Live for media, along with other tool recommendations.

“The lesson here is that public statements on social media are interesting indicators of how people project themselves to others, especially for public figures, but should be complementary with other reporting and interpreted with caution.”

-Buzzfeed News reporter Lam Thuy Vo, in findings on the patterns and issues in social media publishing unearthed as part of her Buzzfeed Open Lab fellowship.

Featured Launch

Welcome back to the VIP family, Us Weekly! Founded in 1977, Us Weekly is one of the largest magazines in the US with over 1,950,000 paid copies per week and site traffic of over 20 million visitors per month. VIP agency partner 10up led the migration and replatforming, which involved moving almost 88,000 articles.

Past Events

There were a whole slew of WordCamps this past month, 22 worldwide in October alone. Here are a few highlights:

  • Gutenberg project co-lead and Automattician Tammie Lister delivered a fantastic overview of the project at WordCamp Dublin. The slides on their own provide a good grounding and debunk some common misconceptions.
  • From WordCamp Toronto, recap notes from Trew Knowledge run down talks on optimization and A/B testing, working with meta boxes, modern site standards, headless and “brainless” WordPress, and more.
  • Davis Shaver from Alley Interactive presented a history of the WordPress editor at WordCamp Baltimore.
  • rtCamp shared highlights from WordCamp Ahmedabad, with bonus Harlem Shake video.

In addition, Steph Yiu shared snippets from her conversations with colleagues at our booth and throughout the ONA conference in DC.

Upcoming Events

  • 10up will be sponsoring Klein News Innovation Camp 2017, Nov. 4th in Philadelphia, and CEO John Eckman will be attending. This unconference, formerly known as “Barcamp News Innovation” (BCNI) brings together journalists and technologists to help create better communities and conversations on the web.
  • rtCamp is sponsoring the second edition of WordCamp Nashik taking place in on November 5th.
  • The massive Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal is November 6-9, with 60,000+ attendees and over 1,000 speakers including Gabe Karp, 10up’s Head of Europe. Gabe will be part of a Marketing Technology panel in the Growth Summit track on Nov. 7th.
  • Digital Media LATAM is coming up November 14-16 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The largest digital media conference in Latin American brings together senior leadership from the most successful global digital media companies across business, editorial, and technology topic areas.
  • WordCamp US will be December 1-3 in Nashville, TN. A stellar line-up of speakers includes VIP engineers Philip John and Ryan Markel, Weston Ruter from XWP, Vivek Jain from rtCamp, Jason Bahl from VIP client Digital First Media, and Nathaniel Schweinberg from Human Made.
  • BigWP London is back on Thursday December 7th at 6pm at Twitter HQ. Sign up at Meetup.com to be the first to know when the speaker and topic lineup is announced.
  • SRCCON: Work is December 7-8 in Philadelphia. Ticketing is now closed, but if you want to attend and didn’t get a ticket, volunteer opportunities are still available.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

The New Web, Powered by Jetpack and Progressive Web Apps

The way that people access the Internet is changing.

In 2017, global mobile web traffic exceeded desktop traffic for the first time. In the areas of fastest Internet growth we have seen a profound shift towards low-powered mobile devices on 2G and 3G networks.

Pageloads by browser platform, 2017 YTD. Data via StatCounter.

This presents a challenge not just to developers and designers, but to the actual architecture of the web. The web’s request/response architecture works great for always-on low-latency networks but fails when the network is unreliable, even temporarily.

User expectations are also changing. Mobile devices now have app ecosystems and rich patterns and libraries for handling changing network conditions and integrating with on-device features like cameras, GPS, storage and payment processing – features not traditionally found in the web’s sandboxed environment.

As web developers, designers, and publishers, we have made great strides towards accommodating mobile phones through responsive design. Users are now accessing the same site in a variety of form-factors. However, what has happened as a result is that the mobile web has become drastically more demanding on devices and networks, essentially bringing the demands of the desktop to all devices.

If you’re reading this, you probably experience the web in a very different way from most Internet citizens – even on a mobile device. Most of us have high-end smartphones and LTE connections. As a result, we can often be unaware of the challenges that many people face using our sites, plugins and themes.

While we may feel a strong affection for the freedoms afforded by the web, most people have more personal goals: to run their business, to tell their stories, to connect with others in their communities and around the world – and they will gravitate to the best solution, regardless of the underlying technology. We risk these users skipping the web entirely in favour of walled gardens powered by proprietary apps.

How do we address these issues?

Progressive Web Apps are the web’s answer to these challenges. PWAs comprise a set of new (and not-so-new) web standards that provide offline support, storage, and device integration that can match native apps. Combined with the essential freedoms and efficiencies of the web, these standards represent a fundamental shift in how web content can be accessed.

In addition, by only downloading the site features someone is actually using, PWAs can be much MORE efficient than native apps!

Despite the name, PWAs aren’t just for app-like experiences. Your content-rich web site can also be a Progressive Web App. In fact you can apply these technologies in ways that help any site on any theme to load quickly, work offline, and engage users in powerful new ways.

Earlier this week I was thrilled to share the Chrome Dev Summit stage with Chrome Engineer Das Surma to talk about our recent experiments with WordPress and PWA. We added PWA capabilities to Jetpack, a free plugin that you can download on any WordPress site. Jetpack powers over 5 billion pageviews a month, and already delivers a number of useful features to WordPress.com and VIP, so it’s a great platform for adding these capabilities.

We found that a specific combination of traditional and new optimisations can improve the overall performance of web sites loaded via 3G networks by up to 10-15x . Improvements range from reduced Time To First Contentful Paint (TTFCP), smaller number of requests, reduced overall download size, and the ability to work offline. Crucially, these improvements can be applied automatically to almost any theme without additional coding.

The scores you see there on the right are generated by “Lighthouse“, Google’s incredible site auditing tool, which is included in the Chrome browser.

Here’s some details on the optimisations we have made so far, for more technical readers:

  • Aggressive inlining of critical assets on the first page load to improve performance with empty cache, while using the Service Worker to load common assets in the background for subsequent requests
  • Fast loading of cached pages while checking for fresh content in the background using the Stale While Revalidate strategy
  • Offline support by checking for network access and preloading critical pages when the Service Worker activates
  • Web Push for sending updated content to clients which can be retrieved when the browser comes online
  • Lazy loading of offscreen images using newer IntersectionObserver API (with polyfill fallback on IE)

So what can you do to be part of this revolution? If you are a developer, I encourage you to check out our Jetpack branch and let us know what you think. Truly, we have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

If you are a site owner or designer, I encourage you try out your site on 3G (or using the 3G simulator built-in to Chrome) on a low-end device and see if you are providing a good experience for the next billion internet users who will be overwhelmingly using that kind of network and device.

Check out the full video below. We begin talking about the role of Jetpack around 3m 14s.

Props to @DasSurma, @nicoleckohler, @ebinnion, @beaulebens and @extraface for all their help and feedback writing this article.

Happy Second Birthday AMP

Today the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project turns two. As part of a look back and ahead, the AMP team at Google has shared impressive data today that quantifies its positive impacts on time spent on page (2X), traffic (10% increase), and sales conversions (20% increase compared to non-AMP.) We’re proud to be a part of AMP’s unfolding story, and to continue to make it easy for WordPress users, from the individual author to the largest global media and marketing organizations, to take advantage of these powerful open source tools.

Photo by Mo Jangda

From early on we saw AMP as an important project to support because of its core focus on improving the mobile web experience for both publishers and readers, and for its commitment to the open web. We were proud to be the first platform to integrate with AMP, and continue to iterate on the plugin to make it easy for millions of sites across the WordPress ecosystem to integrate AMP with just a few clicks. Most recently, version 0.5 of the plugin, released in August 2017, brought a host of new updates, like faster rendering, improved spec-compliance, new embed handlers for Vimeo, SoundCloud, Pinterest and Playbuzz, and easier addition of amp-analytics tags.

Across Automattic (including WordPress.com and VIP) hundreds of millions of client page views per month are delivered through AMP today. Over the last two years, many of our clients and partner agencies have customized and optimized the AMP experience for their particular needs, with impressive results.

Google’s AMP tech lead Malte Ubl

The New York Post has seen a 60%+ bump in average daily referrals coming from Google on mobile to their article pages since implementing AMP for all of those pages. VIP agency partner Alley Interactive, who handled the development, found most of what they needed in the standard plugin for WordPress, and layered in some front-end customization to closely match the look and feel of the Post’s standard pages. In the process, they even contributed code back to the core plugin to address bugs and add functionality.  This approach for the Post has delivered in both experience and performance:

“One of the most exciting things for us has been the ability to make our AMP pages feel like more of an organic extension of our mobile sites rather than a highly templated offsite platform. The average user cannot tell the difference between our mobile website pages and our AMP pages which is impressive. In other words, our AMP pages retain all the key components of our mobile web pages, are a true reflection of our brands, and we’ve improved performance in the process!”

-Michael Liss, Senior Director of Product & Project Management, Digital, New York Post

Media powerhouse PMC, representing 22 brands including Variety, Deadline, and TVLine, has implemented AMP for about half of their sites.  As reflects their approach to code reuse across the platform, they developed their own customized AMP plugin based on common needs for an initial set of their publications, and then rolled it out to several more shortly thereafter.

They are currently in the process of refining their approach to analytics and optimization based on iterative tests. One enhancement that has yielded strong results was when they published galleries in AMP with each slide as its own unique AMP page and URL, which both doubled page views and dramatically decreased load time.

And this Fall, the 9to5 network – including 9to5mac.com, 9to5google.com, 9to5toys.com, electrek.co, and dronedj.com – worked with VIP agency partner 10up to launch an updated AMP experience that brings them closer to embracing “AMP-first” just as much as “mobile first.”

“Our newest iteration brings the AMP reader’s experience much closer to that of our traditional responsive site. We can now deliver many of the supporting features that they have come to expect, like our familiar header and navigation, Disqus comments, and related and featured posts widgets. If you put the AMP view and mobile responsive “full” site side by side, you’ll see an incredibly similar layout and design. What’s more, this puts us on a path to take advantage of the AMP framework more and more as it continues to mature.”

-Seth Weintraub, Publisher, 9to5 Network

Left: AMP, Right: full site

We’re excited to see all of the amazing things our clients and the WordPress community as a whole are doing with AMP. For our part, we’ll continue to support the AMP experience with WordPress and extend the benefits it brings to publishers and readers alike. We want to cut an extra big slice of cake for the 400 folks who have contributed code to the project including a couple of Automatticians, and for our friends at Google for leading the charge. If you’re new to the project, consider coming out to the AMP Roadshow as it rolls through Europe and Asia in the upcoming months.

ONA 2017: Conversations at the WordPress.com VIP booth

I’ve helped staff the WordPress booth at the Online News Association over the last four years. It’s my favorite conference to attend because of all the incredible people we meet: students who learned to code because of WordPress, journalists who built their first portfolios on WordPress, newsrooms that were transformed by WordPress.

Like many ONA attendees, I also built my first website on WordPress in journalism school. I worked at the Chicago Tribune as the newsroom was being transformed by blogs. And like so many of the folks I spoke with last week, in 2012 I too walked up to a WordPress booth at a conference to share my story of how WordPress had changed my life. Little did I know I’d end up joining the VIP team, helping newsrooms transition to WordPress one-by-one.

Pete Schiebel, Jeff Bradley, Matthew Denton, David Artiss, Chris Scott, and Steph Yiu at the WordPress.com VIP booth.

ONA is a massive conference. More than 3,000 people attended this year in Washington, D.C. I knew I’d run into lots of clients and partners, and this year, I was interested in hearing in their words how they reflect on WordPress and its role in their professional lives. So I asked them.

On the first day I saw Zach Seward, SVP of Product and Executive Editor at their gathering to promote Quackbot, their new Slack bot. Quartz’s WordPress launch was one of the early projects I worked on when I joined VIP.

“Honestly, to this day, there’s not a project or need that we haven’t been able to do with WordPress,” he said.

High-volume newsrooms love WordPress because of how easy it is for their teams to publish. This year, we co-hosted with our partners Alley Interactive and Parse.ly at the delicious Lapis restaurant in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. This was a topic of dinner conversation at my table – how critical time to publish is in a breaking news situation, and how easily WordPress facilitates that.

At dinner I ran into Patrick Tolbert, Digital Director at KXAN-TV, who helped introduce WordPress to his newsroom.

“The reporters love WordPress. When we train, usually we run through training and immediately I get, ‘that’s it?!’” Patrick later told me. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s it! Headline, title, categorization, tags, done!’”

At the WordPress booth the next day, Emma Carew Grovum stopped by to say hi. She helped Foreign Policy move onto WordPress, and today she is the CMS product manager at The Daily Beast. She credits WordPress for teaching her about content management systems – and I asked her what she liked the most.

“That WordPress works on mobile!” she said. “I could update our homepage at Foreign Policy from my phone – I remember sitting at a red light at my car just noodling on the homepage because I could… it was probably not safe!”

I was also curious what our clients were taking back to their newsrooms after this year’s ONA. What’s next? I had to ask Juan Muñoz, Interactive Director at CNN en Español, who helped put their social and mobile storytelling teams on wheels.

“Integrating all the different tools that we use in one place,” he said, always thinking about ways to make his newsroom more efficient. “Seamless integration with APIs from things like Trello, and Slack. Simplifying and and automating the related stories, suggesting links inside of the content so that editors don’t have to search.”

“More security and more automatic security,” said Bradley Peniston, the Deputy Director at Defense One, a security publication from Atlantic Media. “It’s getting harder and harder for people to have solid, secure websites on their own… The more security can be baked into standard installs whether on my own server or WordPress.com, that’s what I’m worried about.”

At our booth, I also had the pleasure of meeting Amy Claire Nelson, an audiovisual storyteller.

“I’m working on more interactive storytelling and I’m really attracted to 360 documentary journalism and VR experiences,” she said. “I would really love some beautiful templates that would allow a person to experience the project I’m working on… I want my viewer to be present in that situation, for various degrees of immersion into the experience, whether it’s desktop, magic box, Oculus.”

More reading on ONA? The Nieman Journalism Lab has a terrific roundup.

Looking for more events? We’ll be sponsoring and participating in Digital Media North America later this week, in New York October 19-20 (full schedule). Just after Digital Media NA, WordCamp NYC is October 21-22 (tickets are still available!). Topics of interest to the enterprise include 10up CEO John Eckman’s talk on Personalization and WordPress and TinyMCE CEO Andrew Roberts’ Gutenberg update (full schedule).

August VIP Roundup

August in enterprise WordPress saw the debut of WordCamp for Publishers, updated functionality from Facebook, Getty Images, Chartbeat and Ooyala, progress on the Gutenberg project, and a number of publications returning to WordPress from Medium including VIP/Alley Interactive client ThinkProgress.

Read on for all of the details and our monthly launch spotlight – us!

@Gina_Cole_: “Favorite #SRCCON session so far: Addressing challenges like Hamilton characters would (except no duels). Thanks, @hannahsbirch!”

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

  • New WordPress editor plugin Gutenberg reached version 1.0.0 on August 28 and is now at 1.1. There are lots of new features and updates since our July roundup. This update from lead developer Matias Ventura offers a glimpse of Gutenberg’s current capabilities in action via video, and see our CEO Matt Mullenweg’s take on the project’s big picture.
  • WordPress 4.8.1 maintenance release was made available on August 2 (Lobby post for VIP clients.) For an overview of August across WordPress.org, check out The Month In WordPress.
  • Corporate Counsel magazine profiled Automattic General Counsel Paul Sieminski (paywall, free limited access upon registration) on our approach to protecting user data and our perfect score from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on digital privacy rights.
  • Alley Interactive migrated the political news site ThinkProgress.org from Medium to WordPress VIP. As one of a large number of publishers abandoning the platform, ThinkProgress asked Alley to help them find a new content management system. They were thrilled to gain more power and flexibility with WordPress. We expect additional Medium sites to follow suit.
  • Alley also recently launched the new site for the New York Post’s Page Six TV. The gossip show will review Hollywood headlines as well as fashion, real estate, politics, and sports. You can sign up for tickets to upcoming tapings, and it will include clips of the show after the September 18th premiere.
  • A Digiday profile on VIP client Quartz praised their approach to branded content, touting their 90% renewal rate, 3X the industry average.
  • Cloud-based platform maekit, from Australia-based web design agency MyWork, has acquired WP Remote from Human Made. Per the announcement, Maekit has committed to keeping the core features available for free.
  • Technology partner Chartbeat’s new subscriber engagement analytics allow you to segment users by subscriber status and analyze and share data from those groups.
  • Video integration partner Ooyala’s v. 2.5 plugin is now available (Lobby post for VIP clients), which includes new analytics configuration options among other updates.
  • VIP client The New York Times released Who The Hill: an MMS-based facial recognition service for members of Congress.
  • Getty Images released plugin v3.0 (Lobby post for VIP clients), which includes a whole host of updates in addition to a new look and feel. The new version features larger images in search results, an improved search filter panel, and the ability to easily set a downloaded image as Featured Image, which should save a couple of clicks. (Available as of September 4)
  • Facebook’s Instant Articles plugin v.4.0.5 (blog post, Lobby post for VIP clients) makes initial setup easier and also creates visual parity between Instant Articles and AMP. (Available as of September 5)

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

Digital-native news outlets are also adopting other outreach and engagement methods. Fully 97% of these outlets offer newsletters, and 92% have an official presence on Apple News. Three-quarters, meanwhile, release podcasts and 61% allow comments on their articles.

-Galen Stocking, in a new Pew Digital News Fact Sheet.

Mr. Shani said the study reaffirmed his contention that people were looking foremost for authenticity from companies. Establishing that takes time; he compared it to putting money into an individual retirement account, where the dividends do not pay off for years.

-Zach Schonbrun of The New York Times, in response to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research on consumer skepticism and advertising.

The Lab is part of an approach to help brands and agencies that’s led to a renewal rate of 90 percent for branded content, nearly three times higher than the industry average, per MediaRadar data.

-Max Willens in Digiday on VIP client Quartz and their innovative approach to branded content.

Featured August Launch

WordPress.com VIP relaunched this summer on…WordPress.com VIP, natch. It’s the coming together of a number of elements we’ve been working on, and a pre-Gutenberg exercise in embracing the modular design approach.

Past Events:

Many thanks to organizers and participants at WordCamp for Publishers. Read highlights from our own Steph Yiu, a wrap-up from Institute for Nonprofit News, and many more.

Upcoming Events:

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

New Getty Images Plugin 3.0 with Streamlined Workflow

The new Getty Images plugin v3.0 builds on the previous versions with improved usability and feature enhancements to help you find, select, and use the right images quicker. It includes:

  • New look and feel
  • New landing page featuring Creative, Featured and Editorial images
  • Ability to set a downloaded image as the Featured Image directly from the plugin (no more bouncing back and forth between the media library and the plugin to set your Featured Image)
  • Larger images in the search results (plus the option to switch back to the detailed view if that’s what you prefer)
  • Improved search filter panel

VIP clients can get more details on the update in the Lobby.

Self-hosted WordPress users can find the new version 3.0 in the WordPress.org plugins directory.

7 Highlights from the First-Ever WordCamp for Publishers

One of my favorite things about working for the VIP team is the incredible community of clients, agencies, partners, and core contributors I get to work with every day. It’s a powerful and thoughtful group. When a bunch of us get together to address shared challenges, it’s especially rewarding and always memorable.

Over the last year, I’ve been collaborating with a group of publishers passionate about WordPress and open source to put together the first-ever WordCamp for Publishers. It was an incredible 3-days focused in the beautiful Denver Post building, thanks to VIP client Digital First Media.

For those of you who couldn’t be there, I wanted to share with you a few highlights from the event:

#1 Distributed Content

Jake Goldman, president of 10up (a VIP partner agency) presented on the changing distribution channels for publishers, and how WordPress can remain the hub in an evolving ecosystem.

#2 Newsletters make money

Both Rebekah Monson, co-founder of WhereBy.Us, and Jake Spurlock, software engineer at WIRED, highlighted the importance of capturing emails and sending newsletters as a key way of making revenue.

#3 Get involved with Gutenberg

Many attendees suggested Gutenberg, a new block-based content editor for WordPress, as a topic for one of the unconference sessions. The takeaway: “Lot of unknowns but best way to figure those out is getting involved.”

#4 Introducing a newsroom to WordPress

Both Meagan Kelleher Ball from Tribune Broadcasting (a VIP client) and Kevin Koehler from Automattic shared tips on how to help a newsroom get acquainted to WordPress. Will Davis from The New York Times (a VIP client) and Meagan also led a packed session on editorial dashboards.

#5 We love Denver

Between lunch at the food trucks at Civic Center Park, the brewery tour at Ratio Brewing, and the after party at Wynkoop Brewing, WordCamp for Publishers was packed with activities that encouraged our attendees to get to know the beautiful city and each other.

#6 Exploring Publisher Tools

We hosted a number of hands-on workshops to help attendees learn tools to make their day-to-day lives easier Tools that were introduced included wp-cli (a command line interface for WordPress), WPGraphQL (a query language for your WordPress API), VoiceWP (create voice apps for WordPress content), and Largo + plugins (a news framework for WordPress sites).

#7 Let’s do this again next year

We ended the conference at a Rockies game on Saturday, and as all the organizers gathered we began talking about next year’s conference. Planning is already underway, so if you’re interested in volunteering or have a venue you think you could donate, please get in touch with me!

 

A special shout out to the organizers, we could not have done this without you! From left: Aram Zucker-Sharff (Salon), Christie Wright (Automattic), Adam Schweigert (Mother Jones), Ryan Kanner (Digital First Media), Taylor Hansen (Linchpin), Matt Johnson (Alley Interactive), Davis Shaver (Alley Interactive), Chris Hardie (Automattic), Alexis Kulash (Automattic), Bradford Campeau-Laurion (Alley Interactive), Jared Cobb (Alley Interactive), Aaron Jorbin (Some Spider), Ben Keith (Institute of Nonprofit News), along with Hughie Devore and Jason Bahl (Digital First Media, not pictured).

July VIP Roundup

Highlights from July in enterprise WordPress included our new GitHub Pull Request workflow, Gutenberg version 0.6.0, the upcoming WordCamp for Publishers event, 10up’s acquisition of Lift UX, and Brightcove Player version 6.

@jeckman at WordCamp Boston, via @johnmaeda

News and Releases
Updates from around VIP, our clients, and our agency and technical partners.

As part of our ongoing refinement of the VIP experience, in July we implemented a new, streamlined code review approach that integrates more directly with the default workflow of most teams. As of July 13 we have moved all VIP Go sites to the improved code review process using GitHub’s Pull Request (PR) workflow (public announcement, documentation.) In the new flow, when your team has code ready for review you open a pull request against the master branch. The VIP team will review the code on GitHub and either provide feedback if any changes are required or approve the PR. Approved PRs can then be merged at your convenience, which automatically triggers a deploys to your site(s).

  • The new WordPress editor Gutenberg has reached version 0.6.0, with a whole slew of additions, fixes, and improvements.
  • 10up acquired Lift UX, familiar faces to WordPress.com VIP. From 10up: “We’re very excited to bring their team, design leadership, and Emmy nominated portfolio into the 10up fold.”
  • Big Bite Creative released RSSUnify, a free tool that creates W3C validated RSS feeds from multiple RSS sources, for use with platforms like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor.
  • Weston Ruter at XWP published an extensive discussion of a question he got from a colleague about the context parameter in the WordPress REST API.
  • Alley Interactive detailed their launch of People’s video flash briefing on Amazon Alexa, with enhanced visual capabilities on the Echo Show.
  • Parse.ly overhauled their overlay bookmarklet with an eye towards making it easier to explore audience usage quickly.
  • JW Player offered some advice in preparing video technology for the announced deprecation of Flash.
  • Brightcove released a new major version of the Brightcove Player, Version 6, with new features and benefits, including an improved plugin API, dynamic sources allowing changing video types after player initialization, accessibility enhancements, and a simpler CSS model for customization. WordPress.com VIP clients will benefit from this new version automatically.
  • Let’s Encrypt will be supporting wildcard certificates, which can secure any number of subdomains of a base domain (e.g. *.example.com), as of January 2018.

Media and Marketing Notes
Research and perspectives on the business of media and the practice of marketing.

…for-profit media companies would be well served to pay attention to what nonprofit media organizations like [Christian Science Monitor] are doing. They should view nonprofit publishers in part as the innovation labs they cannot sustain in-house, and should find ways to partner and learn from them.

-Sam Ford in Knowledge@Wharton, on the ways non-profits can test and refine audience-driven models in ways that are far more challenging in traditional newsrooms.

Flipboard is becoming one of the biggest drivers of traffic to news stories on mobile, according to exclusive data from media analytics firm Parse.ly, which found that Flipboard’s traffic has been growing steadily, while digital magazine competitors like Pocket and Feedly have plateaued or gone into decline.

-Sara Fischer at Axios, on the growth of platforms built on simple visual user experience.

Just 37 percent of users who came from search, and 47 percent of those who found a story via social media, could correctly name the news organization that published it (2 days later). By comparison, 81 percent of users who directly arrived on a story could later recall where it was published.”

-Joseph Lichterman at NiemanLab, on a study from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Featured July Launch: Food Channel

Recently acquired by USA Today, Foodchannel.com relaunched this month on VIP, taking advantage of USA Today’s common theme and feature set.

Recent Events:

10up CEO John Eckman presented Ten Use Cases for the REST API at WordCamp Boston.

rtCamp did a workshop for students under their “WordPress-in-education” initiative. Historically, FOSS culture in their region was more about Linux itself and Python projects. They presented WordPress and its power to 60+ students from all over the Maharashtra state.

Human Made curated all of the talks from their Out of Office event into a handy YouTube playlist.

Upcoming Events:

WordCamp for Publishers is coming up August 17-19th. It is a community-organized event bringing together folks who use WordPress to manage publications, big or small. This event will empower participants by coaching them on best practices, and encourage collaboration in building open source tools for publishers.

The organizing team includes folks from clients Digital First Media and Mother Jones, agency partner Alley Interactive, and Automattic. A handful of tickets are still available.

Presenters include:

SRCCON is taking place later this week, August 3-4. Our own Steph Yiu is leading a Pub(lication) Trivia Session. Alley Interactive has two team members facilitating sessions, Matt Johnson in How Do You Stack Your Tech Deck, and Pattie Reaves in Switching CMSes.

rtCamp is speaking at and sponsoring WordCamp Delhi. Delhi is a special city in Indian WordCamp history – it’s the city to host the first WordCamp ever in India.

Send us your news, events, awards, and other info for the next issue. And sign up below to receive these roundups via email:

GitHub Code Review Comes to VIP Go

On our containerized managed platform, VIP Go, the platform team has been experimenting with and refining one of the most valuable parts of our service: code review.

Code review does lots of things for our clients. It gives developers confidence that their code will run at scale, that they’re not adding any unanticipated technical debt, and allows us to share skills to develop knowledge and best practices. For leaders and product owners, it makes launches smoother and more predictable, and creates trust and accountability.

When we began working on the VIP Go project a few years ago we felt it was a good opportunity to revisit our development workflows and code review. We had watched developer teams move from SVN to Git and wanted to ensure our tools did the same. We chose GitHub as the place to be as so many open source projects are based there.

One of our goals for this year has been to bring our code review process even closer to the default workflow most teams use. We’d like it to be so seamless that it feels like we’re just another member of the development team. This week we have introduced a new workflow and process for our industry-leading code review with this in mind.

Pull Request Code Review

As of this week, we will now be providing code review using GitHub’s excellent code review tools. Among other things, GitHub provides inline commenting, excellent syntax highlighting and diffing, and allows the VIP team to work with your team in a shared UI.

A pull request against your master branch is all it takes to trigger a code review from one of the VIP team. We will then leave feedback inline against the code itself.

This workflow has a number of benefits:

You control when your code is deployed to production (including reverts)

Once a pull request has been approved by the VIP team you will be able to merge it to your master branch. The merge triggers a code deploy on your site. This allows you to control when code is deployed and you no longer have to schedule deploys with us.

It also simplifies rollbacks/reverts as the Github UI provides a simple one-click method to revert PRs.

Code review takes place inline; no more back and forth in tickets

Our current code review feedback takes place away from the code itself via Zendesk tickets. This abstracts it from its context, which can slow down reviews and the implementation of fixes. On GitHub, conversations happen alongside your code making it easier to address the feedback given. Pushing changes also dismisses inline feedback.

Integration opportunities with automated code feedback and CI systems

In the near future we plan to introduce automated code feedback integrations with Continuous Integration systems like Travis CI, CircleCI, and TeamCity. This will provide near instantaneous feedback on code quality, errors and linting for our code standards.

So far the feedback has been very positive:

“a big thumbs up for the recent change to incorporate the pull request review functionality”
– Weston Ruter, XWP

If you would like to find out more, our documentation on the new GitHub PR Review Workflow describes the workflow in detail and answers many common questions.

Under the hood

The VIP Go operational API searches across all GitHub repositories looking for open pull requests against master branches. These are aggregated into our code review queue. The review queue is what notifies our developers that a review should be started.

The review queue is a React powered front end that interacts with the API. This front end currently supports both this new workflow and our existing workflow which will be deprecated soon.

Here is how a pull request currently looks for our developers:

The pull requests can be filtered to only show those that require attention and we also highlight SLA information along with the latest discussion to take place.

On the GitHub side things are as you would expect them:

What’s next?

The VIP platform team focuses on the advancement of the tools and systems that power WordPress.com VIP. As mentioned above our main focus now is looking at automated feedback and integration with common CI systems. Beyond that we want to keep the dialog open and continue to refine the process. If you’re a current client, we look forward to your feedback as you use these tools. If you’re thinking about working with VIP, we’d love to hear how a process like this would integrate with your workflows and processes. It will be user feedback that helps determine where we head next.

Ready to get started?

Drop us a note.

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.