Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. In this episode we’re going to be talking about strategic development for WooCommerce in Gutenberg. Joining us for that conversation from Pootlepress I’d like to welcome Jamie Marsland. Jamie welcome the Press This.
Jamie Marsland: Thanks for having me.
DV: Yeah, so glad to have you here. I’m a big a big fan of watching the the use of the block editor with commerce and just eCommerce shopping experiences in general. And so for those listening, we’re going to be talking to Jamie about his thoughts on all that though, but things around like when to create a custom block versus used core blocks, embracing customize and personal blocks in your builds, than just general considerations. For ecommerce and the block editor and FSE themes full site editing 5.91 coming out last week when this when this episode broadcasts, the next generation se Alright, well Jamie, I’m gonna ask you the first question I asked every guest briefly. Tell me your first WordPress I’m sorry, briefly tell me your WordPress origin story. When was the first time you used WordPress?
JM: Hey, yeah, so we got to go back a while I was working. I was running a publishing business and I had quite an expensive development team working for me. We were using a content management system called Ektron, which I think maybe still be around a dotnet content management system. And it was it was good and thorough, but development was slow and quite pricey. And then I discovered WordPress in my garage one weekend, and I was able to produce kind of sites we were building for a publishing business in a weekend just getting out the box. And so I discovered it as a work requirement by chance really, and then I had a few side side projects and then I bought it into that business and it replace our old content management system. But we’re going back about 13 years.
DV: Okay, so 12 or 13 years. Are you going to do math now? So around 2010 Roughly, yeah, a long time ago. Yeah, that was a really critical moment in WordPress history with the introduction of custom post types and meta fields. Really? Yeah, price for me. CMS. Alright, cool. I think you might be the second person with a Microsoft ask background with dotnet CMS. We had a site core person a few episodes back and that’s a that’s a somewhat unique origin story. That’s pretty cool to hear.
JM: I think what was quite interesting what was quite interesting is that and at that time, the development community was pretty sniffy about WordPress. And it obviously it’s, it dominates the CMS market now, but back then it didn’t. Certainly my developers were required. Wouldn’t say anti WordPress, but they were quite anti the technology that was driving WordPress.
DV: I remember in 2010, having a huge debate with one of my engineers around Drupal versus WordPress, and I kind of that was very early in the WordPress, quote, CMS days and so it was quite the debate and we ended up going with what the customers were calling about which happened to be weird for us and say, yeah, that being a good choice.
JM: What’s interesting is I think it sort of mirrors the debate we’re having as a community now with Gutenberg as well some of the same discussion points are coming up, are coming up. Now that will coming up back then in terms of why it wasn’t gonna work. And actually, I’ve always believed Gutenberg was gonna work, mainly for the reasons not so much to do with the technology most to the ecosystem, or probably come on to that.
DV: Absolutely. So that’s why if you quickly quickly tell me a little bit about the press and what you do there.
JM: Sure. Yeah. So I started the business 11 years ago, we are a training business and a plugin business. So we train people in WordPress, that’s our heritage. When I first started the business, we are pure training business. So we run we own we still do a lot of training face to face training courses. And now via zoom, and also run training courses as part of The Guardian newspaper masterclass series courses. So that’s our heritage. But we now also build and we have the views actually our own WordPress plugins for quite a while and over the last two years, we’ve been purely focused really on good and bad bass plugins and specifically around WooCommerce I guess that’s our main focus a Gutenberg in WooCommerce is twin tracks.
DV: All right, well, you’re a good person to speak with that. So Let’s wind the clock back a little bit though your your block experience your I guess your your block editor. Experience. And when did middle press first start? Use the block editor in a production bill, or plugins or whatever? And then, like, what was your first experience with it? Did you have challenges and successes like how do you think about it?
JM: Back then, yeah, we had to fix things. So we have we have a plugin. Caxton, which was our first plugin, which we launched pretty much right from the start of Gutenberg, because I always believed that Gutenberg was kind of where the future of WordPress was going to be. Right before it was, even before it was released. It was clear to me that that was that’s where we need to invest our time and money so we built we built a plugin called Caxton which you can still download download from WP org and that’s a block library of blogs basically. And that was that was really challenging because back then, we were only talking a few years ago, but couldn’t book was having Gutenberg was having lots of changes and quite a few those changes were breaking changes. So they were breaking the plugins that were people were building in support of Gutenberg. So that was that was a huge challenge because there was some big sort of technology changes that happened to Berg in the early days as they were figuring out the direction of it which was breaking it was plugin.So that was a there was a lot of cost and investment involved in us.
DV: with FSE going into core has that cycle started all over again, or like it’s a more chill mode now.
JM: It’s much, much easier now. So we don’t we generally don’t things don’t generally break. I mean, literally, it was breaking almost every time and we’re getting back for years. Pretty much breaking every time Gutenberg had a new version, which was obviously really problematic. And lots of other plugin. The guys that were developing a bit bigger at the time was seeing the same thing as well. But now it’s much it’s much smoother. It’s a much smoother experience, if you’re developing for Gutenberg. The major challenge we have really I suppose now is that we have we have called What’s go what goes into core and we also have a plugin called Gutenberg on WP or which which, which isn’t, which is a different discussion, but that definitely makes supporting and developing for Gutenberg more complex and Potentially, it could be
DV: Yeah, I think it was maybe you me like six other people outside of the core Gutenberg team. That were like pro Gutenberg in 2018. Yeah, it’s really interesting, you know, as I was speaking about it at work camps or whatnot, I would have people you know, raise their hand have used it in production and like, you know, two people at first and then a few more, a few more, and then, you know, nearly majorities and then majorities and then maybe even close to overwhelming majorities, but like, of course, there’s the cycle of like, Oh, let it get baked first, and then I’m going to try it seems like we’re maybe we’re in that mode now.
JM: Yeah. Still, there’s still there’s still that. I mean, I hang out in a lot of forums and support groups, Facebook groups. And there’s still a lot of activity towards that I try and guide people in the nicest possible way to some of the some of the positives on it. And that, you know, we actually coming back to Caxton, it was actually demoed by Matt Matt awake at Nashville. If you’re in Nashville, but I was there. Yeah. Okay. I was there as well, actually. So it was it was kind of exciting. Before he did his State of the word. He brought a tweet asking for any innovative blocks that people were building we had as part of packing, we had Caxton we had a shape divider block. So you can do these lovely shapes to divide your pages. up with and he actually dealt with it. So that was kind of really, that was a great moment for us.
DV: I think I do recall that I mean, I think the more than question on q&a was probably like the most thing that stood out the most for that presentation.
JM: The questions are incredible.
DV: For those listening, there was a lot of debate around the timing and implementation of Gutenberg. And so some of q&a got a little spicy there. For those that weren’t familiar with that part of what happened during that rollout, but it seems like things like I kind of reiterate with you I feels like things are less breakings now with with changes and that you can rely on it more into products and sites that you build, which would you say that’s fair?
JM: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really stable now. So yeah, we’ve had no issues for for a long long time in terms of Cool, cool, good.
DV: All right. Well, I want to talk to you about building blocks in the Leukine. Tax is there’s a lot of considerations there. You got to talk about what we have in core because we’ve got the plug in, you know, we have, you know, glue itself and so I think teams are very, like, what do I do, which ones to use, and when do I do it? I’m guessing you have some pretty good points of view, which will ask you after this first break, time to plug into a commercial break. Stay tuned for more Press This in just a moment.
DV: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community Podcast. I’m David Vogelpohl. I’m entering interviewing James Marsland of Pootlepress about strategic development for WooCommerce and Gutenberg. Jamie right before the break. We were sharing a little bit around how some of the challenges you experienced over the years with Gutenberg and a lot of that community anchored in you know, as Gutenberg or the block editor evolved in core kind of introducing breaking changes and how that’s kind of chilled out a little bit, which is good. But I want to shift gears now into talking about block strategy. So I kind of mentioned before the break like Lou has blocks of you. WordPress Core has blocks. What is your decision process for when you would might go with like modifying or styling a core block or blue block versus say building a custom block like, when do I When do I style something off the shelf or versus when do I build something from scratch? How do you think about that?
JM: Yeah, so I think it really from a product point of view really. I guess the first thing to say is we were we were pretty quick out the blocks with our with our WooCommerce blog. So we have a plugin called we build the blocks which lets you customize the product page using product blocks. And I know that WooCommerce are going to build something similar at some point that we’ve had this out for years. So there’s a few there’s a few questions that kind of go through things like do we think that we’re talking about WooCommerce do we think that WooCommerce will be built you know, replicated blocks that we’re thinking about building at some point, especially when we talk about core? Do we think that core will build some of the blocks that we’re going to build at some point I’m seeing a lot of that at the moment in some of the block libraries. We’re actually there’s a lot of there’s a lot of blocks in the block libraries out there that some of the most popular block libraries that actually you can replicate pretty easily now, just with Corbin back so that’s that’s a you know, key question. Can you do in court or will you be able to do in court what we’re thinking about doing because if you’re going to be able to do it in court, it’s not not much pointless.
DV: Like that’s kind of like answering the question like from your product development point of view. Do you have like a point of view like for teams that might be considering things like block libraries or boardwalks or whatever versus like custom and totally get it from your like product development perspective. I’m just curious if you have an opinion from like a dev team perspective.
JM: What also from an end user, I see a lot of our training business, we see a lot of training, we see a lot of people’s websites where they’re using third party plugin libraries where they really don’t need to and they’re just you know that that’s okay to a certain point, but obviously it’s better if you can just use what’s important because your technical debt going forward is going to be much smaller. I see I see tons of that stuff. Partly because this stuff was missing in core to start with like the wheels. A lot of people would be using like container blocks or root blocks, or columns box. Well, there’ll be third party layout blocks where it’s actually you can do a lot of that stuff in a call Commons block. Now you couldn’t a year ago. And the group block now is becoming more powerful. I just think this week They’ve just announced that it’s going to have margin control. So a lot of these block libraries have filled the space, which core probably should have nailed earlier on. And so people have all these blog libraries, which aren’t really doing a huge amount more than core shouldn’t be doing what we’ll be doing at some point soon.
DV: So it sounds like kind of read through some of the statements you said it sounds like tech debt, right? If I use a core block, then I’m not using a third a third party plugin that I later have to reconcile attacks and compatibility. And you know what, why build something from scratch that you have to maintain when you can apply styles to something, you know, out of core or maybe even a block library where you don’t really have to do as much maintenance on?
JM: Yeah, and so say she, again, coming back to the training is a huge training cost for a lot of organizations when they’re having to train people on specific blocks. Whereas actually, they could be using CCO and again, I come back to you see that I see a lot of misuse of things like ACF advanced custom fields where people have historically used that are really simple layout stuff that you can do. incredibly simple and incredibly simply in the Gutenberg block editor where you might just have a couple of sections on page which has been dealt with ACF, by the, by the company and that now the customer is faced with they can actually edit that page unless they go back to the agency whereas actually you can do all that stuff really, really simply and just Gutenberg corner. So it’s that kind of stuff really that that hopefully gonna be back is going to start to solve for a lot of companies. It’s an ongoing cost.
DV: Yeah, so to invoke a few more pillars, I guess for your considerations. There you talk. It sounds like Well, another one is like speed of the build for the builder. Yeah, and the other one would be the use of the usability of the experience for the content creator, an agency maybe your client or a company or marketers or whatever, but sounds like it’s a blend of those considerations
JM: I think that’s nothing that’s massive. The number one reason why. And this is quite interesting for agencies as well. The savvy ones will get this but the number one reason why people come on our training courses, if they’ve if they’re coming from, they already have a WordPress site is they want to reduce costs they’re paying to their agencies. And partly that is because of the way those sites have been built, that they can’t the the companies can’t actually edit those sites without going back to the agencies to tweak ACF or they built them in such a way that they can’t actually edit them. And Gutenberg should solve a lot of that stuff.
DV: it’s funny you mentioned that because in 2018, as Gutenberg was rolling into core, one of the sentiments that was thrown around is they won’t meet the clients won’t need us anymore. They’ll do it all on their own. And here we are, what is it four years later? And I mean, I know there’s been some pandemic stress but I feel like all my agency friends still have jobs. So like, Yeah, didn’t result in that and so like, I wonder if like, the motivation for the brand is to quote not pay the agency as much versus you know, not have to pay for small edits. Like I feel like when you’re paying an agency, you’re ultimately paying them to grow. And you know, editing a page and having to pay hourly for every edit on your site does not sound like a strategy that helps you
JM: yeah, the value will shift upstream. So it’s, you know, it’s positive for the agencies that get where the technology is heading. will be positive for the agencies that have those business models that rely on that, what you just talked about.
DV: So let me kind of get back to the E commerce kind of focus for a minute. You know, we have, you know, types of blogs that are helpful for building our content in general. Of course, we’ll talk about column blocks, you know, other types of content blocks, that ECAM is, has special use cases. Right? So I’m just curious, like, what do you think are the most helpful types of blocks in any context?
JM: So I think we’ve, I think this plays again, back to the Gutenberg conversation. So I think where we where we’ve gone so far with, they were kind of, we’re using Gutenberg to recreate what we could always do with with, with WordPress, we’ve kind of and it’s kind of like the plumbing phase and the way the next bit for me is the really exciting bit where we start to use blocks to do things we couldn’t really do before. So for example, we’ve got a number of blocks that help take sites to slightly different places. So we have a we have a block which is a recently viewed product. So you can use that block and you can you can use it for different layouts. So you can have a flip book, we’re talking about products here. So you can have a flip book or you could have a nice, nice masonry grid, where you could have a normal grid so you can have different different styles block, but the recently viewed products will basically display any products that you views on somebody’s website as you browse the website. So you’ll go to page and I’ll actually show you the products you have shown interested in and you can put that block anywhere so you could put that block in the My Account page. Or you could put that block on the thank you page. It’s entirely up to you where you put that block.
DV: Your sidebar now, right?
JM: Yeah you can put it I mean, it’s a block so you can put it in the head, you can put absolutely wherever you want to. And that’s, that’s, you know, we’re starting to talk about personalization and customization.
DV: And like if I had to classify that as a quote kind of block and this is definitely not going to be a standard that anyone’s going to repeat. But I phrased these blocks as blocks that do stuff, right. Yeah, just lay out content and interact with the database interact with users behavior, and provide them value beyond just showing static information. And it seems like and I love how you did recently viewed I mean obviously there’s things like related products and other types of shopping experiences, but it’s that it’s the functional blocks, the blocks, interact with stuff and do interesting things based on behavior that I think is largely missing and Gutenberg and the block editor community right now.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s, that’s the next phase of excitement of Gutenberg that you’re going to be able to give these blocks to not I was just reading some stats about from WooCommerce actually about the amount of people on their marketplace. They detail how many people the type of person that is buying from the marketplace. And it’s like 70% are non technical store owners. So you can give these tools to these non technical store owners. And they can they can create these really dynamic experiences on their WooCommerce stores without any technical technical knowledge.
DV: I think like the technical knowledge to build the loft is what their client into actually paying things like agency providers for Cigna is a really cool part. I want to dig a little deeper here, but we’re gonna take our last break. We’ll be right back. Time to plug into a commercial break. Stay tuned for more pressing this in just a moment.
DV: Everyone welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This year is David Vogelpohl, I’m interviewing Jamie Marsland about the Gutenberg editor and WooCommerce Jamie right before the break, we were talking a little bit about the types of blocks that work best in an eCommerce or eCommerce context. And I loved your example of the recently viewed products block. But really more than that example of the use of customization and personalization, dynamic personalization, I guess, in in the end blocks is it as a mechanism for delivering value to the end user but of course, also the person operating the site. So now I’ll talk to you a little bit about FSE. Do you view full site editing and block themes as just the vehicle to get the block editor in the header and the footer? Or do you see FSE themes themselves as a strategic part of what you’re building? In other words, it’s FSE just just the highway for blocks are you like the construct of se teams and relative to just their own merit.
JM: I think I think for me the most the most exciting thing about FSE themes or block themes were medical now is I think 5.9 is a stepping stone so we’re not seeing it properly yet. I think we won’t see it properly until six but I think what’s really interesting about FSE themes is what what that means for the ecosystem and the community. And the biggest thing I think that I can sort of pull out of it is that the theme creation process is going to be massively simplified or will be massively simplified going forward. So I can I can see glimpses of this with some people building some really cool tools, like theme builders, I can definitely see a future where you’re going to be able to build a theme in the future without any any coding skills, whereas at the moment you need you need to understand PHP in some standard things. Built to build things. So you have to be part developer and part designer. I think that the exciting thing, really exciting thing about if I see is that I can definitely see a future where actually if you’re just a great designer, no technical skills at all, you’re going to be able to you’re going to be able to pump out beautiful WordPress themes and that has that has, again, enormous implications for the current theme ecosystem, the marketplace going forward. I think that’s gonna be a really, really, really interesting place to play. And watch what happens there.
DV: It feels like FSE themes also provide a path for people with more moderate PHP skills versus classic means. Yeah. Easy things like being good at JSON and just the simplicity of the approach. I feel like even without the, I guess, quote, wiziwig approach or non code approach, that the FSE approach in general is more accessible to more people.
JM: Yeah, I actually did it. Because I’ve got a YouTube channel, actually, I actually did a tutorial on how to build your own FSE thing. And it’s really, really, really simple. I mean, it’s incredibly simple to build your own FSE I mean, the theme I built was a beautiful. Technically, it’s incredibly simple. To use because you’re just basically pulling in blocks. So you’re doing themes, the theme architectures become much, much, much, much more people.
DV: Okay, and they know with complex sites like WooCommerce sites or ecommerce sites in general, having a simple performant and elegant theme is a strategic part of that. You agree?
JM: Yeah, absolutely. But now Now if you if you use an SEO blog thing and WooCommerce and you go into templates, you’ll find this some brand new exciting templates. So our plugins we will the blocks and storefront blocks now can work. So if you go if you if you use the block theme and you go into templates, and you’re using WooCommerce, you’ll see there’s a template called product and single product template, category template, archive product template, so you can actually go in there and edit the product page template. If you’re using one of our plugins to recreate and design your product page, just using blocks. A bit we’re working on this week actually is how you can have different templates for different categories that will come and so you can have a product that has one design that goes so to a category of let’s say sports, like this, and another category has a different design that’s a bit more complex. But we’ve done the plumbing now we just released a couple of weeks ago, the version of we build the blocks that now is fully supporting FSE it’s really really cool, beautiful to use.
DV: Excellent. Like I’m seeing that through to the end. Last question here. quick way to round this out, if you could, but what are you excited about or maybe hoping for for the future of a block editor in lieu? What would you like to see or what do you think is happening that you’re excited about?
JM: I think I think the fact that we are fully immersed in the block and above world. So you know, as I said, if you’re going to if you’re going to a block theme, and you look at the templates, you’ll see they’ve actually created a template, I think in them yet ready for WooCommerce to fully immerse itself. In the block editor. I think that that’s a huge opportunity for people like me, because we’ve been in that space for two years. So we’re kind of already ready and waiting for woo together. I think it’ll it’ll take longer than possibly we expect but the implications will be enormous once they get there because they’re just going to be pushing, blocks, blocks, blocks, we’ve lots of NBA absolutely enormous confusion.
DV: Alright, well, time will tell. Thank you so much for joining the show here today. Jamie really enjoyed the interview.
JM: Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much.
DV: Yeah, of course if you’d like to learn more about what Jamie’s up to you can visit pottlepress.com. Thanks, everyone for listening to Press This WordPress community podcast and WMR. Again, this has been your host David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine and I love to bring the best of the community to be here.