Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
Powered by RedCircle
Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. Each week, we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine and my contributions on Torquemag.io. You can subscribe to Press This on RedCircle, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app. You can also download the episodes directly from WMR.fm.
Now, earlier this year, iThemes rebranded to SolidWP as part of their rebranding in public, which was a really fun thing to follow. And as part of this, iThemes Training, an online community for WordPress professionals to learn how to grow their businesses, became Solid Academy.
Joining us today to talk about this rebrand as Solid Academy is Nathan Ingram, a host at Solid Academy. He’s also the creator of Monster Contracts and an organizer of WordCamp Y’all, a WordPress meetup in Birmingham, Alabama. Nathan, thanks for joining us today.
Nathan Ingram: Hey, glad to be here. Thanks.
DP: You’ve been in the WordPress community since 2008, I know at least, would you mind sharing your WordPress origin story?
NI: Oh, sure. Absolutely. So I actually started in web development back in 1995. That’s when I first built and sold my first website to an actual paying client. I’ve been through lots of different iterations of web software. And honestly, my first experience with WordPress, I remember telling a friend, Oh, I hate WordPress. It’s going to destroy my business because back in those days I was using, we were building in Macromedia suite custom everything and these, this new content management system thing, that allowed customers to edit their own websites, was a real threat to my current business model, which was we edit your site and you have to have us around to edit your site and that sort of thing.
But gradually, we continued to experiment with WordPress, had clients continue to ask questions about how they can edit their own stuff, and so we learned WordPress and, started to like it a little bit. and then I got involved with the WordPress community. I think my first WordCamp was somewhere back around 2012 and just absolutely fell in love with the WordPress community.
And I’ve said ever since then, the best thing about WordPress is not really the software, it’s the community. And such great folks involved there. We continue to build all in with WordPress since 2010, we were all in WordPress and just have continued.
I’ve done a number of things in the WordPress community. I’ve been the organizer here for WordCamp Birmingham, Alabama, which we lovingly refer to as WP Y’all and I’ve spoken at oh goodness, at about 70 WordCamps. Around the world since then. So I’ve had the privilege of traveling quite a bit and meeting members of the WordPress community all over the place.
DP: Yeah. And I do hope to make the trip out to Birmingham for WP Y’all sometime. That sounds like a blast. Let’s start off by talking about Solid Academy, formerly known as iThemes Learning.
NI: IThemes, so originally it was called webdesign.com. That was a domain that Corey Miller, the founder of iThemes had secured for a while, and that’s actually where I learned WordPress. I came to iThemes as a customer back in, yeah, around 2008, 2009, and learned WordPress there at webdesign.com, which then became iThemes Training. I started teaching on iThemes Training back in about 2012, just periodically, occasionally, every now and then I would do a live stream and it became a regular gig for me about seven or eight years ago.
DP: And Solid Academy, which is what it is now, is a free resource. It’s got ebooks, like about 60 ebooks. I think last I checked. It is paid and there’s also a professional, or can you tell us about like how Solid Academy works?
NI: Sure. Yeah. So one of the things that happened in the rebrand was a lot of the free resources that had been available for a long time on iThemes. com, all the eBooks and other downloads and resources, those were moved under the Academy name and so what we were doing at iThemes Training, which is usually about three live streams a week, some are free, or many are free, some are premium for our members that’s also now called Solid Academy. So under the Academy banner, we have a lot of great eBooks, resources, downloads, as well as this continuing live stream community, which we do live broadcasts Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at one o’clock central time on a variety of WordPress topics.
DP: And I know the. Community is a big part of what y’all do, but before we get into that, I just want to get like an example. You’re doing these live streams and these ebooks. Can you just give us an example of maybe some recent topics that you talked about so, that people listening know what sort of material you might cover?
NI: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. First thing we talk about some solid WP products, but it’s really the majority of our content is not about our own product. It’s really about WordPress education. And so we have a few series that we do, for example, for the last 11 years, every month, I go out to the WordPress plugin directory and pick about a dozen interesting plugins that are either newly added to or recently updated in the WordPress plugin directory. And we feature those in our plugin roundup. So that’s usually the first Tuesday of every month. It’s a lot of fun. And it’s nice to help people find plugins that are just brand new, but really cool and do some amazing things.
So that’s been something that’s been a lot of fun and has been popular over the years. A good example of the kind of things we do. We also do a monthly WordPress news roundup to just take a look across the WordPress ecosystem at the top things that have changed in the last month in various areas like core and Gutenberg and SEO and security and all these areas.
But particularly looked at from the point of view of, If you are a person who’s doing WordPress things for clients, we really angle the news to that to that audience. That’s our core audience on Solid Academy. We talk about things from that perspective. We do a lot of training on web-adjacent topics.
We did a training on setting up CloudFlare to help with security for WordPress sites and those sorts of things. We do a lot of different types of training that’s not just about Solid products.
DP: I’ve talked a little bit about this rebranding in public that SolidWP did. And I thought it was super interesting. I often try to push people to move purposefully and fix things rather than the mantra of move fast and break things. And I think that the whole transparent, slow rebranding of iThemes to SolidWP from the outside looked wonderful.
I’m sure there was a lot of challenges on the inside especially figuring out like, not just switching domains, but what things are we going to keep? It’s a chance to reinvent kind of yourself. I wanted to hear if you had any thoughts about what that rebrand meant for Solid Academy, like some of the things that have changed, some of the things that have stayed the same, some of the things y’all are doubling down on or motivated by from the switch.
NI: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was involved with the rebrand specifically for the Academy. Actually my agency, I run a small WordPress agency here in Birmingham, Alabama, and my agency was contracted to rebuild the Solid Academy site. And that was, it was quite a project because the old iThemes Training site was built, oh goodness, like 2015, seven or eight years old, very difficult to find things. It was built well with the best tech that was available at that time, but WordPress has grown quite a bit in the last seven or eight years.
And so taking about 1,200 pieces of content, different training pieces that we had done over those years and moving those into a completely new format was quite a technical challenge.
One of the challenges we had with the iThemes Training site was it’s very difficult to find things. And so as we rebuilt the Solid Academy site, we really focused on searchability and making that great content we’ve had for years, much more easily accessible to folks.
And there’s a great live stream library that you can go back and find topics all the way back to around 2013 so it’s really neat. As far as the name change, it was an interesting process because when I first heard this rebrand in public concept, I thought, okay, now how is this going to work?
Because usually with a rebrand, people go into a dark room and sit around a table and figure things out and then, raise the veil and here it all is. And that’s not at all what Matt Cromwell and Devin Walker, who are leadership behind SolidWP now, that was not the approach they took, and I really, really like it, because iThemes has a very loyal and longstanding user base and they just wanted folks involved in the process. We had multiple town halls. They had some focus groups, and brought people into some of the thoughts of, what some of the options were and the best way to go, and were very transparent from the very beginning about things like, if you have a license and iThemes license that you like, you can keep it. We’re not going to sunset any of those old licenses. You can keep exactly what you have through this whole rebrand. So it was very thoughtfully done, especially with our users in mind.
DP: I think a rebrand or any sort of big change is either a chance to possibly alienate your users or give them an excuse maybe to leave, or a chance to make them feel like part of something. If you listen to them, they might feel more invested. And I think that’s what it seems like your community has done, is they feel listened to, they feel more invested, and just more part of the the Solid Academy community.
NI: I think so. When we first talked about the name Solid Academy, it was received very well. One of the, just the change from iThemes to Solid was received very well by our community. Really because iThemes, though it started as one of the first premium theme companies for WordPress many years ago, we haven’t really had a theme for a long time.
And so iThemes has not really been a great name for the company for a lot of years now. And so the company is actually focused more on plugins, Solid Security, and Solid Backups, and a service like Solid Central that lets you manage multiple websites in a dashboard.
And that was really the focus. They changed the name there to SolidWP, a solid foundation for all of your WordPress sites. And that just made sense. And as soon as we started talking about that with our community, there was just no pushback. People were like, oh, that makes a lot of sense. I like the name. It’s a good way forward.
DP: On that note, I think this is a good spot for us to take a quick coffee break and we’ll be right back with Nathan Ingram talking about Solid Academy. So stay tuned.
Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast. I’m your host, Doc Pop. Today, I’m talking to Nathan Ingram about Solid Academy, previously iThemes Training. And, I guess we talked about the nature of iThemes and SolidWP changing, but WordPress itself is a constantly changing beast.
Imagine creating content for something and then six months later, there’s the block editor and you make some new things there. And then there’s major changes, even to how the block editor works. And not only has it been changing a lot recently, but it looks like 2024 is going to be a year where a lot of your audience are going to talk about AI and maybe some of your audience doesn’t want to talk about that. And I’m just curious about the challenges that you have in terms of creating the content and figuring out what to focus on for Solid Academy.
NI: Oh, that’s such a great topic. I’m gonna take a step back and take a running start at this question. One of the things we do on Solid Academy each month for our members, we have a premium training course that’s four hours over two days focused on a particular topic. And back in October, we focused exclusively on AI.
So it was our AI, our WordPress AI workshop. I talked for hours about how we’re using AI in our agency and doing some really neat things, both in content creation and even some development, some light development code work with AI, and it’s quite good. And then, every Thursday I do an office hours where it’s just open for our members to come and ask any question they want.
And so many of the questions revolve around the use of AI, or we end up using ChatGPT to help to solve a problem that somebody brings. And it’s just it’s a wonderful tool. As far as the Academy goes, we’ve used AI to help us brainstorm through outlines and processes and create some ideas for training.
And it’s certainly something that that’s a helpful tool in doing those things. Any kind of creative brainstorming work, it’s great for.
DP: And what about creating content? Do you sometimes worry about the time that it takes to make something and how you might have to change it in six months, or do you not worry about that and you just say, let’s just make this good now and we can always reevaluate later?
NI: Yeah. Like as far as training materials?
DP: Yeah, definitely, especially like in terms of ebooks, which I don’t know if y’all are still making as many ebooks as you were, but that’s a thing I guess I think about a lot is, we put all this work into this REST API book, and then it just feels–that one actually, I think our timing was good on—but it feels like there’s other things we could have invested in that six months later we would have to redo everything seemingly.
NI: Yeah, I totally agree and that’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to any sort of written documentation or education material when it comes to technology. I’m not directly involved with the creation or management of our ebook library. My focus is really on the live streams and live training.
And, in my world, it’s great because we’ll just make, have another live stream with an update to the previous one. So in my world, it’s not difficult to handle. On the written content side of things yeah, I can imagine that’s pretty difficult.
DP: I’d like to talk to you a little bit about if you can share some, what powers Solid Academy? I know that SolidWP has a lot of tools that y’all can probably use, but I’m just curious if you don’t mind just giving us a peek under the hood. What are you hosting your own live streams on your own video server? Are you using YouTube? How are you processing payments? Just that sort of stuff.
NI: Sure. The tech for the live streams is simply Zoom webinars. We’ve been using that for years. We will, at some point, I think early next year, start to live stream out to social platforms as well, but starting with Zoom and then going out through a service, that broadcasts live to social platforms.
Getting our free content on YouTube is a big priority for us. It’s not currently there but it will be next year and that’s a good thing. As far as the payment side of things, I really can’t speak to because that all lives on the primary SolidWP website. But our Academy site, I mentioned earlier, it was a technical challenge to create. And that’s because, in the technical requirements we were given as an agency to build the site, we were asked to use the Cadence theme, which was great. We love Cadence. That’s our default theme in our agency work as well. Everything needed to be built in blocks and use The Events Calendar as our events manager.
Now that’s where the difficulty was because we had this old website that was using pods to create a custom post type. And we had to get all of that material out of pods and into The Events Calendar, which was interesting. But it worked, we got that working very well and then we have our search provided by SearchWP or powered by SearchWP that makes the content much easier to find as well as we’re using WP Grid Builder to actually power our faceted search.
DP: I just was experimenting with search on my site. What does WP Grid Builder do? Does that give you more control over the search results pagination-wise on your site?
NI: Yeah it’s, if you’re familiar with FacetWP, it’s very similar to that. You can have various facets to live filter on category or presenter or dates or those sorts of things. And it live updates the results. And one of the things we did that’s really fun, for a couple of years now, we’ve been running Otter transcripts along with our Zoom to get really good quality transcripts.
And so we’ve actually pulled those transcripts, the text of the transcript out to a custom field which is included in the SearchWP search. So now you can actually search on the site, not only for the text in the title and description of the event, but actually, if it’s a past event in the library, you’ll be able to search for things that appeared in the transcript, which is super cool.
DP: That’s super cool.
NI: Yeah, it really helps to surface discussions about things that might not be in the description.
DP: Okay. Yeah, so if I wanted to do something like that, like when we post these Press This interviews up on torquemag.io, we usually try to include a transcription and that way it’s searchable. It’s like a, maybe helps us with our SEO and stuff like that, but I love the idea that you could just have the kind of short description of the show add a thumbnail to the video, and still have the ability to, if the user wants, to search for something that was mentioned in a transcript, someone casually mentions a plugin or something, and it’s not in the show description, but they can find that mention and maybe find that. Is it—this is really in the weeds, because we’re both like podcasting like folks here—is that also going to give them like a timestamp to join, so they know where it happens? Will it bring them right into that video?
NI: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? But no, not currently. I’m sure there’s a way to do that. I’m just not smart enough to figure it out. But one of the things we found it’s being very useful for—and we’re looking at what people are searching for on the backend, in the SearchWP console—and it’s things like, so I mentioned earlier, I do an office hours every week, we’ve done that now for several years. I’ve had probably 3,000 questions asked and answered during that office hour time, and we talk about everything—there’s about 20 questions per hour that we get through—and it’s so neat to see people searching for this particular thing that was in an office hours and it’s going to show up for them. Whereas, none of that stuff’s in the description because it’s an ask me anything session.
But it just makes that stuff so much more findable and easy. And that’s our goal for our users.
DP: Yeah. That’s really cool. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else to talk about in terms of the way that you’re using technology and chatting with the users, are you using BuddyPress or something to handle the community?
NI: No, we actually have our community in Slack right now. That may change at some point in the future, but that’s, that was our lowest bar to entry, just to get something up and working for them. But no not BuddyPress or anything at this point.
DP: Yeah, I didn’t mean to get so into the weeds on how things work under the hood. I always love talking to people about how they handle their things. And I guess one more question you were saying, getting these up on YouTube is a priority and next year we’ll be seeing that. Are you talking about the rebroadcast, getting the rebroadcast up on YouTube from the live streams?
NI: Yeah, so we’ll actually be broadcasting live. So it will create the live stream on YouTube and Facebook, perhaps some other platforms, but those two in particular, just to make that content easier to find for folks.
DP: That’s awesome. We are going to take one more quick break. And when we come back, we are going to wrap up our conversation with Nathan Ingram about what is in the future for Solid Academy. So stay tuned after this short break.
DP: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. I’m Doc Pop. I’m talking to Nathan Ingram, one of the organizers of WP Y’all and the creator of Monster Contracts. And today we’re talking about his role as a host at Solid Academy. And I guess I’d like to wrap up this episode, this is going to be coming out right in the beginning of the new year, and as 2024 comes, Nathan, can you tell us what big plans you’ll have for Solid Academy and the work you’re doing there?
NI: Sure, absolutely. Our focus at Solid Academy has always been providing training for people who work with clients using WordPress. The focus is, if you’re a solopreneur or a micro agency or an agency, and you’re doing WordPress things with clients, we want to bring training to you that’s going to help you make your life easier, whether it’s technical concepts, business development, training, all of these things.
So that’s been our focus for years, and our focus for 2024 is to sharpen that even more, so that we’re bringing better and more helpful content to folks that are doing WordPress with clients. And so that’s my background, and, it’s helpful—I try to be helpful for folks that are working with clients to help them not make the same mistakes I did.
And so as I continue to learn and grow in my work as an agency owner, I bring that to our our audience there at Solid Academy.
DP: I know the work that you’ve been doing has largely been live streams, but if someone was to try to find something you did recently that you’re very proud of there, is there something they should look up like a topic that you’re really happy with how that turned out and you want more people to know about?
NI: Sure. So going to academy.solidwp.com there’s a link for the live stream library right there in the menu that will let people search for anything they want. And even if you are not a member you can still search for free content. There’s a drop-down there to look exclusively for free content.
And I think, to get a good flavor of who I am and what we do, looking at one of those two series that I talked about earlier our Plugin Roundup or our News Roundup, all of those I’m very proud of because it’s, they’re a lot of fun to do and they’re helpful to folks as well. And you’ll get a good flavor of the kind of interaction and camaraderie that our community has.
DP: And if people want to follow you to find out more about what you’re working on and plans for WP Y’all or anything else, what’s a good way for them to keep track of you?
NI: Yeah. I’m on Facebook of course, and Twitter or X at @ Nathan Ingram.
DP: Right on. That’s it for this episode of Press This, a WordPress community podcast. Huge thanks, Nathan, for joining us, and thanks to everyone for listening. If you have any questions or suggestions for us, you can shoot them our way at the Torque Mag, that’s @ theTorqueMag. You can also go to Torquemag.io for transcribed versions of these podcasts, as well as you can find tutorials and all sorts of write-ups about events and other things, WordPress news in general.
So Torquemag.io is the place for that. Thanks again for listening to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. You can subscribe to Press This on RedCircle, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app. You can also download the episodes directly from WMR.fm. Again, I’m your host, Dr. Popular. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love spotlighting members of that community each and every week on Press This.