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Welcome back to MasterWP Weekly, your weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals 👋

Hello from Alex! I’m back in Oxford after a very enjoyable couple of days in Berlin for WordCamp Europe. Huge thanks to the organisers.
Hello from Ben! Hope everyone who went enjoyed WCEU. I’m still on holiday but have been following along with all the WordPress fun in the evenings while my son has been sleeping. I’ve even managed to watch some of the talks on the livestreams (on the rubbish hotel wifi) that are available on YouTube.

What’s coming up: Alex's write-up from WordCamp Europe, plus four other really good stories this week. Enjoy!


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Matt Mullenweg’s Summertime Update

Matt on WordPress at WordCamp Europe

Matt's Summertime Update was definitely that: an update on what has been happening in WordPress in the last six months, with the focus more or less totally on Gutenberg.

We've heard about four phases of Gutenberg:

  1. The new Block editor, added in WordPress 5.0. This is complete.
  2. Taking the Block editor outside post and page editing. This is in progress now.
  3. Better writing and editing collaboration. This is next.
  4. Core support for multilingual sites. And this is after 3.

We're currently in phase two, and the focus was squarely on what's been happening with phase two. We heard about some interesting plugins, some innovative new concepts, and the progress in Core. Some highlights from the talk and subsequent Q&A:

  • There’ll be a Block Library for installing blocks straight from the editor. If you want a slider but don’t have a slider block installed, you’ll be able to search “slider”, and then install and use a slider block plugin straight from the editor.
    • This will have a big impact on the block ecosystem: most solutions we’ve seen so far have been focused on adding block libraries (ie CoBlocks, Atomic Blocks) rather than individual blocks. I think everyone’s assumed users will want a single plugin which adds all the blocks they need; if this goes ahead this is a huge incentive to do single-purpose blocks instead. In the long run sounds like we’ll stop calling these “block plugins” and just “blocks”.
  • Lots of exciting new blocks are being experimented with, including one which adds a grid where you can build a “snap to grid” layout. This kind of block can fulfil a key part of Gutenberg’s promise, which is to make it easy for anyone to make a nice website.
  • A question about “when there will be” democracy in WordPress’ decision making process was answered more or less with Matt saying he had no plans to dramatically change WordPress’ governance.
  • We don’t know what the future of themes will be, and it may be up to theme-makers to figure this out. On the current trajectory it seems themes will play a smaller role, so it’s up to theme-makers to do something different and keep them highly relevant.
  • Trac might move to a Git-like infrastructure soon, just not this year.
  • The REST API slowed Gutenberg down, and Matt didn’t like that.

There wasn’t a huge amount on Stages 3 and 4, which I found disappointing. At one point Matt mentioned he felt Gutenberg is 10% of the way there to achieving his vision – and that getting all the way there will be 15 to 20 years of work – and he’s surely the only person in WordPress who is thinking so far ahead. I think he’s best when outlining and then going after a grand vision for the future of the internet, and it was a pity there wasn’t more on this.

Matt pretty much solely decides WordPress’ direction, and with that comes a responsibility to let the community discuss that direction. I’ve said before we could have avoided some of the controversy around Gutenberg if the community had been more involved in a discussion about the vision and problems we were aiming to solve at the start. A couple of weeks ago when I spoke to Josh Koenig, co-founder of Pantheon, he described "a lot of the holes in the tapestry of WordPress", and I feel part of the sticking point on that is uncertainty about what WordPress Core will do next. Will the problem you’re solving be added into Core? These twice-annual keynotes from Matt are one of the best opportunities we get to hear his vision, and we need to hear his vision for the future!

The audience at WordCamp Europe is always tougher than at WordCamp US, but Matt generally went over well. And indeed, this was called a “Summertime Update” and this was an update, so maybe I’m being too picky. For further coverage, I live tweeted the keynote with some commentary in this thread, WP Tavern has a write-up, and David Bisset did his usual superb job of live tweeting (you’ll need to scroll back through his tweets). The photo is from the WordCamp Europe Twitter (I think taken by Val Vesa). - Alex.

The Case for Regulatory Capture at ICANN

.orgs could get vastly more expensive

You may have noticed the new top-level domain names (like .news, .services, etc) introduced in recent years can be a lot more expensive than their traditional equivalents, the .coms and .orgs. These prices are controlled by ICANN, which regulates the domain name system. Currently there’s a price cap on .org domain names, and ICANN wants to remove it – so that .orgs have no cap, the same as the new top-level domains.

As this post on Review Signal explains, this is deeply frustrating: nobody apart from ICANN seems to want this, and this will just pave the way for ICANN to extract huge profits from non-profits – and then do the same with .coms in the future (which also currently have a price cap). This is “regulatory capture” as it seems the people making the decision are also linked to those who will benefit from it. And, it seems there’s no oversight on the decision; a public outcry may be the only thing that stops this. - Alex.

Fancy Rubbish Your Website Can Do Without

Let’s make the web better!

A nice reminder, with explanations you can offer to clients, of the things that you should leave out when you build websites! Many of these are common annoyances that we’ve likely experienced ourselves. In addition, the thing that connects all of them is that removing them is likely to make your website faster.

Jack Lennox did a presentation at WordCamp Europe on how to make better performing websites, and I am increasingly thinking this should be the future.

Lighter, simpler pages load quicker, and use less energy to create. So they are nicer for users to read, easier for search engines to understand, and better for the environment. Everyone wins in multiple ways. - Ben.

WordPress management site WP Engine acquires Flywheel as it moves to a $1B valuation and IPO

Further consolidation in the hosting market

WP Engine has acquired fellow managed WordPress host Flywheel, as WP Engine positions itself for going public. We’ve seen plenty of acquisitions by WordPress hosting companies this year, but this is probably bigger than all of them combined.

I’m really curious about this: the financial details are not disclosed, but the article reports Flywheel was turning over $18m/year with a growth rate of 50%. The deal reportedly accelerates WP Engine’s ability to do an IPO soon, so it’s fair to assume the offer was really good. All 200+ Flywheel staff are joining WP Engine, which is presumably something you can insist on when negotiating from a position of strength.

The TechCrunch article quotes WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner saying: “It is our aspiration to build a public-ready company, and this acquisition is part of making that happen”, so there should be no doubt that WP Engine wants to go public soon. As the article also notes, somewhat ironically this could happen sometime before Automattic itself – which is an investor in WP Engine.

I don’t know many people at Flywheel but had got the impression they were doing a really good job: we linked their perspective day a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed they had found a nice balance between sound management, a good niche, and premium pricing. One has to assume the offer was too good to turn down. - Alex.

The Process and Reasons Behind With Jack's Rebrand

Putting user needs first!

Whilst reading the above article about stuff you shouldn’t add to your website, there was a reference to Ashley Baxter’s rebrand of With Jack; her “insurance for freelancers” business.

It was really interesting seeing how open she was about the process and the things she has changed. In particular reading about how she listened to user feedback to change how she positioned the product. Presumably she is still selling the same product, but how she frames the benefits has now changed; and this changes how people see the service.

The instant quotes without signing up is fantastic. I always get annoyed when I have to fill out reams of forms giving away my name, and address, to find out how much car insurance (or home insurance) is. Simplifying this is definitely a nicer experience and makes me more likely to use the service.

I also liked the openness when talking about the problems the service has had. She first wrote about them in 2016, and now responds showing how the business has improved.

Finally, Sabine from From Scratch did a nice writeup on the process for writing the copy for the With Jack website. Again the focus is on the user. Making the copy more personal, and understanding user needs so they can answer the questions that customers are likely to have.

All round, an interesting case study, with some less common perspectives. Whereas a lot of these case studies seem to be companies patting themselves on the back, Ashley's covers actual decision making processes, and shows how she is putting customers first. - Ben.

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MasterWP is a free weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals, written by Ben Gillbanks and Alex Denning. Thank you to the people who make it happen: Peta Armstrong formats the newsletter, and Barbara Saul, Monique Dubbelman, and Laura Nelson kindly copy-check for us.

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