As has become customary over the past 8 years, I joined thousands of fellow WordPress enthusiasts and supporters for WordCamp US 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. For me, the highlight is always the State of The Word (SOTW), delivered by Matt Mullenweg (Co-Founder of the platform).
The SOTW provides an opportunity to reflect on the last year, and where the platform is going. Where the platform goes is often a strong indicator of where the rest of the ecosystem will follow.
The WordPress Business Ecosystem
Last year it was a pivotal year for the platform. We did away with release cycles, introduced a multi-lead approach, but more importantly it introduced the hottest and most contentious idea since the platforms inception- Gutenberg.
We were treated to a live demo. It provided a fresh, awe-inspiring, view of Gutenbergs power. It wasn’t at this point that I gained a completely new appreciation for the role it will undeniably play in reshaping the WordPress business ecosystem.
How many plugins would it have taken to achieve this experience?
Today the WordPress business ecosystem is comprised of products (e.g., plugins, themes, etc..), integrators (e.g., Pro’s, Agencies, etc..) and services (e.g., hosts, security, maintenance, etc..). Tomorrow, it’ll look dramatically different in large part to what Gutenberg is doing. Are you prepared?
Gutenberg site customization…
As Gutenberg moves beyond the posts / pages, into the world of site customization I find myself wondering how many more thing it’ll simplify and consolidate. Specifically, how that will impact the small businesses that power today’s WordPress platform; those that have built themselves dependent on a platform’s specific design.
If it was not apparent, the platform is changing. If your product is meant to simplify some aspect of the platforms experience, your future is inevitably numbered, as it’ll likely be commoditized at the core level.
The message and direction is clear for the platform. We achieve our BHAG if we can optimize the users experience. We’re doubling down on this.
Good or Bad – Doesn’t Matter
It’s not that the plugin / theme community isn’t valued or that no one sees the platform exists because of it. But it is about hitting goals, and what the platform needs today to get to it’s BHAG is very different than what it needed when it required growth / user adoption.
If I were Matt I would be doing the same thing. It’s about combating the encroaching affects of outside closed-source platforms, the threats they pose on the larger open-web conversation, and also hitting that platforms big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) of 51% market share.
If I were the plugin / themes shops I would be rightfully concerned and upset. It’s this feeling of frustration, and possibly betrayal. As a small business, there is already limited time and resources to support the needs of acquiring new customers, let alone supporting the ones you have, and now there is new requirement that feels extremely exhausting.
The real question I would be asking myself is not whether I can support it, but rather what does it do to my product category when it becomes standardized in core? My general feeling is that the WordPress business landscape will be look dramatically different in five years. Where does your product / business sit?
This does not mean that there won’t be a plugin ecosystem in 5 years, but rather that it’ll be dramatically different than today. Tools that prove invaluable in moving the platform forward will prove market need, and this need will be productized at some level.
The impacts here will move beyond just the plugin domain, there are affects to be felt within the theme space as well. One could argue that when the site creation process is introduced how themes are leveraged will fundamentally change. When you simply the creation process, do you really still need a theme at all? If so, what does that theme really look like?
There is also the impacts to integrators, specifically the professionals that make a living on helping users establish their online entity and do it by taking a theme and configuring it. I’m talking about that process that many Pro’s take today – sell a site to a customer, buy a framework (think Genesis), read the document and configure the site for their customer. In many ways, you can argue the Do It For Me (DIFM) market exists predominantly because the Do It Yourself (DIY) space has proven to hard. What happens when that technical divide becomes smaller? We’ve always known the platforms achilles heel is 5 minutes to install, 3 weeks to configure.
There are certain things / products that deliver such intrinsic value that it transcends any platform. Security is a good example such a product. These are the areas we, you, should place your energy as a small business if you’re targeting WordPress. These are the areas that cannot be consolidated or commoditized. If you build around how something works today, you might find yourself out of a job tomorrow. This evolution is not unique to WordPress, it happened with Google, Twitter and the list goes on. The platform will always do what is in the best interest of the platform.
Just because WordPress is democratizing publishing, it doesn’t mean it is a democracy.