WordPress.com VIP Director of Platform Services, Peter Slutsky, presented to the DigitalGov University about using WordPress CMS to build government websites, along with Dan Munz, from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, last year, now published with full transcript.
DigitalGov is brought to you by the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies in the U.S. General Services Administration and their job is to help government agencies build a 21st century digital government.
“Can WordPress be a full-fledged CMS? Our experience is absolutely yes, it can.” — Dan Munz, Deputy Assistant Director for Consumer Engagement at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In this presentation you’ll learn:
How to determine if WordPress is a good option for your agency
The important technical considerations
The biggest challenges and successes CFPB had with implementing WordPress
The resources you’ll need to implement it and keep it sustainable
How to get buy-in and make the business case to switch/choose WordPress
And a Q&A from the attendees
Below is the video of the presentation:
Good morning everyone, thanks for joining us for the second event in the Why Choose series.
Our first event featured why you might choose Drupal as your content management system or CMS and this event of course will focus on WordPress. Before we begin, I’d like to introduce our presenters.
First up we’ll have Peter Slutsky, he’s the director of platform services at Automattic, where he focuses on expanding the WordPress footprint in politics, government and nonprofit arenas. We’ll also have Dan Munz, who’s the product director for consumerfinance.gov at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is the Flagship digital property, and he’s responsible for leading the daily of product-focused web team, articulating prodict priorities, and a release roadmap and shepherding individual digital products like the Bureau’s online knowledge base at CFPB.
So with that, I’ll hand it over to Peter.
Peter: Thank you, I feel like I’m going live on the Today Show. So first of all, everyone welcome. Thank You so much for joining us this morning. My name is Peter Slutsky. I’m very excited to be with you guys. Let me quickly give you a little background on who I am and what I’m doing here, then I’m going to take you through just a couple slides and then you an overview of WordPress and some of the work that I’m doing to expand the WordPress footprint in Government.
So I started my career working in politics, and lived in DC for a long time. In those roles, I worked in new media, back when new media was actually new and in communications and some organizing on some campaigns. And in about 2007, I got connected to the folks that were launching causes on Facebook, and I was a consultant for them which kind of opened up a whole new world of technology and the intersection of technology and digita and politics, which was kind of perfect for my past experience. I went to work for a company called Ming, which was doing some really cool things early on in social networking on and went to an early stage start up which led me to Automattic and WordPress, which has been phenomenal.
I’ve been there for about a year, it’s been an eye opening experience. I love the company. I’ve been a WordPress fan and WordPress user, as I’m sure many of you are, for a long time.
So let me start off by saying that I’m not a developer, so if you want to have more technical discussions, we ca do that and I can try, but chances are, I will pump the question and get an answer for you, and can follow up later.
I’m on the business team, and my role is to kind of evangelize and run, lead our business development team in government, non-profit and political space.
So, throughout my career, I’ve worked with a lot of really cool innovators in Silicone Valley and in Washington DC and now up in New York City where I live, and i’ve been super impressed working in the government space.
I feel like we are still really early on in the evolution of technology and innovation but we’ve had just amazing strides over the last couple years in the reinvention of digital strategy, of open government and open source technology, and you know, working with people like Dan who you’ll hear from later and others across government. It’s just been a phenomenal experience.
That being said, I do still think that we’re still super early and that we’re on kind of the first wave, the first generations of the platform and the technology that you’ll see deployed into governments, and we’re obviously in a lot of ways, we’re riding a Drupal wave right now.
One of the things that I’ve heard a lot about in the last year, as I’ve begun to have more and more conversations is, that people are using WordPress as a blogging software and oftentimes behind a firewall for internal communications, and inter-agency communications.
But increasingly, now there’s a desire to use WordPress as a full CMS and to use it for top line websites and agency, projects and micro sites at all levels of government. It’s been really cool to see it, interesting conversations.
So what I want to do is take you guys through the WordPress Eco system and kind of re-introduce you to where WordPress is today in 2013, because I think we’re literally this year, in May, celebrating our 10th university.
So, it’s a really, we’re not grown up yet, but we have come a long way and there’s a lot of perception out there a that I want to work on resolving as we now get into our early adulthood.
So let me just take you through the slides. There’s three flavors of WordPress. There is the self-hosted, WordPress, open-source service which was founded about 10 years ago by Matt Mullenweg, who’s the founder of Automattic and also was the first lead developer for WordPress.
Anyone can go on to WordPress.org, download the open-source, free WordPress software. You can run it on your own servers, you can host it on any number of cloud hosts, Amazon, Rackspace, wp-engine, BlueHost, Remote, Go Daddy, all those, the web host companies that we have good relationships with.
And, WordPress.org, you really have complete control over the code, the codebase, the experience, the fees, the plugins, the accessibility, the third-parties, the technology you bring in.
So in that way it’s really a model framework for building anything from an agency blog or a small web site, a microsite all the way up to large sites like The New York Times, and CNN and I’ll show you some of those great examples after.
We always say with great power comes responsibility, working as a developer or working with a few developers, you can do great things, but it’s also easy to build a plane that you fly too fast. So a lot of times I’m talking with people about sort of picking and choosing which plugins they want and streamline themes and decluttering to make it the most efficient, fast, responsive website, as possible.
So that’s WordPress.org. WordPress.com is the largest WordPress site in the world. It’s one large ultimate site. As of today, I think we have about 45 million sites running on WordPress.com including many in government space, the political and nonprofit space.
Basically, it’s a saas model, software as a service. So we do all of the backend infrastructure, hosting, CDN, storage, backup, security pieces so what you really have to work with and deal with and think about is the front end, the design, and the content, and that’s, that’s something that I know that people working with limited budget constraints or limited resources in terms of development, that’s something that’s very good.
The third bucket in this line of buckets is WordPress.com VIP. This is my team. So the VIP team is sort of the best of both worlds, WordPress.org and WordPress.com It’s a SaaS hosting and support model, for enterprise-level websites. I can show you some examples later, but we power like a huge amount of the media sites and the large websites you probably visit every day.
On WordPress.com VIP, we allow you to run your own code base, your own plug ins, but you have direct access to our developers and they can do code reviews to make sure everything you’re doing is safe and secure, and scalable.
Those are things that I’m going to touch on in a minute but those are kind of some of the main questions that i’m getting as I’m talking to folks in the government space.
Really quickly about Automattic, Automattic is basically the commercial arm, the parent company if you will, of WordPress.com. It was founded in 2005, by Matt Mullenweg, who you can see, if you look A-U-T-O- and the M-A-T-T-I-C that M-A-T-T is for Matt. We had all different kinds of products, and for those of you who are running WordPress right now or thinking about running WordPress in your agency, I really recommend you take a look at automattic.com to see all the suite of services.
We have Akismet, VaultPress, Jet pack, VideoPress, and Gravatar, and all these products are really plug and play features to WordPress ecosystem, and some of them are also stand alone products that can really help drive all different kinds of features for your website, so check that out.
We’re about 150 employees, we work all around the globe. I’m sitting in Brooklyn, New York, but my team is in Europe, Eastern Europe, Japan, Australia and all throughout America and Canada, it’s really interesting. And to note, we also don’t have company e-mail. We don’t do internal e-mail. We communicate all by a series of internal blogs that are all linked together and so it’s a super, kind of new-age company and the work that we’re doing reaches a ton of people. We reach about half a billion people every month.
We have some great investors, which you can see here, including The New York Times. Who’s one of our big users and partners.
So our core philosophy of WordPress is simple and elegant, but also really powerful and flexible. Which is kind of the driving measure with which we measure ourselves with our software. We want anyone from a local blogger anywhere in the world to CFPB.gov or Nasa or BOJ or the State Department or the White House or anyone to be able to come on and build something that scales to their needs.
We have a lot of flexibility, you know, plugins and themes and APIs, and all these things allow you to you take the base software and make it as robust as you need to.
And in this role of diminishing budgets, diminishing resources, that is where we’ve seen a lot of the adoption of WordPress come in. It’s fast and easy, but very powerful which we’ll go over in a minute. You’re very safe, very secure, and super scalable.
One of the key points also is that it’s open. It’s open-source, this is something that’s kind of the driving force behind not only our software that we built, but the company itself. We’re an open-source company and that’s how we’re able to work in this distributed way across the world and make it work.
We are strong believers in rapid iteration, we put out three major releases every year. Upgrading WordPress is super easy, and for those of you again who are running WordPress right now or are thinking about running WordPress in the near future, I really recommend that you take a look at the upgrades and updates.
I talk to people every day in the government space that are running old software and that introduces a lot of issues. So if you have questions about that, or need recommendations or best practices, definitely reach out to me, iIll give you my e-mail and I can help you with that.
We’re the most powerful CMS on the web. We power 17.9% of the entire internet is powered by WordPress. 60+ million sites, 100,000 new sites are joining our ranks every day. We just had a major influx, there are stories you can check out about some defection when Tumblr was bought by Yahoo. And now we’re getting a lot of that traffic over to WordPress.com, which is really exciting.
We have 25,000 plgugins, 15,000 themes, and more every day. We have an amazing core group that works on the wordpress.org team that helps to get and manage all the code base for the plug ins and the themes that come in to make sure there’s no vulnerabilities, that there’s no hacking, prospecting, to make a website vulnerable. So, it’s a huge community, but we’ve done a really great job of building it. There’s a ton of resources out there.
So, let me talk quickly about WordPress as an enterprise CMS. My biggest challenge coming into this job was, you know, WordPress powers the world, by far the largest CMS around, but when you look at the .gov space, the federal government and in some cases state, definitely not local, federal and state, there’s this perception that, yeah, we’re going to run our blogs on WordPress, but it’s not, it doesn’t scale to an enterprise CMS and obviously a lot of that came from the decisions that the White House made in an earlier administration, to use Drupal, and a huge eco-system has been built up around Drupal in DC.
But let me just go through WordPress as an enterprise CMS, these are the majority of our VIP clients. These are the people that we’re building this and developing for every single day. On a CMS, you can customize your data and decide what everything looks like. We have multi-author responsibility where you can set rolls and permissions.
So, in some cases there are hundreds, or in some news rooms, thousands of people that are practicing the WordPress dashboard and that are leveraging, something that has evolved. There’s also multisite, which is the ability run multiple sites on on a single codebase within one organization. So we see this all the time in universities, at state government level, we’re working with GFA, as they’re scouting out a new project that’s super cool that involves WordPress multisite, but this could be an amazing application for your agency, you know, to kind of consolidate.
That’s one of the big things that I hear is that people are working in silos, not just across agencies, but across teams within agencies. They have different CMSs, they have no CMSs, they have a topline Drupal CMS, or a WordPress CMS but then everything else is on an old proprietary platform or no platform at all.
That’s one of the big things that I hear is that people are working in silos, not just across agencies, but across teams within agencies. They have different CMSs, they have no CMSs, they have a topline Drupal CMS, or a WordPress CMS but then everything else is on an old proprietary platform or no platform at all and WordPress multisite is definitely something that you guys should check out and that our team supports. If we saw more adoption of it, which we will over the next couple years of government, it would be an amazing thing for technology and innovation and also for cost savings obviously – it’s free.
All kinds of integrations that help power the enterprise CMS, APIs, plug-ins, all kinds of social extensibility, social plugins, plublicize, to Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn and Tumblr, and to push content in and out.
And then also, we have a VIP feature partner program, which we’ve basically gone out and curated the best technology companies and brought them into our fold. So all of our clients, and the people that are using WordPress.com VIP et increasingly into other products on WordPress.com, they get access to all these great tools.
And we also we have this great team of developers who’ve built this really great set of plug-ins that help with edit flow or for high octane news room, which could be amazing application for a government agency where there are different departments, different teams, different publishing, where instead of working inside Google Docs and on email, this is a way, I’ll give you an example with Edit Flow, a way to work directly within the Dashboard within the CMS to edit content and then push it to the, and then publish it to production.
WordPress is super scalable. Sometimes I’ll have calls with IT folks in government and they’ll say “well, I’m worried that it’s no scalable past a certain point. I read this here, or I saw this here.” A lot of it, if you Google and you start to get nervous or paranoid about these issues, a lot of those articles are from like 2004, 2005, 2006. We’ve come a long way.
WordPress.com, like I said, is the best example, but we have about 4 billion page views every month, we’re publishing 500,000 posts, 400,000 comments, and that’s all on one single installation of WordPress. So when I talk to government agencies that are scoping WordPress, I will bring our systems team on the phone with in-house IT folks and we’ll have a really great conversation about how to optimize that set up so that you can almost guarantee, 100% uptime, SLA, and all these things that I know the CIOs all are looking for when they’re scoping out new platforms.
From a security standpoint, that’s another thing that I hear about, I’m sure that that’s one of the biggest things, that, as web folks that you’re hearing as well “well WordPress isn’t secure”, and I hear this all the time even in conversations between WordPress and Drupal, people say “well, open source php, dynamic websites, these are not safe and secure things the government to be running and that’s totally, totally not true.
Oftentimes, the stories that you’ll see, where there’s been a hack or a vulnerability, or an issue, that comes from either the host, or from running an outdated version of WordPress, or some kind of call stripping error that a developer has introduced, but that’s why our team does expensive code reviews.
We review every line of code to make sure that all of our clients and all the people that are running WordPress at an enterprise level are really kind of inoculated from those types of issues. We’ve been vetted by all kinds of agencies and all the big players in IT security and we’ve gotten great feedback. So WordPress is a scalable, secure, platform, that can take you all the way up to where you need to go.
We’re mobile-friendly, mobile ready. The most exciting thing to me in the world is thinking about where the future is going, especially in the context of government, when it comes to mobile. The fact that, you know, we’re now putting all of this information and data, and giving it to people to develop apps and all kinds of integrations with healthcare and what Dan is doing at the CFPD, with consumer data. It’s so exciting and I think we’re super early on, but WordPress is completely mobile friendly.
You can make pretty much any theme responsive. We have great APIs, and we have themes that are mobile optimized. So you don’t have to have a separate track of mobile development and web development. It’s pretty much all one development package at this point.
Really quickly, a little bit more about VIP services just because I want to make sure that people know, if you are going to use WordPress or if you are using WordPress, there is a company, Automattic, that is behind the service and that could help support and scale and be a resource to you or to an agency partner or to a consultant.
We do this all the time where we step in and basically get a developer seat for self-hosted support and you can have unlimited access to our team of developers, who are really world-class, top WordPress and php developers and we will help you with best practices, code reviews, advice on plug ins, and all those kinds of things.
And then also, if you get to a point where you decide you want to host outside of your environment, WordPress.com can be a great option for you. And like I said, we do host a lot of government clients, and also Fortune 500 companies, and big media companies which I’ll show you in two seconds.
So really quickly, when you’re working with WordPress, your company, these are just some of the organizations using WordPress, The White House, DOJ, The House of Representatives, all throughout the Senate, DOD, State, CFDB, Library of Congress, EPA, and it’s growing every day. Everyday I have an exciting conversation with someone whose doing some kind of amazing innovation.
On the media front, we have our CNNs, CBS local, New York Times, Time, Tech Crunch, Venture Beat, all the big tech blogs, and it accounts for a lot of our traffic, but it also accounts for a lot of the energy and and the development resources that we put into our core products. If something is good for The New York Times, it’s going to be good for core software which is going to be good for you guys. It’s a really awesome eco-system and one that builds and builds and builds.
Let me close off real quick with this. We are doing a WordPress in Government half day workshop on June 13th in DC. It’s going to be really fun, a bunch of our partners, I think GSA will present, agency partners and some interesting people, from Washington and around the Washington world. The Washington Post, which I don’t know if you guys know this, but The Washington Post actually serve a lot of their traffic through WordPress.
During the of 2012 campaign, I think at one point at the end, 85% of traffic was being served through a WordPress site, which was super exciting for us. And now they’re official partners of ours and we’re working with them to help scale all these amazing products that they’re building. So if you want to come to WordPress in Government event, then let me know. Shoot me a note on e-mail, or here’s my email address and my Twitter handle. I would love to have you there.
Let me close out by saying, again that I’ve worked with some amazing people and I just applaud everyone who’s inside of government right now and innovating. It’s the place to be, and when I work and have meetings in Silicon Valley and in New York, everyone is trying to tap into the market of, you know, engaging with citizens, and I think you guys are on the front line of that, so I would love to be a partner and I would love to figure out ways for us to drive WordPress inside your agencies.
So please get in touch and I really appreciate your time.
Moderator: Thanks Peter. Before I pass it to dan, I wanted to remind everyone that we will take questions at the end and to please type your questions in the chat box. And we’ll also include, Peter, your email address in our follow up e-mail to attendees.
So if you didn’t get a chance to write it down, and have questions for Peter, we’ll send it.
So, as I mentioned our next presenter will be Dan Munz and he’s the product director for ConsumerFinance.gov.
Dan: Thanks a lot and thanks every body for spending a little bit of time this morning listening to Peter and I talk about WordPress and our experience with it.
I’m going to start off just with a little bit of background. First real quick about who I am and why on Earth you should listen to me about any of this stuff. As it was said, I’m the product director for consumerfinance.gov, at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is DC’s newest federal start-up agency. I’m responsible for leading product development of the Bureau’s site consumerfinance.gov and some of our other digital products. And it’s important for me to say that I work with an amazing team of designers, developers, data analysts, project managers and new media strategists, who make all of this stuff I’m about to talk about go.
I’m a proud alumni of BGSA Center of Excellence in Digital Government. Before that, I spent about 5 years in political campaigns, non-profits and federal government, understanding how the modern web and the civic sector fit together and understanding the emerging technologies like WordPress make that happen and make it happen quickly.
Today, I’m going to give you a little bit of an overview of the Bureau and of consumerfinance.gov, talk a little bit about how we use WordPress and how it fits into our overall kind of web architecture. Give you a few thoughts about how to use it successfully and what to be careful of kind of from point of view and talk about a few sort of big, big hairy questions that keep us up at night.
So really quickly, a little bit of background on the bureau. If you want to trace our founding to kind of one sentiment or one thought, it’s probably this article published by then law professor Elizabeth Warren in the summer of 2007 called “Unsafe at Any Rate” in which she observed that it is impossible to buy a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of bursting into flames and burning down your house. But it is possible to refinance an existing home with a mortgage that has the same one-in-five chance of turning out to be much more destructive than you thought or that you were able to realize at the time.
And her insight then, was there ought to be a federal agency regulator responsible for making consumer markets and consumer products work for consumers and for responsible lenders and prevent exploding mortgages from making their way into the economy. That, as I said, was in summer 2007. A bunch of stuff happened to the American economy after that and in July 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. By July 2011, we were about 100 or 200ish people. Here’s a picture of some of them. By July 2012, we were close to our current capacity, which is 1000-1100.
So we’ve had a pretty steep growth curve, and this is where we work. It’s at 1700 G. Street NW, if anyone’s in DC, come say hi, you can see our big friendly logo on the wall. That’s a little bit about the CFPB.
So now let me shift to talk about our site, consumerfinance.gov. It was launched in February 2011, five months ahead of schedule. It’s worth noting that the bureau itself didn’t actually open for business in a meaningful way until July 20011 and so for about 5-6 months, our website was not so much the website of a federal agency as the blog of a bunch of people who were building a federal agency. And we’ve had to evolve of the time, as a bureau matures and offer things it didn’t use to to offer, like complaint intake and consumer engagement regulations enforcement.
Consumerfinance.gov is the Bureau’s only digital property, we own digital property, and we’re actually pretty proud of that. When people ask how many websites we have, the answer is one, I’m personally pretty dedicated to making sure it is only ever one. Consumers are our core audience, like I said, we do regulation, we do enforcement, we do a lot of industry and other partner-facing work, but as far as our web brand is concerned, consumers are our core audience.
And to give you a sense of size, we do about 900,000 unique page views per month. We’re no WordPress.com, but we do okay. This is what our stack looks like. Going from the bottom up, we use Google Analytics to do our web analytics, we’re hosted on Amazon web services, we use Akamal as our content distribution network. At the top of the stack, there is WordPress, we also use Django, which is a pyhton-based web application framework to build a lot of stuff, but I’ll talk more about that in a second.
There are, to be sure, a lot of other technologies floating around in there that connect you to our our site. Apache obviously is in there, but as far as the technologies that surface to a user, this is the main stack.
So you notice at the top we have WordPress and Django there and this is a microcosm of the big CMS vs Framework questions. One thing I will say by the way is that I think Peter was maybe a little modest in talking about the question about can WordPress be a full-fledged CMS. Our experience is that absolutely yes it can.
It’s just uncontroversially true. There are things you have to do to make that happen successfully and there are things you can do to make it happen unsuccessfully, which I’ll talk about in a little bit.
Our experience so far has borne out the idea that WordPress manages content and is a good system for doing that. We use WordPress and Django together. We found that WordPress is a good fit for things that are standardized content types. So when you think about our blog, or our newsroom, or regulations, or testimonies, or speeches, or reports, any of the many products we have that are sort of standardized content that we put out on a regular basis that we can manage in a sort of a bulk presentation way.
It has actually good content management user interface, UX designers sometimes referred to as the interface UX forgot and I agree they’re not always awesome and WordPress, or at least the self-hosted version which we use has a pretty solid back end. It also lets us cleanly distribute editorial workflow. There are plugins for that, but even WordPress out of the box has an ok version of this. And web application frameworks like Django, although there are CMSs for Django, tend to not do an awesome job at it.
So what we’re using Django for is really whenever we’re doing custom app development. Anything that’s highly interactive or highly database driven, or has a really complex taxonomy. Anything that depends a lot on search or complex navigation, or Ajax and things like that.
And we use it mostly for things that have relatively infrequent content updates, though there are certainly exceptions to that. I think the short way to think about this is we use wordpress when we want more people doing fewer things. We want more people around the Bureau to be able to create a blog post or create a press release, or repeatable simple things like that.
We use Django when we want fewer people to be able to do more things. So Django is the language that our designers and developers will use to build an application, and they can build a full application from bottom to scratch. It can be data viz oriented, have a lot of complex interaction. So it has a lot more flexibility and strength but you do have to be a developer to get in there and build with it.
To tackle kind of the main question that frames our time today, why choose WordPress, these are some of the reasons that I think at least we chose and why we continue to choose it. One is a basic level. You have a c (content) that needs m’ing (management). I remember a survey a while back when the federal, “hey everybody get rid of so many websites” order came about. Someone called all .gov sites and tried to count what CMSs they were all using, and I think 1,200 came back as none, which is not great.
So you know, WordPress is one of a family of software called CMS, and if you just have a bunch of content on a site that right now is just static HTML, you should get yourself a content management system period. It lets you get started really quickly and cheaply. Even the hosted version, for me to have hosting, it’s relatively simple to set up and install and get started. It’s really well documented in their documentation and online. So googling is really your help function.
Like i said, it has a pretty usable admin experience. It has a really nice syndication features. It makes it trivial to create an RSS feed content, there are plugins that let you really easily create a JSON API for the content. So WordPress has the potential to lend itself really nicely to being just one member of your web ecosystem.
Data in, data out are relatively clean. And one thing that is really important that I can’t stress enough.It was a robust well-managed community both on the kind of “I need tech support” side but also on the code side. There’s a lot of great development happening, there are a lot of plugins for core functionalities that are relatively mature and really well maintained. So it’s relatively new, but it’s certainly past the point of being experimental technology, it’s absolutely usable.
The flip side of these things is kind of thing is that if you do choose WordPress, one thing that’s important to say is that WordPress is not natively a web application framework.And this is a statement to me that seemed obvious and I Googled it and it turns out to be a relatively controversial statement. It’s clear to me that WordPress, whatever its ambitions is not yet a full-fledged framework application. It is a CMS, and you know, I’m absolutely sure that it’s possible to build really complex web applications but it’s not what it does best. There are other frameworks that do it much better, much easier out of the box.
If you’re going to choose WordPress, you should really understand that the kind of four walls of what you’d consider to be content management, are really what you’re getting, at least that’s been our experience.
You still need designers and developers. It’s really important. It’s easy to think, I’m going to get WordPress and I’ll have a great website, but then you find out that, oh, well, you actually need designers to make it brand compliant, to do layout really well, you need UX professionals, to make sure your information architecture is right, so you understand what your content types are. You need developers to get the thing running, inspect plugins, make sure they work well, things like that.
So it doesn’t really free you from kind of needing a great design and dev team on staff. Some core cabilities are still maturing, the flipside of the robust plugin community,in some things I think of as core capabilities are kind of left to plugins, which, robust as they are, are still in development.
One great example of this is called Ramp, which is a plugin written for a use case that we certainly have which is moving from content from sort of a staging server to a production server, selectively in a way that doesn’t require to you delete your production database and start over. And you know, it’s a great plugin, it’s really incredible for us that it was written. But it doesn’t do some simple things like make removing content from production really easy. Or give you a unique ID that sort of syncs between staging and production.
So, that kind of stuff, you can run into it. And it’s only really when you realize that you need that functionality that you go “oh man, we need that” and then you kind of hope that the people who maintain that include that feature. To an extent, that’s true with all open source software. But we found that, in a few cases to be true of even things you’d think of as kind of core functionality.
I think this is another frame on Peter’s “with great power comes great responsibility” quote. It’s easy to do things right with WordPress, but it can be even easier to do things wrong. It makes it really trivial to upgrade the site, to add new plugins, so change your theme files and if you’re like me, php still looks like Matrix code to you.
It does make it potentially even easier to do things wrong. Before proceeding, some things have been really helpful for us, one is understanding your information architecture, and I mean seriously understanding it. And this is something you should do with any CMS, and any website.
But it’s especially true in a scenario where you have, at least for us, a hosted version of WordPress and you have to be pretty thoughtful about what kinds of content you’ll have, how they’ll relate to each other, what kind of taxonomies you’ll be able to use site-wide to be able to manage that content.
How you want content to show up in different places and it’s really important to kind of think out for your enterprise a step or two or three beyond where you are now. For us, we were in a major growth situation, where if you look at the Bureau, kind of 2 or 3 years into existence, the range that we offer the public are just totally different, and evolved every time, ’cause we’re growing so rapidly.
And so one challenge for us has been keeping our view of our digital architecture up-to-date with the architecture of the Bureau’s public offerings. So that’s really important.
A flip side of that, or a companion to that is understanding the enterprise. Understanding how you’re going to want content to be managed, who you want to have permissions to do that, what permissions you want them to have and reverse-engineered to the question of how you can configure that in a tech capability way.
One other thing I’d say is to think about search. This one area where I think WordPress, at least when we started using it, is not super strong and it’s, you know, for obvious reasons not up to the task of search across, example, WordPress and all of the stuff we keep in our Django-based apps.
So you’ll want to think about what your search solution is, we use USA search, which is a great one. There are things like Solr, which is a search library for Django, which is really great or for python.
The other tip I give is understand how your security shop thinks about open-source software. What Peter said earlier is absolutely right. Anyone who said that open-source software is inherently less secure or more secure than proprietary software is to my mind just flat wrong.
At the same time, using WordPress, does mean that, one way or another, if you,re doing it right, you’re going to have to take code that someone else wrote and run it our your servers. And that’s going to require you to at least understand and maybe have a few heart to heart conversations with your security shop to understand what’s the process for reviewing a plugin that we want to use, and the process for reviewing an upgrade.
It may turn out to be painless, or painful. If you dive into this without understanding how they’re thinking about that challenge, it’s almost certain to be painful.
So the next horizon issues for us, from a web strategy standpoint broadly, one is structuring content and taxonomies more consistently. This is kind of an issue I flagged earlier. Understanding how all the content we have relates to one another, and how kind of the information architecture that’s emerging can be reflected efficiently in the way we divide content on the back end. Something we’re always striving to do better but, it’s something that I think keeps us up at night.
Being smart about pushing reusable code blocks into modules or plugins. I think we’re learning all the time, about what kind of single purpose things we build, turn out to be enduringly useful and how we can push those into blocks of code or blocks of functionality that we an reuse.
And to me the biggest one is abstracting this question of templating to be platform agnostic. More and more I think you see kind of really mature web organizations thinking about the engine that templates and serves sites to the public, being potentially really different from the engine used to manage and store content, kind of the database.
I think our kind of hypothesis, is that if we’re able to separate those functionalities and create a layer that pulls content from WordPress or from Django, or somewhere else and can serve it with the same consistent template, we’ll be in a really good position.
This is a particularly important issue for government, not only because you’re sometimes integrating multiple content management database structures, but also because occasionally, if you’re like us, you’re called on to integrate kind of a third party piece of software that has a public facing component into the site. And regardless of what kind of CMS you mostly use, it can be a real challenge to do that in a way that’s kind of brand consistent and well-integrated.
So we’re really actively thinking about investing in the capability to take the question of templating and sucking content out of somewhere and serving it onto the web in a really uniform way and really separating that from the core database stuff, where content is kept.
So that’s pretty much all I have to say, I hope that’s given you kind of overview of how we think about and use WordPress and how we think about managing web content and having better web properties generally. Like I said I really appreciate everyone on the call taking the time and I’m eager to take some questions.
Moderator: Okay, thanks Dan. We do have a couple of questions.
Both you and Peter mentioned security, would it be preferable to install WordPress on an intranet server, as opposed to using it as a third-party method?
Now I don’t know if Peter you want to address that or Dan or both of you?
Peter: It’s hard to say, depending on the use case is. The person with the question should definitely reach out to me and I get some more solid recommendations.
Dan: I mean the only thing I’d say is I’d go back to my point earlier that there’s not really and this is partly because I think Federal security shops are, while not new, not necessarily having standard out of the box procedures for reviewing open-source software, it’s hard to say there’s a preferable way to do it.The really preferable way to do it is have a conversation with your security team before you pick a direction to proceed in.
Moderator: Okay. You mentioned, Dan, that you obviously need developer and technical support to use WordPress. Can you elaborate relative to other CMSs, is it more, less, the same?
Dan: My guess is a little bit less than Drupal, although, I have to say I don’t have a ton of experience with Drupal, my understanding is that you know, partly because it was kind of born as a CMS, there’s a little bit more configuration complexity there to it. But if you think about the spectrum of things, if you think about something like WordPress.com, or any kind of hosted service, that’s where you really need the least developer support.
You still need design unless you’re building a website with no front-end, maybe you want your visitors to consume pure JSON, but if that’s not the case, you’ll need design. But in terms of dev and tech resources, anything hosted externally is the easiest solution. Anything hosted internally, if you want to do it professionally, there’s just going to be some level of having folks who can think about the architecture of the site, having it think about scalability, caching and serving and things like that. You’d be surprised at like the really dumb things that can happen if you don’t have folks like that around. Then, as I said, the top of the spectrum is frameworks ike — like pure web applications like Django and ruby on rails and things like that that are really purely application development frameworks and really, you know, anyone can get started but that’s kind of where a developer or designer just has to play really, a really dominant
Peter: And also, just to weigh in on that a little. One of the things I’ve been working on is really helping to identify resources, especially in and around the DC area. So talking with a lot of companies that do web development and bringing them up to speed on WordPress as an enterprise product, so, if, and there are some really great resources out there, so if you know you want to do something that is a little more complicated than the out of the box piece, let me know and I’m happy to connect you.
Also, as I said, part of what we do is supporting folks that are self-hosting, to be that developer resource. If you have someone that knows WordPress or php but doesn’t feel like they can extend it to the point where you need to get it, we can be kind of that bridge to help you in that way. I think to answer the fundamental question, all these things, when you’re talking about doing something that’s bigger than out of the box requires some level of expertise and that includes developers and designers. But for the most part, when I talk to people bout, deciding between WordPress and Drupal, and let’s just say Junla, it’s never a question of, this one needs nothing and this one needs something. It’s always a question of, where are the resources, and also what’s the long-term strategy. Like for example with Drupal, they do a once a year or once every ten month release period, or updates, and that oftentimes will lead to you needing to tear down the house and rebuild it more often, whereas WordPress is more iterative. And you can update as you go and theres a lot more backwards compatibility. And that’s the kind of thing we see a lot in conversations.
Moderator: Great, thanks. Could one of you actually show specifically what the back end looks like?I don’t know Peter or Dan, who would be the best person. Peter, I can pass control back to you just so we can get a better understanding of how it works and how we can better use it.
Peter: Whoever had that question, there’s all kinds of resources, screenshots, screenshares online, so if this doesn’t answer all your questions, that will.
Moderator: Maybe Dan you could answer this question. With all the API work being done in Drupal, will it scale or work with WordPress?
Dan: I mean it’s a little bit tough to tell. It depends on the individual project, but in general, I think it’s really important to understand that one of the kind of main goals of API work generally is to make data transport really agnostic to these kind of platform questions. Depending on how, I mean it sounds like the question might be about content migration between Drupal and WordPress and operating them together. If the person who asked that question wants to drop a little clarifying note, that’d be great.
Part of the reason I think it’s good for everyone, both Drupal and WordPress, they focused pretty hard on making it easy to create APIs and build webpages on top of webpage stores, is that it doesn’t lock you in to any of those. Your data’s really portable, it’s reusable in web applications. So if I wanted to build a web application that pulled in my content from Drupal and my content from WordPress, inefficiencies aside, I could probably do that.
So, when you think APIs, you should think inter-operability, more or less no matter what. Like I said, I’m sure their fields look different, they’re stored differently, but in the abstract, that’s the answer.
Moderator: Great, thanks. So Peter, are you-all set?
Peter: I hope you guys can see it. Here’s the basic dashboard, if you see people walking around the world with WordPress, wp admin shirts on, all the nerds like me, this is kind of our core, the core tenant ofWordPress that has remained constant throughout the 10 years that we’ve had it.
Dan: Peter, can I just say that i love that you have two categories of blog posts, music and other.
Peter: Oh yeah, I’ve really extended this one greatly. Yes, so this just my own personal blog, so it doesn’t have any complexity to it, and I’ve seen The Washington Post’s dashboard and The New York Times’ Dashboard and it’s absolutely insane.
They build all these custom things for editing and edit flow, and permissions and all these types of things.
But very basic. Basically, here’s our, this is how you add a new post and a post is content-type, that you can even assign as, assign to different parts of your web site.
It can be media, it can be text, it can be anything. We have obviously taxonomy around tagging and so you can have robust search. This is the uploaders where you can add images and links and then have you, in your library, you have all of your uploaded content, and it can kind of practice a storage area for you and then you can click in and embed content, so that’s great for photos if you’re one to put beautiful HD photos, those kinds of things look great.
On the user front, this is something that may interest you guys. Say you have 30 people in your office who are assuming different roles and you want them to have different permissions, you can invite new users and you can change roles to be an administrator, editor, author, contributor, will then trigger access to different parts of the site, different controls of the site, which is a great feature, in an organization where there’s a lot of folks.
What I really recommend you do, because it’s free and it takes 10 seconds and it’s easy, is go to WordPress.com, sign up for free account, and just start to poke around, build your own little site and from there you can really start to play around. And as I said, it’s really that easy, to at least get started.
The stuff that Dan’s talking about, it’s all super interesting, the layers of framework that he’s put on top of it. Or to just get a basic site up and running that has pretty much all the full functionality that you would need to publish, it only takes a couple of minutes and then from there, the sky is really the limit. We also have great stats which I love checking. I’ll show you what a loser I am right now, but you can really see kind of all your stats here in one place. Not as good as google analytics, but it’s getting these. It’s pretty fun to watch.
One of the things that I definitely recommend you do too, if you’re running your own WordPress site is go to jetpack.me and install that plugin. It’s a way to bring a lot of the development of WordPress.com onto your self hosted site and in doing that, you get the chat functionality and other cool things to see and to try.
Moderator: Peter, can you limit specific roles to specific pages?
Peter: You can. There’s some stuff that you can do, definitely, and that’s something that we get a lot of questions about. So there’s definitely, there’s great documentation if you go to Google and type in WordPress Goals, there’s a link that I send around to people a lot that clarifies all the different pieces of the roles on WordPress.
Moderator: Is there any type of site that you wouldn’t recommend using WordPress, for example a transactional site or a data heavy site?
Peter: I don’t think I can recommend that you don’t. What we’re seeing how WordPress works at every level. Some of the stuff that Dan was talking about with heavy data table asks those kind of things,there might be integration that would make sense to explore.
But, we’ve done surveys of our user base and there’s a huge number of people that are running e-commerce and running full CMS and kind of doing full-fixture blogging sites and increasingly now using WordPress as a framework. I don’t think this is going to happen in government tomorrow, but it could be something down the road. And certainly, like the Washington Post is using it, using either the publishing piece of WordPress in the backend and a front-end solution, or vice versa and they’re using the front end of the solution and importing through a different type of back end. It just takes a lot of creativity and some developer lifting.
Dan: Just to add to that. I would frame the question just a little bit differently and say that for almost any type of site you want to build, the great thing about the web is that someone’s already built something like it already, and so there’s probably a tool that’s really great at it.
And so it’s hard for me, I mean at the end of the day it’s all code. It’s hard for me to think of a kind of site that you just absolutely couldn’t build with WordPress, especially it you extend it with the right technologies.
You should really kind of understand the kind of offering you want to build whether you’re building something very editorial, or something that’s focused on serving data and APIs in like a really high-volume scalable way. You know, there are technologies that are greater and better meant for it and that’s where I’d start.
It’s also worth understanding that the technology is really just one element. It’s really important to understand how the technology plus what kind of resources you have. If you have, you know, WordPress plus a bunch of amazing php developers, that might be a great choice to build a really kind of data-heavy, interaction-rich site. If you have WordPress, but you know, no developer help and you want to build something complex like that then it’s not a good choice.
A lot of platform choice hinges in parallel with the question of what kind of team you have to work on it.
Moderator: Okay, thank you, that’s actually all the questions we have and we’re just about at noon, so thank you both to Peter and Dan for taking the time, and thanks to everyone for listening. As a reminder, we’ll be sending a survey evaluation along with several resources and Peter’s contact information.
So thanks again everyone and have a great afternoon.
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