The Typical WordPress User

Over the last few years, I’ve provided a lot of support for WordPress users, so the low opinion many in our community have about the “typical WordPress user” is not shocking.  Having the privilege of attending WordCamp US and the WordPress community summit was a highlight of my year, and I had a great time but a few things about the experience were very disappointing.

The biggest disappointment was hearing so many people put down the intelligence of WordPress users.

There is a lot of disagreement on what a typical WordPress user is and what they can do. I witnessed and participated in some really serious disagreements about what a typical WordPress user can and can’t do. Whether they can use FTP, click 3 inputs in cPanel to update PHP, are a total moron, etc.

Too often this discussion becomes condescending towards the regular folks who make up the huge adoption numbers we see, and buy the products and services that make it possible for all of us to make a living.

This dismissive view of users is worse than the coffee was at WordCamp US. It’s fine to be a coffee snob, it’s not OK to look down at other for knowing less about WordPress and the related technologies than we do.

I’m OK with not budgeting for enough high-end coffee to keep 1800 of us awake. Remembering to bring my travel french press, which I did not, was my responsibility.

Coffee is a personal responsibility, but learning how to better know and empower our users — that is community responsibility. It’s worth the time, money and effort to do it right.

It’s an important discussion to have, but at the same time the argument has a logical flaw — the “typical WordPress user” is an undefinably large number of people. Even if we could define the total number of users, and calculate the mean technical ability set, the number of users within a reasonable range of that impossible to calculate value would be huge. The number who fall outside of it, but can’t be ignored, is also huge.

As much as I believe in the importance of good coffee, I believe that trying to define or design towards the typical user is the wrong approach.

Beyond Assumptions

I assume, based on the taste, that WordCamp Tampa Bay spent way more on coffee than most WordCamps do.

The life giving Kahwa Coffee at WordCamp Tampa was
The life giving Kahwa Coffee at WordCamp Tampa was excellent. 5 stars, strongly recommended.

It’s probably fair, though I haven’t done the research to prove it, that most “typical” WordPress users are unaware of the web browser console or how to use it to diagnose issues. As we move to more and more AJAX-driven processes, learning to use the console and network inspector to diagnose problems or at least give useful information in support requests is essential.

I am probably right that most users don’t know this skill. I’m only going based on my years of experience supporting WordPress users, not any data, when I make this assertion. My experience also shows that it is not a skill users can’t learn.

To argue that the typical WordPress user can’t learn this, or to upgrade PHP, or install a plugin is insulting.

WordPress is the single most empowering, and educational community, software, and experience of my life. I want that experience for everyone.

Not everyone will learn all of these skills. But trying to define the typical user, not the many user profiles, leads to an all or nothing approach. We end up with nothing useful.

It’s as wrong as drip coffee machines.

Moving Forward

Starting with better questions

Thinking that we can define a single user is insane. A better first question is how many user profiles should we be designing this software for? That question leads to a lot of other questions:

  1. How many profiles should be defined?
  2. What are those profiles?
  3. What relevant skills do typical users in those profiles know and not know?
  4. What relevant skills do users in each profile not know, but could be easily trained in?

Many people reading this hopefully have some thought on these questions. I’d love to hear them in the comments or on Twitter. But, I’d also like to hear how you would gather data to test these assumptions. Is it surveys, user testing, or something else?

I don’t know. It’s something I’m thinking a lot about. I’ll share more of my thoughts in the future, but right now, I think the first step is to rethink the problem. I lack the data to have an intelligent opinion. But helping to gather that data and put it to use is a very valuable thing that I want to work on and would encourage others to do.

Empathy and Empowerment Before Dismissiveness

We can’t help those we think are morons

Support Team Wapuu by Michelle Schulp
Support Team Wapuu by Michelle Schulp

The reality is a lot of people asking for help with WordPress do not know what they hell they are talking about. We could dismiss them as morons, or realize that the failing is our failing, not their failing.

We told them WordPress was easy. We told them our plugins, themes, services, etc. were intuitive to use. But clearly that wasn’t true for them. If that was true they wouldn’t be asking for help. They wouldn’t be frustrated. They wouldn’t be scared that they might not be able to complete the project they are working on. A project they might be getting paid for, or that their job may be riding on.

It’s easy to dismiss less experience users as noobs who are out of their element. It’s harder to empathize with when we ourselves didn’t know what the fuck we were doing with WordPress, or how bad we are at other things.

Some of us may feel good about tangible evidence of our superior technical knowledge.

In order to move WordPress forward, we must push past our assumptions, rely on data not anecdotal evidence, and stop ourselves from being dismissive. Once we do that, we can empower the many different types typical users.

Doing so will open us up to discovering the multitude of other solutions to the problems that scaling to 25% have brought us. Challenges that must be face before scaling past that.

It’s a wicked challenge and it sounds like a lot of fun to solve.

I Just Wandered Into This

There are a lot of reasons why my wife is awesome. Sharing my life with someone who is so driven and focused on her ambition inspires me. One of the many positive qualities she has is how well she takes a compliment.

It’s something I’m working on to learning to emulate. I’m getting a lot better at not replying to a denial or compliment with a self-deprecating joke, which used to be my default.

While I still have work to do, I think the way I worded the last paragraph, compared to how I express the thought it in my “mental draft” of this article — “it’s something I fucking suck at.” shows my progress.

WordCamp US and Community Summit BadgesAt WordCamp US I met a lot of people who I had helped through support, an article or one of my plugins. I had to work hard to take these compliments well.

When we deny compliments we are not only being rude to a person who is being incredibly kind to us, we are tearing ourselves down. Negating compliments is detrimental to self-confidence, self-respect and self-optimization.

It’s lying to yourself.

#realtalk I’m Awesome

See, I can do this!

I know I’m awesome and I don’t need other people to tell me that. But, it is great when they do:) While I have historically let the lack of self-confidence that compliment sabotaging grows out hold me back. It’s stopped me from asking for high enough pay, its stopped me from asking for help from others, it’s stopped me from finding the right financing for my business.

But, it hasn’t stopped me. Like the River Tam sticker on my computer says “No Power In The Verse Can Stop Me.”

Stickers on my laptopMy computer is also covered in stickers representing a small portion of what I helped build this year and a collection of Wapuus representing a small sample of the many WordCamps I’ve attended.

While I still have a few weeks left, I wanted to share some of the amazing things I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this year by highlighting some of the publicly available work I have done.

But first let me tell you the thing I’m most proud of: every single item on this list is a collaborative effort. For those who keep asking me how I do so much, the simple answer is: David Cramer. I get to work with many other talented people, but I’m very lucky that I get to call one of the best plugin developers out there, someone whose form builder plugin blew me away with its awesomeness, my partner.

CalderaWP LogoThe CalderaWP sticker is at the top and it’s a pretty one that I’m very proud of. Our logo was designed by Lindsay Jo Crenshaw. It’s a fun logo and we strive to make plugins that are fun to use for the site manager and end user alike.

Since launching in February, we released 17 updates to Caldera Forms, and increased active installs from 1000 to over 10,000. We also released literally more Caldera Forms add-ons then I know about. Seriously, I need to check David’s GitHub for new ones I haven’t found yet. Some of my favorites are:

Caldera Connected Forms – Combines multiple forms into one big multi-page form. This allows you to create complex sequences of forms, with conditional logic on which parts to show based on user submission. It also tracks partial submissions and puts the results into one email and one database email.

Dwolla for Caldera Forms – This add-on was part of a GPL-powered partnership with GiveWP. It was also the project where I learned how Caldera Forms processors work.

Easy Pods, Easy Queries & Clarity for FacetWP. These three related plugins are really fun tools for creating custom search interfaces, as well as making working with complex WordPress as a  CMS projects easier. Expect to see more iteration and possibly integration of these tools in the future.

URL Builder — I think this was one of my better ideas, and was definitely one of the hardest challenges I through at David. It’s a great plugin I really believe in that is missing a few key features and should be marketed very differently. This is one I will probably be looking for a new partner or home for soon.

Ingot — The automated A/B testing system for WordPress. This is the plugin that is my current obsession right now. We’re currently in beta and hope to be launched within the next month or so. It’s the first of what I hope is many projects that are executed by CalderaWP and a separate group of partners. In this case, Christie Chrinos and Andy Larreategui are handling the business and marketing while I focus on development with help from Roy Sivan.

I met Christie and Andy at a startup weekend in Tallahassee. Since then I’ve had a great time working with these talented people, and been able to introduce them to the wonderful world of WordPress. It was very cool to see the community welcome these two newcomers at WordCamps Orlando, New York and US. It was also great to see Christie start contributing to the Spanish translation of WordPress during WordCamp US contributor day.

Someone else will have to count all of the articles I’ve written for Torque this year. The fact that I get paid to help myself learn while helping others is so incredibly special to me. I am super grateful to Marie Dodson for being a great editor for and everyone at WPEngine who makes what I do for Torque possible.

Torque’s Ultimate Guide to the WordPress REST APISpeaking of Torque and WPEngine I totally wrote a book! The book, on the WordPress REST API was a really special milestone for me. It’s been downloaded way more than a thousand times and I’ve gotten such great feedback on it. Major highlight of the year, I hope everyone who reads it makes something cool with the REST API and shares what they learned by doing so.

Speaking of the REST API, it’s so much fun to work with. I’m using it in Ingot to power our admin — a single page web app written in AngularJS — and in the front end to track the testing. I’ve also released REST API add-ons for SearchWP and WordPress SEO by Yoast.

In addition I worked on REST API integrations for GravityView and several clients including CGCookie.com.

I also made 16 commits to the REST API itself and contributed quite a bit to the docs. The REST API earned me one of my three “props” in WordPress 4.4.

Some of my favorite plugins I worked on for clients earlier in the year used custom APIs. These were fun to build, but REST API all the things moving forward.

The first of those plugins is Editus (formerly Lasso) by Aesop Interactive. I wrote a custom front-end AJAX API, and implemented. I also refactored their PHP to be more efficient and added new features. I can’t explain how much I love the process of architecting or re-factoring a WordPress plugin — #thatkindofnerd

I wrote a very similar API to handle live commenting in Epoch by Postmatic. This plugin was Jason from Postmatic’s vision, which I lead the development of and executed along with David, Jason and his developer Dylan Kuhn. Everytime I comment on WPTavern, it makes me smile to watch Epoch work.

Speaking of Postmatic, David and I also added three new features to Postmatic, MailChimp import, Subscribe2 comments reloaded import and the subscription optins. Also I got to know Jason, learn from watching him build Postmatic and from all of his advice he gives us on Caldera Forms.

On the topic of awesome clients that are more than just clients, Matt Cromwell and Devin Walker from WordImpress are just great people. They are encouraging, full of great business advice, give great feedback on our plugins, as well as being vocal supporters and users of Caldera Forms. We also worked on two plugins for them this year.

While I moved away from Pods this year, I still contributed to the project. We launched Friends of Pods, a program to help support Pods financially and I just wrapped up a really cool REST API integration for Pods 2.6.

Even though Pods is no longer my main thing, I always want to be a part of it. Pods was my first WordPress team and I would not be where I am today without support, encouragement, mentorship and friendship I have received from Scott Kingsley Clark, Phil Lewis and Jim True. The Pods sticker on my computer is one of the fanciest stickers on my computer and one of the ones closest to my heart.

WordCamps and Community

I’ve been everywhere…

I have an article coming up on Torque about my thought on attending 8 WordCamps in a year. I just want to say how much I love these events and how special it is to be able to speak at so many of them.

WordCamps are an affirmation and celebration of this community. It’s an unimaginably supportive community. This was my first year selling WordPress products. Getting advice and encouragement from Ben Fox, Nick Haskins, Matt Cromwell, Jason Lemieux , Daniel Espinoza, Vova Feldman, Asif Rahman, Naomi Bush, James Laws, Corey Miller has been invaluable. Reviving these gifts of knowledge is humbling and its. a challenge to me to pay it forward as much as I can go help this community grow together.

Enough About Me

Y’all are awesome.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbI’ve been talking about myself way more in this article than I’m used to. Not going to lie, it makes me uncomfortable. But, I know none of it would be possible without everyone who reads my articles, uses my plugins, gives me great advice and encouragement.

This year was also my first time attending the WordPress community summit, which was a special experience. It’s a true honor to be invited to the event. Community Summit is a private, confidential event so I can’t share too much about it. But, to be with 150 leaders of my industry passionately debating how to best move it forward is an unparalleled privileged.

Honestly, this whole thing that I get to do is a privilege. I’m so excited to build on the groundwork that we — David, Christie, Andy, Roy and everyone else I work with and I have built. It’s what’s going to make it possible for all of us, everyone I’ve mentioned here and more grow together in 2016.

It sounds like so much fun.