WooCommerce, Blocks, Open Source and Today’s World with Matt Mullenweg

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
WooCommerce, Blocks, Open Source and Today's World with Matt Mullenweg

Thanks to our sponsors

WP Activity Log

When you invite the co-founder of WordPress on your podcast, you never know exactly where the conversation will take you. Starting with the basics of WordPress and WooCommerce, the twists and turn took us through open source, blocks, eCommerce and the world as it is today. We not only hear about the tools, but some personal reflections from Matt.

A Chat with WordPress Co-Founder Matt Mullenweg from Automattic

In episode 58, Jonathan Wold and I chat with Matt about:

  • How Matt does the Woo
  • When WordPress and eCommerce hit that sweet spot
  • The growth of WordPress, now the growth of Woo
  • How open source competes with platforms
  • What can go wrong in an open-source project
  • Decision by committee
  • What Matt thinks if the biggest advantage to using WordPress and WooCommerce
  • What WooCommerce opens up for the user
  • WooCommerce blocks and more blocks
  • Where we are with Gutenberg
  • Moving online in today’s world
  • What Matt has on his mind in this interesting time

A conversation with Matt is always both inspiring and educational. And he didn’t fail us here.

Matt told us what he thought was the time when eCommerce and WordPress intersected—and when he really felt WordPress was prime for eCommerce.

We chatted about WordPress growth but also what inspired the growth of WooCommerce. That led into how WooCommerce as an open-source software can compete with other platforms, for example, Shopify.

Matt touched on what can go wrong with an open-source project we talked about our experiences with design by committee.

I asked him how we would answer the question for a beginner attending a WordCamp if they asked him what is the biggest advantage to using WordPress and WooCommerce to sell online. He took it a bit further, and for those of you who know Matt, I’m sure his answer will not surprise you.

We moved into what WooCommerce is bringing to new users and that naturally brought up blocks and WooCommerce blocks and blocks in general took over the conversation. Jonathan and myself, committed users of the new editor, shared our two cents.

We rounded it off with talk about the world as it is today and the challenges. Matt opened up with his personal perspective. To really understand this, you will juts have to take a listen yourself.

Where to Find Matt on the Web

The Conversation

Yes, this the transcript. But not in the traditional sense, transcribed word for word. We do not speak as we write. Often the flow of transcribed content is hard to follow. So I have taken it a few steps further by seriously editing, at times, the conversation and even using my editorial freedom to clarify some points. So enjoy.

Bob: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Do the Woo. We are at episode 58. How time flies. Anyway, I'm joined by my great co-host and today— not the day when we published this, but recording day— is Jonathan's birthday, so I might have to sing happy birthday.

Matt: (singing Happy Birthday)

Bob: Well, that's good because now I don't have to sing it. Our guest was able to pop in and sing it and that definitely will keep people around, versus me singing it. So, how is your birthday going, Jonathan?

Jonathan: So far, good. I've planned a lighter day. The kids are gone, so I'm going to probably do some writing this afternoon. I always look forward to some quiet writing time.

Bob: Excellent. All righty. Well, I'm anxious to get into this show. I know that Jonathan is anxious to get back to doing the birthday thing, so I want to dive in. First, I want to thank our sponsors. WooCommerce.com. I would suggest that if you want to get involved in conversation and community, check out their Slack channel and their Facebook group, the official WooCommerce Facebook group. There's a lot going on in there. You can get your questions answered. And you can also talk to Jonathan, which is always a bonus.

Jonathan: LOL.

Bob: And WPActivityLog.com, formerly WP Security Audit Log. They're focused on the activity log of your WooCommerce site, what shop managers and customers are doing, so you'll want to check them out at WPActivityLog.com And we also have Recapture.io as a sponsor. They're a cart abandonment and email marketing service for your shop. They have a great deal for our listeners, so stay tuned in, you'll hear about that later.

Anyway, I'm anxious to get into this because... I was going to say young man, yeah, you're a young man compared to me, that works for me. But anyway, I've had him on my other podcast. I'm anxious to have him on here. I've never had the opportunity to chat probably as much as I'd like to with him, even in person, but I know we've had a couple in the past. Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. Hey, Matt, how you doing?

Matt: Howdy, howdy. It's good to see you all.

How Does Matt Do the Woo?

Bob: Well, I am going to start with this and this is always the question we ask, and I've thought, man, if anybody I want to ask this question to it’s Matt Mullenweg. Matt, how do you Do the Woo?

Matt: I Do the Woo one release at a time.

Bob: I love that, so that that pretty much says it. I don't think we've ever had anybody say it so succinctly, have we Jonathan?

Jonathan: Nope. You did a good job. Perfect.

When WordPress and eCommerce Hit That Sweet Spot

Bob: Yeah. Perfect. The other thing I usually lead with is your journey to WooCommerce, but instead, let's do it this way. So for those who don't know, WordPress started in 2003.

Jonathan: Man.

Bob: Amazingly, 17 years ago. Then in 2011, WooCommerce came out and then later, Automattic brings WooCommerce into their family. Now, there's all that time, Matt, that took place before WooCommerce came out that WordPress was out there and then there's all the time afterwards. Of course, what was offered in the eCommerce space around WordPress prior to WooCommerce was very limited. I know myself, I did a couple of things that were rather challenging.

From your perspective, and even from the WordPress perspective, when did you start seeing that eCommerce could play a significant role with WordPress?

Matt: I think it was probably 2013. So, about a year prior to us doing the acquisition, I started saying that I wanted there to be a canonical eCommerce plugin and Automatic was probably going to do something in this space. That year, year and a half, it was just learning. It's a big, complicated, hairy area, but I believe that if we can democratize commerce like we have publishing with WordPress, it unlocks so much economic opportunity in the whole world and we need that independent alternative to the centralized services, right? Amazon is kind of like the Facebook or the AOL of commerce. We need people to have the alternative to be free, I mean, at the end of the day.

Bob: So in the early days was there even a twinkle in your eye of seeing that when online shopping became more popular, it became more robust, was there any moment you started relating it to what you were doing with WordPress?

Matt: Well, I think already then, the marriage of content and commerce was starting to happen, where people were telling a story when they were selling something and you started to see more of this. I don't know when Warby Parker started, but you started to see some more of those kind of like single-product sites, people who really created a unique experience. Maybe the heritage there is kind of like the stuff that used to be on the home shopping channel or something, as seen on TV, right? Just like this idea that there was a really interesting product that was going to tell a story beyond what you could narrate on a generic eBay or Amazon page, and then do customization.

A lot of what you do in a store doesn't look that different from a lot of sites that people build on WordPress already, and we were seeing that early versions would maybe use PayPal buttons or other integrations, so it was clear the demand was there. And Woo did really impress me, a company that was known for themes. I think they just created WooCommerce to sell more themes and then it ended up becoming this thing that once you get that positive flywheel of open source, meaning like, you get more users, which gets more developers, which then gets more users, and of your open-source project that has the positive flywheel or the negative flywheel.

If it's above 1.0, kind of like a pandemic, it's growing exponentially. If it's below 1.0, it's shrinking exponentially and will eventually go away. Now, open source never really goes away, like I'm sure PHP Nuka is still out there somewhere, but it basically becomes irrelevant. The only open-source alternative out there was probably, that was really big, was Magento and it had some great history. It was open sourced as PHP, but I felt like it had gone kind of more enterprise direction, not as user centric. And so, with WordPress's focus on users, a clean user experience and all that sort of stuff, I felt like there was room for something else and the demand for it as well.

The Growth of WordPress, Now the Growth of Woo

Jonathan: One of the things that's always surprised me or been interesting to me is to see that people are surprised about how much Woo has grown or what's being done with it. And I think for me, especially in comparison to what you think, "Oh, well, if you're going to do commerce, you're going to do Magento or you're going to do something else like Woo."

And I think in my experience, it's really been that link between what you mentioned, content and commerce. People are like, "Well, I'm using WordPress for content." And this is a lot of what we saw Enterprise executives say, "Well, why can't we just use WordPress?” People are used to this, the marketing teams are used to it, and I think we're seeing a lot of that same thing in commerce where they're like, "Well, I just want to be able to manage my shop the same way that I'm managing content. Can we just link them together?" And think it surprises people just how big it has grown.

Matt: Yeah, I mean, you really have to prove why you're not going to use Shopify or WooCommerce if you're starting a store today. I mean, why not one of those two. And what open source typically does when it enters the market is it ruthlessly commoditizes the low end.

So, the average revenue of a Shopify subscriber is $1,200 per year, like who pays that even for the WordPress hosting? You could buy everything on a WooCommerce site and get that only with a couple of hundred dollars a year. So you can save a ton of money on the low end, plus, they're going to charge you on every payment, etc. So, you'll have better margins on all the payment stuff and we've got things now like WooCommerce payments. And then on the very high end, ultimately, they're a SaaS service, so they have a ton of amazing functionality. I actually have a ton of respect for Shopify.

If you want to paint outside the box, you're either doing a really hacked-up third-party integration and ultimately, you're not in control of the code and your customer experience. So if you want to do anything that's not what is on their roadmap, you're better off doing something open source. Now the philosophical reasons why you should always bet on open source or never bet against open source? That's not going to convince most people. I hope that most are going to come from either the low-end being commoditized or the high-end being flexible.

How Open Source Competes with Platforms

Jonathan: You mentioned Shopify. I want to jump into one of my favorite topics. It was a few years ago when you started talking about this idea of WordPress as an operating system. I was listening to one of Shopify's earnings calls last year and during the Q&A at the end, the executives referred to it as a retail operating system, which I thought was interesting. That wasn't part of their prepared remarks, it just came up in Q&A. It's like, "Okay, that's kind of how they're thinking about it." I guess I'd start with just the basic, do you consider Shopify a competitor to Woo?

Matt: Yeah, of course.

Jonathan: So, if you take Shopify in its current state, 4,000 plus employees, a decent amount of money in the bank, a lot of revenue happening there versus Woo, and I forgot what the team is currently, but not anything close to that, how does Woo and how does open source compete effectively?

Matt: Well, we're kind of the permanent David and not the Goliath, right? I mean, when WordPress was getting started, we were three or four people and the competitor was Movable Type, which had 200-something and a million dollars of funding. We're used to being 100x smaller or behind on the surface, but that's just the things that are easy to count. It doesn't count what matters, which is community, which is flexibility, which is user-centricity. Over time, if we're able to follow the playbook that we did with WordPress, which we have so far, you've started to catch up pretty quickly.

And like any exponential growth, it looks like nothing for a while, and then it starts going up really quickly, We're starting to see some interesting things there. If Shopify is 4,000 people and Woo is like 150, that's a huge difference. But if you start to look at GMV, Woo is coming up on 20%, 25% of Shopify as the GMV. Well, that's kind of interesting, like, what's going on there? And Shopify is an operating system. Sure, that's a proprietary operating system. It's not a bad one. It's a really good one. I'm using a proprietary operating system on my phone, on my laptop.

It's not bad, but I think that their executives and our executives influence each other a lot. We watch each other's interviews. We make each other better, also, to be honest, you want good competitors. Open source typically doesn't stagnate because its users drive it forward so much, but proprietary companies often do. And so we're making Shopify a lot better, and they're doing some great work and making us better. So it's good for the market to have those options.

What Can Go Wrong in an Open Source Project

Jonathan: I'm curious, you mentioned with open source there's this positive flywheel effect, what are the things that you've seen that can go wrong in an open source project?

Matt: You can have a version of regulatory capture where what made the project successful inhibits it from reaching the next stage of growth. Maybe some historical examples from other open source projects. I feel like it was tough in the early days for Drupal to get the ease of use and really focus on that end-user usability because so much of its early success created these really big agencies that made all their money building huge Drupal sites to make their model work with six figures or higher to deploy the site, so this was fantastic.

There were lots of really high-end Drupal sites created, but their business model just didn't support a 10K site or 1K site and there were also a lot of contributors, so they never really had an incentive. So like make it easy-to-build that 100K for 1K. With us, coming from the other end, we're incentivized to do that and we did do that. It looks like that will cost you half a million dollars 15 years ago, you can now build it with a theme for WordPress, which is kind of wild. So you get these incentive structures.

Maybe Joomla is another one where they have this third-party, paid plugin system that strongly encouraged people to do those, but discouraged different developers from working together and solving the same thing. They would each create their own version of sitemaps or something. And as a user, then all of a sudden you're being nickeled and dimed where you're like, "Okay, I just want a sitemap, which $5 thing do I buy?" And you may have to buy 20 other things to do something. We have to be careful of that with Woo, which has a lot of commercial extensions.

What you create as incentives over time can prevent you from reaching the next stage. But to avoid that, what we do in WordPress is one, we try to avoid committees wherever possible. Almost nothing great has ever been created by a committee, so we try to give people autonomy, ownership and accountability, right? You're in charge of XYZ, be in charge of it and let's see how that goes and if it doesn't work out, we'll put someone else in charge of it. But I'm not going to just create and cover my butt with a committee of 10 people voting on every single change and end up getting the lowest common denominator. You're not going to create great software that way.

And then being very close to users. So, we always have. Woo is very much a developer product today, but our aspiration is to make it easier for users, which by the way, will get developers a ton of more work just like we did for WordPress. So this is again, one of these flywheels that if you're not careful, we said, Woo is just for developers forever, like that would get here, and then it will stay there forever and then probably start declining. But by saying we really want to radically open up the audiences that use Woo, it then also makes what is the audience for developers to build things for much larger down the road.

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And now, back to our conversation.

Decision by Committee

Bob: I had to laugh at the committee thing because previous to my life in WordPress, my wife and I ran a marketing business for 17 years. We were in the real business world of Chambers of Commerce and all that good stuff. And one of our clients was a school district that wanted to change their logo. That was when I actually did logo design. And their logo was the lamp of learning. It looks like Aladdin's lamp. It looked like it was done in 1890 or something like that, and they decided they wanted to update it. And it was a committee, the logo redesign committee and we spent 12 months talking about this. And at the end of 12 months, they paid us and decided to keep their lamp of learning and we went on our way.

Matt: That's funny.

Bob: Yeah. So committees can be very interesting at times.

Matt: They can be good at keeping something really bad from happening because you get like a bunch of people saying, "That's terrible." But it's rare that they create something really great or make something really, really good happen. So it happens sometimes, but it's not doing a ton of innovation.

Bob: Yeah. I would just shudder every time somebody would say, "Okay, well, we're going to have you work with this committee." "Oh, the C word." It was like, "Oh, no, not again."

Matt: But it's funny because every great thing we can think of has been created by a team, so what's the difference between a committee and team that is magic. It's still a group of five or 10 people sitting around a table, but what's created in one is everything we love to use in our lives and the other creates the things that we don't like to use in our lives. It's an interesting thought experiment.

Jonathan: One of the interesting things, too, within the context of a team, Automattic has this concept, it's not unique, but a directly responsible individual, right? Within the context of a team, in my experience, you tend to have a combination of people who are each responsible for different things that they're bringing together collaboratively whereas in committees, that's often not the case. It's like we're sharing responsibility for this thing that needs to get worked on. And it gets complicated very quickly.

Matt: Yeah, and with the best of intentions. I've done it a ton of times as well. I remember, we made the marketing councils or growth councils for WordPress.org and I did that thing and it was going to work. We got all these great CEOs around the table and it will create some awesome stuff. It ended up just being challenging, even though in hindsight, if I just deputized any one of those people, it probably could have moved a lot faster than the group of them.

Matt Answers the Question, What is the Biggest Advantage of Using WordPress and WooCommerce

Bob: Going back to when we were talking about Shopify and all the different other options out there, I'm just curious, personally, if somebody pulled you aside at WordCamp, when we're back to a place where people can pull you aside, and you start to get into WordPress, maybe WooCommerce, and they ask you, what do you think is the biggest advantage of using WordPress and WooCommerce over all these other options out there?

Matt: If I'm at a WordCamp, I'm going to start with freedom because if you are at a WordCamp, you probably believe in that to start with, so I'm going to say freedom. Flexibility would be the next best reason after freedom, and I'll probably stop right there. Flexibility is kind of amazing. It can scale up, it can scale down, you can sell one thing, you can have 400,000 SKU's'. You could do curbside pickup, you can do delivery, you can do take out, you can sell time, you can build Airbnb. You can do so much stuff on Woo. It's kind of incredible. You're really just limited by your imagination and your customers.

Jonathan: One of the things that I found helpful when talking about anytime you need to learn a new tool that lets you do a lot of different things, there's a learning curve. If you're going to be able to do a lot with something, you need to be prepared, because that's the trade off to all the flexibility, right? It can be harder to be approached. I think one of the big things about WordPress has been just the strength of the community, people writing tutorials, sharing guides, showing up and helping someone with something and you have a lot of that, the same with Woo. If someone's brand new to it all, they might say, "Well, I don't want flexibility. I just want to get something done."

And I say, "Well, that's fair, but I want you to know..." So we've had folks come up to me in meetups and I'm saying, "You certainly could go the proprietary platform route and get something up and running quickly. You can also do it with Woo. It's going to take a little bit more effort to know where to go and what to put together, but then there's the reward on the other side of that freedom you get and the flexibility."

Matt: Well, also, the skills are transferable.

Jonathan: Yes.

Matt: That investment you made in learning now enables you to do a ton of other stuff, including building WordPress sites for other people. That's a really valuable skill. With all the economic uncertainty, that's an in-demand skill, too. We're still seeing shortages of WooCommerce and WordPress developers in the midst of the biggest economic crisis of my lifetime. So, it shows, this is a good place to invest some time into.

Bob: I think that people also don't understand or realize that until later. They look at WooCommerce and WordPress and say, "Okay, this is going to take more effort. Maybe I don't need the flexibility. I'm going to just move to this platform."

When I go back to the days I was designing sites, they come back often, inevitably and said, "This isn't flexible enough," because they didn't really understand the flexibility at first or how that plays into it. They look at the other platforms and figure everything is going to be right there and ready and rearing to go, versus "I get in there and now I want to do this, I want to do that. I see somebody over here. My Uncle Joe that has a WordPress site, and he's doing this really cool thing, and I can't do it here. It's just driving me nuts."

So that's the challenge is making sure people understand that, "Yes, it may take more time, but it will pay off in the long run, because that's what you're going to have." I remembered when WooCommerce sponsored me to do a workshop in Seattle and somebody asked me halfway through the workshop, "Bob, I'm selling one eBook on my site, do I need to install WooCommerce?" So I asked him all these questions. "What are you going to sell down the road?", etc, etc. Because his plans were to just sell that one thing only I ended up advising, "Why don't you just put Easy Digital Downloads in because that's all you need." But we don't have that opportunity every time to handhold the client during recommendations.

Matt: Well, also we need to evolve the software to make easy things simple.

Bob: Right.

Matt: And selling one thing should be something you're able to. One digital product, it should be under 10 minutes. From having the idea to having it available to buy in a store, maybe assuming you have a Stripe account or whatever, WooCommerce payments account, that should be under 10 minutes for sure.

Bob: Right. Exactly.

Matt: Yeah, but right now, it's not. Like, let's be honest there, too.

Bob: Yeah.

What Woo Opens Up for the User

Matt: Right now, you spent ten minutes just Googling for the right tutorial. And, "This one's from 2018, is it still accurate?" There's so much we have to improve and that's part of what makes it exciting, but not that I feel like I'm done with CMS. We have a lot to improve on that side, and Gutenberg is definitely the next decade of my life. But gosh, eCommerce is such a rich area to explore, learn about and develop for. If I wasn't doing WordPress at all, I think I'd work on eCommerce because from a content management and software point of view, it's such an interesting thing to work on.

Jonathan: You mentioned the mission. It's interesting this subtle shift from democratizing eCommerce to commerce, and that intersection of the offline world with online because once you start getting into commerce as a business, you start dealing with more complexities: fulfillment, warehousing, inventory management, which very quickly intersects with the offline world. And again, one of the big benefits of open source it’s been amazing to see just the number of integrations and the things that people build because they know they can just get in and build it themselves, and it's phenomenal. The challenge is getting all those pieces connected.

I know for me, I've really liked this focus on the merchant themself in recent years who has been, "All right, we're going to focus. We don't offer builders, and that's still really important, but we're going to focus on the merchant." And in my experience with WordPress, that was always one of its biggest keys, if not the key to its success was, make it easy for the nontechnical person.

I think the more that that happens with Woo, it's incredible. Things just open up and it still blows my mind to this day. I'd go to a meetup and see what someone was working on. It's one of my favorite things. Show us what you've been doing. Wow, that's incredible. You got this piece here and this piece over here. "Okay, it's kind of jankey in parts and pieces, but it's working."

Matt: And we can make it better.

Jonathan: And we can make it better. Exactly.

Matt: Yeah, one release at a time.

Bob: I go back to when WooCommerce came out in 2011, I actually started dabbling in it right away, although I swore I would never do an online store or get into eCommerce because of the complexities of it. And I installed it shortly after that and I can't remember the very first thing I sold, but between 2011 and now almost nine years later, I've had WooCommerce off my site maybe two or three months.

It's always been on my site because I've sold all these various things, and I've actually done workshops where I said, "I've sold stuff on WooCommerce for nine years and I've never sold a product and shipped it physically." And people go, "Wait a minute, step back. What are you talking about?" And then I go through all the different things that I've actually sold as far as coaching and sponsorships and consulting and training and online courses and all this stuff.

Matt: That's cool.

Bob: And that's what the beauty of it is and that's what I always push people to is that it can be used for so many things. You don't have to think I've got to have this physical thing here. I've got to set up shipping and I've got to send it off somewhere. There's so many ways to sell and it's so flexible.

I'm a crazy pivoter. I've pivoted in WordPress so many times that people half the time don't know what I'm doing at any certain point. And it's always pivoted to what I needed to sell. And it's been easy to say, "Okay, it's on there now. I just switch it over. Now, I'm selling this now.

Jonathan: One of the helpful lenses for me is my daughter is six, and she has her first WooCommerce store up and running.

Matt: That's awesome.

Jonathan: And it's been amazing. She uses the WordPress app to manage it and she creates these drawings, and I was able to set up an integration with Printful to do some print on-demand because family wanted to buy her artwork on bags or shirts and things like that.

Matt: A six-year-old entrepreneur selling prints on that, that's the coolest story I've heard today for sure.

Jonathan: And for me that's the critical lens. My daughter, she's actually interested in coding. She's all these things. I'm like, "All right. I need to start with something that she can really access." She has an iPad and needs to be able to have the WordPress app there and uploading things and managing things there, and she did it herself. She's using Gutenberg. That to me is an important key to the future.

And I love the stuff that's been happening with Kids Camps, and things where we're like, "Hey, let's make sure that we're looking at this through the lens of our kids and the next generation. What's it like for them? Things that we take for granted?" I mean, part of me wants her to like learn CSS and all those things, but she doesn't need that to start being able to create on the web.

Matt: And in 2040 or 2050, when she's a Fortune 500 CEO, hopefully she can tell people, "Hey, when I was six, this WooCommerce, this version. Now you can use version 14 and sell in the metaverse this fun stuff."

Jonathan: My 10-year-old son discovered themes and he has his own WordPress site and it was amazing. It's very gratifying for me to see him discover that he could switch out themes and to customize them and playing with things. I didn't agree with a lot of his choices, but for me really, that's what it's about. Empowering that creativity where they're expressing their thoughts and ideas. Knowing that it's still early that we can make it so much better, I find that really inspiring.

Matt: Yeah, so when will your daughter be on the podcast? Tell me when she's ready.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Woo Blocks and Blocks in General

Bob: Let's just touch on the newest blocks in Woo, checkout and the cart. Any thoughts on that you want to share, Matt? I think it's really cool myself. I got in there and was able to play around with it and I see the direction of this. In fact, I just redesigned my site a little over a year ago and I'm using a page builder. Now, I'm thinking it's at the point where I think I can go back and I redesign the whole thing in Gutenberg, which is what I want to do. But what I'm thinking about is, oh, another redesign job. But it's probably going to happen anyway. Now back to Woo.

Matt: Sounds like a fun weekend.

Bob: Yeah. I'm sure it's going to happen, probably sooner than later, but what's your thoughts in general with the cart and checkout and general thoughts of the direction with blocks?

Matt: Blocks are the future of everything, like beyond just WordPress. I think it's the future of the web. You're going to see blocks on different apps, you're going to see it on mobile apps, you're going to see it on competitive CMS's. You're going to see how proprietary CMS's will go towards blocks versus away from it.

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There is a number of reports you can generate from the activity logs and you are able to use the search and filters for troubleshooting. In a nutshell, stay on top of it all. What is going on, where and when. No better way to manage your WooCommerce store. You can check them out at WPActivityLog.com and click on the activity log for WooCommerce.

Now let’s head on back to the show.

Jonathan: I've heard some folks express their concerns about just how much creative freedom it opens up, like suddenly you're going to see checkouts here and this here and this here. And it's like, "Yeah. There's always tradeoffs." But ultimately, I think empowering new themes and new ways of doing things, at least at a high level, it feels like well, it is definitely worth the trade-off. But it's going to be interesting to see what people do with it, which can't really be predicted.

Matt: And builders, developers or themes can lock all that down.

Jonathan: Yeah, that's true.

Matt: And they can lock in blocks or allow you to only edit certain things or part of this and that is what was so fun about it. It's not often that you can find a solution to a problem. We have this big problem around short codes and page builders and all these sorts of things. A solution that's both easier for new users and way more powerful for developers. Now that we have this common framework that all the builders can build on, all the plugins can integrate with, all the developers can learn once, then all of a sudden, they can build anything. They don't have to learn each page builder being its own kind of proprietary thing. That just hits every side of the equation.

Usually there's trade off, to be honest. Sometimes you make things for developers and not for users or vice versa, but this really does it all. And that's why it was actually one of the things because there was that point, not that long ago, when Gutenberg seemed kind of dire. It was predicted to be the end of WordPress and bringing it in was going to tank it and no one's going to upgrade, all these sorts of things. But in my heart of hearts, I knew that well, one, it was just going to keep getting better, until people gave it a chance they would see this experience. I mean, I've coded my whole adult life. I love writing HTML and CSS. I do things in Gutenberg because it's faster and easier and I can move it around. It's just the best. It's better than any editor I've ever used in a lot of ways. And it's getting better really fast so, I mean, that's pretty powerful.

Over the Gutenberg Hump?

Jonathan: It's interesting, so it feels like, at least from my perspective and what I'm hearing that we're over the hump, so to speak.

Matt: No, we're not over the hump.

Jonathan: Like, I don't hear a lot of people question it, but do you agree or disagree?

Matt: I still hear a lot of people question it, but maybe that's just because they come to me.

Jonathan: Yeah, sure.

Matt: But we're still in phase one and two, so I feel like as we get through the four phases, that's when the hump is in the rearview mirror and it's probably that amount of time for everyone who's built a site over the past 17 years. To start to update them, to take advantage of what's allowed and what's afforded by Gutenberg and the things that build on top of it. It was also one of the things I wasn't that worried about. Even if no one cares about Gutenberg, it could be a block that they want. So I don't need to sell on Gutenberg, there just has to be that one killer block that you're like, "Ah, I wish I had that."

And maybe it's a weird one, maybe it's a funny one, maybe it's as stellar teams start to look at blocks, they have such creative and cool ideas from them. Maybe it's just one of those because you'll be like, "Okay, I'll switch to block view." And you're like, "Okay, this isn't as bad. What's this thing? Okay, I can, oh, here's the keyboard shortcuts. I can be pretty fast on this." You get hooked on it pretty quickly, and it's hard to go back.

Jonathan: Yeah, it's hard to go back. I forget how long but it's been at least a year since I've been 100% on my own personal sites ad to see the steady, but consistent improvements,. It's like, "Oh, this just feels a little smoother now. This is working a little bit more like I expected it to." I don't know. It's been really reassuring and this is again, the beauty about open source, you get that flywheel effect going. And people find an area of pain and they say, "Okay, well, I can contribute to it. I can help make this area better." And when I see the classic editor now, it's like, "Oh, man." I have respect for it and everything from years and years of using it, but now, I prefer to work in blocks. It's where I feel comfortable, even as it's still so much yet to be desired in terms of what you can do with it.

Matt: And there's some fun features like you can paste markdown into it, you can copy and paste in Google Docs and figure it all out. It's just coming along. I'm actually excited about the next generation, too, because you could always use source or HTML view of a post, but it'd be this giant blob and even figuring out where the thing you were looking for in that giant blob could be tricky.

Now we have a per-element, inspect element where you could just flip the card on the other side and see the code that powers it. And that's so cool. It's kind of like HyperCard way back, decades ago, where "Okay, here's this cool little thing. How's that work?" Okay, flip the code view and flip back. Let me change this. Let me flip back." And you can go back and forth in a way that I think is going to teach a whole new generation really great CSS and HTML.

Bob: And for me, I know that I talked with you, Matt on the other podcast. I can't remember when it was, but it was shortly after Gutenberg was released in 5.0, And I'd already gotten used to it, so I love it for the content side of stuff. It's saving me tons of time and we went through that conversation before. I had put in a page builder because I had specific ideas how I wanted certain pages to look.

Now, I'm at that point where I'm seeing, "Okay, now, Gutenberg can give me those pages." The other day, I was looking for something and I thought, "Okay, my page builder should have this to drop in." I can't remember what it was. It was driving me nuts. I was thinking why isn't this here because I just want to drop this in. Well, I just went and searched for a block. I found that. Popped it in. And all these realizations are coming to me as I go through my site.

Matt: I'm glad to hear that.

Bob: I can do this easily, so I'm putting more blocks into it. I've had this mishmash of some pages that are built on blocks. Of course, all my content, all my posts and a lot of page are blocks. And I'm at the point of questioning when I do a page, do I use the builder or blocks? Oh, I think I can use a block and this can be a little bit easier, especially for the long term, since I know that eventually, that's what I'll be using. It's interesting, too. Like I said, I've just found the workflow is something I love. As someone who spends hours in the editor, probably spending more time in the editor than most people, it's just been easier. For example, the ease of moving blocks such as paragraphs, photos etc.

Matt: Yeah.

Bob: It's like, "Okay, I want this down here. Oh, I'll just drag it down there." Pop, pop, pop.

Matt: It's something writers have been doing for hundreds of years. I think in a writing workshop, one of the things they had us do was print out the essay, cut up the paragraphs, and then practice rearranging it.

Bob: Yeah.

Matt: And you can remove some of the things like that. It's a great way to work on your writing as a craft.

Moving Online in Today’s World

Bob: Very cool. Well, I have one last question and I kind wanted to go back into the philosophical and eCommerce side of things and maybe a bit more personal for you.

The mission of Woo is democratizing commerce. WordPress, I personally feel has and continues to do its mission of democratizing publishing. Now I think there's been a lot of lessons learned about the web overall with the coronavirus that we've dealt with from social to websites, everything. The spectrum of both the good and bad, and those businesses that were affected by it. The concept of democratizing commerce may have been a critical piece for those businesses’ survival. It was easy for them to move online. Maybe I should not use the word easy, but easier than it was before. They were able to continue to sell some of the products.

Matt: I think a lot of folks were pleasantly surprised.

Bob: Yeah.

Matt: Both from working distributed and selling things online and rebuilding things. And there's even a few examples of like maybe Alinea in Chicago that was a high-end restaurant where you pay $500, $600 a ticket to and they shifted to doing delivery and started making more money than they ever did. So I mean, those kind of stories, they're rare, but I think they're a little bit inspiring, because contained in the seat of that story is perhaps a glimpse of the future.

Whats Happening Now. Matt Shares His Thoughts

Bob: Right. So, do you personally think this has opened the eyes for many business owners, what they can do, and what this means long-term of how we sell and buy online?

Matt: Yeah. The one thing I'm certain of is that I do not know what's going to happen. It's been incredibly humbling. I worry a bit about the seeming disconnects between stocks and the public markets and what I'm hearing from my friends and loved ones and just seeing some of the economic data where there's a lot of people out of jobs as a human cost to this is huge. We have on today over 110,000 people that have passed away in the United States, and this thing is still going. We're not at the end. We're not even in the middle. We're still in the beginning.

I think the one thing that I try to keep in mind is just to be good humans to each other because it's going to be really hard. It's been really hard, it's going to get tougher, and we just need to be there for each other. In times of crisis, there can be a first reaction to kind of draw in, but when humanity is at its best is when we collaborate, when we're together. Open source is at its best when we were together and that's our superpower. And one of our superpowers is we can do it across the internet. So, as we start to unlock that, I feel like it gives us a fighting chance.

I'm so proud of how the lockdown is slow to spread so much and cautiously optimistic about how we can start to learn more, maybe we can start to open up more without creating more risk or maybe we'll open up too much and we'll have to go back. But I mean, I really don't know, I'm not an expert in these things, but I do know that no matter what happens, we're going to need to be there for each other. And there are a lot of people out of a job. This is going to show up further down the road. We can't print money forever, in the U.S. or globally, so I think we should buckle down for some challenging times if we haven't already. Patience is required a little bit. We're just five months into this.

Bob: Do you think it's positive that people have become more comfortable online? They're having Zoom chats with their families. People are buying, saying, "Wow, I can buy online. This is really not so scary. It seems to be safe," where they may have been reluctant before. Is that a good thing? And I wonder if it will get back to the way it was, but we don't know because we don't even know what it's going to be like.

Matt: I hope that it has made us all appreciate things differently, right?

Bob: Right.

Matt: Appreciate getting a haircut or whatever it might be. Hanging out with some strangers and watching a sports game. Whatever it is for each individual person, there's things we all miss and definitely do want to get back to some day when it's safe to do so. It feels more than a change has been in deceleration of trends that might have happened anyway and to the extent that that opens up opportunity or makes humanity more connected, I think that's positive.

Matt: I have friends that I've been friends for a long time. We had never done like hangouts before, like we get together once every five years because we've all moved different places, but I've been reconnecting with friends that I've known since middle school. We remained friends, but we just wouldn't hang out as a group that much, so that feels like a good thing. But it also can be isolating, not everyone's connecting with their family. They might be alone. People are getting sick or worried about getting sick. There's a lot going on there. So, like I said, working together.

Also, anything we can do to build a positivity in the world, we should do so. If you're listening to this podcast, you're probably a WordPress and WooCommerce expert. How do you pay it forward? Is there someone you can mentor? Old, young, in your country, not in your country.

Can you show them the ropes and help them on the support forums or do your virtual meetups and present there? And when I am going through low points, when I'm having a really, really tough day or really tough times, what always snaps me out of it is generosity. Doing something for others, giving something away. And so anyone listening to this that finds themselves at low point, see what you can do for others, because that really is almost magical in how it shifts your perspective.

Jonathan: I started the local WooCommerce meetup. It was a Wednesday and then by Friday, I've announced that all WooCommerce meetups were no longer happening.

Matt: Perfect timing.

Jonathan: And I mean, they nailed it and so, we've switched to virtual and at this point, more than half of all our meetups have switched to virtual successfully, and it's been amazing. There's been people in my local one and what I've heard from organizers and from others, it's been a huge encouragement to folks. People have come out. They're working on things. They're working on the transition, so it's been great to see people helping each other like you're describing and being generous with their time and volunteering and helping others.

And I know for me, it helped me take some of my focus off of being worried. Just to focus on helping other people through their things. I'm very encouraged by the resilience of community and people's willingness to be generous with their time, especially when things are crazy, so it’s good to see.

Matt: Thank you for doing that, by the way. And thank you to anyone listening to this, who does pay it forward like that. That is the secret sauce of WordPress. These proprietary platforms, they get lots of people doing things for money, but in WordPress, you get people doing things for love, and that's always going to be a stronger force.

Jonathan: Well said.

Bob: Yep. Exactly.

Well, this has been great. I appreciate you taking the time to join us once again.

Matt: Well, it's been a pleasure and good seeing you both.

Where to Find Matt on the Web

Jonathan: Awesome, Matt. Where can people find you on the web?

Matt: Oh, good question. P-H-O-T-O-M-A-T-T, PhotoMatt on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, though I am taking a break from Twitter right now. I have two main active blogs right now. One is a podcast on distributed work at distributed.blog and the other is my main site, one of the first ever WordPress sites in the world, which now lives at MA.TT One nice thing about the pandemic is I've been blogging more, so it's been really great. Like Jonathan, you said you're looking forward to writing as well. A day when I get to read and get to write is a really good day for me and so it's been fun to be able to do it a little bit more of that.

Jonathan: Awesome. Thank you for taking the time with us, Matt. Bob, you want to thank our sponsors and I'll close it up?

Bob: Yeah, real quick. I want to thank again WooCommerce.com, as well as Recapture.io and WPActivityLog.com. All three excellent resources for your WooCommerce site and I really encourage you to check them out. Although, I'm sure if you're listening to this podcast, you've checked out WooCommerce before. But what can I say, Jonathan wants you over there again and again and again.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.

Bob: So yeah, I think that will do it. Jonathan, why don't you wrap it up?

Jonathan: If you haven't already, you can subscribe to Do The Woo in your favorite podcasting app. If you're interested in WooCommerce News, subscribe to Bob's Do The Woo Roundup as a podcast and the weekly newsletter. Until next week, Do the Woo.