WordCamp London : A WordPress Journey

Being a WordPress Agency.

It’s easy to forget how important WordPress has become in the last few years. In fact, it’s downright awesome.

I remember when, in 2008, we made the decision to go WordPress. The howls of derision and “not on my watch” echoed round the office.

I’d like to think it was a massively inspired decison crafted from some wizardry of technology foresight. It was not.

We got lucky.

You could say “right-time, right place” and that might be partially true – but the reality was that at the time we had an aging, hand-cut web platform that was getting ever more expensive to maintain and simply didn’t cut the mustard.

In mid-2009 we’d invested (sic) £250k to re-develop our aging VITES platform and turn it into a modern-day content platform but after a year of (hardcore) development it was clear the world had moved on.

No-one wanted “development-derived” platforms and the world was rushing to open source and collaborative content managememnt.We had a choice – ride the gravy train of license fees until we died by a thousand cuts, or say “fuck it” and start again.

So, after being in business for almost 15 years we became a start-up, again. We shed development souls (that’s hard), and re-invented ourselves using contemporary technology. The price was high, I’ll admit it, but complacency mean’t certain death and I wasn’t ready to die.

We’d used WordPress for a few years, and very much in line with the instructions on the tin – so it was “blogs” and “news” and nothing too serious. Back in 2008 there were no decent WordPress frameworks so we had to create out own – interesting called VNX (VITES Next Gen, sort of). We tried to copy our previous platform successes using an altogether more contemporary framework. That didn’t work out too well.

Roll forward to 2010 and we’d learned not to re-invent the wheel, or try to make the new look like the old. Very slowly, we adopted new frameworks (Bootstrap, and more recently Genesis) to address client’s needs. And life became simpler.

What used to take 6 months to build now takes 4 weeks, and looks and works better. Today, I learned that News UK (more famous for hacking phones) re-built and launched NINE large web-sites in just over 6 months! Using an internal team of 6 and a couple of external agencies. Wow. In the mid-noughties that would have been a 5 year, £2m project. Impressive.

Back to the modern day, and this weekend it was London’s second ever WordCamp. We’ve been actively involved in all/both ot them and helped out by being a sponsor, which I think is right. But the WordPress world has changed massively.

In 2013, WordCamp London was a relatively low-key affair, quite geeky and fumbling around to find a voice. Those that attended on that cold November day were empowered and motivated. It lit a spark, and validated lots of individual beliefs in what WordPress meant.

This weekend it was clear the spark has turned into a raging fire. Speaker after speaker calmly spoke about WordPress and the very real commercial impact it made on large and small businesses alike. And these weren’t geeks, some couldn’t even spell WordPress with a the capital P. It felt like a watershed.

It seems that no longer is it about WordPress per se, it’s about what it brings and delivers. The feature has finally become the benefit. So, we sit on the launchpad mulling around chatting about how full our order books are, and how billing rates have increased 30% in the last year and we count our blessings.

The countdown clock is running, though. It will change in the next couple of years – in fact it will explode. Sadly, the days of the high-profile indie might be over – they will get swallowed up in the upcoming landrush as the big commercial faces of the digital world wake up and realise what is going on.

WordCamp 2015 might be the swansong of one-man indie WordPress developers, and that would a shame. I’ve been privileged to meet, chat, drink and laugh with a hardcore of “one-man bands”. They embody the spirit of Mike Little (co-founder of WordPress) and WordPress’s aim of democratising the web.

But a new era is coming. And the world of big agencies, open cheque-book billing and B2B marketing is rushing at us. It’s a good thing for WordPress adoption, it’s even better for creating a purer and more stable platform. It’s not so good news if you’re a jobbing contractor.

I’ve had a great couple of days at WordCamp but I’m feeling the winds of change blowing through the collective. WordPress will become mainstream (it is already) and the default platform to use, but a whole raft of late adopters won’t know why or have the same emotional engagement that us “oldtimers” have.

Should I care? Probably not, it saved our business in the dark day of the late noughties and we’ve got a bright future in front of us. However, I miss the days that we fought to justify and explain why WordPress “was the answer”. Today, it’s just assumed that if you are a digital agency then you “do WordPress”.

Onwards and upwards.

/Martin Dower