Welcome to another edition of the Pagely 8 Questions interview series. In the hot seat today, we’re lucky enough to have a popular and well-known member of the WordPress community, Bob Dunn.
The interview with Bob will follow the same format as always — we’ll talk about how he first became involved with WordPress, how the community has changed during his involvement, and the direction he thinks WordPress is headed in the future.
A big thanks to Bob for answering our questions, let’s get on with the interview, shall we?
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
For more than 20 years, my wife and I owned a marketing, graphic design and copywriting business. In the mid-to-late 90’s, I started dabbling in HTML but still spent most of my time working in print. After doing more web design, in 2007 I started exploring WordPress. The following year I made the decision to take the big step and offer sites designed in WordPress only.
With each year, it became a bigger and bigger part of my business. That was when I realized something: I found that I enjoyed teaching and coaching clients in WordPress more than the design side. Eventually that part consumed my life.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
In 2007, when WordPress started getting my attention, the reason was two-fold. First, as a designer I wanted to find an easier way to create sites for clients instead of building HTML sites from scratch. Secondly, I wanted a solution that would allow clients to take charge of and manage their own sites, rather than having to nickel-and-dime them all the time with small but necessary changes. So I dove in, and by 2008 I was creating WordPress sites for my clients.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
Besides always being a WordPress evangelist via social media and my blog, I have been involved with the Seattle WordPress meetup, as both an organizer and a co-organizer. I have hosted events since October 2010. I also was the lead organizer for WordCamp Seattle 2012 and volunteered for a couple of years as well. And, of course, I have spoken at meetups as well as at other WordCamps over the years.
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
It’s two-part. The first is the control I am able to give to my clients over their own sites. That has been a key benefit throughout the years I have been working with WordPress. The other piece is the teaching. I love seeing the lights go on and how excited clients get when they have conquered WordPress and launched their own site.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
That’s an interesting question. Obviously it has grown. But of course it really depends on how one defines the community. Some think of it as the hard core people who work with it day in and day out. But on the other hand, the greater, more inclusive community also includes everyone who uses WordPress in one way or another. It’s always been a very helpful community and open to outsiders.
But I have found it growing in one direction that I have mixed feelings about. There have been several people who told me as they try to merge more into that core community, they are finding it a bit cliquish, with too much back patting amongst some of the so-called influencers. I know this happens in all communities, but until recently I hadn’t heard it as much about WordPress. I do think that it comes across that way much more online via social media as opposed to in-person at WordCamps and meetups.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
As far as the first question, it’s as simple as saying “WordPress is not easy.” So many people sell the “easy” because that is what people want to hear. But that ends up giving new users higher expectations, so much so that they are disappointed. And good, smart people are left wondering, if this stuff is supposed to be easy, what is wrong with me? I like to emphasize that no, WordPress is not easy. But once you have learned it, it gets easier and it’s an amazing tool.
I’m not sure I would do anything different to be honest. Sure there may be moments when I think I would have loved to have gotten into the teaching earlier, but that’s water under the bridge. And everything I learned before I got into the training side has just prepared me to be a better teacher. I tend to accept how things go and figure that there was a reason everything happened the way it did for me.
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
That’s a tough one because one small mistake on one site can be a much larger one on another. To be honest, I think the biggest mistake they make is thinking that they can do it all by themselves. As you may know, I’m a big fan of do-it-yourselfers, but the majority, unless they have a good mix of experience and skills in marketing and web design–and sometimes even if they do–can always use some help in one area or another. Whether it’s just an hour of someone’s time to go through a few things or hiring someone to build your entire site, it’s a wise investment in the long run.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
It’s interesting, because in both cases I often look at what issues the new or average user has, then see if the next version comes up with a solution. Myself, I can’t really say what I think will happen next. For example, Automattic purchasing WooThemes. I’m a fan of both and I see nothing but good coming out of it. But as far as the big picture and upcoming trends, what will happen with WordPress itself? It’s still the wild, wild west out there.
What I would really like to see is a bunch of new ways to make the UI even better while still holding onto the key functionality and features.
Once again, a big thanks to Bob Dunn for participating in today’s Pagely interview. I hope you enjoyed reading his answers as much as I did.
As Bob mentions, for any developers out there, WordPress is a great way to empower your clients to handle the day-to-day running of their website. With minimal WordPress training, even inexperienced WordPress users can get the basics down, and this gives them the opportunity to manage their own website, at least to some extent.
If you want to improve your WordPress skills, whatever your current level, I strongly recommend that you check out BobWP.com. As well as a really informative blog and podcast series, Bob runs specialist WordPress training sessions that can help you take your website to the next level — there’s workshops, 1-to-1 coaching, and even an online course. He’s also active on Twitter, @BobWP.
I’ll see you again next week for another Pagely interview!