Why Storefront Powerpack is as dangerous as loaded gun

I’m going to pick on Powerpack because it is the latest ones of these plugins I’ve seen (Powerpack is really done well and if you use Storefront is a must buy). There are plenty of them out there. It’s not just plugins there are themes that do this too.

Plugins like that exist as it is assumed that people want total control over their site without having to know any code. I think that assumption is false. What people really want is a great looking site and the way they think they’ll be able to get it is by more control over the presentational elements of their site. For most people, their site will actually get much worse once they get more control.

To me, making plugins like this is like giving someone a loaded gun with no training or guidance and being surprised when they shoot themselves in the face. Control over the elements isn’t what is keeping most people from having a nice looking site, it’s design talent. If I were looking to make my site better I would much rather pay for access to sound design advice than tools that I have no clue what to do with it. I have no problem with the core principles of things like Powerpack I just think people need more. They need advice and guidance instead of just access to the tools. That is the only thing that is going to keep them from blowing their head off (metaphorically).

You are probably thinking what the heck am I talking about. Here’s an example. Font pairings is a skill set that I wish I had, but I don’t. While Powerpack would allow me to set my fonts to be whatever the heck I want it’s pretty much a certainty that I’ll pick something stupid. What I would much rather have is an interface that allows me to select font pairings. Predetermined fonts that go really well together. There can be an advanced mode that allows me to pick all the fonts myself but what I really want is a designer who is great with fonts to pick some pairings for me. That is something I would pay for. That is what makes $59 that Powerpack charges a great deal.

The same things with colors. I’m even worse with colors than I am fonts. Please give me some combos that look great together.  I would rather pick from a list of great combos by someone who knows something about color theory. It’s guaranteed to look better than anything I could come up with.

You could do this with all the settings in Powerpack. You could do it by store type. Ask them what they are selling and the options will be configured based on that. Are you selling one type of product? Than the filter by widget doesn’t make much sense. Are you selling something simple? Then let’s remove everything extraneous like two step checkout and all widgets.

Plugins were created to allow people extra functionality without having to hire a developer but what are we doing to help people who can’t afford/find a designer. Is this hard? Of course, it is. If it was easy people would already be doing it. It extremely easy to just make a theme that has 5000 different options and put all the responsibility on the end user to pick the right options to make their site look good. I think the first company to put design value into their products is going to make a boatload of cash and the WordPress community will be better off for it.

Building a better Jetpack

I had an idea this morning. Contrary to what the title suggests (gotta have some linkbait) this isn’t a post where I bash Jetpack but rather take the core of what Jetpack is and propose something a little bit different.

I want to create a new plugin, let’s call it Rocketship, that acts as a plugin launcher. Instead of developing modules myself I would create a system like Jetpack but that uses awesome existing plugins as modules. Let’s say I want to create a contact form module. I would set it up that when activated it automatically installs Contact Form 7 or Ninja forms. Also when an update comes out it will be installed automatically (once we verify this update doesn’t break anything). When the module is turned off then the plugin will be stealthily uninstalled.

All the modules would be like this. I’ll basically identify a current plugin that solves a particular problem and include it in the Rocketship plugin. I think the biggest trouble with the plugin ecosystem is there are too many of them. No one knows what to use. Things like quality of support or if it will be supported long term aren’t all that apparent from the plugin page. With my new plugin it will include plugins that are coded well and are going to be around and supported for the foreseeable future.

Users won’t even know that all these modules are really separate plugins. I’ll create some sort of wrapper that allows them to be “activated” but not show up on the plugin’s page as a separate plugin. Things like updates and managing conflicts will be managed by the plugin itself.  I wouldn’t be doing this to take credit for other people’s work but rather to make the experience streamlined for the end user. All branding and such of the original plugins would be maintained. They can still upsell people on premium add ons and such.

The WordPress ecosystem is full of some great stuff and I want to create a plugin that highlights it. No one can maintain all this code themselves so creating a distributed model like this just makes sense to me. The WordPress ecosystem is pretty fragmented and I think we really need to start putting all the pieces together.

League of Independent Theme Sellers

From what I hear it’s getting harder and harder for theme shops to sell themes. I had an idea on how to fix this.

What if all the independent shops teamed up? Before you get all up in arms I’m not talking about merging all the companies together. What I was thinking was creating a marketplace like themeforest that independent shops can apply to become a part of.

The main difference from themeforest is the site will just let people search for and see the themes but send them to the individual shops to actually make the purchases. These shops would then contribute an equal amount to a shared advertising pool that would be used to market the site.

This would be beneficial for a variety of reasons. For the shops it will help them get exposure that they wouldn’t get normally. If the plan works this site would be ranked pretty highly whenever people search for WordPress themes in google. The more themes a site has the more attractive it will be to perspective theme purchasers. If done right it could become the first stop for WordPress themes on the web.

It would also be great for the community as we would now have a place to send people where they can find really great themes. Members of the league would be vetted and only shops who code things correctly, have great support, etc would be allowed to join.

For me the WordPress gold rush is over but I think there is still a bunch of money to be made in the WordPress community if you are smart about it.

It’s an exciting time to be part of the WordPress community.

Relatable Advertising Imagery

I don’t know if you knew this about me but I have an opinion on just about everything. It’s true. Today I was looking at Instagram like I do every morning and I came across this ad from WP.com.

I assuming that WP.com is going after small businesses. To me, the image they choose seems to be a poor choice. How many people can relate to that photo? How many members of their target audience gets all dressed up to sit in a fancy white office that looks like it could only be in New York or San Francisco.

It’s also a pretty obvious stock photo with the cardboard box that looks like it was bought new and only taped up for the photo shoot. Or the desk that has a little bit of clutter but not enough to look natural.

This stuck out like a sore thumb in my feed (not in a good way). On Instagram I see photo after photo of regular people doing regular things. Even before I saw the ad copy or the username I knew this was an ad. The purpose of these in stream ads is to blend in, so people don’t know it’s an ad until too late. That doesn’t happen here.

Their main talking point is about being professional, maybe that is why they went with that photo but I would be more excited about a CMS that makes my site look “professional” while still allowing me to work out of my basement in sweatpants. If being professional means wearing dress clothes and renting a fancy loft than I don’t know if I want to be professional.

I would have loved to see a more relatable photo of a small business user. I’ve started more small businesses that I can count and a more natural photo would have been someone sitting at a kitchen table or on a couch. The furniture in the photo should looks like you could actually own it rather than something that belongs in a herman miller catalog. That would have piqued my interest. This did not.

What’s Nick Been Up To?

Wow, it’s been two months since I’ve last blogged. I think that is mostly a byproduct of me spending less time talking about what I’m going to do and actually doing it.

So what have I been spending my time on?

I left Automattic to help my brother out at his company (teelaunch) and I’ve accomplished almost everything I set out to when I started.

  • redesigned/reorganized the app
  • went from number 36 in the app store rankings to 4 with some growth work
  • put together a system for email campaigns/sent out emails
  • started the teelaunch blog and came up with all sorts of posts for it
  • worked closely with the awesome folks at studio bolland to create some pretty awesome videos
  • many many other behind the scenes improvements I’m not going to bore you with

turned my house into a maker studio

  • bought a laser which I have wanted to do for such a long time and made all sorts of cool stuff
  • bought some equipment to print my own posters (that I’m turning into another business)
  • bought a new 3d printer for some Apple II hardware projects

started some businesses

  • started sorta stupid to sell some of my laser cut wares
  • created a Shopify app company called poolparty and have released 4 apps so far (one more coming next week). poolparty has about 900 active monthly users and generate a good bit of revenue and requires only about 10 minutes a week in support (I create apps by design that require no support).
  • created a WordPress app company called secret pizza party and have released one app so far that I’m pretty sure will change ecommerce with WordPress as we know it 🙂

found a new community to belong to in the Apple II world

  • created some fun t-shirt designs
  • made a ROM so I can type on my Apple //e in dvorak
  • made replacement case badges out of plastic with my laser

I have so many other things in the works that I can’t wait to tell you about in the coming months. I’ve had so many successes lately it’s made me a bit bolder so expect more neat stuff out of me.

Clear Copy

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 9.01.14 AM

I was on twitter this morning and I came across a tweet that introduced me to WP.com’s new (at least to me) SEO options. It looks like they finally implemented something I wanted for years, the ability to set the home page meta description. While I was checking that feature out I came across the above description that really confused me.

Craft a description of your site in about 160 characters.

Craft seems like an odd word choice. It’s a fun word don’t get me wrong but is it’s meaning universal. Also I get the 160 character limit but it’s not really explained. It’s almost seems like an arbitrary number (I know it’s not). What happens if I don’t use 160 characters? What if I go over? Will it break the internet? Is it like typing Google in Google?

I would have went with something simpler and more direct like:

“Describe your site, but don’t go over 160 characters.”

I think it get the point across better. While it doesn’t explain that Google will only show 160 character (I don’t really think it’s necessary) it at least lets them know that going under is ok, just make sure you don’t go over.

This description can be used in search engine results for your site’s Front Page.

The use of can confused me as well. If I put a description there will it or will it not be used as the description. It’s not really clear. Also I’ve never heard the term front page used to describe the home page. I guess WordPress calls the home page the front page but I’ve never heard the term used when talking about search engine stuff.

Here would also be a great place to include explain why the heck you need to spend the time adding a description here.

I would have done something like:

“First impressions are important. Setting your front page meta description gives web searchers a little preview of what your site is all about.” .

I don’t know if emphasizing that this only shows up on the front page is all that important. It’s called front page meta everywhere and I think explaining why they should do this is more important.

I also wish there was more explanation on the how. What makes up a good description? When creating a new campaign MailChimp links to a support doc that goes into detail on what makes up a great subject line. I would have loved to see a link to a support doc with tips and examples on great descriptions.

Finally while the preview is super helpful I would have loved it if it showed what was being used now (the first 160 characters of your home page) to illustrate how bad and useless it is now to reinforce the point that adding a custom description is a really good idea.

New Apple II blog

I decided to spin up a new blog to put all the fun stuff I’m learning about the Apple II. If you want to follow along on my journey than head on over to fastram.org.

Make mugs with teelaunch

I’m a creative person, I absolutely love creating things. While I was at Automattic I always wanted to try creative/fun advertising but it never worked out. Now at teelaunch I’m getting to run with some of the ideas I’ve been storing up for a while. Something I think is really powerful is video and I have been working on integrating it into our marketing plans.

I found out about the amazing folks over at Studio Bolland through the guys at WooThemes and they do amazing work. I’ve worked on a number of videos with them but I wanted to share my favorite one so far. I’m basically trying to let people know to double down on mugs in 2016 and here are some of the reasons I think they are awesome.

It turned out really well and I can’t wait to start running ads with it to see how well it converts. I also have some crazier ideas that I hope to run with soon. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out 🙂 .

Shopify Connect for WooCommerce

In a previous post I talked about how Shopify & WooCommerce can be friends. I made a v1 of a plugin to accomplish this that I call Shopify Connect for WooCommerce.

It’s actually extremely simple. Basically I remove the normal add to cart buttons and replace them with Shopify Buy Buttons. You use the official Shopify WordPress plugin to generate the shortcodes and then put the shortcode in a meta box and that’s it.

For v2 I want to make a reverse shortcode so you can put the shortcode in the regular post editor and once you press save it removes it from the post content and puts it into a hidden meta field (just not sure how to it yet 🙂 ). I also want to rewrite all /cart urls to point to the Shopify cart so people can still use cart header icons and such that are built into themes.

You can download the v1 here. Let me know what you think.

Shopify & WooCommerce can be friends

A little while back Shopify unveiled their WordPress plugin and while I think it was a great first step I would love to see it taken further. The plugin allows you to sell items on your WordPress site but it doesn’t really feel like you could make an entire store with it.

Shopify and WooCommerce both have great things about them. I love the freedom/customizability and the ecosystem of WooCommerce but I also really want a hosted solution and access to all the amazing partnerships/integrations that Shopify has. What if you didn’t have to choose? You could pay $9/month to get access to everything you love about Shopify but also be able to run the site with WooCommerce and have total freedom to do whatever the heck you want.

I worked up a rough demo of what I would really like to see in a Shopify & WooCommerce integration. Check out labs.secretpizza.party and you’ll see a WooCommerce site running Storefront but all the cart/buying functionality is taken care of by Shopify. The demo isn’t perfect, I plan on utilizing the Javascript Buy SDK to develop the final solution (just using the normal buy embeds currently) but I think there is something here and I really want to explore it more.

Back to my blogging roots

Way back in 2009 I got one of my very first paying online gigs. It was writing posts for Mac.AppStorm (they are still there). It didn’t pay all that much but I had so much fun doing it. I really enjoy blogging and so I’ve decided to start a new blog.

It’s called practicalshopify.com. Basically I’m interacting with Shopify quite a bit on a daily basis at my new gig and I’m learning a lot so I thought why not try to share what I’m learning with others. It should be fun. If you are interested in ecommerce or Shopify you really should follow along.

secret pizza party

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me knows I loving coming up with ideas. Coming up with something new or taking an existing process and making it better really excites me. In the past things like lack of free time, insufficient funds, and a COI policy have kept me from acting on these ideas. Now with no legal/time restrictions and a freshly pilfered 401k I have all the pieces I need to do something fun.

So I’m starting a WordPress development company over at secretpizza.party. Not exactly sure what all I’ll be releasing but it will likely include some WooCommerce stuff as ecommerce is my passion lately. I don’t want anything about it to be boring so I picked a crazy name and had an even crazier logo created. If you have any ideas of things you want to see created drop me a line and make sure to keep an eye on my blog for more information.

End of an Era

Today is a weird day for me, it’s my last day at Automattic. I’ve been there for over 4 years, I’ve traveled over 100k miles all over the world for different events and I’ve made a crap ton of swag.

While I’m sad to be leaving I’m very excited to be taking a position at my brother’s company, teelaunch, and helping him grow it. My brother is the most driven and passionate person I know and I can’t wait to see what we can build together.

Don’t worry I’m not leaving the WordPress community. I have big plans for a new WordPress/WooCommerce based company I’m launching and I have some crazy cool wapuu swag in the works.

I joined a button club

I’m always on the search for really neat things and I came across this great button club at inch x inch. Every month they send you really amazing buttons produced by busy beaver buttons and designed by some of the best designers in the world. The club is only $30/year and the profits go to various charities. I think its a really neat concept and if you are into well designed goods & charities you really should check it out.

dotcom vs dotorg

I work a bunch of events and I’m always trying to find ways to explain difficult concepts in an easy way. One thing that always confuses people is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

On my daily Dribbble search I came across a guy named Josh Quick who specializes in how-to type graphics and I got the idea to hire him to create a graphic to explain the difference.

I think it turned out pretty well and if you have a use for it please do whatever you want with it. It’s licensed under CC zero.

I’m obsessed with enamel pins

I love enamel pins. They are so hot right now and super cool. I was looking for pin inspiration and I came across a few resources I wanted to share.

First is this weekly column on Vice of really neat pins you need to be buying. There is some great stuff in there.

That lead me to PATCHGAME, who basically the authority on pins and patches. Getting featured on his channel basically guarantees sales.