Back in Startup Mode… Announcing WP Engine!

Since I moved to Austin, I have been very coy about what I’ve been up to. There’s a reason for that and today I can tell you all about it. Especially since my good friend Marshall over at ReadWriteWeb already has. :-)

It was very interesting. Back in May, my friend Pete Jackson, who works for Intridea, started making a point of introducing me over to Twitter to one of his friends in whatever city I happened to be travelling in at that moment.

It was in this way that I met Sean Cook, the manager of mobile integrations at Twitter in San Francisco and, when I was in Austin visiting in May, he made sure that I met Aaron Scruggs of Other Inbox who has since become a pretty good friend.

It was after that meeting with Scruggs in May that he connected me to one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Jason Cohen. Jason is one of the two founding partners at Capital Thought, an Austin-based incubator. Jason has also built several companies and parlayed two of those into healthy exits. I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of respect for his technical and business savvy.

Jason described to me the concept for a business that he was working on along with Cullen Wilson. A premium, WordPress platform that would cater specifically to the customers who want to make sure their blog is always taken care of from a maintenance and upgrade perspective, but also would offer significant value adds that nobody else is providing in a WordPress-optimized environment.

I’ll get to what all those buzzwords mean in a minute. Stick with me.

We started talking about me joining up with them to take this idea to the bank. Shortly after moving down here to Austin, I joined the team and we’ve been working hard over the last couple months to get to the point where we could reliably take on new customers and talk about our idea publicly.

Today is that day.

So, you’re still probably wondering what the hell WP Engine is and why it’s important, right?

Let’s talk security for a minute. There have been significant security “incidents” in recent months. Most people on the outside simply see “WordPress hacked! WordPress hacked!” – I’m looking at you Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble and Frank Gruber (Techcocktail). In the WordPress community, we know the real issues in these cases were not WordPress but the hosts that the blogs were on. Still, people saw WordPress hacked.

We take this very seriously and have partnered with a provider that has multiple levels of security including Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) outside of our boxes. We have gone to great lengths to keep our customers connecting to us in very secure ways and keep a close eye on the activity happening on our boxes. This is all very important because if an attacker could get through our outside defenses, chances are they couldn’t do anything malicious without us knowing about it.

Our infrastructure is also built with optimization and blazing, fast speed as a core expectation and deliverable. We don’t overload servers and have the means to see potential performance problems before they arrive. With our dual nginx-apache server configuration, we are able to handle sustained high-volume traffic as well as spikes that are the pain point for WordPress bloggers who suddenly get a story featured on a prominent site.

For the people who claim WordPress doesn’t scale… I call bullshit. We believe we know exactly how to make WordPress scale.

But we’re not just a hosting company. If we were that, we would be our competitors. We are also working on additional features such as “Curated Plugins” which are plugins that are entirely open source, that are popular or in demand from our customers and have been vetted from a security standpoint. These are plugins that we support 100%. This does not preclude customers from using other non-supported plugins, and we don’t dictate what bloggers can have on their blog as some of the other hosted WordPress solutions do. We just say, “Hey, if you use one of these, we’re gonna have your back”.

Other things that make WP Engine different:

  • 3 Smart guys supporting customers personally
  • A “Staging” area for one-click deployments and testing
  • We give back to the community. In fact, I made sure that I could work on the WordPress open source project, write the second edition of my book, and that much of our work will be returned to the community. Code is a commodity. The people and service behind the code is not.

We are not perfect yet, nor do we claim to be. We are a young company and have hundreds of things still to do and hopefully learn from. We are in an “invite only” mode at this time as much of the stuff we are doing and want to do is still not ready. But we are open for business and taking customers. And for $50/mo 1 for a dedicated WordPress environment that has optimization, speed and security plus the flexibility of you doing your own thing with a safety net… it’s a steal, really.

Photo used with permission by Donncha O Caoimh

Notes:

  1. For most customers

The Vicious Cycle of Assumptions and Stereotypes

Let me step away from technology and business for a few moments. I’ve got something to discuss as it is still elusive to people.

As humans, we tend to put people into boxes. On the egregious end, it results in things like racism and sexism. On the more mild end, it causes things like disappointment from false expectations. We look at people, or groups of people, and we channel our own biases and notions – sometimes fairly, but mostly unfairly – on those people or groups. It keeps us on cyclical merry go rounds repeating the same mistakes over and over again

As an example, in the wide world of the web, it’s easy to break people into two groups – marketers and developers. Marketers are often seen as the type of person who can sell. They are social creatures that meet people, pitch people and generally are more socially adept than the other side.

Developers are generally seen as the types that sit in front of their computers writing code. The comical stereotype is the pasty-faced guy in his momma’s basement. Average Computer Science programs at Universities are male dominated making the relationship between men and women…. interesting. Or so it’s perceived.

In a similar vein, there are people who are seen as right-brained creatives. They are seen as artsy and, in the web world, tend to be the design and UX types. They are free thinkers. These types may be musicians. Or photographers. Or painters. Or they may just be “ideas” folks. They build iPhone apps because iPhones are cool. They work independently because… they don’t like the restraint of working with others within a structured environment.

On the flip side, you have left brained people who, as perception goes, are more mathematical and analytical. They see system and process and routine and operate well within those confines. They tend to think less open ended and more linearly with finite points of start and end. These are project management types that need the structure to perform.

In politics, you have Democrats who, if the perception is accurate, are supportive of social issues like green energy, are anti-war, support equal rights for all and no expense should be spared to see that the world is, in a very utopian way, a better place.

The opposite of that, however, or so our culture would dictate, are Republicans. Republicans are generally seen as stodgy and supporting policies of military expansionism, lower taxes which result in lower costs, and perhaps, reduced services and benefits.

The problem with all of these stereotypes is that it is impossible to evaluate individuals for who they are and what they stand for. My good friend @amandare will blow your mind. She is a motorhead, pool shark and a major football fan. And she loves knitting.

Another friend, @caseysoftware, is a computer science engineer and one of the smartest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s also the community guy (or has been since he’s now moving to Austin), for the PHP developers group in DC. That’s a fairly social position and doesn’t work with the stereotypical developer personality.

I am actually a fairly left-brained guy. I write code, I think in systems and patterns, and I operate well with definite task-oriented routines. I’m also a creative in that I am a musician, photographer, have an open-minded sense of aesthetics and art and prefer to think outside the box than inside.

How do people function in a world where stereotypes rule the day? Well, clearly, many don’t. Women pass up men to date based on assumptions of what a guy would be like. Some people fail to put themselves in positions to be hired simply based on a pre-conceived expectation of who will be at an event. Managers fail to manage effectively, because of assumptions about how the people they manage need to be managed. Job seekers fail to apply for their perfect job because they assume they are not qualified for it.

Taking the time to understand the world around you will help you succeed in life. Otherwise, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Photo by The Knowles Gallery and used under Creative Commons.

Gowalla Nothing More than a Shiny object

Location Based Networks have become extremely popular in the last year and a half. I was an early adopter of Foursquare and continue to use it actively. It’s become somewhat mundane to go through the same routine. Check in, get points (that seem largely useless, become mayor if you’re lucky, earn some badges).

Foursquare seems to have stalled a bit on innovation, though there is some rumor of some new ideas that could get traction – MG Siegler of Techcrunch suggests a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style game where your city becomes your adventure quest.

However, that is not here yet and in the meantime, there are fresh challenges coming from Gowalla. I have not liked Gowalla though because they have developed their business in an iPhone-centric way – something which is, in my opinion, short-sighted and disenfranchises non-iPhone users. “You can always use the web interface,” is an insulting position to take with potential customers. It just says, “You’re not good enough for us.”

Gowalla has recently released apps for other platforms, though, so when they released their Blackberry app, I decided to run an experiment and give them the opportunity to win me over as a user. I decided that for a week, I would run Gowalla only and not Foursquare. Give it a fair shake, right?

Now, I realize that I’m pissing in my own back yard here. Gowalla is an Austin company and everyone loves Gowalla in Austin. I, however, am not known for playing nice just for the sake of playing nice. I’m sure the folks at Gowalla are great guys and I look forward to enjoying tasty adult beverages with them one day at some establishment that I check into with Foursquare.

Push Notifications Jump the Shark

My first 24 hours of Gowalla usage involved getting constant push notifications on my Blackberry. I realize the app is in beta but the only options for push notifications are to turn all notices off or turn them all on or select friends to get push notices from. The missing piece and the thing that differentiates Foursquare and makes them better, is push notifications inside a certain radius (I believe it’s 40 miles for Foursquare). So if I fly home to DC, I can start getting Gowalla notices from my friends there automatically.

I do not want to know that Beau Frusetta is at LA Fitness in Phoenix when I’m in Austin – at least not by push notification!

Continuing with this riff, why is Gowalla putting the impetus on their users to perform discovery? Why should I select which users I want top get notices from? How do I know if there are other people I want to get notices on and I just don’t realize it.

I realize I’m an exceptional case with nearly 900 Gowalla friends, but that presents a scaling question of discovery. If I have a list of 50 friends, I can manually curate the list I want notices from. When I have 900, that’s significantly harder. Why not provide a means of discovery? Maybe suggested users? Perhaps most active friends? Or something…

Location Gone Wrong

A second problem is the use of geolocation/GPS. On numerous occasions, I could search for a venue just to be placed several kilometers away from where I actually was. Perhaps I could move 5 feet away and get a better position, but Gowalla’s attempt to thwart people from gaming the system, at some distance they don’t allow a check in. That’s at least 2km away. This is very frustrating for the user and creates a socially awkward situation where, unlike Foursquare that takes 15-20 seconds to perform a check-in, Gowalla check-ins could take a minute or more just as a result of trying to get the service to know where you are.

But There’s Good Stuff…

I will say that I highly appreciate Gowalla’s “Trips” and “Events” functionality. Unlike Foursquare where you can only check in at places, Gowalla does allow for temporary events. USers have “lifehacked” Foursquare by creating venues that are actually events, but Gowalla has this functionality built-in. I like this.

Additionally, they have a Trips feature that allows users to map out places in a related away. Tour of downtown historical spots? There’s a trip for that. Bar crawl route in Tribeca? Got that covered. This is a very nice thing and probably along the lines of what Foursquare may do with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” functionality talked about earlier.

But these positive features were not enough for me to continue the experiment. The experiment is over only four days in. Back to Foursquare. Additionally, until they address the issues above, I can’t recommend anyone actually use the service. It effectively is relegated to a shiny object that looks nice but is effectively broken and unusable.

If you do intend on using Gowalla, I’d use it in parallel with Foursquare.

So let it be written, so let it be done. Ready, aim, fire. I’m ready to be flamed.

Impending Legal Precedent for GPL Licensing?

If you pay attention to the WordPress world, you might be aware that a landmark lawsuit is likely to be filed. I say landmark expecting that both sides will litigate and not settle – something that is desperately needed in the United States to validate and uphold the scope of the GPL license.

WordPress is a free software that is licensed under GPLv2 – a license that was created in 1991 to protect the ability of developers and users to gain access to software, create derivative works and distribute the copyrighted code in its entirety under the same protective license.

One of the tenants of the GPL that is argued prolifically is that derivative works are works that “link” into other works via APIs and dependencies (such as library dependencies). According to the argument, software that is considered a derivative work must retain the same licensing as the GPL’d work that it links into.

There are many legal (and non-legal) minds who would like to interpret this license in a variety of ways. There have been notable legal cases around the GPL in the United States, but all (to the best of my knowledge) have settled prior to litigation. One of these cases, Progress Software v MySQL AB, revolved around a product called Nusphere that was bundled with MySQL but was proprietary and incompatible with the GPL. The judge refused to grant summary judgement and eventually MySQL simply did not bundle the proprietary software.

Another case avoided judicial decision – and thus avoided judicial precedence. That case, Free Software Foundation v. Cisco, was settled out of court with a donation from Cisco and a pledge of commitment to the GPL.

Today, a major incident happened that has been brewing for years now. Due to an unfortunate incident which involved source code for the popular Thesis theme for WordPress (from DIYThemes) becoming compromised by a hacker, tempers started boiling over. Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and the public face of )Automattic, the largest company behind the WordPress project, ended up on a live interview alongside Chris Pearson of DIYThemes.

Matt suggests (I think accurately) that a theme that is provided for WordPress (it does not work without WordPress) is a derivative work and requires GPL compatibility. He also suggests (accurately, I think) that GPL compliance would only enhance DIYTheme’s business as evidenced by countless other proprietary software providers who have gone open source.

Not to mention that a license does insinuate adherence to legal requirements provided by the license. If you don’t agree to the terms of the license, you’re not permitted to use the software. Makes sense.

Chris’ defense is that Thesis is completely independent of WordPress (which I question the rationality of since the software cannot exist absent of WordPress). He believes he has a business and economic right to maintain a license that is at odds with WordPress’ GPL license.

So my editorial question is… compliance with the WordPress GPL license is optional but compliance with the Thesis license is not? Hmmm.

Matt, in so many words, has already indicated that there will be a lawsuit that comes out of this. This could be landmark as, if the suit were not settled, it could define the parameters of open source software creation, usage and distribution reaching into every aspect of our life. Who uses Firefox? Yeah… depending on the outcome, that could be affected.

In a perfect world, the two sides reach an amicable solution. Thesis is popular, but it is not the only game in town. However, the second best solution is a legal precedent governing GPL software.

So we stand by and wait.

Image by Joe Gratz

Online Media: Relationships and Finding Signal In the Noise

When I first started using Twitter in the fall of 2006, I was one of only a few thousand people using this weird new service. It was fun because my friends were there. I’m an early adopter when it comes to technology so it’s not all that uncommon to find me on some new online tool kicking the tires.

Back in those days, there was a small enough pool of users that, hey, if someone followed you, you followed them back. It was just that simple. Many of us set up scripts that would automatically follow anyone who followed us. It was karma. It was social. It was how the changing face of the Internet made “us” better than “them”.

As all things go, however, Twitter began to jump the shark. People started using Twitter to push their products and agendas instead of simply communicating. We were like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, many of us not realizing until it was too late, that the reciprocity approach simply wasn’t scaleable. We concocted formulas to rationalize our efforts. We chose not to follow people who had an unbalanced follower to following ratio. We called them spammers. We labeled them as people unable to engage in conversation. We rationalized our own existence on Twitter, all the while boiling ourselves in hot water to the point that our worlds were nothing but noise, and our effectiveness as professionals became nil.

Around the time I had 2000 followers (also roughly 2000 people following), I stopped following everyone back. This was almost two years ago. Organically, I grew to 8500+ people following me in return simply because I was interesting and people wanted to follow interesting people. The concept of equivalency was tossed out the window by most people while the “influencers” kept talking up the idea of equivalency. I only followed people I had actually met.

Still, the noise became too much. There was no real way to come back from the brink. I had long ago reached the point where tweets in a tweetstream were at full force. I called it Twitter Terminal Velocity – the point where a tweetstream could not perceptibly travel any faster. And the content was not relevant to my personal or professional life.

Good people. Irrelevant content. Too much noise. This was the problem.

About two weeks ago, I made a drastic move that has improved my life in immesaurable ways. I culled the people I was following from 2800 down to 492 (that number has organically grown since). I had a number of criteria for who I kept – people in Austin (gotta keep my new city close, right?), people in tech (not tech news, not social media… tech!), people in the WordPress community, and real friends.

These are the people that matter to me on a daily basis. They make my life worth it on a personal and professional level. I see all their tweets now.

This is not to offend anyone that got cut. If you talk to me (via a mention), I still see those tweets and most of the time I will engage. I also have keyword searches so relevant conversation surrounding topics of interest are also seen, whether they are directed to me or not. However, in my day to day content consumption, I have made my Twitter experience a much more pure experience.

Today, I find myself more engaged with the people I care about. It’s not about me and my existence and importance. It’s about the people I care about engaging in my world and me in theirs. For instance, I would have never been able to encourage a friend about her father’s deployment to Afghanistan if I had 2800 people I was following. It doesn’t scale. It’s not personal. It’s not real relationships.

In closing, let me give on zing to the social media marketers and networkers. Relationships aren’t about what you do or if your customers care. Relationships aren’t about ROI. Sometimes in relationships, you get nothing in return. But real relationships actually make a difference to ROI and customer care. Just don’t mistake the two for the same thing. They are very far from the same thing.

Journalism: The old is new and the new is old

I love journalism. I love it with a passion. I love good journalism. Well executed journalism. Well researched journalism.

I care less about the AP Style Guide and more about engaging content. I care less about J-school degrees and more about thoughtful and provocative prose with a dedication to facts. I care less about conglomerate media organizations and more about the reporters, writers and personalities who make up CNN and the New York Times of the world.

I am just a blogger. I have been writing for over six years and I’ve swung from the “new media will kill old media” mode to “new media and traditional (I don’t call it old anymore) media” have a place together. Still, many bloggers (and social media people as a whole) get locked in an us and them struggle with their traditional peers. We see it in the music industry, in access to sports, in public relations and marketing, etc. Everyone loves the us vs. them argument.

Here’s the dirty little secret though: Without ‘them’, there is no ‘us’ and without ‘us’ there is no ‘them’. We are married together for the future of the industry forever. And that goes for all industries where these conversations happen.

What really is happening is a separation of the power brokers from the base of power. In other words, in public relations, professionals at the agencies go about their mindless drone job of push, push, push without ever really talking, tracking, monitoring or engaging the demographic they are trying to reach.

In the NFL, for years the clubs engaged in tactics with bloggers that delegitimized the coverage they were receiving and, in fact, the public was consuming… only because bloggers typically didn’t write for large media organizations.

In fact, Jay Rosen, a Professor at the New York University School of Journalism (And one of the smartest, most insightful journalism critics I know of), characterized this problem on Twitter by observing how the White House Press Corps engages.

Indeed. Though one could ask why the White House Press Corps would communicate directly with the public instead of with the White House, where their job is. Nonetheless, the greater point that is being made is that Traditional media that communicates with the base of power (the citizens and customers) is generally able to perform their art in a more meaningful way.

New Media exists to bridge a gap. We will never replace traditional journalism. On the other hand, traditional journalism will never eliminate new media. The bigger question is… why would either side want to do those things at all?

News Flash

I don’t write as often as I like but I have opinions on all kinds of news items. I usually share them on Twitter, but I’m going to try a different kind of post here that maybe can develop into a weekly featured item.

Photo by just.luc on Flickr.
News Item: The Apple iPhone 4 has reception problems. Apple says it’s because of how the phone is being held. Rumor is a patch will be released soon as the problem seems to be a software problem.

My Take: Does Apple do any QA? Shouldn’t this be an easy problem to discover and get fixed prior to launch. Certainly it’s good that they are pledging to get this fixed ASAP but when you buy a phone – any phone – you don’t expect stupid things like this to get in the way of its usefulness as a phone.

News Item: The Cybersecurity Act of 2010 just passed the Senate. Everyone is all up and arms because the bill supposedly gives the President the authority to turn off the Internet or seize key portions (routers, etc) in the interest of National Security. The supposed “Kill Switch”.

My Take: I read the bill from front to back. I don’t see support for a Kill Switch. The bill provides the authority for the President to work with ISPs and network providers to facilitate National Security investigations. It does provide the authority to seize routers and infrastructure in accordance with existing FISA laws (it does not amend FISA). This is not a new authority. It’s a clarification. I don’t like FISA and believe it should be done away with but there is no legendary Kill Switch in this bill.

News Item: Google is apparently in the throes of building a Facebook killer called Google Me.

My Take: Yeah, yeah, yeah. How many times has Google tried to get into Social? The only reason they are doing this is because they are scared of Facebook now that Facebook has invaded the search space in a whole new way. The biggest website on the planet now doing search? Google just wants to make sure that they return the favor. I’m still concerned about Google having all my information. But I’m scared of Facebook as well.

News Item: Twitter is always down these days.

My Take: Yup. It’s like 2008 all over again. I wonder what’s up with the people who have built their businesses on Twitter. I’m looking at you, Twitter Consultants. What happens when Twitter collapses under its own weight? Maybe that’s the business people’s fault for putting all their eggs in one basket.

The Changing Face of Comments

It’s been over six years that I’ve been writing on Technosailor.com. It has gone through many evolutions of themes, plugin uses, writing styles, writers, etc. The latest, if you haven’t noticed, was a move to subdomain technosailor.com as technosailor.com in an effort to rebrand under my name.

In the last two years, this site has become less abouot frequent writing and more about in depth writing. Most of the articles you have seen in the last two years have been solid articles that are well-written and in the 500-1000 word range.

Photo by wickked on Flickr

It’s become less of a blog and more of a column that you might see in a journal or newspaper. That is by design as it adds to the authority of this site. During this time, I have toyed with turning off comments completely which would certainly remove this site from the blog category. I’d actually be okay with that since I do blog in other spots. This site does not need to be a blog as that is only a word.

I find it interesting today that John Gruber of Daring Fireball happens to be talking about this issue (again…. it happens enough). A lot of people don’t like John. But no one can argue that the hard work he has put into his site over the years is something that he doesn’t have to share with anyone else.

Now that DF has achieved a modicum of popularity, however, what I tend to get instead aren’t queries or complaints about the lack of comments, but rather demands that I add them — demands from entitled people who see that I’ve built something very nice that draws much attention, and who believe they have a right to share in it.

The reality is most of my “conversation” happens elsewhere. Most of the time, reader engagement with my content comes in the form of retweets and not comments. And when I do get comments, they tend to be distracting. Who really needs that?

Comments, at least on popular websites, aren’t conversations. They’re cacophonous shouting matches. DF is a curated conversation, to be sure, but that’s the whole premise.

Indeed. Look no farther than the comments on any article on TechCrunch.

In short, I’m about to do what I should have done months ago. Maybe not immediately. It might take a few weeks before I pull the trigger. But I’ll be shutting off comments here. Of course, I have blogs elsewhere with comments, but sometimes not as focused as here on Technosailor.com. For instance, my personal blog is aaronbrazell.com and my mobile blog is at technosailor.wordpress.com. Comments will stay open there.

I’m Pro Choice. I’m Android.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

Yet one thing stands out to me as an anomaly on this, the opening day of pre-orders for the iPhone 4.


Photo by laihiu on Flickr

Ah yes. The iPhone. The gadget that makes grown men quake in their shoes. The thing that causes adults to behave as if they left their brains at the door. At one point in time, I called this behavior “an applegasm” and identified the Apple store as the place where intelligent people go to die.

And it’s not only the iPhone. It’s the iPad too (I bought one 3 weeks after release and only because I needed it for some client work). In fact, it’s any Apple device. Apple has a way of turning people into automatons controlled by the Borg in Cupertino.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple and I love Apple products. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy (or shall we call it “situational morality”) that comes into play here. There is nothing “open” about Apple products. Sure, Steve Jobs famously points out that Apple encourages the use of open web standards like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, but the devices are nowhere near open.

In fact, the devices are so closed and guarded that strange things like lost stolen iPhone prototypes make huge news. There is only one device. There is only one operating system. There is only one permitted way of designing apps. There is only one carrier (in the United States).

And the open standards, web-free, maniacal tech world that is ready to take off the heads of closed entities like Microsoft, Facebook and Palm, whistle silently and look the other way when it comes to Apple.

In another few weeks, I am going to be eligible for an upgrade with Verizon Wireless. As a longtime BlackBerry user (I refuse to give money to AT&T ever), I will be investing in a new Android-based phone. I won’t be doing this with any kind of religious conviction about open source. There is a legitimate place for closed source in this world. I’m doing this because the culture of openness (which supersedes the execution of openness, in my mind), allows for more innovation and creativity.

In the Android world (which is quickly catching up to the iPhone world), apps are being created without the artificial restrictions placed by a single gatekeeper. There are more choices in phones. Don’t like this one? Try that one. There is a greater anticipation around what can be done.

Apple had to have its arm twisted to enable multitasking in it’s latest operating system. It had to have its arm twisted to allow cut and paste. It still hasn’t provided a decent camera, despite consumers begging for one. In the Android world, if Motorola doesn’t provide it, maybe HTC does. You have choice. Choice is good.

I’m pro choice.

10 Things You Need to Know About WordPress 3.0

By now, you’ve probably heard the hype about WordPress 3.0. You may have even seen the WordPress 3.0 preview webinar I did not too long ago.

This is somewhat of an odd release as I can’t point to 10 individual new features in WordPress. However, I can point to several very large new features that have been hyped enough already. Inside each of these new major things, there are several components. So, let me break the ten things down into three groups. We’re a little behind schedule (thanks to Jane Wells’ cat below) but I think the wait is worth it.

The Merge! WordPress and WordPress Multisite Together At Last

Back at WordCamp San Francisco last year (which is happening this weekend and I will be at), Matt Mullenweg announced that WordPress and WordPress MU would be merging into one singular software package. I covered that shortly after the announcement. The reasoning was that all of the WordPress core was already in sync with WordPress MU and MU simply had a bit more functionality added to it. Most of the code is the same. Why split resources and developers?

WordPress 3.0 is where this merge takes place.

Language Changes

While this is not a new feature in WordPress, existing WordPress MU users may find themselves “thrown” by new terminology involved in WordPress 3.0. In WordPress MU, we had the concept of a “Site” which was an installation of WordPress MU. Within a Site you could have one or more blogs.

In WordPress 3.0, we have the concept of a Network (which was a Site in WordPress MU) and under a Network, we have Sites (which were Blogs). Sites are Blogs. Networks are Sites. Site Admins in WordPress MU are now called Super Admin’s in WordPress 3.0. Making things complicated, we don’t call it WordPress MU anymore. We call it putting WordPress into Multisite mode. Complicated, eh? New WordPress Core Developer, Andrew Nacin, describes this terminology nightmare.

Enabling WordPress for Multisite Mode

Something that is bound to be confusing for users who expect to simply install WordPress and get all the benefits of Multisite out of the gate are bound to be confused by the fact that there is no apparent “switch” to turn it on. When you install WordPress 3.0, it will be in standard WordPress mode. In order to flip the switch, you have to add a new constant to your wp-config.php file. It’s easy, just add the following and save:

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE',true);

Once this is done, you’ll find a new menu item called “Network”  in your Admin under Tools. Visit this page, enable Multisite and follow the instructions. You may need to add new configuration settings to your .htaccess file and wp-config.php, but WordPress will provide these lines for you to copy and paste.

Note: As with WordPress MU, you may need to make server level system changes to enable WordPress to handle subdomains. This is not an easily solved problem and caused heartburn with MU users and will likely continue to cause heartburn with WordPress 3.0 users as well.

Upgrading from WordPress or WordPress MU 2.9 or below

A lot of people, including myself, were concerned about upgrade paths when the Merge was announced. I should have known not to be concerned. WordPress has taken great care for years to ensure backwards compatibility and we’ve done the same thing here. If you’re on WordPress or WordPress MU, you will be able to install WordPress 3.0 and upgrade seamlessly. WordPress MU installs will become WordPress 3.0 with Multisite enabled and single installs of WordPress will retain all the benefits of standard installs of WordPress.

WordPress as a CMS: Custom Post Types and Taxonomies

Developers are already very excited about the new APIs available in WordPress 3.0. Specifically, Custom Post Types (which received initial support in WordPress 2.9). This is a very important set of new features because it finally – finally! – brings CMS support to WordPress. For the first time, we don’t have to simply pretend that WordPress is a CMS…. it can have all the CMS qualities of a Drupal or Joomla.

Custom Post Types

We initially talked about custom post types in WordPress 2.9 but in WordPress 3.0, the feature is fully vetted and able to be utilized. With a simple function in a plugin or theme, developers can create new post types (such as film reviews, podcasts or FAQs), provide entirely familiar UI (similar to posts and pages), etc.

You can find all the possible options under register_post_type() in the wp-includes/post.php file.

Custom Taxonomies

Going hand in hand with custom post types, you can also create custom taxonomies. Taxonomies are bits of metadata and most people think of them in terms of ‘categories’ and ‘tags’. Built into WordPress already are three taxonomies – categories, tags and link categories (which most people think about). The difference, from a technical perspective, between tags and categories is hierarchy. Categories have hierarchy so a category can have a child category, etc. Tags are flat and have no hierarchy.

You can create custom taxonomies with the register_taxonomy() function which will create UI automatically. All the options for custom taxonomies can be found in the wp-includes/taxonomy.php file.

Note: I have created a plugin and made it available for download that demonstrates how to use custom taxonomies and post types.

User Facing Enhancements

There are two major user facing enhancements. When I say two major user facing enhancements, I’m not being sensational. These things are killer and I think you’ll be excited.

Menus

Wow, this has been a controversial new feature. Mostly because it almost didn’t make it into WordPress 3.0 and users have really, really wanted it. Those familiar with the navigation creator in many of the WooThemes will be familiar with the new Menus feature in WordPress. This is because we worked early on with Woo to adopt their premium theme feature, which was very good, into the WordPress core (a fantastic case study on how premium theme developers can work directly with the WordPress core team).

The idea is really simple: Compose any menu with any hierarchy out of category archives, pages and custom links. Once a menu is created and saved, theme developers can enable support for this feature with the following line:

enable_theme_support('nav-menus');

Dropdowns are automatically created and semantic CSS markup allows style modifications easily. You can also create multiple menus (let’s say, a secondary navigation piece) and use them as sidebar widgets or hardcode them directly into a theme.

Default theme… no, no default theme… no, new default theme!

Well, you know all those free themes over on the theme repository? Yeah, most of theme are heavily modified versions of Kubrick, the default theme for WordPress. Theme people would take the code base, modify it and make it their own. They might upload it to the theme repository. Problem is, they would not be updated with the new stuff that would go into Kubrick. That and Kubrick sucked as a theme.

Well, as of WordPress 3.0, there is no more Kubrick. There also is no more Classic theme. Now, we have a new theme called twentyten. Yes, that means next year, we’ll have twentyeleven.

Twentyten is a very complex theme. It should not just be duplicated and hacked up. We want themers to adopt the child theme method of doing things. This is important because as changes go into twentyten, your child theme will inherit those changes.  Here’s a good starter for how to build child themes.

Note: If you are upgrading from previous versions of WordPress and have a child theme based on Kubrick, don’t delete the default theme. If you do, you can still grab the theme from the theme repository.

WordPress Admin Enhancements

The WordPress Administrative interface has also seen enhancements. Jane Wells is our usability expert in the WordPress developers group and has done quite a lot of work. Minor enhancements include an all light-grey style color scheme (as opposed to the dark grey header bar). This does seem to be better on the eyes. Additionally, the themes interface also has a new “tabbed” interface.

Custom Backgrounds

Built into twentyten is a new custom background feature. The cool thing is, theme developers can include this feature in their own theme. Simply adding this function to your theme functions.php will add a new menu item to your Appearance menu that allows for quick modification of the background image on the blog.

add_custom_background();

The Extras

Of course, not everything can fit into the three main areas of feature adds. Some are important and just don’t fit anywhere else.

Admin Username

Many of the security problems that have occurred in WordPress’ history have been a result of the administrative username being admin. This has not been selectable or changeable without hacking the database and changing the admin username there.

In WordPress 3.0, the username can now be selected on install. Here’s a hint…. don’t name it admin. :)

For a complete list of expected changes, see this Codex page.