Finding a new home for the WordPress community

The recent turmoil at Twitter has a lot of WordPress community members looking for alternatives. What if we used WordPress to power our community?

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ollie-openpress

Update: Due to the overwhelming interest in OpenPress, I’ve created a dedicated website for the evolving concept. Visit OpenPress and subscribe to be updated about the status of the project.

The recent $44 billion dollar purchase of Twitter has a lot of people talking, to put it mildly. Some people are excited for a shakeup, seeing a lot of untapped potential in Twitter. Others are anxious, seeing the turbulence and uncertainty as a threat to the communities they’ve worked so hard to build over the years.

Like many folks, I’m in both camps. I really like Twitter. It’s the only social media I use, and it’s where my audience and community is. Twitter has the potential to evolve in some really innovative ways. Payments, curation, customization, less ads, more creator tools โ€” these would all be a huge win for the platform.

But I’m also a fan of stability and thoughtful leadership in the platforms that I use. The mass firings (and clumsy re-hirings) that have happened at Twitter recently aren’t exactly confidence inducing. And the erratic nature of adding and removing features on a whim have already caused the platform’s ad revenue (roughly 90% of Twitter’s revenue) to tank. And now there’s talk of bankruptcy.

Even if Elon Musk turns Twitter around, his unorthodox billionaire-gone-wild management style may cost him a slowly-bleeding user base as he tries to find the right balance of features, free speech, and empathy.

Looking for alternatives

All of this combined has people in the WordPress community questioning what comes next. Twitter (probably) isn’t going anywhere overnight, but that doesn’t mean the WordPress community, which is very much a Twitter-based community, will continue to operate there.

In fact, scores of community members are already test driving alternatives like Mastadon and Tumblr in search of a new home for our diverse WordPress community. Neither feels like a great fit for me, but I applaud the attempt to secure a new home.

Matt acknowledges that Twitter does a lot right, even if it’s not quite perfect.

And even if we found a really good alternative, I would still suggest it’s time to rethink how how much time, effort, and content we’re dedicating to platforms that lock it up and deliver it via their own incentivized algorithms.

Our content, even if it’s only 280 characters, should be ours, and we should reap the rewards of the value it delivers.

All of this has me thinking: If we’re going to make a big migration to something new, how can we better future-proof our community from apps that may come and go over time? And how can we get back to owning our content by default, and renting it out to social media platforms we align with, instead of the other way around?

Before we scramble to another platform, let’s slow down and look at the most powerful content creation tool on the planet: WordPress.

WordPress as a Platform

Ok, I know some of this is going to sound crazy, but hear me out. ๐Ÿ˜…

Every day, we work in a powerhouse CMSCMS Content management software (CMS) is used for managing digital content, such as posts and pages, on websites. that has a mountain of powerful capabilities baked in. Block editorBlock editor The WordPress block editor is editing interface where you create content and layouts with blocks (paragraphs, images, columns, etc.)., posts, pages, taxonomies, comments, users, authentication, APIs, RSS, drafts, scheduling, post formats, and so much more. You can literally build anything with it.

Our content, even if it’s only 280 characters, should be ours, and we should reap the rewards of the value it delivers.

We create our websites with WordPress, we sell our goods with WordPress, we write content and market it with WordPress, we run businesses with WordPress, we learn about WordPress on other WordPress-powered websites. We’re all in on WordPress.

But then we go to social media platforms to write our short-form content and deliver our value to our audience. I get it โ€” that’s where our audiences, our peers, and real-time conversations are. It’s difficult to even imagine an alternative.

But when it comes to our WordPress community in particular, I’m curious if we can decentralize our interactions and knowledge sharing using WordPress itself.

Over the course of a few days, I started to imagine what this would look like. How could we take all of this powerful technology and rewire it to be a new home of our WordPress community? This is a thought experiment and design concept I’m calling OpenPress.

An intro to OpenPress

Simply put, OpenPress adds functionality and an interface to your website that enables you to run your own micro publishing platform using readily-available WordPress technology.

Your website, and the content you’re publishing, can then be connected to a network of other websites that are also using OpenPress. The result is a network that is powered by individuals, but connected as a community.

This concept is framed around solving how the WordPress community, specifically, connects and shares content.

Instead of going to a platform like Twitter to write updates and share valuable content, you do it directly from your website. Your content remains yours, and can be shared and consumed within the WordPress community of OpenPress users. (This will be a familiar concept for those of you who know about the fediverse.)

Forget about the stack for now

In this initial post, I don’t want to go too deep on specific technology to make a concept like OpenPress work because there are a dozen different ways to achieve it within WordPress. (For what it’s worth, React, the REST API, RSS, ActivityPub, and the block editor can go a long way to achieve this.)

More importantly, technology wouldn’t be the barrier to making something like this work. The real barriers are on the macro level: feasibility, volunteers, adoption, and maintenance.

Let’s keep it high level for now and walk through a few screens I’ve designed to better understand how this might work.

The OpenPress interface

Every WordPress website that runs OpenPress gets a dedicated page where the OpenPress interface is displayed (e.g. yoursite.com/openpress). This interface provides a way for you to create and share content for your audience, and also to consume content from those you follow.

Your Profile page

Your Profile page displays a public feed of your “Updates”, which is short-form content like tweets. Followers can interact with your Updates by leaving comments or trackbacks.

1-openpress-profile

Your Profile photo and bio are pulled in from your site’s WordPress profile area in the WordPress admin. You’ll continue to see this pattern: we’re leaning on as many existing WordPress features as possible to reduce the complexity and increase familiarity and feasibility.

Your Profile page displays Updates by default, but you can also opt to display your blog content here as well. This makes content discovery much more organic, keeping your short-form content and long-form content readily-available to your audience.

The Publish page

The Publish page is where you create your Updates. By pulling in block editor components for the content editor, we can provide a familiar, content-rich editing experience within this new interface.

Your Updates can be published immediately, scheduled, or saved as a draft to work on later. Sounding too complex? These features are already built into WordPress. ๐Ÿ’ฅ

The Update Feed page

The Update Feed is where you consume and interact with content from users you follow. You can comment on Updates from your followers, add reactions, and manage the accounts you follow here.

Notice there are no ads or other business-oriented decisions playing out in your feed. Your feed is yours, and free of junk. It only shows what you want it to show (in whatever order you want to see it).

The Content Feed page

The Content Feed is where you can browse long-form content from the accounts you follow. When they add new content to their blog, it shows up in your content feed.

This gives you a highly-curated feed to learn about the topics that are most important to you. It creates a separation between the minute-by-minute content that happens in Updates (which is valuable, but perhaps sometimes distracting) with a dedicated space to focus, learn, explore, and share content.

The Explore Feeds page

The Explore Feeds page is where you can find other sites and users who have connected to the OpenPress network. By providing a way to filter users, you can dig down to what interests you most.

This page gives you an opportunity to connect specifically with WordPress creators, educators, and leaders without having to wade through a bunch of Twitter accounts or lists to find them.

This also gives more exposure to new or underrepresented community members, giving them a chance to grow their network, find new opportunities, and connect with community members in a more meaningful way.

Because we’re focusing this on our community, we can shape the experience around our needs.

Starting the conversation

These things are tough, and I don’t claim to know every nuance about building something like this or the implications of doing so. This is just a (technology-informed) design concept, and hopefully kindling for a more in-depth discussion. There are tons of smarter people than myself who have started this work, and I hope to hear from them!

What would it look like to start connecting millions of websites, users, and content that power half of the web in a more purposeful and open way?

One thing I do know is WordPress, and I’ve long-thought that we may be underutilizing the sheer reach and capability that we have in our hands on a daily basis with the software. What would it look like to start connecting millions of websites, users, and content that power half of the web in a more purposeful and open way? It’s a fascinating proposition.

At the very least, I hope the OpenPress concept has provided a chance to look at what the next step could look like for our diverse and uniquely-valuable WordPress community.

Is it hopeful thinking? Is it just a glorified RSS feed? Is it so crazy that it might just work? Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter (while it’s still a thing ๐Ÿ˜…).

Update: Due to the overwhelming interest in OpenPress, I’ve created a dedicated website for the evolving concept. Visit OpenPress and subscribe to be updated about the status of the project.

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21 responses to “Finding a new home for the WordPress community”

  1. Alex Standiford Avatar

    I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, ESPECIALLY if it finds itself natively working with ActivityPub. It just opens SO many doors to make a WordPress into a really good personal connection to the fediverse.

    Really excited about the stuff that’s coming around.

    1. Mike McAlister Avatar

      I’m learning more and more about ActivityPub lately and it’s a really exciting concept to me. Especially when paired with WordPress. Thanks for reading, Alex!

      1. Alex Standiford Avatar

        Thank you Mike!

        I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately too, and I actually mentioned your post in an article I just published here.

        https://alexstandiford.com/blog/fediverse/your-site-as-a-central-hub/

        TL;DR – I think both inbound and outbound content is the key to creating a holistic website that features a complete image of a person. Really excited about what you’re doing here as a piece of that puzzle!

    2. andymci Avatar

      Agreed. We need more connected platforms and fewer walled gardens. Let users decide which servers and sources they want to connect with.

  2. Keanan Koppenhaver Avatar

    I think this is a great idea, especially if it was something relatively “out of the box” where you could spin up a customized install relatively quickly.

    My main concern with something like this is what happens if a post of yours goes “viral”? I’m not sure how Mastodon or others handle that, but if you’re running your own WordPress install, it seems like we may have just reinvented the “Slashdot effect”.

    On the other hand, this might be a great fit for one of the serverless WordPress solutions that have come up as of late, or even a hosting service dedicated to hosting these types of sites.

    1. Alex Standiford Avatar

      This is a good question, and one worth considering. I would like to see more self hosted platforms take the approach that PeerTube has taken.

      On PeerTube, if you’re watching a video, you automatically become a peer in a miniature peer-to-peer network (think torrents) where you help other people who are, in that moment, also viewing the video at the same time.

      This helps reduce server load on big traffic spikes like what you’re talking about.

    2. Mike McAlister Avatar

      Definitely a good question. In this proposal, I’ve purposefully limited it to one community (or WP community) which isn’t really big enough for a post to go viral enough to break a site (I don’t think so anyway ๐Ÿ˜…).

      I’d have to defer to smarter people on this one.

  3. Vince Balk Avatar
    Vince Balk

    Looks very interesting. My data, my content. Skip those platforms that make big money from all others content.

    Where can I find out more about OpenPress?

    1. Mike McAlister Avatar

      Thanks, Vince! Keep an eye on the Ollie blog, and you can also follow me and Ollie on Twitter (while it’s still alive).

      https://twitter.com/mikemcalister
      https://twitter.com/ridewithollie

  4. JJJ Avatar

    Hey Mike! ๐Ÿ‘‹

    All of this is totally doable, and the majority of the code to do it has already been written & exists in the WordPress ecosystem โ€“ it just needs to be cherry-picked and repackaged with intent.

    Multisite, App passwords, P2/O2, Gravatar, BuddyPress/BuddyBoss, Jetpack, Migrate DB, WP User Profiles, CPT/Tax, Comments, XFN, Ping-o-Matic, Tumblr, Trackbacks, ActivityPub, OpenWeb, IndieWeb, Gutenberg/blocksBlocks Blocks are content elements that you add to the editor in posts and pages to create content layouts. Each item you add to your post or page is a block., ElasticSearch, etc…

    Imagine that I “subscribe” to OllieWP.com, cloning your “public” content into a new site in my install. It gets indexed (by Elastic or whatever) against all of the sites my site is subscribed to. Sites push and pull new content to keep every local copy synced. We all get a Tumblr’esque feed of what we subscribed to, built from locally hosted “cached” copies that are easy for PHP & MySQL to work with. I comment on this post from my feed, and it tells your post about my comment, and every transaction is naturally double-verified.

    WooCommerce really helped improve the entire self-hosting landscape in the past 10 years; page & object caching are largely a default part of the experience now โ€“ most of the “BuddyPress doesn’t scale” type of conversations do not happen anymore. Moore’s law practically dictates that the next step in the evolution of blogging & federating content looks like all of us hosting all of it together for each other, and working together to conquer the engineering challenges that reveals!

    So, yeah… um… let’s do it! ๐Ÿ˜…

    1. Mike McAlister Avatar

      Yeah I couldn’t agree more with all of this. We’ve all built different versions of this over time. All of the tech is there. And it looks like some folks like Alex here in the comments are already on the right track philosophically.

      1. mfs Avatar

        Yes, agree with you and JJJ…the tech is there and has been there. Which leads me to stating the obvious…the issue isn’t the tech. It’s the intended audience.

        As a broad sweeping statement “The Community” has an infatuation with convenience and “market share” (i.e., my FB group is bigger than your FB group). And while I’ve been told admins of those groups realize FB is a horrible way to do it**, there’s zero change. “Leadership” doesn’t want to risk disruption to their empire.

        I’m interested in seeing how your ideals workout. I greatly appreciate the ideals and ambition. But I must warn you: Technology is the least of your worries.

        ** Aside from someone else owning the content, the content isn’t index by search engines. How is that helpful to anyone but the host platforms? How is that serving “The Community”?

  5. Alex Kirk Avatar

    This is great, could it be that you are pretty much describing what I’ve been working on with the Friends plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/friends/ for quite a while now? ๐Ÿ™‚

    It allows you to follow and befriend other WordPresses and gives you a Ui at yourdomain.com/friends/

    When you are a friends with another WordPress you get a user there that you can use for interacting with that site (comments, it also has support for emoji reaction).

    You can also DM other WordPresses when you are friends.

    We’re just about to add support for following people via ActivityPub in https://github.com/pfefferle/wordpress-activitypub/pull/172.

    See https://github.com/akirk/friends for the development and https://wpfriends.at/ which describes the concept in more detail.

    1. Mike McAlister Avatar

      Hey Alex!

      Thanks for sharing your Friends plugin! I had never seen this, but it’s pretty dang close to what I’m proposing here! I’m glad I’m not crazy in thinking something like this could work. I’ll take a closer look at some of the links you left here. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  6. Frank Avatar
    Frank

    Great article!
    It sort of looks like the Friends plugin Alex Kirk made. Cannot wait how this will develop.

    https://wpfriends.at/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bz6GluXnsk

    1. Mike McAlister Avatar

      Yeah totally! Alex’s plugin looks great. Currently digging into it to see where we can overlap.

  7. Chris Aldrich Avatar

    This is a brilliant idea and is broadly what underpins the mission of the IndieWeb space for the past decade. The difference is that it isn’t platform specific and a large portion of it is already built and working! Of course it’s in different stages and forms of usability for various platforms, but most of the building blocksBlocks Blocks are content elements that you add to the editor in posts and pages to create content layouts. Each item you add to your post or page is a block. already exist for a broad variety of platforms, including (and especially for) WordPress.ย 

    Because of the base level design, I can post on my site and syndicate content almost anywhere while often times getting replies and responses back from a number of platforms. Because it’s all built on open specs it means that people on WordPress can communicate directly with those on Drupal, Craft, Hugo, Kirby, Django, a variety of static site generators, Twitter, Mastodon, and almost any platform that chooses to support the broad standards. (Matt Mullenweg has already started down the road to having Tumblr support these building blocks.)

    WordPress already has support for all of the major building blocks and works with a variety of social readers which make reading content and replying to it pretty simple and straightforward. Of course this doesn’t mean that there still isn’t work left to perfect it, smooth the corners, and lower the technical bars, and the costs for a wider diversity of people. For those that don’t want to deal with the hassle and maintenance, there are also several services that support most of the specs out of the box. Micro.blog in particular has a great user interface and does all the heavy lifting for $5/month. Without any cost, you can create an account and join that community using your own WordPress site today.ย 

    If you’re into the idea, stop by the IndieWeb chat, ask questions, and join the party. I’ve got a collection of posts with a variety of resources, descriptions, how-tos, and videos if you need them: https://boffosocko.com/research/indieweb/

    Here’s a short preview of what some of it looks like in practice:ย 
    https://youtu.be/TfnlCw0m9NM

    Aside: David Shanske, perhaps we ought to run one of our WordPress IndieWeb install fests one one of these coming weekends to help onboard people?ย 

    (Originally posted on my personal site at: https://boffosocko.com/2022/11/17/55811695/)

  8. Dan Avatar

    Nice! I dig it. Reminds me of Elgg quite a lot โ€” which was (and still is) a beautiful and fun little FOSS social network platform that was way ahead of its time in 2004.

    Really happy to learn about “Friends” too.

  9. Daniel McClure Avatar

    I’ve tried this a few times over the years (most recently here), as well as syncing the content in and out with Twitter and also pulling in content from places like Instagram, YouTube , etc. But it is hard to get it to stick, even with a custom built Gravity Form for front-end publishing capabilities.

    A few of the challenges:
    – Lack of network feeds for distribution and community responses
    – Lack of hashtag support with cross-site discoverability
    – Lack of cross-site conversation threads
    – Daisy-chain of interrelated IndieWeb and traditional plugins to get it working
    – Reliance on constantly shifting third party APIs for syncing
    – Clear division, and automation of processing, different types of content e.g. video, images, text only (also long vs short form)
    – Deciding whether to use custom post types vs post formats (Haven’t tried anew since blocksBlocks Blocks are content elements that you add to the editor in posts and pages to create content layouts. Each item you add to your post or page is a block. came along)

    If you’re not familiar it is probably worth looking at what Micro.blog are doing too, although that is not explicitly WordPress.

    If you can finally get something like this working in one solution, I’m in. Happy to help with testing and perhaps a little light dev work too!

  10. Val Lynn Avatar
    Val Lynn

    Mike,

    I don’t know anything about putting this together but I am very happy to see trackbacks used again. Also, it would be nice to be able to sub-set our communities using our Gravatar images and emails.

  11. Daniel Kossmann Avatar

    Loved the idea, thanks for sharing! I’m thinking about this for a couple of months, especially in a way to centralize all the content inside your own website and them replicate it to other social media platforms. I read some IndieWeb tutorials on how to implement it in WordPress, but haven’t tried it yet. While researching this, I’ve found Minifeed from Larry Sanger, have you heard about it? It has a similar idea and it is build with WordPress. Maybe OpenPress could join forces or exchange ideas. Here are some links about it:
    https://larrysanger.org/2022/03/what-is-minifeed/
    https://minifeed.org/

    I would love to keep up with this project and I’ve already subscribed to the newsletter.

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