Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com and many other services like JetPack, WooCommerce and more has received $300 million USD in funding from Salesforce. From TechCrunch:

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and soon Tumblr, has closed a $300 million funding round at a $3 billion post-money valuation. The Series D round has a single investor, Salesforce Ventures.

First off, congrats at Matt Mullenweg and the Automattic team on this round. That’s a large investment and Salesforce is an interesting, and sole partner in this investment. This will improve services, integrate new acquisitions like Tumblr, and create more jobs. All good things. I’d love someone to invest anything let alone several hundred million dollars in my company.

VentureBeat says this about the deal:

Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to see why Salesforce would invest such a gargantuan sum in a company best known for blogging. WordPress currently powers one-third of the web, which includes everything from small-time bloggers to publishers and online retailers. And several products in Automattic’s arsenal hint at the reasons Salesforce has elected to invest in the company.

What does this mean for you?

The question I’ve been thinking about all morning is this: what does this fundraising mean for those of us who use, develop for, and are deep in the trenches with WordPress. I think the answers are good and bad.

To start, it means more ads. I don’t mean display or text ads are going to start populating WordPress. Instead,  you are going to see an increase in the promotion of Automattic’s services and offerings in products like WooCommerce, product directories and more, putting their products in front of tens of millions of WordPress users, admins and developers.

You may have already seen this in action. This Spring, WooCommerce started pushing their plugins and add-ons as “recommended extensions,” and surprise, they’re all Automattic/WooCommerce owned ones. About this new type of “ad,” Erik Bernskiold said this:

“I get that WooCommerce want to benefit from their commercial side, too, and there are many ways to do this. But in this case, it feels like this is at a great disregard for the users. Hijacking a product list, order list or a user interface element in this way is a major interruption of the user experience. It’s not the place for an ad.”

I understand that Automattic bought WooCommerce, and it’s their platform, but for many people, they feel the manipulation of a set of results goes against the open nature of WordPress.

The rise of plugin nags, upsells and banners

This happens in the Add Plugin area of WordPress as well. Look at the “Featured” tab — 2 of the 5 plugins there are paid services from Automattic (Akismet and JetPack.) Switch to the “Recommended” tab and you see WooCommerce in the first position.

In addition, there’s been a very rapid increase in the use of upsell alerts, banners and other annoyances by WordPress plugin makers lately. What’s keeping a widely used tool like WooCommerce to start advertising other Automattic services, like the recently acquired ZBS CRM?

Screenshot from Updraft Plus Nag message

I like the Updraft Backup plugin, but they constantly nag users to upgrade. They’re not alone in doing this. Lookin’ at you, Yoast.

 

They wouldn’t do this, people will say. No? The over $500 million that they’ve raised for their company isn’t a gift — investors expect a several-multiple return on that investment. So, Automattic has to make money. They do that by selling services like WordPress VIP, WooCommerce add-ons and so on.

Governance is Key

It’s these kind of possibilities that makes the push for improved governance over the WordPress project more important than ever. There are some key issues that need to be communicated, debated and solutions offered to the community. There are many, but I’d include topics such as the expansion of nags like the ones I mentioned earlier. There’s the issue of auto-updating old WordPress installations, and the pros and cons of doing that. And finally, there’s accessibility.

I don’t think the accessibility issues around Gutenberg at the launch of version 5 of WordPress were handled particularly well. There have been a million blog post and tweets both for and against the launch in general as well as about the accessibility issues. Thankfully, organizations like WPCampus raised money to fund an accessibility study to identify issues with the hope they would be fixed. (Note: I donated to that campaign.)

WordPress (.org) is open source, and needs formal and stable governance. It powers so much of the web it needs oversight to keep it free, open and not under the control of one company.

 

We’re a few weeks into the world of WordPress 5 and Gutenberg, and the hysteria has quieted down a bit. Maybe it was the holidays, but now that the new year is here and folks are back to work and school, I’ve seen an uptick in reports of sites breaking when they are updated to WP 5.

Specifically, I’ve had a few client sites where the customer has updated WordPress to version 5 without telling me and lo and behold, their sites decided to break.

I’m sure many agencies haven’t had enough time to go through all their client sites to ensure everything is going to be OK, but every time my clients log into their site, they are seeing that “Update to WordPress 5” nag alert bar, and so they do it.

I don’t want them to. Not yet. So I asked on Twitter if there was a way to disable that notification, specifically.

Jay Hill jumped into the replies and developed a nice, small plugin that will hide that WordPress 5.0 upgrade nag.

You can find the plugin at Github. Thanks, Jay! This is a nice, quick thing to add to sites until we’re ready to update them. If you don’t want to add the plugin, you can probably just add the couple of lines to your functions.php file.

We should probably have a talk eventually about plugins and themes abusing the notification and alert system, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I love WordPress. I’ve built sites large and small with it. I’ve spoken about it at conferences like WPCampus. It’s been exciting to watch it grow since I really started using it in 2008.

It’s plugin system allows new and experienced developers to add functionality, features, and tools to their websites in an easy and intuitive way. But with great power comes great responsibility. It’s not uncommon now for websites and pages to be over 3MB in size including images, css files, and javascripts. Last year, Wired ran a story saying that the average webpage is the size of the original shareware DOOM game.

I regularly see results like this from YSlow and GTMetrix all the time when I plug WordPress sites in to see performance data:

That’s crazy, but it’s what happens when you use a ton of plugins in WordPress. Each of those plugins will add their own CSS and Javascript files into the site. Add in the myriad of tracking scripts and beacons and we end up with a website or landing page that has 30 external javascript files. I fear the art of website optimization is slowly being lost or worse, skipped or ignored.

I’m most likely salty about this because I learned how to make websites in the days when the majority of our users were on dial-up connections. We worked to get every kilobyte we could out of our images in order to serve them just a little faster. Photoshop would even tell us how long it would take to download that image on various modem speeds.

Photoshop 5 Save for Web Dialog

Photoshop 5 Save for Web Dialog

 

There’s no reason for sites to be three, four, or even five megabytes in size. That’s especially bad in our current era of mobile usage. But there are easy things site owners can do to improve their site speeds.

A few thoughts on optimization

First, a question to ask. Is the functionality a plugin is adding something that you can accomplish by coding it into your theme?

It’s less taxing to input, for example, your Google Analytics or Tag Manager code in your theme’s header or footer file than use a plugin to do it for you. Not only do you remove the need for a plugin, you also do away with an additional database and PHP calls. The less calls to the server and to your database, the faster your site will be. You will also have less to manage in terms of plugin updates and security.

Can you accomplish things like animations and visual effects directly in your theme’s CSS or Javascript? If so, put it in your existing theme’s structures. Better yet, ask yourself if you really need that animation or effect in your site. It’s fun to see an image pop or fade in on first view, but once I’ve seen it, the thrill is lost. Does that animation meet accessibility guidelines? Save file space, and reduce or remove animation effects.

Second, there are times you need multiple plugins due to your site’s requirements. In that case, it makes sense to minify, combine, and cache as many of your static files as you can. I have used Fast Velocity Minify and Autoptimize to do this heavy lifting for you. These work in the background to combine those 30 CSS files into one or two files. This will allow them to be served much faster. Combined with good caching, your site speeds will improve.

Don’t forget to optimize images too!

Optimization Recommendations from GTMetrix

I’ve spent most of this post talking about JavaScript and CSS files. Another culprit when it comes to increasing site sizes are images. If you are exporting files directly from Photoshop, you may not be getting a fully web-optimized versions. In most cases, your images could benefit from additional optimization.

I’ve blogged about options like ImageOptim and TinyPNG before in this post. If you don’t want to add a step to your workflow, or perhaps you have users who are uploading content to your WordPress site, you can do optimization on the server side.

There are several plugins and services that will optimize your images for you when they’re initially uploaded. Some will also go through your media library to optimize previously uploaded files.

One such tool is EWWW Image Optimizer. They offer a plugin that will do the optimizations right on your server. This is a good choice if you’re on a dedicated server or VPS. This free plugin will optimize your images right on your own hardware.

If you are on shared hosting, or use a hosting service like WPEngine, this type of local image optimization plugin may be blocked. It uses processor and memory power to run, which can impact performance in shared environments. Worry not, EWWW has an option where they will optimize your images in their cloud seamlessly and return the file to your site. This means you can use it at hosts like WPEngine.

Wrap Up

Whether you are an experienced developer, or someone relatively new to WordPress, it’s worth the effort to make your site as fast as possible for your users. There are tools to make this process simple, and more importantly, automatic. Your users will thank you, Google will thank, and I will thank you.