This is the first in a series of interviews which will include people working with WordPress, themes and plugins. The first interview is with Simon from OIOPublisher.com who was kind enough to answer a few questions about WordPress and OIOPublisher.
Hi Simon, first of all thank you for doing this interview. Would you be so kind to tell us a little about yourself?
I studied law at University and at the same time started an interest in web development, building basic websites and learning PHP as I went along. After University I realized I didn’t much like the idea of being a lawyer, and instead ended up working in the UK charity sector as a web developer. I also run a couple of web projects in my spare time and am studying for an MA in Management.
You are well known as the author of OIOpublisher, a WordPress advertising plugin. How long have you been developing on it? Do you have any guess to the amount of man-hours invested in the solution as it is now?
I remember browsing digitalpoint.com one day, back in the Summer of 2007 and seeing a discussion about a new WordPress plugin called wpbankroll, which let you sell paid reviews directly via a WordPress blog. I thought at the time that it was a good idea, but wondered if I couldn’t do a better job. A couple of days later I created the first version of OIO.
The time I’ve had to spend on the project has often varied quite a lot, but taking into account research, coding and support, it probably averages out to at least an hour’s work every day since OIO’s inception. Let’s say about 1000 hours so far.
How did OIOpublisher come about, and what are your future plans for it?
As I mentioned, it was initially inspired by the wpbankroll WordPress plugin. It was also around the time reviewme.com was gaining popularity. Taking a 50% cut for every review seemed ludicrous to me, even with their advertiser pulling power, so creating a viable alternative seemed like a good thing to do.
Future plans, where to start! The one thing I’ve found is that the more features and flexibility added to a web application, the more ideas users come up with as a result. There’s a never ending flow of ideas and possibilities. At the moment I’m preparing for a complete overhaul of the script. It will be developed in PHP5 and will focus heavily on community feedback from the outset. It will also make use of a light-weight PHP framework that I’m currently working on, to speed up development time and enable others to extend the application with much greater ease.
I’d also like to add customization services (which I’ll bring in other developers to handle) and a module repository where others can contribute (and sell) their own extensions to OIO.
OIOpublisher is much more than just a plugin, you have implemented several other features such as the marketplace etc. Visiting your oiopublisher.com, you get the feeling of a VERY tight and well integrated system. How is developing plugins of this size for a platform such as WordPress. Does it make it easier or harder to develop?
When I first started, OIO was very much a WordPress plugin (back then it was free too!), making use of internal WordPress code almost everywhere. There came a point where I realized that OIO could be a platform in itself and so I converted it into a standalone application, which then linked into WordPress. Whilst the end user noticed no difference, it enabled me to reach a larger audience and integrate OIO with other platforms in the future.
WordPress has always been very easy to develop with, both when I was developing OIO purely as a plugin and when integrating my own code with it. The fact that it has such a large and diverse plugin / theme developer community speaks volumes.
Have you considered developing for other platforms, and why did you settle on WordPress as your primary platform?
Blogs were the most popular type of website at the time I started with OIO (and probably still are) and WordPress was widely used. The target market for paid reviews / text links that I was originally aiming for was also very blog (WordPress) orientated, so it made sense to go down that route.
I don’t think I would develop exclusively for one platform in the future, as I’d rather create apps and services that can be easily integrated with multiple platforms than focus too much on one platform.
WordPress is certainly one of the best platforms for creating any content driven website though, and would be my choice if I needed to quickly create a website that I could extend later.
OIOpublisher is a success in terms of deployment on the internet, I see many blogs using it, but is it also a commercial success, can you make a decent living from developing WordPress solutions?
I think that WordPress provides an effective way for non-technically minded people to put their content on the web, whilst at the same time allowing for a great deal of customization and extension.
There will always be a demand for customization services, since no pre-made application or CMS will ever cover the needs of every individual. Therefore as long as the WordPress platform continues to thrive, I see no reason why you couldn’t make a good living out of it.
Are you working on other projects you would like to talk about?
I’m developing a PHP framework that will form the basis of the next major version of OIO, which will be released as an open-source project in its own right. I hope to make its focus the development of paid apps (like OIO), where the code specific to an author’s application is licensed separately from the core.
My day job focuses on the UK charity sector. theBigGive.org.uk is essentially a database of UK charitable projects, added and maintained by the charities themselves. We provide fund-raising tools, as well as “matched funding” opportunities to encourage donations during a difficult economic period.
Recently the Software Freedom Law Center clarified the status of themes as derivative works of WordPress, what is your reaction to this?
Whilst initially it might seem a difficult hurdle to overcome (for those selling premium themes), I think it actually makes little difference. The PHP code that is used to generate a theme usually contains a reasonable amount of WordPress code (the post loop for example), so saying that those php files are derivatives of WordPress is fair enough.
But what makes a theme unique (and worth paying for) is the styling – which come from images and CSS files. As those files don’t contain any WordPress code, they can be licensed separately and sold if the author wants. The same is true of WordPress plugins.
You can also see that sites selling WordPress themes haven’t had too much difficulty in adjusting. Themeforest.net for example, announced a small change in licensing and then things carried on as normal.
How does the reliance of GPL from WordPress affect Theme and Plugin developers who want to commercialize their products?
As I say, I don’t think it makes that much difference. If a file in your plugin or theme contains a WordPress function, assume that file is covered by the GPL license. Any file that doesn’t contain WordPress code is yours to license as you please.
If anything, the recent clarification will ensure that developers separate out their own code from WordPress more cleanly, which is no bad thing from a code portability / re-usability point of view!
Any good advice/suggestions for people who want to develop plugins and/or themes for WordPress in a commercial capacity?
Keep your own code separate from any WordPress code. Put anything that relies on a WordPress function (such as a plugin action or filter) into separate files and use an include statement to add those files to your code where required.
WordPress was in 2008 one of the fastest growing requested skill sets, as recorded by among others oDesk. How do you see this growth for 2009 and beyond?
WordPress is constantly improving, which should make it an increasingly viable option for all sorts of websites (not just blogs). Whilst I’m no expert, I’d imagine growth will remain strong.
How do you see the future of WordPress itself?
The recent trend seems to have been more about refining existing features and technologies than adding too many completely new ones – making it faster, easier to use and more intuitive.
I think that approach may well be continued, now that the core contains so many features and the developer community is very well established. Functionality can easily be extended by plugins, so making sure the basic things are as intuitive as possible is important.
Thank you Simon for doing this interview.