Episode 309: WS Forms With Mark Westguard

Show Summary

Rob Cairns and Mark Westguard talk about WS Forms.

Show highlights:

  1. Why WS Forms.
  2. Features of WS Forms.
  3. What is coming in WS Forms.
  4. Integrations WS Forms has.

Show Notes

Hey, everybody. Rob,  here and in today’s podcast, I’m here with my good friend, Mr. Mark Westguard from WS forms. Are you today Mark?

I’m doing good. Rob, how are you?

Doing well, it’s always a pleasure. This is your return engagement now. I guess your first one went over really well. We had to have you back. So it’s such a pleasure to have you again.

I’m I’m pleased to be back and it’s great to be able to talk to you again.

Yeah, it’s so much fun. So it’s funny. We were talking before the pre show that we know the form market in WordPress is pretty busy or very busy. Why didn’t you jump in to such a busy farm market? And I think innovation comes to mind right away.

Yeah, I think it was part craziness. And also I I had a a personal need or a business need with the agency I had to. Build something that would really speed up the development reforms for us and improve the performance, and there there are several several other reasons, but. We were a WordPress development shop and we wanted to build a plugin and we decided, hey, let’s let’s have a go at building a A form plugin. Here we. Are, oh, nearly four or five years later now. So, and I think innovation is is a big part of it. You know, we’re trying to keep up with all the new tech that’s out there, like open AI and. Making sure we keep up with integrations and adding more features to WS form for our customers, and I think that’s where we’ve really found a niche is on the kind of the high end development side of things. You know, not so much just the regular contact us form, but we’re we’re very much into more complex forms and being able to build those complex forms quickly.

Yeah, I I would agree. And I I think you kind of hit the nail on the head you said. We originally built the product to fill a need that we had and I’ve seen that happen with WordPress products time and time and time again that somebody builds a plugin that becomes really successful because they tried to solve their own problem and then realize Jesus would solve some other people’s problems.

And I think you know, why else would you build a WordPress plugin? Unless you’re filling a need there and. There, there are a lot. Of mainstream plugins out there, all of which I’ve got great respect for and, but there are. There are things that can still be done better. There are. There are lots of ways that you can do things. There are. You know niche areas that people need plugins for. The market market is open. There’s there’s plenty of stuff that you can build and improve upon. We weren’t looking to build the next Facebook or the next open AI, we just wanted to do something better for a particular part of the market. And I think we’ve achieved that and we’re you know, we’ve been very successful. We’ve got a a lot of happy customers and we’ll continue to innovate and keep delivering on our promises.

Yeah, I would agree. I think your secret sauce is WS forms is so. To use for those people who haven’t tried. And I think they should go to the plug-in repository, download the free version, try it out, and I think you’ll fall in love with it pretty easy, because that’s one thing I like is it’s a breeze and the UI is is easy and streamlined.

And we’ve we’ve tried to keep that UI very clean and easy to use, but it’s still it’s very, very powerful. The light version is fairly basic, you know, it’s kind of for building your your regular contact dust form, but it still has the functionality in it for making the form fully responsive. We’re one of the only plugins that has a proper responsive editor. You can design A layout for each breakpoint, breakpoint being how wide the screen is, so everything from mobile up to a full size desktop screen and and then we’ve really gone to town on giving the user control on every single field. So we’ve basically taken the HTML spec, pulled out all the attributes that are available for each field. Type things like, you know, step, min, Max, all that kind of stuff and made those available in the plugin itself so you don’t have to use any WordPress hooks or any custom code in to get it to do what you want. That’s just all part of the product.

So true. I know you did another podcast recently with Bob Dunn. You were on with Leslie SIM, I believe. And you guys talked to some post. Black Friday, Cyber Monday stuff. Was that your best Black Friday? Cyber Monday of all time.

Yeah, by far, yeah. We we’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve had continual growth over the the years that we’ve, you know, since we’ve started and this year’s Black Friday was very, very successful, I think because we we probably made a little bit more noise this year. So we, you know, we did some sponsorship with Nathan. Quickly on. I was also featured on a actually a a day long video that Kevin Geary was doing from digital ambition. He invited me on for an hour and I was able to show people the product and that was, you know, really successful thing to. Do his digital ambition group, by the way, if anybody. Is, you know, a serious WordPress developer. I definitely recommend checking that out. And. UM. Yeah. So yeah, we had a we had a very successful Black Friday and and overall a very successful year last year and things are looking good this year too. So we’re pleased and it’s, you know, all attributed to the hard work that we put into the product. It’s a lot of late nights and hard work and. You know, we focus particularly on customer support. That’s our #1 focus is in, in making sure that people’s questions are addressed quickly and that we jump on bugs quickly and you know it’s all you can do really is as a plug-in developer, just do your best and. Slowly, word of mouth, will, you know, increase the size of your customer base. Most of what we do is word of mouth and we’ve got some very great advocates that that help us out with that.

And I and I think customer support is the hardest job for any plug and shop. Anything developer, anybody in business especially in WordPress this. I know. Even for me, sometimes support can be hard when it’s the problems that that somebody’s got that aren’t your typical and you’re kind of trying to work through it. What do you use for support to manage that money?

We use Zendesk so we actually have a WS form integration into Zendesk. So if you fill the form out on our site it goes straight in. You can upload files and you know we can market different priorities and stuff like that. I like their macros in it, so if it is. A if if the. Question comes in and I need say a form export, so I. Can have a look at their form. We do have, you know, cookie cutter responses that we can send back to people, which speeds up the process. But most responses are, you know, handwritten, thorough responses. We want to make sure that people get the information they. Need and it’s. It’s a careful balance customer support. You know there are. There are definitely different types of characters that you come across. Fortunately, most of them are very friendly and helpful. There are a few that can get a little bit rowdy. There, there are ways of controlling that rowdiness.

I I don’t know if I ever told you, but earlier in my tech career, I was actually the team leader for Trump’s largest, one of Trump’s largest hospitals on the customer support desk. So I.


They sympathize with you 100%. You know it’s the old story. You’ll make 90% of the people happy and the 2% you don’t make happy out of the 10% remaining will be the pains in your side. 90% right.

Yes, sometimes they’re just simple misunderstandings where they think the product’s not working, but it’s actually something else that they’ve got installed or something they’ve coded that’s causing it. And it’s usually just a case of calm them down, and if I can turn one of those into a 5 star review, then I’ve done my job. Broccoli, right? So.

You have no no question on what’s your most popular integrations. If you were to name them 1/2 and three.

Yeah, yeah. Oh, I’d say probably the most popular two at the top would be our post management and our user management. So the post management add-on is for basically taking a form submission and creating a post in in WordPress, be that a post or a page or a custom post type. And that’s very deeply integrated in with five different custom field. So you’ve got ACF pods tool set meta box and jet engine. And then our user management add-on that’s used for basically creating login forms, edit profile forms, those are actually tied in with those custom field plugins as well. A third one, our PDF plugin is pretty popular. People like to be able to take a form and output a basic PDF from it. But yeah, I would say our, you know, our next broadly popular range of of add-ons would be all of the e-mail marketing integrations like MailChimp, constant contact and people like that.

And that’s kind of what I use a lot of myself is those e-mail add-ons for myself and a couple of clients and. They really like the look that WS forms brings to the table. So you’re doing something right, so that’s a good thing.

We try.

Yeah, I know you try. That’s too. And and I think you know a lot of it strives from you and who you are and you’ve made the time for the community and I think that’s important. And I think the WordPress community gets back to you in the same way. And dictionary.

Yeah, it’s a it’s it’s a surprisingly small bubble. That word, press community, but it’s it is a community of great friends. I mean, I’ve built some such great friendships and I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not sponsored work camps or gone to work camps and just spoken to people and got to know. People and everyone’s been, you know, very well. Come in. Has you know, given me so much advice and pointed me in the right direction with who I should talk to and for that I’m very grateful. And you know that all attributes to the success of the product, but I you know I would encourage any plug-in developer that’s getting into the game to really embrace the community. Get involved with it, joining things like post stasis and digital ambition. Visit work camps. Get involved in meetups, do whatever you can to to contribute and give back. The more you give back, the more you receive.

It’s so true, and you can also come join us on LinkedIn in the WordPress product community group and would like to have you there. There’s another spot, but I I agree with to give back. I mean, somebody said to me recently who was talking and said, why do you work with WordPress? And I say it’s all. It’s all about the community and I look at the. People I’ve met and the people I’ve had on this show because of the community and the people I’ve become friends with, like you yourself and. And you know the Bob Dunns of the World and Nathan Rees WP builds is a good friend and goes on Courtney and so on and so forth. And you know, and and I.

Yeah, I’m very good friend of mine, Michelle Frichette. She has just been an absolute gem. You know, the number of people that she, she, she is known by Matt Mullenweg as the the busiest lady in WordPress. And she she’s been an absolute advocate for me and and and really helped me out and introduce me to. With people. So yeah, it’s, you know, it’s interesting. And we, but you know, back in the in the old days we would put some money towards online advertising and stuff and it’s just not worth its weight in gold compared to what we do with the community. And we actually don’t do any paid marketing at all now other than sponsoring work camps and giving, you know, putting money back into the the work camp and the WordPress arena. And that’s where our money is best spent.

You know, Michelle is definitely the busiest lady in WordPress. Beat me. You beat me to it because she’s a well and.

I don’t know how she does it, but she does. And she’s still creating new things. I don’t. I don’t know where she finds the time. She must sleep for about 10 hours, 10 minutes a night.

And the amazing thing about it is those people don’t know, Michelle Wright, a moderate scooter and basically as an advocate for disabled as well as accessibility, not just online but offline. And I’ve never heard Michelle once complain about her life situation, and that is something that’s.

Yeah, that’s not. That’s not in her persona. Her personality, she she just gets on with it and nothing gets in her way.

And she’s and the one thing she shares with me all the time and probably with you is she’s an avid nature photographer and I love photography as a hobby.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Her photography is phenomenal. I I think she has submitting some photos to the the WordPress. You know, the open photography directory that they’re putting together. She she’s on the team that. Actually moderates those photographs. So now and then she’ll send me some photos that she’s done. They’re they’re outstanding. She’s a very, very good photographer.

But the the you’re right, our community is really special and you know, we get up at the top end and it’s funny, everybody knows everybody and I think you either embrace it or you don’t. I’ve got friends at probably every major hosting company. Across the WordPress platform, it’s just the way it is and and I’m lucky that way. I’ve, like you, I’ve been on with GoDaddy Pro. I’ve been on with other podcasts and it’s just such a joy to be able to give back a little bit and the way I look at is if I help one person a week. Outside of what I do for a business, get their problem solved. I’m doing really well, Mark.

Yeah, I agree. So, yeah.

So let’s jump into the your new open AI integration. And that’s interesting because that’s also the same basis for ChatGPT, which is all the rage right now. How has that come about? And why did you decide to go there and and so?

Well, you know, obviously we want to keep up with the latest technologies that are out there and there’s been a lot of buzz recently about open AI and chat. GPT is a large reason for that. They’ve really made that open AI technology available to the public, so we investigated it. Had a look at the API. Good friend of mine, Andrew Palmer and Stephanie Hudson, who head up birth rate. I obviously I’ve been using their product a lot. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could pull in a similar functionality to enable people to query their open AI API as part of a form submission? So broadly speaking, there are kind of four main endpoints that we deal with. There’s the completion. Which is where you ask open AI question and it gives you a response. There’s the edit endpoint which is where you provide it with some text. Give it some separate instruction and it will then modify that input according to the instructions you’ve given out, so that’s quite useful for like doing a spell check or grammar check and things. Like that, there’s the UM image API, so in WS form. Now you can type in some text into a text field and it will then pull down images from open AI similar to Dolly. Some people may have used that for creating some fun images and it will then make that part of a file upload field so you can use that to maybe. Create an avatar image or a featured image on a post whatever you want to use it for. And then the last component to it is the moderation endpoint and that moderation endpoint, what you do is you provide some text content to it. So there could maybe be content for a post or something somebody has submitted on a form, maybe a quest? And and it will analyze that content and look for any kind of malicious or violent content in that text, and we’ll then grade it. If a grade is is hit, then we can then move that submission to the spam folder in submissions in WS form. So we use that moderation endpoint, kind of. Like an additional spam check feature in WS forms. So, So what we’ve basically done is taken that open AI API made it accessible to people building forms and they can use it for all kinds of things on a form. You can you can actually combine multiple things together. So in one form submission. You could do a a question and an answer. You could do moderation and you could do an image if you wanted to.

Speak of form spam, which is kind of the death of online forums and we all know it. It’s a you know where. What features do you have in WS forms to help with?

Uh, we integrate in with a lot of different third party platforms. So let me just I’ll read some of them out to you. So we we have integration with human presence. So that’s actually an AI based human detection system which you can put on your site. We’ve obviously got all the usual recapture stuff, so you’ve got Google’s recapture. We have HD capture. We also have cloud flare turnstile, which is a new capture, probably my favorite one, cause it’s it’s fairly silent and it doesn’t pop up. A box to say hey, click on the traffic lights so it’s a lot more accessible than other captures that are out there. We integrate with the Kismet clean tool, clear out a lot of different third party systems. We have the basic honeypot protection which people may be familiar with. That’s where it injects a hidden field onto the form to try and. Full spam bots into thinking they have to complete that field, but they. You don’t. The open AI moderation that I just spoke about.

And then we’ve.

Also got the ability for users to create their own server side validation as well. So if they’ve got anything in particular that they want to trigger a spam result, perhaps they want to. You know, for a particular word appears in a submission, then we mark it as spam. They can actually use our WordPress hooks to do that. So and then there’s just. There’s also basic stuff like ***** protection, so you know a ***** in WordPress is a small unique string that gets submitted with every form submission. And that eventually expires and little just little things like that we put in place to minimize spam on these forms, but it is an ongoing problem, you know, both from a content perspective and also stopping people from just submitting stuff over and over again as as a as a bot, so. We have various. Means by which to to minimise that.

And what I would say is the Cloudflare turnstile is also my favorite.

Yeah, it’s great.

I went. I went through about couple well a couple of months ago. I think you and I were talking about our final political site and some wonderful person decided to send a bot. To basically fill out 2000 forms an hour.

Yeah, that’s that’s, that’s not a good day.

And you. Yeah, it was not.

Now we we you know we we also have. Limitation stuff as well, so you can, you know, form submissions by user and stuff like that. So if they come in and start spamming you over and over again, it’ll actually stop it. Yeah, it it it. It is a. Challenge for sure. And we have the tools there to help out.

It is. That’s amazing. What’s your number one requested feature moving forward? You guys have so many integrations and so much going on would have to ask.

I think at. The moment it’s going to be around styling of forms because styling in WordPress as you know with the block editor is changing significantly. So we’ve, we’ve we’re kind of holding back just a little bit because we would just want to see where that goes in, you know, in the block editor I want to base everything around that, but we also we integrate in with a lot of different site builders like oxygen bricks and you know elementor, Divi. All of which I want to make sure have that styling capability in there, which we currently do that when we do that redesign, I just want to make sure that it’s a cross-platform styling system that’s going to work well for everybody because you know some people don’t want to use the block editor, they still are comfortable using elementary or divvy or something else. So that’s probably going to be our next big thing that we work on and I would expect that probably to come out in the next kind of 6 to 9 months from now. But we you know. We the people that we tend to work with are developers, so they tend to do a lot of custom CSS themselves. All they’ll actually use something like Kevin Gear’s Acss product, which is integrated in with WS form, so that yeah, the design capabilities are there. I just want to improve those capabilities and give more granular control. Over starting on the form, so that will probably be our. Next big thing.

Now there’s a lot of big things coming up where press 62 is around the corner, where a couple of months we’re almost into a code free. And yes. They’re coming up. That actually got Anne McCarthy of automatic coming on the show to talk about that.

Oh great.

So that should be interesting and a delightful advocate for WordPress. And she’s up at Windows. Delightful ladies and WordPress that we all know. So that would be wonderful and hopefully.

Yeah, that’ll be a great talk.

She’ll be in in a position to talk about some more fun stuff when we go to record so. So that talks about that. Have you ever thought about branching out into another plug in or you kind of? Focused on WS forms.

I am focused on WS form right now. I wanna get that right. There’s still still so much we can do with it. You know, there’s still so many other integrations. We have a feature request page for our customers where they can make requests for features and that keeps us busy it. So you know, we’re kind of customer driven. And as to to where we’re focus as well as you know, obviously looking at what’s coming out and what new things are on the market that we should be tapping. To I think if I started building another plugin right now, it would just really degrade the progress of WS form. So that’s where my focus is right now.

No, I’m not. I’m not saying that chat. GPT or birthday AI to build that plugin for you. Right.

Yeah, I could. But the problem is it’s got a 4000 character limit, so it’s never going to build a full form. Plugin for you. Yeah, I you know, it’s it’s funny. I I I’ve been dabbling around with their their codex versions. Of their models, it’s very interesting. The code you can get out of it if you tune it properly and. We were interested in doing some stuff with that so.

There there was a.

There’s whole. Sorry, go ahead.

Sorry about that. There was a guy who built a LastPass extract program and did it all with chat. So much so that featured it on security now, and he only had to make one CS change for the UI and everything else. And when the UI came out of chat.

Yeah, yeah, it’s incredible. I mean it’s, you know, like, like any tool, it’s how you use it. If you use it responsibly, then you’re gonna get responsible output. It’s it’s quite it’s, it’s quite well trained to be respectable, that’s for sure. And I’m I’m glad that there is a foundation behind it keeping keeping tabs on it. It doesn’t seem to want to get too malicious with you.

We should be.

  1. Mind you, they have just for interests sake not what we’re talking about. They have found that people have used it to build malware, so it has happened already.

Ohh sure you can. Yeah, if you if you tell it to write a certain piece of software, I’m sure it will find some code somewhere in this database and give it to you. So yeah, I I tend not to build malware. With it there.

No, I’m sure you don’t. Now in your life because you also have the you have WS forms and you have your agency side. What’s your breakdown? Is it like 70% WS form, 30% agency or is it kind of? Down in the middle.

Oh, I mean, right now it’s kind of, I’d say probably about 5050. I’ve still got some very important clients that I work with that I won’t stop working with. I enjoy working with them. It’s always been my bread and butter. Having an agency I’ve been doing that for 2060 years so, so that part of my day-to-day is is still there and you know, WS form is probably the other 50%.

That’s amazing. If somebody wants to get a hold of you. Talk about WS. You’re kind of all over the place. You’re on Twitter, you’re on post as a slack with a bit of. LinkedIn what’s really the best way to?

Oh, well, yeah. I mean, I’m. I’m on Twitter. It’s just westguard WS form is WS under score form and if you want to get in touch with me directly, you can always go to wsform.com and send us a contact.

And as Andrew Palmer often says on Twitter, it is the best form plugin on the web and I would agree with them. Thanks for joining.

Well, thank you very much.

And we’ll talk against soon, I’m sure.

Thanks, rob. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

You’re welcome. Have a great day, everybody.

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