Episode 366: The History of WordPress With Jeff Chandler

Show Summary

Rob Cairns sits down with Jeff Chandler and talks about the history of WordPress.


  1. How the Wp Tavern was formed.
  2. The biggest story Jeff ever covered.
  3. The WordPress community.
  4. Covering the WordPress News.

Show Notes

Hey everybody, Rob Cairns here and today I’m here with my guest, Mr. Jeff Chandler, who works over stellar WP. How are you today, Jeff?

I’m doing fantastic and the last time I chatted Toronto Blue Jays, we’re about to get swept.

Yeah. Well, I think that happened the night before this record, so I somehow figured you were gonna sneak a baseball reference into this podcast. Somehow some.

Well, and for anyone out there listening and watching Rob specifically told me before the show started, as long as we don’t talk about baseball, we’ll. Be fine so. Now that I’ve already got him in. A good mood? This should be an excellent episode.

Yeah, I’m. I’m in a great mood.

There you go.

Anyway, so today I thought we’d do something different. We the Community spends all up, but I don’t even wanna get into any of that stuff. What I kind of wanna do is do look back and talk about the history of WordPress and kind of what’s going on. And you started a wonderful website back in the day. Well, WP Tavern.

Correct. Yeah, it’s about 2000. I launched it officially, 2009 in January and was a gracious Leos from a a domain that was available was donated by Kyle Easlick, who at the time was running the website wphacks.com. And I wonder if any OG listeners actually remember that website. Was one of the websites that was. Do you remember?

Yeah, I do.

Wow. Wow. So so you go way back. But that was one of the websites that was continuously showcasing hacks and code snippets, and it was just one of a collection of websites at the time because WordPress was young. But there’s a collection of websites devoted to WordPress that was just all about sharing knowledge. We’re all sharing every. It seems like we’re all learning. Press it at around the same time. So anything that we learned we were publishing on our blogs and helping other people discover how to change parameters in the plugin or how to edit a functions that PHP file or you know how to add sidebars to register sidebars and themes. I gotta tell you, it’s. You know, when we talked about the history of WordPress and and in in some in many aspects. When I look back on it, it’s like I want to say. A lot a. A big part of me wants to say those are the good old days, but then that kind of when I say that that means that there’s not going to be days ahead in the future that are going to be better than what we’ve experienced. And and that’s unfair to be able to to. Write the future. That way. So I’ll just say that in the past. My my time in history and involvement. Near the beginning of WordPress was just a fantastic time. Nothing but great memories and I haven’t been able to feel something like that. In a long, long time, we’re presence matured, the community has matured. I mean, we’re talking about people who’ve been involved with WordPress for 10:15. You know, we’re going on 20 years now and and so the honeymoon period of everything being new and fresh and everybody learning and and sharing those things that we’re learning. It’s just not. It’s just not the same, it’s. Not what it used to be and. It’s not that it should be what? It used to be because things evolve. But I really wish. That we could get back to everybody. Sharing snippets and. Sharing what? They’re what they’ve learned or. What they’re learning not only for their, for, for. Current you, but for future you because you know I can’t tell how many times I’ve looked for things and the Internet and it’s like, oh, I wrote about this. On my blog and thank God I published it through to me it was. Very happy that passed me. Decided to do that but but yeah.

Yeah. And you ran the Tavern up until what year, Jeff, give or take? Cause you you did sell it eventually.

About 2013, I sold it to mammal wig and he acquired it for me and then I ended up working under Matt for Audrey Company, his subsidiary and his investment. Company that he has. So I worked under him. For for a. Couple of years and we hired on Sarah Gooding and Sarah Gooding, just recently surpassed 10 years. Of writing on. WP Tavern which?

Which is insane.

To me, because, man, it’s like, wow, this feels like it was only yesterday, but she’s been there now for 10 years, man in the ship.

And Sarah’s done, actually a pretty good job Manning that ship, I think.

Ohh yeah yeah, she she’s awesome. She’s awesome. She’s been a she’s exactly what the Tavern needed at the right time. And the Tavern evolved into something that just. As far as my involvement and and why I left the Tavern involved into something that just I didn’t fit the the mold of what the site turned into, so it was just at the right time. I just had to part ways with it and and go do something else. But but Sarah, Sarah has done an absolute and is doing an absolute fantastic job with. WP Tavern website and it’s still one of the most reputable WordPress websites out there in terms of if you.

Not going.

Want to know? What’s going on in a non biased fashion in? The WordPress world, that’s where you go.

Yeah, I I would agree with you. Wholeheartedly also worth mentioning that was when you first jumped in the podcasting wasn’t it? Was was when you were running the Tavern with what was it? WordPress Weekly or something? Along that line.

Yeah. So back in 2000. Nine I started a podcast. Called WordPress Weekly and the inspiration behind that was at the time. There were not. That many WordPress podcasts out there, but there was kind of. One official one, it was called. I wanna say I wanna say the WP community or I’d ohh I’d have to I have. To think back, but. I know it was the. Host was Charles Strickland. And I believe his Co host was David Slash Malcolm Peralte. I want to say that’s that’s who was doing the shows at the time and and I was getting so involved. With WordPress that I. When they would talk about stories. I knew them in depth. I knew what what people were saying, what people were talking about, and I wanted to talk about them for a long time. But on his podcast, you know, he he was running. He’s doing maybe like a 30 minute format and he couldn’t. It as deep as I felt. He he wouldn’t. Get as deep into the topics that I really wanted to get into, so I had to time. There’s a website, calledtalkshoe.com and me and talk shoe. It was a it was a service where you got. A pin number. And the podcast were run over a phone line, so the audio quality was crap, but because of how it worked, you were able to give out a phone number they would put in the pin number, which was tied to your show, and then you could have callers. You could have callers call in and take questions like a radio show. And at the time growing the WP taming community and and doing WordPress weekly, I started the show there and. I ended up. Having guests on there every week and we would go one hour 2 hours. There was no set time limit where we could go as deep as we wanted to into a topic. And there were no rules. In terms of the podcast. Just end it when we felt we could end it. And there were times where. We had a one or two. Hour show about stuff and we would have. A 3-4 or five hour after show because people just hang out and we just talk about stuff because there wasn’t really anything like that at the time. You know, nowadays, what do we have? We got Twitter. You got your Facebook, you got your Google meets, you’ve got your zooms, you got your telegrams, all of that stuff really wasn’t a thing. Back in 2008. Two. 1009 so. So yeah, so I got involved the. Podcasting there and remember. Brad Williams helped me out. We had a cohort I. Had a cohort of different. A guest and I did ended up publishing over 300 episodes over the lifetime of that. Show and it was so nice when I eventually evolved to YouTube, because then if I actually had audio quality. But it’s amazing to me that for as long as I did the show, I had so many fans that really didn’t care about the audio quality. They cared more about the content and that and that’s something that’s always stuck with me.

Yeah, I I agree with you. There was talk show back in the day and the other place a lot of shows. Were being done was broadcast. Dot com. Believe it or not.

Yeah, yeah. And there was a, there was another. One too, like bar talk radio. That was another big one.

One truck.

Yeah. So they were the big three back in the day before we had all these podcasts, RSS feeds and podcasts, and now it’s so much easier for somebody non-technical to get into the podcast game that has changed so much.

And now we sound so much better because it doesn’t sound like we’re talking over 10 cans attached to a string. That’s what talks you was.

That is so true at the Tavern. What is the most satisfying story that you ever covered back in the day? Put you on the spot.

Well the, the the most satisfying story I ever did was the story. Of headway themes. And was doing.

You know what? I’m gonna stop you. I was gonna. Go though and. That’s my favorite story you covered, so go. Ahead. Tell it.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, for those who don’t know, there was some inkling some people had contacted us specifically. Me highlighting the. Fact that certain contractors and employees weren’t getting paid, and this was an issue that was going on. For a while. And so I started investigating things and I started asking around, joining slacks and trying to get to the bottom of. And through a bunch of different blog posts and collaborations and working with Sarah and some of the contractors. Come to find out that headway themes was bleeding money and it was getting to the point where they didn’t have the money to pay their contractors and their contractors were. Working for free for a. Prolonged amount of time and those contractors. Had no idea if they were ever. Gonna get paid ever again. So I published a couple of posts about the story on wptearing.com. I think Sarah may have published a story related to headway themes during the whole saga and what ended up happening was the founders, the big founder, the Griffiths. There’s Clay Griffith and his son. No, Grant Griffiths was the father. Clay Griffith was the son, and it was the father, son, team, and he had apologized and he sent out a big post, apologize and everybody and and. Kind of explained what was going on. And to make a Long story short, the contractors did ended up getting paid and the company ended up kind of disappearing and headway themes was supposed to be in a process of trying to get sold off or acquired. As far as I know, that never happened. But because of Sarah and ice coverage. And and applying that kind. Of media pressure for them to to do right, they ended up doing right by their contractors and I’m happy to say that that they were both. They were all paid in full and they ended up getting jobs at other places. And I’ve kept in touch with them and they’re doing great.

Yeah, it was a story and and I think. Knowing how that one. Played out and being in the user community, I was the headway user at the time. I’ll tell you that.

You know.

And and I got. And I got to say headway themes looking. Back on it, if we look at Gutenberg. Today and then if anybody out there. If used or headway themes back then, headway themes was by far ahead of its time. It.

It it.

It could have easily been the. Gutenberg, just maybe five years, six years too early.

Yeah, I think so. I don’t think it was marketed well. I don’t think it was shared well. And I’ve got friends in that community again. Morris, who’s in that community of time and working for headways, is a is a good friend. And I know several other people, and yeah, it was just a mess. And interestingly enough, in the last year and a half, the website finally went down for Headley. Things too, it was still.

So it’s not accessible anymore.

No, I don’t think so.

So if you got OK, so cause one of the things one of the issues was that even even months after the apology and months after the contractors left, the website was still online. And as far as I could tell, they were still. It was still accepting payments from people if they just happened to stumble onto that website and purchase headway themes, the payment would. Have gone through. For a product that was essentially dead, which. To me was. That that rubbed me the wrong way. That’s that’s not how you’re supposed to. The sunset things or or or go out of business but. Well, one of the one of the interesting things. Rob, when we talk about WordPress community. During that time during that coverage of headway themes. And the way I I. Look, I I understand and I respect the fact that I was reporting on a father son team that this was family that was involved in and there was there is an angle there to, to cover and and to be cautious with but. When I wrote these articles, someone actually contacted me. Actually, there’s a few other people commenting that what I was doing was called with. Something by continuously writing about updates about what these two were doing and what the company was. Doing that I. Was actually witch hunting. The owners of this business, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And those same people who said that I was witch hunting had personal relationships with these two gentlemen. So I I believe I know where that perspective was coming from. But you know at the time it kind of showed you that in the WordPress community. You’ve got these. Clicks or what? Some would say the good. Old boys, where they’re out to protect each other. But look. If you’re running the business. This and by and large, you’re screwing over customers. You’re screwing over your employees. That is wrong and and the job of. The media is. To try and apply pressure and to right those wrongs, and that’s what we did and we were successful at it. And if I if I had to go back. And do it again, I absolutely would.

Yeah, I would tell you at the time I had a bit of relationship with Grant and I would say I don’t think you were witch hunting. I think you were just trying to do right. And I think people think you were witch hunting. Had something in it for them to make that comment, to be honest with you. I don’t. They had to.

Put they look if if if if. I have a close personal relationship with someone and I look at a website that’s writing about them or attacking them. What am I going to do? I’m going to defend my friend. I am, at least to the point that it makes sense where I’m not defending their actions, that their actions are terrible. So I mean, I can. I understand it was a natural, natural thing for these people. You but. You know, I just, I talked. To Sarah about it. And and we really worked through. Some difficult situations there I learned. A lot, personally professionally. Through the whole headway theme saga that I’ve. Been able to apply. In the future and and and with my. Work. But man, that was that. Was a hell of a time. There and you mentioned Grant Griffiths and he’s he’s a large part of some WordPress history because he back in around 2010. 2010 to about two. 1012. There was a lot of talk in the community about the sinkhole GPL and what is the GPL? Well, it’s essentially a software license that it grants. You the four freedoms. And these freedoms. Are granted to anybody who uses WordPress. The only the only thing is you cannot restrict those freedoms from anybody else, and there is many, many debates with theme developers grant being one of them, Brian Garner being one of them. I themes Corey Miller was involved in those discussions and. A lot of the developers are. And well, if we if the GPL allows this, well, we cannot apply the GPL that I mean there’s. A lot of debates.

I remember.

And and and trying to understand what the hell the GPL meant, what could you do? What couldn’t you do? What wasn’t within this thing called the spirit of the GPL, and it all kind of culminated into the big. I’m going to mention this name. Remember DIY themes thesis Chris Pearson. Now there. Now there is a WordPress milestone for.

Very much so. Yeah, yeah, very much so. It was funny. Those discussions went on and went on. And I know most of those players very well. I know Brian quite well. I know Corey quite well, of course. And, you know, they were interesting times to say the least. Is there another story that stands out or is that really the only one?

I I would say I’m proud of any article I wrote, whether is about an experience I had or is an experience other people had that translated into improvements for either the WordPress core software or for the software that I was reviewing or testing. I I felt proud of the fact that I was able to. Cover things in such a way. To where?

You know I’m.

Not bashing things, but I’m saying hey. It doesn’t seem right that doing this makes this happen when I’m expecting this happen to happen instead, and by doing things by doing things in that way and having the end user’s perspective, I was able to use my words to improve. A lot of products a. Lot of software and WordPress core itself and those were some of the best moments. That I’ve had over my WordPress writing career. And it was very cool. Where sometimes people would leave comments. Core developers and say. Hey, this is a cool idea. Why don’t you create a track ticket or why don’t you create a patch and we’ll help you? I’ll walk. You through the. Process of how to contribute it to core and then actually happened one time I was just fixing the typo but it was he allowed contributing to WordPress core for me was intimidating. It’s intimidating for I think a lot of people and that’s why we have these mentorship programs. In these other educational resources to try and onboard people to get into the contributing of WordPress. But I had actually people core developers reach out to me and say. Actually, walk me through the process and being able to, I got to say having contributing to WordPress and having their code, even if it’s a typo, it gives you those warm the. Warm, tingly feeling. It’s it’s a. It’s a pretty cool experience contributing to WordPress when your code lands in the core, it’s it’s a special feeling. It’s it’s kind of addictive, to be honest. It’s like super dopamine.

I agree with you. Is there a story you covered that if you had it to do over again that you would have said maybe I should have approached it differently or I should have looked at this differently or I missed something.

Ohh geez, that’s a great question. Yeah, I I mean. I I think one of the stories I covered that maybe I would have approached differently was something involving W3 total cash. The parent company behind that the plug in. The owner was going through some things or the plug-in was going through some things and I did some deep dive, researching into it and I did some interviews and I published what I thought was all correct and and right. And then the person behind the scenes contacted me and it was was. It was. It was not good. It was. It was not good that the the fallout in communication and you know, to be honest, I talked with some other people and and I got their confirmation to say, hey, I think what you did was the right call. So I don’t know if I’d go back and change it, but you know, there’s been some stories I’ve written that have. You know in in. The thing. The thing about the the the Tavern and and and writing about companies and products and everything is that everybody loves it. When I write a review, a glowing review, or I give or I give a company coverage, a press release or whatever about a product or service they have, they love me. Ohh, that’s great. You’re doing a great job, Jeff. Then the company screws up. They mess. Some they do a. They do a crappy job of explaining why they messed up or why this happened, why that happened, so I come in and I write my article. In my story. I try and Get the facts, I try and get people to speak on the record and there you go. Oh, Jeff, that article sought to talk about about the company. Once I’m married with you. So you know, you got it. You got to have some thick skin and you got to have a strong belief system. Which Sarah Gooding has, and she instilled on. Me to. To go down the line and think about the end user and the consumer. First, we’re not. Here to be in the back pockets of businesses, we’re here to support the consumers and be on their side at first, first and foremost. There were many times where. It was a very difficult. Line to walk.

Yeah, I I can bet because I have a number of friends of mine in my circles that are retired newspaper journalists, so older than you and I. And they say in their careers there was times where you wrote stories and it was just like. Do I want to take that attack? Do I want to take that on? Am I missing something here? What am I missing here and? As far as I know, most of them. Have all had? Things they’d like to do over again, and I think.

Ohh hey, no one’s perfect and those are the mistakes that we make and and you know, hey, it learning and wisdom comes from screwing up an experience and it’s just, you know there there are many times. Where I wrote an article. And I had Sarah proofread it. Review it and then I told her. I told her I don’t know if I want to hit publish. I would have anxiety hitting that publish button because it would. I know that whatever was published in the Tavern was published and was accessible to the dashboards of all WordPress installs and I was just wondering how much Flack or crap am I going? To take for this, how? Many people are going to pile on the comments. For that and. I gotta tell you after a while. There’s a person down.

Alright guys, I can remember hitting published a couple of weeks ago on a podcast episode and I knew the minute I finished the recording the minute I hit that button. You know, the crack was gonna roll and it rolled and it rolled right up.

I think I once started that I think I. Once started that episode.

Yeah. Thank you. Love you too. Kick me aside. But you know and sometimes. When you’re, what are you doing? A podcast, or you’re writing about a situation. Sometimes you gotta take that hard line. I don’t think you need to take it all the time, but I think sometimes you need to. And that’s.

No, and at the end of the at the. At at the end. Of the day, you can prove that. You were fair. In your process, ultimately now, So what matters?

Yeah, yeah, that is true. The state of WordPress history. Do you think we do a good job of talking about what happened before or learning about? You know, things like the headway situation and what we did wrong or do you think we’ve just we just it’s kind of there, it’s in the limelight, it goes away and people forget about it. What do you what?

Well, I mean I I think it’s good. I I don’t think we a lot of. Us in the WordPress space you. Know we’ve been there, done that, but I mean. We’re not continuously recalling the past to figure out why we’re here, why we’ve got to this point today, we’re press history, to me has always been kind of a special thing because I was such a large part of it, I mean. If you think about. It the Tavern. And well below tools collection that COM which is before the Tavern. WP Candy post status all of these websites. Were really just kind of. There to kind of almost like writing down chapters or sections of WordPress history. Each blog post was just a a smidget of time of of WordPress in the WordPress timeline and we we are cataloguing that between all those different sites. And even through the. WordPress Weekly podcast there’s so much excellent information in history that was talked about in audio form. Through all those episodes. But but what? What makes me sad and and that money has actually kind of done a decent job of trying to preserve WordPress history because they he bought webflow tools collection that came from. Its founder, Mark Gosh. In order to kind of archive it or keep it on line, he bought with Pressed Tavern, which you know one of his main. Purposes one one of the main reasons for purchasing a required WP Tavern was to preserve its history and then. But you look at some of these other websites out there that were around and. You know without the. Wayback Machine, we’d be screwed. You wouldn’t be able to to look up stuff on WP candy or some of these other websites and and that makes me sad. I mean, there’s a lot of videos and pieces of content that are just gone. They’re they’re gone to the to the. The zone of the of the Internet, what they call link rot. So you know, there’s things that just kind of disappear. And if you weren’t there, if you didn’t live it, if you didn’t see it, if you didn’t experience it, if. You didn’t write about it. And you know, and that’s just a it’s just a dark hole. It’s just it’s a big chunk of history that you have. No idea about I will. Say that one of the best things. That has come out in recent years was Shaban Shaban Mccune. Well, I hope I’m. I’ve got your name right. She through. The help and. Motivation of Matt went away. She put together a book called WordPress Milestones, which is available on GitHub. It has its own website and it does an excellent, excellent job of chronicling the history of WordPress from its early days through a. I don’t know 2015 or there’s some timeline there and she covers just about every milestone Chris Pearson GPL commercial themes available on the WordPress theme directory and all these other things, and I was happy to see that. I think it’s either in the works or it might have already been. Done. I think there’s a. Part 2 coming because you can’t cover. I mean you can it just be a huge document, but it it’s really I think there’s gonna be a Part 2 to that WordPress history and I’m very much looking forward to that. So if anybody would really like to. Get it in depth. Very. Accurate representation of. Of what happened in the early days of WordPress, up until a certain point the WordPress milestones book which you can get online and there’s a website for it is an awesome resource.

Yeah, thanks stef. Besides WordPress, do you still have an interest in history outside of WordPress? Or not really.

Well, in terms of what kind of history, because in American government and some of my history classes, that’s where I learned to sleep with my eyes open.

Yeah, no kidding. So.

I’m I I I I have a soft. Spot in my heart for going. Through the web 2. .0 era. That was that. Was I was young. I was pretty. Pretty young and explore exploratory in terms of what? Was going on online at the time. There’s this little thing that Google Maps. Created called Ajax. Which, you know, blew the blew the Internet. It was a it was a huge deal with the Google Maps and the Ajax and then you had your domains. That were all the domains and all these services that were popping up like weeds was like a.com boom all over again with the gradients and the. Button makers and. Oh my God, dude. It was like, take your toys all over the place, and yeah, all these services that were missing vowels, which made them sound cool. And it’s kind of funny because back in the day. Before I got involved with WordPress, I had a website calledjeffro2pt0.com, so it was a plan Jeffro 2.0 and on the Web 2.0. Thing and what I was doing was I was taking all these services that were launching and I was reviewing them and I had a strategy where I would write a review about a new service that launched and then that service would have to link back to my review. And this strategy ended up being really it worked out really well for me. Now look, I didn’t make any money at the time because I had no idea. How to generate revenue or mess with ads or? Anything of that effect, but man. There is this one website called invite share and. And you and I both know that when all these services were popping up, the whole thing was give. Me an invite. Everything was invite only. You couldn’t get. In all these cool things, unless you had. An invite so invite share was. A service that you could go to and. It would get invites from all these other places. And you could get invites to the services to. The site, so I wrote about them. They put my. Review on the front of their page and then tech crunch cover them. And my site went. Down because everybody was, there’s so. Many people reading. My review so.

Thank you. You tech crunch. Yeah, yeah.

So I I I. In the day I got the tech crunch. Effect and and at the time. Ohh yeah my. My the website was running WordPress. So I got the white screen of death which. You know, back then I used to. Anytime WordPress powered website was got the. Dig effect when? It was on dig. It would go white. Cream cause? It was just just either the server, probably the server couldn’t handle it, which was the advent of why caching was so important. The AWP super cash by Danica, that came out, which became, which is still an awesome plugin. But thank God we have moved far beyond the dig effect, where even if your website gets piped and now we have things that scale automatically scale, you get your cloud. You don’t have to worry about you. Know. Yeah. You finally made it. You finally went. Viral and the only thing you’re. Seeing is a white screen.

Yeah. Yeah, that is funny. But it is so true. Been there. Had my sight go down. It’s not fun at all. So you know. Anyway, Jeff, thanks for chatting a little bit about the past. I always enjoyed. I’m a bit of a history buff myself, so you know. And if you ever get to Corona, we can start history in a in a place called the. Hockey Hall of. Fame, because that is one of my favorite places in the world. But I like American history. I like where press history. I like the history of the world, so it’s it’s really important that we continue to recognize what’s happened in our past as we move to the future. If somebody wants to chat more, how’s the? Best way to get you I would. Assume one ex formally use Twitter probably.

Yeah. So the best way to get in. Touch with me is. On Twitter, now known as X, @jeffr0 you can follow me. Well, actually that’s probably the best place. I mean, I haven’t, I don’t. Facebook is something else. I am on Mastodon. I don’t know my Mastodon name. I think it’s also Jeff or something. WP two. It’s some social network over there. I I haven’t gone to blue sky. I don’t do Instagram. I don’t do. What’s that other one? What’s the one that’s tied to Instagram? Facebook all threads, threads. I don’t do threads so so for for the time being I’m going to do I’m I’m going to call it Twitter cause it’s still Twitter to me even though it’s X. But I’m going to be on Twitter and once they start. We need this. Once they start charging for it, I mean it’s going down, it’s going down quick. But I think once they started charging for it, that’s it for me and I don’t know where I’m gonna go and what I’m gonna do. Hey, you know. What I might start blogging again.

Concept. Hey, Jeff, thanks very much. Have an awesome day, my friend.

Thank you very much for having me on, Sir.

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