Konstantin Obenland was nominated by Petya a few months ago, but I wasn’t able to talk to him until recently. He’s chairman at Automattic and a WordPress Contributor. He’s one of the guys behind the Twenty Thirteen theme (which you may have used or are still using) the new theme and plugin directories, and more. If you want to learn more about WordPress and its international community, keep reading!
Thanks for the interview, Konstantin. It’s a pleasure to have you here! For those who read us and don’t know you, please tell us something about you and your relationship with WordPress.
Thanks for having me! Well, I live in Southern California where I enjoy everything it has to offer, from warm weather and great food to fantastic beaches and hiking trails close by.
I’ve been involved with WordPress in one way or another since 2009, and have been contributing in almost every way it let me. Writing plugins and themes, translations, answering support forum posts, reviewing themes, attending, organizing, and speaking at Meetups and WordCamps, contributing to Core and the WordPress.org platform. Most notably I helped build Twenty Thirteen and the new Theme Directory, I lead the 4.3 release, and also worked on the soon to be released Plugin Directory revamp.
WordPress is constantly changing and evolving. How do you stay up-to-date? Who do you follow?
Great question! WordPress has grown so much over the past years, it’s become hard to stay on top of everything. So I follow a few make blogs, namely make/core and make/meta and try to at least scan some Slack channels like
#meta. That usually gives me a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Make/core also gets a bunch of chat summaries posted which makes it convenient to keep up to date with discussions on various features and efforts. I’m also subscribed to Trac updates for Core and Meta components that I’m interested in, and follow quite a few people on Twitter. This all is complemented by Post Status newsletters that bring a lot of the non-code things to my attention too.
What’s the contribution or development you’re most proud of?
That’s probably the Twenty Thirteen default theme I worked on four years ago. I was responsible for the code-side of it, and in my humble opinion it ended up becoming the most polished and bug-free default theme to date. Joen Asmussen, who is now the design lead for the Editor Focus, came up with a fantastic design that—as challenging as it was to build—really revolutionized the way we now think of default theme design in general. Matt Mullenweg even asked him to create a child theme based on Twenty Thirteen for his blog on ma.tt, which is still in use! I’m especially proud of it because despite of some far reaching constraints we had to work with (constraints like using Twenty Twelve’s code base) we were able to deliver an amazing product that barely customizes core functionality and is easy to learn from for beginning theme developers.
Sometimes we make things look easy, when they aren’t… Why don’t you share an epic fail with us?
Working on WordPress.com, there a lot of opportunities to break people’s sites. For the longest time the worst error that happened to me was a fatal error that I introduced to a theme, which made tens of thousands of sites inaccessible. As embarrassing and bad as that was, it didn’t affect all of the platform and I was able to fix it within minutes, which I was thankful for. It still left me pretty shaken and rest assured, I didn’t get much more done for the rest of that day.
I think the worst fail I caused was when I tried to consolidate files for the various content importers in
/wp-admin/import.php on WordPress.com. I knew it was a big change with lots of potential for breaking things, so I test imports with every single content provider that I touched for quite some time. I committed the change and waited for fatal errors to show up, but everything stayed quiet. The joy about that only lasted for a few minutes though, when I was notified that cron jobs were failing left and right. It turned out that I had forgotten to remove a line of code when I moved one of the importers, which resulted in all of WordPress.com operating in an Import mode! While it thankfully did not cause any data loss—that would have been really terrible—it did stop triggering publishing actions and filters, so countless notifications and one-time publicize connection failed with no chance to replay those again 🙁
WordPress is highly customizable, thanks to both plugins and themes. What plugins and themes do you recommend? Do you miss anything in WordPress?
Obviously all the plugins and themes I made! 🙂
So I’m not saying that because I work for Automattic, but Jetpack is really a plugin that everyone should consider and take a look at. It’s very customizable, and I’d be surprised if there is not at least one module that will make your life easier. In terms of themes, I can vouch for every Automattic theme—they are used and tested by millions of sites on WordPress.com. If you’re looking for premium themes, check out The Theme Foundry, or Elmastudio!
There’s plenty of people working on WordPress (or considering to). Do you think it’s possible to make a living out of it? In your opinion, what business opportunities are there?
Absolutely. I made a living out of it! Maybe not on my own, but there are plenty of WordPress-related companies that are hiring all over the world! The WordPress ecosystem has become a billion dollar business, so I think we’re past the viability question at this point.
I don’t think we’ve hit the peak yet when it comes to premium plugins. Premium themes is a market that is getting harder and harder to enter and where it has become increasingly difficult to really come up with something new. Page builders are still the holy grail there—if you can come up with an intuitive, user-friendly solution to that you’re golden. Probably quite literally.
But premium plugins I think still have a lot of potential. If you can’t come up with a sustainable idea for a “regular” WordPress plugin, take a look at WooCommerce. There is still a lot of growth to be expected there and I’m sure the market for good extension is far from saturated yet.
Where do you see WordPress in 2 to 3 years? How would you like it to evolve?
I really hope WordPress will have outpaced all the Wixes, Weeblys (sic), and Squarespaces of this world in three years. Matt Mullenweg’s push towards a more Calypso-like user interface for the administration side will enable us to completely rethink the way we structure customization and hopefully let us find a way that makes even easier for users to create and maintain a site they love. I do appreciate his efforts there. It will be interesting to see in what other ways developers will use the freshly merged REST API for their products, and what kind of improvements we’ll see for end users based on that. Exciting times!
Finally, who should we interview next? Tell us 3 WProfessionals you want to see here.
You should see if you can get Joen Asmussen to answer questions. He’s an insanely talented designer and will lead the design side of things for the Editor focus this year. Caspar Hübinger is a community facilitator and helped organize the first WordCamp Europe. He can tell you a lot about the German WordPress community and the ups and downs it has lived through so far. And finally, Rian Rietveld. She’s been a rockstar in many ways for WordPress, most notably of course through her work on accessibility.
Thanks, Konstantin, for finding some spare time to answer our questions. And thank you all for following us and reading this wonderful interviews. Stay tuned for the next one!
Photo by Sheri Bigelow.