I first met met Otto (Samuel Wood) at WordCamp Chicago 2011. I was leaving the hotel and walking to the station to catch the train to WordCamp. He was leaving at the same time, and since the hotel was the recommended venue for WordCamp Chicago, I asked if he was attending. So we ended up taking the several block walk to catch the CTA. We chatted about WordPress and it wasn’t until about 15 minutes later that I learned who he was. All I said was, “Shit, you’re Otto.” I did not know what he looked like, but I was impressed to have met him. He is one humble, smart and very cool guy.
Since then we have seen each other here and there, and I always enjoy seeing him again. At WordCamp Seattle this year, I finally broke down and went to my first developer track. It was Otto’s. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t. He gave me insight that no other developer had and to top it off, it all made sense to me.
So I just had to ask him for this interview. Meet Otto:
What do you do for WordPress and how long have you been using it?
I work for Audrey (audrey.co) , mostly on WordPress.org and associated WordPress goodness. I contribute mostly by making tools and changes which assist everybody else in contributing to WordPress in their own way. Additionally I contribute to core and write plugins, when I get a spare moment. We also work on associated systems, such as Browse Happy, bbPress, buddypress, and various other websites related to WordPress. And we make most of the changes to ma.tt, of course.
How did you get your nickname Otto?
My friends gave it to me back in college, from the Simpsons character. I used to have very long hair and wore a Led Zeppelin cap everywhere.
For someone who has just started using WordPress, what is your words of wisdom?
Focus on a specific thing you want to do, and do that. Too often I see people starting out and getting overwhelmed with the scope of the project. They want to change the way their site looks, design themes, use plugins, and everything else except actually writing content. For a blogger or publisher, the content is more important than anything else, and the “look” of the site is really somewhat irrelevant by comparison. Yes, you can make the site look any way you like, but if you don’t have a regular stream of posts going to it, then making it look good or putting that big image slider up isn’t the most valuable use of your time. Focus and prioritize. Get that content stream working right before trying to figure out that minor little thing that bothers you about the theme.
In a recent WC presentation you said that the number of plugins doesn’t matter. Did I hear that right? Want to talk about that?
This has been already driven home in most circles, but the fact of the matter is that code is just code. It doesn’t matter where it lives.
I occasionally see some articles saying “how to do X without a plugin”, when the same code in a plugin has the same exact impact. A snippet of code to change something *should* be in a plugin, so it can be isolated from the rest of the system. Plugins have a unique advantage in that they can be a) purpose-driven and b) turned off at will. If you have all your crazy snippets in a single place (like the theme), then it makes debugging that much harder to do when something goes wrong.
If I have 100 plugins all doing their own thing, and I just combine them all into one file somewhere, then the code remains the same and there’s no advantages in doing so. Having them separate, with their own names, and their own descriptions, provides a way to keep track of things. I use snippets a lot too, but I put each snippet into its own plugin, for simplicity of management.
The number of plugins doesn’t matter, the code is what matters, and where that code lives is unimportant. WordPress itself implements a lot of its own internal functionality in the same way a plugin would do so.
What do you think is the biggest mistake a newbie might make when starting with WordPress?
Buying a commercial theme before they have a site up and running. People focus on the look of the site too much, and many commercial themes sell themselves based on some set of features. But until you have a site going, and have content, and have readers, you don’t really know what you need. Very few people who buy a commercial theme end up finally using that theme for the final product. A better approach is to use a free theme instead, and switch later if you need to do so. I’m not running down commercial themes here, but you’ll be in a much better position to evaluate a commercial theme based on your needs once you actually know what those needs really are.
Your site doesn’t have to look perfect on day one. Change over time keeps people coming back to see what changed. Get that content written, and get those readers reading. That’s what you need to do right off the bat.
What do you think is worse? Not capitalizing the P in WordPress or hearing someone say they are building their site on WordPress.org?
There is obviously a lot of new-user confusion surrounding WordPress.org, WordPress.com, and the WordPress software itself. We get lots of emails to the forums password reset email address from people who want the password reset on their own blogs, or are confused why they can’t log in to the forums with their username from their blogs. The fact that both are “on-the-web” makes some people confused as to what runs where. I don’t think it’s avoidable, honestly. We have a few different form-emails to send to those people, to try to explain the differences and help them out by providing explanatory links to what they’re trying to accomplish.
I don’t much care either way about capitalization.
Have to ask. Do you have a favorite plugin?
Not really. I just write new plugins when I need them for specific purposes. I use Pluginception a lot for that, but that’s very much a tool I made to fill my own needs.
If I had to pick a plugin I’m most proud of, it would be Theme Check. It became a really useful tool that was adopted by a very large amount of the theme community. I started it, but didn’t write the vast majority of it. Much collaboration came out of that initial simplistic code.