Big Ideas and Open Source

 

During the 2017 WP Engine Summit, leaders from four agencies delivering innovative digital experiences with open source participated in a panel at the WP Engine Summit in order to explore and dissect how they have implemented open source in their work and where they see it going for the future. The panel consisted of Greg Crockhart, CEO at CandySpace, Karim Marucchi, CEO at Crowd Favorite, Isabel Kantor, Senior Technology Director at R/GA, Ben Howerton, Cofounder & Chief Strategist at DevMethods and was moderated by Eric Jones, VP Global Communications for WP Engine.

Most Noteworthy Implementations of WordPress

The panelists explored some of the inventive ways they are using open source, and specifically WordPress.

Progressive Web Applications

Ben Howerton and DevMethods focus on web and graphic design as well as complex CMS and mobile app implementation for sports media sites such as all22.com and dawgnation.com that provide NFL and NCAA college football insights and updates to fans. He explained that in addition to building WordPress sites for major college and professional football teams he then turns them into progressive web apps (PWAs) that provide virtually the same content on a more accessible and intuitive mobile interface. In using PWAs, DevMethods is able to bridge the gap between a mobile app and a responsive website with something that loads quickly, even on flaky networks, sends relevant push notifications, has an icon on the home screen, and loads as a top-level, full-screen experience.

Howerton explained that the concept and implementation of PWAs help facilitate an amazing user experience, “it’s a frictionless install because there aren’t any installation steps to divert the user resulting in higher opt-in rates as compared to traditional mobile applications.” Even more, DevMethods creates a code base that is virtually identical for the website and the PWA which cuts downtime needed for development.

The Flight Tracker

Greg Crockhart and CandySpace work with CFM, which supplies jet engines for single-aisle aircrafts. CandySpace was challenged to raise awareness of CFM’s brand as the world’s leading supplier of commercial jet engines. In order to create visibility, they concentrated on revamping CFM’s website and decided to use WordPress, due to its flexibility. The flexibility of the WordPress implementation was amply highlighted through The Flight Tracker, a visualization of all the planes currently in the air with an overlay of the planes that have CFM engines that shows the immensity of influence CFM has.

The world map shows all the planes currently in the air. The white planes indicate planes with CFM engine and clicking on them shows, in real time,  where they are, where they are going, and what their speed is. The WordPress website delivered this incredible visualization which reveals the size and the scale of CFM engines through some sleek API integrations was able to pull in data from FlightAware, a flight tracker, and MapBox, an open source mapping platform for custom designed maps.

“We often work with clients that think their design is going to be restricted by WordPress and we always reassure them that we can do amazing things incredibly quickly like we did with CFM, the mapping platform, and the flight tracker, and still give the client a degree of control,” Crockhart explained.

Facilitating Content for TV Networks (ABC and Disney)

One project Crowd Favorite did with ABC Television and Disney involved taking 4 million pieces of content in various media libraries from different TV shows and distributing that content across 14 subsites for separate cable networks. Crowd Favorite used the WordPress platform in a way that allowed the content to be centrally managed but then shared across many sites.

Later, ABC asked for assistance implementing the content globally. Crowd Favorite was able to create a global asset management system that was 50 percent WordPress and 50 percent Laravel based in order to manage millions of pieces of media and have them stored locally in different parts of the world. Open source allowed Crowd Favorite to work with existing third-party systems such as ABC’s scheduling system that works to schedule TV shows globally, in order to facilitate a cohesive experience.

“It’s no longer about the REST API alone, the advantage of open source is that it allows you to work with different pieces of software to create bridges in already implemented, effective technology,” Marucchi said of his experience with Disney and ABC.

R/GA OS

R/GA has been using WordPress to power its sites for years now. However, recently they introduced R/GA OS which is a series of tools powered in part by WordPress and with other open source technologies that is intended to help businesses connect, collaborate, operate and inform.

One tool included in the OS is R/GA Reporter which operates as a single snapshot of the business; using the tool you can track people, their hours, billings, time off, and more. Another tool called Skill Search allows anyone in the global network to search for a resource across the firm based on any skill type. You can search from a variety of categories like technology, design, and marketing and find the right people to fit your needs.

Another tool that operates in R/GA OS is called Portfolio which allows workers to view designers’ work and projects in order to ascertain what experience and prior work product might be right for certain pitches across all their global offices. Additionally, the R/GA OS mobile app connects to the beacons throughout their 17 offices around the world; the app allows you to schedule conference rooms, print to the closest printer as well as learn about the art pieces around the office.

WordPress Use Cases

A huge theme of the panel discussion was the ability to use WordPress in unexpected ways – whether it was used to make knowledge more accessible or businesses more efficient, it’s clear that most projects can be accomplished using the world’s most popular CMS.

Making Corporate Internets Accessible

Crockhart said that businesses were using Corporate Intranets less and less because businesses are more and more global and workers are out of the office with clients more and more. Thus, the focus needs to be on mobile connectivity allowing workers to access company information regardless of location.

“They need a solution where their workforce can access the Intranet content that exists securely and easily via their mobile device. The solution is to extend the WordPress powered desktop site across native applications to give employees access to the same data on their mobile devices,” he said.

Seamless Integrations

In powering eCommerce solutions, the panel noted that they were easily able to serve their clients by integrating WordPress with a variety of commerce solutions like WooCommerce, Hybris, Magento, and Shopify. This flexibility is valued because many clients have existing relationships with these platforms. Agencies are able to power a beautiful eCommerce website by complementing the existing solution with WordPress-driven, eye-catching content that is easily published and created.

“WordPress is becoming the wrapper on how you can pair great creative content with all this big data coming in. Everyone is talking about how we are going to have real-time data, personalization and predictive experiences on websites and trying to make that compatible with what people actually want to see on the screen, WordPress is the perfect wrapper,” Karim Marucchi said.

Smooth Migrations

In situations where clients wanted to standardize their entire platform on WordPress, the agencies were able to smoothly transition their clients to the platform.

According to Howerton, “When we’ve had to do phased migrations from a  .net CMS, we’ve been able to use WordPress’ flexible URL structure to mimic the original URL structure. Were able to make the transition, therefore, completely seamless to end users and relatively seamlessly for the editorial team. The client, then, who was previously split between multiple CMSs, was able to simplify its management and publication by completely transitioning to WordPress.”

Marucchi agreed, adding, “We were working with Starz network who wanted to completely transition to WordPress but wanted to do it in a meticulous manner for business reasons. We actually built a completely independent front-end based on JavaScript that operated by migrating one subsite at a time from the previous CMS and the general audience had no clue that the migration even occurred.”

Headless

Because of the increasing need for mobile, the panel discussed how they were incorporating headless development to allow for more flexibility and creativity.

“We are working with WordPress and other CMSs in a headless fashion because it allows us flexibility, we are not limited by a certain framework or technology. We are able to pull in the right resources, the right team and the right tools, even though the backend might be on another CMS,” said Kantor.

WordPress and Open Source: The Advantages

The panel discussed why an open source solution is advantageous and noted some persuasion points when convincing clients to use an open source solution.

The Community

WordPress has an avid community that includes developers, designers, content creators, and more. The panelists have found that leveraging this group of experts is a huge advantage.

Howerton said, “The community of developers and contributors is a huge advantage. When you talk about open source, you talk about JavaScript, PHP, HTML, and CSS. These languages are pervasive as opposed to a proprietary solution where you need to learn a language no one else has heard of. And with headless, it opens up a whole new world of user interface design and development. You can pick your platform and you are not restricted to PHP or WordPress templates.”

Crockhart brought up the problem-solving power of the community. “Clients perhaps don’t appreciate the power of the community enough – for instance when we face a roadblock we can easily go out and find a trustworthy solution. The clients reap the benefits in the metrics; their bounce rate goes down and their users goes up.”

Cost

Often times, these agencies are tasked with complex projects. The ability to operate one platform that is affordable, straightforward and doesn’t involve tedious, expensive licensing is extremely useful.

According to Marucchi, many of his clients are turning to WordPress for cost reasons. “If the client wants a certain feature they are used to using on their previous platform, we are able to create it using open source because we have so many up and coming PHP developers who simply want to innovate in this space.”

“We do frequently have a cost consultancy component with many of the RFPs that we respond to. We know the development cost is going to be scrutinized. Using open source is very beneficial in that context,” Howerton said.

AMP

Panelists remarked that they were using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), an open source initiative that makes it easy for publishers to create mobile-friendly content once and have it load instantly everywhere, to power fantastic mobile webpage experiences for their client’s sites.

“We customize WordPress plugins to fully take advantage of AMP’s instant mobile pages. The next step for us is to take that user to a PWA to get them subsequently engaged with notifications. There’s a mechanism within AMP to optimize that process – your PWA is bootstrapped so it loads just as fast as the post,” said Howerton. “This is incredible both for the client from an SEO perspective but also for the user from an experience perspective.”

Wrapping Up

These breakthrough ideas and projects built with WordPress and open source are proof of its capability for innovation. Agencies and site owners alike are looking for solution that are easily implemented, rich and engaging, yet cost-efficient. WordPress is the ultimate choice for all businesses given its affordability, flexibility, and capability for integration.

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