SitePoint Podcast #74: WordPress Themes with Nathan Rice and Cory Miller

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Episode 74 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week, Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy), Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), and Brad Williams (@williamsba) interview Nathan Rice, the lead developer of StudioPress, and Cory Miller, the CEO of iThemes.

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Interview Transcript

August 13th, 2010. We chat with a couple of prominent figures at two of the most popular premium WordPress theme companies. This is the SitePoint Podcast #74: WordPress Themes with Nathan Rice and Cory Miller.

Hello and welcome to another edition of the SitePoint Podcast. I’m Patrick O’Keefe and this is our final interview show from our live show at WordCamp Raleigh. Today our focus is on WordPress theme developers; joined by Brad Williams and Stephan Segraves we’ll be speaking with Nathan Rice, the lead developer of StudioPress and Cory Miller the CEO of iThemes. Let’s go.

Patrick: So we’ll go ahead and bring on our next guest, Nathan Rice.

Brad: So Nathan Rice is the lead developer from StudioPress. Hi Nathan.

Nathan: Hey. Applause, yeah.

(Applause)

Brad: So StudioPress recently released Genesis which is a theme framework, so I was wondering if you could kind of tell everybody about Genesis and why it kind of differs from the competition out there.

Nathan: Yeah, basically there’re two types of themes available right now even in the free and the commercial markets right now there’s what I call a traditional theme, and then there’s theme frameworks, and Genesis is a theme framework that essentially offers more options, and basically when we compare ourselves to the classic themes or the traditional themes you’ve got — Genesis has things like layout options so you can choose sidebar on the left or sidebar on the right, or two sidebars or no sidebars, and that sort of thing. The markup structure is really well done; we thought it through months in advance before we actually ever released Genesis. And then the SEO options we have included as well, which a lot of people don’t know, but the markup structure that you have in your theme actually really does affect your SEO. A lot of people say well I can use a regular theme and I’ll just use All-in-one SEO Pack, and that’s very good, we integrate with All-in-one SEO as well, and we love Michael and the plugin that he did, but a lot of people don’t know that the markup structure matters a lot to SEO as well. And as far as the other theme frameworks in the market we do things like we have automatic upgrades, so you can click just a button in the backend and you upgrade immediately. We had a security audit from Mark Jaquith, which if you don’t know he’s one of the lead developers on the WordPress Project, and also we have 18 child-views with designs from all across the spectrum from different designers and stuff.

Brad: Awesome. Yeah, and so 1.2 is releasing soon; what new features can we expect to see in it?

Nathan: 1.2 is mostly a compatibility release for WordPress 3.0; custom navigation is going to be included as compatibility with that. Also we’re speeding things up a little bit, just a few extra options in the backend, stuff like that. So it’s a minor release but it has a major release cycle number, but it’s mainly to be compatible with WordPress 3.0.

Brad: And I’m assuming you’re going to wait and release that after 3.0.

Nathan: Yes, we’ll put a beta out as soon as — I think either as soon as or as soon after the WordPress 3.0 release gets released.

Brad: Cool. So Genesis is obviously the project you work primarily on. Is that all you work on at StudioPress or do you work on some of the other projects as well?

Nathan: Well, I do a lot of the support for Genesis as well, so especially the stuff, the more advanced stuff, that some of the moderators can’t handle I’ll step in and maybe do some stuff like that. But we’re also planning on after 1.2 is released Brian Gardner, who’s the owner of StudioPress, and most of you know that name, he is going to have me work on some plugins, some free plugins for everyone and also some Genesis specific plugins to really extend the functionality of Genesis and make it a little bit easier to use, especially for non-coders, and that’s really where we want to focus our attention. So, right now 90 percent of the time I spend developing Genesis, new features, upcoming releases, things like that, but yeah, in the immediate future I’m going to start working on some plugins for StudioPress.

Brad: Great. So what big things do you have planned for Genesis? Can you fill us in on any coming features?

Nathan: Brian just Tweeted out that if you’re a Pro Plus member of StudioPress, so if you’ve purchased that level you can go in and download a beta of the new Genesis default child-theme which is going to include some design controls, so you can control your link colors and your background colors and shadows and borders and stuff like that, so that’s something really big that we’re working on. That’s just in beta but it’s going to be a full-blown release, and that’ll be free, most likely, with Genesis, if you’re a Genesis member. Other big things, we really want to explore the idea of custom post types and taxonomies.

Brad: That’s good to hear.

Nathan: Yeah. It’s a big deal to us, and what we’ve always committed to do at StudioPress, and we probably always will, is to really tightly integrate with WordPress features—post thumbnails, threaded comments, 3.0 navigation, all that kind of thing. We really want to be right there, not reinventing wheels and doing things differently than WordPress intends; we really want to be there doing themes that don’t look foreign to WordPress and use all of WordPress’ built-in core functionality. So we really want to explore the idea of custom post types and taxonomies and see what we can do as far as building niche-specific themes; we already have, for those of you who don’t know, if you’re a real estate agent we have AgentPress, and I think we’re going to reexamine AgentPress with custom post types because it makes sense, listings are … could be a custom post type.

Brad: Exactly.

Nathan: And that kind of thing can apply across the board to other types of niche-specific themes, car dealerships and churches and things like that, so we really want to dive into that at some point.

Brad: Now, are all StudioPress themes running on Genesis now, are you converting them all over; will I be able to buy like a traditional theme from StudioPress in the next few months or will they all be gone?

Nathan: Probably within two to three months they’ll all be converted over.

Brad: They’ll all be Genesis.

Nathan: All StudioPress themes will be converted over to Genesis. And the reason we do that is because we trust Genesis; I mean like I said, we had a security audit done so we’re very confident that there’s not going to be any glaring vulnerabilities in your theme that could make it — expose you to hacking, getting your site hacked. And so we really do try, and it’s the same markup structure across every single theme, so you can change your design; once a week if you wanted to, but your markup structure’s never going to change because it’s the same from theme to theme to theme because it’s Genesis running it all. You never have to re-input settings, you never have to go back through and change the layout and stuff like that for a specific theme, which by the way, layout settings apply on a post- and page-specific basis, so you can go in and you can have your site, the home page has your content and a sidebar and a sidebar, but on a specific page if you don’t want sidebars you can turn it off. And so all that kind of stuff that applies across every single child-theme, and for us that’s a major benefit of Genesis, so of course it makes a lot of sense for us to convert every theme over to Genesis. Right now I think we’re probably somewhere like three-quarters of the way through.

Patrick: Does anyone have a question for the gentleman seated to my right about StudioPress or Genesis? Okay, I guess you were first by a hair, go ahead.

Audience Member: I actually had a question and praise. (inaudible) …and first I wanted to ask is WordPress considered more of a blog or can I just call it a website?

Nathan: I think you can call it both. At this point that was my major beef maybe three years ago with WordPress is that it was, and even from the leadership it was this is blogging software. I think now, especially with 2.9 when they really introduced the custom post types concept, it really has become this can be your site that has a blog and not necessarily a blog that you have to like mutate into an actual website.

Audience Member: (inaudible)

Nathan: Really, OK!

Patrick: And I should also say that you’ve just won a license to the StudioPress theme of your choice, so— You can give it away. You can give it away if you want. You don’t want it? Someone else—

Audience Member: (inaudible) …and I really liked it.

Nathan: You bought both, the combo pack? Okay.

Patrick: So you do want it, because they’ll take it.

Audience Member: Either way.

Patrick: Okay, fine. Final question and you get it; just fill your name on a piece of paper over there with the gentleman right there.

Audience Member: HTML5 and typography, how much of that is going to built into Genesis?

Nathan: HTML5 is something that at some point when it becomes an adopted spec, when it becomes and officially adopted spec, we are going to I think make an option. So essentially in the theme options, the theme settings page, you’ll choose from a dropdown what type of — well, it is the markup structure but also the DOCTYPE. We’ll change where you can choose HTML5 as your DOCTYPE, and if you do that the theme setting will go through and change your markup structure to be compatible with HTML5 using the nav element and the header element and the aside element, all that stuff. Okay, now that will not be compatible with child themes because the child themes are very much, well, it may be; if we can make it compatible with child themes we’ll do that, if not you may have to roll your own child theme for an HTML compatible with Genesis. What was your other question?

Audience Member: Typography.

Nathan: Typography. Again, we try to abstract most design stuff out of Genesis and leave that to child themes. We believe that there’re two separate layers that should never, well, very seldomly mix, there should be one on top of the other. And so we have someone involved with the StudioPress community who’s a typophile is what — they’re good at typography, and I think we’re going to start focusing in the coming months on expanding our library of designs to include not just pretty colors but also really fine-tuned typography as well.

Brad: Thanks Nathan. So where can everybody find you online?

Nathan: I’m nathanrice.net, studiopress.com if you want to get Genesis, and I highly recommend that you do, and @nathanrice on Twitter.

Brad: Cool, awesome, thanks for coming.

Nathan: Thanks.

(Applause)

Patrick: Keeping with the premium theme segment, our next guest is Cory Miller; Cory is the CEO of iThemes, welcome Cory.

Cory: Hey, thanks guys.

(Applause)

Patrick: Glad to have you.

Brad: Cory, so you recently launched pluginbuddy.com, so can you tell us what plugins you offer, what plugins we can look forward to in the future, and what exactly are the services that you’re doing?

Cory: You bet. So the first plugin, well, we started PluginBuddy, iThemes has been around for 2½ years now. We started PluginBuddy out of a need we saw in the WordPress community, and that was the same reason people buy themes we feel the same reason people would want a premium plugin also. So PluginBuddy was launched in March of this year to fit a need, we felt like we had some staffing, we had some people on our team that could build some rockin’ cool plugins, so our major plugin there is called BackupBuddy, and what we did was look at WordPress and said what’s the need? And the need was how do we have a backup, migration, and restoration for sites? So a developer, for instance, they build their site on a sandbox playground site and they want to migrate that to a live domain; that was a need we had personally. And so we thought, well, can we provide a solution? And that was our blockbuster first theme that we’re very proud of, we’ve heard some good comments, I think Brad you’re a customer.

Brad: Oh, we are. I do have the BackupBuddy dev license actually.

Cory: And have the shirt? Need to get you a shirt.

Brad: No, what shirt? I didn’t get a shirt. Gotta get a shirt now.

Cory: Got to get him a shirt.

Patrick: Off your back.

Cory: So Backup Buddy was our first plugin that we rolled out through PluginBuddy. The second called up was about a week or two ago was called Mobile, and again, just trying to fit a need; there are good existing solutions out there just like there’s backup solutions out in the WordPress market right now. We’re not saying — there’s good ones out there, we’re not saying we’re the only choice, but we felt like we could offer our community a good, solid solution, and so Mobile was the second thing we did. Basically Mobile helps you build an iPhone version, for lack of a better term, of your website; so it’s not just your website branded, or it’s not just your website that just happens to look somehow similar, you can actually recreate your site for a mobile platform. And I think right now we have ten platforms that are supported, so for instance, I don’t know if you have a browser on your phone, but —

Patrick: You don’t want to use it. You really, really don’t want to use it. It’s a pay-as-you-go phone; it’s the worst phone in the room, so, continue.

Cory: So we support Android, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, so WordPress sniffs out what browser, what platform, all that kind of stuff something’s coming from, and so somebody looking at it from an iPad you can tell it which theme, it comes with three themes, that it’ll show on the site. So, real quickly, Mobile is create your own header image that you can upload, okay, and then style it with the built-in style manager so you can rebuild anything you want toward the mobile application. And that’s our two really big plug-ins that we have at PluginBuddy.

Patrick: So you also run webdesign.com. Can you tell us about that and the training and certifications that you offer?

Cory: Okay, so good businesses provide solutions to problems, right? And so we looked at BackupBuddy, we said there’s not a good — we didn’t feel like this total all in one solution for backup restoration, migration, okay, same thing with training is there’s awesome training content out there, right, you can go to all the blogs, Smashing Magazine, and I’m forgetting some, WP Beginner, Weblogs Tools Collection, all that. What we wanted to do was say how can we provide some solid training to the WordPress community, video-based training, where we have Benjamin Bradley’s our instructor, he’s in the back in that white shirt there, anyway, he’s our technical trainer over there, and we just saw another void to say how can we help? Three and a half years ago when I started WordPress I had to bum advice off my good friend Brian Gardner; had to bum advice and plead and beg and all that kind of stuff and you know every resource I could. So that just came out of our own experience of saying how can we provide a solid, ongoing, good solution for helping people build awesome WordPress websites. Because we see that, we’re all here today because WordPress is a kick-butt solution, right, I mean it’s up and coming, it’s continued to be better and better by people that contribute back to core, and all that kind of stuff, so trainings just saying there’s a void and we wanted to help try and fill it. Now, your book and stuff is the other key component of it, right?

Brad: Professional WordPress.

Patrick: Nicely done!

Cory: Professional WordPress. Funny story real quick: okay, Brad says — I was mentioning, so I go read through the whole thing, I go buy it instantly, of course, I have to, right; and I’m looking through it and everything and I said I got to make a plug for Professional WordPress.

Patrick: So webdesign.com is an insanely good domain name. How did you come to own it?

Cory: Okay, you go to Go Daddy and you type in web design.

(Laughter)

Patrick: Is that all it takes?

Cory: And when you see that “Buy Now” button on the dot com you fork out your credit card right there.

Patrick: When did you do that, 1987?

(Laughter)

Cory: It hadn’t been registered in 15 years.

Patrick: Wow.

Brad: I don’t believe that.

Cory: That never suffices as the right answer, so here’s the other one: so that’s the laugh, everybody gets to ha, ha out of it, so the other is, and I dumb it down until people keep mobbing me with questions, but being at the right place at the right time and having the right business model with the right partners. Does that work? We got yes’s over here, no’s here, maybes.

Patrick: So was that listed for sale online or did you get introduced to someone who was introduced by someone else who knew the guy who owned it and wanted to sell it? Was it a broker or anything like that?

Cory: There’s a saying that — and I always butcher it, that most people think — they walk up to the plate, I always butcher this, and hit a homerun in baseball, when they’re really born on second. So born on second thinks he hit a homerun; does that resonate with anybody? I’m a guy that understands he was born on second and had a lot of help getting that homerun out of it, so I had good partners that had secured the domain name, and when the time was right we presented the business plan for it and we’re able to do what we do. So, I didn’t register it, I’m not the most brilliant guy, intelligent guy in the world, and I won’t claim that; I was at the right place at the right time with good partners, and that really is the summation of the story.

Stephan: Cool. What is iThemes excited about in 2010 and going forward in 2011?

Cory: You know overall WordPress consistently is getting better and better. I think I started it around the 2.0 version with the blue dashboard and thought it was the best thing since sliced pie. We built our business, you know, we have 14 people not all full time on our staff, we have an office in Oklahoma City, we’ve built our business around WordPress, okay, so we’re not doing Joomla or Drupal. We believe in WordPress because we use WordPress, we love it, that’s the most exciting theme is that platform continues to get better and better. Bob Dunbar’s here today and he’s one of the core contributors, whatever you call it, Brad can help me out with the terminology. I love it because there’s so many people trying to make WordPress better, and you know what, we’re trying to provide solutions so exciting-wise, iThemes-wise, is our Builder theme; it’s basically, again, thinking through what we would want and what we try to do is say you don’t have to code, you can use a wizzy-wig interface-type thing that looks so similar to WordPress that it doesn’t need to say the Builder, it’s just synched in with WordPress and how it looks from the icons all the way down to help build that. The trainer opportunities we have at webdesign.com are awesome, we hope to continually to do that; we’ve met a number of people in our community here that really value the training that James Dalman and Benjamin Bradley are providing, and then PluginBuddy, I think that’s fun. The best part of my job is I get to innovate, but I’m not that talented, I have to hire people to do that, you know. So, but I love rolling out solutions that we meet people here at Raleigh and it’s fun talking shop and hearing people, you know, they gripe at us too, and that’s okay because I get to (inaudible), but the other thing is the affirmation that we’ve helped people do something in their business, and so that’s the most exciting thing is to continue to do that and get better at it.

Stephan: Cool. You sound fired up, it’s cool.

Cory: Well, there’s this thing is light yourself on fire and people will watch you burn, so I ain’t got nothing else but I’m gonna light myself on fire and if you guys get entertained by that maybe you like it, you know, maybe you have fun.

Patrick: So, speaking of iThemes Builder, does anyone have a question for Cory?

Cory: Oh, look at the time.

(Laughter)

Patrick: We’ll give it away whether or not you’re here. No, go ahead.

Audience Member: (inaudible)

Cory: Yeah, the question was about — for the podcast, was about PluginBuddy Mobile, it comes with three starter themes that you can say I want this theme to go to this particular mobile platform, so for instance, our guys are gamers so we have a couple games built-in, I don’t even know them, a Sony-something Wii and all that kind of stuff, Playstation; so you can this theme, one of three themes, and we’re going to put more in. Matt Jenner’s in the back, he’s going to help continue building cool themes (inaudible). You can say this platform goes to this theme; does that answer your question?

Patrick: Excellent. So you’ve won a copy of iThemes Builder, $127.00, technically the most expensive prize we have, I think, is that the right price?

Cory: If that’s the way you think, Patrick.

(Laughter)

Patrick: I said my book was the cheapest, and it is; $24.00, so give me some credit.

Cory: In the giveaway, okay, yeah, it’s the most expensive.

(Laughter)

Patrick: So now you’re thinking what have I — I didn’t have to do that.

Cory: I’m giving you the most stuff for the giveaway, right.

Patrick: Monetarily.

Cory: Monetarily, ah, there you go, Patrick.

Patrick: So where can people find you online?

Cory: My personal site is corymiller.com, but I’m all about the brand and our team, and so ithemes.com is our main brand, it’s 2½ years old. And, oh, Twitter, @corymiller303, that’s it; sounds like AOL.

Patrick: Excellent, thanks Cory.

(Applause)

Patrick: Well, it was great to have them on. And now let’s go around the table and close out this episode of the SitePoint Podcast.

Brad: I’m Brad Williams from webdevstudios.com, and you can find me on Twitter @williamsba.

Stephan: I’m Stephan Segraves. You can find me on Twitter @ssegraves, and my blog is badice.com.

Patrick: And I am Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network, ifroggy.com, I’m on Twitter @ifroggy. You can follow our usual co-host, Kevin Yank, @sentience, and SitePoint @sitepointdotcom. You can also visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. Email podcast@sitepoint.com with your questions for us, we’d love to read them out on the show and give you our advice.

This episode of the SitePoint podcast was produced by Karn Broad.

Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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