For years, the WP eCommerce plugin was the only native choice for eCommerce using WordPress, and is still one of the leading choices for WordPress eCommerce with almost 70,000 users.
After 8 years of development, the plugin is one of the most mature platforms available, but adoption has waned. The development team is revamping several parts of the core plugin with the version 3.8.14 and upcoming 3.9 release. We’ll have a detailed review of these releases for you at the 3.9 launch, including some details on the new theme engine, payment gateway API, and the in-app marketplace that will make it easier to find quality add-ons.
There are some really big changes coming to the ecosystem and marketplace as well, and I was fortunate enough to chat with the founder and lead developer for WPeC, Dan Milward and Justin Sainton (respectively), to discuss some of these changes.
What’s Changing at Instinct?
With the upcoming release of WP eCommerce 3.9, drastic changes will be made made to GetShopped.org and Instinct Entertainment (the company behind WPeC and GetShopped). Previously, Instinct was owned by Dan Milward, the founder of WP eCommerce. With the WPeC 3.9 release, Instinct will now be co-owned by Dan and Justin Sainton, who has been helping to lead development for the past few years.
The goal behind the official partnership is to accelerate releases and innovate for the growth of the platform. This will also simplify things for users, as extensions, development, and support efforts will no longer be fragmented. Putting one entity behind all things WP e-Commerce gives users one company to turn to for purchases, support, and information.
Justin is excited for the changes to the platform and ecosystem after having worked on WPeC for the past four years. “I’m incredibly excited to be coming on as a partner with Dan at Instinct,” he said. “Having worked closely with him…we’ve already learned our core competencies, our strengths and weaknesses, and how to work well together.”
Will this merger lead to a change in productivity and development? Absolutely: “Beyond the partnership, Dan is a man I consider a close and dear friend and I think we’re going to be able to go much further together than we would have if we continued separately,” Justin said. He’s confident that officially merging their efforts will be far better in the long term for WPeC rather than continuing in the loose teamwork that previously drove the platform forward.
As for Dan’s perspective on how this brings the platform forward, he says, it’s “a much needed quantum leap!”
Why the decision to merge now? Dan says:
Over the past two years I tried to accelerate WPEC growth and stay competitive but it just didn’t really work out for us – I just couldn’t seem to lobby the right people to get the job done! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we’ve been resting on our laurels; our support team and processes are now just as good as our competitors and the upcoming 3.9 release is solid BUT it was not a time of technology growth or innovation and thus we lost our edge.
As a result of that lull in innovation, WPEC lost popularity. Dan’s confident that partnering with Justin will help to turn that tide. “Justin coming on board means solid WordPress coding standards, a faster turn around of quality code, and getting a worthy update out the door,” according to Dan. “And hey, I’m not getting any younger either. I got to a point in my life where I wanted a partner, somebody to share the workload of running an open source project with. I look at other companies in the WordPress space that I admire (i.e., WebDevStudios) and I see not just kick-ass development teams but kick-ass founder teams, which isn’t something that you can buy.”
How Does the Merger Change the Ecosystem?
Ideally, this merger will change the WPeC marketplace and ecosystem with revitalized development and growth. Both Dan and Justin think it will be incredibly positive for the WPeC community. “It puts us back in the game,” Dan says. “I’ve been sitting quietly and waiting patiently for WPEC to be worthy of my praise and it almost is – when that day comes we’ll be loud and proud about our achievements.”
For several years now, I’ve been a lead developer for the WP eCommerce plugin without being a part of the company responsible for it. I think, in some ways, that has had some negative impact. It’s so important for open source projects like ours to have consistent, reliable, visible leadership within our communities. Because of the nature of our relationship prior to this, I would have seasons of incredibly active, visible input to the community and then I’d have to get back to projects that paid the bills. This partnership will allow us to be in a position where that no longer has to be the case.
The partnership will result in sharing the responsibility of platform growth and bring Justin into the fold officially, unifying the vision for platform growth and development under one roof. It also provides Justin the foundation necessary to invest more time into the plugin’s development and ensures that Dan can depend on Justin’s contributions since he now has responsibility and ownership for the platform.
What Happens to Core Development?
A significant portion of Justin’s time will continue to be spent on core plugin development now that development is all under one roof. “If the 3.8.14 and 3.9 releases are any indication, we’ll see core development continue at a phenomenal pace,” he said. He continued:
As we continue to evolve as a platform, my role as a lead developer will likely evolve as well. The direction I see it evolving in will be to eventually (perhaps in a year or two) have several other lead developers as part of the lead developer team. I don’t see any open source project succeeding in the long-term when it rests on the shoulders of one primary individual.
Thankfully, WPeC has several core contributors that could potentially join the team.
Dan is confident that Justin’s ability to consistently put time into WPeC core development will move the platform forward by leaps and bounds. “Justin has made more contributions to WordPress core than any of the developers in any of the other competing plugins; he is not just a consumer of WordPress, but has a record of giving back and is a contributor in the truest sense,” Dan said. “His dedication to WordPress, WPEC, and our community puts us on a good solid trajectory going forward.”
What Roles Do You Take on Now?
With this partnership being finalized, I was curious as to how the workload would be broken up – I asked if each Justin and Dan will be taking on different roles or what responsibilities will be assigned to each. It sounds like some measure of specialization will follow, but each will still be involved in the business development. For Dan, he says he’ll be “spending most of my time on high level strategy, forging some new partnerships and re-familiarizing myself with the art of war. And of course I intend on getting to as many WordCamps as possible.”
Justin’s role will primarily be as a developer. “That doesn’t necessarily mean just code,” he says. There are three primary ‘development’ areas he’ll be spending time on:
First, and most obviously, product. Product development, to me, means both the core plugin and other areas like premium plugins, theme frameworks, tools for developers, etc. Ensuring consistency and quality across the entire scope of the products we offer will be a major focus for me.
Second, partnerships. Partnership development (and this is an area Dan continues to excel in as well) is vital for open source projects like ours. Working with hosting companies, third-party APIs, payment gateway providers, the core WordPress team, theme designers and more – managing these relationships and aligning interests so that everyone wins is an often overlooked area of development for open-source projects. I’m excited about a lot of really neat partnership opportunities that we have in the pipeline.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, community. Community development and outreach is the lifeblood of our project. If our users, developers, and other community members don’t feel they have a voice, and don’t feel they are being fully engaged, we lose the life of our project. Quite literally, our project would be nothing without the community behind it. This year, I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can continue to actively empower our community to be heard and be engaged, so they can have a positive effect on the project moving forward.
Overall, these are some really exciting changes for Dan, Justin, and the WP eCommerce plugin team. I’ve always felt that the lack of a centralized team behind the project contributed to the lagging growth in comparison to other platforms, as one side was developing the core plugin while the other was handling users, platform growth, and support. The disconnect made it difficult for users to understand where to get help, purchase add-ons, and provide feedback. I’m really looking forward to how these changes will remedy these issues and drive the plugin’s evolution.
Thanks so much to Dan and Justin for speaking with me, and congratulations on your new partnership!
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