Practical Ecommerce

Development of the world’s most popular WordPress open source ecommerce plug-in

This is one of a series on WordPress Open Source e-Commerce (OSC) Plug-Ins. I recently had the chance to chat with Dan Milward, founder of the world’s most popular WordPress e-Commerce plug-in, aptly named “WP e-Commerce Plug-in.” The plug-in has been downloaded almost 1.5 million times from WordPress.org. Here is our conversation:

PRACTICAL ECOMMERCE: Can you please tell me when this group started working on this plug-in, why, and how it’s evolved since then?

MILWARD: Nice question. Before we built the WP e-Commerce Plug-in we were another run of the mill web dev company that did work for clients. It just so happened that in my personal life I was also a WordPress evangelist and prolific blogger, so because of that we developed all our client sites using WordPress. One of our clients for whom we’d built a website for had a need for a shopping cart on their site… and there wasn’t a plug-in for that, so we made one, and just like that the world’s first WordPress Plug-in was born.

This was over 5 years ago and we were building our Plug-in to work with WordPress 1.5, back when WordPress definitely wasn’t the ultimate and extendable developers dream that it is today, so we had to write crazy code to make selling online in WordPress possible. A lot of that code we were not proud of, so one of the ways we’ve evolved is to refactor and optimize our code to align with WordPress best practices. We know it wasn’t the best architected piece of software back in the day, but we believe it’s the “putting right” that counts and we’re employing some of the best developers in the WordPress world to help ensure the longevity of the WP e-Commerce Plug-in.

Because we’ve improved our code and shown commitment and stickability to the WP community, an amazing Open Source community has evolved around us – people from all around the world are providing us feedback, code, e-Commerce advice and translation files. It is an amazing experience for me to be a part of.

PRACTICAL ECOMMERCE: Can you tell us a little about the development team?

MILWARD: We’re an Open Source project and as such our team is spread out all over the world. The community around us is massive, and I love what we do and continue to achieve. I’ve just come from WordCamp GoldCoast and spent a weekend with friends from around the WordPress circuit where likeminded individuals got together, hung out, and talked about WordPress related stuff. It’s such an amazing thing to be a part of.

Unlike with a lot of smaller Plug-ins, we have to constantly consider the global nature of e-Commerce; each country has different payment gateways, shipping rules, tax rules / laws and so on. So it’s absolutely necessary for us to be as open and accessible as possible so that we can accommodate those differences. I don’t believe you can do e-Commerce properly without a global attitude and the willingness to engage with people everywhere. Its hard work.

Locally at our office, we’re a tightly-knit small team of 6 individuals. We all come from different backgrounds but share a mixed love of WordPress + Open Source principles. Of our internal team we have a tight team with 1 or 2 core committers – these guys are our most experienced developers and thus are the guardians of our plug-in, it’s their job to ensure that all the code committed into WP e-Commerce, regardless of whether it’s from the community or from inside our business, is of the highest possible quality.

I guess we’re a lot like any company with Open Source morals and we take a lot of inspiration from how Automattic runs their business.

PRACTICAL ECOMMERCE: I know you’ve had a lot of name changes. Why or what do the names mean in the evolution of the product?

MILWARD: Instinct is the name of the company that funds the WP e-Commerce Plugin project. Imagine the relationship between Automattic and WordPress, it’s the same thing.

GetShopped.org is simply the home for the WP e-Commerce Plugin.

That said, watch this space: we’re going to be making some changes soon and launching a few new sites around our project.

PRACTICAL ECOMMERCE: Do you consider the plug-in stable?

MILWARD: For the most part yes, of course. Millions of people are using it generating millions of dollars all around the world.

But I also acknowledge that we’re a big piece of software and e-Commerce is infinitely complex. We try to do the best we can and with every release WP e-Commerce Plug-in gets more stable and it would seem our Open Source community grows.

PRACTICAL ECOMMERCE: What do you see happening with the next release?

MILWARD:

  1. Easier to use.
  2. More WordPress integration.
  3. More marketing tools (coupons etc)
  4. More optimized code
  5. Integration of the bbPress Template engine (code funded by Automattic)

Although it’s not release related, I’m pleased to announce our upcoming marketplace where developers will be able to sell their premium plug-ins right from within our website. We’ve had heaps of positive feedback about this, and we’re committed to launching this before Christmas. We’re also investing into more Mobile and Social Networking related e-Commerce products.

WP e-Commerce Plug-in page: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-e-commerce/

Plug-in website: http://getshopped.org/

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