The last couple of episodes of the podcast focused on big changes to WordPress—Gutenberg and GDPR privacy tools. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy and the drama of changes like that, but they’re not really why people use WordPress in higher ed.

So why do we use WordPress? What makes it such a valuable tool?

A big part of the answer to those questions is WordPress multisite.

This episode features WPCampus community members Brian DeConinck, Jen McFarland, and Ronnie Burt. Ronnie works with CampusPress, a President-level sponsor for the 2018 WPCampus conference. In the episode, he showcases some of CampusPress’s clients and talk about what makes multisite such a great fit for so many different higher ed use cases.

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Episode Audio

Episode Transcript

Brian: Welcome to the WPCampus podcast, a podcast for those using WordPress in higher education.

The last couple of episodes of the podcast focused on big changes to WordPress---Gutenberg and GDPR privacy tools. It's easy to get caught up in the energy and the drama of changes like that, but they're not really why people use WordPress in higher ed.

So why do we use WordPress? What makes it such a valuable tool?

A big part of the answer to those questions is WordPress multisite.

My name is Brian DeConinck, and I work at NC State University. I'm joined today by my colleague and co-host Jen McFarland and by Ronnie Burt. Ronnie works with CampusPress, a President-level sponsor for the 2018 WPCampus conference, and he's here to showcase some of CampusPress's clients and talk about what makes multisite such a great fit for so many different higher ed use cases.

Welcome, Ronnie!

Ronnie: Thank you very much for having me.

Brian: Oh we're really happy to have you. So I guess for--- so our university, NC State does not use CampusPress. (Sorry about that.)

Jen: Full disclosure.

Brian: I know a lot of campuses do. For people who don't know what you guys do and what services you offer... what do you do?

Ronnie: Yeah so we are, we're basically one of if not the first managed hosts around, exclusively with multisite for the past 10 years or so. So we are first and foremost a managed host for WordPress multisite and with CampusPress exclusively within education so both K12 and higher ed.

A little more than half of our business is higher ed. We work with a couple hundred universities worldwide about a little more than half of those are in the U.S. here and so it is WordPress multisite that's all we do and it's a little bit of everything within multisite. So we host it we support it we handle change management, testing, upgrading of WordPress core.

We can do end-user support so if it's a site for faculty or for students they can reach out to our support team 24/7 instead of a university's helpdesk.

We have a ton of plugins and resources and tools that we've developed over the years that are available kind of out of the box so it's it's kind of more than just the managed hosting. We take ownership of the entire code base of WordPress including the plugins, including the themes. We do reviews of those just to keep things running as close to a hundred percent of the time as possible and as fast as possible.

CampusPress itself is part of a little bit larger WordPress company where WordPress is all that we do. Our sister company is WPMU Dev, so lots of universities that may not be using CampusPress might be using services and plugins and tools from WPMU Dev and they actually share a lot of the same resources you see a lot of the same stuff across the two and the same team.

Brian: And we do use WPMU Dev so we like you guys for that. So what's your role with CampusPress?

Ronnie: We're a little weird with titles in our company but I guess if when I have to you know when it goes to contracts and things I’m general manager CampusPress and that kind of sheperd the the growth that we do, the sales side, the product development side and just making sure that everything that we do with CampusPress you know is going strong and always getting better. I also work across and some of the business development side of WPMU Dev and in the fact that we have shared resources there we do managed hosting on the enterprise level with WPMU Dev as well and it's essentially the same team and product. So that's in a nutshell what I do a little bit of everything it changes everyday.

Jen: How long have you been around?

Ronnie: I've been with the company now for a little over eight years. When I started CampusPress had a different name of Edublogs campus. Edublogs is still around as well its mot K-12 it's one large multisite network. It's actually, we were pretty confident that it's the oldest multisite network on the web.

Jen: I believe that yeah I remember it being around a long time ago.

Ronnie: It was launched before WordPress.com as an MU and it's got a little over four million blogs going strong, you know, really popular especially in the K-12 market with teachers for blogging sites and things like that. And we use that that's kind of where everything started WPMU Dev came out of Edublogs we were building a lot of stuff for Edublogs and people were like what we want that so we turned that into a business. So multisite is really been the focus of our company from the beginning.

Jen: Did you say four million?

Ronnie: Yeah there's about there's a little over four million blogs on that on multisite.

Jen: That's impressive!

Ronnie: It’s a beast and they're not they're not all active but you know over the course of that network's over 12 years old.

Jen: I was excited about like our twenty five thousand, but four million!

Ronnie: It’s quite the database and it’s given us a lot of you know experience and scale and it's a lot. That's where I got personally got started I was a classroom teacher in middle school and in high school math and was using WordPress with some of my stuff and came across Edublogs and it eventually snowballed into a job. I was kind of the first non-technical person, well second non-technical person on the team there.

Jen: Brian's got a math degree too, you guys can have some math fun, I’ll just sit here and laugh at you guys.

Brian: Yeah. Jen has a textiles management degree.

Jen: Yeah, really big on the math.

Brian: So all that's awesome. So when we were emailing back and forth before the show you sent me a few links to some of your clients who are using multisite in different ways. It's hard to do like demos or showcase in an audio format, but let's talk through maybe a few of the sites you shared with us. If there's one in particular you want to start with go right ahead.

Ronnie: Well I think I'll just emphasize that no two installations are the same and no to kind of implementations of how our customers are using WordPress and WordPress multisite are the same so it's everything from the very top level main site, providence.edu is an example of that, where you know it's their main web presence the home page and university, plus the different departments and everything that comes with being the top-level main site.

And to be honest that is on the newer side for us. We got our start you know through Edublogs, through the learning side, through classroom blogs and stuff like that. But that's also 10, 12 years ago when WordPress was a blogging tool and is now known for you know being the CMS of choice and so it's only natural that we see more and more typical CMS use with WordPress and multisite.

So you know a benefit of your main site like Providence.edu is so your admission site can be a sub-site on the network and you can just give someone or a small group of people in admissions access to edit the content of just their site but they won't have access to edit like you know someone else's site on the network or the main website. WordPress permissions are pretty good for that it's totally extendable and I'm preaching to the choir if you're listening to a WordPress podcast but you know what we see some of the cool things that we're seeing with top-level sites and across all the sites that's kind of related to main sites is things you can do with content syndication so we have a post indexer plugin that will index all of the posts and custom post types across a multisite network and then you can use short codes or template tags or different ways of displaying that content across the network. So if you have a tag that if it gets used anywhere in the multisite installation, then it's gonna highlight that post on the main website. So it's just an easy way of kind of syndicating the content or re posting I mean anything from just the title of the post to the full body and text of the post that way

So that's kind of a cool implementation. You also you know work through the strengths of WordPress and that is extendable, it's easy to develop, the theme share a common theme or set of themes across all of your sites and that sort of stuff just makes a lot of sense. And I think that we're seeing more and more main site implementations as time goes on, as people are you know every whatever it may be 5, 7, 10 year cycle of updating that main website and WordPress is becoming more and more used there.

Brian: Well and I mean it makes sense as a is just a way of consolidating and managing your web presence. So at NC State we don't have our main homepage is not part of a multisite with the rest of our departmental sites and college sites. But we did just over the last few years go through this long exercise, of it's still sort of ongoing, of bringing everybody on board with a new brand and having everything centralized on a single environment certainly makes that easier.

Ronnie: For sure, definitely. I mean and I know that you mentioned in the in the pre-show and the pre-previous discussions of GDPR or even our US customers we're getting questions about easy way of adding cookie notices and privacy policies across all other sites that they have never had to really think about before having it in a simple multisite or single multisite has made that process easier for many of the customers.

And so then I guess beyond them, the main sites, kind of our bread and butter but the typical customer if we had to have one that we would describe is kind of a self-service, on-demand WordPress multisite platform where faculty, students, staff or whoever's affiliated with university can go to a landing page click login and create a site or multiple sites within the multisite network.

So there's lots of examples of those. u.osu.edu at Ohio State, that's, I like that one because it's a nice short easy URL to share but it's also a very branded installation. So every site there is using one of just a few themes that they've developed in-house that are branded, matched the university marketing guidelines and webstyle guidelines and all that sort of good stuff. But any student, Ohio State’s the largest or one of the top two or three largest universities in the in the US right, that's a lot of students that can just go and create a site that's a WordPress site there. And they don't have to worry about you know what getting too big what how long they might just be using it for a course that lasts a couple of months or they might travel with them throughout the the entire four years that they're in the program or whatever it may be. Faculty as well, faculty sites it's just a out-of-the-box WordPress platform for anyone to use.

Brian: So when you're working with the university they're setting up a like a self-service system like this, are you involved in, or can you be involved in deciding policy, helping them figure out how to govern that kind of an environment, what the rules should be, things like that?

Ronnie: Yes, we definitely can be and we like to be. So the fact that we're lucky and that we will we've worked with a good number of of universities doing something similar, the best thing we can do is share what we've seen work well and what maybe we haven't seen work as well in the past. And also try to make connections of folks doing similar things, so they can talk directly to each other. So definitely do those sorts of things. At least half especially of these kind of self-service platforms that we have are migrations for us, so they are self hosting it or they're hosting it elsewhere and then you know we come into the process. So in that case a lot of times the policies are already set, and sometimes it's a good thing and/or it's a bad thing. If they have a ton of plugins that they've just added to it over the years you know it can take a while to kind of go through them and help kind of clean up the network so we're comfortable with you know ongoing maintenance of it and that sort of thing. But that's another big part of why no two implementations are the same. So some customers are totally happy with anyone and everyone come create a site, create whatever you want, do whatever you want with it. Others want a very rigorous kind of request form that has to go through someone pre-approves and then it goes to another person that can approve it that's really a site that needs to be created and it's a very manual process. So we definitely run the gamut between those those two sort of extremes in terms of policies there and then policies in terms of brand adverse unbranded.

So for example the next one on the list with sites.dartmouth.edu, Dartmouth University it's a recent migration for us, theirs is not very branded at all I don't I don't even know if they have any I think they might have a couple of branded themes but you can choose to not be branded. So you just, a lot of the WordPress themes that that we've accumulated over the years that are just out there on on you know the WordPress.org repo, those sorts of themes that the people can do anything they want with with those sites, there's a little bit less kind of policies, approval, governance on those.

Jen: Is that more of a challenge for you because then you have more overhead in terms of support for those kinds of things?

Ronnie: Yes and no. I mean we, we try to offer as many themes and plugins and things like that we have committed to supporting ongoing. So we know when we do an update for it for one customer it's going to be an update for it for all customers, so we're okay with that. And we're very careful in the plugins and themes that that we select, for example themes in the last two or three years we're only adding themes that have been reviewed by a third-party as accessibility ready. That greatly limits the number of themes like if it doesn't meet that tag we're not we're not going to accept it. So there's things that we can put in our policies to kind of make sure that that we're comfortable maintaining it long term. So does that make sense?

Jen: Absolutely, yeah, you know, I'm just like trying to glean ideas here too because a lot of the same problems with you know there's plugin bloat over time, there's theme bloat over time. We're more of the Dartmouth model where people can use multiple things but we do have some campus themes so, yeah, it's the challenge.

Ronnie: It is. I mean one thing that we've done recently that we didn't do for years and years and years is start retiring themes and plugins.

Jen: I was gonna ask about that, and sites too - like how often do you go through and clean out old sites, or do you?

Ronnie: Well we don't for the customers, but some customers do choose to do that. So we have a scripting tool that's built in where you can run a script to see when the last time the site was updated, download a CSV of those sites and then we can we can mass archive them if they haven't been updated in X amount of time. So some customers will do that, others, I've always been of the belief that once it's on the web it should be on the web forever for the most part with it with some, I mean I understand the governance reasons and the privacy like it's easier to have less data but if it was published---

Jen: Records retention people love you!

Ronnie: But if it was public on the web someone published it on the web for a reason. They didn't give it a sunset date you know

Brian: I’m sure database administrators feel differently.

Ronnie: Yes, yes but you know people are, for the most obvious reasons, people might be linking to that somewhere and now even created broken dead links around the web. I just, I feel like if it's a public site it typically needs to live ongoing.

Jen: I like your argument, I'm gonna steal it the next time somebody ask me why were cleaning up our stuff.

Ronnie: But there's also you know you have less footprints is is less to worry about. So I get that and. It also depends on the purpose of the site. So on our networks that are more course focused that our sites typically are first of all for a learning purpose and that course is long over

Jen: Yeah, very different model.

Ronnie: Then a faculty site who published some research or you know information about even the historical stuff on an event that took place years ago is a nice public record to have in my opinion. But that's--- we do make the tools available you know in WordPress multisite you can do database scripts and all sorts of things like that to pull out what you're looking for contact those people make sure they want it to archive. What we typically do is not fully delete as we archive so it's not live on the web and then we can easily just unarchive. But then that data is still living in your database so it doesn't really help that problem.

So there so there's those then there's kind of hybrid networks. The the host University for WPCampus, WUSTL, Wash U, sites.wustl.edu, they're an example where they have their main WordPress website or their main website is WordPress I'm pretty sure but that's not part of the multisite network that we host. And so then it's lots of department events, academic groups, their med school things like that that are on that but it's a fully branded, everything's branded kind of through their main their main web team for example.

And so, you know I keep kind of going through the list, there's the other kind of not extreme but other use case of back to the learning so between course blogs or portfolios, so edblogs.columbia.edu is an interesting example. It's out of their, I don't I don't always get the department or the organization completely correct, but this is in their instructional technology side of things and you know ran by the same folks that are managing their LMS and things like that. So it's a WordPress implementation the idea is if a course needs a WordPress site or a blog that's public outside of the LMS then they go here and it's an on-demand platform for the course.

There's some cool things you can do there with LTI integrations or canvas API integrations for kind of pre-creating these courses or auto adding students to WordPress and things like that we've either found or built or improved upon over time. So those are some pretty cool implementations, and eportfolios is always a it's a buzzword that's been around for a long time and it comes and goes.

Jen: Yeah, always comes back, pops up.

Ronnie: Yeah it does and I've seen some really good implementations and then I mean what it takes is kind of a, it's one of those that you can't just kind of wing and throw out there and hope that something sticks. It's one that an our experience takes some pretty big just planning and organization wide like making sure that the follow through iss going to be there, to make sure that something like that is gonna be worth it. And oftentimes those sites might be private, there's portfolio.newschool.edu, that's an example because they have a pretty extensive portfolio process. And you know, I've seen more and more and more of those come out and often times they're kind of smaller implementations because it's at a single department or maybe for a single course or a single major or whatever it is and not some sort of university-wide implementation.

Brian: So you said earlier that a lot of the customers that you have are already coming in with an existing network or something like that. For the customers who are coming in cold with with no existing network do you find that they usually have a clear idea of what they want they made these decisions about like how they want their course network or course multisite to function or, I guess what's the preparedness level that you you see a lot of your clients in?

Ronnie: Yeah I mean it does vary. Oftentimes it's as simple as we talked to someone here and we want that you know so that's handy.

Brian: Give me what Columbia has.

Ronnie: Yeah, exactly. So that's kind of what I see. Maybe they ran into each other at a conference and had a conversation typically by the time they're talking to us they're familiar with WordPress and we're not selling them on WordPress. That used to not always be the case but it's much easier, we don't have to go into why you should use WordPress to begin with for the most part. So they have an idea of WordPress, how it works. They're not always familiar with multisite they might be more familiar with kind of single site implementation so kind of going through what you can do with multisite and what those sort of tools that it brings to the table is big in the process that we can kind of identify exactly what it is that they're trying to achieve, what that pain point is that you know our problem that they're trying to solve.

Brian: Mm-hmm. And then so, I guess when they come in, let me let me ask it this way, have you ever had anybody surprise to you with the request? Do you find that a lot of the things universities are looking for basically fit into well-established categories? Or do you ever have anybody come in with a really wild multisite?

Ronnie: Um, I mean sometimes the wild would be if they want to just make, like there might be an example of not wanting to use WordPress at all, and do everything on the front end and find some third party that will, that pretends to allow you to do that and then you're kind of taking away the purpose of WordPress to begin with.

Jen: You have to talk off the ledge before you--

Ronnie: Yeah it's kind of like well, you know like the WordPress Dashboard isn't that scary we should we should allow them in there. Your users will probably want that over something else. So kind of talking, because I think it was good, I liked where they were coming from make sense they wanted like a kind of a Squarespace implementation of totally on the front end they can't mess anything up and and all that sort of good stuff. But our users are, once they get into something they're gonna want to make more changes they're gonna want more more features, more plugins or whatever that we wouldn't be able to support. Plus a lot of times I guess the crazy things, I don't want to use the word crazy--

Jen: You can use crazy.

Ronnie: But the challenging things that we get are request for specific plugins or maybe specific themes that our gut feeling or research is just showing that this may not be something that's gonna be around long term. Right? And I and I hate to set customers up for failure of the future is, like, we can't support this. So there are lots of projects that have come up over the years I can't remember some of the names but some that do like that make a lot of sense it would be really useful for publishing research or sharing like, I can't think of what it's called, but academic journals listing and things like that so when faculty have published these sorts of things, so these plugins that are out there they often are tied to a theme or something like that, but you can just tell that they're it may not have the project may not have legs to to be around long term. So I don't want you to build an entire multisite network around it and then we will be up the creek later. Same with like choosing some fantastic-looking ThemeForest theme that answered you know every prayer you've ever had--

Jen: You didn’t have to say ThemeForest because it was assumed but yes.

Ronnie: Yes, you know, I've used there's some great but it's an open Wild West market, they do some reviews and things like that but it's not the same. Like it's an independent developer and you don't know what's gonna happen with it later. So you don't want to put all of your your stock in your in your site based on that knowing that it may not be updated in the future or around or work well in the future.

Jen: And do you have people who you know come to you and ask for plugins that do something that another plugin already does or that theme or---

Ronnie: Yeah, every single day.

Jen: So how do you, just like pointing back to that other thing and say we're not gonna like keep adding to this environment?

Ronnie: Yeah and it's people seem to understand more and more I mean part of it is we tried to develop the largest, you know, as large of a plugin kind of recommended plugin lists that we can support as possible that does you know ninety something percent of what everyone needs to do.

So we start with that and then oftentimes I find that what people want to plug-in that does something and they can just use embed code or something like that it's like well it's just so much easier for us to just use some embed code. And not just easier but future-proofed and all sorts of things like that, so we definitely go through the plugin vetting game. I think that's a big part of kind of the education process when we onboard a new customer, especially if they're not familiar with them. If they've been hosting it themselves and they're moving it to us they they understand that pain and they're kind of happy for us to take it on. If they're kind of newer to it, and the end users, I mean I understand, you know a gung-ho faculty member who is used to going to the WordPress repo or wherever and uploading whatever plug-in I understand their frustration. But we're you know we just have to explain why we're doing this in the best interest in the long-term health of the website in general and multisite network.

Jen: So do you have any governance or policies to back that up to say like--

Ronnie: We do.

Jen: Yeah okay, so if somebody's really pushing it you can say well look at the end of the day this is just not something we're gonna do because X.

Ronnie: Right, we have code guidelines. So functions and and things like that that we just will not support. So we can often point to one of those and these sorts of plugins or themes. We also will do performance analysis and we can prove that look there's a big performance hit here with this and that's not something you really want. We can always go back to--- even things that say they're accessibility friendly we can always find some accessibility problems with just about anything unfortunately. So there's different tricks that that we use to kind of prove our point, knowing that we also don't ever say no without trying to give some sort of alternative.

Jen: Absolutely, yeah.

Brian: So this, I guess I think this file is pretty smoothly from that, sometimes higher ed can get a little political. Sometimes people can have strong feelings you don't have to name any names certainly but--

Jen: No, no one has strong feelings Brian!

Brian: I guess is it ever a challenge you know, College X or University X has a new vice chancellor for whatever, and they want to totally change everything or they don't understand why they have this relationship with CampusPress, or something like that, you ever run into?

Jen: I’m sure that’s just us.

Ronnie: No, no it's common and in there, you know, the fact that people are moving in and out of different roles all the time is a big factor in there I think. You know, what's helped us is we try to typically have one, maybe two main contacts with a customer and that's pretty much the only person that we deal with. That we communicate with and talk to and so they're kind of the filter. So we're not, I mean, we do have calls and meetings like that with large groups and sometimes that kind of stuff comes up you can tell that there's you know different views on how we should achieve things in that group but we filter it all through that that main contact, and that's it's kind of that might be the only person we listen to.

Jen: That's a great idea, we should do that, Brian, and you should be that filter. We should do that.

Brian: That was a very good answer, and you navigated the trap that I set for you very nicely. So I want to shift gears for just a second. Edublogs has four million sites you said, you also have a lot of different clients, a lot of K-12 and university clients all around the world and I assume many of those multisites themselves have thousands of sites in them. That is an unbelievable scale that you're working at, like maybe second only to like Automattic. How do you, I guess how do you do that?

Jen: Oh yeah give us the goods.

Brian: How do you manage on that kind of scale all the different multisite installations?

Jen: Is it magic, it’s magic isn’t it?

Ronnie: To me it's magic. So we've invested a ton in moving to AWS which has changed all of our lives in many ways. So we for years were with Pier One, became Server Beach, and we still have some some legacy stuff there. So we've always managed the servers ourselves, I mean we've always been involved in the day-to-day management of setting up the infrastructure and how it all works and things like that. But as we were able to move into AWS, that's allowed us to do things like, first of all, much easier to offer data center options for our customers outside of the US. You know in the EU, in Australia things like that. So locally and as laws have changed significantly you know the need for that is now that's a given you have to do something like that. When before we were like all in one data center in San Antonio down the road for me and Pier One.

So that's, investing a lot in AWS and in learning all the different tools that we can do there with AWS has been has been critical. Setting up what we do for redundancy so that, you know when there's a problem at least there's an alternative there to, to not have the sites go down and things like that. You know and that's not, that's cheaper to do at scale than it is to do for an individual site so we have kind of the benefit of that and actually our overall hosting costs have gone down since moving to AWS, which is good. Well until we start adding in other services and additional backups and dedicated and stuff like that.

But I mean my answer really is, we have a team, it's been a lot of trial and error, you know, there were growing pains that our customers would openly admit to through the years that led us to to the move. So some of the technical kind of roadblocks that we had to overcome some of the big ones that are interesting to talk about the first is in a multisite install, particularly like a course blog or something like that where you might have a class of 500 students in a chemistry class logging into WordPress at the same time to do something. Concurrent logged in users is a challenge at scale. I mean it's more than just that class right then you have all the other sites on the network and things like that.

Jen: I think higher education has to be unique in this I mean it's something that we see as well. Obviously logged in users but also just, you know, first day of school, first week of school, everybody hits stuff at the same time. And, you know, you can kind of count on it being a problem but you can't always count on all the sites that are gonna be an issue, or where that problem’s gonna pop up, so it's always it's always kind of fascinating that first week or two and then of course people stopped going to class and it's not a problem anymore.

Ronnie: Well that's true, and I mean we see, our hosting costs in August/September are substantially higher than the middle of the winter. And so you know you can see what that traffic and things like that I'm just being prepared and it is a unique in that aspect it also multisite, dealing with SSL Certificates, and the fact that I still don't understand the hundred domain limit on a on a cert, makes-- I mean I'm sure there's a good reason for it but I've never had researched it too much other than to know that that hundred domain limit is there and that's a massive pain point.

Jen: We've done enough with with SSL certs and vhosting and I can't imagine what it's like with 4 million sites.

Ronnie: Yeah I mean luckily most of those it's just a wild-card cert or something like that. But also you know universities don't like to provide wildcard certs for the most part. So it's kind of a you know we want you to host all of these sites for us but we don't want you to have the tools you need to do that sometimes, is a is a governance issue that we hit across sometimes. You know when Let's Encrypt has helped, they're a lot further customers that'll allow us to use let's encrypt for for free certs, and even then there's still 100 limit. Let's Encrypt does have new wild-card certs but it's the same we have to get domain authorization approval and universities many we're not willing to do that so those don't help us that much.

Brian: Right, the number of people who have to sign off on things like wild-card certs are... It gets to be a little bit of a process.

Ronnie: Which I understand the need for, right, but when we're also trying to protect your sites it's a it's a challenge it's a balancing act to kind of figure out. So those sorts of pain points technically you know at scale are the types of problems that we've had to figure out. And we're still improving, still working on.

Other things with multisite that's kind of unique to multisite issues to think about with hosting and scale are, you know, our typical dev-test-prod environments at large multisite networks, that's a much bigger challenge. You know, most of your managed host solutions out there, or all options that you have out there for quickly cloning a site putting it in a development environment just fail they break at scale. And so, if anybody comes up with a really good solution for large multisites you know, we should chat!

But the things that we've kind of done to go to get around that, I think, there's there's cloning plugins, we have one. There are some free cloning plugins that you can clone individual sites so, we use that kind of for testing and development environments and then moving into production. So you can take an existing and live site on your live multisite network, clone it to a new site, like a new URL, make it private maybe on the site, change your themes, change your content, activate the plugins whatever you want to do and test it. And then you can clone it back over the live site when you're ready.

So that's kind of a workflow that most of our customers are pretty happy with when it comes to an individual site on the multisite network. And then for testing you just provide an identical production environment at like a development URL. You can't really sync the content, or I mean you can but it's time consuming, and kind of you know after you do so the contents not synced anymore. So we sync it occasionally, make sure that the settings are same and that's where we can test you know network wide settings changes or a new network plug-in or theme or something that we want to add. But those types of things are different than maybe a small multisite, or a single WordPress install and it's often kind of confusing and a, something developers that are used to that, it's been drilled in all of us, this test-dev-prod you know environment to not offer that is something to kind of talk through the reasons why and make sure that we're happy with alternatives around it.

Brian: Absolutely. So I just want to wrap up with one last question for you. This has all been really useful for I think, I've been watching Jen take notes as we figure out how to maintain our sites. This is all been really useful and interesting for us.

Jen: We didn't even get to the question give me all the good plugins. Just send me that list of approved plugins. But I'll just catch you at WPCampus and be like come on give it give it up.

Ronnie: Absolutely, and it is in our doc section on CampusPress.com/docs/plugins has all of our approved plugins. So many are ours are from WPMU Dev but many are also not that we've kind of vetted and approved that's beyond. And I'm not I'm not gonna lie we stock the, like WordPress VIP plug-in list and pull from there when we can and things like that so it's a good thing.

Brian: So you've been, CampusPress has been involved with WPCampus basically from the start. You were a sponsor at the first event in Sarasota. What makes WPCampus so valuable for CampusPress?

Ronnie: I think for our entire team, it's the only, or the best kind of professional development that we can have internally. So you know the conversations that we can have, the lurking and the Slack channels, being at the conference and attending the the sessions for for our whole team, we can't can't get anything better, you know, the folks that are using WordPress on the front lines. That's who we need to learn from and know how we can only make that experience better for them. So I mean it's completely a big part of what we do. All, almost all of our team from the support sales down to the developers, you know, they lurk in Slack and watch the online sessions and things like that so it's huge for us.

Jen: I'm gonna add on to that, what are you most looking forward to at this year's conference?

Ronnie: Oh you know I haven't checked the schedule completely yet, in terms of sessions and things like that. But I feel like every year there's a little bit of a, kind of a focus on what we're talking about, and I could be totally wrong but I kind of get the feeling that we're talking more about content and use of different ways of generating and sharing and using content and that's kind of a focus of mine too.

So come any conversations or sessions around new and interesting ways of anything to do with content is good for me because I feel like in general this is outside of higher ed, marketing and things like that we have content overload, social media exhaustion, I could go on and on about this stuff and lost in the noise and, so, I want to know what folks are doing to combat that.

Jen: Do you think Gutenberg will help with that because it will accidentally delete all of our content as we transition?

Ronnie: Yes it's definitely going to on-purpose delete it. That's a that's a feature, not a bug. You know and I think that Gutenberg will help. We can make more interesting content, more interesting looking content I should say. I might have some skepticism on people really wanting to make every single post look beautiful because we do that on some of our internal company blogs and it is a lot of work and it takes more than one it takes up more than one person. Iit takes it takes a designer who's not a content expert whoever's writing the content it takes collaboration there.

Jen: And design is something everybody thinks that they have but very few do.

Ronnie: Yeah I mean I know that I'm the worst designer in our hundred-person company by far but it's a bit up but I'll still try. That's the problem! I'll have a tool that will help me try more. So I don’t know.

But anything around content, I’ll try to answer that question a little bit there. I'm curious as to the direction that's going because good old-fashioned content marketing, hoping that people find you through Google it is just not working anymore I think for universities as well.

Brian: Well, thanks so much for talking with us. I'm just gonna read a few things before we wrap up. If you have something else you want to say as I read it feel free to jump in this is a not a very formal podcast.

So we mentioned this just a moment ago, WPCampus 2018 will be July 12th through the 14th at the campus of Washington University in St. Louis! In addition to the 34 talks and a wide variety of topics, this year's conference will include workshops on Gutenberg, content strategy, and web governance. And then there are also going to be some games running through the conference. This is a little something to mix it up a little bit that I've been working with Rachel on to encourage some good conference behavior, get more session feedback, and hopefully have a little bit of fun, too.

Jen: We should get Rachel it'll let us drop some hints about trivia questions in here.

Brian: You can learn more about the conference and everything that we've got planned for it at 2018.wpcampus.org.

Just as a reminder, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and on Google Play by searching for WPCampus Podcast, and you can listen to each episode and follow links to more information at wpcampus.org/podcast. Be sure to follow @wpcampusorg on Twitter for announcements about the conference and also for news and updates about the podcast, the WPCampus community, and anything and everything else WordPress and higher ed. And if you have a suggestion for this podcast or there's a topic or guest you'd like to have on, tweet it @wpcampusorg and we'll see it.

So Ronnie thanks so much for joining us

Ronnie: Oh, thank you!

Brian: And I will see you in St. Louis

Ronnie: I’m looking forward to it!

The WPCampus Podcast is a recurring show where members of the community come together to discuss relevant topics, unique ways that WordPress is being used in higher education, share tutorials and walkthroughs, and more. If you'd like to be a guest on the show, or have a topic you'd like us to discuss, please let us know.

Brian DeConinck

Front-End Designer & Developer, NC State University@BrianDeConinckhttp://www.briandeconinck.com/

I build custom themes and plugins for NC State University's Office of Information Technology, and I help maintain campus WordPress environments and advise clients on content best practices. I'm always excited to talk about universal design, accessibility, usability, and designing with compassion and empathy. I host the WPCampus Podcast, where I get to talk about all those things and more!

Jen Riehle McFarland

Web Services Coordinator, NC State University@ncsumarithttps://design.oit.ncsu.edu/

I'm the Team Lead for our web design and support group (including the dynamically-awesome Brian DeConinck) in NC State's central IT unit. I do training, support, maintenance, billing, and occasionally get to do something fun with design and/or dev. I'm color commentary to "help" Brian with the WPCampus podcast. Check us out or tweet us on the twitters: @oitdesign.

Ronnie Burt

General Manager, Education & Hosting Services, CampusPress@ronnieburthttp://campuspress.com

Ronnie leads the team behind the CampusPress, Edublogs, and WPMU DEV Hosting services, which power thousands of WordPress sites for higher ed institutions small and large. A former educator, wannabe musician and math nerd, Ronnie is a Longhorn football-obsessed resident of Austin, Texas.

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