Aaron Campbell – Defending the Open Web
Aaron Campbell, security expert and the head of WordPress Ecosystem at GoDaddy, joins us for an intriguing discussion about the concept of the Open Web and the role WordPress plays in that vision.
Demo: 00:02 Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the BoldGrid BoldLife podcast. I’m your host Mike Demo joined by my wonderful co host Jesse. How are you doing, Jesse?
Jesse: 00:12 Doing Great Mike.
Demo: 00:14 So how was your weekend?
Jesse: 00:17 Uh, had a lot of family over. I’m watching the uh, the old game of Thrones, so it was uh, it was an a bit of an emotional, a Sunday night. I wish I hadn’t cried that much in front of my mother in law.
Demo: 00:31 That is excellent. So yeah, I’m just coming off a WordCamp Orange County at the time of this recording and then going to WordCamp Atlanta, but had a great time at Disneyland. Happened to sneak over there once or twice and saw Avengers at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood boulevard with Josh from Caldera forms. So we had on our first episode, so that is great. But this episode we are joined by Aaron Campbell of the team GoDaddy. So how are you doing man?
Aaron Campbell: 01:02 I’m doing pretty good.
Demo: 01:04 So can people that don’t really know, can you kind of explain what you do at GoDaddy? What you do? At the WordPress community and kind of what being sponsored by somebody like Godaddy means.
Aaron Campbell: 01:18 Boy, that’s a lot of questions all at once, but I can certainly try it. Um, so I at GoDaddy and my, my position has kind of changed recently when I first came on about two and a half years ago or so, I, it was his, a fulltime WordPress core contributor and I spent all my time focused just on the WordPress project. Um, now I’ve kind of transitioned into a role where I’m still heavily focused on kind of the WordPress project and the ecosystem around it. Um, but specifically kind of looking at how GoDaddy can best benefit that space beyond just me writing code for WordPress core. Uh, so that includes overseeing our other WordPress core contributors, um, looking to expand that program out as well as trying to focus on the things that are happening inside Godaddy that could be brought out to help benefit everyone that uses WordPress rather than just GoDaddy customers.
Aaron Campbell: 02:21 Um, is far as what, like what that means as far as me being sponsored by GoDaddy or, or, or having had the chance to kind of be employed by them funded by them to do all this in the WordPress space. Um, it’s, it’s obviously something where I’m extremely lucky to have the chance to do that. It’s let me do some things in and around WordPress that can be especially hard for a volunteer to do. A WordPress is mostly volunteer and there are certain things that just take such a heavy, um, I guess time commitment did, it can be extremely hard for a volunteer to reliably do that. Um, and so that, that included things like helping lead the WordPress security team, helping to, um, plan WordCamp us one of the bigger WordPress conferences over the last two years. Uh, those, those kinds of things.
Demo: 03:29 Excellent. So with that, what do you spend most of your kind of day to day time doing? Is it mostly remote work? Do you still travel a lot? Um, w what is like the daily makeup of, you know, a day in the life of Aaron?
Speaker 4: 03:47 Okay.
Aaron Campbell: 03:47 I, it’s definitely mostly remote work. I, um, uh, I sync up with various teams that are directly connected to WordPress inside GoDaddy on a, on a really regular basis to kind of keep my, uh, I guess thumb on the pulse of that, if you will. So everyone from our managed WordPress team that’s building that solution to our support teams that are helping to support users on WordPress, kind of all those different things helped me get a good picture of what’s going on internally so that I can help, um, see what of that could, could benefit being kind of pushed out to the rest of the world, if you will. Um, and it does still include a, a decent bit of travel mostly to WordPress events and those kinds of things. Uh, I definitely, you were saying that you were at WordCamp. OC, last weekend I was at WordCamp Lancaster and we’ll both be in Atlanta this weekend. Um, but I, I, there’s, there’s a lot to be said about getting some face to face time with the rest of the WordPress community. Um, and, and keeping it really up to date with what’s going on there. I feel like I can’t be very much help to the project in the ecosystem if I’m not on what everyone’s doing. You know?
Demo: 05:13 Definitely. And when you’re hanging out with a very different content management system, um, events, so it’d be at the, you know, an event that might have multiple people from different, uh, CMS volunteers. How do you kind of explain what makes the WordPress community different? Because as a whole, the WordPress community is part of the open source CMS community and the open source community as a whole. But do you think there’s something special specifically in the WordPress community, like a secret sauce and how would you kind of explain that to someone who’s maybe not active it?
Aaron Campbell: 05:51 First of all, I tend to, uh, to try to preface that anytime that I’m talking it by saying I’m biased towards WordPress. I’ve been, um, I’ve been helping to build WordPress for like 13 or 14 years now. Um, so I, I definitely think that I, I have a heavy bias toward WordPress. Having said that, I think that especially when it comes to the other open source options that are out there, we have a lot more similarities than the differences between our communities. I’ve got to spend some time at some Drupal events. I’ve, I just a, I guess a month or so ago was at CloudFest a big hosting event. Got To hang out with a lot of people, um, from Joomla and from some other open source CMS is, and I think that there’s a lot more similarity there. There are definitely some things that WordPress is doing that have given it.
Aaron Campbell: 06:57 What would I see as a bit of an advantage in this space? And one of those is a really heavy focus on um, kind of your average everyday user and their ability to do things themselves. Trying to simplify things down enough to, to give your average person that wants to have a voice oline. Uh, the chance to do that and that focus has kind of helped keep us in a, in a good space there. Um, I think that the, other than that, there’s, there’s not a lot of difference. There’s some things that we struggle with and have to tackle because of this scale that we’ve gotten to that no, not all other projects are dealing with. Um, and there’s definitely some momentum that that scale brings with it. Um, but yeah, I, I really still think that we’re, we’re more alike than we are different.
Jesse: 08:00 Speaking about the, the WordPress ecosystem as well as, you know, all of the open source content management systems that you’re talking about. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the talk that you just got finished giving a WordCamp Lancaster was on the concept of the open web. Can you tell us what that means, what exactly the open web is?
Aaron Campbell: 08:23 Ooh, see now, now you’re going to really get me going. Um, so the, the talk is definitely focused heavily on, on what I term in order to kind of keep things simple I term as the open web. But, uh, really what that comes down to is, um, kind of a focus on data portability, which, which means letting people own their own data and be able to move it wherever they want, whenever they want. Um, and a lot of sort of free and open sharing of information online. I think that the Internet, we so often see it as this fun thing. It’s, it’s really cool. Or maybe it’s, it’s a profitable thing and it’s, and it’s really powerful in that way. But to me what I see it as at its, at its very core is the greatest information sharing tool that has ever existed. We can, we can share information between people all around the world in a basically instant way and humanity.
Aaron Campbell: 09:43 Like that’s how we make progress forward. And every time we get better at sharing information, uh, whether it’s from one generation to the next or one group of people to the next, we see big jumps, leaps in, in knowledge and understanding and an invention essentially in progress. And so to me, protecting the internet as this open way of sharing information, keeping it that tool that has the potential to benefit all of humanity is really important. And that’s certainly not about WordPress versus other open source CMS is, or other open source tools. It’s really about just having these open source tools, these, um, alternatives to the closed company owned solutions. Um, because as long as we have these alternatives, we can help protect against those closed solutions, gaining more control than is healthy.
Jesse: 10:56 Cool. So, okay. So, uh, just for a moment, let’s say that I, I have no idea what you’re talking about or why it’s important for me to own my own data. Um, what, what’s the, what’s, what’s the issue with, uh, using, you know, speaking out on a, on a platform like Facebook or Twitter or, or, uh, one of the software as a free service, uh, solutions that are out there. Why, why is that not the right way to go for someone who might have something to say?
Aaron Campbell: 11:30 So I think that there’s a, a line to be drawn here. I guess I see those tools, the ones that you mentioned, Facebook and Twitter are our easy examples, right? And I see these as tools that are actually good for various things that that can be extremely useful. Um, the problem isn’t in using those things. They’re not necessarily like inherently bad, if you will. Um, the problem goes when we move from using those to make our lives better to relying on them in some way or another. As long as we’re using Twitter or Facebook in a way that’s, you know, improving our lives. But if they were pulled out from under us, we would be fine. Um, then, then that’s generally okay. I think it’s when we, we switch over and start to rely on them. So when a business doesn’t have a website for an online presence but relies totally on their Facebook page or doesn’t have any marketing channels outside of, um, Facebook ads, these kinds of things where if Facebook were to kick you off, which they can because it’s their platform, it’s their tool, you’re only getting to use it. Um, if, if they were to kick you off and your business would then go under, um, that’s where the real danger comes in. I think.
Demo: 13:12 Interesting. I was just kind of watching it on the flight over here. Adam Conover is Adam ruins everything and he had an episode that was on the Delta flight called Adam Ruins tech and it was a lot about privacy and license agreements and things like that. And he had a line in there that said technology isn’t inherently good or bad. It just depends on how we as a society choose to use it and deal with it. What is kind of interesting is he had this topic talking about the airlines and the oil industry and the steel industry, how in the past the government broke up those monopolies. But it’s where the kind of in a similar space with like the googles and the Facebooks of the world. In fact, Google benefited from the government forcing Microsoft to break up a little bit, uh, when they were first getting founded. So do you have any thoughts on the fact that there, that there might be not enough regulation or too much regulation with things like Gdpr in Europe and you know, it’s, I feel like as, as a society are treating tech companies different than we have historically for commodities company?
Aaron Campbell: 14:30 Yeah. So first of all, I think that there are unfortunately a lot of sort of legal issues that really affect, um, this whole idea of the open web and it did affect, um, sort of how free it’s going to stay. This is certainly one of them. Um, we don’t really seem to know what to do with these giant tech companies yet. Um, it’s a relatively young space. All things considered. Uh, and they just, they aren’t monopolizing. And quite the same way that previous Lee we had faced it, nothing’s quite identical. And governments, uh, understanding that and regulating it while it could be useful in some ways seems to be lagging far enough behind that. I’m not sure that it’s, um, did it, did it’s going to be as beneficial as maybe I would like it to be. I don’t necessarily think that the regulation of some of these things as bad.
Aaron Campbell: 15:45 Um, but it needs to be regulated properly with a really strong understanding of how people and businesses rely on this technology and, and how, um, certain amounts of centralized data actually improve the usefulness. You know, places like, like Google that you mentioned. We, we use Google as a search engine because they are really good at understanding what it is that we’re looking for. And if they only had a small fraction of the data that they currently have, they would not be near as good at that thing. Um, and so it’s going to be a complex thing to regulate for sure. Um, I don’t think that just breaking companies up is, is quite the answer that it may be used to be. Um, there may need to be some creative solutions around breaking companies up and freeing up certain sets of data that all those companies can use that is, um, managed in some sort of more centralized way. I don’t know exactly what that would look like. I wish I had better answers because then I would be, you know, shouting from the rooftops. This is what we need to do. Um, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as just breaking companies up. Uh, like it may be used to be,
Jesse: 17:17 I think one of the most interesting things about, you know, the, the modern landscape demo mentioned steel companies and, and for example, we can look back to the, the ma bell breakup a few decades ago. Those were, you know, those were one side of the equation. Ma Bell owned all the pipes, but you’re still the one talking on the phone. Now we are dealing with companies that not only own the data like Google does, but then also control the means of transmission of the data.
Jesse: 17:56 Uh, and I, I think that’s an inherent sort of conflict of interest. Um, and I think that’s the biggest thing about the open web and places like GoDaddy and other other hosting companies where you can own your own means of transmission.
Aaron Campbell: 18:11 Yeah. And, and it’s one of the, the heavy focuses of, of WordPress as well, right? I mean, our, our initial like, I guess a stated purpose are kind of our, our main guiding philosophy has been to democratize publishing, which back when WordPress started publishing was kind of dusting that you did on the Internet. You, you publish some sort of information and now, um, it’s, there’s a lot more to it. We still want to give people the ability to do the things that are important to them online, whether it’s running a store or, or telling their story or whatever it is. But, uh, you know, we want to give it to them in a way that gives them the control, which means kind of breaking those things out a little. The WordPress software is the tool that you need to do that. And a company like Godaddy or any number of web hosts that lets you have hosting that you control that you can then put this tool on. Um, there’s, you know, Internet providers all over the place that are then giving people access to that. Um, there’s a lot of kind of different areas know different places in the pipeline that make this possible. Now it’s, it’s that that end to end experience is not necessarily all owned by one company anymore.
Demo: 19:43 Yeah, definitely. And we’re going to be talking about this for a long time and Aaron, I’ve disappointed that you don’t have the turnkey solutions for all the world’s problems. I expected more from you.
Aaron Campbell: 19:56 I know I’m working on it. I promise
Demo: 20:01 you know those, those Fedoras mean something and you have to, you know, live up to the Fedora example of, of I’ve read that. I guess I can’t think of any other examples in the open source space.
Demo: 20:15 okay. Cool. Well, switching gears to a slightly lighter side, do you have any fun word camp stories that you wish to share? We always ask everyone like a fun event or word camp experience that day at six out in their mind.
Aaron Campbell: 20:30 Ooh, that’s, I always struggle when I get these because I’ve been going to WordCamps, um, since like, I don’t know, 2006 or something like that. Um, and I’ve been to an awful lot of them and uh, I feel, uh, I get overwhelmed every time I tried to come up with like a, a specific story.
Aaron Campbell: 20:55 I know that some of my favorite parts about word camp are when we get to kind of bring everybody together and kind of teach them that, that teach, especially bringing on new people and kind of teach them that they can make a difference in this space as well, that they can, can help, um, make WordPress a better alternative for everyone else. Um, I guess I’m a little bit of an open source evangelist and that’s not true. I’m like a lot of bit of an open source evangelist to art. So I love having the chance, uh, on our contributor days and stuff to, to show people that I know what a difference that made in my life and my career. Especially I’m a long time ago and so I love getting the chance to bring that to new people’s lives now. So I think that that’s probably my, my favorite part, if not a specific story, I guess.
Demo: 21:53 Fair enough. So Aaron, how can people find you online on Twitter and social profiles anywhere? I’m like your WordPress.org profile. Where can they be found on the interwebs?
Aaron Campbell: 22:06 I am at aarondcampbell.com. I’m on Twitter. I am Aaron Campbell and I’m that on a WordPress.org profile as well. Um, I spend an awful lot of time in the WordPress, uh, slack. So if anybody’s actually trying to get my attention right away, that is a quick and easy way of doing it.
Aaron Campbell: 22:33 Yeah, I think, I think that was it. All of them that you asked.
Demo: 22:38 Excellent. And we’ll link to those on our show notes on bold grid.com. You can find me on Twitter @mpmike
Jesse: 22:46 and I am @jessecowens You can keep up with BoldGrid @boldgrid on twitter and you can join our user community that is steadily growing on facebook at facebook.com/group/BGteamorange
Demo: 23:02 for show notes and a transcript of this episode and all episodes of the BoldGrid BoldLife podcast. Please go to boldgrid.com and you can also subscribe to the BoldGrid BoldLife podcast, wherever your favorite podcasts are found. And as of the time of this recording, we are now on Spotify so you can access us that way. We’ve been working on that for a little while, so we’re excited to be listed with all the music that lives over at Spotify. Thank you so much, Aaron, for your time. We really appreciate it.
Aaron Campbell: 23:35 Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Jesse: 23:37 Thank you.