Lindsay Watt Interview
How did you get into developing with and for WordPress?
I’ve been a WordPress user for almost five years. One of the most common things I’ve found myself writing about was places I’d visited (My first post was actually about an awkwardly incorrect map on an in-flight magazine). I don’t think there’s any better way than blogging to permanently capture the great places we visit and experiences we have.
What is Placeling?
About 18 months ago I co-founded Placeling, where we were originally focused on helping people create social city guides. Local WordPress bloggers probably know more about cities than anyone else, so we wanted to build a plugin to bring Placeling’s location capabilities to WordPress. That was the first time that I said “it’s time to move beyond being a WordPress blogger and become a developer.” And since then we’ve just kept on shipping.
At Placeling we’re now focused on extending WordPress into a location-based publishing platform. That means letting people see nearby places mentioned on your site and making it friendly on mobile. WordPress stared as a blogging tool, became a CMS, and it’s evolving into an app platform. If it’s going to do mobile apps properly, it’s going to need to take advantage of location. Let’s say that you’re a developer and your client is a small coffee chain. They want a store finder. And they want it to be mobile: people should look on the site on their phone and be able to see nearby stores. Traditionally, this was challenging to do (you need to geocode each place, put them on a map, get the user’s current location and then do a nearby search), but Placeling makes it effortless.
Now, you just create a WordPress post or page for every location and tag them with a location using Placeling’s free plugin. Placeling automatically creates a map for you and each post will be a pin on that map. Plus, it’s mobile friendly; a “nearby” button will show readers the nearest location.
No short codes. No custom Google Maps keys or queries. You can literally do this in 5 minutes – in fact, here’s a video showing how.
Another use case is for local bloggers — foodies, fashionistas, mom bloggers, travellers & locals. I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada and there are a ton of great food writers. However, there’s no easy way for me to say “what places do my favorite bloggers recommend in this neighborhood?” Placeling solves this.
Our plugin lets these bloggers automatically create a map of all the places they recommend and I can see their nearby recommendations on my phone. I can literally sit in the restaurant and easily find out which dishes they recommend. (Here’s an example on my personal site.)
We’re also experimenting with how we can send local bloggers more traffic. We’ve a new site called The Local Read where we take links to posts that come in via the plugin and aggregate them into a weekly email for people who live nearby (you can opt out and we don’t store your posts on our servers). The goal is to get great local blog content in front of more people and get more traffic to local bloggers.
What’s best piece of advice?
My single best piece of advice for WordPress developers is “wow your early users.” We’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to our early adopters, literally emailing every single one of them to ask what they’d like. We’ve also pushed plugin updates in a matter of hours when someone has found a bug. As a result we’ve a number of users who are evangelists for us and recommend us to their colleagues.
You’ve requested a lot of feedback from your users — what have you learned from that feedback about how to improve Placeling — improvements that otherwise may not have been discovered?
Asking our users for feedback has helped us really understand what’s important to them and why. For example, Placeling puts a footer at the bottom of your posts to show what location they correspond to. Frankly, the footer was a bit of an afterthought for us: We were focused on how to actually get the plugin to link your post to a map and pin it. We quickly got a lot of feedback from our users about what the footer looked like and what they wanted it to do. We hadn’t thought too much about the footer at all — and our users quickly let us know what we needed to know. (And we were able to quickly push an update that made them happy.) There are no shortage of things you can do at a startup; if you listen to your users you get a great signal to help you prioritize.
What’s in store for Placeling? Can you give a sneak peak into any new features you’re working on?
What’s next for us is figuring out more ways to drive traffic to local bloggers. For example, here in Vancouver we have bloggers who write about history, urban issues, food, shopping and what to do with your family. Why can’t these people be my guides to the city? When I want something to do, why can’t all their great posts come together to suggest an itinerary for me? When I visit another city, why don’t the best blog posts about where to go immediately appear?
I guarantee that there’s a WordPress blogger out there who has written about dozens of places that you would love to visit — dozens even in your own home town — but you’ve no way of discovering them or having them appear as you’re on the go.
These are big problems and we’re working on them. 2013’s going to be a great year!