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WPChat – An Up-And-Coming WordPress Community Hangout from Leland Fiegel

Launched in August last year by seasoned WordPress-developer Leland Fiegel (whom many will recognize as the original founder of one of the very first commercial theme shops to come into existence – ThemeLab*), WPChat is already making some impressive headway in its goal of becoming one of the go-to places to discuss a wide variety of different WordPress-related topics. With threads ranging from whether or not developers should be selling themes on Themeforest to discussing what might happen to WordPress should the unthinkable ever happened to its founder Matt Mullenweg, there’s not only a broad spectrum of topics open for discussion but also a wealth of expert knowledge and opinions to tap. What’s more, unlike many of the more prominent WordPress-discussion watering holes (such as the ever-popular Advanced WordPress Group over on Facebook and the increasingly-popular WordPress Google+ Group), WPChat has all the tools you’d expect of a full-blown, modern-day forum, including the ability to fork threads and features that allows users to easily find previously discussed topics!

In order to find out a little more about this fantastic new forum, how it started and where it’s headed, we posed a few questions to the site’s founder: Leland Fiegel…

Q) For the benefit of those who don’t already know who you are, give us a little insight into your background.

I work full-time as a WordPress developer at an advertising agency in the DC area. I’m a co-organizer of the WordPress DC meetup group. And I’ve been working with WordPress for 8 or so years now.

Q) And how about WPChat? What’s the history of the site?

It all started when I bought the domain at an auction back in August of 2009. I launched it as a simple live-chat website that catered to the WordPress community pretty soon after that.

I experimented with some different solutions but ended up using an IRC [ed. Internet Relay Chat] channel from freenode, which I embedded on the homepage. I’d send out a tweet from @wpchat (usually retweeted from @themelab) and the chat would fill up pretty quickly with all sorts of people from the WordPress community.

Digging through the older @wpchat tweets can give you a good idea of who stopped by. I tried to call out each person who joined on Twitter. When they’d retweet, the chats could get pretty viral.

The site and accompanying IRC channel was relatively dormant up until the relaunch, but I kept paying the hosting bill every month and occasionally people would drop in for a quick chat, but nowhere near the levels of activity it experienced back in 2009-2010.

In mid-2014, I completely scrubbed the old site and set up a Discourse forum. Which brings us to today.

Q) What’s the thinking behind the site? Is it a project for love or money? What are your long-term goals for the site?

Definitely love. I’ve always paid close attention to the WordPress community, and ever since I sold Theme Lab, I didn’t really have much of an outlet until now. I basically consider WPChat my blog about the WordPress community.

It’s pretty inexpensive to run, although I am looking to monetize it with a sponsorship since I do spend quite a bit of time on it. I’ve considered doing “Pro” accounts which might provide access to a private forum and some other benefits, but the main forum will always be free and open to all.

Other long-term goals just include growing the membership base and encouraging more activity from the group we already have.

Q) Who’s the target audience? Is it a forum in which everybody’s welcome to ask any kind of WordPress-related question, or is it something aimed mainly at developers?

Although I’m a developer myself, I definitely don’t want to limit it to just developers. Bloggers, designers, entrepreneurs, developers, beginner to advanced, are all more than welcome at WPChat. Everybody is welcome to ask any kind of WordPress-related question, and I try to make sure no thread goes unanswered.

Q) There’s a number of different ways to go about creating an online forum these days, and I already know you opted to use Discourse rather than, say, bbPress… Why Discourse?

I just like the feel of the Discourse experience. I also like the vibe I get from the community. It’s very WordPress-esque.

bbPress would’ve been my first choice if it wasn’t for Discourse. I wasn’t really considering anything else.

It was tough to choose Discourse over bbPress, but at this point I just think Discourse is a more polished standalone forum solution.

I think it’s a bit weird to use a non-WordPress solution for a site about WordPress, but considering Discourse is totally free and open source just like WordPress, I figured it wasn’t too much of an issue.

Q) I see there’s currently two admins for WPChat: you and Jeff Chandler (whom many will know from his work on WPTavern. What’s Jeff’s role? Is it a two-man endeavor or is Jeff just helping out?

Jeff was the first member (besides me) and helped me set it up at the beginning of the relaunch. When I first installed Discourse, both of us were just poking through the admin areas and front end, just getting used to it, as neither of us had used Discourse before.

He was pretty instrumental in getting WPChat off the ground. Since I don’t have nearly the reach Jeff does in the WordPress community, he was able to promote it on WP Tavern and on his personal channels to get a really strong membership base right from the start.

These days, I’m sure Jeff is plenty busy with the Tavern so I haven’t seen him on WPChat much lately. Although I’ve kept him as an admin because I trust him and it can’t hurt to have another trusted admin on the site.

Q) I know because I read on your personal website that you use WordPress for “pretty much all of your sites” — why so passionate about it?

Amazing software. Amazing community. It’s changed my life. I just can’t not be passionate about it.

Q) If I had to name a few competitors to the site, a few that come instantly to mind would be the Advanced WordPress group over on Facebook, the Google+ WordPress group and also the WordPress subreddit, how does WPChat differentiate itself?

There are definitely a few differentiating factors.

WPChat is completely independent of any social network. I purposely didn’t include any “social sign on” features, although Discourse supports it, just to keep it as self-contained as possible. Many have told me they really appreciate WPChat not being tied to any specific social network.

Unlike a Facebook group, all of WPChat’s content is completely open and readable to the public without being hidden behind a registration wall.

Also, as already mentioned, WPChat is not just for developers. Stack Overflow, AWP [ed. Advanced WordPress Group], and even the support forums are all better places to get advanced questions like that answered.

I like to encourage all sorts of discussion at WPChat, especially about business and entrepreneurship related to the WordPress community. Those are some of my favorite discussions on the site (which I’ll get to more specifically later).

Q) There’s currently somewhere in the region of 250 threads on WPChat, any favorites so far?

Really anything business-y or entrepreneurial is going to get a thumbs up from me.

Q) Looking at the current user base, there’s currently 300 users on WPChat; what have you done to promote the site so far – or is that all via simple word-of-mouth?

It’s pretty much all word of mouth and Twitter. My #1 way of promoting it now is just creating new threads and tweeting them out.

I haven’t spent a dime on advertising.

Q) WPChat is coming up to its six-month anniversary (since the August relaunch), any lessons learnt and/or surprises along the way?

Whoa, has it really been that long? I’m just amazed at the member base and discussions they’ve generated. It’s such a great group and am really impressed with all the new things I’ve learned from them.

Q) Is there anybody in the WP community who you’d be particularly thrilled to have on the site who isn’t yet a member? Maybe they’ll see this post… ;)

Many of my favorite people in the WordPress community are currently members, so I’m already pretty thrilled in that regard.

I’m not so much concerned with big names in the WordPress community (there are way too many to name) simply joining WPChat as I am with cultivating quality discussions from people at all points on the spectrum of the WordPress community.

Q) I know you’ve personally amassed a heap of WordPress-related knowledge over the years (via projects like ThemeLab and Pluginferno — any advice for people trying to make a living in or around WordPress?

Thanks! (re: great logo)

Constantly keep learning and keep experimenting.

The web development landscape is constantly changing, so you can’t become complacent. I know I’m personally focusing a lot on advancing my JavaScript skills, something that will be increasingly important in future versions of WordPress (not that it isn’t already now).

Thanks Leland — Keep up the great work!

If you haven’t already, head on over to the site, pose a few questions, answer a few more and get involved in building this fantastic new community!

*(note: ThemeLab was acquired by Syed Balkhi in early 2014).

By Brin Wilson

Founder of WinningWP - passionate about all things WordPress! Find me on Twitter.
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