Right before my talk at WordCamp Europe 2019, I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Sunita Karmacharya from DevotePress. In this article, I share a transcript with a table of contents and some valuable links on the topics we’ve discussed.
- Mass Adoption of WordPress
- WordPress, Open-Source, and Blockchain
- Timestamping WordPress Content with Blockchain
- Trust in Content and Journalism
- Blockchain Timestamps and SEO
- Mindfulness in the WordPress Community
- Inclusive Funding of Open Source Software
- Learning Blockchain Development
- Running a Business versus Organizing a Wedding
Well, thank you so much for taking this time to come and talk with us Sebastiaan. Can you give a little introduction to our audience?
Of course. Thanks for having me, a pleasure to be here.
My name is Sebastiaan van der Lans. I founded one of the first WordPress agencies in the Netherlands and it’s called Van Ons. With a team of 25, we work for the biggest media companies.
I’m a nerd, my co-founder is a nerd, so if something is really technical on a WordPress level, it often escalates to our company. So, we did second screens for television shows, donation sites for charity, that’s what we do.
We work with WordPress for more than 11 years. The company exists for twelve and a half years. Of course, I started to make my own CMS, I’m a nerd, but then we discovered WordPress, the first CMS with a WYSIWYG-editor.
By then it was mind-blowing that as an entrepreneur or journalist, you didn’t need a programmer to publish on the Internet. By then, it was mind-blowing. With the ease of Microsoft Word, they were able to publish.
What does a 100% open-source world mean for you?
There’s something special with WordPress. WordPress is a community, but the market share of WordPress is one-third of the web. So it’s one of the things where a community is bigger than any corporation in the world.
We do 33.4%. Joomla, number two, does only 3%, so we’re ten times bigger than the number two. The number one commercial solution, Squarespace, does 1.4%. We’re more than 20-22 times, bigger than the number one proprietary solution. So, there’s something really special on WordPress.
My talk “From WordPress to Blockchain, The Future is 100% Open-Source” is a three-step journey. We discover how to use transparency, openness, and progression as we know from the WordPress community. What can we learn from that, to operate not only websites but also companies, and finance and everything else in the world?
That’s great and so motivating and encouraging.
I’ve started with blockchain 2013, did some investing, but I won’t talk about investing or money. That’s not what I would talk about. I will talk about the technology. Blockchain is an open-source technology and that technology makes it possible to program with value. So when the right people, people who understand open-source, will work with the technology which can do more than publishing, that could change the world. I have goosebumps every time I think about it.
Your passion clearly comes out and I think everyone should have that, right?
It makes the work much easier. With a team of four, we work full-time on WordPress and blockchain.
One of the things you and I were talking about just before we started recording was about the timestamps. You showed me a very quick video which was mind-boggling. It was a 1.5-minute video, but it’s so simple to understand. Can you tell our audience a little bit more about that? And what made you make that video?
Blockchain and crypto don’t have a good name. The first association is often speculation.
What we try to do is bringing a really small and useful blockchain use-case, where you don’t need any money or any investment to get started. Content is a thing of value, but you don’t need money.
And the first idea we came up with is timestamping. Timestamping your content in the blockchain. It’s like bringing it to a notary, but then it doesn’t take time and it doesn’t cost money.
Here’s the video explaining WordProof:
And we are not the first one making timestamping tools for WordPress, but we do it with the blockchain which is really fast and which you have no transaction fees on.
So, in a matter of seconds, you can timestamp your content and it’s in the blockchain and your visitor can then check if the content has been changed.
What we say or what a lot of people in blockchain world say is, if you don’t stamp your don’t timestamp your content in five years from now, you’ll be considered to fraud. People would think “hey, what do you have to hide?”, right?
You can do that with terms and conditions, prove that you didn’t tamper with them, but also with content.
Nowadays we say “Information from the internet? You can’t trust it, it’s the internet”, right? With timestamping, we can shift to a world where we can trust content, where we can see that it’s time-stamped, that someone takes responsibility and accountability for it.
So imagine for example a journalist, not using an article as a source but, using a specific revision of an article. That will be a valuable tool in the world of fake news we live in.
Right! Especially in this day and age where everybody has access to technology and we just don’t know what’s out there? Is it right or wrong? A follow-up question to that is: if I timestamp my content, would the SEO be affected?
I will personally fight to make timestamping a web standard. We are writing a web standard. I talked with Joost (founder Yoast) about it, and it was actually one of his ideas.
If I ask Joost “Hey, what is the best SEO strategy?”, he tells me that Google cares about one thing: who has the best result? In SEO, the best strategy is to be the best high-quality result.
- In 2011 or 2012 we asked ourselves: does making my websites mobile or responsive matter? Does it affect my search engine rank? We all know how it ended; now they even have a separate index for mobile. So, it matters because it’s better accessibility and therefore a better quality search result.
- Then, in 2017, we asked ourselves: HTTP, does it affect my search result? Guess what? It did, and they’re even saying “not secure” if you don’t, because it’s more secure, thus a better quality search result.
And then the question back to you: if content is timestamped, and therefore you can show that you didn’t tamper with it and that it may be even tied to an identity, does that make the search result a higher quality search result?
The answer could be yes!
Okay, yes! That’s very encouraging, that the standards for these things, the bar is getting higher and higher. I think that’s how the progress will be made.
It’s about the standards getting higher and that’s needed, as we’re in a world with problems regarding content. We have plagiarism, we have fake news, we have people that are hardly taking responsibility for their content and when we think further about the topic of for example duplicated, now we can prove to search engine “Hey, I allowed this party to duplicate the content because I gave them a license to it for example. You can be totally transparent.
I see! When you initially introduced yourself, you said: “I’m a nerd”, I totally get that. In this community, WordCamp Europe actually launched for the first time a mindfulness and wellness kind of thing. What do you think that the impact is of that? Is it important from your point of view?
It’s a great question. Once I started with WordPress, my life changed because it made bridges between topics; between developers and entrepreneurs. They could all work together with one tool.
If you want if you have an idea for a new venture, you can make a proof of concept really fast with plugins there are, and then you iterate and make it better.
That’s in my opinion what the open-source world should look like. Once I went down the rabbit hole in the open-source WordPress community, I didn’t sleep anymore for months.
For me, that’s what happened with blockchain as well. It’s a whole new dimension because we can bring this openness and transparency to everything else in the world.
So, I needed something like meditation. In 2016 I watched a Google Talk from Jon Kabat Zinn on meditation and mindfulness and from that day I used Headspace with Andy. It’s an amazing app, and now I do meditation every morning, 20 minutes. I skipped only five days in the last two years.
Wow. That’s pretty recommendable, to do it so regularly.
I needed it to get to sleep. It helps me to clean up the mess.
You saw the video on WordProof, maybe we can put a part of the video in this interview. If you listen to the voice of the video, you’ll hear that we tried to find a voice like Headspace’s Andy, because it’s so calm. And centered.
So, mindfulness is a great way to keep me grounded. I can do 80-hour workweeks on the WordProof project because I do meditation on a regular basis.
Thank you so much for sharing that because I know that it’s a very tight-knit community and that people are sort of in their own head, right? I do think that it’s very important to hear from someone like you that you actually religiously practice every morning.
Can I share another story with you? I have kind of the privilege to have a great team of 25 employees, so I don’t really have to work 50 hours a week to survive.
So then I got some time to get started with meditation and stuff like that, but where I want to go is this: to really work open-source mostly people have to do it in their evenings or weekends. Or you have to be financially free before you can really add or create software.
I co-organize meetups and WordCamps for years in the Netherlands, with the great people in the Dutch community, but we as an agency started to contribute software only three years ago. We did the WordPress GDPR Compliance plugin, with 1,200,000 downloads.
It’s actually sad that we needed to be financially free before we were able to invest 60 to 70 thousand euros in developing something like that.
How we funded WordProof is with one of the great things from the blockchain space that I want to bring to the WordPress space; it’s a Worker Proposal System, from inflation in a blockchain.
The total fund is not so big, currently a few thousand dollars a month. And you can say “Hey, I have a great idea”. Via democracy, the people in the blockchain can vote on that idea and then it can get you, for example, five thousand dollars to get the project started. What that does is making a shift in inclusivity.
Now not only the software is inclusive, so everyone has access to the best software, but also the production could be inclusive. Everyone with a great idea could send in a Work Proposal. So, let me share a link with you. It’s on the Telos blockchain, one of the blockchains with a Worker Proposal System for inclusive funding.
If you need a thousand or two thousand and you have a WordPress blockchain-ish idea, think about it. This will really push open-source forward.
Yeah, whatever you want to share that you think will be valuable for our listeners, please send it to us and we’ll make sure to put the link when we put out the video.
One more thing then. We developed WordProof on the EOSIO blockchain. That’s one of the blockchains. It’s open-source, and it’s like WordPress; everybody can spin up their own instance, so it’s as open as WordPress is.
What we did, there are two guys that made a course about EOSIO programming, but then focused on how you as a web developer could get started with it. What we did is we partnered with them, so from the WordProof timestamp plugin, there’s the tab “Learn blockchain”.
You can follow the course for free, it’s about 63 hours of blockchain development, totally focussed on how you as a web developer could work with blockchain.
Oh wow, that’s amazing. There’s a lot of information resources for everyone.
Exactly, so if one of your questions might be “what could be the take out from your talk?”. Then it’s “Hey, as a visitor of WordCamp, I have an open-source mindset. How can I operate the great world we live in with my open-source mindset?”.
And blockchain could be a tool to work more open-source. Not only in publishing or e-commerce, because we nailed that with WordPress of course, but everything else; in doing business.
That’s wonderful. You did steal my last question, but that’s perfectly fine. I do want to wrap up this interview by asking a non-WordPress related question.
Throughout this conversation, I’ve known you just a little bit, but it was all more towards open-source, and WordPress and obviously a little bit more insight on mindfulness and all that, but what do you do besides WordPress?
I was always into my work for years and I was a happy single for eight years. While I was 27 I always said: “If I am ever going to get married, I need Rick Astley to be singing at my wedding.”
I thought I wasn’t going to be married anytime soon, so no problem. But three and a half years ago I fell in love and I did a wedding proposal last September. Mirco, my boyfriend, said yes, so I have a big problem. I have to get in touch with Rick Astley. I’m working for four months already on that.
So, my hobby at this moment is organizing the wedding together. There’s a lot to organize. I always used to organize and create stuff for website customers and now for WordProof. It’s so great to organize something for the people around me, for the friends and the family. I never did that on this size.
Thank you so much for sharing that personal thing about you, and congratulations.
I slightly improved the language used in the transcript, as I started to learn business English a few months before WordCamp Europe. My English in this video was okay but there was lots of room for improvement.