Last month we launched our second annual Plugin Madness competition, where we pit 64 plugins against each other. Voted on by the community, this year’s victor was none other than WPMU DEV’s Smush Image Compression.
Torque spoke with CEO and Co-founder of WPMU DEV, James Farmer, about his WordPress journey, what he’s learned along the way, and more.
Torque: Tell us your WordPress story. How did you first get involved? How was WPMU DEV founded?
Farmer: Well, it’s been a long and winding road. There are a couple of ways you can approach it, either a bit more of a regular ‘how it got started’ approach that I did in an interview with our managing editor Raelene Morey or something a bit more explicit and fun that I wrote myself, outlining all the fun conflict and strange things that have happened along the way.
I think the long, and short, of it would be that I got started with WordPress MU (now Multisite) for teachers and students with a site called Edublogs, and from that sprung a bunch of other projects, most notably (for Smush at least).
Torque: What about Smush — how did its story begin?
Farmer: Now this one I actually haven’t told anyone — at least in a public sense.
Basically, Smush began entirely without us as a service dreamt up to compress images, which was then adopted by Yahoo and turned into a plugin by Alex Dunae. But when the Yahoo service started to deteriorate and Alex (who was doing it all for love) just got completely swamped under support tickets, he asked if there was anyone out there who could adopt it… and I offered to help!
I had two main motivations: first, it was a really popular service already and I wanted to save it, but I also figured that if we made it a super successful free plugin there would be opportunities for premium upgrades.
So, we kept the Yahoo service running and tried to fix a bunch of issues and implemented our own API for WPMU DEV members… and when Yahoo decided to discontinue the service (without telling anyone!), we doubled down and built a free service that has, as of today, literally smushed 8.96 BILLION images.
It’s also the only five-star rated image compression plugin in all of WordPress… which we’re pretty happy about.
Torque: Site speed is obviously of increasing importance for user experience, what role does image optimization play in this? How does Smush improve this experience?
Farmer: So we’re really focused on just making compression as powerful and easy, at the same time, as we possibly can. So first up if we can save you 15 percent or more on your images (and way, way more if you’re prepared to use our resize tool), then your site is just going to load that much faster.
As a plugin user, if all you need to do is click ‘Bulk Smush’ and we’ll literally go through your entire media library for you (and any directories you want too)… we reckon that makes your life a whole lot easier too.
Plus, our aim is to make it so that the vast, vast majority of users will be super happy with the free version, and there are just a few users who can get a bit more from the pro one that comes with WPMU DEV membership. We hope that Smush is basically making the internet a better place.
Torque: Smush is obviously a beloved WordPress plugin, what advice would you give to aspiring plugin developers?
Farmer: Make the free version as brilliant as you possibly can… give back to the community as much as you can and it’ll come back to you in spades.
Contribute to the wp.org support forums and community, commit code if you can, speak at WordCamps, and be as helpful and useful as possible… it’ll ALL be worth it, I promise.
Torque: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your time as the CEO and Co-founder of WPMU Dev?
Farmer: That is a very good question, and one I think I’m actually probably not able to answer as there are basically so so many important things.
I think though if I had to pick one, it goes along the same lines as my last answer: the more you give out, the more you give of yourself and the more, kinda, selfless that you are… the more you get back. And, sadly (and from painful experience), the opposite is also true.
Torque: Where did the inspiration for the Smush Imagine Optimization superhero come from? Does she have a name? What is her superpower?
Farmer: So I’ve never got this absolutely 100 percent ratified but I do believe that the inspiration for her is actually our illustrator Julian’s wife, Lauren! And, what makes this even more wonderful is that the same day we heard about this result, Lauren gave birth to their first child, Bonnie.
So, if you ask me, she has super powers that I definitely couldn’t match! Oh, and she’s great at making your site load faster and rank higher too.