#123 – Jamie Marsland on the WordCamp Europe Speed Building Challenge

#123 – Jamie Marsland on the WordCamp Europe Speed Building Challenge

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, a new fun, exciting event happening at WordCamp Europe next week.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to wptavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcasts players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, well, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you, or your idea, featured on the show. Head to wptavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Jamie Marsland.

Jamie runs a WordPress plugin business, and has recently become a full-time content creator on YouTube. You might know Jamie from his popular WordPress speed builds on that channel, where contestants have just 30 minutes to build a website from scratch.

In this episode, we dive into Jamie’s involvement with WordCamp Europe, where he’ll be bringing this speed build format to the live stage. Contestants will race against the clock to recreate a prebuilt website, all while being interrupted with questions from Jamie and the audience.

Jamie shares how this concept evolved from his own website recreations, and how it quickly gained popularity within the WordPress community. He talks about the insights and feedback that both participants and viewers have gained from these speed builds, making it more than just a fun challenge.

We also get into the technical aspects of the competition, including what tools and plugins are allowed, and how the time constraints add both pressure and excitement.

Jamie discusses the importance of bringing more interactive and engaging content to WordCamp events, hoping to make them more dynamic and participatory in the future.

Towards the end we talk about how these speed builds can bring a fresh perspective to the WordPress community, potentially attracting a younger, more diverse audience.

If you’re attending WordCamp Europe, or you’re just curious about how WordPress can be made fun and engaging, this episode is for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading to wptavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Jamie Marsland.

I am joined on the podcast again by Jamie Marsland. How you doing, Jamie?

[00:03:12] Jamie Marsland: Good morning. I’m very good.

[00:03:14] Nathan Wrigley: You are one of the few people that I’ve had back on, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody back on quite as quickly as you are. But this is time sensitive, which is not often the case because we’re going to be talking about something which is going to be featuring in WordCamp Europe, which is happening in the next few days, actually it’s about 10 days out. Something like that.

Do you want to just introduce yourself to those people who haven’t come across you before? Although that is now a dying breed of people, I suspect. But do you want to introduce yourself, and give us a little bit of background to this particular topic?

[00:03:46] Jamie Marsland: Sure. I’m Jamie and I run a WordPress plugin business, and that’s all I do. Oh, and occasionally I do some YouTube videos now, and YouTube’s kind of taken over. I’m pretty much full-time content creator, but I do have a plugin business as well. So go and check that out if you’re listening.

And I’ve been running these WordPress speed builds on my YouTube channel, and I’ve run about four or five, I think, so far, where contestants get 30 minutes to basically build a website. So it’s fast and furious, loads of fun. We get loads of people on the live chat. We’ve had some real stars of the WordPress space on so far, and it’s coming to Word, WordCamp Europe next week.

[00:04:23] Nathan Wrigley: So you are going to be on the stage at WordCamp with, what, two contestants vying to build the exact same thing in a very confined amount of time?

[00:04:33] Jamie Marsland: Yeah.

[00:04:33] Nathan Wrigley: Do you basically put a website, a pre-built website from out there on the internet somewhere and say, okay, you’ve got 30 minutes to make that. Go.

[00:04:42] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, exactly. They haven’t seen it. They see it when we see it on stage, and then they get five minutes to prep then we start the clock, they get 30 minutes to build it whilst at the same time being hassled by me asking lots of extraordinarily stupid questions, and we get people from the crowd asking questions as well.

They’ve got to build it while actually commentating on what they’re doing, whilst getting lots of questions from people as well. So it’s high pressure. It’s a great format. It’s a really short and sharp thing to watch.

[00:05:12] Nathan Wrigley: So did you initially do it as just a bit of fun to create some content and then unexpectedly realized there was some pearls of wisdom to be gained from it?

[00:05:21] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, the inspiration came from, ’cause I did, on my YouTube channel for a while, I’ve been doing website recreations. I’ve done about 10 or 15 or something. Famous websites I recreate in half an hour. So I’ve been doing it myself and my channel, just me. And I thought actually this, would be a great format if you had two.

It just popped in my head one day. You put two people actually competing to build exactly the same website in 30 minutes. So I put a tweet out just to gauge, as often do, gauge interest and people were really interested in it. And then I approached Brian Coords and Mike McAllister, two good friends of mine, to see whether they’d be willing to be the first on the show, and they agreed. They were amazing.

And then we’ve run about five, I think, so far, with some really famous people in the WordPress space. But it is a very fun format, deliberately fun, and aimed at being fun. But the feedback I’m getting, especially from people in the WordPress product space, like Ben Ritner from Kadence came on last week.

They find it really useful from a, just a stress testing, product user testing experience to do that. They’re finding real value in it, over and above just being a fun format. So it’s a really interesting space. And there’s lots of ideas I’ve got of where we could take it next as well.

[00:06:30] Nathan Wrigley: Do you, give them the same WordPress version? What I mean by that is in the five minutes, are they allowed to go and install into their WordPress website a whole collection of plugins, which may make the job them a little bit more straightforward? Or is it vanilla WordPress, core blocks all the way?

[00:06:47] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, no, they’re allowed to do whatever they like. So I do a little bit of prep for them. So for example, for Ben, I installed Kadence and Kadence Pro. Over and above that I don’t really want to install too much, but they’re allowed to go off and basically install anything that they like. There’s no limits on, they can go and use Bricks or Beaver Builder or Elementor, but obviously every time they go off and install a plugin that’s eating up into their time.

So it’s a bit of a time penalty every time they want to do that. But there’s no limits. Once the clock starts, they can do whatever they like.

[00:07:16] Nathan Wrigley: And I’m guessing you are not picking, for example, the Google homepage has got one search field and a logo. I’m guessing that you are trying to get them to do much more complicated things? Loops and all sorts of other things. Just describe the level of complexity. Are you deliberately trying to the most difficult website that you can manage? Lings Cars, for example?

[00:07:37] Jamie Marsland: Lings Cars is coming up at some point.

[00:07:40] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, really?

[00:07:40] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, it’s definitely going to come up. Rich Tabor would be, Rich Is coming on this Thursday actually, as well as next week. I mean I just think seeing Rich Tabor with someone with such a defined and beautiful design aesthetic, taking on Lings Cars. It’s just got to happen at some point. I don’t think I can stop myself from that happening.

[00:07:57] Nathan Wrigley: But you are picking a difficult website?

[00:07:59] Jamie Marsland: I’m picking, what I’m trying to do is a combination of a few things. One famous, so people know it. That’s not always the case. But also there’ll be some challenging, and there’ll be some good learning for people watching it.

So it’s not just 30 minutes of fun, although it is. Cause a lot of the feedback I get, after the 30 minutes is up, we ask the players to go into the back end of the sites and tell us how they built it. And people love that. They get lots of learning from it.

I try and choose sites which are visually beautiful and interesting, have some challenges, but also there’s going to be some really good learning for people as well. So those sort of combination of things.

Obviously Lings Cars meets all those criteria anyway, so it’s right in the sweet spot.

[00:08:38] Nathan Wrigley: If you haven’t come across the Lings Cars website, dear listener, please pause the podcast now. Just and Google it. Lings, L-I-N-G-S.

[00:08:47] Jamie Marsland: And actually, Lings Cars, has had a lot of people talking about it, because as a piece of design, it has some real. Like I was chatting to Tammie Lister about it the other day. People have written articles about Lings Cars, because it actually works as a piece of design.

It has enormous personality and there’s no other sites really like it, and it’s driving a lot of business to them. So, although I scoff about it, it is, as a piece of web design, it’s very effective.

[00:09:13] Nathan Wrigley: It’s a full assault on the senses in every way, it really does demonstrate what’s possible on the internet.

[00:09:19] Jamie Marsland: My accessibility friends don’t particularly think it’s great, but it has some issues on that regard.

[00:09:25] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I would imagine. So, everybody that you’re putting against each other. There’s two people and there’s you sitting in the middle if you like, and they’re trying to do things as rapidly as possible. Now, presumably, a lot of muscle memory for them will come in, they’re just familiar with, okay, I can see that I need to lay out this, I need a sidebar here, and what have you.

Do you get to interrupt and say, wait, hang on, what happened just then? Or do you wait until the 30 minutes is up and then quiz them? Or are you allowed to say just repeat that little bit.

[00:09:54] Jamie Marsland: I interrupt continually, ’cause I think that’s quite interesting. And it puts more pressure on them. And we actually had Nick Diego on a few weeks ago, and he was at, he was answering questions from the live chat about what’s going on in core at the moment, which is just brilliant.

I have this amazing idea that I think I’m going to introduce a bit more jeopardy. So halfway through the build, at some point I’m going to have a siren go off and it’s going to be a change spec request from the customer or something like that. We suddenly veer off in a different direction. Or the customer says, can you make the logo a little bit or something like that.

[00:10:24] Nathan Wrigley: Can you make it pop?

[00:10:25] Jamie Marsland: Can you make it pop? Yeah.

[00:10:27] Nathan Wrigley: Essentially we’re giggling about this because it feels like a lot of fun. And I do wonder, the reason that you’ve brought it into WordCamp Europe, do you have an opinion about that in terms of, do you think that the events could do with livening up a little bit? I mean we all talk about how wonderful WordCamps are. I think it’s fair to say that of us enjoy them when we go there. But do you think they could do with a little bit of excitement, drama, gimmicks, whatever the word is?

[00:10:52] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, I mean it’s not just WordCamp. I think all live events, it’s like worth thinking about, what can you bring to that event that you can’t watch online, that you can’t get if you’re just sitting at home in your office? And I think events like this, you want to be in the room for an event like this, because there’s going to be audience participation. To be in the room is going to be a different experience than watching it on your computer screen, because you can watch the live streams.

And I think the more stuff we can bring that to WordCamps, because for me the real value of WordCamps is the people bit, you know, whether it’s inside or outside. And I think this is going to be highly interactive and fun. So I think, yeah, if we can do more stuff like this, which aren’t traditional kind of event type things, then that’d be great. That said, I have no idea how this is going to go. It might be a complete disaster, in which case, we’ll come back in a month and say, that was a really bad idea.

[00:11:40] Nathan Wrigley: But you’re interested in filling up that room, and trying to get people involved. And, is it going to be a bit more pantomime than workshop? In other words, are you hoping that the crowd will, he’s behind you, that kind of thing? Are you hoping for people to be literally interjecting and yelling out, no, no, no, do it this way, that kind of thing?

[00:11:56] Jamie Marsland: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a fairly, because I pitched it in, I don’t know, about a month ago. So it’s been a fairly, we’re still working out some technical stuff with the technical team, but, yeah, there’s going to be music, I hope. And a big part of the online ones is that there’s a clock constantly ticking down, that people can see the whole 30 minutes, which just ramps up the pressure. So we need to have a big clock on stage and stuff like that.

[00:12:16] Nathan Wrigley: But the technical aspects, so there’s going to be three people on the stage, your two contestants, for want of a better word, plus you. How is everybody going to be able to see what they’re doing? Are you going to have one big screen on one side, and one big screen on the other, showing what your two contestants are actually doing at that moment?

[00:12:32] Jamie Marsland: To be decided, at the moment. The backstop is that we do it the same way that I do it online, which is I’m kind of operating, and I’m flicking back and forth between the screens. So if we had one screen, it still works, because we can just flick back and forth between, so we can see what Rich is doing, and what Jessica is doing at different times. So ideally we’d have two screens, but I’m not sure at the moment whether that’s technically going to be possible. But we’ll see. I don’t know.

[00:12:56] Nathan Wrigley: So just speak to the actual learning then, because obviously you started this, and it was a little bit of fun. But prior to clicking record, you’ve said that you’d had a few people on who did some fairly remarkable things. Not just in terms of the speed with which they could do it, but also presumably fairly creative. Have you managed to get actual learning out of it, not just purely entertainment?

[00:13:16] Jamie Marsland: Do you mean me as a WordPress user?

[00:13:18] Nathan Wrigley: Well, yeah. Do you feel like your audience are getting something, or does the format kind of lend itself more to entertainment and less to, I don’t know, introspection of what they were actually doing?

[00:13:28] Jamie Marsland: There’s definitely more, if you’re going to have a pie chart, there’s definitely more entertainment than learning. The learning slice is relatively small, but there is a lot of learning. I was, watching, there was a great episode with Fabian and Kim Coleman, and they were incredibly quick, and a lot of that speed was through shortcuts.

So I suddenly, in my personal WordPress usage, I’m now using a lot of shortcuts, and that has saved me a whole bunch of time. The last one was Justin Tadlock and Ben Ritner from Kadence, and they were building the Rolling Stone website. There was quite a lot of complexity in the grid layouts. A lot of people wouldn’t know that stuff, or the feedback I get, don’t know that stuff is possible, and so I think there’s loads of learning.

There’s also loads of learning in terms of what’s possible in Core, and what’s possible in add-on plugins like Kadence. That was really interesting to see that direct comparison of Core can do this much, and it’s because it’s got a query loop block. But the Kadence query loop block is a lot more advanced. So if you really want to go advanced, then that’s an interesting comparison to make.

So I think there is lots of learning, and the feedback we get, because we do a washup after the half an hour is up, where we get the players to go into the front end and then the back end, and talk us through how they built it. I think that’s really interesting.

What they also do is, they always say how they would’ve done it, not just how they did it, how they would’ve done it, or how they do it for clients. Because obviously there’s, nobody’s building sites in 30 minutes for clients. So there’s obviously a big gap between the way they do it on the show and the way they do it in their real life. So they’ll share that, you know, what they would’ve done, the purest way, I guess.

So it’s a bit like speed climbing, if you’ve ever watched that, where you’ve got the wall really, really, quickly, versus the purest sort of alpine climbing. It’s a bit like that. But there’s lots of value in a shorter format.

[00:15:00] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, just being able to cram that in, and obviously get lots and lots done in a very short space of time, because you’re highly engaged and highly focused on it. And you’ve got the competition of beating your opponent. How has that all gone down? You know, because obviously you could get fairly, well, your ego could be wounded, let’s put it that way. You know, if you really reach a brick wall and you can’t figure out how to progress. Have you had any of that?

[00:15:20] Jamie Marsland: I mean, that’s one of the most amazing things. I’m completely in awe of everyone that comes on the show. Completely in awe, because we are having like 128 people watching live, you are a WordPress professional, and yet you are prepared to go on and give it a bash. I think that’s just an incredible, incredible thing to do. And so I come out and everyone’s done great so far. And even if they don’t do great, I think people are enthralled by watching people that will have a go. And the stuff they’re doing is just incredible.

And these are people that like Ben Ritner’s the founder of Kadence. He’s got an incredibly successful business, and yet he’s coming on for 30 minutes of fun, and we are watching him build a site. And we’ve had lots of these people that are just the top of the game, like Nick Diego and Brian Coords, and Fabian, Kim, and a Rich Tabor this week. And Jonathan Jernigan, these people are like, these are serious WordPress people, and yet they’re prepared to come on, and be prepared to fail. Nobody has, but that’s an incredibly brave thing to do. So I’m completely in admiration of them.

[00:16:14] Nathan Wrigley: Do you have a winner?

[00:16:15] Jamie Marsland: Well, maybe I should do. I haven’t yet. That was the idea. So in the first few I kind of got the people in the live chat to vote, but a lot of them were just voting for the people they liked. It was a bit like a popularity contest. At the moment it’s not necessary, because it doesn’t feel like there is needing to be a winner at the moment. And that’s not really the idea of it, I don’t think.

But that said, I can definitely see where I have a day of, like a world championships of speed building, where there is a sponsor, and there is a prize, and it gets a little bit more competitive. To be honest, I’m just kind of feeling my way in the format. Some people say the format’s too short, and I understand that viewpoint. But it’s short deliberately, because it’s half an hour of people’s time. It’s half an hour of fun. And I don’t want it to be, you know, people’s time is precious, and I think it’s good to have time pressure. But the format may change a little bit, but I don’t foresee it changing a lot of moment. But yeah, no, there’s no real winners at the moment.

[00:17:06] Nathan Wrigley: Do you think WordPress, the ecosystem of WordPress, and I know that you think about this rather a lot, you know, how WordPress pitches itself into the marketplace of website building, amongst commercial competitors like Wix and Squarespace. Do you think WordPress needs something like this? Does it need a bit of a shot in the arm to make it a bit more fun, interesting, entertaining? Do you feel like projects like this give WordPress a bit of a boost, in a way that it may not have had otherwise?

[00:17:32] Jamie Marsland: Oh, I hope so. I do think about this a lot, too much probably. My view on WordPress is it’s this incredibly beautiful, radical idea that was started 21 years ago, and yet some of the content doesn’t reflect that always, especially when it’s compared to its competitors. It’s almost like, I don’t want to be too harsh, but some of the content’s almost like local government type content, in a way. It’s quite dry and technical. So yeah, I think that there is definitely a space to create some more entertaining type, fun content around WordPress, which has kind of been the rationales of my channel anyway.

[00:18:03] Nathan Wrigley: I think also we’re living in an era where, and I don’t actually have any statistics about this, but it feels like the demographics are skewed towards older rather than younger, in adoption of WordPress. And I don’t know what the throughput is of teenagers coming in and being interested by it, but in a generation brought up on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where entertainment really does directly lead to interest in certain things.

So I can just point to my own children and see, absolutely, the straight line that’s gone from the mobile phone, the silly video that they’ve watched, into something that they’re curious about in the real world. We do need things like that because, well, we have to engage them where they are, and if WordPress as a platform wishes to continue, I suspect we are going to have to do more of these kind of entertaining, interesting, engaging pieces of content.

[00:18:50] Jamie Marsland: I mean there’s a shocking stat, which is, because I’m in a YouTube mastermind group with a few people, and generally the female demographic on YouTube runs about 10% of our audiences. Now, mine’s just gone up to 20%. If you compare that to, my guess is if you compare that to Wix, or Canva, I know Canva is running about 50% female audience, definitely users.

So just from a purely kind of selfish market point of view, WordPress has a big, and I’m not talking about equality here, I’m just talking about if you were trying to reach a market, WordPress has some big challenges in terms of its aging demographic, and its male, female split for sure.

[00:19:25] Nathan Wrigley: So tell us when it’s happening, because I suspect a few people listening to this. We’re going to try to push this out. It’ll come out hopefully before the event, but let’s just imagine a worst case scenario, I fail to do that, and it comes out after the event. But nevertheless, tell us what day it’s on, and if you are in Turin or Torino for WordCamp Europe, when is it happening? What time?

[00:19:44] Jamie Marsland: Okay, yep. So we’re on June the 14th at 5:00 PM, and we’re in track three, which is hall one. So please everyone, come along, pack out the room. It’s going to be loads of fun to finish the day.

[00:19:56] Nathan Wrigley: If this ends up being really, really popular, you are going to be the one event that nobody wants to be in the speaker lineup at the same time as. It would be a little bit like if we put you on at the same time as Matt Mullenweg’s closing address. You can be fairly confident that the, you know, lots of people are going to go in that direction, yeah.

[00:20:12] Jamie Marsland: If it okay as well, I’m hoping that they’ll invite me on all the WordCamps around the world, and this will be part of the, I mean, wouldn’t that be great.

[00:20:18] Nathan Wrigley: Part of the gimmick, yeah. Part of the infrastructure. That would be really nice. Okay, Jamie, we’ve managed to get to about 22 or three minutes there. Is there anything you want to add before we knock it on the head?

[00:20:27] Jamie Marsland: We probably haven’t mentioned who’s actually on it, which is Rich Tabor and Jessica Lyschik, are going to be the two players. So again, an epic battle. We’ve got male, female, we’ve got Europe, USA. What else do you want in 45 minutes of fun?

[00:20:41] Nathan Wrigley: Honestly, it sounds like real entertainment. I hope that it goes well, that there’s no technical gremlins, and that you manage to get through it all, and that it’s an enjoyable experience for you, as well as the audience.

[00:20:52] Jamie Marsland: Honestly, there’s so many moving parts. It’s like juggling while trying to write a speech, and a lot going on.

[00:20:56] Nathan Wrigley: Well, very best of luck. Congratulations for getting this into WordCamp, and hopefully you’ll do many more online in the near future too.

[00:21:03] Jamie Marsland: Cool. Thank you.

Keep reading the article at WP Tavern. The article was originally written by Nathan Wrigley on 2024-06-05 10:00:00.

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