#43 – Nick Ahmann on Testing Plugins With TasteWP

On the podcast today we have Nick Ahmann.

Nick works for Inisev, a company which provides SaaS services for WordPress and other platforms. They have a range of products, but today we focus on TasteWP.

TasteWP is a service which allows you to spin up a disposable WordPress install in a matter of seconds. From there, you can use the site for free for two days.

If you’re wanting to test out a plugin or theme, but don’t want the hassle of creating a site on your own hosting, or local machine, TasteWP could be a useful option. It behaves as a normal WordPress website and you’re not limited to what you can install on top of the defaults.

One nice feature we talk about is that you can pre-install plugins and themes from the WordPress repository by modifying the URL when you visit the TasteWP website. This might be useful for educators or plugin developers who want to demo their free plugins, but don’t want to maintain their own infrastructure.

We talk about what promoted Nick to work on this plugin and how he sees it as helping the WordPress community, as well as being a vehicle to make people aware of the products and services that his company offers.

If you’ve ever wanted a WordPress site to play with for a few days, then this episode is for you.

Typically, when we record the podcast, there’s not a lot of background noise, but that’s not always the case with these WordCamp Europe interviews. We were competing against crowds and the air-conditioning. Whilst the podcasts are more than listenable, I hope that you understand that the vagaries of the real world were at play.

Useful links.




Track & Analyze


[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 using disposable WordPress installs to test out plugins.

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 and paste that URL into most podcast players.

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

So on the podcast today, we have Nick Ahmann. Nick works for Inisev. A company which provides SaaS services for WordPress and other platforms. They have a range of products, but today we focus on TasteWP.

TasteWP is a service which allows you to spin up a disposable WordPress install in a matter of seconds. From there, you can use the site for free for two days. If you’re wanting to test out a plugin or theme, but don’t want the hassle of creating a site on your own hosting or local machine, TasteWP could be a useful option. It behaves as a normal WordPress website, and you’re not limited to what you can install on top of the defaults.

One nice feature that we talk about is that you can pre-install plugins and themes from the WordPress repository by modifying the URL when you visit the TasteWP website. This might be useful for educators or plugin developers who want to demo their free plugins, but don’t want to maintain their own infrastructure.

We talk about what promoted Nick to work on this plugin and how he sees it as helping the WordPress community, as well as being a vehicle to make people aware of the products and services that his company offers. If you’ve ever wanted a WordPress site to play with for a few days. Then this episode is for you.

Typically when we record the podcast, there’s not a lot of background noise, but that’s not always the case with these WordCamp Europe interviews. We were competing against the crowds and the air conditioning. And whilst the podcast is more than listable, I hope that you understand that the vagaries of the real world we’re at play.

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

And so without further delay, I bring you Nick Ahmann.

I am joined on the podcast today by Nick Arman. Hello, Nick.

[00:03:29] Nick Ahmann: Hi, Nathan.

[00:03:30] Nathan Wrigley: Very nice to have you. We are in the bowels of the Super Bock Arena in Porto. Have you ever been to a WordCamp before? Is this your first?

[00:03:38] Nick Ahmann: No, it’s my first ever WordCamp.

[00:03:40] Nathan Wrigley: So what brings you? What is it exactly that you’ve decided?

[00:03:43] Nick Ahmann: Yeah, that’s a good question. So for one it’s the networking part. We’re surely gonna talk about later, we, um, working on a couple of WordPress products and TasteWP, and I wanna spread the word for it. I also just wanna immerse myself in the WordPress spirit and energy. And what’s a better way than going to a WordCamp?

[00:04:02] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. If you’ve not been to an event like this before, have you been in the WordPress space for any length of time or is this fresh to you?

[00:04:09] Nick Ahmann: It’s not entirely fresh. So we’ve been developing plugins for about six, seven years now. Not me personally, I don’t have a clue about coding. I’ve been in the space that time.

[00:04:18] Nathan Wrigley: What is it that you’re expecting to do? I know you said that there was networking, but do you anticipate going into some of the talks? Is there any of that that interests you?

[00:04:26] Nick Ahmann: Yeah, for sure. I’m gonna listen to some of the talks. I’ve noted down one or two. But it’s just, you know, meeting like random people in the hallway and just getting to know them.

[00:04:36] Nathan Wrigley: The hallway track is totally a thing. It’s a thing which I think probably a significant proportion of the people who come to these events actually never go into the presentations because they just enjoy the networking aspect and all of that kind of stuff.

We’re gonna talk today about a service that you offer. It integrates very well with WordPress. It is WordPress. It enables you to get WordPress in a heartbeat. It’s called TasteWP. What is it? What’s the point?

[00:04:59] Nick Ahmann: Okay. The point is, basically TasteWP, developed from scratch your own itch situation for us. Working on a couple of plugins and we needed an easy way to test them, different PHP versions and, and WordPress version combinations.

And we never found a tool that really suits us. So we thought, okay, why not create such a tool? And then we thought, okay, uh, instead of just using it internally, why don’t we just make it a bit nicer and bit more self explanatory, as you would with a tool you only use internally, so that, uh, we can offer it to the public. So TasteWP is a site where you just go, click once and then it spins up a WordPress site where you can play around and test themes and plugins.

[00:05:41] Nathan Wrigley: So I confess that I’ve had a go and it’s very quick. I don’t know if that was part of the initial scoping document, to make it almost instantaneous, but when you go to the webpage and you click the button, there’s more to it than that, we’ll get to that, but if you just click the button, I’m pretty convinced you’re under five seconds before the site is live.

[00:06:01] Nick Ahmann: Right. Just over three seconds is now the average.

[00:06:04] Nathan Wrigley: Which is pretty incredible given what’s going on. You know, you’re spinning up some sort of server in the background and downloading plug-ins and themes. And again, we’ll get to that and it’s configurable, but it’s basically there in the time it takes you to pick up your coffee cup, have a sip, and then return it to the table.

[00:06:18] Nick Ahmann: And let me just mention, I wish I could take credit for it, but it’s entirely the developers who did this.

[00:06:24] Nathan Wrigley: The, principle though, when we got into talking about coming on the podcast, you talked about it from the community angle. You mentioned that it would be a really nice tool for community to get their hands on. Talk to us about that. Tell us how do you sort of pitch it as a community tool?

[00:06:39] Nick Ahmann: Right. I think it’s our contribution to the community in the sense that I think everybody who works with WordPress, uh, no matter what the role of function is that they need such a tool. You can talk about the developers who need a site to test their themes and plugins like that was the initial idea, why we needed it. But then beginners who just start out with WordPress, they need an easy way to spin up a site and play around. Also again for developers to demo their products.

So what you can do is, if you, for example, if you’re in the, um, plug-in directory on WordPress and you on a plugin page, like, wordpress.org/plugins/pluginslug. And in that URL, if you just replace WordPress with TasteWP and click enter, then it spins up a site with that plugin already installed. And that’s useful, I think for almost everybody, especially also for those who want to try out plugins before using them on the real site.

[00:07:33] Nathan Wrigley: So the principle is, it felt like the best fit for me, at least anyway, was I want to try out this plugin, X plugin over there that I’ve never used before, and I could create a domain and do all of that and do hosting, or I could set up a local install or something like that, which will work fine, but I want something probably a bit more disposable. I know that I’m just gonna try it for a few hours perhaps, and then I want that site to go away.

And that’s what it does because, in the initial offering that you’ve got, maybe there’s kinda like a premium upsell that you offer as well, but you are able to use that site for, I believe it’s 48 hours. Is that right?

[00:08:05] Nick Ahmann: That’s right. So if you’re not logged in TasteWP, it’s good for two days and then expires. And, uh, if you sign up on TasteWP, which is free, then it lasts for seven days and then you can also manage your sites. So you can set up several ones. You can delete an old site set up a new site and so on. And at the moment it’s all free. And we’re working on a premium option when basically it won’t expire then.

[00:08:28] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. So in the future there’ll be an option to pay and you’ll be able to keep your site up. Okay. So at the point where you create the site, there’s multiple options. You could just click the button and you go. And like I said, 2, 3, 4 seconds later, it’s ready to go, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. Tell us about the options that are available. What can you configure?

[00:08:43] Nick Ahmann: So there’s the quick setup option, by the way, you can always trigger it again without being logged in, which makes it very usable. But, if you click on the advanced setup option, then you can determine, okay, which WordPress version do you wanna use the plugin or whatever you’re testing on. Especially now that WordPress six came out. That was a function, which was used quite a lot because plugin developers want to see, how does the plugin work on WordPress six.

And the same with PHP version. You can set that. You can already select to pre-install certain plugins, themes, that’s possible too. If you sign up, then you can also create templates, where you can say, okay, this URL should spin up an instance with these plugins and these themes already installed, because sometimes you have plugins which rely on other plugins to be installed as well. So it’s not just a single plugin, which is installed in, but also others.

[00:09:36] Nathan Wrigley: So essentially the idea here is speed. You’ve got the option to just, you get to the site, you don’t need to be logged in if you’re willing to go for a two day site. You press a button, a couple of seconds later you’re ready to go.

There are a few things which come along for the ride. In WordPress, we’re a bit averse to advertising in the admin UI. I know that you have a fairly large, dismissable, ad right at the beginning. It’s not really an ad. It’s more sort of, here’s how it works, because you’ve already got them to your website. So, you know.

[00:10:05] Nick Ahmann: Actually that’s a good point. We made that part much leaner. So actually there was this like almost full page introduction, uh, which is now only, if you spin it up in certain ways, we’re gonna expand it to all the ways you can spin up. It’s just a box in the top right which says this is a demo site expiring in, um, so and so many hours. But if you talk about advertising to be absolutely honest here, part of the incentive for us to do this was also to promote our own plugins because they are pre-installed as well.

But it’s not entirely, you know, off topic. There’s a backup and migration plugin, which many TasteWP users need because whatever they created on TasteWP, they want to take it somewhere else. So they need this migration plug. So it’s not completely off topic, but that’s also.

[00:10:48] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s go into that, because I think that is actually right on topic. So you justifiably, I think in my opinion, if you’ve offered this service for free, people don’t have to use it. They can do all the other things that I said earlier about spinning up sites, they can do it that way. Or they can opt for you. What are the things that do come pre-installed? Presumably it’s the suite of things that you and the company that you are working for offer?

[00:11:09] Nick Ahmann: That’s three plugins now. It’s a redirect plug. The backup plugin I mentioned, and the plugin for, uh, showing popups on your site.

[00:11:17] Nathan Wrigley: And they all come pre-installed? Yeah. And I’m guessing though, it’s WordPress, I’m guessing that you could deactivate those?

[00:11:23] Nick Ahmann: Yes, absolutely. You can, actually, there’s a plugin, which if you run it, it resets. I think it’s called reset WordPress, I’m not sure what plugin is. And quite a few people use that because they don’t want to see our plugins. But most, you know, still see our plugins and that’s part of the reason.

[00:11:37] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s talk about the different ways that you can get certain things to be activated. Obviously, if you choose to go in, you can just go to the ad plugin page and add one plugin at a time. But there’s this nifty thing which you alluded to earlier, which, as soon as I figured out what was going on, because I didn’t, when I first came across your site. Soon as I figured that out, I thought, okay, that’s the bit, that’s where the coin dropped for me.

This is where the utility came in. You can go to TasteWP.com farward slash, and then how do we do the URL from there? Basically, if you add to the URL, something that’s in the repository, be that a theme or a plugin. So long as you get the plugin slug exactly right, it will become installed. There’s maybe a little bit that I missed out in the URL there?

[00:12:23] Nick Ahmann: Yes. So the easiest way is if you just go to the plugin in the, uh, WordPress directory, and then replace the WordPress in the URL with TasteWP. So that’s the quickest, actually that’s not the quickest way. We also offer a bookmarklet tool, which is a button you can drop to your bookmarklet bar in your browser. And then when you are on a plugin page in the directory, you just have to click it and then already it spins up instance with that plugin installed. And we are also working at the moment on a Chrome extension, which basically does the same thing, but maybe some little more features here and there.

[00:12:57] Nathan Wrigley: So can you concatenate, so can you add, one plugin, two two plugins, three plugins and two themes?

[00:13:03] Nick Ahmann: There’s more sophisticated ways you can install several plugins and themes, uh, at once.

[00:13:08] Nathan Wrigley: And so the bookmark would then store the information about that because you have essentially kept the URL with all of the bits and pieces that you’ve added to the end.

[00:13:16] Nick Ahmann: Right so what happens technically? This is one of the few instances where I understand what happens technically, because as mentioned, I’m not a developer. If you click on the bookmarklet tool, when on the plugin page in the directory, something called HTTP referral, which passes on the URL you’re currently on to TasteWP. So TasteWP knows from which side you’re coming from. So we know which plugin you have in mind to have pre-installed. And that’s what we, what we’re doing then.

[00:13:41] Nathan Wrigley: Has this been a popular tool? I mean, I dunno how how long it’s been out. I certainly came across it for the first time ever.

[00:13:46] Nick Ahmann: It’s, it’s a good question, how long? I think about a year now. And yes, the usage is increasing strongly. Uh, we getting fantastic feedback from developers, but also non developers. Especially as it’s free and it can be used without logging that that’s what people like a lot. Of course, that’s also prone to risks because you know, people can do dodgy things on these free sites. They can use it for phishing attempts and all of that, because there are no checks, basically, if somebody spins up a site, if it’s not dodgy. So we have to stay one step ahead in terms of quickly identifying the sites, which could cause trouble. I don’t know what the percentage is. Most are nice.

[00:14:30] Nathan Wrigley: And what have they been using it for then? Have you got some useful metrics? No, sorry, what are the genuine people using it for? You know, they’ve got a two day site. Why are they coming to you and trying it it out?

[00:14:41] Nick Ahmann: Okay. So for one it’s developers who want to try out the plugins. Other big segments are beginners, and also that the teachers. The teachers, WordPress teachers love TasteWP to, for example, give their students some exercises they have to do. So spin up a site in TasteWP and install this plugin and do this, create this theme or whatever it is. So teachers also a big segment.

[00:15:06] Nathan Wrigley: it’s really curious. I mean, if you delve deeper into it, do you have any sort of data about what people want you to do with it in the future?

[00:15:14] Nick Ahmann: That’s a good question. I mean, WordPress can be used in so many different ways? I mean, what we focus on now at the moment is a tool for developers. And also there has another reason too. The developers can be our multipliers, because if we convince the developers to use our URL as a demo URL they use it for demoing their products. Then that means that way more users get to know about TasteWP and therefore we have more users. That’s the focus just to grow and get the word out about TasteWP. Then we can eventually at the end of the, the game we can monetize by offering the pay plans, which we don’t offer yet.

By the way everything you see at the moment, it will stay free forever. So we will need to justify the, the paid part with additional features we gonna add to the platform.

[00:16:03] Nathan Wrigley: So that’s curious, and it really hadn’t occurred to me. So let’s say that I’m a plug-in developer and I’ve got a plugin over on the repo. Am I right in saying this? Is what you’re saying that I could simply copy and paste the TasteWP URL, put it over on my site and anybody that wants to try out my plugin instantly has access to that, obviously with the caveats that we’ve mentioned and the plugins that you bring to, to the site as well. But you would be able to use that plugin right off the bat, in couple of seconds?

[00:16:31] Nick Ahmann: Yes.

[00:16:31] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. That makes more sense. Okay. I want to delve deeper into the sort of marketing angle here. Whose idea was it to offer the free service as the gateway if you like to the paid service? Because it feels to me there’s a lot of development work that went into this and it could have been an absolute flop, and it could have been never used by anybody, never discovered. And then it would’ve just been a complete waste of time, resources and of that. So who pushed this forward?

[00:17:00] Nick Ahmann: We always knew we needed the tool at least ourselves, which first of all means that even if nobody was interested in it, it was, you know, still worthwhile. The point is if you need it very strongly, there must be other people out there who needed it as well. So that gave us a bit of confidence.

And the free part is basically, our general philosophy in the freemium model. We offer some other tools and services as well. And for all of them the first challenge is to get users and to grow. And the freemium model is great. It’s great for us because we get the eyeballs, and it’s great for the users because they can use a lot of features for free.

So it will probably, once we introduce the paid versions, it will still be the typical 98% of people not paying, just free riding, and it’s the 2% which monetize the whole thing then.

[00:17:48] Nathan Wrigley: Do you have any data on, so at the minute, the paid version doesn’t exist, so that’s kind of off the table, but maybe in the future that’ll be a thing. So at the minute, the upsell is okay. here’s a free site. You can have it for a couple of days or seven days, depending on you logged in on it. But you mentioned all of the things that you throw in your backup plug in and so on and so forth. How has that conversion gone? Has it been successful? One site is better than no sites, but has it been effective?

[00:18:13] Nick Ahmann: We’d love to know that, but it’s so hard to track. We don’t know because I mean, they then see the plugin on our site, but well, we know it’s installed there. But the question is do they then find joy in it and also install it on their real actual sites? We have no way to track this. So this is just believing in building our brand and getting some recognition this way. But we don’t know how effective that actually is.

[00:18:37] Nathan Wrigley: One of the things about the WordPress community is that they are, they’re ingenious. My experience is they often like to do things for themselves. You know, they like figure things out, solve puzzles, but there’s also a, a significant part who just like convenience and so on. So I’m guessing you are aiming it more those people who just like to have something quick and simple and easy. Is that your target market?

[00:18:59] Nick Ahmann: Yes. I mean, naturally because these are advantages that people who have these inclinations tend to use TasteWP. I mentioned the developers earlier. Some developers say, no, they want to have the local environment, which also has of course advantages. It doesn’t expire. There’s no space limitation and so on. It comes down also to personal taste very often.

[00:19:18] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. So let’s go into the paid model, which at the moment doesn’t exist. So caveat emptor. It might not in any way, shape or form look like what you’re about to describe, but let’s press on regardless. If we go for the premium, the upsell, whatever that thing is, you mentioned it will never go away. Are there other things which you are toying with as well?

[00:19:38] Nick Ahmann: Yes. The main one is the space one as well, because the free sites are limited to, I think, one gigabyte, which is not enough for some use cases. But most it is. I mean, one gigabyte is already quite some space. For some, it’s not enough. So that will be the main premium feature as well. What we don’t know yet, if we want to go down that route is.

I mean, naturally people want then to host with their own domain. That would mean we would just turn into a hoster and I’m not sure if we really want to do that. We’re playing with ideas to team up with a hosting, um, where we then pass on these users who need permanent hosting, not just for testing with their own domain and everything that comes with it, the backups also and everything.

So we are not sure about that yet, but, for sure, even if it’s just for the testing there quite a few people out there who just want sites which don’t expire for testing alone. By the way, talking about not expiring, we offer an affiliate program. If you spin up a site, you will see that we offer you, if you invite your friends, and three of them sign up on TasteWP, you get a non expiring site. So that’s free hosting forever. Because you also mentioned marketing earlier, that’s another way we try to accelerate the marketing part.

[00:20:50] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, so if I’ve signed up for the, the paid plan, and I can use it forever. Do I just recycle that one site? In other words, do I get one site which I can just have forever, but I can just, as you said, reset at the beginning? How do I go through that process of expunging it, wiping it clean? Because presumably I’ve got a URL which is custom to me?

[00:21:10] Nick Ahmann: Yes. At the moment what’s already possible, you can define the sub domain. So Nathan dot TasteWP, unless it’s taken already of course. And then once you are, you’re logged into TasteWP, there’s a dashboard where you can manage your sites and you can just delete one site, in order to spin up another site. Which then, once we have the paid plans you can use for that. So it’s not, you’re not stuck with a one site you created once, but you can just delete it. And then you have the right to set up a new one.

[00:21:40] Nathan Wrigley: Any chance of siloing those. So putting a site away and saying, actually, I’ll come back to that next week, but this week I need to test this plugin out? So I don’t wanna remove that one, I just park it for a few days. Can you do that?

[00:21:54] Nick Ahmann: With the pay plans, yes. The paid plans depend on the number of sites you want. So it’s per site and there will be discount, discounts for if, you know, go for three sites at once. That’s the way it’s gonna work.

[00:22:06] Nathan Wrigley: I’m gonna move away from TasteWP now, and just talk about, well, we’re at WordCamp Europe. Just gonna talk about what you’ve gained so far and what you think of it. You mentioned that you’ve never been to a WordCamp Europe before. I’ve been to a WordCamp Europe before. But this is quite significantly different to the ones that I’ve been to. In that this, this is really quite an impressive event.

[00:22:28] Nick Ahmann: I don’t have any comparison. I didn’t know really what to expect. So when you say, uh, it’s different to the other ones.

[00:22:33] Nathan Wrigley: Bigger. Very professional.

[00:22:35] Nick Ahmann: I noticed that at the queue, when I wanted to get my food, that it’s huge. It was, it took quite a while. I knew that. How many at.

[00:22:43] Nathan Wrigley: The last count I got was 2,700.

[00:22:46] Nick Ahmann: Right.

[00:22:46] Nathan Wrigley: But I don’t know if that went up.

[00:22:48] Nick Ahmann: Yeah. I mean, I knew it’s gonna be a lot, but it’s great.

[00:22:52] Nathan Wrigley: But for a free piece of software, it’s kind of extraordinary don’t you think? You know, something which you can download absolutely gratis, completely for free. If you just walk down the corridor, there’s bespoke signage for every single thing. Every window has got a WordCamp logo on it. Can you imagine the amount of effort by people who are not paid?

[00:23:14] Nick Ahmann: Yeah, that’s actually, now that you mentioned, I did think, um, when I saw just the, when new map and also just the emails you get ahead of the event, that, okay, this is done quite professionally. But it shows, you know, people may not get paid for it, but it shows the passion really drives quality, right, so.

[00:23:32] Nathan Wrigley: The passion is amazing, but this room that we’re in is pretty spartan, but the fact that somebody’s made an effort to make that and put that there. So behind Nick is a great big WordCamp Europe banner. So that in a minute, when the photographers come in, that’s behind you. There’s a lot of attention to detail, given that these people are doing it from remote destinations all over the world. And I think it’s incredible.

[00:23:56] Nick Ahmann: You’re right.

[00:23:57] Nathan Wrigley: Anything we missed?

[00:23:58] Nick Ahmann: TasteWP is only part of other products. I mentioned the plugins, but there are a couple of others. So if you go to inisev.com, so in is ev is the first two letters of information is everything inisev.com.

[00:24:10] Nathan Wrigley: Okay.

[00:24:10] Nick Ahmann: You’re just gonna see our whole range of products.

[00:24:13] Nathan Wrigley: Just outline them, just say what they are again.

[00:24:15] Nick Ahmann: Okay. The main other products are follow it, which is a news platform, which also web admins can use to put a subscription form on their site so people can subscribe and then automatically get updated whenever a new post is published. My popups is a service where you can put the so much loved popups and banners. They don’t have to be annoying if you do it the right way, at the right time. Not right directly in your face, doesn’t have to be annoying. And also this, cookie notices are covered there as well. So, which are legal requirement, at least in the EU.

So, and we have also a tracking app, which basically allows you to track anything you want in your life. Where manual data entry is not much of a hassle, so you can track things and then analyze correlations. So see if you work out that day, if that has an impact on your sleep and find things out about yourself. So nothing related to WordPress at all.

[00:25:08] Nathan Wrigley: And the one that is the one that probably I would be most drawn to is your back up and restore plugin? What’s that one called?

[00:25:14] Nick Ahmann: Backup migration.

[00:25:15] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. For reasons that I can’t quite explain every single time I find a backup and restore plugin, I’m totally drawn to trying it out, but I haven’t tried yours out yet.

[00:25:24] Nick Ahmann: You have to, if you appreciate speed, apparently which you do, then please try it out because it is very fast.

[00:25:29] Nathan Wrigley: Well, Nick, thank you for joining me on the podcast. Really appreciate it.

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