WordPress: Users or Losers

WordPress Blogging Background

Administering a WordPress site isn’t easy, and for anyone new to the application that is expecting a straightforward website building experience, they’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise. Whenever dealing with WordPress, it’s always important to remember its original purpose, publishing. That means whether you planned for it or not, user management is a fundamental skill that’s required if you want to have any success with WordPress. So what’s the best way to handle it?

Authentication

The best place to start is understanding the method by which people can access your site. Because WordPress’s core functionality is blogging, the application offers individuals outside of an organization the ability to create profiles, enabling users to follow posts and make comments. Any additional capabilities that are available to these users are managed by the site’s Administrator, which might be a new responsibility for anyone transitioning from Wix or Squarespace.

It all starts with deciding if visitors can create a profile. Yes, that’s correct, admins can toggle the ability for outsiders to create profiles by entering the Settings – General, menu, and checking, or unchecking, the “Anyone can register” option.

WordPress Setting Screen
The Membership Option in General Settings

If administrators decide to enable users to create profiles, it’s a best practice to install additional features that provide assistance with user management. Anti-span tools, as well as adding a second level of authentication, are the first steps in hardening access to WordPress. One of our favorite plugins on this topic is Simple Google reCAPTCHA by Michal Novak.

Setting up a Google Recaptcha Account will take some work, but the effectiveness of the plugin is great, and it’s free to use. ReCAPTCHA technology adds a puzzle to areas of WordPress that contain forms, asking users to complete basic interactions before being able to submit the data. Its addition to the profile creation and contact forms do a great job of preventing an explosion in fake users.

Authorization

After making sure the only people who can access WordPress are authentic, the next step is making sure they aren’t authorized to carry out any nefarious deeds. Every authenticated user is assigned a set of privileges called Capabilities. Capabilities determine if users are able to carry out certain tasks, like creating posts or adding users. Most user’s capabilities are predetermined based on which Role the user has been assigned.

Roles are categories of users that almost all applications use to quickly assign permissions to users. In the case of WordPress, most roles relate to publishing duties, like Author, Editor, and Contributor, but the default Role for new profiles is set to Subscriber. With that in mind, it’s not enough to simply have awareness of Roles, administrators have to know how to manage them.

As more plugins are added to a site, they create a variety of new Roles during the installation process. The plugins create these roles because the preinstalled ones are related to publishing, making them insufficient for their needs. At RTR Digital, we rely on Members, by MemberPress, to manage the Roles within our site.

Accounting

Lastly, there is accounting. Most people always associate the term, “accounting,” with money, but in IT, we use it in a different manner. When it comes to user management, accounting is about creating a log of interactions so administrators can associate them to individual users. For example, if a user changes their password, the application records that action in its log. Later, if that user has an issue with their credentials, the application has a method to show the last time changes were made.

Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t offer a native feature for accounting, so a plugin is your only option for adding it to the application. Our recommendation is Simple History by Par Thernstrom. Simple History is a lightweight plugin that creates a log of any significant actions in WordPress and displays them on the Dashboard. Adding the Simple History plugin to WordPress will quickly open your eyes to the volume of bad actors in the IT space. Simply tracking the number of times a hacker tries to log in as “admin” will blow your mind, and give you a new perspective on the importance of security.

User Security

In fact, everything in this article is about providing a basic level of security to WordPress. It’s the responsibility of every administrator to provide their users with a level of security that keeps them safe. Even if you aren’t a security expert, the plugins mentioned in this article will get you heading in the right direction.

Information on important topics, like user management, is just a portion of the critical topics we cover in our WordPress Essentials eLearning. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.

WordPress Essentials Preview

WordPress: Your Time is Now

WordPress Blogging Background

Let me start by saying that I was never a fan of WordPress until Gutenberg. Considering the massive installed base of the application, that probably comes as a shock to most WordPress fans. So the fact I’m now putting so much effort into furthering its installation base is as big of a surprise to me, as it is to you. So what changed my mind?

Developing Dominance

Making a website building application that everyone can use is no easy feat, and WordPress has shown signs of early success by tackling the more difficult problems novice developers face. When it comes to developing website builders, handling developers of different skill levels, entering the application at different development points, creates a specific set of problems.

From a development perspective, website building applications develop in only one of two ways. One, they start where developers are writing pure HTML, and work their way towards a consumer-friendly, drag-n-drop method. Two, they begin as a drag-n-drop application, supposedly requiring no coding knowledge, and have to introduce developer-level tools to assist users down the road.

The problems these processes introduce are unique to both users and developers during the application’s transitional periods, and WordPress had always suffered from the former. As a developer, it was easy to build elaborate sites using built-in hooks, shortcode, and splash in a bit of custom HTML, completing the build process, but novice website developers struggled mightily.

Introducing Gutenberg

Once a website building applications choose a development path, for better or worse, they’re locked into that path until the end. WordPress’s ability to deliver a simplified blogging experience has always been its strong point, but design needs outside of that have been a bit of a pain point.

Introduction to The Block Editor

Beginners’ frustrations have always seemed to revolve around a single issue, the lack of a native page layout builder. Hearing the forum cries of, “I need a WordPress Expert,” in combination with the success of page builders, like Elementor, the WordPress Team officially integrated the Block Editor in WordPress version 5.0.

As I mentioned earlier, it was after the deployment of Gutenberg, now referred to as the Block Editor, that I began thinking WordPress would finally reach its potential. Until the Block Editor, I couldn’t imagine how users would ever escape the endless battle with broken themes and one-time support requests.

A Case for WordPress

If you were holding out on deciding which application to use to build your online presence, I’m here to throw my endorsement behind WordPress in 2020. Because of COVID-19, there has never been a better time to either, start an online business, or increase an existing business’s online exposure.

Whether you’re looking to make some money running ads on a food blog, sell your jewelry through an e-commerce platform, or enable online ordering for your food truck, WordPress is the place to start. Me, seeing WordPress only a couple more features away from total world domination, already decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon.

If you need an exact starting point, we’re happy to help. RTR Learning, a division of RTR Digital, has developed an eLearning course focusing on helping you get WordPress off the ground. You can find more information about the course by clicking here.

Why Automation is Taking Your Job

Robot Worker

Do you do know the difference between administrative work and gruntwork? Administrative work primarily consists of entering data and maintaining records, a task that doesn’t require decision making as much as it does following directions. Gruntwork is often tedious, repetitive, and lacks glamour, but still requires at least a small amount of skill or decision-making ability. Computers can only successfully replace one type of worker we just mentioned, which means if you work an administrative job, prepare for unemployment.

The Problem with Admin Work

DMV Logo

I admit my recent interaction at the California DMV inspired this post. I’m not writing this to pick on the DMV; it was just the perfect catalyst to begin a discussion about the impact of automation in the workforce.  My particular experience happens to be the perfect example of problems plaguing administrative work, and are the driving forces behind corporations pushing out more employees in favor of artificial intelligence and automated kiosks.

Humans tend to be okay with a lack of perfection, and when it comes to administrative work, that’s a problem. When someone calls someone else a “perfectionist,” it usually carries a negative connotation with it, implying a certain amount of annoyance with their inability to let things slide between the cracks. When your job primarily consists of maintaining and updating of records, which administration jobs do, organizations strive for perfection; something humans can’t deliver.

While computers will refuse to move to the next step of a process without proper verification, humans tend to find ways to complete processes that they shouldn’t always complete. In my case, I wanted to change the address on a drivers license that I had recently lost. A process that started smoothly, but went south because of a common problem when dealing with humans – Improper Verification

Improper Verification

Checklist

The first step in all administrative work is verification for eligibility. Whether you’re ordering food, calling into customer service, or applying for a car loan, there’s always some form of verification. McDonald’s takes your payment before preparing your food, agents verify your identity before discussing confidential information, and financiers run your credit before giving you a loan. All of the previously mentioned actions serve as verification of eligibility. The DMV is no different.

As a patron of the DMV, I had followed all the verification steps required to speak to a window agent.

– I checked in at the front desk.

– I completed the form to get my confirmation number.

– I returned to the front to get my service number.

– I waited patiently for my number to be called.

When they called my number, I approached the counter, the agent asked for my printed paperwork and began processing the request without asking any questions.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly as the final paperwork began printing, and after confirming its accuracy, I signed it. Then the agent finally asks, “what were you changing on your license?” “My address,” I replied. After quickly checking the address on my previous license, she explains it’s impossible to change my address to without a piece of mail displaying my new address.

I wondered how this could happen. There were plenty of opportunities for someone to catch a mistake in the verification process.

– There was a human at the door, who I explained to in detail the purpose of my visit. They handed me a form with checkboxes that could verify the documentation requirements, but didn’t ask about or mention that I needed any of them.

– There was another person at the testing center who I specifically called over to my kiosk to ask about my situation. They explained the need for me to select “replacement” from the drop-down menu to address the situation accurately, generated my confirmation number, and moved me along.

– Then there was the window agent, who didn’t ask any questions until the final step of the interaction. Upon realizing the error, I was sure I would be handed back my paperwork and told to return when I had the proper documentation. Instead, they reverted the information on the form to my old address and completed the request. There’s only one way this could happen – Inadequate Training

Inadequate Training

If I were on a computer, this would have never happened. A web designer would have placed a checkbox next to the change of address field that would have required me to upload the required number of documents (PDF or JPEG) to the website before continuing to the next step. Instead, a government employee just agreed to send my government ID to an outdated address, with obsolete information, well-knowing the requirements for this kind of document. I had just completed a process in a way that was detrimental to myself and the State of California. How?

As with all large organizations, a lack of a scalable training solution is most likely the culprit. Properly training employees is an expensive endeavor that doesn’t produce an objective return on investment dollars, and it is impossible to scale without serious investment. Taking the previous factors into consideration, it’s easy to see why organizations consider replacing employees with machines. They have a fixed cost of operation, accurately perform their tasks regardless of emotional factors, and have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.

As someone who works at a company that specializes in digital learning solutions for situations like these, I was interested in seeing how poorly the system was constructed. The easiest way to confirm a lack of employee training is with the third problem that arises from humans performing administrative work –  Dissemination of Misinformation

Dissemination of Misinformation

To rectify the situation, I went home and did some research on the California DMV’s website, which wasn’t overly specific about the process, but provided me with most of what I needed. I knew I needed address verification documents, and since I was told that a leasing agreement would work, I made the poor assumption one document would do the trick. I then jumped by back in my car to do the unthinkable, make a second trip to the DMV in a single day. This time I was going with the intention of understanding what methods are available to fix this situation.

Upon arrival, I stopped at the same checkpoint designed to provide the first line of verification. After explaining my situation in detail again, the employee did a very noble thing, admitted they didn’t know the answer but committed to finding one for me. Great. They left for about five minutes, and while still in view, I saw them have a lengthy conversation with a person who seemed like they were very knowledgeable. They returned with a particular set of instructions:

– Return to the specific window where you were helped [because they had previously taken my money]

– Have them void the application

– Resubmit the application

I was surprised by the confidence in the solution, and I walked right over to window 27 to have it done. When I reached the window, it was a different story. I handed the agent the instructions, and they immediately seemed frustrated. They asked aloud, “Why would they send you back here when they know I’ll need their codes to do this?” I thought to myself; at least it can be done.

The agent disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with bad news; I need two pieces of mail to complete the process. Considering they were the person that told me a single document, the leasing agreement, would suffice, I thought the newfound reasoning was strange. When I explained my concern, the agent left again for about five minutes, this time returning with a different answer. The number of documents was no longer the issue, I had to wait until I received the card before I can change the address. Again, strange considering their website displays a specific note that reads:

“If you have applied for a REAL ID Compliant driver license or identification card and not received your card, you must visit a DMV field office, complete a Change of Address (DMV 14) form, and present proof of residency to change your address.”

I’m just a simple man that follows directions, which I was doing, so I was beginning to get frustrated. The situation seemed to be turning towards one where I perceived my request was too inconvenient, and no one wanted to provide the level of “customer service” required to resolve the situation. Which brings us to the heart of the problem -Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service Rep

What we all perceive as customer services is a series of steps designed to resolve human errors that arise from improper verification steps, inadequate training, and misinformation. Somewhere along the way, a mistake was made. It might be on the customer’s side or the vendor’s side.  Either way, how disputes are resolved determines how people view your brand. More importantly, they determine the value we place on the people responsible for interacting on an organization’s behalf.

When people perceive their time or money is being wasted, they’re unlikely to place a high value on the people with whom they interact, or on the services, they provide. When this happens, people are no longer an asset for an organization and become a detractor. When enough people are viewed as detractors, organizations have to decide if human interactions are worth the time and money they consume.

Ultimately, we question the value of humans every time they don’t tell us we’ve signed up for a trial service, or are getting an introductory price. We want better technology every time we lose our phones, and the person at the store won’t transfer our contacts because we aren’t buying anything. We want people fired when they open fake accounts to hit management quotas. Every time an employee does what’s easy, instead of what’s right, they are one step closer to losing their job to a machine.