Six months ago, the team behind WP All Import and Oxygen opened Poopy.life to the public, a service that offers free unlimited WordPress installs for anyone who needs a temporary testing site. Public testing went well enough that a commercial tier of the service is now available at WPSandbox.io, with plans ranging from $49/month – $699/month, depending on the number of installs required.
“On any given day we have around 3-4K active installs,” WP All Import team lead Joe Guilmette said. “We actually got around 7K the first day and the infrastructure didn’t go down. So we were pretty stoked.”
Guilmette said a few plugin and theme shops are using the service and one developer even wrote a script to iframe their poopy.life installs for use in their theme demos.
“We’ll probably put a stop to that at some point, but it was pretty cool to see,” Guilmette said. “Tons of people use it for testing plugins, themes, and just all sorts of general WordPress testing. We’ve been using this internally for years, and every time we’d fire up localhost or a testing install, it’s just faster to use poopy.life.”
Pro users get all the convenience of Poopy.life under the more business-friendly wpsandbox.pro domain with a dashboard to manage installs, SSH and SFTP access to their installs, and the ability to hot-swap between PHP versions. Having Poopy.life open to the public has given the team an opportunity to address any remaining pain points with hosting thousands of test installs.
“Since launching poopy.life everything has actually been pretty smooth,” Guilmette said. “We’ve already been using various versions of this internally to sell millions of dollars worth of plugins over the last five years. So it’s already been hacked to pieces, DDoSed, etc. We’ve already been through all that.”
When the team first started Poopy.life as an internal project for WP All Import, they had a difficult time trying to host it on a VPS with the requirement of isolating installs from each other without any professional systems administrators on board.
“We were getting hacked all the time, so we started using CloudLinux, the same software that a lot webhosts use for their shared hosting servers,” Guilmette said. “This also prevents resource hogging, where someone could start mining bitcoin and then everyone’s installs would take forever to load.
“Then came the spammers, using their installs to send out email spam. So we learned we had to discard e-mail silently while allowing scripts that expect e-mail to be available to still function correctly.
“Once we went on that whole journey, it was kind of a no-brainer to share this tool with everyone else. We’ve been through a lot of pain in building this platform, and in opening this up to the public we hope we can help others avoid those same issues.”
The team now has two systems administrators on call 24/7 to get the service back up and running quickly if anything breaks.
WP Sandbox Service is Aimed at Theme and Plugin Developers
In the past six months since opening Poopy.life to the public, Guilmette’s team has learned several valuable lessons in how to market the commercial service.
“We use the Sandbox for so many different things, so the in the beginning the temptation was to kind of market it to everyone who we thought would find it useful,” Guilmette he said. “We didn’t find a whole lot of success, and are now focusing on plugin and theme developers. It’s helped us so much for WP All Import and Oxygen – everything from increasing sales to making tech support much easier by giving users isolated places they can reproduce problems. We know plugin and theme developers need this tool, so it makes the most sense for us to focus our marketing directly at them.”
Having a way to allow users to try a product like Oxygen before purchasing will be particularly useful in the Gutenberg era, where many users are unsure about the differences between what core will offer and what a site building product can bring to the table. Guilmette and his team are optimistic about what Gutenberg will bring to the customization experience.
“We can’t wait for it to ship in core,” Guilmette said. “I think a lot of the negativity about Gutenberg is from folks who make page builders and view it as competition. But Oxygen is a site builder, not a page builder (i.e. you design headers, footers, etc.). We don’t see Oxygen as competition; we think it will enhance the Oxygen experience. We think Gutenberg is great, and are excited to see some other talented teams out there working hard to make WordPress easier to use for everyone.”
He said his team is hoping to provide a Gutenberg component that users can drop into Oxygen and then edit that area of the site with Gutenberg. Having a sandboxed version of this available for users to test will help them to understand how the product works before purchasing.
Regardless of whether or not WP Sandbox takes off with other WordPress product companies, WP All Import and Oxygen have benefited from bringing sandboxing to the sales experience and continue to make use of the architecture the team has developed.
“We generally avoid big, coordinated releases,” Guilmette said. “We prefer to slowly build a product around a group of slowly growing users. If you release a finished product to the world, chances are you spent too much money making something no one wants.
“It hasn’t paid for itself yet, but that’s to be expected. We have enough users to make us optimistic, and some very exciting customers in the onboarding process. Once we get a few big names using it and other plugin developers realize the benefits of using it, we think it will take off.”