When the WP Ninjas launched Ninja Forms in 2010, many people dismissed the plugin, saying there was no way it would be able to compete with Gravity Forms, the dominant commercial product in that space.
Fast forward two years, and Ninja Forms is now being downloaded over 34,000 times every month from WordPress.org. WP Ninjas has just under 6,000 customers who have purchased one or more of their 28 add-ons. Ninja Forms alone is now a $28,000+ a month business and the Ninjas are setting out on a new adventure with the launch of Ninja Demo this week.
WordPress products of all kinds will often require a live demo, but so far there is no easy way to create and maintain demo sites for potential customers.
Ninja Demo aims to address this need by providing a complete demo solution that includes access restrictions, isolated sandboxes, automated cleanup, user role control, easy content updating, and more. The WP Ninjas are the first ones in the WordPress community to tackle this problem with a convenient solution.
Identifying the Need for Better WordPress Product Demos
James Laws, who partners with Kevin Stover to form WP Ninjas, said that their experience with Ninja Forms was a source of inspiration for Ninja Demo. “Our own demo for Ninja Forms was causing us a lot of grief,” he said. “The content was getting out of date, and updating it was such a circus act that we had a hard time feeling motivated. So the demo remained out of date.”
The second major problem they had is one that is quite common among WordPress product demos:
Users were stepping on each other’s toes because they were all working with the same content. Five users trying to modify the same product settings at the same time pretty much ensured it didn’t work for any of them. This makes the product look buggy, or worse, broken from their perspective. That wasn’t good for business.
They decided to research to find a better solution but their efforts were futile. The Ninjas discovered that nearly everyone was clumsily creating their own demo sites from spare parts:
Almost every WordPress demo was set up exactly like ours: content restoration on an interval, spaghetti code, and plugins to accomplish restrictions and other functionality. We decided the community deserved better than that.
Ninja Demo was born to unify all the disparate code that was previously slapped together to create demo sites.
Ninja Demo Uses Multisite and the WordPress Heartbeat API to Create Demo Sites
The architecture behind Ninja Demo is mostly custom built, with a little borrowed code from the NS Cloner plugin to help with the sandbox-creation. Ninja Demo is fully self contained, but it can also be extended with other plugins and the team plans to start releasing enterprise add-ons, such as reporting, within the next two or three weeks.
In the past, many people used plugins that would back up the demo site and restore it at an interval, but Laws and Stover found that these plugins still suffer from the problem of every user working with the same content at the same time. All changes are lost once the backup interval comes around.
Ninja Demo tackles the problem by making use of the multisite functionality in WordPress. “You set up everything that you want to run on your demo site as the main site within the network,” Laws explained. “Then, when a user goes to try out your demo, Ninja Demo will create another site which is an exact duplicate of the main site. We call these sandboxes.”
Each sandbox is only visible to the specific user and Laws detailed for us how Ninja Demo is able to automatically create and remove sandboxes using the WordPress Heartbeat API:
The other great thing is that this sandbox remains alive as long as the user keeps it open in their browser. Using the WordPress heartbeat API, we check to see if the sandbox is still “active” and as long as it is, it remains available. Once the user leaves the demo or closes their browser, Ninja Demo will start the expiration process and the sandbox will be deleted within the hour. This means no mess is ever left behind, and the database is kept lean and clean.
Essentially, Ninja Demo is programmed to clean up after itself so it won’t bloat your demo site into a horrible monster. This unique solution makes use of functionality that is already built into WordPress. For live examples you can view the directory of products that are already utilizing Ninja Demo.
The Future of Ninja Demo
While the WordPress product market is increasing, those in need of demo sites are still a very small segment compared to Ninja Forms’ much larger reach. Nevertheless, the WP Ninjas have big plans to launch the Reporting, Marketing and Guided Tours add-ons for demo sites before the end of the year. “Our hope is that these add-ons will make Ninja Demo so much more than a demo plugin and turn it into a tool to make WordPress products better,” Laws said.
WP Ninjas is primarily a WordPress plugin development shop but they plan to add a few SAAS products in the future and will continue to release more plugins. “We love WordPress and the community,” Laws told the Tavern. “So as long as we can create products the community loves and uses, we will keep innovating.”