Using P2 for (Certain) Client Communication

P2 ThemeIn my world, my inbox is my second biggest frustration, right after poor/inconsiderate communication of any form. I tried my extreme method of checking my inbox for a while, but it didn’t last more than a week in this form. It wasn’t realistic to go hours into the day not knowing that someone had changed their mind about a change overnight.

Why e-mail isn’t ideal for projects

Then new issues in my inbox started to become more frustrating. I learned in my last corporate job to not start with the oldest messages because someone usually took the reins or put an end to a thread by the time I got to my desk since many people had company laptops and worked from home after hours. Recently, I noticed several e-mails from people that looked like they were ready for an answer with the latest send, but there was information in the first message that was missing in all of the others.

In the end, in order to answer any e-mail from someone or for a project, I have to read all of the messages before responding to anything. My brain is too full for that. It simply doesn’t work that way with all of the other floating points that are informational spinning plates. I miss things. Wires get crossed because one thing overwrites a change made moments earlier, sometimes irretrievably.

That’s where P2 comes in

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of using P2 as a way for each client to work through a project with me in a linear fashion with each item getting its own thread to follow and resolve. I’ve tried BaseCamp and I did’t like it. By the time I was done with a project of any length, I was ready to be institutionalized.

For those of you who don’t know what P2 is, it’s the blog theme that the developers of WordPress at Automattic use to communicate with their team and with core contributor users across the globe, so to say it’s effective is an understatement.

Personally, I didn’t yet have the experience to build a site like that because it involves multisite, a particular install of WordPress that I’ve avoided like the plague until October 2013. I started a pet project for long-term income that uses multisite and I have learned a lot since then.

Setup of multisite for P2

Installing multisite is the easy part for me, since I am a big user of WP Engine and they have a world-class, security-minded installer that has the option when you create an instance to create a multisite install right out of the gate. It may take some massaging of the domain settings to get it just right, but you should be able to get it up and running on a subdomain of one of your primary domains without too much trouble. Soon the fun begins.

I use subfolder sites instead of subdomains because my P2 multisite is a subdomain, so I want each install to be a subfolder. That requires an edit to the .htaccess file and the wp-config.php file (down at the bottom), besides the multiple domain name items throughout.

It should be noted that the Network Setup in your multisite will show a slightly different chunk than this if you’re on WP Engine. The chunk is already there, so you just need to modify what’s there based on your hosting. Line 1 isn’t in Network Setup, but it’s in my wp-config.php file.

Ready for fun? Plugins! Here is the set of plugins I have running on my business P2. It’s pretty bare-bone as far as installs go, but it’s very powerful for what you need to accomplish – and by all means, P2 is new enough to me that I’m open to great suggestions.

I only have P2 and the WooThemes child theme, Houston, so I have Default Theme (premium) to select Houston for new installs so it doesn’t default to a non-existent Twenty-fourteen theme.

P2 Likes by the great Scott Basgaard is there so I can like a post without commenting (and creating an e-mail).

P2 Resolved Posts is a way for me to track what’s remaining. If my client remembers, it is already that way by the time I get there, but it’s not an issue at all. It creates a widget you an put in the sidebar, so I can quickly look to see what’s open if it’s a long-term project with dozens or hundreds of posts.

Subscribe 2 allows us to be notified by e-mail of new posts with it set with checkboxes and users defaulted to be subscribed. It’s for posts, not comments to posts, so I also use Subscribe to Comments Reloaded, also with checkboxes defaulted to subscribe. See update at the bottom for a replacement plugin.

I’ve used Trusted Only on all of my staging sites for a long time now and it works great to block people from seeing the content at all unless they’re logged in.

Who’s Online creates a widget so I know if I can expect a reply any time soon. I really like this plugin’s simplicity and function.

When you put all of these together, you get a homepage that looks like this.

I already have six P2 sites fully ready and adding a new one only takes a few minutes, though I’m sure that I’ll find a faster way in the near future. I expect to see my inbox switch to a notification center for P2s rather than a mess of 20 threads with 6-30 messages each now.

Hit me – do you like this idea to break free from your inbox as a to-do list for projects, especially ones with multiple parties?

Update – 01.10.2014

I’ve switched out the two subscribe plugins for P2 by Email. It handles both subscriptions to the posts and the comments AND allows you to reply or post via e-mail if you’ve got access to WP-CLI or Apache cron jobs.

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Comments

  1. says

    Jesse,

    Excellent article & timely, too. I’m planning to do this same thing for my clients this year. I’ve got a couple of questions for you if you don’t mind.

    1) You’re using Trusted Only to keep the client sites nice & private, right? I’m curious if you looked at alternatives to that. I saw “More Privacy Options” and Network Privacy mentioned as good multisite tools for doing this. Did you come across these in setting this up?

    2) Wow – I just ADD’d bigtime & can’t think of the second question.

    Great work, man. I’d love to hear how this works out over time. I’m hoping it helps me. The last two months of client interaction via email has been absolutely crazy. It has to get better or I’ll pull what’s left of my hair out.

    • says

      Thanks for dropping by. I was just in my P2 wrapping up a task and getting feedback on another to start another video edit. I’m loving this.

      Re: privacy. I hadn’t seen those but I was also considering using a redirect on my main P2 site to my business site so the P2 appears to be invisible but allowing subfolders might be tricky then. I was having a huge brain fart yesterday trying to remember one that I’d seen that doesn’t drop you into the login form but was coming up blank, so I’ll definitely check those out and update this if they are better for me.

      E-mail is why we keep our hair high and tight, eh? Can’t pull what you can’t grab hold of. I guess that’s why I mess with my beard all day now, though.

      • says

        Jesse,

        Glad I was able to give you some options. You’ve given me a bunch to think about with this write-up. I’d love to jump on Google Hangouts sometime to collaborate & brainstorm on this idea.

        For instance – Subscribe2 has a multisite option in the user’s dashboard where they can subscribe to different blogs. How did you handle that? ( Or did I miss something in my setup? ) I found a section of the plugin & commented out the code for that part of the dashboard. So far, nothing broke by me doing that.

        I’m about to wrap up my current projects, so I’m excited to sign a new one so I can implement this fully. :-)

        Cheers!

        • says

          I’m game for that. I’ve got 2 calls today, which is call heavy for me. Tomorrow or Friday is good with me.

          Yes, there is an option in each one to subscribe to the others, so I’m actually interested in removing that option because I don’t want clients to subscribe to the other sites, but perhaps I’m only seeing them because I’m a SuperAdmin and have a user in each site. If that’s the case, I’ll leave it alone and use one interface to subscribe to all quickly. I think I make about 6 changes to the settings per site, so a settings export/import sure would be nice, but not a necessity.

  2. says

    Thanks for writing this up, Jesse. A project that I finished in December was also in Basecamp. I really was on the brink of being institutionalized. Ask my wife.

    Do you have any pushback from clients in adopting this? I could see a few digging their heels in.

    • says

      No one has yet. It’s a simple login I send them. The only pain is that we can’t just hop on e-mail to send a note, but that’s not really the purpose, to cut out all e-mails from them. The purpose is more to not get to-do lists or working through revisions in the inbox.

      The site shown in the post is now 7 threads and 37 comments, with all threads resolved. My inbox doesn’t have any to-do items for that project.

  3. says

    Hi Jesse:

    Thanks for sharing your misery with email, and sharing a great solution for being effective with your core work. Though I am not a “WP guy” (though I am always thinking about all of the technologies I use) I can still appreciate the simplicity and collaborative nature of what you have developed.

    I had once used BaseCamp and found an open source off-shoot of it called Active Collab, which is now a commercial project, but the original open version has worked well for me on some projects.

    The challenge with these type of tools is driving people towards them. In the current “scenario” I am in now, I can’t enforce that, and need to use email. Despite this, managing my inbox to zero and keeping to-do lists outside of email works best for me – it was something I came upon years ago, and though it takes work, it feels good when it’s clean.. for the few seconds it is.

    mp/m

    • says

      Yes, that driving force is a sticking point and one that led me to own my own data rather than use Asana (the majority of the Twitter discussion about the article) since I was going to be making a push, some push.

      My issue is my inbox zero only lasts a couple of days because it… becomes my to-do list the second the requests come in faster than my ability to clear them, which is usually 36 hours. :)

      Mainly, it seems like neither of us are satisfied to be stuck and always look for optimization. That’s one of my 3 words this year for the post I am still writing.

  4. says

    Thanks for posting this Jesse, it’s always enlightening to see what others are doing.

    I really like the idea. Right now I use one Trello board for a project and get the client to post everything there. Trello is pretty okay, but not perfect.

    Like many developers I think about building my own solution.

    I should give this P2 thing a try with a couple projects to really see what I think of it.

    • says

      I switched out the 2 subscribe plugins with a P2 e-mail plugin (just search P2 from Add New plugins) and killed 2 birds with one stone.

  5. says

    Hi Jesse,
    Excellant writeup

    I have been a longtime user of Basecamp and also Activecollab,
    and tried just about everything else.

    Now I have settled on asana for a while :)

    Yet to try it with clients though..
    Basecamp was good to clients apart from all the notifications….

    Have you got any experience with Asana?

    How long is it you have used P2?

    Have a great day/night

    • says

      I’ve used P2 since WordSesh back in Feb last year. A couple of WordCamp uses, and then doing this project in the article.

      Asana, while it looks great to us, isn’t very ideal to get clients to use it. It’s good for using by yourself and the team, but needs more work to use with clients, IMO.

  6. Dorian Speed says

    You’re a genius! I just had this idea myself based on using p2 for shared communication with a fellow developer about some joint products. I really love how easy it is to share comments on the fly with this theme. Love, love, love that you have explained your setup in this post. This is going to save me massive amounts of time. Thanks!

    • says

      I hate Asana. We’re using it for WordCamp planning and it’s too much for what I do. Overkill. I just need communication in one spot that a client can edit if they sort something out or the rare times I have 2 people working with me. My inbox tends to messy soon.

  7. Felipe Nichole Guantono says

    I know I just posted that as a reply but seriously, y’all – Xtrant was made to kill email. I cannot sing higher praises.