Storytime: WooThemes Playground

It’s been a minute since I last worked on Woo products, but being part of Automattic I still keep track of what Woo is working on.

It’s really great to see offering test sites in a sandboxed environment again! It’s such a useful feature, and I think it’ll help drive folks to use Woo products more than before.

Who remembers that Woo actually had a feature like this many years ago? It was called the WooThemes Playground 🙂

How do I know this? Well, I built it 🙂

The WooThemes Playground Stack

At the time it was the 3rd biggest WordPress multisite installation, to my knowledge, after and Edublogs, peaking at just under 40000 sites. It might have been more than this before we shut it down, because that was the last time I was able to successfully open phpMyAdmin before it crashed every time I loaded it!

Some fun facts about it;

  • It had just under 40,000 sites at last count.
  • When someone signed up it spawned around 10 new tables per subsite.
  • That meant the entire database had around 400000 tables.
  • This was hosted on a single VPS instance.
  • I was the only one maintaining it for almost all its lifespan.
  • Cobus Bester did the signup design which was implemented as a single index.php theme (called “playground”) with a stylesheet plus assets.
  • We didn’t do any fancy logic for the signup, we simply directed the form action to POST to and and let WordPress handle the logic.
  • The subsites were supposed to have been deleted every 14 days through a scheduled event (I think I wrote a network activated plugin for this)
  • However, this was not a great solution as it didn’t log success/failure properly, at least in our case it didn’t 🙂
  • By the time we found that out, the site was so big, so we just decided to leave it!
  • It turns out that people were using it to showcase sites to clients even thought the sites were supposed to have been deleted.
  • It was a fun experience, but gave us a lot of frustration as it crashed a lot.
  • I learnt a lot hosting a multisite installation that large.

I grabbed some screenshots of what the signup pages looked like from the Way Back Machine.

One response

  1. This was a fun project, with such a clear impact for customers. The ability to see their future site in a few minutes, and to tinker and set up a theme before purchase, brings lots of confidence and comfort to a purchase.

    Comfort, to my mind, is one of the three desires any product should fill for a customer; comfort, surprise, and completion.

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