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Casper Voogt, Plethora: “AI is going to continue seeping into the web development space”

Content management systems or CMS, enable everyday users to create websites without having to spend time learning programming languages.

With CMS apps, users are able to tinker with a variety of features like editing, creating, and publishing content. They are commonly used for web content management (WCM) and enterprise content management (ECM).

There are tons of different CMSs available on the market today, but some stand out more than others. For instance – Plethora. Today we are speaking with its President, Casper Voogt, to gain more knowledge in the web development field.

What has your journey been like? How did the idea of Plethora come about?

I went to undergraduate school at Georgia Tech in the late ’90s and was surrounded by dot-com mania. I studied architecture and the campus IT center was across the street, and I found myself over there often, dabbling in Unix, learning HTML, then CSS, then JavaScript, then PHP, and so on. I gradually became interested in open-source Content Management Systems and ran some websites for student organizations, friends of family, and acquaintances, and after a few years that grew into a steady side hustle. I kept this up through grad school and four years of working full-time, first at a large architecture firm in Atlanta and then another one in Amsterdam.

While in Atlanta I worked on Plethora with my brother, Jesse, and in 2003 we first launched the Plethora website and set it up as a company, and came up with the name. The idea behind the name was that we wanted to convey that customers can expect a dedication to detail and service after the sale, i.e. they get a ‘plethora’ of things when they work with us, more than they might with other vendors. During my time in Amsterdam (2004-2008), I realized I needed to work for myself full-time, and after closely watching the numbers for two years, I quit my day job and focused entirely on Plethora; this was in 2005.

I was very fortunate to have a stable of customers around the world and a few in Amsterdam so that when I relocated to the DC area in 2008 I could continue with that same network, and build on that. The DC region provided new opportunities since there is a great mix of federal contracting and private enterprise here. That has really benefited Plethora.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do? What are the main challenges you help navigate?

Our core focus is on Content Management System (CMS) development and support. We help site owners get the most out of their site’s CMS. Many companies don’t have full-time webmasters, or their marketing teams are too busy to edit or adjust the website, or there are technical issues that they wouldn’t want to hire someone full-time for but would contract with someone to get resolved. We fill that gap for companies and organizations, not just with the initial need but in a long-term relationship. Some of our customers go back over a decade.

What are some of the main changes have you witnessed in the web development field throughout the decades?

I started web development right before graphical browsers were a thing. I saw the evolution from table-driven layouts to responsive design, a move from plain HTML sites to CMSes, a move from CMSes to SaaS and cloud-based website solutions, social media, and more recently the rise of AI for content editing.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work?

We have been working from home for many years, so not much changed in that regard. Work has been steady, sometimes busier than pre-Covid times. Some customers seemed to want to bargain more aggressively than pre-Covid – not sure why.

In your opinion, what details are often overlooked when developing a website?

Something I come across often when we take over site maintenance is that the customer had recently revamped their site and they or their developers changed a bunch of URLs, causing numerous 404 “Page not found” errors. It seems that very often little thought is paid to ensuring existing URLs will continue to function after a redesign. Of course, in some cases, a 404 would be appropriate, but most of the time it isn’t.Another item is performance. Many times we take over site maintenance and notice little attention was paid to site performance. For example, there could be pages that load several multi-megabyte images, when a 100 Kb image might do just fine. For us, such things are not to be ignored; they are part of our standard operating procedure.

What security features do you think are essential for websites nowadays?

Two-factor authentication for any admin accounts, SSL by default (ideally with HTTP entirely disabled), changing passwords regularly, and keeping up with software updates (e.g. WordPress plugins, Drupal modules).

Talking about average Internet users, what details do you think everyone should be especially vigilant about when browsing? Are there any security tools that you would like to recommend?

Use a VPN, private browsing, and consider using the Tor browser, especially because that is much more privacy-oriented than Chrome Incognito or Firefox Private mode. Use a password manager to save your passwords, keep a separate password for every service, and make sure they are complex 16+ character passwords. Use biometric authentication when possible (e.g. for your bank or investing accounts).

What predictions do you have for the future of web development and the design landscape?

AI is going to continue seeping into this space. There have already been some experiments that can generate an entire website using a simple wizard. I expect that will maybe compete with SaaS/cloud offerings like Wix and Squarespace, but there will always be a market for professional, human insight and support to get organizations’ messages to their target audiences.

What does the future hold for Plethora?

We’re working on some new ideas including creating WordPress plugins for the mass market, as opposed to custom plugins that we make for paying customers. It’s a different business model, but one that can augment our existing one.

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