MasterPress Reviewed – A Content Management Plugin for WordPress

Today I'm reviewing the MasterPress plugin from Traversal. MasterPress boosts your productivity by bringing point-and-click simplicity to the more advanced features of WordPress, while introducing amazing new ways to manage your content and develop custom themes for your web sites and apps. This is a very young plugin which has only been around for a few months now. Nonetheless it is very promising, and I thoroughly enjoyed giving it a test drive.

Today I’m reviewing the MasterPress plugin from Traversal. MasterPress boosts your productivity by bringing point-and-click simplicity to the more advanced features of WordPress, while introducing amazing new ways to manage your content and develop custom themes for your web sites and apps.

This is a very young plugin which has only been around for a few months now. Nonetheless it is very promising, and I thoroughly enjoyed giving it a test drive.

MasterPress   A Custom Post Type  Taxonomy  and Custom Field Management Plugin for WordPress

Features & Usage

Masterplan is the term MasterPress uses to describe your complete content management setup. Your site’s masterplan can be backed up, restored, and even exported for use in another WordPress site, letting you replicate a CMS environment in minutes. Thus when you install and activate MasterPress you will see the ‘Masterplan’ item being added to your dashboard menu. Opening that up will reveal a number of other sub pages which include all the plugin’s functionality.

There is a striking similarity between what MasterPress does and Toolset. We’ve reviewed Toolset earlier on and loved it, so it was interesting to compare it with MasterPress.

The Custom Post Type creator is the easiest I’ve ever encountered, you’ve got all the power of custom post types at your fingertips, sans any code. It’s just a case of point and click, really easy. You can also upload an image to serve as the new post types’s thumbnail, and MasterPress will automatically show the grayscale version of it within the menu, as is default behaviour of WordPress’ own default post types. Nifty.

screenshot-edit-post-type
Creating a new post type

There are all the field types you’d expect from a plugin that focuses on custom post type and field creation. But there are also some innovative fields which I haven’t come across in other plugins, such as the spinner (a numeric text input with with increment / decrement arrow buttons). It’s worth note that the plugin authors also made use of top external JavaScript packages such as Select2Iris (for the color picker) and Codemirror.

Of course there are also the relation fields which are another unique feature. You can insert fields such as ‘related post’, ‘related user’ and ‘related site’ amongst others. In all, MasterPress includes over 20 custom field types designed to integrate perfectly with the WordPress dashboard. Now you can tailor WordPress to content–manage just about any web site or app you can imagine, while retaining its legendary ease-of-use.

I am digging the Admin menu editor, which allows you to drag and drop new custom post type menu items you create and select their location within the WordPress dashboard menu.

Admin menu positions
Positioning my new custom post type within the admin menu.

Another UI building feature is the Column builder which allows us to create listing columns in minutes, with drag-and-drop reordering, and integrated support for custom fields and taxonomies.  These columns are shown on the manage listing screen for posts of this type.

Custom columns masterpress
The Column Builder

An area where MasterPress really shines is that of building relationships between post types. Taxonomies can be a fine way to relate objects together in WordPress, but sometimes you need something more direct. The Related objects and object-type fields in MasterPress let you select one or more posts, terms, users, sites (in your multi-site network), post types, taxonomies, and user roles.

screenshot-related-post
Related objects and object-type fields in MasterPress

A lot of attention has been given to the user interface, this was immediately evident when I started to use this plugin. Being a plugin that does do some advanced things with WordPress, but is targeted towards less experienced users, a user friendly interface is essential. And MasterPress does not disappoint in this area. While it was not possible to fit all the plugin’s functions within the WordPress standard UI elements, the developers of MasterPress did a great job of making things seem as familiar as possible, so you never feel like you’re using something that is not native to WordPress.

screenshot-edit-content
Beautiful interface when creating new posts

You get full blown role management functionality as part of MasterPress. Just go to ‘MasterPress > User Roles’ and you will have access to all the registered user roles. You can then edit their capabilities or even create new roles and capabilities. Again good UI practice is observed and the capabilities are neatly categorized into four tabs, as seen below.

Editing user roles
Editing user roles

Documentation & Support

The MasterPress website is well laid out and the documentation section follows in the same vein. There are two branches with regards to documentation, you can choose to use the Getting Started Guide or dive in at the deep end with the Developer Guide. The developer guide mostly covers data access and display topics, while the getting started guide show you how to create custom post types, fields and build relationships between them.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is a blog on the MasterPress website, which includes helpful videos that are recommended watching if you are just starting out with this plugin.

Documentation for MasterPress is of very high standard, and although the plugin is still in its first version, the documentation is complete, detailed and easy to understand.

If you have purchased the Developer licence, you are also entitled to priority support access, which in other words gives you a faster response time to your support requests.

Pricing

Purchase   MasterPress   A Custom Post Type  Taxonomy  and Custom Field Management Plugin for WordPress

MasterPress pricing is based on a three tier structure. Prices shown are in Australian dollars, which are roughly equal to US dollars. We have the $89 Single licence, valid for one site, the $179 Business licence, which includes support for 5 sites, and the $359 Developer licence, which supports unlimited sites, WordPress multi-site, and also comes with priority support access. All of these licences are 1 year licences and are therefore renewed every year at this price.

Customers can renew their licence within the 60 days before the expiration date at 50% of the regular price of the relevant licence, which is a very nice incentive for those who invest in this plugin.

It’s important to note that such plugins are crucial to your website’s functionality, hence it doesn’t really make sense to go without updates, even though you might not need the support. Thus it is worth keeping in mind that you will most probably be renewing the licence fee on a yearly basis to keep everything updated and playing fine with new versions of WordPress. No money pinching is recommended with any premium plugins with regards to updates, especially plugins such as MasterPress which are responsible for so much of your site’s content and functionality.

Conclusion

The first time I came across MasterPress, I immediately saw that it was worth taking note of. After reviewing so many plugins, I have developed an intuition that tells me within a few moments if a plugin is well-made or not. In the case of MasterPress, I was excited right off the bat. First of all, it’s an innovative plugin, tackling a niche that has only recently been opened within the WordPress realm, with plugins like Toolset making a good head start. It’s nice to see a WordPress developer take risks and go into a new area, while many others on the other hand are creating yet another slider plugin. Nothing bad about sliders, but sometimes I feel that as developers we are not really being that innovative, there’s really a lot of unexplored territory with regards to things plugins can do.

Here’s a video I recorded for you, where I go through the plugin’s features and also highlight some of the best UI innovations we find in this plugin

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfYsp_sMOis[/youtube]

As I mentioned earlier, the main competitor to this plugin is Toolset, which has been receiving some rave reviews lately. A lifetime (updates and support) Toolset licence can be had for just $295, which makes it a better price proposition than MasterPress. On the other hand, I found the user interface of MasterPress way more intuitive (and beautiful) than Toolset. Toolset already has quite a bit of traction while MasterPress is the newcomer, but it will be good to see how they will challenge each other going forward.

As a user (and developer), I’m very happy to see more competition in this area, as the WordPress community strives to make not only blogs but complex websites accessible to users with basic knowledge in web development.

MasterPress is useful to both users and developers, however since it still requires some template manipulation (light coding) to display things on the front end, it perhaps is best suited for WordPress developers and designers who also build templates for clients. Clients will love the custom interfaces you will build for them, and as a developer/designer it will speed up things for you immensely.

My final word on MasterPress? I was truly amazed at how well the plugin worked, given that it’s still in it’s first major release (I tested version 1.0.1b3). I have no doubt whatsoever that given the proper backing, this plugin can rapidly become one of the most popular premium plugins for WordPress. The heat is on the competitors now, and with the entry of MasterPress we can say that this niche of code-free WordPress building is officially open.

What are your thoughts about this new breed of plugins that let you create more functionality without delving into code?

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Jean Galea
Jean Galea
Jean Galea is an investor, entrepreneur, and blogger. He is the founder of WP Mayor, the plugins WP RSS Aggregator and Spotlight, as well as the Mastermind.fm podcast. His personal blog can be found at jeangalea.com.

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18 Responses

  1. Thanks Jean. How does the free Pods Framework plugin fare in comparison? Am I right in assuming that the only major difference between Pods and MasterPress is that the latter has a role editing capabilities?

    1. I haven’t taken a deep look at the latest Pods Framework, so I can’t really compare them. From a brief run I’ve given Pods right now, role editing seems to be one of the major differences. I would also re-iterate that MasterPress has an amazing UI and is really user-friendly (probably better for a beginner to intermediate user). Pods or Advanced Custom Fields (another plugin) might be better for the developers out there.

    2. Yep, there are differences in the User Interface certainly, but the developer APIs are quite different as well.

      I’m not a highly experienced Pod user, but I believe it also contains a fairly extensive API of its own that offers its own unique way to build sites, rather than coding against the core WordPress API. From what I know about Pods, they probably have a bit more going on when it comes to building advanced data queries, but MasterPress has benefits in other areas.

      The developer docs contain some interesting material about the MasterPress PHP API, and they’re worth a run through if you have any interest in developer frameworks. http://masterpressplugin.com/docs/developer

      One of my big goals has been to make MasterPress a true end-to-end solution that works well for developers, content teams, and even designers to a degree (much like the way that jQuery opened up JavaScript to more design-centric people). While this plugin doesn’t yet offer a “codeless” way to bring custom fields into templates like Views, the PHP API is my attempt to simplify the PHP code required to do that. Right now I feel it’s a plug-in that’s probably better suited to developers and power users, but I feel there is a good base in version 1 to open it up to other people as well.

  2. Maybe it’s worth mentioning that the Toolset bundle includes Views, which is a templating system for Types, and other tools. From your review I can only guess MasterPress is similar to Types and not the whole Toolset bundle.

    1. MasterPress also has role editing capabilities, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare MasterPress directly with Types only. Toolset is definitely a more mature plugin, but I think MasterPress ultimately has the same goals, which is why I mentioned Toolset in the article. I definitely prefer the MasterPress interface, although functionality wise Toolset is currently quite a bit ahead.

      1. I have not yet used MasterPress, or even had time to fully absorb what they are offering, but I would note that improving an interface is a lot easier than adding advanced functionality. Simple competition means that competing plugins gravitate towards more or less the same interface over time and we already know that Toolset has major interface improvements in the pipeline, built around their existing, fuller functionality set, whereas the MasterPress interface may have to be re-invented several times as they rush to catch up.

        Again, I still have to get my mind around what Masterpress is offering, but my initial impression is that the pricing is way, way off:

        MasterPress for unlimited sites is $399 for the first year (10% discount available during launch) and $199.50 per year thereafter, no refunds but, under certain circumstances, within 7 days of purchase, and entirely at their discretion, they MIGHT refund you, and there is no trial version.

        Toolset for unlimited sites is $149 per year or $295 for life, 30 day “no questions asked” refund policy on all purchases, Types is 100% free and each of the other 3 elements can be purchased separately.

        Yes, you can buy a single-site MasterPress license for $99 per year or 5-site license for $199 per year, but what developer is going to invest the effort into learning a system and only use it for a handful of sites? Yes, you can apparently upgrade your license by paying the difference but, then, you’re still paying a total of $399, and $199 per year thereafter.

        Bear in mind, too, that the team behind Toolset have been developing a major plugin for 6 years and, if you think about it, the WPML team has had to think deeply about every aspect of integration and compatibility from day one. By comparison, Traversal is a Web design and development company whose domain was registered less than 4 months ago and, as far as I can see, it is just one guy, Travis Hensgen.

        His work is visually impressive but, as far as I can tell, he has no track record and that is a major, major consideration when you are asking people to invest their time, effort and money in your system. Every new premium plugin promises to be the best but sadly, in the majority of cases, everything takes a lot longer than predicted. In this case, coming up against an entrenched, respected competitor with a price that is so much higher is bat-shit insane. Even Toolset started with a far, far lower price in order to build up their momentum before raising prices to their current levels.

        1. … just to clarify, I am saying that Toolset may have to catch up with the MasterPress interface, while MasterPress has to catch up with Toolset functionality, which I suspect will be the more difficult task and may well necessitate having to rethink their interface anyway.

          1. Your observations are all very valid Donnacha.

            I love Toolset myself and I believe its the best in this niche right now. But I also honestly think Travis did one hell of a job with this plugin. When we talk about UI, it’s not just eye candy but a real demonstration of mastery in the art of interaction between a user and a computer system. I’m sure that if there was a demo version available you would agree with me.

            Competition is good and while right now we might choose Toolset over MasterPress due to the points you mentioned, we shouldn’t shoot down this effort. Given more time (and probably more manpower), plus some amendments to the pricing structure, MasterPress can become a major player. MasterPress and Toolset don’t have to compete directly with each other either, they might end up tackling different sub-niches, in the way that Toolset caters for a different sub-niche than Advanced Custom Fields does.

          2. Yes, I agree, competition is vital and that is precisely why I hate to see plugin developers cripple themselves, before they even manage to get started, because they simply don’t understand the importance of momentum. Lack of pricing strategy is the number one problem in the commercial WordPress ecosystem because it ultimately reduces competition: potential competitors fail to earn enough to sustain themselves and end up abandoning ship, which is bad for them, bad for their paying users and terrible for competition.

            This is not some arcane, secret recipe, we have already seen how important it was for the most successful commercial plugins to attract a strong core of early users, who become its most vocal advocates and evangelists.

            It is worth noting that Toolset, even though they already had an established reputation as the authors of WPML, copied the strategy that was so successful for Gravity Forms: they spent a year or more building up their base of users by selling lifetime licenses for the same price, or less, than they would eventually sell annual licenses. They did this because they knew that those early users were taking a gamble, that they would be the ones giving early feedback, the ones struggling with bugs and incomplete feature sets, and, eventually, the ones writing about how happy they were. It is no coincidence that, today, despite many impressive and cheaper form plugins, Gravity Forms is the one you hear about the most, and look at Toolset’s position today, despite being a relative latecomer to the niche.

            There is a misguided marketing meme that suggests it is smart to start your pricing crazy high and, then, reduce pricing dramatically. Soliloquy is a good example where many early customers who bought in early at high pricing later felt burned when the entire pricing structure was changed. People are generally too nice to complain publicly but alienating your early customers is a super-dumb move and, if you start crazy high, you can only really move downwards.

            In the case of WordPress plugins or theme frameworks, where community endorsement is so vital to your longterm viability, the pricing strategy should be to start with a low lifetime cost, build community and, after about a year, when you have established some sort of reputation, let it be known that the lifetime plan will be turning into an annual one at the same price, creating a huge flood of buyers. That enlarged base of users, having got in at a good lifetime price, will now be invested in your success and will end up driving new buyers in your direction.

            So, start low and, as your reputation and features grow, patiently ramp up your prices – understand, this is not an argument for low pricing; if you get this right you can actually end up charging a lot more, the value offered by these plugins, to any WordPress professional, is huge.

  3. Hey all, Travis here.

    Thanks for the review Jean, it was really interesting to hear your opinion about MasterPress.

    Thanks too donnacha for taking the time to comment about the pricing and marketplace, hopefully what I say HERE won’t come across as bat-shit insane 😉

    I think pricing is always a difficult battle when you’re first starting out. I guess for me, I’ve spent an awfully long time sweating over the details of MasterPress, and it’s “value” is always going to feel a little higher to me. Some of the features in this plug-in would save so many developers hours of time for every project they work on, so while the pricing may be high compared to other solutions, I don’t see it as a massive amount of outlay. But time will tell on that one, and I have a lot of work still to do.

    Your points about traction and building an initial community are certainly not lost on me – since releasing, I’ve found that it is indeed tough to build momentum. And your points about “this person has no reputation” are not unfounded either – I have been a very quiet Internet citizen up until now, and that is surely working against me. Again, I have a lot of work to do to, and there are some supremely good solutions out there that are indeed better in some areas than MasterPress. As Jean mentioned though, competition is healthy and can only improve ALL of the solutions out there.

    I’ve got some things in the pipeline for embracing the community a bit more, and I’ve already done some things recently. I gave a talk on MasterPress at WordCamp Melbourne which will hopefully pop up on wordpress.tv soon. A lot of that talk was a discussion on some of the challenges I faced about developing something like this and bringing it to market, so hopefully others will get something out of that too.

    Regarding “I would note that improving an interface is a lot easier than adding advanced functionality” I don’t necessarily agree with that. User Interface design is one of those things that looks remarkably easy on the surface, especially once you’ve seen the final solution. Getting to that sweet spot though can take a lot of effort, and a lot of iteration. It’s no EASIER than backend features development, just DIFFERENT I think. I think I’m in some position to be able to say that, as MasterPress also features a very detailed developer API using some of the more modern language features of PHP5, and this part of the plug-in is probably more ambitious than the user interface. If you’ve got the time, check out some of the articles here:

    http://masterpressplugin.com/docs/developer/introduction-and-key-concepts

    … there’s some really interesting techniques there that hopefully convince you and others that I’m not JUST a UI guy.

    Again though, thanks for your comments – I’ve certainly learnt something there. This project has already been a great opportunity for me to connect with the community a lot more, so that’s already a big win for me personally.

    1. @Travis – very interesting, thanks for taking the time to respond, I will definitely read that documentation.

      I didn’t mean to imply you were “just” a UI guy, I was acknowledging that your UI is ahead, which is a significant accomplishment, but that getting ahead in *both* UI and functionality, and elegantly extending the UI to cope with the demands of that growing functionality, is a tough challenge.

      My hope is that you will attract a large core of enthusiastic EARLY users who will act as your unpaid marketing shock troops and that, once *they* have established your product’s reputation within the community, you will have the dependable, ongoing flow of new sign-ups, paying full price, that you need to make a good living and to be able to work full-time on making your vision a reality. We need as many talented innovators focusing on this space as possible!

      Also, just to be clear, when I use phrases such as “bat-shit insane” it is intended to be entertaining and emphatic rather than insulting 🙂

      1. @Donnacha Absolutely no offence taken about any of your comments. As I said, I really do appreciate your thoughts, especially given that you’ve provided thoughtful analysis of the marketplace to back them up.

        Me saying “not just a UI guy” was more me trying to qualify that I know a bit about building PHP-heavy backend features as well as creating the eye-candy. I completely agree with you about the challenges around adding features while keeping the UI clean – it’s very difficult to do, and time consuming.

        And don’t worry, I’ve also thought to myself many times that I’m bat-shit insane for even trying something like this. But here I am 🙂

  4. Regardless of pricing, I guess it’s a good move to have another plugin for WordPress content management system. WordPress is getting more and more share in the CMS Market these days. I wish there’s a liter version of MasterPress plugin which is offered free

    1. That’s a very good idea that Travis should consider in my opinion. It can help him get into the market faster. Toolset started off by offering Types for free as well.

  5. Very interesting indeed. Thanks for the review and thanks authors of the reviewed plugin and a competitor to openly share your thoughts. As I did not use any of the mentioned tools yet, I can’t say too much. About pricing: well MasterPress is not cheap, but if it does what it sais it does and does it well, it’s surely worth the pricing. In the long run the pricing really is secondary. The more important question is: how easy is it to stop using the plugin? How easy is it to remove the plugin and what happens with the data created by the plugin? Are custom post types still usable (just no more editable) or removed? Do they leave clutter in the database (eg. options that don’t make sense anymore). Can I change the theme without too much destruction in the content? etc.
    This are important questions for all advanced plugins in this area (also for WPML). What happens when I want to replace my custom post type creation plugin / my multilanguage plugin etc.?

    It seems very difficult to me to build a sustainable business on a niche like this because sometime automattic might decide to have multilanguage in the core / or have custom post type creation and admin functions and other “cms” functions in the core. Will it then be easy to move from a paid premium plugin to default open source?

    Anyway thanks for all your hard work in creating this (premium) plugins and documentation. I wish you much success and a good earning!

  6. just a question to ask for me:

    is impossible to pay that rigjt now (1 dollar had become a lot of money in my country) but I can’t avoid that question: how masterpress plays with toolset (especially views)? could you creat a CPT in masterpress and display with views?

    1. Woudn’t it be easier to just use Types for that, since it’s a sibling plugin of Views?

      I mean, Types needs a little work around the interface, I give you that, but it’s a hell of a potent plugin. And free, by the way.

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