Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

The Responsibility a WordPress User

Last week, WP Tavern posted an article about how Matt Mullwenweg was addressing concerns over WordPress development moving too quickly. Matt more or less shrugged the question off in his State of the Word, but it is still a rising sentiment. And it’s not just a concern in the WordPress community, but in the larger web community as well.

There was a lengthy discussion that followed the post. It’s worth a read if you’re into that kind of thing, but to me, it highlights a growing divide that gets right down to the core of what’s expected of a WordPress user. 

Several users noted that even small changes can ripple out to larger ones or break expectations without even a remote need. Similarly, users don’t have the time or capacity to keep up with every little development and when things change they have to go through and check the changes against all of their sites and client sites, then update tutorials, then let their clients know. Every. single. time.

Others, including a handful of core committers, pointed out (rightfully so) that even small changes are heavily considered, and that they often solicit feedback about these things on places like WP Tavern and mailing lists.

The response was that these where places developers and coders hang out and WordPress users can’t be expected to check every little thing. But of course, if a site is code to WordPress conventions, it shouldn’t break anyway. And so maybe we all need to just trust WordPress a bit more.

And so on.

I’m (over)generalizing. But time and time again, we see mention of two groups. The first are the end users, the Average Joe with a laptop and a dream. The second are the developers, programmers on the bleeding edge of web applications. So really, the conversation comes down to what is the responsibility of the WordPress user? Is it the user’s job to ensure that their site is up to date, or it WordPress’ job to ensure that nothing ever breaks on existing sites? That’s a trick question, but it’s part of a continuing identity crisis in the WordPress community.

At this point, WordPress is trying to handle two pretty distinct use-cases. For the end users, a better admin experience, a fast install, and a quality controlled theme and plugin marketplace are of utmost importance. For the coder, extendability, speed of updates, and frankly, a trendy toolset are held in highest esteem. The article’s discussion focused on finding a balance and a place to draw the line between these two groups. The central theme being:

How can we maintain a strong pace of development with new features, while still leaving things simple (and relatively unchanged) and for the average user?

Wrong question. To pit two user types against one another implies some sort of mutual exclusion. It obfuscates the nature of the web and website development. And it puts the community at odds with one another.

Think about some of the things that WordPress does well out of the box. User authentication, media management, commenting, routing, and a pretty well thought out admin interface to boot. None of these components are good for just one group. In fact, a lot of the differences between these groups is just about how we want to render HTML on a page. But it’s the open web all the way down.

Let’s stop defining the “average” WordPress user. Let’s work on ways to elevate the WordPress user instead of insulting their intelligence at every turn. Let’s drop the assumption that these users don’t have the will or interest to learn more about how their site comes together. We don’t need to speak in techno-babble or build confusing interfaces. We can use the WordPress admin and site building process as teachable moments, to educate users on the types of things they can do. We can find better ways to reach out to everybody that uses WordPress and gather feedback. The WordPress core community is already working on this, and of course, they could always use some help.

We make it sound as if the REST API is only useful for NodeJS wielding front-end developers. What about the user that wants to use it to wire WordPress to Facebook, or connect to a third-party app, but doesn’t know how? WordPress just brought responsive image potential to 25% of the web. That’s a win for everybody. We have whole teams working on accessibility and localization. There’s no one group that benefits from any of the work that’s done.

As WordPress continues to grow, it will be its diversity of spirit and community that keep it alive. Take a look around at the next WordPress event that you’re at and note the multitude of voices and opinions. Remember that the role of the WordPress user is to make websites, and love doing it. We should encourage that.