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I Love WordPress But…

At RedMonk, we’e big fans of WordPress. Professionally, yes, we find WordPress interesting. As I’ve told audiences at WordCamps in Denver and San Francisco, the size and scope of its community is massively impressive. We even commissioned our own open source WordPress plugin (coverage). But personally, we are appreciative because more than any other piece of software, RedMonk runs on WordPress. For four years now, all of our research has been served up to the public via WordPress blogs. For the past three years, our homepage at RedMonk.com has been WordPress based. Nor will that change: our future plans call for more, not less, reliance on WordPress as a platform.

All of that said, between a few issues of our own and some challenges helping spin up someone else’s new business on WordPress.com, there are some macro areas for concern, I think. At the very least, there’s a transition in process, whether it’s a conscious decision or not.

The Complexity

wordpress.com

Having worked with WordPress for years now, I’d never really noticed just how complicated the interface had gotten. But sit back and take a look at the UI for the placeholder WordPress blog I set up a while back. Forget the obvious obstacles for new users like, “What’s the difference between a post and a page?” Where do they start with all of these options? For WordPress veterans, navigation is trivial. For new users, the UI can be seriously intimidating, particularly relative to the competition. I have a 30 inch monitor, and with the available sections expanded, I can’t even see all of the choices.

posterous

Consider the Posterous UI. By contrast, it’s very clean, and very simple. The WordPress side might argue that it’s also significantly less capable, and that we’re comparing apples to oranges, but that’s precisely the point. WordPress is trending more towards Drupal and away from the simple, easy to use platform it was at the beginning.

If that’s the design goal, then great. But if it’s not, the feature volume and presentation might be worth thinking about.

The Hacks

Helping to spin up this other businesses website on WordPress.com pressed home the point that while it is in many respects an excellent website foundation, it’s clearly being bent to serve that purpose. For example:

  • The Two Home Page Problem:
    Let’s say you want your home page to be an actual page, rather than a series of blog entries. A reasonable request, surely. The good news is that WordPress has you covered there. It’s not terribly easy to find – see above – but if you go to Settings:Reading:Front Page displays you can choose a static page rather than the latest posts. Which is great. The bad news is that if you do the logical thing and create yourself a static homepage, a great many themes are going to display that homepage twice in the tabs at the top. Once, as a page called “Home” or something similar, and the second time as whatever you called it. Hunting around, I did find an officially sanctioned workaround for this issue, but it’s a hack. And if the theme you’re using displays drop down elements from the top level nav, you’re pretty well screwed.

    If this was an odd use case, one could understand. But it seems like a pretty basic request that most folks using WordPress.com as a web platform will have, so the lack of a good answer is a problem.

  • The Tab Ordering Problem:
    Let’s say that you want to change the arrangement of the tabs at the top from alphabetical to something like, About/Services/Contact. You can do that, but you have to know where to change it, because it’s not obvious. Under Edit Page, look in the Attributes box on the right hand side, and use the Order window to change the tab sequence. Again, it works, but seems kind of kludgy.
  • The Link List Problem:
    WordPress has, pretty much forever, including a function that allows you to create a list of links. Originally intended, I believe, to simplify the creation of blogrolls. These days, it’s often repurposed for a variety of reasons: a list of partner sites, recommended resources for a given subject – all kinds of things. Which logically suggests that you might want to rename it from Links to, say, Partners. But where to do that? I couldn’t figure it out, and had to resort to search to turn up this eHow article. Basically you need to go to Links:Link Categories and edit the Link Category Name to your preferred setting.

To be clear, WordPress does not generally advertise itself as a general purpose webhost. The WordPress.com homepage says “Express Yourself. Start a Blog.” Not “host your small business webpage here.” But if you’re going to allow people to build pages and switch their home page to a static page, it should be done more smoothly and easily.

The Volume

You can file this one under “good problems to have,” but the volume of themes is very difficult to manage. The Preview features are slick, and the activation is seamless, but browsing the horde of themes is a challenge. The feature filters are some help here, as is the list of popular themes. But some human curation here would be very welcome; what does a human think are the best themes overall? Best new themes that month? And so on. Anything to help sort the volume.

I said this, publicly, less than a month ago:

the reasons we self-host our WordPress instances are being eliminated at an accelerating rate

None of the above changes that opinion, and I stand by that statement. WordPress has done an excellent job evolving into an ever more useful platform, and while we can’t yet make the jump due to some custom plugins we use or will be using, it’s still a highly recommended platform. I just think it’s continually worth asking the question: what does WordPress want to be when it grows up?

Right now the answer to that question isn’t clear to me. Most of what I’ve seen from 3.0 is about extending the functionality of the platform, which is welcome news for users like us. My concern, however, is not for the users like us, but the average user. It’s important for the future of WordPress that he or she not be left behind.

Categories: WordPress.

  • http://bethesignal.org/ Jeff Waugh

    Your first two points are resolved in 3.0 with the addition of the menu editor… it’s just a matter of theme support now that easy menu customisation functionality exists.

  • http://greenmonk.net Tom Raftery

    Afaik there are a couple of plug-ins for WordPress for tidying up the WordPress backend – never needed to use them as I started using WordPress back in ’03/04 so I kinda grew up with it but for people starting out, as you say…

  • Pingback: This Text Will Examine And Compare 3 Free Blogging Software Platforms: Wordpress, B2Evolution And Nucleus | Blogging for Money

  • http://greenmonk.net Tom Raftery

    Here is one of the Admin tidying plug-ins I mentioned above Steve http://planetozh.com/blog/my-projects/wordpress-admin-menu-drop-down-css/

    It creates a horizontal drop-down menubar, instead of the vertical skyscraper sidebar menu considerably tidying up the screen

  • http://ma.tt/ Matt

    Your screenshot is a little unfair for two reasons: It’s a WP.com dashboard which has a little extra junk in the trunk over regular WordPress, and you clicked at least 10-15 times to open up every single possible menu, which is not something that ever happens “in the wild.” Things also looked stretched with the window so wide.

    The dashboard is always going to be an advanced interface as it has to support everything we support, that’s one of the reason we’ve been investing in alternative posting interfaces, like our 4 mobile apps, Windows Live Writer, or post-by-email, that allow people to choose an interface that suits them best.

  • http://redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    @Jeff Waugh: which two points? the complexity and the hacks? or the specific hack examples?

    @Tom Raftery: thanks! that should be helpful for other folks. i’m fine navigating the menus personally, but i worry for folks new to the platform.

    @Matt: sorry, the point here wasn’t to play “gotcha.” the point was, rather, to try and illustrate that the continuing improvement from a feature standpoint poses significant challenges from a UI standpoint.

    and while i did indeed expand all of the available sections to expose said functionality – which the default UI would not – new users will have to hunt though many of those menus to get to the features they need. so while i understand the nature of your objection, i think it’s still an important concern. the folks i’m introducing to WordPress are having a bit of a struggle adapting to the breadth of functionality.

    and while you can reduce the complexity from an authoring perspective via mechanisms such as you mention, from mobile apps to post-by-email, setting up the blog and getting it to look the way that people want can still be tricky.

    again, i love the platform, and we love the platform at RedMonk. just trying to relate some of what i’m hearing from regular users, for whatever that’s worth.

  • http://bethesignal.org/ Jeff Waugh

    @sogrady: The “home page” and “tabs” (navigation menu) ones.

  • Sean G.

    I’ve been designing and developing web sites since 1995. The first time I saw WordPress changed my perspective forever.

    I work with a lot of small businesses, and WordPress is the perfect choice 95% of the time.

    So far, the only compelling reason I have found to not use WP is when the client needs intranet type functionality.

  • http://androidblink.com/ AndroidBlink

    but, is till love wordpress. :p

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