WordPress Users vs Developers

This morning I read a very good discussion on the usability of WordPress Core on the Post Status Slack, primarily focussed on the comparison with platforms like Wix (if you’re a member, I highly encourage you to read it). One thing that, once again, struck me was how we have the issue where developer expectations of WordPress vastly differ from user expectations – let me address this in just a bit. For the beginning I would like to quote something Helen Hou-Sandí said during the discussion:

WP does not currently exist as a good piece of software for “building a site”. It’s getting there, and I think the vision’s been there for quite some time, just that this particular dev-oriented audience gets lost in what we want to do with WP and pushes back against features that would move toward said vision in the first place, just because it’s not what we need to do client stuff.

This is a significant problem which I’m sure everyone of us who influences WordPress directly has noticed. Since we as developers are in charge, we often look out for what is most useful to us that WordPress lacks and that we would like to add support for. When that happens, we often omit the bigger picture. It is stated in the WordPress philosophies that it puts users first. At least it tries. This philosophy sometimes frustrates us as developers, and I certainly find myself regularly in a position where I’m not happy at all about why a great developer enhancement is being rejected or only low priority. In most of these cases though, after the initial frustration has vanished, I reflect my thoughts a little more, and it usually brings me to the point where I can accept the decision – because we all depend on WordPress’ growth in one or the other, and the vast majority of people on this planet are not developers, probably not technical people at all.

There’s an analogy that I think is pretty fitting here although it comes from a completely different area – the music industry. Think of that punk band, that is the real deal, with heavy, dirty and super-fast music and some crazy fans that are super-deep into the punk scene. Suddenly they release a new song that becomes the teenage rock/pop summer hit of the year. When the band decided to put a song like that out there, they didn’t put their hardcore punk fans first (most of who will surely dislike the song) – they wanted to increase their popularity among regular people, thus their growth. Projecting this on WordPress, think about us developers as the hardcore people that are super-deep into the WordPress scene, but most WordPress decisions aim to benefit the people who are not even using it yet. Such a philosophy is never too popular among the people who are deeply involved with the topic, but it will help boost the popularity for the common person. The only thing that is different from the analogy of a punk band suddenly releasing a mainstream song, is that WordPress has always put the common user first which should at least theoretically make it easier for us to accept that decision.

On the flipside, there are certainly a few things where putting the user first could actually be handled in a more proper way. WordPress gathers way too few statistics to truly be able to make a decision where the developers know beforehand it will be popular. Fortunately there are some trends for it to change: Results for a survey about the Customizer were recently published, and some people have been thinking about collecting anonymous data from WordPress users (this is also a bit complex due to possible privacy issues). Unfortunately there is nobody yet who would truly like to move the latter forward, so it won’t the topic won’t be discussed at this year’s Community Summit. I’m also curious what the responses to Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s Slack message from this morning will look like.

To summarize this post, I think all of us who make WordPress and who look at WordPress as the hardcore users (yes, I’m sure us developers are users too), we should try to do our best in respecting the project’s philosophies. It would be perfect if we were able to get rid of the “users vs developers” mentality that currently exists, but our goal should at least be to reflect our frustration and have a real discussion with the people who reject a proposal instead of writing another rant post or something similar. It obviously goes hand in hand with this goal that we as the people who reject such a proposal are willing to provide insight in why we made that decision – preferably with the initial response, but at least certainly when we’re asked about it.
We as developers are in charge here, but we shouldn’t make a product that is only great for ourselves. If WordPress became a developer-centric tool, its popularity among regular users would likely fade away in one way or the other. And the fact that some of us use WordPress daily although we dislike huge parts of it so much, shows us how dependent on its success and growth we are.

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