To paraphrase WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, “Let the data be free!” His mention of a “Data Liberation” initiative was a highlight of the 2023 State of The Word address.
What is data liberation? It’s all about portability. The idea is that you can move data from Wix to WordPress. Or from a page builder to native blocks. All with as little hassle as possible.
This all benefits WordPress, as The WP Minute’s Matt Medeiros points out. Increased portability makes it easier for users to switch from other platforms. Users won’t be “stuck” with a content management system (CMS) they don’t like.
I count myself as a fan of this initiative. Moving data shouldn’t be an exercise in torture. The task is often arduous and anything but straightforward. Developing tools to ease the burden is welcome.
However, I want to take things a step further. I want to see data liberation within WordPress. Here’s what that means and examples of why it’s needed.
Pulling Data from WordPress Is a Challenge
WordPress is used to build all sorts of websites. Some niches like eCommerce and membership sites are data intensive. We input a lot of data. But we often need to pull it as well.
The process can be messy. We may need to grab data from different database tables and columns. That may also encompass multiple plugins.
What’s the problem? Plugin developers decide how they want to store and retrieve data. Thus, what works for WooCommerce may not work for LearnDash or The Events Calendar.
The result is having to use different methods and tools for data retrieval. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. What if you want to combine these various data points?
Cobbling together a picture of this data is a Herculean task. A few tools attempt to make it easier. But even they can’t cover every plugin and scenario.
WordPress Lags behind in Site Data Reporting
There are plenty of reasons to choose WordPress over its competitors. Its open-source ethos and extensibility are chief among them.
Data retrieval is an area where WordPress falls short, however. Customizable reports aren’t on the menu. Not across this vast ecosystem.
Developers are left to build bespoke solutions. Or attempt to tie everything together via a third-party service like Zapier. Neither is an ideal path forward.
Proprietary systems have an advantage here. For example, Shopify offers in-depth sales reporting out of the box. It could be a deciding factor in whether someone chooses it over WordPress.
Yes, WooCommerce offers sales statistics. But there’s no guarantee it ties in with the available extensions. It also won’t provide data for other aspects of your site.
For instance, your site’s LearnDash data will be separate. Combining them into a single report will require some work.
Perhaps this won’t impact most website owners. However, the lack of unified data reporting could impact the high-end enterprise sector. Some of these folks may leave for greener pastures.
How Do We Improve the Situation?
I’m far from a data expert. That’s probably why this scenario is so frustrating. Clients ask me for site reports that span several plugins. I then have to explain the issues at hand.
Implementing a custom solution can be cost-prohibitive. Thus, we’re left to cobble the data together into something semi-usable.
There has to be an easier way. We shouldn’t need a degree in computer science to figure this out. Perhaps there are some things WordPress can do to improve the situation.
The data liberation tools for moving sites to WordPress are appreciated. But we would also benefit from tools that allow us to collect existing site data.
Every sale, member, and form entry lives in the same database. Yet it feels like they are stored in silos light years apart.
We should create standards for how this data is stored and retrieved. And we should build reporting plugins that allow us to mix and match.
We’re starting to see some movement on this front. Mullenweg announced a learning management system (LMS) working group at WordCamp US 2023. The hope is to create data models to allow users to switch between LMS plugins.
It’s a complex problem. Solving it could be the first step toward true data liberation.
It’s Time to Democratize Data
The data on our WordPress sites is valuable. It can guide us when making important decisions. It can tell us what users want and how they interact with us.
Accessing this data isn’t for the faint of heart, though. It’s easy to spend hours experimenting before giving up. Users of the world’s most popular CMS shouldn’t have to jump through such hoops.
The good news is that none of this is insurmountable. The brilliant minds within the WordPress community can create solutions.
It’s a matter of coming together with a common goal: democratizing website data. Let’s put our heads together and put WordPress ahead of the pack.