Dave Rodenbaugh, founder of Recapture.io, shares a fascinating anecdote with Angela Bowman, WordPress Meetup organizer and podcaster (Women in WP), about a relatively new WordPress user (Dave’s daughter) who had built a WordPress site with Dave’s help last year but struggled to get another one launched on her own this summer.
Dave’s daughter and her boss, who very much wanted to use WordPress, spent five weeks trying to get WordPress to work for them. They finally gave up and gave Wix a try. One week later, they had a finished, professional-looking site.
Angela and Dave talk about the reasons behind this not-so-successful WordPress story which led to the $64,000 dollar question, Who is WordPress for Anyway?
With different camps forming around WordPress, can we come back together again? Since the announcement of Gutenberg in 2015, the speed at which the page builder plugins have evolved has not slowed down. If anything, they are growing faster and stronger than ever. And it makes sense! The Block Editor can be quite confusing and in Dave’s words “janky”. The on-boarding process with WordPress requires a learning curve that is pretty steep. But it’s not just about getting hosting set up or being initiated into how to set the Front Page in the Reading Settings. In this use case, simply working with the Block Editor created a major hurdle in getting content laid out without a great deal of frustration.
What do you think about who WordPress is for? Please share your thoughts. What will it take to make WordPress easier for DIYers? And in the words of the Beatles, will we ever “Come Together” again?
[00:00:00] Dave: Welcome to a new episode of the WP minutes. I have fellow correspondent Angela here with me and you probably know Angela from a lot of different places, word, camp speaker agency, owner, and women in WordPress. But we have a discussion that kind of came up on the WP.
[00:00:22] Internal slack and Angela had opinions about it. And I, I thought that it would be a good thing to podcast and find out what the community thinks about this here. So, welcome Angela.
[00:00:33] Angela: Hey, I’m happy to be here and happy to be a part of WP minute. And I really was intrigued by the story you shared on that slack.
[00:00:43] For sure. So you should tell us, you should tell the audience what you told us.
[00:00:48] Dave: Yes. So, here’s the story that I, I posted and it basically involves my daughter. And she is a senior in high school. And last year-ish, she did a website in WordPress for my wife. And the reason she picked WordPress was that I basically said, Hey, you should try WordPress and build your site because it’s super easy.
[00:01:10] And I can help you with anything that you need, including getting set up, hosting plugins themes, Y you know, technical support, yada yada, yada, got it all here. And so we went that. And she, you know, was reasonably successful with it. It wasn’t super smooth. It was her first sight. I wasn’t expecting it to be, you know, an experience without bumps, but she got through it.
[00:01:32] And I felt like at the end she had done a reasonable effort and was reasonably successful. So in during the summer she took on an internship. And she was building a site for a therapist. And this therapist also wanted the site in WordPress, which of course was perfect. My daughter had experience in WordPress at this point.
[00:01:51] So they were both very excited. They sat down, they talked about the content, the layout, all of this sort of stuff. And then they started putting the site together. And this is where the wheels kind of came off the bus. She worked on this for. Five weeks, four to six weeks, somewhere in there. I wanna say it was about five weeks.
[00:02:13] And during this time. She worked by herself. She worked with the therapist. They both had experience with WordPress. They went through a variety of different themes. They tried to do different kinds of content that they were trying to set up. And the whole experience was. I’ll call it suboptimal. At the end of five weeks, they still didn’t have a site that was fully built and it didn’t really meet their needs.
[00:02:41] So at that point, my daughter said, Hey, I was checking out Wix, let me just give it a shot and see what happens. And so the therapist was like, yeah, sure. We’re not making any progress here. Let’s go for it. So. A week later, my daughter [00:03:00] with no prior experience, no other training finished the website in WICS completely from start to finish.
[00:03:08] Let that sink in for just a second, five weeks on WordPress, five days in Wix, the same site and it was done. And that to me seems like a massive problem in WordPress. And that’s not the first time I’ve heard that story. And. My own recent experiences with trying to do porting of sites from marketing. Like I’m working on my own marketing site for recapture.io right now.
[00:03:35] And it was all written in custom HTML and some react templates and stuff like that. I’m moving it over to WordPress, cuz I wanna be able to change it more quickly. Right now it requires poll requests outta GitHub and ah, forget it. So I rebuilt the whole thing in Gutenberg and I was using cadence.
[00:03:52] and that all worked, you know, reasonably well to get it set up. I did it on a previous SAS and I had the whole thing set up in 48 hours, but I stayed very much in the lines. I was coloring in the lumps. Yeah. Yeah. Very hard on that template. And it worked out okay. This one, I went outside the lines and that was a mistake because just trying to make.
[00:04:16] We’ll call it layouts of moderate complexity. I wasn’t trying to like create the ultimate table with accordions and weird stuff like that. Like just getting some basic blocks slapped together was way harder than it should be. And. The, the overall editor experience in Guttenberg just felt janky to me. It was 100%.
[00:04:37] Yeah. The, the drag and drop, like just trying to get the locations. I am an experienced WordPress developer. I’m an experienced user of the mouse and the UI. Yep. And it still just was not. The tar, the drop targets weren’t working well. And I’m like, this shouldn’t happen like this, that, and I’ve heard other developers that have made similar complaints about, Hey, I’ve added in three columns.
[00:05:00] And then I took out one of the columns and added the column back and all of my data disappeared and just random behavior like that for an editor that’s been out this long, it just doesn’t feel. It doesn’t feel polished enough. It really should be a better experience. And my point that I was getting to with all of this is that we keep hearing about the WordPress market share shrinking.
[00:05:23] And I think if you wanna look. Take a hard look in the mirror about where that’s coming from. This is it right here. If your first experience coming into WordPress, is this, yes, you’re gonna graduate to the next level. Like, why would you stick with this? Why you would go to WICS or Squarespace or something else and find it and just get it done.
[00:05:41] Angela: right. That’s 100%. Right. And I’ve even built full sites for people where you know, I really pulled a lot of the lovers. Let’s say this is kind of before the Gutenberg time more Genesis. Era themes and kind of got things set up. But when they wanted to go in and start working with it, it was just as [00:06:00] if they wanted to really expand and create new layouts and that kind of thing.
[00:06:04] It was hard. And so I’ve had clients move to Squarespace and WICS for that reason, just because they didn’t wanna have to go to developer to set a lot of this stuff up. And so, They, you know, I feel like they lost a lot of functioning functionality in that, in terms of kind of more around the posts and archives and the benefits that WordPress has for content management in more comp you know, more robust ways of organizing and.
[00:06:32] Archiving information. Right? Right. That’s what WordPress really excels at is that kind of ability to create those custom content areas and the archives and, and that kind of thing. But if you’re just needing a basic business site, same thing. Like here I am, like I lead these meetup groups. I teach these classes and I feel like it’s incumbent upon me to show all the users in these groups like, oh, and here’s how you put columns into a Gutenberg layout.
[00:06:59] And same. I was working with like a team member, little element to put into three columns because you wanna create a page with your team, right? Mm-hmm . And so you, you have a team member block that you’re gonna put one in each column, and now you somehow need to duplicate that. Cuz maybe you have six or nine team members, but then maybe you need to drag one team member to another column.
[00:07:21] And. Like, and then the everything freezes or, or it’s just now, now there’s a team member inside some weird space or you can’t get them at that whole drag and drop. I think you nailed it on the head. It really is coming down to basic user interface. You know, it’s just base our user experience. I should say.
[00:07:42] It’s the interface and the experience of that interface. It’s like one you can’t find, it’s really hard to find where you’re at, unless you use the. Kind of the list view on the side to kind of show you the scaffolding of all of the containers and the, the blocks that you’re working with. And you can kind of drag things around a little bit easier in that view, but, but no, it’s like as soon as I experienced that and kept experiencing it and kept experiencing it, it’s like if I.
[00:08:12] Like you, I’m so experienced. I’m such a good user. Like I know yeah. How to work a mouse. And if I can’t make this work, no one can make it work. It’s just not gonna happen.
[00:08:23] Dave: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and this joke is, is not gonna be it is probably gonna fall flat, but I’m gonna go for it anyway, cuz I’m a master of bad jokes.
[00:08:31] The word press is now beginning to remind me of the Pearl language. You know, Pearl’s famous expression is that there’s more than one way to do it. And you could have the same program written three entirely different ways in Pearl, all of them incomprehensible by the way. And they do the exact same thing and they look totally different.
[00:08:49] And I feel like WordPress has kind of gotten to that. Like you, you, you, we have all these configuration menus and these sidebar things and this pop up this and drop down that, and these [00:09:00] headers that are showing up in things and. It’s confusing as hell to try to figure out what you wanna do, how you wanna get there.
[00:09:08] You know, I can’t tell you how many times. I just wanted to go into a section and set the background color for that section. But because I wasn’t in the right item and trying to navigate in and out, I was like, why isn’t it showing that on my settings over here on the right hand side, like this shouldn’t be that difficult for an advanced user.
[00:09:26] And. Heaven forbid that you’re a brand new person. I would get totally frustrated and be switching to something else almost immediately. So, you know, I, I think the question that comes out of this for me, and this is what I want to hear from you, Angela is who is WordPress four right now. Right, right.
[00:09:43] Angela: Yeah.
[00:09:44] You know, as Leslie was saying in the slack did they learn nothing from the page builders? It’s like, how is it that we’ve been working on this Guttenberg interface since what, 2015? So it’s seven years. How is it that it has not come as far as the page builders that have been in existence just as long.
[00:10:02] You know, why, what, and I even posted that on Twitter at some point was like, what’s the hangup? Does it need more resources? Does it need more people? Like where’s the bottleneck with the development here? Why I don’t, I don’t get it, but yeah, who’s WordPress four. I mean, You mentioned all these different camps of people at one point, you know, there’s, there’s the end users, there’s the, the agencies, the developers plug-in developers, like there’s a whole side owners E the side owners.
[00:10:33] Yeah. There’s a whole ecosystem here and, and people have to pick their camp, you know, and if they’re going in the Gutenberg camp, they’re kind of struggling and figuring out a way to, if they’re an agency and they’re going to Gutenberg. They’ve got some resources to put upon, you know, behind. Some custom block development, perhaps, you know, or there’s the people who are going the page builder route, and then there’s people who are just, yeah, I’m gonna go WIC square space to get this done.
[00:10:59] But I think the thing that I’ve seen, because I’ve been working with WordPress since 2007, is that 15 years, am I doing my math? Right? You have, yes. Freaking years I’ve seen a lot happen. And a lot of it is improved. I mean, a lot of it’s certainly like I can do things now that I would’ve never dreamed of doing back in 2007.
[00:11:18] Right. Sure. It was just, just a, a header image and a content area and a sidebar. And I was just happy if I had dualing sidebars, you know, it was like, that was a thing like, yeah. I bought two digitized areas on my site and now I’m happy. Like the needs were simple and the needs have become more complex because.
[00:11:37] The design demands have become more complex. The web has become in a way more complex. And so in attempting to meet that demand for that complexity yeah, we’re we we’ve come to a fork in the road and people are just forking off and, and they’re either going. Completely non Guttenberg, maybe Guttenberg for just their blog posts, [00:12:00] simple content.
[00:12:00] Like we used the TinyMCE editor for years in a way mm-hmm , you know, It’s just another kind of editor for basic basic content. But in terms of page layouts, you’re going with the builders or you’re going with the, the custom ACF kind of sites. If you’re trying to help the user be able to manage their content, you know, you’re just kind of rolling your own sort of page builder, like experience with a custom bunch of custom ACF fields or you’re, or you are going the Gutenberg route, but wow.
[00:12:28] I don’t see these roads meeting. that’s the thing. I don’t see the meeting and where, where is this gonna end up? You know? Right. Like how do we ever come back from that? You.
[00:12:39] Dave: Right. If we’ve got this fragmented space where you got the beaver builder folks and the elementary folks and the Gutenberg folks and the, you know, I wrote everything custom and ACF folks.
[00:12:49] And how does this all converge and you know, who is it? That is the audience for all of those things in the first place. Are we talking about. The DIY folks, the first timers, the agencies, the experienced developers, you know, are we trying to be everything to everyone? And we end up being nothing to nobody at this point, because we’re doing a poor job at satisfying anybody’s needs.
[00:13:12] That’s what it kind of feels like right now that nobody’s getting a good experience out of this. And, you know, if you wanna a recipe for erosion of market share, in my opinion, that.
[00:13:22] Angela: Yeah. And I think, you know, one thing I’ve I’ve always really felt is you really have to please the developers because the developers are responsible for your ecosystem.
[00:13:32] If you don’t have an ecosystem, you don’t have a product. And if the developers start to not wanting to develop for the platform, whatever it may be, you know, and is Guttenberg. Gotten too ambitious, you know, maybe it really is just an editor. I was working with a block editor before Gutenberg existed. You know, it was just a platform where we wrote our articles in a block editor, but you know, there it’s articles, it’s it’s, there was very low expectations of any sort of page layout, you know, just blocks and headings.
[00:14:06] And so maybe some image carousel and yeah, I think, you know, you can work really well with that, but the expectation that. WordPress that the core is going to have kind of built in page page builder, which is what we’re really going for. Yeah, it’s not tune
[00:14:21] Dave: great at that. it’s not, it’s not. And of course, Angela and I don’t expect to come up with any answers here.
[00:14:27] It was more of an observation based on my daughter’s experience. And you know, it ignited a firestorm of discussion inside of the WP minute slack. But, you know, I’m curious as to all of you that are listening out there right now, what do you think WordPress is for? Who do you think it works for and who it doesn’t work for right now?
[00:14:46] Send us your comments over at the WP minute. You can hit the contact form. We’d love to hear from you.