WordPress is Just Software… and that’s OK

There’s been more talk about WordPress and Gutenberg this past week mostly after Paul Lacey’s excellent post on why he is stepping away from WordPress.

Gutenberg has been a huge change for a lot of people and for many, including myself, it has dramatically changed how we work with WordPress and not for the better.

That said, I want to address Jeff’s tweet below, which is based on Paul’s post. In it the quote that “it’s no longer community, it’s just software” strikes me as a sad statement for a number of reasons.

First, I talk about the WordPress community quite a bit. This post from September sums up a number of my feelings on what the WordPress community is. In it I talk about the fact that WordPress isn’t a single community, but many. It looks at these communities from the concept of motivation, namely why people are in WordPress in the first place, but I think such talk, along with that of folks like Paul who are leaving WordPress, makes for an interesting study in what WordPress is.

WordPress is software. It is a tool to build websites with that aims to be usable by a wide range of people. That’s it. WordPress is not, in itself, a community but a tool, lines of code that come together to make the work of its users easier.

I think we, as the community of WordPress users, tend to forget this fact. Particularly as commercial interests continue to shape what the future of the software will look like. When we do so we run the risk of confusing ourselves and our own self worth with that of lines of code designed to bring a profit to the companies which sponsor its continued development.

As someone who has been deep in the WordPress community for a decade this is a very difficult lesson to learn. Like many I have, at times, taken the changes that have come about with Gutenberg and other things personally as if they’re an attack on what I do. When I have I reduce the decade of friendships and actual community building we’ve all done around our work and interests to frustration over how the software works. Doing so is a disservice to myself and those who I am proud to call friends.

This isn’t meant to be a rebuttal to Paul’s post. Frankly I agree with almost every word he said. It’s simply the acknowledgement that WordPress is indeed just software and the community is the people we’ve come to know as friends and, in some cases, family. The two, software and community, are not the same and that’s just fine.

10 Comments

  1. I hated Gutenberg when it first came out and really hadn’t looked at it until February 2020 when I built a theme with it. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy/nice it was to work with.

    Just last week I moved my site back to WordPress and used 2022 with full site editing. Again, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how nice the experience is. I’m still writing most stuff in Classic with markdown, but some posts/pages I move to the Block Editor and then get to build a nice page without issues.

    My biggest complaint is the poor developer documentation for building blocks. I’ve tried more than once to dig in and learn, but it’s always so baffling with bad docs. Even the courses you can pay for are out of date.

  2. I don’t think Gutenberg is so terrible that it can be blamed for tearing WordPress apart. Yeah it was a big change but like you say, it’s just software. And in the end it’s actually not so bad.

    Now about the community: I think we’ve been tweeting at each other for too long from a distance and the lack of f2f meetups is getting to us. It’s so easy to go down a rabbit hole of keyboard rants and forget that we’re all people who actually like each other quite a lot. When we were able to meet f2f we were reminded of that, and it created the cohesiveness of a community.

    I hope we can get back to that soon, not just because I miss everyone (I really do!) but because of conversations like this.

    • That’s an interesting take on f2f events. I do wonder with some if that is part of stepping away. I feel like I’ve seen more people gravitate to WordPress though, over the last year, instead of away as it has been, with Zoom and other events, a good stop-gap for many.

      It will, indeed, be interesting to see what happens with these discussions when in-person events start ramping back up.

      • Totally agree, lots of context and stuff missed online and the only way we’re going to move forward to gain community momentum and passion again is definitely in person events that connect us on a human level!

        I spent 2020-2021 learning _Gutenberg_ deeply, I can say it was frustrating as the APIs were lacking and still require a lot of “world building” but it’s been getting better gradually.

  3. As you said, Chris, there are several communities in the WordPress universe.

    For example, I am a Brazilian electrical engineer who develops websites in my “spare” time. I have never participated in any online or offline meetings, but I have been passionate about WordPress for several years. At the moment I am studying to develop my own FSE theme.

    Years go by, communities change, and all seems well. WordPress’ growing market share indicates that it will get through this crisis as well.

  4. I don’t think it’s Gutenberg per se either. From what I heard many step away because they think they don’t have the influence they once had. But if we take a big and honest look, when it came to it, did any of us really have that much influence? In my opinion, COVID caused many of us to shift priorities. If you’re worried about making a living or family dealing with serious illness, volunteering is not on top of the list of priorities. That, in turn, caused that a lot of the work fell on even less shoulders. Who, in turn, burned out and had to shift priorities. And while with f2f events, there is a steady flow of new contributors, we had a bit of that at first but not much new blood since.

    Now that WordPress’ market share is so huge, that comes with huge responsibility too. And I understand that we need more people who can commit to that reliably. I get how that causes a division between sponsored and non-sponsored contributors. It’s complicated. And as much as I wish, there is no easy solution.

    Speaking for myself, I miss my friends and I think and hope some of us will continue to gather across the globe no matter what happens. Trying to contribute to making the web and the world a better place simultaneously.

  5. Hey Chris,

    A very comforting read. If I’m where you are in a few months then I’ll take that.
    Thanks for writing this. And for highlighting where troubled souls can find some peace.

    I think this is a lot about people (like me) transitioning, with reluctance and sadness, from idealist to pragmatist. Which I think is healthy, yet, a shame. But it is what it is.

    And… We still have great friends to care for each other. And I agree with f2f (or lack of) being part of the problem as some people have quite rightly highlighted, but with a slightly different nuanced view. That being that the pandemic has done here what it’s done everywhere – accelerated and amplified the inevitable.

    Thanks again for your writings, and your response. I can say it’s been really helpful for me to read, and I can bet that is the case for others too.
    Cheers

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