The Future of WordPress

Or: How to make creating content simple and fun again, an open letter to Matt Mullenweg.

Hi, my name is Jan and I have been a happy customer, for many years.
I am one of those guys who is in a phase of putting things in perspective, looking at whether or not certain (digital) clutter is really necessary and whether or not things could be / should be more simple.

The current developments surrounding WordPress 3.6 are tickling my state of mind, so I need to share my thoughts.


WordPress has been the basis of every website I set up, ever since 2004 and currently, with the help of InfiniteWP, I still edit, maintain and backup multiple multisite WordPress installations.

The big BUT, is when it comes to creating content and the direction that WordPress is taking that specific topic right now. Part of my de-cluttering process made me quite aware of this.

Taking into account the speed at which we can create and share whatever kind of data, combined with the intelligence of the platforms that we are using to do so, how come the WordPress user still has to perform certain actions that can be automated?
Right now, WordPress asks from the user to be pro-active (making multiple decisions about how, what, where), while the input one user gives while creating content, could be the basis for WordPress to be pro-active.

Overall, while searching for a — for me personally appealing — simple way of creating content, I find that I do not immediately look into WordPress anymore… has it become too cluttered? Is a drastic change necessary or can we find a solution that offers the WordPress user a simple and basic start, while all the extras are available when needed?

WP 3.6

Currently we are looking at WordPress version 3.6 (3.6.1 to be exact). And while every major and jazzy upgrade indeed does make things easier, smoother and more user-friendly… I ask myself whether that really is the case.

Especially for the continuous WP user, we see changes and notice differences, but when looking at the current plethora of options with layman’s eyes, what do we have then?

While this screenshot shows a logical result from the development of the admin interface of the previous periods, I find it a disturbing view. Yes, I know that things change when the creator makes his or her decision about the format, but I think things could flow more easily.

Maybe the most important question is whether — for the continuous and loyal users (and this group is huge) — the initial need is being clouded by the many options, steps and time that currently involve creating content with WordPress.

One could take the number of available plugins and themes as indicators for 2 things:

  1. While serving a large portion of the interwebs, one needs a heap of tools to differentiate for and appeal to the needs of each user,
  2. In general a user wants to be able to do things easier, for which it apparently needs tools that are not the core of the platform.

I have a strong feeling that WP has developed in such a broad way, that its core has gotten a skin too thick… too thick for most users.

side note: I was quite taken aback by this “Welcome” widget on the admin dashboard, seeing 1 big button for “Customize Your Site”, rather than “POST”… which is in the next column, in third place. Is WordPress really becoming a platform of “Form over Content”, rather than of “Content AND Form”?

One of the things that seems unfittingly, is that — from a user perspective — much of the development over time is related to options (which means more clutter) and less focused on advanced technique in the background that eases the core business of the platform.

I think that in the current version of WordPress, we have all the ingredients and input we need to build the next level CMS or blog platform… when used in a profound way.

Reactive Post Creation

What I am talking about is the following, which results from some simple lines of thought:

  • When I only put 1 picture in a post and nothing else, it should be obvious that that post should be of the “image” format. When multiple images without any further text, “gallery” would be a logical guess.
  • When starting a post by pasting a link, followed by a e.g. 1 paragraph of text, one could think that I am aiming for a “link” post.
  • Starting with a video… hey, does this start to make sense?

I am thinking that this is something that WordPress is really lacking. Ever since I started using Markdown to write my posts and especially since using the wonderful Mou, typing one thing and seeing it evolve into a presentable/publishable reality has become my standard.

As mentioned, looking into the ingredients that WordPress has available, I think they should be used more efficiently and in that way, more user-friendly.

With a workflow as mentioned above, combined with a “as I type, realtime, in-theme preview”, the user could either immediately hit Publish, or make a suitable post-format correction in the end. Thing is, when letting WordPress do the math about the format, the user has less clutter as distraction. In the end, the post formats are mostly an indicator for the corresponding theme’s stylesheet…

WordPress 5.0 (to give it a name…)

So, how would this look and what input could trigger the “morphing” of the post format?

  • the beginning of a post usually sets the trend: when an image is posted first, image. When a link, link. When multiple images, gallery. When John: Mary: John:, then chat. When video embed, then video. When MP3, then audio. When just one line, status. When <blockquote> first, then quote.
  • words within the text preceded by a # are rendered normally when published, but the words are added as tags linked to the post.
  • This influences the use of the “press this” option too. More alike how tumblr uses this, reflecting a content aware post format when on a certain page…
  • and while we are at it… why not immediately incorporate MarkDown in the editor… yes, I truly think that there is a large audience that would appreciate this… (no, will not dive into static content creation from WP… ;))

Food for Thought

This post is intended to trigger some thoughts, tickle the brains of those who can translate this to reality. My own knowledge and expertise is too limited to create the appropriate solutions, yet my experience with WP over the past decade is enough to air some ideas and pointers.

I think that there are possibilities that are not explored yet, that could enlighten and enhance the user experience within WordPress, that can take the ease and joy of creating content to a new level again and perhaps really surprise the WordPress users, both existing and new.

Please, react, share and discuss (preferably within the WordPress community), as I trust that more minds might take this to a next level.