This is why we can’t have nice things!

chrislema-face

The last time I wrote a post like this…

I'm not a Reddit kind of guy. Let me start there.

I say this because the last time I wrote a post like this, it ended up on Reddit as a question posed in an interview (AMA—which means “ask me anything”) with Matt Mullenweg, of WordPress co-founder fame.

The last time I wrote a post like this was for the very same reason.

People I like, people who are awesome, people who are volunteering their time, people who are very smart—those kind of people—were making a decision about WordPress that worried me.

Last time it was about automatic updates. This was two years ago when it was first being proposed and the idea that an interface would change automatically really worried me.

Thankfully, my worries were completely unfounded.

To be clear, I wasn't worried about background updates to internal components of WordPress. I was worried that the physical user interface (UI) would change automatically and that would be very expensive in the world I spend most of my time in—the enterprise software space.

And again, thankfully, automatic updates have worked like a charm, been amazing, and have not changed the UI at all. That's great news.

Writing a post like this again…

Yet here I am, two years later, and again super smart and amazing people (volunteers, at that) are talking about a plan that worries me.

Maybe writing about it simply helps me process my argument so that others can read it without me repeating it. Or maybe writing about it helps others see what I'm talking about and it helps them find an answer. I don't know.

But I do know a few things. And these are the things I know.

1. For the most part, young people write software.

I know that this is a broad generalization. And I'm positive people who don't consider themselves young will object and highlight that they're not only writing software but that they're not young. I get that.

But look at things in the aggregate. Look at the big picture of who makes up the world of software developers. And I think you'll note that a lot of the people writing code are younger than 35. I say this not to be ageist. I say this because there are several things that young people (under 35) have in common.

  • Young people learn quickly.
  • Young people have grown up with technology.
  • Young people have younger eyes and therefore better eyesight.

This is a big deal if they're writing software for people who are older than them. Because it's really hard to remember that others,

  • Don't learn quickly.
  • Aren't naturally technically savvy.
  • May need glasses.

Let's face it, it's hard to step out of your shoes and into someone else's. So it's no surprise when people make software decisions that they can forget that others aren't like them.

2. Change, especially in a software user interface, can be very costly.

I work, and have worked for over 20 years, with large organizations to deploy mission-critical software solutions. I have worked with organizations like Ford, Sprint, Bank of America and the county of Los Angeles to run enterprise software and I can tell you that when you have hundreds of staff using a piece of software, any kind of software, a change is a big deal.

You think you get nervous about installing a new version of Mac OSX on your single laptop. Imagine an organization that has to think about 10 applications like that, on thousands of computers. It will take time and will need to be orchestrated.

Now imagine that you also have hundreds or thousands of people calling IT, a Help Desk, or someone else – all to complain that they can't do their job anymore because the “button” is missing.

These are two things I know.

Why am I writing now?

If you've gotten this far, then maybe you're wondering what kind of change is being proposed (by young people) that will have an impact on large enterprises, as it relates to WordPress?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

I read about it today on WP Tavern—the proposal to not only fix 10 issues related to WordPress menus, but the idea to stick it into the Customizer…and then potentially remove the main Menu page in an upcoming version.

Let me say that again:

  • Stick menu creation in a tiny side-panel
  • Remove the main menu page that people know how to use
  • Fix 10 open tickets re: the menu

Of those three ideas, which one do you think I really appreciate? Yes, the third.

The first two scare me. They worry me. And they stress me out.

Enough to write a post explaining why I think this is a bad idea.

This is why we can't have nice things…

The Customizer was cool when it was doing things that frankly were hard to do or find before.

Changing accent colors, updating a site's logo, that kind of stuff—was awesome.

But recent announcements have included that all WordPress themes in the free WordPress.org theme directory would need to move all their settings to the Customizer.

I didn't think that was a horrible idea because so many themes had their settings in tons of different places. So the idea was welcomed as a way to mitigate customer confusion.

But sometimes we take things too far…. like now.

  • Clients all already go to one place for menus.
  • Clients all already know how to create a menu.
  • Clients all already have printed manuals showing them how to create menus.

There is no good reason to remove the existing spot where menus are created. There is no good reason to hide menu creation in the Appearance > Customize menu item because no one will guess that it's there.

This is a good idea (use the Customizer) that went sideways (use it for Menus).

People will say I'm against change…I'm not.

Of course, people are going to respond that I'm just against change for the sake of change. This is completely untrue. I'm just against change that doesn't actually make sense for end-users that are different from developers.

Many of the developers writing WordPress code have not worked in an organization of 3000 people. Many have not dealt with the process of getting code changes deployed in a bank.

If we want to say that WordPress can do more than blogs, we need to think about more than blogs. If not, we'll make decisions like this that will make it appear that WordPress really is just for tiny shops and individuals writing web journals.

And that's a sad way to embrace change. And why we can't have nice things.

If you want to comment on the proposal, do so here.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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