You catch 'em, we kill 'em

Wordpress 5.0 - Ideology Trumps Usability

, posted: 14-Dec-2018 20:32

As some people in GZ know I can present as a grumpy old man (GOM) and I've certainly been accused of berating new technologies. This post certainly shouldn't disappoint them. However I will state my cause for this post - usability, specifically Jo(e) Average's ability to use a technology - in this case Wordpress. And so on behalf of Joe Average, let me unleash my inner GOM.

For those who are unaware: Version 5.0 of Wordpress changed the face of Wordpress, literally. Instead of the classic post and page editor, a simplified word processor like interface, they have now foisted the Gutenberg Editor on all users updating to WP 5.0. The Gutenberg editor makes use of 'blocks' to layout pages, allowing a much more gui-like experience. The idea behind this change is that much web page content is a block of content and in our modern 'responsive / screen agnostic' web experience these blocks get shuffled around to make the page reconfigure on screens of different sizes. 

The developers at Wordpress figured that since we tend to view pages as blocks of media, we should edit pages as blocks of media. So now, instead of a word processor like page editor, you drag blocks onto an editing screen then configure each block. 

This all sounds well and good, and for the technically literate it might even be a boon - but for Jo(e) Average (JA)  it is a nightmare. And let's face it, Wordpress was designed so J.A. could get a blog onto the 'net quickly and easily - and to that end it has worked beautifully. WP now claims 32% of all blogs and web sites are written using WP. 

The reason it has worked is that J.A. is intimately acquainted with a Word-processor like interface. It doesn't matter if they are using: Word; Wordstar; Open Office; Google Docs; Facebook Posts; Outlook, Thunderbird Email, Apple Notepad (whatever that is called ..iNote??) or even (gasp) a Geekzone post editor, the interface is pretty much the same.  Even the iPhone, Android phone, tablets and Chrome devices all use similar interfaces for email and typing. You type in text, high light something, click bold, italic, header, colour, list or whatever and it is laid out. The more adventurous insert tables and photos - but across the board the experience is pretty similar. Its a universal interface and it is why WordPress has succeeded to a large degree - you don't have to be technical to make it work.

But!!! I hear the WP developers scream - blocks allows users to concentrate on little bits of the page at a time, they can concentrate on just the image and drag it into place, just the text and move it, they can add Facebook links and other technical stuff - simple as pie. What's more it auto magically breaks down in a responsive way, to fit all screens. And they are right - it does do these things (badly). But here is the rub.

The unstated premise behind using blocks is that the people using them understand the technologies in use on the web. They know what an HTML block is compared to a text block. They know what URL is vs a button or roll over or hover or....They know images need alt tags and descriptions and borders and padding and margins and .... and WP developers know users understand these things and ....   

ACTUALLY - JOE AVERAGE USERS DON'T UNDERSTAND.  Here is a list from the first page I went to when I typed 'wordpress gutenberg blocks' into Google:

  • Post Grid Block
  • Container Block
  • Testimonial Block
  • Inline Notice Block
  • Accordion Block
  • Share Icons Block
  • Call-To-Action Block
  • Customizable Button Block
  • Spacer & Divider
  • Author Profile Block
  • Drop Cap Block

HOLY CRAP BATMAN!!!!!   I don't know what a post grid block is, or a container block. I can guess but I don't know. And the reason I can guess is that I have developed since the late 90's and sort of keep up to date. And there-in lies the rub. I know because I'm technically literate. I know that when I add in an image block I will need an alt-tag, description, and other data at my finger tips. I know I will need to think of borders, ratios, padding and margins. I know about roll overs, hovers, clicks, click and hold and drags. I know because I'm technically literate. JOE AVERAGE ISN'T!!

All Joe Average wants is to type in their thoughts, recipes, tweets, flits, flirts and brain farts. They might want to bold, italic and colour stuff - but they want to do it like they have always done it - using a word processor like interface. 

WP Developers argue they can learn and will learn - but as we the technically literate know that is a rabbit hole that once you start down it - never comes to an end. Each new piece of learning opens a can of hurt and pain and struggle and eventual mastery - which leads to more of the same. Some of us like technical learning - but J.A.  doesn't. He / She wants to spend his / her time on the content, not the mode of delivery. 

As a GOM I resent the following:

  • WP foisted this on us - not as a buy in but as something you have to figure out how to opt out of (there is a plug in)
  • WP foisted alpha software on us. As my clients websites update themselves (and they do for security reasons) then they will break and I'll have to visit each one and add in the Classic Editor Plugin to undo cruft I or they didn't ask for.
  • WP are adding new code and now a new plugin to revert that code - which adds to the attack surface of every web app using Wordpress (and that's 32% of websites remember). That's a huge risk.
  • WP have forced an update to incomplete and broken code. WP themselves state they know that previous functionality is not fully available in Gutenberg. They also know that parts of it are plain broken. A simple copy and paste of tables with some cells not filled breaks tables. Media uploads take more clicks, some stuff is just not there and some plugins no longer work. 
  • What used to take one or two clicks now takes several. WP tell us this is progress. It is pretty universally acknowledged that Gutenberg editing is slower than Classic Editor editing.


At the risk of sounding like a broken record:This is another glaring example of the dangers reliance on cloud based technologies, from a small source of suppliers, presents. In the good old days (another popular GOM saying) you bought software, installed it and it stayed the same. You were not forced into unwanted 'upgrades' with 'exciting new features' that slowed things down, forced huge amounts of learning and presents new security issues. 

Wordpress updates itself...well mine does. I missed 5.0, 5.01 and a couple of others but today it kicked in as the WP version went from an alpha type to a 'more stable' version. The problem is more stable in today's programming paradigm is different to what an OG (old geek) like me calls stable. We released quarterly, or half yearly or at an extreme sometimes monthly. We did not release daily or weekly as we knew it doesn't give time for proper testing and checking. Much of today's beta and stable software wouldn't be fit for alpha release under some of the old standards. Thank goodness J.A. is willing to test this code in the wild for us. After all J.A. loves more complexity, losing functionality, taking three times as long to do something and complete melt downs of their websites.

Seriously - I appreciate WP updates that fix security issues or improves performance or that fixes bugs. I do not appreciate being forced into un-necessary change based on an ideological decision with no security, performance, simplicity or work flow benefits to it. It does not benefit the end user. It's wrong! It's broken and dammit - it's here!!

Thank goodness for open source.   ClassicPress - here I come:  (A forked, maintained version of WP without Gutenberg).


nunz's profile

Shane Hollis
New Zealand

Shane started Virusbusters twelve years ago to provide fixed price IT support for home users.

Daily battles through the world of viruses, spammers and other malware has left an indelible impression on him so he decided to try to give back some of the help he has received over time.

Hopefully crazy ideas, virus removal tips and other help can be found in this new blog. who knows, it might even be worth reading one day.