I got into WordPress ten years ago. At the time, the choices for building a website were pretty limited.
You could use a WYSIWYG builder and upload it somewhere (cumbersome); you could use a website service (ad-supported, limited features, ugly); or you could use a CMS (complicated, but doable).
Out of all the CMSes out there, WordPress was the easiest to get started with. But it was never truly easy. It was just relatively easy compared to the other popular CMSes like Joomla and Drupal.
What does the future of WordPress look like?
A few weeks back I wrote a post about the future of WordPress being pulled in two directions.
On one hand, you have the DIY crowd served by services like Wix and Squarespace and GoCentral.
On the other hand, you have the web pro crowd who want a website development framework to build solutions for clients (or for themselves).
This morning, on my way to WordCamp Toronto 2017, my girlfriend raised a point about this. She asked if hanging my hat on WordPress — something that’s done well for me so far — was still a good idea.
“Why should a non-techie choose WordPress when there are options like Squarespace and Wix that are easier to use?”
If my True North is to help non-techie users get online, should I still be putting all of my eggs in the WordPress basket?
Spoiler: WordPress wasn’t my first choice.
I got into WordPress not because I wanted to write code, but because I wanted to build websites. I like to use existing tools to build functional solutions for myself, or for the people that I’m helping.
WordPress was my go-to for a long time, because for a long time, WordPress was the best choice.
But things have changed. Especially in the last few years.
We’ve seen aggressive growth from SaaS website platforms.
They’re making it easy for non-technical DIY users to get decent sites off the ground.
These DIY users don’t need to worry about hosting configuration or security hardening or plugin compatibility or performance optimization. They’re not chasing a bunch of independent developers when something goes wrong. If anything happens, they have a single point of contact to deal with.
The upside, for those of us who have invested the time in learning how to navigate the WordPress ecosystem, is that we have a lot of options to choose from.
But this ecosystem is far from easy for a non-technical DIY user. They just wants to get something online.
What got WordPress to this milestone won’t get WordPress to the next one.
Yes, WordPress has large market share. Yes, that market share is still growing. (We’re at like 28% now.)
But the next steps aren’t about taking market share away from other platforms. The next steps are about serving those people who don’t have a website yet.
When those people are facing a choice between a SaaS product and a roll-your-own WordPress solution, which are they going to choose?
If you’re in favour of growing WordPress for the next ten years, how do you make WordPress more competitive and compelling?
But here’s another question: Can the core WordPress OSS project really compete with SaaS businesses to win over DIY users?
Why would you choose WordPress in 2017?
Here’s my theory:
- Someone told you that WordPress is the right way to go. You’re a DIY’er and someone sold you on the greatness of WordPress. (It might’ve been me.) So here you are, learning to navigate the WordPress ecosystem.
- You’re a web professional building sites for others. You’re using WordPress because of the ecosystem. You’re fine dealing with all the moving parts because this is your business. All of those different plugin developers and hosting providers are basically vendors in your supply chain. If one fails, you flip it out.
- You’re a web professional building sites for yourself. You might not do client work, but you may have a bunch of sites that make you money. Maybe you’re a professional blogger, or an affiliate marketer, or running an eCommerce business of some kind. That might include a SaaS product that uses WordPress as a framework, e.g. sites for creatives or marketers or specific industry verticals.
Which path do we take?
The two paths — DIY’er versus web pro — go in very different directions. And WordPress is at a fork in the road to decide between the two at a core software level.
I don’t know which is the right path. But, if I was forced to choose, I’d say that focusing on web professionals is the way forward.
IMO, WordPress isn’t a competitor to Wix or Squarespace or GoCentral.
WordPress, as core software, empowers pros to build solutions. It’s on the pro to take care of the end-user experience.
This doesn’t mean we stop bringing DIY’ers into the WordPress fold.
I think that we need to change the context around what WordPress is best used for.
Rather than touting it as the best solution for everything, we need to set expectations up front about what WordPress is great for… and what it’s not great for.
There’s a lot of other work involved in building something with WordPress, above and beyond just WordPress itself. Domains, hosting, email, and security are big tasks.
Here’s the thing: WordPress isn’t a one-click fix to getting online.
So when people are setting out to learn WordPress, I think we’d do them a favour to let them know that they’re setting down a path of learning a lot more than just WordPress itself.
And that’s a great thing! Because it could be a starting point for them to become a web professional.
The business of being a web pro is enticing.
Becoming a web professional opens up doors to new employment opportunities.
You can work remotely, work for yourself, moonlight on the side — there are all kinds of options.
And let me be clear here: You don’t need to be a web developer to be a web professional. You don’t need to write code in order to build powerful solutions for yourself or for others.
The web has evolved, and so has WordPress.
The reasons for choosing WordPress in 2007 may not be the same reasons that you’d choose WordPress in 2017.
The WordPress community has a couple of paths before us to get to the next milestone: Stay focused on the DIY non-technical user, or invest in creating a killer platform for web pros.
I prefer the web pro route, but that’s just me. What do you think?
For another POV: Check out Scott Bolinger’s post, “Perspective on WordPress”.