Initial Impression of WordPress 5 from a former WordPress Startup CEO

WordPress 5.0 isn’t the future, it just barely catches WordPress up to the present.

WordPress 5.0 and the Gutenberg Content Editor

I don’t talk to a lot of my WordPress friends anymore, and when I do, I don’t really talk WordPress with them. The politics of WordPress absolutely bum me out, and I am done fighting with Matt Mullenweg. For those of you who don’t know, I was pretty much blacklisted along with the entire city of San Francisco by WordPress.org and Automattic for reasons that no one has ever fully explained to me. I will save that for another time.

I use to be very publicly active in the WordPress community, as I spent a good 5-years of my life running a WordPress startup called CyberChimps, but I got tired of fighting pointless battles. I realized that WordPress is run by Matt Mullenweg, and as much as I like him as a person, I find his business decisions often baffling.

For example, releasing WordPress 5.0 right before the big WordCamp US conference starting tomorrow was absolutely silly. The release day was a travel day for most of the top people in the WordPress community. Releasing WordPress 5.0 a day before WordCamp US was simply rude to the WordPress community.

So is releasing a major version of software that powers 32%+ of the Internet in the month of December during the holidays when many people are trying to focus on family. This update is going to break millions of websites, and force millions of developers to upgrade millions of websites. The number of human working hours that are going to go into supporting this update can’t even be quantified.

While I believe the new version of WordPress 5.0 with the new file editor Gutenberg is absolutely necessary, how they rolled it out was unprofessional and inconsiderate. The fact of the matter is WordPress should have had these features 5+ years ago. While I see a lot of people claiming this is the future of WordPress, my perspective is it is actually just WordPress’s somewhat boring present. I haven’t seen anything innovative in WordPress 5.0 that I haven’t seen in other page builders, themes, or plugins. WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg is kind of boring in its simplicity.

Gutenberg is necessary to catch WordPress up to the present, but it does nothing to put WordPress ahead. They’re playing catch up, making up for lost time, and not moving the ball forward. If this is Matt Mullenweg’s Super Bowl moment, he’s merely lined up behind center and hasn’t thrown a pass towards the endzone yet. I’m not even sure he’s been in the redzone.

I cannot help but feel like WordPress as a community missed a huge opportunity by taking the direction they took with WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg.

Did WordPress really need a new editor? Or, do we need a new WordPress?

In 2018, nearly 2019, I cannot come up with a logical argument for why you even need to separate backend and frontend content editing. This is an old model and concept from a time long past when technology limited our ability to do both at the same time.

If WordPress was going to make something new and exciting for 5.0, they could have created a comprehensive solution to solve the problem of: “How do I edit content?” Then come up with an integrated solution based on modern technology. Instead, we got another “safe” modular solution designed around an old concept layering new technology on top of a legacy system. It is boringly functional, and will serve as a solid foundation to keep WordPress relevant for another few years, but it isn’t enough.

The backend editing experience might be fixed, but WordPress 5.0 does absolutely nothing to improve the frontend editing experience. Other web builders don’t provide multiple interfaces to edit content anymore, they just use frontend editors because there isn’t really a need for anything else. WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg solved the wrong problem. Even though the solution they came up with is decent, it is based on an old idea of what maintaining content on the Internet is today.

They would have been better off reinventing how themes, content, and plugins all work together and built something new. Instead they basically just created a new editor without solving any of the other challenges that plague WordPress. It is a bandage at best, and it is still going to break millions of websites so they might as well created something new and revolutionary.

While I am glad WordPress is somewhat still relevant thanks to this update, they unfortunately solved the wrong problem in my opinion. If Matt wants to take WordPress into the future, he needs to let go of the past, and do something new. He has the team, and the money. He just needs to go do it, and stop wasting so much effort on backwards compatibility and old ways of thinking.

WordPress Past

For those of you who do not know, I scaled CyberChimps to 4.9 million downloads of our software, and bootstrapped the company to $1 million in revenue without an investor, then sold the company for an exit. I was one of the first major theme providers to bring drag and drop template editing and responsive design to WordPress. While I wasn’t the first company or person to do either, I was by far the most successful in terms of sheer volume of actual people who used our software compared to others.

In fact, Automattic which is basically the parent company behind WordPress, had about the same number of downloads as I had at the time when I sold my company. They had to hire close to 20 people to release nearly 50 themes to match the download count I had with just a dozen themes, half the team, and 1/100 the financial resources.

These days, people don’t even really associate me with my WordPress past. If anything I’m the most Internet famous for my political writing, and podcasting with Crypto Disrupted and now the Hacker Noon Podcast.

Few people seem to know or care that I still actually work with WordPress. I’ve actually spent the last 3 years working on a Software as a Service automation platform for WordPress, but it is also an an application agnostic solution that works with any web app.

For more info you can check out Stratus5 and WPdocker for the WordPress demos. We will be relaunching early next year, but the latest version of our product is available for a free trial.

On a final note, I am glad that Hacker Noon is doing a crowdfund to develop their own publishing platform. As decent as Gutenberg is, WordPress still has legacy, security, and scalability issues. For a site of HackerNoon.com’s size, WordPress is a poor choice, and I am looking forward to working with Hacker Noon’s new CTO to build a better next generation solution than Medium and WordPress. WordPress 5.0 hasn’t changed my mind about Hacker Noon’s situation at all, in fact it merely confirms to me that David Smooke, Hacker Noon’s CEO, is on the right path.

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