How WordPress Spoils Developers

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WordPress took the online world by surprise. Undoubtedly the single most influential tool in the blog-boom, WordPress has not only revolutionized the web as we (used to) know it, but also completely changed the daily ins and outs of web development forever. It’s not just about the power and perfection of the package, but also the coding standards, community benefits, and open source modeling. In short, WordPress has changed the face of web scripting for everyone.

The most obvious impact WordPress has had – on everyone – is that there really isn’t much room for another blogging platform. No matter how good of a competing product someone might make, it’s near impossible for anything to ever overtake WordPress as the tool of choice for the job – no matter what that might be. WordPress isn’t perfect, and we’re the first to admit it. It certainly isn’t the most lightweight blogging platform nor is it the ultimate CMS, but that most definitely hasn’t stopped it from conquering the market.

“Making a better product” isn’t anywhere near as easy as people make it out to be. Take it from us, software development is our thing. It’s hard enough to get an idea that might end up shaping a great replacement for an existing platform/product/service, but it takes a whole lot more to get things up and going. You have to convince the user base that your product/idea is not only better, but also that all the complementing products & services are just as good, too. It’s not enough to make a product; you also have to have the community, support, and charisma to go along with it.

In that sense, WordPress is hard or even impossible to beat. Not only does it already have everything you could want from a blogging script; it also has one of the largest and most extensively utilized online communities the web has ever seen. Coupled with a relaxed open-source model, friendly developers, and totally free hosting services, it’s damn hard to beat – especially coming from scratch. After WordPress 2.0 shipped, it became impossible for someone to write a script that would ever replace WordPress simply because of sheer quantity, fame, and support.

We’ve been asked to review a plethora of independent (free and otherwise) blogging scripts in many languages and with many purposes; but every single time it boiled down to WP: No matter what the program, audience, or goal, WordPress just did things better. In a nutshell, the blogging market is c.l.o.s.e.d. – as in no more room, and most importantly, no more competition; because let’s face it, whatever you’ve got, it’s just never going to be good enough.

Not only does WordPress have the blog market sealed off from newcomers, but also WordPress has made it much more difficult for developers to take on, use, or otherwise modify other existing projects. Just last month, I hacked up e107 and coupled it with a couple of 100% custom PHP scripts/platforms for an ambitious project (, and it wasn’t easy. Two years ago, e107 would have been considered excellent and a piece of cake to hack or modify – and it was, given the alternatives and what web developers were used to. But today, it can be pure torture. e107 is ideal for comparison given the similarity between it and WordPress as far as open-source models, “extensive libraries” of hacks and plugins, and relatively large online communities. Two years ago, the documentation available online for e107 (now) and the quality of the code would have been seen as border-line marvelous; but today, when compared to WordPress, it and everything else just fails.

WordPress has spoiled us developers with its well-written & easy-to-use Codex (online wiki/documentation for users, developers, and hackers, alike). You no longer have to read through hundreds or thousands of lines to find out what exactly any given function will do, mainly because every single function is heavily documented and well-referenced, and also because no function is that long in the first place. Function names are clear and logical, they’re declared properly and follow some sort of sane schematic. Basically, it’s not a nightmare to sort through.

On the other hand, projects like e107 have age-old outdated documentation for the more commonly-used functions, and absolutely no sense of explanation or aid for the rest. At the end of any given hour, you’re almost guaranteed to be banging your head against the wall and wondering aloud whether no documentation or old, incorrect, & out-dated documentation is better – especially if this is the first (and certainly the last) time you look at the source code.

While products of the likes of phpBB and e107 have “support forums” set up for helping users and developers get answers to their questions, more often than not these questions and requests for help will go ignored and unanswered. This may be a community thing, but nevertheless, you are much more likely to get a response to a support request on WordPress’ support forums than you are there.

But mostly, it boils down to code cleanliness. If you’re on a time-critical project and you need to use a platform you’re not familiar with and don’t have time nor patience to hassle with support forums, product documentation, and mailing lists, you had better pick WordPress. It’s what really ruined the rest of the online scripts for web developers: good code. It’s not hard to find a function that does what you’re looking for and it’s even easier to find out what a function does. A quick query in the online Codex will usually turn up what you need, and if it isn’t there, it’s a good bet that one of the top ten results on Google will.

Don’t get the wrong impression though, WordPress hasn’t made it all fun and games for web developers everywhere. Those of us that aren’t lucky enough to work for ourselves still have to deal with the incredibly high expectations of even the least technical of users today. When a user sees an interface as refined as WordPress’ admin center, code as compatible and succinct as that employed in WordPress, and the ease of extending and changing the behavior of WordPress via plugins, it means you’re going to have to work at least 10 times harder to make them just half as happy.

Most users/employers don’t understand the technical differences between a 100-man development team and a one-man printing press (yes, yes, WordPress isn’t technically a 100-man job, but still…) and that can make things a little bit difficult. Not everyone can come up with five-hundred brain storms an hour, and not every web developer out there has mastered Prototype. We’re not all rocket scientists, and we most certainly aren’t mind readers. We do what we can, and we hope that WordPress keeps the wheels churning and the challenge going.

“Code is Poetry”

…Better believe it!

21 thoughts on “How WordPress Spoils Developers

  1. Keep in mind, I like WordPress and wish I was using it instead of MovableType right now. That said, I think this post is either way off or quite intentionally hyperbolic:

    1. “Undoubtedly the single most influential tool in the blog-boom”

    — Not true at all. Movable Type is what got people blogging. And then, what got non-geeks blogging was a combination of Blogger and Typepad. In my opinion, WordPress is only now beginning to flex its muscle, and I think most of that muscle will actually be flexed with the excellent

    2. “WordPress has not only revolutionized the web as we (used to) know it, but also completely changed the daily ins and outs of web development forever. It?s not just about the power and perfection of the package…”

    — I don’t really agree with this either. It hasn’t revolutionized the web, but it’s beginning to evolve the web. Also, even Matt himself will tell you that it’s not “perfection”. The only people I know who will tell you their platform of choice is perfect are Ruby on Rails people (and of course, they aren’t exactly right either). :)

    3. “The most obvious impact WordPress has had ? on everyone ? is that there really isn?t much room for another blogging platform. No matter how good of a competing product someone might make, it?s near impossible for anything to ever overtake WordPress as the tool of choice for the job ? no matter what that might be.”

    — Wow, that’s interesting considering there are tons of people who swear by Expression Engine and TextPattern and even people like Jeff Croft building new platforms using things like Django. Why such dramatic statements here? You should know that there are very few absolutes in this world and to state otherwise is to arouse skepticism and distrust.

    4. “WordPress isn?t perfect, and we?re the first to admit it. It certainly isn?t the most lightweight blogging platform nor is it the ultimate CMS, but that most definitely hasn?t stopped it from conquering the market.”

    — Whoa, I thought it was perfection? Something must have happened between paragraph one and two I guess. Also keep in mind that WordPress has not conquered any “market” because where there is no economy, there is no market., on the other hand, is off to a fantabulous start and I believe they are well on their way to dominating the hosted blog market… huge ups to the team for this.

    In short, I hate to flame, but I think I just did. Let’s just keep our heads about us when talking about code ‘n stuff please… k?

  2. I would not go so far as to say it is the perfect blogging software, because unless everything that is needed is taken into consideration it will not be.

    For one, the most needed request is a better upgrade system. SMF and many other systems detect updates and upgrade them with a click. Not so with WordPress as it is a time consuming process.

    WordPress has spoiled us developers with its well-written & easy-to-use Codex (online wiki/documentation for users, developers, and hackers, alike). You no longer have to read through hundreds or thousands of lines to find out what exactly any given function will do, mainly because every single function is heavily documented and well-referenced

    The Codex is great, but far from perfect. Unfortunately, it needs to be managed by WordPress developers who know the very internals of the code. Unfortunately, a lot of functions are still left undocumented and improving the documentation should be top priority.

    Please note that I love WordPress and swear by it and that is one thing I always use. However, I really would like to see a lot more added to the system than what is present. We can’t always want plugins to do things which should be there in the first place.

  3. Just want to clarify some things:

    By no room left in the market, it means for new comers. I’ve personally tested and used over 50 new-comers, some of them just great, but they don’t stand a chance because WordPress is already there. Obviously if someone or some company with a big name and a bit of money makes their own blogging engine, it would do better. This also doesn’t mean that existing engines with existing userbases can’t improve, either.

    WordPress isn’t perfect. But it’s as close to perfect as users are going to get for now. I agree that new engines have some pretty nifty features; but no matter how much they grow, they’re not about to replace WordPress. Look at it this way: if IE continued to rapidly develop and release with constant improvements and friendly support, would Firefox have ever become as popular as it is today? It would still be in the shadows, as the Mozilla devs will tell you.

    Keep in mind, I’m not saying WP is the only thing that spoiled developers, I’m just pointing out some of the ways that devs who use and code for WP are spoiled by. I’ll be the first to say the Codex is far from perfect: it’s search sucks, and it’s not as organized as people would like. But instead of comparing that to commercial projects like MoveableType, take a look at SMF, phpBB, e107, and more.

    They’re hell compared to WP. They’re also “just as” Open Source – except they don’t do as good of a job. Again, I’m not saying that only WP spoiled devs, but simply that WP spoiled devs.

    And regarding some of the other comments elsewhere on the web, if you RTFA, it becomes obvious that “spoils” is a good thing here, and it’s a complement.

  4. Certainly, WordPress has one of the most extensive documentations and the community helps out with plugin-development etc.. The main problem of wordpress still are the not optimized database queries. Therefore i started using lightpress (not on my main site though), which integrates into wordpress as a plugin and can take over all the frontend for the viewer. It’s significantly faster than the frontend of wordpress. The Backend/Administrator-interface and the database structure mostly stay the same. That way it’s even easy to go back to the wordpress-frontend. You can even have lightpress handle your wp-installation from a subdirectory (for testing purposes).

    As for plugin-development, Lightpress is naturally not as well documented as wordpress, but it has a nice plugin-class, that can be easily extended to fulfill whatever tasks one needs. Also, the seperation of code and theme/design is more thorough. I’ve already tested the nightlies of wordpress 2.1 and those of lightpress 1.2 and it seems the only conflicts are with the usermanagement and the distiction between posts and pages (which has changed to the better imho in wp2.1).


  5. I think you need to take off your fanboy hat and be a little bit more objective.

    The comment about there not being enough room is just silly, of course there is – it just takes a better package/product and the market will shift once more. Look how little time it took for MT to, what I would consider, fall from grace. At one point in time, if you weren’t blogging with MT; then you weren’t blogging. Then something happened, someone built a better mousetrap; it was named WordPress. Just as soon as MT became a giant, they were stripped of it just as quickly – probably faster than it took them to gain said title.


  6. Hey Omar,

    I’m glad you brought Lightpress up, we were just discussing it in WP-Hackers a little while back, and it was pretty much agreed to learn what we can from it… Mad props to the lightpress developers!

    I think everyone at WP is now aware of the MySQL issues and how even dedicated servers can’t withstand a proper digging – check out the convo @ this WP-Hackers thread.

  7. @Alistair:

    I don’t think MT ever had the community that WordPress does. Most importantly, it was a commercial project. It doesn’t matter how successful it is or how nice the guys there are, for some reason, history has shown over and over again that Commercial Projects fade into oblivion hundreds of times faster than open source ones do.

    Look at phpBB. It’s garbage – it’s been surpassed by virtually every other platform out there. Yet, phpBB has it’s community, and once phpBB 3 ships, it’ll probably sky-rocket once more – for a while – before it dies again. That’s because it’s open source.

    When your using a commercial blogging engine, you’re using someone else’s engine on your site. But when you’re using open source, even if you haven’t contributed a line of code to the project, it’s your engine and you like it. It’s probably something a shrink could better explain, but that’s the way it has been for years.

    WordPress has a community, it has a market, and it’s not the worst product out there. It’s also number 1 at the moment – the ingredients for a hardy product that won’t fail or lose respect for years to come – hopefully.

  8. I love WP and use it for all my sites but I think this post is just blind fan advocacy. Just like 2 years ago nobody would think a newcomer would rock MT, no one knows what will come in 2 years. The more and more people will come to online publishing, the more and more room there will be for alternatives and new comers.

  9. Let me repeat, loud and clear: WordPress is open source. MT isn’t.

    I’m not an open source fanatic (I love closed-source freeware, most of NeoSmart’s projects are released as such as well), and open source code isn’t better than closed source code (just look at Firefox..), but as far as the community and support goes, Open Source always rules and lasts much longer.

  10. I don?t think MT ever had the community that WordPress does.

    Incidentially, a large chunk of WordPress users were at one point MT users who switched (mainly) due to the fact that Six Apart announced that they would begin to charge for Movable Type. Before that, we had a lot of WP has today in terms of community included a community driven wiki and community helpers on the support forums.

  11. Exactly: MT killed themselves. WP can’t go paid software, because it’s already released as GPL. Should they re-release WP as paid (which they never will), the devs will simply continue work on the GPL’d versions – as if nothing ever happened.

  12. Argh, WordPress ate my comment. It’s supposed to say:

    … what’s with the “Mozilla [less than] 1.3 Beta is not supported. I’ll try, though, but it might not work” dialog boxes I get (twice) when viewing this site in Safari?

  13. It’s a bug. Check out this site in Firefox or Opera – you’ll see an implementation of the most-excellent Xinha WYSIWYG editor in use. It’s lite, XHTML-valid, and looks great… But it doesn’t work on Safari.

    I’m disabling the pop-up box since it does nothing for the user, and it’s wrong. Safari and other non-compatible browsers will just see the traditional WP comment box.

  14. Actually, this is a very important topic in designs and stuff, the usage of modal message boxes.

    If it doesn’t offer the user

    • An option
    • A chance to exit
    • A system-critical warning

    It shouldn’t display in a message box. Technically, these things should be contained in a status-bar, a hidden-text tag, or something of that nature. Message boxes should be used only when user input is expected/required – and this wasn’t such a case.

    It should be working now – I just disabled the JS code that brought up that error box… Can you verify that it’s working?

  15. >”When your using a commercial blogging engine, you?re using someone else?s engine…when you?re using open source…it?s your engine and you like it.”

    You seem to be asserting that I will feel some sort of ownership of the open source code I use, and that, in turn, will color my feelings about it.

    I don’t understand or agree with that. I’m a user, not a developer. I just want the best software for my needs.

    When I use open source, I certainly don’t feel any greater sense of ownership or that I am more or less a part of a community that I do when I use a closed proprietary product. (To be clear, commercial is not the antithesis of open source.The licenses don’t require developers to give away their code.)

    When I request a feature or report a bug to an open source project, I don’t anticipate getting a response that’s in any sense different than what I’d get from a commerical project. In both cases, someone will or won’t respond to my input based on their own interests and needs.

    An open source project lives as long as its developers want it to live. A commercial project lives as long as it makes money. From my point of view as a user unable to influence decisions in either scenario, I don’t see much difference.

  16. @Bill – that’s true.

    But think of it this way: for every 100 users out there, there is at least one “developer” of sorts. These developers make WordPress valuable to the users. They make the themes, plugins, hacks, and utilities that WordPress users find to be such extremely valuable resources.

    As a simple user, you may not be able to influence WordPress, but all you have to do is decide to become a developer – and then you can. With a commercial project, that decision isn’t yours to make.

  17. As a simple user, you may not be able to influence WordPress, but all you have to do is decide to become a developer – and then you can. With a commercial project, that decision isn?t yours to make.

    I’d say this is quite untrue. Being a developer for Movable Type, I know there have been several instances where we have influenced Movable Type, and it’s featureset. In fact, right now Six Apart is polling the entire Movable Type community (not just developers/professionals) on what plugins they use as a basis for future versions. How’s that for influence on a commercial product?

  18. I agree Arvind, Movable Type is an excellent platform, with awesome staff. But the fact remains, while you guys may influence a couple of decisions or more, every single day developers and users alike influence WordPress in the WP-Hackers mailing list. The only thing that puts normal users off is the fact that it’s a mailing list, not a forum. But almost all new features and aspects are discussed there before they ever happen, and users have an opportunity to shape WP daily.

    However, it’s not all in the users’ hands, even in WP. The best known example is perhaps when Matt single-handedly blocked a motion to add inline PHP documentation to WordPress & its functions for no reason. He did later (just last month) allow it, but I guess it kind of defined where and how decisions are made.

    To be fair, most Matt and the rest of the Automattic team are generally open-minded and are constantly polling the users’ and developers’ opinions on Matt & Ryan’s blogs, and the WP-Hackers mailing list. At the end of the day, you can’t really deny that users in general have more influence over an open source project than a closed source one. I don’t for a minute claim that MT is close-minded or a bad platform, to the contrary, I only have praise for MT – it’s just that I have more praise for WP though.

  19. Being open-source is of dubious benefit if the developers are not responsive to submitted patches. Yes, you can always fork the project. But the costs of doing so are high.

    I found MovableType’s developers infinitely more responsive to my patches and suggestions than WordPress’s developers. Admittedly, I’m something of an outlier, doing XHTML+MathML, so my needs may be viewed as “too specialized” by the WordPress team. Still, that doesn’t explain why MT (a commercial project) should have proven more accomodating.

     I admit that I more-or-less gave up on trying to develop for WordPress  after 2.0 came out. Perhaps things have improved since then. Still, I find it a little hard  to credit its purported status as developer-nirvana.


    It?s lite, XHTML-valid, and looks great


    It’s not even well-formed (much less valid) XHTML. Not that anyone cares, but please … 

  20. Hi! Why I can’t fill my info in profile? Can somebody help me?
    My login is Kisakookoo!

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