I stumbled upon this post on Coder Jerk’s Dan Devine as well as the accompanying Hacker News thread on the futility of WordPress. A key excerpt from Dan’s post:
Drupal was, and still is, a clunking monster, unfriendly to developers and editors alike (that’s a whole other post). Joomla? Magento? Get outta here. WordPress offered a relatively simple and intuitive editing experience and over time it has become so ubiquitous that its very familiarity to editors is a massive selling point.
The word Joomla definitely triggers me as I dealt with a recent client’s website stuck in 2015. They still use 3.9 and migrating to 4.0 was a non-starter for my experience level. Now, with a new web dev team, they are working to switch to WordPress. Kudos to them for dying on that sword, but no thanks.
Dan continues with a reminder of the purpose of our client work:
As a professional web developer, you are building a website. A website for your client, with no limitations on presentation and functionality. A website that happens to use WordPress to provide a way for editors to add content easily. You are not building a WordPress website.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. Our responsibility to our clients is to deliver a working, functional product. No one truly cares about the CMS. As long as it works! It’s why for many potential clients, I still recommend using Squarespace rather than building a custom solution. In fact, this blog had run for at least 7 years on Squarespace before I switched it over to WordPress (the designer in me wanted to tweak everything to my heart’s content).
The thought of client side marketing interns ‘play(ing) around with site-wide designs’ should make the blood of any professional run cold.
I understand where Dan’s coming from, but I strike a different philosophy here. Of course, who wants to see their creative and coding work turned into mush because some client felt yellow was the latest trending color? All it takes is a few clicks here and there and all of a sudden, everything is broken. And then the client comes knocking on your door…
Yet, we were paid experts — emphasis on “were.” Once my invoices are fulfilled and the projects are handed off, I have to let go of the responsibility. Accidents do happen. In preparation, I back up sites right before hand off and then encourage clients to sign retainers. But, in the end, they get to own the product. They paid for it. I don’t want that responsibility, it’s too much power.
That’s why I also like WordPress, in the sense that it’s a tried and tested platform for more than a decade. I know that if my client can’t find me in 5 years, they can safely hire another developer or designer who can update the website with minimal hassle.
The best thing about banging your head against a blogging platform for 10 years is when you stop.
I understand what Dan’s feeling here. I definitely hit the guardrails of WordPress plenty of times. Sluggishness and caching challenges sometimes drives me up a wall. The power of designing and developing a site on WordPress is hard to ignore, especially when paired with a block editor like Elementor. Sites that used to take hours of hand-coding get shifted in just minutes, including those quick responsive tweaks!
Developers and their frustration with WordPress is fascinating to watch, considering the platform still powers 43% of websites across the web. Even as other website platforms continue to launch every day, Automattic continues to create a compelling product sandwiched in between the hardcore developer and turnkey website builders.
In fact, jrm4 from the HN thread introduced a concept called the Lindy effect. I asked ChatGPT to ELI5 and here’s its explanation:
Sure, the Lindy effect simply means that the longer something has existed, the more likely it is to continue existing in the future. For example, if a book has been in print for 50 years, it is more likely to stay in print for another 50 years, compared to a book that has only been in print for 5 years. This is because if a book has survived and been popular for a long time, it likely has qualities that will continue to make it relevant and valuable to people, while a newer book may not have proven its staying power yet.
The staying power of WordPress is hard to ignore (and even harder to inform a client on). In my opinion, WordPress is consistently innovating whether its movement to Gutenberg and FSE (Full Site Editing). Even SQLite integration on WordPress is being tested to help improve deployment and performance for the majority of websites. Of course, these changes make many developers uncomfortable and frustrated as they want more secure, standardized development from the WordPress team. Alas, I like to live on the bleeding edge, what can I say?
As a creative first, visual site building is important to me. I have tight timelines and need to deliver quickly, usually as a one-man-show. To drag and drop and see my design come alive quickly makes all the difference. I’m not the only one who feels this way, clearly, as Squarespace, Wix, Webflow, and Weebly continue to grow rapidly.
Also, hot take alert — websites are also not the most critical thing for businesses nowadays! I can’t tell you how many restaurants (annoyingly) skip the website and go straight for an Instagram profile. Of course, as you grow as a brand, you become beholden to the walled gardens of those platforms. Most tiny small business brands don’t care. They just want to get customers and see Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok as platforms that will live forever. For the rest that do care, let’s keep building a great solution.
Ammircoal’s comment on the Hacker News thread that really resonates with me:
I’ve been a WordPress dev since 3.0. It is a tool. And a very good one. Its market share dominance it not because it is proprietary (it is not) or because of vendor lock in (there is none). It is because it works very well, it is lightweight, it runs pretty much on any host, and is friendly to devs and end users.
Part of being a good dev is knowing which tool to use (and when to not use a tool) and how to get the most out of the tool.
I really believe we aren’t paid for the pure labor (for that, just go to Fiverr or the myriad of freelance service sites). We are paid to deliver solutions by understanding the whole picture. Part of that requires understanding the tools that matter to get to the solution the client needs. Being solution-oriented separates the amateurs from the professionals.
I do want to explore static site generators at some point. I find them to be incredibly powerful, considering the speed gains that you get from them. I just don’t want to hand code every site that comes my way. Data-only CMS that let you configure just a few fields are fine for limited client needs. As soon as you want to customize anything, you have to break out the code editor, and that strikes me as inefficient.
Frankly, I hope to be able to manipulate the design on the fly without heading to a code editor. I researched some possible WordPress and Elementor alternatives that are connected to static site generators. Through my research, I realized that static site generators tend to live in different camps (more client constraints vs. lighter guardrails vs. laissez-faire editing).
Note that this list does not include the popular ones like Gatsby, Hugo, Next.JS, and Eleventy since they all require some level of coding at a basic level. I also haven’t researched each tool below, but I see the possibilities of moving my development and design work over to future tools and platforms such as the following I’ve gathered:
- Publii: https://getpublii.com/
- Siteleaf: https://www.siteleaf.com/
- TeleportHQ: https://teleporthq.io
- GrapesJS: https://grapesjs.com/
- Quarkly: https://quarkly.io
- Automad: https://automad.org/
- Plasmic: https://www.plasmic.app
- Builder.io: https://builder.io
- RapidWeaver: https://www.realmacsoftware.com/rapidweaver/
- CoffeCup Designer: https://www.coffeecup.com/designer/
- KirbyCMS: https://getkirby.com/
- Twill: https://twill.io
- Pinegrow: https://pinegrow.com/
Frankly speaking, I’m happy to cannibalize WordPress today or in the near future. The second something is better, reliable, and more functional, I’m running towards it. I don’t think you should live and die by technology just because of your familiarity to it. I also don’t want to be trendy for the sake of it. There needs to be a balance so that we can keep delivering better solutions faster for clients and for ourselves.
Hey, at least we’re not building our websites in VB6. Now, that would be quite funny (and by funny, I mean punishing and torturous).