Radically Simplified WordPress

Had an interesting chat with Anil Dash today at the GigaOM/PaidContent conference in NYC, here are some tweets from the talk:

If you’re curious about P2 check out p2theme.com where you can sign up pretty easily.


I learned this from the Complex interview with Young Guru. (Which they present in slideshow format, for some reason.)

A few very kind words from Jay Rosen:

And finally we talked about how WordPress is actually on its third or fourth pivot, as in the most important contributor to growth of the platform changes over time, which turned into this article which has been making the rounds:

WordPress was first for pure blogging, then became embraced as a CMS (though some people still deny this), is seeing growth and innovation in being used as an application platform (I think we’re about a third of the way through that), and just now starting to embrace social and mobile — the fourth phase of our evolution.

As with each of our previous transitions there are large, established, and seemingly unshakable competitors entrenched in the same space. This is good because we can learn from those that came before, as we always have, and good competitors drive you to be better. As before, people will probably not notice what we’re doing at first, or deny it’s happening as folks who still say WordPress “isn’t a CMS.”

Function reforms form, perpetually. As John Borthwick put beautifully today, “A tablet is an incredible device that you can put in front of babies or 95-year-olds and they know how to use it.” How we democratize publishing on that sort of platform will not and should not work like WordPress’ current dashboard does. It’s not a matter of a responsive stylesheet or incremental UX improvements, it’s re-imagining and radically simplifying what we currently do, thinking outside the box of wp-admin.

There are hints of this already happening in our iPhone and Android apps, but even though I’m thinking about this all the time I don’t have all the answers yet — that’s what makes it fun. WordPress is going to turn nine years old this Sunday and I’m as excited to wake up in the morning and work on it as I was the day we started. I think when we turn 10 in 2013 the ways people experience and publish with WordPress will be shorter, simpler, faster.

80 thoughts on “Radically Simplified WordPress

  1. Blogging years:
    I still remember using wordpress for the first time, several years ago and being intimidated by it (was using blogger before that).
    However the more I used wordpress, I learned to use its powerful features and started loving it.
    Wordpress as a CMS:
    Wordpress has the best collection of themes and I started using wordpress to build my websites. Joomla started to look a bit stale after a while.
    Application Platform:
    In the past year I’ve learned to use wordpress as an application platform. It has made my life a lot easier. Instead of using any other framework, I’ve used wordpress to do all the backend so that I could focus on designing my app.

    Thanks Matt for creating wordpress and I’m looking forward to seeing the next iteration of wordpress and I’ll be there!

  2. Over the years the space used to actually write a post has diminished and been taken over by other elements. I have to say though that the last 2 release have done well to give people the option to work without or remove these elements. IMO you are moving in the right direction!

    1. Also we did full-screen editing in the last release, which is a good model for how things should work on say the iPad.

  3. It’s a bit of a paradox isn’t it, how we want the front end to get ever simpler and ‘user friendly’ and yet the technology that drives everything gets ever more complex!

    Plug and play WordPress baby, yeah!

  4. I’ve used WordPress for more than 3 years and I’m okay with the dashboard. However, since University i’m working in is currently converting their site into WordPress and i’m also obliged to teach department staffs whom are non-tech savvy user, i started feeling that WP dashboard is too complicated (for them). Some days afterward, i found this post of yours. Man this is gonna be interesting 😀

  5. I think the end of your post brings it home, how do we simply the entire process, make it quicker and easier for all end-users to share their thoughts.

    I like most of the tweets you highlighted, by far is this one:

    Like Jay-Z obsessing over young rappers, @photomatt keeps an eye on every new content management system that comes out. #photo2012

    This should resonate with all business owners, young and old, keep your ear to the ground.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. WordPress is such an amazing system. Awesome work Matt, love the company, the platform and what is stands for. Bring on the 10th birthday 🙂

  7. WordPress as an application platform is no joke. We’ve built our growing business around it, and each new release helps us move faster.

  8. So, I’m a bit confused about what you are really saying these changes are going to be. Will these changes you’re talking about be an addition to the way it is to make things simpler for those who need it or a total replacement of what is already in place? Hey, I love simplicity, but will I still be able to do all the stuff that I do now with the current set up? This may sound weird, but what if we like the complexity of it as it is now and don’t want to lose any functionality?

    1. I think a lot of people are in the same boat as you — think of these as alternative ways to use WordPress.

      1. This is the answer I hoped to see. I agree with James and would not want to lose some of the “complexity” and by that – control. That said, WordPress is a fantastic tool and I look forward to it becoming better.

  9. Matt, do you know what I’d like to see? A ‘WordPress website for dummies’ pathway, where the hosting, changing graphics, e-commerce stuff etc can be made really easy. I’ve been trying to learn through a WordPress Meetup group but it’s still a bit complex for me technically. However I had no problems with the blogging platform. So could you dumb down the wordpress.org platform as well?

  10. “There are hints of this already happening in our iPhone and Android apps” I really like using WP on my android phone. It’s a beautiful ux transition among devices – but if you say it can be even better I’m all for it!

  11. Matt,you mentioned at a WordCamp here in Sydney a few years back that one of the core principles behind WordPress is to keep the base WordPress install simple (and free of non-necessary functionality). If someone then needs to extend functionality or design they can do so from Plugins and Themes. For me this is the key to keeping WordPress simple to use and the key competitive advantage for this awesome software.

  12. WordPress has achieved a level fo simplicity within it’s complexity which makes it something easily usable and configurable by either the advanced or very novice user. I would say a good idea would be to implement Custom Workspaces as a built in feature so once a person logs in for the first time they can set to a bare bones workspace, intermediate or full settings workspace, and they could also go into workspace settings to check certain options on or off or create a completely customised workspace. This will take things way further to keep all user types happy. How about WP zen mode, WP developer mode, etc or even user level once could set certain user levels to have access to certain workspace modes. I know user roles already have limited access, but extending this and making it more flexible might be a good step forward. I had expected wp admin skins to take off at some point but probably due to the constant updates it makes it very difficult for developers to keep up with changes in the system and keep their admin skins up to date.

  13. I’m thinking simplicity wins in the coming years.

    Re-imagining the WordPress platform back down to a dead simple app would be a fork but maybe a plugin/theme combo will come along to take the bold step of removing features instead of adding them.

    Plugins with less than 5 options. Themes that ask a few questions then auto configure sets of plugins and style accordingly to attract a narrow target audience.

    “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
    -Henry David Thoreau

  14. I knew not the WordPress for almost 10 years old. And to really, in my opinion, there are in the market is not really much competition for WordPress, so I only know J*****, all other free CMS manufacturers will eventually either completely or require money. I’m glad that there is WordPress, I’ve been using it for several years and will also continue to use it.

  15. Just before reading this I read an article talking about how Facebook would be dead in gone in 10 years… Honestly I think that’s true at least to the extent that MySpace is effectively gone and nearly dead today… I think that as much as people want easy ways to share and discover personal content, they want to keep ownership of it. While they trade ownership for ease of use in the short term, they won’t trade away ownership if they don’t have to. WordPress does that, and WP can evolve faster and farther than proprietary services can all the while users own their content.

    Recently I’ve fallen in love with Path, it makes 4SQ check-ins, tweets, FB status updates, tumbler posts, photo shareing, etc incredible easy and low friction. It’s almost ideal, the missing component is that I want it self hosted where I can subtly tweak it and make it mine and most importantly where I fully own my stream. I want it to create a unified stream where I own it and THEN cross post it to all those nooks and crannies on demand such that I could pick up and move that one unified stream in its entirety.

  16. Count me in. I was talking to Helenyhou on IRC a couple weeks ago about the same idea.

    If Gandalf was the code-name for the new Theme Wizard, what should we call the ‘mobile’ admin … Shadowfax?

  17. I’ve been using WordPress since 2006, and I think it has come a long way. I think you are right about revamping the interface to make it easier. However, it is needed to be done without losing the current functionality. If I were to re-do the admin interface, I would have “multiple views”. A simple screen view and an advanced screen view giving the user the ability to switch back and forth if necessary. Keeping the simple view toggle on would allow for users to see more of an app-style interface. Basic functions on the dashboard (clutter free). If the user wants to write post, they will be directed to a page with no left menu… only the right hand side meta-boxes for categories and such.

    Advanced view would have more options. It can even look like the current admin interface.

  18. You really were the best interview. I hadn’t seen you before, and you far exceeded my best expectations! You should start a whole other blog about how you’ve managed to stay SO genuine and grounded despite all your success.

    As someone who hangs out on forums with bloggers all day, I’m excited about the direction you’re going with WP. Many newbies are frightened of WP because it’s developed a little bit of a rep for being for developers not content creators. Yet, all the power-bloggers swear by running your own WP install.

  19. As a wordpress user since 08′ I appreciate the move toward a full blown CMS in recent years, and I run everything from personal blogs to ecommerce stores on wordpress.

    However, I am hearing on podcasts, and the tech community that wordpress is a tad complicated. Personally, I don’t feel that. But, I think this is a great move to take down the learning curve, and leave a much more simplified and easier barrier to entry so people can just publish.

  20. John Borthwick reputedly said “A tablet is an incredible device that you can put in front of babies or 95-year-olds and they know how to use it.”

    Well, I didn’t have a 95-year-old available so I tried a 92-year-old man and a baby girl.

    Borthwick is on hyperbolic crack. The learning curve on tablets is not appreciably different from any other GUI device.

    Look, babies have to be taught how to nurse properly – there are no “intuitive” interfaces, full stop.

  21. Like anything technological which requires usability from users at all levels, it’s best to provide people with a simple control panel and also an advanced control panel. Think about your basic calculator app; it’s basic or advanced. Even an advanced user enjoys using the basic view to get things done quickly (or via mobile) and when they have more time, screen real estate or horsepower, they can do more heavy lifting with more controls by going to the advanced side of the house. It’s not a modular approach you need for basic/mobile versus advanced. But it would be nice if you could access the advanced controls directly through the basic interface, but that could still create overwhelm for the basic user and would also be too much for a mobile interface for an advanced user.

  22. Brilliant ! This move is scary of course because we’re so confortably sitted in our armchairs. 🙂 But at the end shaking the tree will be great. Also, it’s going to be interesting how you (the community ?) are going to manage the current user base (we’re talking of millions of happy people). I’m thinking of compatibility issues as WordPress is the core tool for many business. Do you imagine a kind of transition phase ?

  23. Hey Matt, what are your thoughts about wpappstore? Or, put it in other words, the allure of getting WordPress as a mote integrated, almost OS-like, content production platform. I’d be also keen to know whether you plan to integrate some of the recent acquisitions on WP (like ATD or Plinky).

  24. The dashboard for admins is far from complex, but for authors and editors it could definitely be trimmed down.

    It should be (or continue to be) about choice. Let the admin trim the interface down accordingly.

    or something…

  25. The only two things lacking in WordPress (as a CMS compared to Drupal) are “Views” and “Content types”.

    On the level of a social layer, which is omnipresent now courtesy the slavery to FB, WP is lacking in dev of Buddypress, listing of friends (BP allows only friends, no subtypes) and a WP/BP “like/fav/star” button that can be added by any site like a G+ button.

      1. Matt, Pods is VERY heavy.

        I’d invite folks to have a good look at Advanced Custom Fields.

        Its got a terrible name, but it’s a really great plugin.

        For most things short of a custom “app” with its own DB tables and such, Pods is overkill.


      2. @Matt Thanks for the recommendation!

        @Alister (can’t reply directly, thread levels don’t go that deep): Yes Pods is VERY heavy. I should clarify, Pods 1.x is VERY heavy. Pods 2.0 has a completely revamped UI and feature set. You’ll find a lot of things you like about Advanced Custom Fields sitting inside of 2.0 ready for you to enjoy. That’s actually by happenstance though, as Pods 2.0 has been in development for a few years already and it’s initial scope covered everything ACF does.

        Pods 2.0 is about to go beta, from there depending on the testing period, we should be releasing the final version shortly after.

      1. If it’s commercial only not terribly useful to the community or as the base to build something recommended.

  26. I think that it’s time to split the project, WordPress Classic (thousand of developers love classic interface) and WordPress Light designed for mobile.
    Do you like the suggestion?

    1. Not really, because I think that would keep us from solving some of the really hard problems in bridging the two.

      1. Splitting a project is a really big deal, Dani. It means a lot of work in parallel development, especially when the ‘lighter’ ui could be handled entirely as an optional extension to the core.

        If I can get some help with wireframing / ui, I’m hoping to spend some time on my own or with a team to work out a simpler, responsive UI in plugin territory, with the long-term goal to potentially bring it back into Core.

        It could be easily done with the UI defaulting to ‘simpler’ for mobile, and ‘classic’ for desktop, with a user-by-user setting to turn it on permanently or off permanently.

  27. WordPress is fantastic and it is indeed great & easy to use. Well done to you Matt and the team! The dashboard is awesome! Easy to navigate around and all the tools you need.

  28. Good news!

    It would be cool to have somethin like a very minimalistic wordpress. Just the parts you need for blogging, no cms stuff and webshop or whatever plugins.

    An integration of the iA Write would be a cool feature.

  29. I’ve been with WP for business and personal use close to five years now and have enjoyed both watching and living the evolution through the different upgrades, especially as it has appeared in the blackberry app and now the droid app (since I switched to that mobile platform last year). While I still do most of the heavy lifting through a desktop or laptop, my comfort using the mobile app for publishing continues to increase with each new iteration.

    The whole journey for me has been along the lines you’ve outlined…all I have to do is consider the confusions I’d run into years ago when attempting to noodle with the permalink structure.

  30. I’ve found this post particularly interesting. I’m currently chewing over whether to move my website over from Joomla to WP but it’s not a blog.

    One element that is important in our business is training people, we train people because we feel that this is our best investment. If the user interface is separated then it might be nice for wordpress to have some ‘tips’ for gradually leading writers into administrating other areas of WP. Just a suggestion

    Thank you for openly sharing your thought Matt 🙂

    I like the way you look at other CMS’s and aren’t afraid but instead take the attitude of learning from them. 🙂

    “Humility is a great quality of leadership which derives respect and not just fear or hatred.”
    Yousef Munayyer

  31. If I had to make any one comment, I’d say that WordPress has gotten easier to use over the years. Turn back about five years, and I had some of my site contributors never really take to it, or get confused by the old dashboard. Today it’s another story–I am finally overhauling a website (or family of sites) I’ve had online since 1995, this time using WordPress in “multisite” mode. We are mere hours from unleashing the first site, and I was able to have one of my long-standing contributors do a bulk of the work. After I posted a short primer on using WP, I had very few questions to answer. And it was nice because I could handle the technical side and theming/customizations, and others can create content.

    The only thing that doesn’t thrill me about mobile or tablet computing is input. I absolutely cannot stand using anything other than a high-quality ergonomic keyboard to type–my wrists can no longer take the abuse of standard keyboards. Poking at pixel blots on a tablet or phone is annoying and very counter-productive for me. If it weren’t for Swype on my Thunderbolt, in fact, I would not even have a smartphone.

  32. I still would like to see the media-management (uploads) be enhanced. The whole WordPress thing feels easy to use, but fiddling with photo uploads still reminds me of the early days. Just look at [gallery] and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Any chance that’ll ever get a priority on your to-do list?

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