Automattic is the organization behind WordPress the content management system, wordpress.com, and a number of smaller entities. With some estimates, WordPress has ~30% market share of the web. It has taken on in excess of $300m in funding](https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/automattic) over the years. After 2–3 years of development of WordPress, Automattic was founded in 2005 to receive an initial funding round of $1.1m.
Competition and Growth
Competition is seen as foremost coming from the lower-end, simpler website design companies such as Wix and Medium. Basic usability and ease-of-use of the WordPress editor is seen as a stumbling block to growth, especially with investors who seek a return.
Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder CEO, is not shy to demonstrate the user problems, as seen in his most recent State of the Word presentation from 10 December 2018:
State of the Word — Matt Mullenweg — 10 December 2018
While there is an interesting solution provided in terms of Project Gutenberg and blocks to replace the wysiwig/code view editor, it in no way is an answer to novice users creating pages that have complex visuals (other than possibly copy-paste from Word or Google Docs).
More importantly, by removing the current wysiwyg/code view editing interface that all intermediate and advanced users have mastered, everyone is forced into a learning curve regarding these less-than-intuitive blocks. Certainly it is a mental model, as Mullenweg suggests, just not an intuitive one, or one that the interface makes readily apparent.
To allow for a transition period (aka Phase 2) the old editor will be available by means of a plugin, and has promised support until 2021.
The incipient integration of Gutenberg into Core caused quite a bit of disgruntlement, and induced action on the part of a group to do what is always possible with open source software, and to create a new release from the old source code.
ClassicPress, calmPress Forks of WordPress 4.9
Strengths can be weaknesses, and the open source software strength of WordPress has now been used against it in the form of hard forks of the project.
calmPress, another fork of WordPress 4.9 is the effort of a single developer. calmPress 0.9.9 a fork of 4.9 was released on 29 November 2018, with alpha and beta versions starting back in September.
There was discussion about collaboration on a shared plugin directory between calmPress and ClassicPress, but that has not progressed.
ClassicPress Organizational Development
ClassicPress calls itself a business-focused release. That is, professional, stable, reliable performance. Already ClassicPress is undergoing some performance tuning and a focus on security. The main point is to dodge the bullet of Gutenberg, as with WordPress 5.0 that becomes integrated into Core.
Building a successful software project includes proper, effective guidance as well as resources (programming and money). From the ClassicPress forum and Slack channel, these discussions appear to be taking place, and developers are indeed doing the necessary, day-to-day, block-and-tackle efforts.
WordPress 5 Released
WordPress 5.0 was released on 06 December 2018. On 12 December WordPress 5.0.1 was released to include some security bug fixes. However, this also began to introduce breakage.
This is a Waterloo
The Battle at Waterloo has become a metaphor for something difficult to overcome, or recover from. With novices unable to easily adopt the new interface, and with a good swath of intermediate and advanced users in open rebellion against the change, there are now opportunities for sharpened knives. The forces arrayed against Automattic are as follows:
- Those who will defect to a hard fork (ClassicPress, etc., see above)
- Those who will defect to an alternate platform (Grav, etc., see below)
The main forces for Automattic are:
- User base inertia,
- Community that will censor defectors to a hard fork, and
- The WooCommerce and subsidiary plugins which make finding a replacement a more complex and time consuming task. (This is akin to trying to supplant Windows without having an alternative to Office.)
Troop Strength and Depth
While this might seem like a less difficult challenge than the fated Waterloo, the strength of Automattic's development ranks is thin and ragged. The ability to create quality code and a quality experience should be seriously questioned. For example:
- Two plugins remain in Core that cannot be touched (for the obviously irrelevant political reason that they were created more than a decade ago by the CEO), and lead developers have to resort to lying about it in the bug tracker. In ClassicPress, those two plugins were removed in the first Alpha release.
- The infamous WordPress plugin repository redesign fiasco of 2015–2017.
- Last but not least, the hostility to and distaste for Gutenberg to date.
If it were a matter of executing and providing a speedy and pleasent experience, then the rather steep learning curve could be mastered. Instead, the very same puzzling experiences found in user testing with novices using the current editor will be found writ large with not only novices, but intermediate and advanced users of the previous platform. As one reviewer put it I'm tripping over my own feet.
Again, it will take more than evangelism to win this battle because the quality of the WordPress package, including the ridiculous redesign of the Plugin directory and its functionality. This is not to mention, the antiquated development tools and processes that continue to cause WordPress, like an old jalopy, to rattle and shimmy down the backroads and washed out valleys of bloatland.
Humans Hate Change
If the above were not enough, there is the very basic psychology that is arrayed against Automatic in this signficant change, which is: humans hate change. Witness:
Alternative to WordPress -- Flat File CMS
It is important to view another issue with WordPress which adds complexity and resource requirements, which for many sites is unnecessary: the requirement for a database. Flat file content management systems are increasingly functional and reliable and have significant advantages over the use of a database.
Databases are generally opaque, more difficult to inspect, require their own backup and restore procedures, have their own security, use more resources (specifically ram, but also processor) and with advanced caching readily available, do not have much in the way of benefit. For special uses such as shopping carts and session management, a database can be used as a supplement to a Flat File CMS, but for serving most content, it makes little sense.
Grav CMS, a maturing Flat File CMS, is a viable alternative to WordPress for certain use cases, perhaps even the majority (and has shopping cart plugins available).
For those developers, administrators, and endusers, like me, who have spent more than a decade with WordPress are are looking for a platform for the next 10 years, Grav looks quite promising, as does ClassicPress. WordPress? Not so much.