I’ve used WordPress for more than seven years and I can’t think of any features it has that are innovative. I believe part of the reason is that I’ve been stuck in the WordPress bubble for so long, I haven’t been exposed to different ways of doing things. I only know the WordPress way and that’s a dangerous way of thinking.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
In 1997, Clayton Christensen published the Innovator’s Dilemma. The book suggests that successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet their customer’s unstated or future needs. Christensen argues that such companies will eventually fall behind.
During his appearance at PressNomics, Matt Mullenweg said that he’s, “worried we have become too much of an inward facing community and afraid to make a painful leap forward to make the next WordPress.” His statement is open to interpretation, but if you compare the WordPress open source project to a company and its users to customers, perhaps what he’s referring to is the idea that WordPress has fallen into the innovator’s dilemma.
In the Advanced WordPress Facebook group, Joost de Valk responded to Mullenweg’s statement with, “Most innovation is done outside in, not inside out. But to be honest Matt, that’s where the problem lies too. The ‘inside’ is very negative towards change, and is constantly throwing up hurdles. They like small incremental steps, but fear bigger ones.”
Core WordPress development is done by a trusted team of people who have remained in core decision-making positions for years. It’s rare that an individual new to the community gets commit access or even gets to lead a release within two years.
I don’t think it’s impossible, but if brand new contributors from outside of the WordPress bubble have little to no influence on the project, where is the opportunity for external innovation?
Leading by Example
Another statement Mullenweg made at PressNomics is that he wants to lead another release. Leading a release gives him the opportunity to lead by example and push for big changes, something he feels the community fears.
A Thought Experiment
What do you think are innovative features in WordPress? I’m especially curious to see how users answer the question versus developers. I’d also like to know what features in other publishing systems WordPress could learn from. An excellent example is the post editor in Medium which Mullenweg has admitted offers a better experience than WordPress.
Can WordPress Avoid Irrelevance?
The road to 50% market share is tough and to some, is impossible to achieve. Without innovation and continuous improvements to satisfy the needs of users, it’s entirely possible for WordPress to develop itself into irrelevance. Then again, what could WordPress developers do today to prevent this from happening? Is it a matter of changing philosophies and strategies or is it something else?
I think the next major version of WordPress should be a big structural rebuild for the future that doesnt try to be backwards compatible. Instead focus on a migrator tool when people are ready.
Furthermore, maintain a LTS(Long Term Stable) version of the WP we know and love. Continue to support that version too for fixes, security but not features.
Maybe that sounds divisive to the community of themes and plugins, but I think principles of modularity through hooks would always remain and profitable players could support both. Sometimes I just think that the legacy of WordPress is its biggest setback against innovation. It was founded in a whole other era of the internet well before the modern web dev toolset.