Why Is Explaining WordPress To Someone So Hard?

At a recent local WordPress meetup I attended, I went through an experience that is becoming the norm. That is, trying to explain WordPress to those who have either never used it, or were just getting started. It used to be the most difficult thing for me to explain to people was the process of getting a domain, attaching it to a web host and then explaining how to FTP files to their web server to install WordPress. After WordPress was installed, it was easy to browse around and publish content, or it was a few years ago. Now, not so much.

After telling people how to install WordPress, I then explain that they need to sign up for WordPress.com even if they won’t use it because they’ll need an API key for Akismet as well as connect their account to Jetpack. I probably spent 20 minutes trying to explain this, all while thinking how unnecessarily complicated things were. Once their website was up and running, they wanted to know what post formats were.

Explaining them in plain English to new WordPress users is either hard, or I don’t have the communication skills to turn a hard subject into something easier to
understand. I can do it, it just takes me awhile to get the point across. Here is why I think WordPress is becoming more difficult to explain.

Steeper Learning Curve

Learning Curve Two

A few years ago, I used the image above as a way to show the learning curves for each CMS I’ve used. This image represents my personal experience. Two years later, if I were to remake this graphic, I’d make the WordPress curve steeper. Things are not all bad though. Since 2011, WordPress has added contextual help accessible via the Help tab that hangs under the toolbar, a Welcome Screen for new installs as well as each major version upgrade, and pointer tips. Most of these new user experience improvements were part of WordPress 3.3 ‘Sonny’ and while they have helped, there is still a long way to go.

With WordPress, More Is Not Less

Near the end of the meetup, I told attendees that WordPress was at an interesting crossroad. WordPress has its roots in blogging software thanks to b2. The early days of WordPress focused on users who just wanted an easy way to publish content to the web. Over time, enhancements were added such as tags, category improvements, etc. Within the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen more improvements to WordPress that cover use cases far outside of blogging such as heavy content management, large social sites, taxonomies, custom post types, and dare I say post formats. As WordPress development continues, it’s slowly but surely losing that blogging identity it was built upon. WordPress is turning into something more. More complicated, more frustrating, more difficult to comprehend, and more difficult to explain.

Removing Hurdles

It’s great to see that WordPress 3.3 focused on the new user experience and I hope to see further iterations in that area of WordPress because as it stands, WordPress is powering 20% of the web. While reading Scott Berkun’s book The Year Without Pants Scott described a series of processes that WordPress.com customers go through with this one being the ideal candidate; Get Idea -> Write it -> Publish -> Be Happy. For a hosting service like WordPress.com, that is an incredibly simple process to go through, especially when all of the hard work of managing domains, hosting, etc., are taken care of. Scott determined the most likely experience users were encountering when trying to publish content. Listed from most common to less common.

  • Get Blog -> Abandon (This scenario and the one after are the most common)
  • Get Blog -> Get Idea -> Abandon
  • Get Idea -> Draft A Post -> Abandon.
  • Get Idea -> Draft A Post -> Edit/Revise -> Abandon
  • Get Idea -> Draft A Post -> Edit/Revise -> Publish -> Get Love And Attention (Best case scenario)
  • Get Idea -> Draft A Post -> Edit/Revise -> Publish -> Get Silence (Most likely scenario from those that make it this far)

This information is based on data from the 2010-2012 time frame but I found it fascinating. If that’s the kind of process WordPress.com users went through, I wonder how much worse it was for the self installed version of WordPress? I would have thought that most of the hurdles to publish content would be removed on WordPress.com but that wasn’t the case. If WordPress usage is to surpass 20 – 30% across the web, the new user experience will need to have a strong focus on removing any hurdles that prevent the common layman from publishing content. This is easier said than done.

WordPress Is Evolving, But Into What?

Platform LegosWordPress 3.7 is supposed to be a release aimed at helping shape WordPress into more of a platform with a focus on stability and security. Matt Mullenweg specifically highlighted this topic during his State Of The Word presentation this year at WordCamp San Francisco. We’ve gone through a cycle of discussing whether WordPress is for blogging, a CMS, or an application platform. Matt points out that we’ve been going about this all wrong. Instead, WordPress is all three at the same time, just at different levels. My fear, is that some levels are creeping into others, especially the CMS into blogging components. After speaking with a number of people close to the heart of WordPress development over the years, I now understand why it would have been better to use BackPress and just build blogging as a component on top of it. Instead, WordPress has blogging built-in with CMS, and platform stuff built on top. For those that are wondering about BackPress, I’ll be publishing a more in-depth story in the future that explains why we’re using WordPress today instead of BackPress.

When someone asks, What is WordPress?, I tell them it’s free, open-source publishing software. I’ve found it to be the easiest explanation  but then I have to explain open-source, and a number of other things. That’s what I think WordPress is now. After 3.8, 3.9, and finally 4.0, I have no idea what WordPress will be. I’m thinking sooner rather than later, I’ll be the one asking the question What is WordPress?


42 responses to “Why Is Explaining WordPress To Someone So Hard?”

  1. An excellent question and article. To me – a developer – the question “What is WordPress?” is largely rhetorical. Sure, it is free, open-source publishing software, it is a CMS, it is an application framework. But…

    For me and countless others, though, the answer is that WordPress is whatever we need it to be. Project management hub that syncs with 4 different APIs? Give me 5 hours. A super simple blog with a stripped-down dashboard? Yes. Feed aggregator? Membership site? Intranet for documentation? Vast multi-site network for a major news site? Bank portal? Global community of deeply committed people? It’s all of those things.

    I’ve learned, though, that beginning by evangelizing WordPress so strongly like that in meetings with General Public Laymen can have negative results. In a couple cases, I think I freaked some people out.

    When phrasing things for clients during training (these days), I typically try to use analogies they can quickly relate to.

    “It’s the engine of your car.”

    “It’s the bread of a sandwich.”

    That sort of stuff. Some of course don’t require that level of explanation, but it seems to go over well. Before explaining, I like to ask about their experience with the Internet / CMSs / blogging in general. Seems to give a more informed approach to my explanation.

  2. I like the chart, but you might want to label the bottom line “Time” and put the color codes on the side somewhere (preferably labeled “key”).

    I’ve taught some classes to teachers and for a more technical class I made them do WordPress the hard way (host, domain name, FTP, mySQL, etc.) and it’s a lot to teach them before they even get to the WordPress part (plus it’s a lot of passwords for them to keep track of). It was a bit rough and these were people interested in tech and had probably used some other CMS before, just never had installed it. I wanted them to see how because all those beginning steps are used for so many other open source apps.

    Remember: Just because they ask a question, it doesn’t mean they want the answer. For a question of “How does a car work?” sometimes “Gasoline explodes in the engine and pushes the pistons to turn the wheels” is really all most people want (to start). Anything more complicated and tell them it’s beyond the scope of this presentation or to hang out afterwards for the complicated stuff. But their car comes prebuilt, they just need the gas and the key :)

  3. I keep seeing people mention WordPress has gotten more complicated or harder to use over the years. It I just don’t see it.

    It’s easy to install and get up and running with a blog. You don’t have to install plugins. You don’t have to install another theme. It’s not hard to publish a post. I simply don’t see this new complexity and hurdles that people seem to claim exist within WordPress now that didn’t exist a few years ago.

    Here is the simplest way I have found to explain WordPress to individuals who don’t understand what I do for a living:

    Think of WordPress as an operating system that powers a web site. Think of themes as just that, the design and theme of your site. Think of plugins as apps that add functionality to your site.

    Trying to explain a content management system to someone who’s never created a web site is an instant fail.

    Telling them to think of WordPress as iOS but it powers a web site instead of your phone, WordPress Plugins as Apps and the WordPress repository as the App Store (or you can upload your own plugins similar to side loading an app in Android, etc.) is a much easier analogy for people to understand.

    But again, I don’t see this complexity people claim exists all of a sudden. The basics of WordPress haven’t really changed since I began using it not long before we began developing Gravity Forms over 4 years ago and the UI has gotten much better and is only going to continue to do so with the 3.8 release if MP6 and the various projects around the UI get rolled into core.

    • I have to agree. I think people are finding it more difficult to navigate the more they build up their site and bog it down with unnecessary and bloated plugins. To get a site up and running with the ability to publish posts is very simple.

      Now a days most users want more than “just a blog”, which obviously confuses and overwhelms the everyday user/non-developer.

  4. So the bottom line is that despite all assurances and advertisements to the contrary WordPress is STILL not a user-friendly platform. I’ve used it for years and some of the logic of its construction still escapes me.

    I think the ultimate test would be to have a senior citizen unfamiliar with technology in general to sit down at their computer, hit a button to install and format WordPress (and I mean totally – none of this permalink and post-vs-page stuff) and be writing their memoirs within 5 minutes.

    THEN you have something you can sell, and not just to the fan-boys.

  5. @Carl Hancock – It is easy for people who have worked on or with WordPress from early times, but is decidedly more complex now. There are so many security issues, so many tweaks and twists we can add to make a site more individual. For someone coming in now – or later with 3.7 and 3.8 – the complexity is compounded by the fact that everyone says they need these things to protect and enhance all in one go, where we built up to our present level slowly and according to gradual need.

    Saying WordPress is like the engine which powers your car is a clear indication of how complex WordPress – with necessary enhancements – has become. How many people can easily lift the hood and repair their car these days?

  6. @Philip Bonifonte – I disagree. WordPress as its most basic is very user friendly indeed, and you can just install and start posting. The learning curve rises rapidly when people begin to individualize their site, when they begin adding plug-ins, widgets, new themes and so on. As a basic package there is nothing so easy to use, but we all upgrade at some stage, and then have to learn bits and pieces again.

  7. After using WordPress for years, as both a user and a developer (and yes, I am both in equal measure), I can say that most other CMSs seem incomprehensible to me. And that’s with all the added complications in recent years. I really hope WP stays the easiest Web platform there is — it would be a shame to lose that.

    That said, I’ve never, ever needed post formats in any WordPress site I’ve set up for myself or others. On the other hand, I’ve almost always needed post thumbnails, which must be enabled in functions.php and hardcoded in a theme to make any use of them. There isn’t even a built-in widget for displaying the current post’s thumbnail!

    I also never registered a wordpress.com account. I make do without Akismet, and I don’t see why I would ever need Jetpack. Don’t care about Gravatar either; luckily, the User Photo plugin makes it unnecessary.

    Last but not least, while the one WordPress website I run myself is a blog, every single one I ever made professionally is a CMS with at most a news section, and very often custom post types. Which I used to define manually until I’ve learned there is a plugin for it; nowadays I add the plugin to essentially any new WordPress installation. Advanced Custom Fields, too. And Contact Form 7 (though the latter has some very compelling alternatives).

    Perhaps what WordPress needs is a feedback feature similar to that in DokuWiki, so that WordPress users can voluntarily report what plugins and features are active in their websites. Come to think of it, I suspect wordpress.com has something like that? But wordpress.com has a very different audience from wordpress.org…

  8. Sometimes it’s hard for us developers who are too close to our subject to try to explain it to others. It helps to attempt to explain it to non-developer friends, practice analogies and see what seems to make sense to people. Also know your audience. Some folks will be tech-savvy others will be tech-phobic, you’ll need at least two explanations.
    I teach a class “Build your own website using WordPress” and I get many students who have never heard of WordPress. I explain that WordPress is simply a way for them to create a website without having to know coding languages. And once you explain what “content” is most of them seem to understand the idea of a CMS.
    Teaching the admin area of WP is different than explaining the concept. The admin area can be made simple if all you want to do us to use it simply. The trick is to teach all the ins and outs so that they can make their site their own. That’s why I teach a 9 session class, and they always leave wanting more.

  9. Jeffro, thank you for posting this. We need to talk about this far more than we do!

    Your timing is awesome because I’m actually presenting on the same topic this weekend at (shameless plug)WCTO. Come join us!

    @Bob, I disagree that WordPress that it’s “too much maintenance”. I think it’s all relative and if you have a well built site then WordPress is exactly the right amount of maintenance. The answers are all out there and they are mostly in an understandable format.

    @Carl, you hit the nail on the head. I used to try and explain a CRM and now I just say “think of it as your website’s operating system”. If you don’t mind, I am going to adopt the “If you can use iOS then you can use WordPress” mantra and see if it fits.

    My thinking is this. Non-technical people see most new software as big and scary. The problem with WordPress is that all they hear from their friends, colleagues and the internet is how easy it is which leads them to believe there’s some magic button that will do it for you. (Sidekick for WP comes close but it’s not perfect)

    A new user needs to be on-boarded properly and it’s our job as well versed members of the WP community to make sure that happens. To me that means doing things like holding meetups geared towards beginners, being patient with newbie questions, providing training and not just “help” and making sure we keep hammering Automattic when things start getting too complicated.

    Of course I realize this all sounds nice and the reality is that we don’t all have the time but if we’re really invested in WP being a great platform for DIY all the way up to Enterprise, then the time has come to start considering how we train the users and as trainers maybe we need some training too.

    Thanks again, great article!

  10. @Bob Schecter – I’d have to disagree.

    All this talk of people needing tons of plugins for security, this, that and the other thing otherwise their site is going to blow up simply isn’t true.

    It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

    Assuming WordPress or ANY content management solution for a do-it-yourselfers is going to be a magic bullet that requires no maintenance and is all unicorns and rainbows shows is a utopia that simply doesn’t exist.

    But to say WordPress requires too much maintenance or that it is difficult to do what maintenance it does require is simply wrong. At a minimum WordPress you should update WordPress when updates are available. That means clicking a link on the Dashboard when it tells you an update is available. Poof! The update happens. Maintenance done.

    Sure plugins and themes also have updates, but they are just as easy to update as WordPress itself.

    If basic maintenance, which simply involves updating WordPress, plugins and themes when updates are available, is too much for the Average Joe than that person has no business trying to manage their own web site.

    In that case there are plenty of managed WordPress hosts that handle updates for you.

    The problem is people assume they can simply install and activate any and all plugins or themes they run across and assume they are all of great quality. THAT is the problem with WordPress. People installing poorly developed themes and plugins.

    The very thing that makes WordPress great (plugins and themes) is also the very thing that makes WordPress difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t take much research to find reliable plugins and themes. The problem is people simply don’t do it.

  11. I’m finding WordPress to be quite simple and extremely flexible.

    The downside is that, after 25 years in computers, I still haven’t acquired programming or scripting skills of any kind. Downloaded linux the first time when it fit on 5 3.5″ Floppies and have only learned ‘what I need for my stuff’ since then.

    Diving into WordPress is changing that for me… Now what I “need to know for MY stuff” is turning out to be html, php and css. (Mainly)

    What a world. :D Things have come a long way since I could type faster than my modem. :D

    Keep it Clean! :D

  12. I teach WordPress all the time. One thing I usually tell people is that WP is like a real fancy word processor. Now, we know that’s hardly the whole story but I think it gives people a reference to something they usually have had success with. And once they see the editor I say, “Doesn’t that look a little familiar.” Most of them at that point feel a lot better.

  13. @Philip Bonifonte

    I disagree Philip. I think by your test, iOS is too complicated. If you appeal to the very lowest common denominator then you end up with a closed, limited system like WIX which is exactly what WordPress is working against.

    WordPress is an easy to use platform but just like a screwdriver, someone has to teach you to use it properly first.

  14. @Carl Hancock – It’s not complexity that has all of a sudden emerged, it’s additional features like Post Formats, and others that have compounded the simplicity over time. You make a good point in that if you take all of the extra stuff of WordPress and throw it out the window and leave it as Barebones, then getting WordPress up and running to post content is still relatively easy. But once you get past that, things go downhill although over the years, WordPress has taken the pain out of having to use FTP to update themes, plugins, and WordPress itself.

    I think some of this complexity that I am seeing is partly due to my communication skills. If I can’t explain something within 5 or 10 minutes, then I think it’s too difficult or complex. I found myself taking a long time to explain why they needed to sign up to WordPress.com, API keys, and what have you. An example is right out of the gate for security reasons, explaining to them why they need to create a new user account, assign that one admin capabilities and remove the first account they created. Why can’t that step be part of the install process, they have to create an account anyways.

    I will try and use your iOS analogy the next time I’m in a position to explain WordPress to someone new. It sounds like a good one.

  15. @Carl Hancock – Hey Carl,

    I primarily agree with your comments speaking to the complexity of WordPress. WordPress certainly isn’t harder than what it used to be. However, I think there’s more to it than that.

    Complexity wise, I don’t think WordPress has changed all that much. If anything, WordPress is much simpler than what it once was back when I first tried installing it on a VPS many years ago.

    I can’t say this definitively, but I believe it’s a realistic statement to say that there’s an increasing desire from non-technical people to get started in online publishing. People want their own chunk of the Web, and when people eventually get fed up over the lack of control (and that terrible identity system that Yahoo has) that comes (or will come) with the likes of Tumblr, or when Medium maybe turns into a failed Twitter experiment like their music project, or when PostHaven possibly suffers the same fate as its predecessor, Posterious… where will those users go?

    I hope those users recover, learn their lesson, and make the decision to take control of their content. To completely own it. And to make their own home on the Web that they fully control. And I hope it’s all powered by WordPress.

    Unfortunately, I’ve talked to people at conferences — particularly at WordCamps and at New Media Expo — who have told me they want to get started with WordPress but have no idea what they are doing. In their eyes, it’s far too overwhelming — they don’t know where to begin or what to do. They don’t understand the differences between .com or .org, nor have the understanding to make that decision. “What plugins do I need?” “Which permalink structure is ideal for SEO?” “What on earth is a trackback?”

    To me that’s depressing. They have no idea what they are doing at times, and yet they are contemplating all these far more complex things that they probably shouldn’t even be worrying about quite yet. I’m sure there’s some intelligent law or theory made up by a psychologist or economist that describes this issue.

    The perception — and I’m a strong believer in the power of perception — that WordPress gives off when experiences it for the first time is probably power and control. But that inherently stirs up ideas of complexity.

    Of course, it isn’t WordPress’ duty to appeal to all these people. You can’t appease everyone, everywhere.

    But I want people to be comfortable. The interface, as it stands, could do a significantly better job of this. I then hope that those people who feel this comfort for the first time eventually expand their usage so they eventually start pursuing the ideas of plugins. I want them to snag up GravityForms, I want them to see the great value in ManageWP, and I want them to make their site look beautiful with a high quality theme made by someone who cares about the WordPress ecosystem. If they need a certain piece of functionality in the future, they should then be comfortable in finding a plugin, knowing its pros and cons, installing it, and properly maintaining it.

    I feel WordPress can certainly can make the experience far less overwhelming for people who are not as technically inclined as you or I or many people who read and comment on this blog post ever will be.

    I’m not saying I know exactly how to do that, and I know it’s not an overnight operation. It’s something that has to be done with great care and compromise. But I hope it’s done in a way so that everyone benefits, and that people who are new to WordPress can dive right in without having to see the guts, and those who understand the platform can tweak it to their heart’s content.

    My hope is that, in the end, these types of changes will be a very good thing for everyone involved. :)

  16. Since my first WordPress site in 2008, I think WP has gotten much easier. You no longer need to FTP your theme files or plugins, and WordPress & some 3rd-party themes have made many things easier. And I agree that the WordPress codex has loads of info for the DIYer, but it’s intimidating to most. Contextual help has helped a lot. But for many setting up a WordPress site from scratch can still be a challenge, but the results I have seen – moving a site from Blogger to WP or from HTML to WP…the results in look and feel and in traffic increases can be stunning.

    I use a similar, but extended analogy to describe WordPress.

    I use the analogy of WordPress being the free software that runs your website – it’s like the car’s engine. The Theme is like the make and model of the car – the look and feel of the website. Plugins are like a car’s options – things you choose that make the website/car run and look better. Although I also like the analogy above of plugins and widgets as apps that add functionality.

    For larger sites full customization makes sense. For the most basic of blogs – WordPress’s own three free themes (2010, 2012, & 2013) often make the most sense – they are simple and work pretty well out of the box. But for most smaller, simpler small business websites or blogs, a less than $100 premium theme often is the best choice. It actually often simplifies the process, and most often has security, basic SEO and a few other things built-in already. Something like Studio Press & the Genesis Framework with a child theme, or Woo Themes (there are others we could debate).

    I know mentioning premium themes and favs may start another whole controversy here, but I like setting up my customers with a theme I am confident will keep pace with WordPress’s changes. Too many free themes leave clients left behind with an older, stagnant site, unable to take advantages of new features and updates.

    I agree with Bob S. above, until WordPress includes a how to step-by-step tutorial, that shows up on the dashboard when you start a new site (and they are getting close). We need to step up and teach our customers what they need to know. It’s easy to vet a plugin before use (check details, reviews, # downloads, recent updates, vetted for your version of WP) – do a search engine search for best plugins to do “X” etc. Teach them about site back ups & basic SEO. Make them as self-sufficient as possible is my mantra

  17. I’ve been manually coding my websites in HTML & CSS for several years and only recently switched to WordPress– primarily to make my sites more adaptable to mobile devices. The learning curve is steeper than I imagined. A good analogy would be modern point-and-shoot cameras that are packed with functions and features, but accessing them requires tedious tinkering with display menus and sub-menus. By comparison, my old Canon AT-1 had three dials (time, aperture, and focus). In trying to make things easier, I fear WordPress has made things needlessly complicated.

  18. @Ben Fox – Ben, “lowest common denominator”? Have you seen the recent stats about how many Boomers are taking to computers for the first time in their “golden” years? That’s becoming a MASSIVE demographic.

    You say that, like a screwdriver, someone has to teach you first. That I think is the crux of my argument – that it should be an intuitive interface. You shouldn’t HAVE to go seeking out non-existent support or meetups or going to the so-called help forums, where I’ve seen far too many innocent requests for help either totally ignored or rudely dismissed. I know that the users are not the program, and I don’t hold WordPress responsible for their behavior, but in any group that has such stratification there’s bound to be problems for the beginners.

    There have been several well-made points in this thread about WordPress being capable of simplicity, and I agree. But the first time that someone wants to add that dreaded thumbnail to a non-enabled theme, or they have to go to yet another site to sign up for Askimet protection, or even look with envy at their neighbor’s blog that has a full-sized header instead of the pixel-wide dwarf that their site is sporting, then I think that Pandora’s Box has been opened and the chance of encountering some degree of frustration is only going to increase.

  19. Sometimes it’s hard for us developers who are too close to our subject to try to explain it to others. It helps to attempt to explain it to non-developer friends, practice analogies and see what seems to make sense to people. Also know your audience. Some folks will be tech-savvy others will be tech-phobic, you’ll need at least two explanations.
    I teach a class “Build your own website using WordPress” and I get many students who have never heard of WordPress. I explain that WordPress is simply a way for them to create a website without having to know coding languages. And once you explain what “content” is most of them seem to understand the idea of a CMS.
    Teaching the admin area of WP is different than explaining the concept. The admin area can be made simple if all you want to do us to use it simply. The trick is to teach all the ins and outs so that they can make their site their own. That’s why I teach a 9 session class, and they always leave wanting more.

  20. I deal with a lot of older people that know they need a blog/website, but know next to nothing (but usually more than they realize). So I’ve come up (over the years) with numerous alternative ‘mix and match’ analogies.

    I often start by referring to any new WP site as comprising three building blocks. There is a ‘skeleton’ that does all the hard work. Then there is the ‘skin’ – a decoration that can be as simple or complicated as the user needs, with or without make-up. Then there is the ‘brain’ where all those wonderful musings and thoughts gets stored. If they want the site to ‘do’ something, then I segue to the ‘app in your phone’ concept.

    Two analogies for us also come to mind: “not seeing the wood for the trees” and “the best teachers are usually the ones that have struggled to learn their subject”.

    Trying to explain it all in thirty seconds isn’t going to work – it needs a game-plan that builds incrementally on previous experience. It’s a process that slowly builds up confidence (I would never just install WP for them and leave them to it – “you’ll work it out!”, “you just need to do this, this and this!”). And one size just doesn’t fit all – different analogies are needed for different people.

  21. Great post, Jeff – what a fun, relatable and informative read. I feel like every time someone asks me “So what *is* WordPress?” (which is A LOT…at every family funtion or old-freind reuinion, for starters), I feel like I have to clear my throat and prepare for my monoloque. Good thing I enjoy storytelling!

  22. @Michelle – Thanks Michelle, that’s an awesome compliment coming from you. I feel your pain. It’s worse when I have to explain to people what it is I do for a living. I tell them Online Journalist for WordPress. Then that question shows up, What is WordPress or what is A WordPress? lol.

  23. I get this question all the time since all I do is train people. And I think there is a lot of great thoughts and conversation here. I could add with a lengthy comment, but it basically boils down to this.

    Everyone is at a different space at different times. Some people can grasp tech stuff more easily than others. I know people with Masters that struggle with the basics or even wrapping their brain around what WordPress really is. And depending on the individual I have found I need to explain what WordPress is in a lot of different ways.

    And for us, who spend our lives on it, we need to step back and put ourselves in their shoes. Although that may be a challenge, we shouldn’t assume everyone can understand a blanket statement of what WordPress is. We all know what assume means :)

  24. The reason it’s a tricky question is because most of the time it’s posed by people who have not given the first thought to running a website.

    Either it’s friends/relatives who are being polite but don’t really care, or it’s someone who wants a website but either (a) hasn’t given any thought to what should go on it, or (b) has vague ideas about creating the next Facebook.

    So in that first question, keep it short. “It’s a way to manage a website.” “It’s like a website’s operating system.”

    I’ve learned that if I ever say the word “content”, for some reason, peoples’ eyes instantly glaze over, which is problematic.

    I will say that if your initial answer includes Jetpack, you have gone WAY too far. :)

  25. If someone wants to blog and be selfhosted it should be as easy and straightforward as possible. WP interface is not that. I’d like a basic and an advanced view of the backend. Basic just have post area and stats area. Then if one chooses advanced view you get access to everything else. Why show stuff you almost never use?

  26. Fascinating discussion as usual, what I come to expect here. :D

    Teaching the first WordPress-only college course at Clark College, and revamping two degree programs around WordPress as the fundamental core, it’s fascinating and well-timed that you are having this discussion. I face this challenge daily on multiple levels.

    First, WordPress is a tool. It is a tool used for web publishing, or as I like to say, helping you have your say on the web beyond social soap boxes.

    There are two issues here: WordPress and Publishing.

    As a tool, WordPress is brilliant for publishing. That’s its core purpose. It does it better than most stuff out there. No doubt, no question.

    Publishing is easier with WordPress, but using WordPress doesn’t resolve the natural attrition and abandonment issues. If the tool isn’t interfering with the publishing process, it doesn’t matter whether or not they use WordPress. They will abandon at the time and place they naturally abandon anything. Think about all those diaries and journals you started since childhood. Still rocking with that? LOL? Use the same research on Blogger, Joomla, etc., and you will find eager starters that never get out of the starting gate. Attrition is just part of everything, especially self-generated content.

    How do you separate natural abandonment with tool abandonment?

    In the first WordPress college course at Clark, I spent the first three weeks of class fighting with a student about blogging. “I’m not into this blogging crap. I’m here for web design only.” I told him to do it anyway because he needed to learn how to do it in order to train clients. “What about something you know and enjoy talking about. I don’t care what. Just do it.” Big stick swinging teacher. :D

    He came to me a couple months ago to tell me that he not only stuck with his site, he’s sold two comic book series and was negotiating an anime movie deal. His site won some top awards at VidCon and his life had completely changed because of me forcing him to blog as part of the WordPress Intro course.

    He’s the exception to the rule, but it addresses the issue of having passion and commitment for your subject matter. Would he have gotten the same rewards from being on Blogger or Joomla? Sure. It’s the content that dictates the storyline and success. He turned homework into a new career because he cared about what he was sharing, not what he was publishing on.

    Without a clear picture of your journey, you will not take the second step. A research project by SCORE recently published listed the 4 secret success characteristics of entrepreneurs and a business plan was number 2. You have to see the big picture, know the end game, and visualize the journey or you won’t move forward. The more vested the interest, the more passion, the more likely they are to continue forward.

    I talk to students and clients about content strategies, social media integration, automation, editorial calendars, long before we touch WordPress.

    Getting back to your original introduction, Jeff, the key to describing WordPress is to not address the abandonment issues, installation, FTP, and the technical stuff. That’s later, in a technical presentation not a “why you need WordPress in your life” presentation.

    You have to address the reasons why someone should choose WordPress.

    Companies and individuals choose WordPress because it has an interactive and vibrant community around it dedicated to its survival. There is constant development with people from around the world working together to improve WordPress, ensuring it is the most stable, state-of-the-art, and secure environment for publishing.

    WordPress.com is a valuable part of that echo system, allowing WordPress to be tested thoroughly by millions of users around the globe using every time of Internet access device known, and such testing ensures confidence in releases and updates. While there may be small issues, typically Theme and Plugin conflicts, for the most part the bugs are worked out long before it reaches WordPress.org. Not many companies can vouch for such a stable and solid platform. Look at Microsoft and Apple’s recent boo boos.

    This is why the NY Times was one of the earliest investors, as well as Om Malik and others. They saw the activity in and around the community and knew that this was something magic. It went beyond Open Source. Talking years ago to Om Malik and John Dvorak, they told me they just felt the “WordPress magic” and they wanted on board. The magic is still there.

    To keep people from abandoning WordPress, work on the interface, but never forget that the motivation to continue has nothing to do with WordPress. Look at how many times you’ve stopped and started this beautiful tavern of yours, Jeff. The reasons you continue have nothing directly to do with the tool that is WordPress. It’s the people of WordPress, the energy, the magic, if you will, of the WordPress Community, that keeps you plowing forward with this project, doesn’t it?

    People want to be around (and do the same things as) people filled with positive and creative energy. That’s the magic of WordPress, a community-driven tool that thrives on community.

    Thanks for bringing up this important topic.

  27. I don’t think wordpress is becoming less user friendly although it’s never been friendly to newbies.

    My biggest gripe is that sensible projects that could make its so much better are not being tackled. Things like backpress, post to post relationships in core, or cleaning up the ridiculous wp db schema are not being tackled. These projects would make wp a better cms AND a better blogging engine. But they are not on the roadmap.

    You can bet wp’s competitors are tacklings these sort of issues..

  28. I attribute a lot of people’s lack of ability to grasp new concepts on a shockingly large lack of cannabinoids. Really.

    I totally agree that this conversation is fascinating… my own reasons delve into the length of time I’ve spent in customer service and dealing with in-home repair type experiences.

    The people you meet generally are very diverse in their backgrounds… as a group. Individually you have to realize how narrow focused most everyone views the world.

    Take careers and jobs and hobbies and such… for someone like me who’s had over 50 jobs and various hobbies, the average individual seems very limited in their mental scope.

    Someone else looks at a product on the shelf and comes away with a color pattern/logo and the name of the product. I see that same product on the shelf and come away with thoughts on all of the originating materials, manufacturing process of the container/inks/labeling, the product development and marketing behind the contents… right down to the placement on the shelf among other items and the demographics of the shoppers.

    I just can’t help it.

    What dealing with people has taught me… is how to simplify ‘What I Know’ so that it fits within the narrow confines of the mental gymasium of the individual I’m speaking with. Once I find the boundries of that particular gymnasium… I’m usually able to tailor information specifically to their way of thinking. :D

    So… when you’re working on explaining wordpress or any complicated subject to someone new to it, be sure to simplify, simplify, simplify. :D

    I’ve noticed that people who intake sativa or sativa-dominant cannabinoids are the people that are the most mentally limber. I’ve dealt with a huge variety of individuals in the last several decades… professionally, personally and informally.


    Keep it Clean! :D

  29. Love this topic… mostly because I really dig teaching those new folks how to get started, and yeah, lots of times they’re like deer in headlights.

    We tend to explain it just like this:

    “WordPress is like a house. What’s a house for? You want it keep all your best stuff, and what’s important to you, and you want to be a place where your friends are welcome to come and visit. To do that, we have to lay a good foundation first, just like building a house.

    And, just like building a house, as we build this WordPress website we have to have some land. Your WordPress website is going to live on some land called, “HOSTING,” just like your house has to have piece of land of its own. Hosting is really just a fancy way of saying a special computer that holds the files and database that comprises your WordPress website. That special computer is called a server. So your server will be owned by your hosting company. Here are a few hosting companies we recommend… x, y, z.

    Once you have land for your new house (or uh, WordPress website, if you will), you’ll need a street address for that house. 421 Main Street. In internet speak, that street address tells people where the land is where you’ll build your house, is called a DOMAIN (you might know a domain as http://www.cnn.com or http://www.meetup.com). So you’ll need to purchase a DOMAIN that will tell people, “This DOMAIN looks to that HOSTING company to find the WORDPRESS website.” A couple of good places to buy domains are x,y,z.

    Now that you’ve got your land, and street address, you’ll want a mailbox that matches your street address so you can get RSVP’s after you’ve invited everyone to your housewarming, right? So be sure to create an EMAIL ADDRESS that matches your domain (you@yourdomain.com) (and here we typically open up CPanel or GMail or whatever and create an actual email address so they can see how to do that).

    Land, street address, mailbox… What’s missing? Oh yeah! The house!

    So you can use lots of contractors to build a house, right? (Name some really pro ones in your area). Creating websites is the same way. Joomla, Drupal, straight HTML, Dreamweaver, are all examples of software programs you can use to create a website. Of course, you’re here to learn how to build a house with WordPress. So let’s do that.

    (At this point, you can either walk them through installing the 5 minute install), or install with a host’s one-click. It’s not poison! I walk people through the one-click install, but show them where to get instructions for the 5 minute install if they’re adventurous. And for most beginners, they’re not there to learn the self-install way, they’re there to get to publishing).

    Once WordPress is installed, we explain that just like a house, our initial WordPress installation is a starter home. Themes allow you change the interior design of your home/website, and in some way, how you interact with the content of your home, while plugins allow you to extend the functionality of your home – like adding an extra room or a pool.

    We also explain (both in the beginning and at this point, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.org is like buying your home – and that’s why you need to get the land and address for it yourself. WordPress.com is like renting – the land is provided for you, and even an address if you want to keep it. And, like renting, you’ll be kind of limited in what you can and can’t do, but like renting, the landlord is great and takes care of all the basics (and then some). If you think you want to add a pool, though… you gotta buy (and throw in some examples of what that might look like with the extended functionality of WordPress.org vs. .com).

    At this point, we’ve got land, an address that points to that land, a mailbox, and a house that is ready for guests. Now, we can start filling that home with the stuff that really makes a home a home… the CONTENT that will make our guests want to come back time and time again.”

    We’ve found people really connect with this analogy. It takes a little while to explain, but it’s solid and I think takes away the fear of all these terms that can be really overwhelming to beginners. (The Hosting, Domains, and Install are half the battle, IMO).

    As for post formats, pages/posts, categories, etc… you can’t explain all that in one sitting or meetup (a series of videos, of course). I think people shouldn’t expect you to, and you can’t allow people to expect you to, either. Being clear at Meetups that newbies WON’T understand all there is to know in one or two or even three meetings is really important.

    End rambling.

  30. Great ideas here.

    I also tell people to think of plugins as apps. Most people are familiar with that so my analogy
    (which in reality is not) works. Just tell them that their iPad is not of much use unless you download all sorts of apps and they will get it.

  31. @Philip Bonifonte

    What an honest appraisal of WordPress. I have 8 WordPress “primers.” Some visual, some not. Some with linked video tutorials. Not one gets the job done. And I’m an engineer who handcodes HTML5, CSS3 and a little javascript. My neighbor is a PHP instructor at Drexel University who gets his door knocked on daily. And after noodling around for over two years, I am little more than a tinkerer. Themes do not honor standard policies for dashboard customization leaving each theme unique. Where do you add custom css tweaks? No common place. The editor doesn’t even offer syntax highlighting. And how long has this been around? My PHP guru neighbor showed me CMS-Made-Simple and honestly I am stunned that platform doesn’t have more of a community. It is logical, makes sense to novices, is stripped down and delivers a clean no-frills environment to get a site built for publishing.

    Just the management of CSS in WordPress is a disaster. Some here, some there. Some editable from the dashboard, others not. Tracing a cascade is tough enough in a large stylesheet. Add WordPress’ cul-de-sacs, deadends, hidden directory trees and troubleshooting becomes maddening. In short, WordPress should come with an Rx for Zoloft or Prozac or at minimum a free bottle of whiskey. You’re gonna need it.

    The worst thing about WordPress is it’s brand recognition. Every no-nothing novice (and that includes me) says, “I want it in WordPress” — because they think that will make things easy for them to work on it themselves later. Oh, and it needs to be responsive too. What was that? Oh, my budget… I have like $1200. I glance out the window to the new Mercedes they just pulled up in.

    Thanks for the honest chatter about WordPress guys. Really great!!!

  32. WordPress frustrates me. It is not simple I do not want to learn all about the intricacies of coding, and I don’t care about coding. I want to be able to use WordPress quickly and simply. It seems WP is designed for the computer savvy and all the on-line “instructions” ever do is talk about code.


    I am a photographer and a writer — i am not a computer programmer and I don’t want to be. And all the sites about WordPress just makes my head spin.

    Here are some problems with WordPress that I see:
    1. I cannot find clear instructions for those of us who are not techies explaining the differences between posts, tags, categories, portfolios, media, pages, library, etc in simple non-tech language. Define these terms in a non-technical way please. Explain to me why I would use a post instead of a page and define everything clearly.
    2. I have no idea how to really upload images correctly. And I have no idea why there is only one library. Why can’t WP have more than one gallery. I have thousands of images. I just want to keep everything simple and perhaps easily find an image in the library and not have to search all day for one image.

    I can go on and on. But you get the idea. Maybe I have approached WP in the wrong way, but honestly, no intelligent help is available that I can find that I can understand.

    Perhaps someone can enlighten me. But I hate WordPress. And unfortunately, that is what my web designer gave me, because for him, it was quick and easy to set up. But for me, it is a nightmare to use.

    Thanks for reading.


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