WordPress Editor Experience Survey Shows 75% of Respondents Don’t Use Distraction-Free Writing Mode

The WordPress Editor Experience survey results have been published with data from 2,563 participants, a significantly larger sampling than the 50 who responded to the recent customizer survey. Both the editor and the customizer are included in Matt Mullenweg’s three main focus areas for core development in 2017. The purpose of the surveys is to find out how WordPress users are using or not using the current features.

More than half of the survey respondents (66%) identified themselves as developers (in addition to other roles). Since this category of users dominated the survey results, Mark Uraine decided to break it down further to display other categories developers selected.

Based on these results, it isn’t surprising that more than 85% of respondents use the markup text editor and 35% of those use it exclusively. Support for syntax highlighting is also a popular request.

The distraction-free writing mode received quite a bit of feedback on the survey. More than 75% of respondents said they do not use it.

The current implementation of the distraction-free writing mode was introduced in WordPress 4.1 at the end of 2014. The idea was to minimize distractions without having to go through a clunky transition to access the admin menu or meta boxes. Moving the cursor to the right or left of the editor brings them back into view, but many people find the admin interface sliding in and out of view to be distracting. Several who commented suggested that the feature could use some major improvements.

The survey also revealed that the majority of respondents (72%) install plugins that add features to the editor. These most commonly include shortcodes, Advanced TinyMCE, Tables, and Visual Composer. The results indicate that users often extend the editor to get more basic advanced layout capabilities for presenting their content.

The Editor Experience survey was a good first start, but it doesn’t accurately represent WordPress’ global user base. The results are heavily skewed towards developers’ needs and experiences. Developers are users, too, but there has to be a way to get these surveys into the hands of a more diverse sampling of users. Reopening the survey and circulating it beyond the WordPress developer community might help to paint a more accurate picture of users’ experiences with the editor.

A more diverse sampling would reveal whether or not the vast majority of users have no use for the current implementation of the distraction-free writing mode, as developer feedback seems to suggest. It could also provide more feedback on the visual editor features that 35% of respondents to this survey never use.

47 Comments


    1. I agree with you, Mike. I would not be surprised if the number of people who do not use the distraction-free writing mode is greater among non-developers. Queue Mor10 to chime in here about the value of telemetrics!

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    2. No, it sounds like we need a better survey that’s not predominantly developers who aren’t representative of the userbase. While I appreciate the effort, I don’t think this tells us anything useful about how most people use WP simply because it’s not a random sample of WP users.

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      1. @Rick: So, if a “representative sample” of the userbase were surveyed and the results said only 40% of people used it, would you still disagree?

        Remember, WordPress’ philosophy is Design for the Majority.”

        (BTW, I am being somewhat sarcastic. I think the “Design for Majority” is too often used to mean “Design for what I want and not what you want if I don’t understand nor care about it.” Especially when it comes to features that some developers understand but few end users appreciate the benefit of, such as object relationships. fwiw.)

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      2. Thanks for that link. I actually almost feel out of my chair as I read it! But it does feel much less hypocritical than what I was implying above.

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      3. @Rick:

        This is where problem already begins with — same thing with the updated Plugin Directory, also — so-called “developers” are users as well, just “power users” if you want. WE are all part of the community and of the userbase, “only” some of us may code, some may not.

        So why on earth should their feedback have no weight here? This makes no sense.

        Drop the “distraction free writing mode” — it’s totally plugin territory.

        In my 11 years with WordPress, I NEVER had any client that ever used the DFW mode. No one wanted something like this, never asked. And when I showed it to some, they all said generally the same: we don’t need this, we want to see all options that are available.

        And my clients are all just regular usres, that do not know or use HTML code, or even other coding. So they would fit in your image of an “user”.

        I even assume that the bigger the survey is and the bigger the userbase surveyed, the more users would say: No, don’t need this, don’t want this.

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  1. I use the distraction free mode provided by TinyMCE Advanced, and custom TinyMCE buttons I did by myself, and my team now have a fullscreen full featured editor.

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  2. This is interesting, but it’s just what it is — people who answered the survey. This isn’t really going to be influential on the Editor.

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    1. Matt, I agree that this isn’t an ideal sample, but I’m also curious if there are any conditions in which data would change the direction of the editor’s development. Is there a certain number of respondents or a percentage of non-developers that would make the results worthy of being acted upon?

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    2. I have to agree. It should not. I use that mode all the time. I write a lot. IMHO I also think that only 3K people in this survey is not anywhere near a good representation of the actual users’ data set.

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      1. @Ahmad, why do you think your experience is more typical? And why does your experience mean it should be in core?

        FWIW, I have written two books (over 2000 pages when printed out) and numerous other pieces in WP. I NEVER use so-called “Distraction-Free Mode.” It’s simply too distracting.

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      2. I do agree with your “it’s simply too distracting” part, Tim. I’m not sure about others, but I simply never use it. I have tried but it’s not really what I look for in a ‘distraction free’ interface.

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    3. @ Matt,
      This isn’t really going to be influential on the Editor.
      What would be influential?

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  3. Why is this shocking to anybody? Wasted so many update cycles on this (at least 2).

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  4. I guess distraction-free writing mode is mainly used by bloggers… nowadays not the biggest user group of WordPress anymore.

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      1. Really? Is there accurate data to support your statement?

        Nope: I guess != fact
        I just wanted to post that comment.

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      2. I guess != fact

        Sorry to nitpick but this is what PHPCS had to say about your comment: Found: !=. Use strict comparisons (=== or !==).

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      3. Touché.
        What I’ve learned today: do not post assumptions, only facts and opinions ;-)

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    1. I describe myself as a blogger. I never use it, always the default interface.

      Querying a bunch of blogger friends (just over 20) after reading this, they all said they didn’t use it either.

      For us, it doesn’t offer any significant benefit, plus the UX can be a PITA at times when trying to get back to certain features.

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  5. Distraction free, what’s that? Only 25% of WordPress users can answer that.

    I never used it and my plan is never use it. We are writing blog-posts not a book.

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    1. Exactly.
      And anyhow, who cares. As Matt said: “This isn’t really going to be influential on the Editor” – so why run surveys then, just for fun?
      I’m very surprised we spend so much talk about the editor – that works just fine as it is – and there is no such discussion about the terrible and extremely limited Media Library.

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      1. I was amused by Matt’s response, too. So, what’s about all this recent talk about running surveys and collecting anonymized usage data if nothing will change and decisions will continue to be made by “those who show up”. Distraction-free writing mode is totally plugin territory, by the way.

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      2. WP supposedly runs something like 25% of sites. I don’t know how many sites this makes but I doubt there are more than 5% developers in this figure that are actually and regularly feeding content to those sites. There is something wrong in running a survey about WP’s core features that gets 3K results and 66% of those are from developers. Either you don’t care about those results, and in this case this is insulting to those who take time to participate, or you just don’t know what a survey is. And in this case you need professional assistance.

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      3. Exactly, smacks of arrogance… why on earth bother with surveys then? They should just stop this BS and include some form of telemetric feedback regarding core feature usage.

        Media Library is absolutely disgraceful, but everyone uses it.

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      4. yup…media library…with its gigantic spaghetti code of inline JS that I pray to the ghost of Von Neumann every day, that it actually works. How about a survey for that?

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  6. C’mon people, distraction free is when the doors and windows are closed, the kids are in bed (or outside somewhere) and nobody is coming in and out of the room.

    Believing a switch in the dashboard is going to excite people who aren’t qualified to make decisions anyway, according to WordPress logic, is really amusing.

    Maybe those believing they are making the right decisions for WordPress users might consider focusing more on making WordPress leaner and quicker so that plugins can be the bells and whistles.

    I like the idea of having plugins to add blogging functionality rather than finding plugins that remove it because more and more people using WordPress aren’t actually bloggers.

    Wouldn’t WordPress be wonderful if the dashboard was pretty much bare until plugins get added. That would be really “distraction free”.

    Hooks, Actions, Filters..

    Lean, mean extensibility. That would reduce the number of plugins built to turn off a lot of WordPress built in features. And allow developers to focus on things to enhance the WordPress platform.

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    1. > distraction free is when the doors and windows are closed, the kids are in bed (or outside somewhere) and nobody is coming in and out of the room.

      YMMD

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    2. C’mon people, distraction free is when the doors and windows are closed, the kids are in bed (or outside somewhere) and nobody is coming in and out of the room.

      Agree completely! :-)

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  7. Tried to use it a couple of years ago but I guess I’m so used to the traditional editor, and seeing the charts, most have a similar thought about it.

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    1. To me (remember me, folks?, that guy who tried to do The WordPress Helpers?), it sounds like another great example of how tone-deaf the core team is.

      Yeah, sure, developers are notorious for not listening to real people because “they know better”. But nothing about the way WordPress works seems to have evolved in a better direction.

      Anyone else wondering when the $360MM the VC folks threw at Ma.TT is gonna actually pay off in a way that something with WordPress’ mass ought to? I’ll tell you this much: it won’t happen until some actual management talent starts calling the shots.

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  8. I use it. It helps a lot when you have a torrent of ideas and only ten fingers to type (and two eyes to control the ‘situation’).
    I agree that the functionality could get some improvements and would not be upset if it would become plugin-only territory. Either way, I just love to use it. Be it in core or plugin, please just don’t take it away. ;)
    P.S. – I consider myself both a blogger and a developer, but with no advanced programming skills.

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  9. My wife is and everyday blogger, when ever she accidentally gets into “distraction free” mode she calls me and basically says “It did it again, how do I get back to where I write my posts?”.

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    1. Now, that was a golden suggestion. Thank you so very much.
      As far as I’m concerned, I will stick to this plugin and the “default” feature can totally R.I.P.

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  10. Getting a representative sample of user responses for this survey would have required surfacing the survey in WordPress admin for all users. Publishing and promoting the survey on the web and through social media disproportionally favors developers and people who are heavily involved in the WordPress community, just as the results show. I agree with Matt that these results should have no bearing on the future development of the editor simply because they are of no statistical significance.

    That said, survey results like these hint at the need for proper data gathering, both in the form of telemetry (which would give us accurate data on actual use of the distraction free writing mode and other features) and statistically sound surveys that poll the community in a scientific way.

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    1. Morten, it would be nice if you would stop shilling for adding forced or silent telemetry (i.e. spyware into the core of WordPress.org). If you would like to spy on users, there’s all of WordPress.com available to you and Matt. If you really like telemetry, you could go and work at Microsoft on Windows 10 (MS are very big on telemetry).

      WordPress.org is a platform to democratise publishing and not dependent or reporting to any third party platform. I know you guys have managed to successfully sneak some edge cases in on plugin usage. Spyware is not a path forward which many WordPress developers would support (remember us, the guys who build plugins and core code for free, see my comment to Matt above). We created and by extension own WordPress.org (that’s why it’s a foundation and not a private for profit company as we’d all leave if that were the case and then Automattic would not be paying for thousands of developer hours but millions). I know you are keen on math, Morten, those numbers should give you pause.

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      1. Morten, it would be nice if you would stop shilling for adding forced or silent telemetry (i.e. spyware into the core of WordPress.org).
        Alec, it would be nice if you re-read the proposal for telemetry.
        It would be opt-in, not “forced or silent telemetry (i.e. spyware”
        If you’re opposed to collecting opt-in data to help inform decisions made in core, then you should argue against that rather than creating a straw man.

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      2. There is no reason that data collection could not be opt-in. The last couple of months this issue has come up repeatedly and it is painfully clear that we really don’t have a good handle on how WordPress is used.

        Data collection is a sensitive area and there would need to be safeguards in place to preserve privacy. On the flip side, I would like to see the aggregate data shared so that we can talk intelligently about the options.

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      3. Actually, WordPress plugin directory is already a not so pretty pool for not so honest sales presentations. What difference does it make if WordPress jumps in with a few more annoying little banners and pitches.
        It’s all been headed that way for a while now. Let’s just accept the reality that the .org version is a hook for bigger and better things for Automattic. It’s theirs, they can do whatever they want to do with it. Just an opinion, of course.

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  11. To begin with… 2,563 participants gave feedback in the survey and they could tell if they are developers or not. As we already know, opinion/word of developers do not count (except for devs in core team naturally) in any way because WP is not developed for them. So there are 2,563-X people (=number of non-devs), whose survey should be taken into account if WP core team was consequent. For whatever reason they just forgot to tell us what percentage of “simple users” ever used DFW mode. Maybe perhaps because that number is less than 80% and if they were consequent they simply should remove it immediately from core to make the code leaner. But they won’t ever do that as WP core team thinks they MUST make WP easier to use. So they remove buttons from TinyMCE (no one ever asked), remove statistics from plugin repo, develop DFW mode, etc. These are however completely insane ideas! Why? Because no one should oversimplify any CMS as if you do so at the end only apes will be able to use that CMS for typing a character as content. Because readers will not read more than 32 characters anyway, so why would any blogger want to write a post with 33 characters? And i should not forget newbies who can not write a post longer than 16 characters or use buttons in tinymce… See how absurd is the way how WP is developed for a really long time now? At least such a bad idea is to let customizer take over everything. Even the numbers tell that: there were only 50 people responding for the customizer survey. Great! Luckily we can be absolutely sure WP core will just continue push customizer down on our throats even if there exist(ed) much better GUIs for the very same purpose. So we can tell right now that in some years of heavy development -led by the core team- only apes from the jungle will use WP as until that time every human being will just abandon WP for other CMSs that do not hypothesize as a central mind that 80% of its potential users are so dumb, that they can not use it properly.

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  12. I don’t use the distraction-free tool too, maybe you should add my vote to those that said they don’t use it to increase the percentage :)
    I don’t really see any distraction on the wordpress dashboard so I don’t see the need for the tool, though it is still good to have it around just in case…

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  13. Hmmmm since surveys never seem big enough and WordPress core doesn’t seem to collect enough data to know how features are used ( Separate discussion due to collecting lots of data directly is a sensitive issue).

    I wonder if adding survey page to something like the update page just after you have done a major WordPress update and it lists the features. They already have tabs on this page for contributors and think something else just can’t remember. But having another tab for survey but named better to get an idea on what people thought of the last update and if they used any features. Plus some questions about possible future changes. Maybe a survey like that might get a larger and more proportional sample.

    As that seems to be what a lot of this friction comes down to is not having any accurate info due to the size and user base WordPress has.

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