WordPress’ Personality Shines Through Again

A few years ago, there was an important discussion within the WordPress community on whether Easter eggs should be in WordPress or not. Specifically, the Matrix style Easter egg which appeared when a post revision was compared to itself. It wasn’t long after the discussion when plugins started showing up on the repository to disable it.

A few days ago, Fred Myer of WPShout.com published his idea to create a WordPress writing style guide. He describes how some error messages in WordPress are written tongue-in-cheek without providing any useful information as to why the error occurred. Take the default 404 error message in WordPress for example:

This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

It’s embarrassing that WordPress couldn’t find what I was looking for and then proceeds to tell me that searching can help. Maybe a search should happen automatically with a list of results in the content area of the page? Regardless, it’s the wording of the message that rubs some people the wrong way. Myer advocates a more helpful approach:

When software breaks, it should not impose emotions, like an imaginary shared experience of embarrassment, on the user. It should explain what went wrong in as much detail as is helpful, and alert the user to any resources that may help address the problem.

Myer mentions the default post content in WordPress makes it seem trivial and cheap. He suggests the text should be eloquent and reflect the foundational mission of WordPress.

The personality of WordPress runs deep. From core committ messages to hidden Easter eggs to the inclusion of Hello Dolly, WordPress is not your typical piece of boring software. According to Myer:

Words have power: power to define new users’ impression of the seriousness of WordPress and its creators; power to alleviate users’ frustration or aggravate it; power to provide information or smugly withhold it. WordPress’s current written content sporadically disregards that power, making WordPress seem like a cheaper, more irritating, and less well-executed project than it really is.

I don’t have a problem with WordPress’ personality but if changes could be made so that translations are easier and error messages become helpful, I’d support them. Matt Mullenweg commented on the article and his remarks indicate that a change in WordPress’ wording isn’t likely.

WP has always been opinionated software with a lot of personality. Every year or two people try to neuter it, remove a bit of its soul, and sometimes it gets through. There are always convincing reasons, like this post, but it’s sad nonetheless. If anyone is going to stop using the software over these we probably didn’t create something very compelling in the first place. You could also create a “dry” localization of the software and see if it gets much traction.

Howdy Doody Featured Image
photo credit: A.Currellcc

No one is advocating for the demise of WordPress or telling people to stop using it over the howdy-doody verbiage within the software. There’s also not a mass exodus of people leaving the project over it. If anything, Myer’s article highlights the fact that WordPress can still be cute and funny as long as the verbiage is straight forward.

I wonder how long the clash between software personality and straight forward thinking will continue? It’s been part of WordPress for years but WordPress has yet to cave in to the demands of the vocal minority. WordPress is being used on 20% of the web and continues to grow without showing any signs of slowing down. It’s not the end of the world if the verbiage of error messages and default post content are not changed but if they can be improved, then why not do it?

How To Help With The Style Guide

If you’d like to get involved with creating a WordPress writing style guide, get in touch with Fred Myer at fred at pressupinc.com. He’ll send you updates and the next steps of the process when he has them.

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