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.


15 responses to “WordPress’ Personality Shines Through Again”

  1. I’m not seeing a problem here. If people don’t like the humorous messages, then they should just change them. I think those little bits of humour add a little bit of character and shouldn’t be removed. In fact I’d be quite happy if more were added.

    • You’ll need to specify what you’re for and against. Would you rather an error message be sarcastic or try to crack a joke when you’re in the middle of trying to figure out what went wrong? At any rate, I think the overall majority are in agreement with you since based on my observations, I don’t see too many others raising the issue.

        • I oppose the PC-police who say we can’t have fun on our own time, on our own dime, with sarcasm, teasing, Polish-jokes, Nazi-references, and a new no-no each week. “Get lost; get a life”, is my reply to them.

          Sarcasm etc is just chimps picking through each other’s fur for succulent lice. It’s ‘core’ socialization so ancient, I don’t doubt it’s hard-coded.

          For you & me & our bottle of wine or bag of shake to uproariously amuse ourselves and any others who think they can stand the heat in the kitchen … good on us & all our partners in the supposed crime.

          But drag it into the workplace? Make it part of the fixed decor? We know better … we know how that movie turns out.

          This is one of the key aspects to a well-developed “professional” demeanor. Knowing when to leave the jug of vino and the wad of weed at home, in our personal lives.

  2. Computers, programming and the nova-feudal communities that occupy it have grave social problems with elitism, hegemony and exclusivity. Easter eggs are yet-another trite symptom/expression of this pattern of structural liability.

    Why are we going Mobile? Because the lack of females in computerdom is devastating … and females suddenly accepted the computer-as-phone, in the tens of millions. Furthermore, and worse, around half the population really & frankly can’t be brought around to give a rat’s butt about computing, per se. Mobile appears to be the Cavalry charging over the hill to our rescue … even if the freshly-styled golden hair flying in the breeze should tell us clear-enough, it’s just that damn General Custer.

    By comparison, well north of 90% of all households & persons accepted & internalized the shared radio and then television commonality, throughout several generations of the broadcast communications era. Nothing remotely like that prevalence is coming to pass, with computers. Too many people just don’t care … computers just don’t offer something/anything, that the majority of the populace can get excited about. And females … omg; 90+% have an active aversion to computers & programming.

    Silicon Valley doyen Tim Draper, Elon Musk’s buddy and uber mover & shaker behind major computing trends … now sponsors a drive to split California into 6 states. In the weeks before Bitcoin became known to the masses [cough], CBS commissioned Draper to do an article for them on it. It came off the press, days after Bitcoin got in trouble … and in it, we see Mr. Draper making the same arguments against the United States itself (and their antiquated monopoly on money), which we saw him pose as the specific issues with California, that indicate/necessitate its fragmentation.

    Again, we’re talking symptoms here. Clues. Draper & his kid Adam (the real Bitcoin point-man of the family) are very bright & able people (like many in the leading ranks of computerdom), but they’re also way too full of themselves. Draper believes so matter of factly that he is qualified to redesign society in his Own Image, he does not even perceive his own delusion (which, yeah, is its definition…).

    Try not to be a total Draper, WordPress community. Humility is tough when you’re as magnificent as you are … when you run 18% of Cyberspace. A smart move is to start with the small things … things you might actually be able to handle … like the self-flattery of ‘Easter eggs’.

      • Irrelevant, that WordCamp snapshots are near-unrelieved seas of male faces?

        That Automattic, and I don’t doubt Matt Mullenweg personally, struggle & compete seriously to recruit females, and strive to make the environment more-acceptable … wrack their brains … is irrelevant?

        I think it’s highly relevant. That if WordPress is going to have “personality”, it should not play a role in aggrandizing insider-perks … male domination; elitism.

        Seriously, Ryan: You wanna tell us males & females are on an equal footing here?

      • >> +90% of males also have an aversion to computers and programming.

        That’s an interesting point now that mobiles/tablets and walled garden type systems dominate the mainstream computing experience. I wonder if that will lead to less people getting interested in programming. At the very least the base line computer literacy is bound to go down. Having said that, maybe the rise of internet enabled appliances, gadgets and 3d printing can kindle a new kind of curiosity.

      • Now more than a decade old, this gender-comparison survey of college students’ computing interests, will remain a benchmark. There will be others, more-recent.

        The annual UCLA survey polled over 400,000 students at 717 colleges and universities nationwide. Data from 269,413 of those students was statistically adjusted to represent the 1.1 million freshmen entering four-year higher-education institutions.

        Only 1.8 percent of women, compared to 9.3 percent of the men surveyed, said they planned to enter computer programming as a career — the largest gap in the survey’s history.

        “This is an area where the gender gap has done nothing but grow larger,” said Linda Sax, the survey’s director.

        [My favorite addendum to this disturbing topic, is that historic evidence supports that the innate ability of females ‘is there’, and that therefore, the fundamental problem today is ‘cultural’.

        Specifically, before digital electronics, “computers” where widespread & in heavy use … but a computer was then a human person. Most such professional computers – and the best, most desired & sought after – were females. When the first rounds of programmer-training began, female computers were selected. For ‘historic reasons’, this initially-promising move was derailed, and males became established as “appropriate” programmers, instead.]

        It’s a mistake to minimize the gender-imbalance in computing fields.


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