This is a rallying cry for us, WordPress!
Yesterday’s news that AOL is acquiring tech recommendation site gdgt.com didn’t make much of a blip on my radar, until I read these quotes from gdgt co-founder Ryan Block:
We’ve always considered ourselves a design and engineering company first. So part of what I’m going to be doing is…expanding the scope of what we’re working on … We’re going to apply the same sensibilities around creating a great holistic product experience to other sites around the [AOL tech] portfolio.
The bar has been raised in general around design, engineering, site experience, features — all these things.
We’ve come to expect a very high standard of interactivity. And the reality is there’s a lot of work to be done with some of these sites, and that’s what we’re going to do.
This quote may seem innocuous at first – Block is simply acknowledging a trend in the online media space – but it gets more interesting when you consider that TechCrunch, another AOL tech media property, is a high-profile WordPress VIP client.
TechCrunch also happens to be one of the most cluttered, traditionally-designed media properties, particularly compared the The Verge (which the interviewer in the Block article quoted above specifically mentions).
In that light, it appears that Block’s quote is aimed directly (if not exclusively) at TechCrunch, and his quote suggests that TechCrunch may be shifted away from WordPress VIP towards an in-house product developed and/or overseen by Block and his team, similar to how Vox Media (corporate parent of The Verge) uses its own in-house CMS called Chorus.
So what’s the big deal? WordPress is handily winning the publishing platform battle worldwide; even in the enterprise world, WordPress VIP continues to expand its services and includes high-profile media clients such as Time magazine and CBS New York.
That success means this isn’t a “sky is falling” warning; rather I’m suggesting that old, tired, and unfair “WordPress is for traditionally-formatted blogs” trope may still be a factor when online media properties choose their technology platforms.
If that misconception is a factor when enterprises choose platforms, it can be particularly troubling as media companies (such as AOL, Vox, and Buzzfeed before them) choose and promote in-house platforms.
An in-house platform is more likely to stick around and much harder to untangle from as it requires more staff (people that you don’t want to lay off) and includes more legacy code than any open CMS.
If it’s true – that WordPress is passed over, at least in part, because of the outdated and incorrect notion that it’s too generic and not customizable enough for enterprise – what can we do as developers?
The answer is simple to realize, and harder to implement: We should push our clients, and ourselves, to expand the boundaries of what our sites can be in terms of design, layout, and functionality.
We know from working with WordPress on a daily basis that there’s no reason it can’t outperform custom-built solutions when it comes to providing features and design. We just need to tell that story with more forward-thinking implementations.
Some great examples of this type of forward-thinking:
- PandoDaily: Previously a fairly traditionally-designed tech news blog, its recent redesign is bold, unique, and modern. Whether or not you like some of the design choices, I think most people will agree it’s less cluttered and more visually interesting than most technology-focused properties.
- Quartz: Launched by The Atlantic, Quartz is a beautifully-unique mobile-first imprint that is clearly designed for the scanning mentality encouraged by the form factor of phones and tablets.
The trend towards in-house technology platforms within online media space doesn’t foretell the end of WordPress as the most beautiful and useable publishing platform on earth. But by understanding the new devices, habits, and tastes of our readers, we can create new and better experiences for users that uphold the promise of WordPress as we know it.
What do you think – Does WordPress have a reputation as outdated within the tech media community? What other design and/or feature trends should we be recognizing and building towards? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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