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WordPress Tip: WordPress' Biggest Mistake

by Tom Johnson on Jul 29, 2008
categories: technical-writing wordpress

WordPress's Biggest Mistake

For a company that recently secured $29 million in funding, has grown from nonexistence to worldwide popularity in just four years, and which has the reputation of being the platform for serious bloggers, it's kind of bold for me to call attention to its biggest mistake in a post. But I'm convinced that it's a huge miscalculation on the part of Automattic (the company that leads WordPress). The Automattic team, led by Matt Mullenweg, has about 25 engineers and .... not one technical writer.

In the engineer's mind, writers are unnecessary because the code is so obvious. And WordPress even prides itself with its mission statement:

Through WordPress we've enabled millions of people to effortlessly publish to the web. Now we want to enable millions more.

"Effortlessly"? Excuse me, Matt should come over and watch my wife try to update something in her blog's design. When the image don't automatically float right or left to wrap around the text, when she wants to change her header's banner, or limit the number of posts that show up in a category, she starts cursing WordPress under her breath.

My wife, who writes under the pen name "Jane," is actually technically competent. She can edit and publish videos on Vimeo and Youtube, create linked image buttons for her sidebar, and resize and edit photos in Photoshop and Picasa pretty easily. But every time she wants to make slight adjustments to her blog ... well, let's just say last time she ended up throwing the mouse at me while I ducked near the kitchen microwave. Other times she literally pulls on her hair in desperation and says she's "going to Blogger." Swearing is also common.

The WordPress team overlooks an official technical writer and assumes everyone will update the WordPress Codex with the necessary documentation. Sure. Just like people will come out of their homes and automatically pick up the trash on the streets. If you've ever looked through the Codex for something, navigation is akin to backcountry hiking without a map. At least a quarter of the content is outdated. Much of the writing isn't very task-oriented or clear to novices. It frequently resembles developer-writing, and screenshots are usually absent.

With the $29 million in funding WordPress has received, you'd think they'd at least pay an intern somewhere $20 an hour to update the Codex. Better yet, find someone with gusto and expertise like Lorelle to devote herself full-time to Codex upkeep. WordPress documentation is only getting worse. Is there not at least a 100 page manual that you can download (rather than buying a third-party book from Amazon)?

In the end, Blogger has much more marketshare because it's an easier platform. WordPress could be more competitive in the marketplace if they simply hired a full-time technical writer to -- I know this is shocking -- add an online help file directly inside the application.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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