Simpler WordPress won't save the Open Web
UNA team is passionate about Open Web, building an open-source platform that enables leaders to create intentional online networks operating independently from the large social networks or SaaS providers.
WordPress, similarly, is an open-source platform, enabling individual publishers. Even though WordPress is a CMS focused on Content, while UNA is a CMS focused on Communities, we do have plenty of crossover use-cases. It is possible to put together a community site using Wordpress, and it is possible to create a blog using UNA.
WordPress is incredibly popular, powering roughly about 30% of all websites currently online. Luckily, Matt Mullenweg - the CEO of Automattic (company behind WordPress) - is, by all means, a really good person with all the right values. He does care about the Open Web and the Internet community as a whole. If only we had more CEOs like Matt and fewer CEOs like Mark... Oh well.
One of the new exciting developments from WordPress is the Gutenberg block editor designed to make adding rich content to WordPress simply. It is not unlike UNA Pages, editor where the site operator can rearrange blocks to build pages, except that Gutenberg is supposed to be used by the end-user - the content publisher, not the site developer. In other words, it is now easier to make fancy WordPress pages with different blocks, but it is still up to users to learn how to do it, and think about what blocks to use and where.
Matt believes that this would create a significant shift, taking more people out of the supermarket-style networks like Facebook and back into the Open Web. Watch this video, or at least the last 3rd of it...
It's a significant development, right? Yes, it is, indeed. It won't make much difference in real life, unfortunately. Here is why...
"Open Web" is much like an open market - product providers and consumers are independent. However, they’re not isolated - they are grouped by way of association, collective interest, location or some other affinity.
It is wrong to assume that any photographer, farmer, accountant or artist should also be a proficient WordPress-publisher, and that it only takes a better UX to let them structure their online presence. Any of those potential publishers need to be able to focus on their trade and not on building their framework for online representation. Many “my custom start-page” projects failed in the early 2000s for the same reason - in real life users don’t want to be architects of their online experience.
Instead, they want to be offered options; then relate to their choices - liking them or not. If they like Facebook experience - they use Facebook; if they like Walmart experience - they go to Walmart. Same with publishing - people may have some opinion about how to format online presense, but they are not ready or informed enough to make all those decisions. It’s far too time-consuming, tedious and foreign for most people.
Now, to empower diversity and development of “open web”, we should enable leaders. And we should work towards having more of them so that they could create more and more spaces, groups, communities, stores, destinations and meetups. Not everyone is a leader, and it would indeed be horrible if we assumed that everyone needs to be a leader in every aspect of their life. In some areas, we may lead, and in others, it is best if we follow, or play along.
Gothenburg editor in WordPress is not going to make any revolutionary difference, unfortunately, because it is only a more visually simplified way of structuring a message. It comes with the same cognitive challenge for the end user - having to decide how to structure their presentation and align it with expectations of the potential audience. Another reason why people go to facebook or twitter is that on consumption site the experience is unified. It uses some common structure and UX that everyone within the network understands. It doesn’t suit every kind of content, but it suits the material it’s focused on, and that all that people need.
As an example analogy, let's say I want to buy a suit...
- I can go to a supermarket that sells all sorts of clothing, including suits. They are pre-made and some of them might suit me. Or buy from Amazon.
- I can go to a street or mall known to have a few shops that sell suits. I’d have better variety and options. Some pre-made, some with tailoring service. Or order from a vendor website online.
- I can search for individual tailors, visit some of them, research the subject, get the suit tailor-made by choosing the fabric, design and cut.
In real life, only a tiny percentage goes to tailors. You’d have to be a sophisticated buyer to do that. Moreover, you’d have to know exactly what you want. In many product categories, it is nearly impossible to expect this level of consumer awareness.
If we go to a supermarket, on the other hand, the quality and fit are going to suffer substantially, especially if your body doesn't fit standard size and form groups.
Now, dedicated suit shops, often incorporating small ecosystems like a few tailors, a wide variety of designs, pre-made suits available to try, delivery system, and whatever else may be required to make it possible for you to have a great outfit is by far the best possible choice. It may come at a cost slightly higher than that in a supermarket, but often lower than at a dedicated tailor.
In the same manner - we should promote the creation of mini-networks, communities and clubs, created by passionate leaders and designed with a specific niche in mind. That would be a real open-web - distributed yet connected, with a minimal cognitive burden on end-users, driven by passionate category leaders that bring diversity of ideas.
Communities compel creativity.
Ever noticed how people often post daily updates on Facebook and yet struggle to write a single post on their blog for months, if not years? The only reason is that existing networks offer that instant gratification of being heard, liked (or disliked) and appreciated.
We want to create if we know that there are people interested in our creations. Ideally, we want our audience to be easily reachable, curated to fit the interest group and united to actually care about what we have to say. Wholesale social networks are far too broad and generic to suit specific interest groups and always end-up being about the personas and groups rather than interests and content. Individual blogs, on the other hand, lack that pre-established audience and for the most part never take off.
Niche communities is ultimately the best chance to preserve diversity and still make it possible for people to reach out to large groups without having to learn how to use WordPress, send newsletters and promote their site. Community operators should take care of that, and unite people with similar passions and interests.