The future of WordPress: help wanted

On May 1st I’ll be speaking at WordCamp San Francisco (registration here), the premier event for WordPress developers, users and fans. Matt Mullenweg asked me to talk about the future of WordPress, which is, as you can imagine, a tall order indeed. Many important people in the WP community and at Automattic will be there, and if I play my cards right, what I say might impact how they think about what they do next.

I think the power to write and publish is a precious thing, and WordPress has done something amazing in the history of publishing: they’ve made the experience of writing and sharing simple, cheap and reliable for many people around the world (If nothing else, it powers the blog you’re reading now). But what’s missing? What doesn’t it do well that the next generation of WordPress users will need? Or that the current one doesn’t know it needs?

If you’re a WordPress developer, or user, either through or your own blog, what ideas, directions, challenges or even features do you think I need to consider for a talk like this? Jane Wells, who leads UX for WordPress, believes as Matt does, the future of WordPress is people. But what should those people be doing? Vladamir thinks WP is slowing down, and as I’ve noted, plugin culture creates problems for users and for corporations. And for some, there’s a separation between what WordPress the platform should do, vs. what it should do for users.

And if you know my work, what general themes do you think I should talk about? Grateful for your thoughts below – I’d love to incorporate good ideas from as many interested people as I can.

And if you’ll be there, leave a comment and let me know. It’d be fun to share a beer (or three).

20 Responses to “The future of WordPress: help wanted”

  1. Nuno Morgadinho

    Hi Scott,

    Here’s two ideas:

    1) Keep the Simplicity – My greatest fear with WordPress is that people don’t stop adding more things to it. I like its smallness. The merging of WordPress MU in the upcoming 3.0 version is just one example of the unnecessary growing complexity of the WordPress code base.

    2) Be more Open – Automattic keeps control of the only official plugin repository and WordPress only works with it. Reminds me of the Apple App Store and I for sure don’t want anything like that for WordPress.

    Cheers and have a good time in SF,

  2. Dan

    I think the Custom Post Types coming soon in WordPress 3.0 takes WordPress to another level. As it stands now I only see WordPress and an Article or Blog Management System. With Custom Post Types, WordPress essentially becomes an honest to goodness CONTENT Management System. I will be able to define my own content and publish it how I want! It does’t have to have a title, author, or body. Where does WordPress go from there? Is is just a matter of figuring out how to easily and simple manage multiple types of content? Should WordPress focus on the content that is served or how that content is served? These are just some of the things I think about.

  3. Hans

    Great blog Scott,
    My suggestions on some topics to address:
    1) Balance between features/power and simplicity. I’d love to do more with WordPress but I don’t want to spend hours learning how to configure things. I want to focus on content generation, but I also want to be able to access those features that make WordPress more accessible.

    2) Tools to help writers store ideas: I come across many different things that seem like good ideas to write about, but either don’t have a connection to the web to finish the post (so I stopped using the online version), or don’t have a good way to organize the different possible posts. I started using a 3rd party client but then using multimedia started getting more complicated so I’ve stopped that. The main point is that WordPress could help the users considerably by helping them organize and generate new ideas to write about.

    Best of luck with the talk.

  4. Daniel Quinn

    I have to second Dan from above: custom post types and the ability skin custom fields with meta boxes for those post types is the single most important thing WP 3 is capable of right now. It makes it very easy for developers to turn WP 3 into a CMS for just about any small-to-mid-size project. Nothing else matters.

  5. Joel D Canfield

    WordPress needs better separation of the user-friendly front-end features, and the developer-accessible back-end tools.

    As a database web developer, I consider it my job to make it impossible for a user to break the tool. It’s also my dream for other developers to have access to the back end, and create cool new views and tools and worlds that use what’s back there, without impacting what already exists.

    It shouldn’t be possible for a WordPress administrator to destroy their own site. There’s too much power in the normal administration screens, and too little access to the back end.

    Genuine 3-tier (or n-tier) construction. Power where warranted, protection where needed; a surgeon’s knife, safe as a rubber ball.

    Then, end users will feel safe to expand and extend, using it for all kinds of creative things, which will drive developers to, well, develop.

    Right now, there are actually spots in the WordPress core files which say “if you delete this the sky will fall on your head.” How will we ever make people feel safe to dream and experiment when they know they could bring about the destruction of civilisation as we know it by accidentally typing the wrong thing in their blog?

    Normal non-geeks are still terrified of computers. More than any other tool, WordPress is slowly changing that.

    I just wish I didn’t have to include the adverb ‘slowly’ in that sentence.

  6. Umang

    We do the following on the internet:
    1. Consume content
    2. Communicate
    3. Collaborate
    4. Produce content

    I’d say the breakdown of the amount of each activity is something like 80/10/8/2, simplistically speaking (ignoring overlap, etc).

    WordPress currently is focused on the #4 – 2% of the activity on the internet. Which it does well for its users.

    #4 is slowly having a larger and larger overlap with the others, so much so that we produce content as we consume – tweets, comments, facebook ‘likes’, etc.

    What WP should do next is look at the picture holistically.

    And thanks for the food for thought. :)

  7. Joss Gillet

    As you mentioned, some think that the future of WordPress is people. I believe that WordPress should better work around how it empowers people to interconnect. According to me, the future of WordPress depends on how it takes the sense of “community” further. I’m apparently part of the WordPress “community”, but I don’t know who’s part of it, how I can interact and link up with them more efficiently. I know that plenty of tools exist for that, but it is not simple and user-friendly.

    The WordPress community is huge and surely there is a way to make it more efficient just by having blog site owners exchange and interact more with each other. That way, they can learn from their community, they can raise their profiles by inviting guests to talk on their blogs and vice-versa, they can link up … anything that makes sure that there is no “sleeping content”.

  8. Tammy Hart

    Scott, I will be there, and can’t wait to hear your talk.

    I and another WordPress designer who shall remain nameless, but blogs at both have the ambitious idea that WordPress will eventually take over the internet. :) This is mostly just psyching ourselves out like football players at halftime, but we do honestly believe in the platform and it’s ability to handle almost any kind of content. We aren’t naive enough to think that it’s the solution for every website, obviously, that would be childish (*ahem*), but like I said, we heart WordPress and it’s flexibility (and the fact that we make a living from creating custom WordPress sites.)

    Other than taking over the world, I agree with Dan and Daniel that custom post types was the best next step that it has made. I also agree with Jane Wells that better media management should be something more native. WordPress was born out of the desire for great typography and text, but other media are such an important part of what writers and publishers use.

  9. Chad

    I am a Movable Type guy, so I’m not sure if this exists currently, but I think WP needs to enable the ability to create multiple blogs from a single installation. This would enable it to be a more full-fledged CMS. Another way this might be possible is to use OAuth or OpenID to enable a single signon to multiple WP installs with different permissioning possible on each.

  10. Nathan Bashaw

    People want a home online that they can customize to reflect their personality to a greater extent than social networking sites like Facebook/Twitter allow. I think WordPress should position itself to become more of a CMS homebase system.

    Keeping that in mind, the system needs to be simple enough for non-nerds to use, but flexible enough for users to make their own. That’s no easy task, but it’s the thing WordPress is historically best at. If I were them, I would focus on that more holistic “online homebase” target, and have the “blog platform” be just one part of it.

  11. James Bullis

    I’d love to see some further developments in the Appearance section. The new Twenty Ten theme is a far step above themes from the past and moves the platform toward a CMS status. I’d like to see more ability to customize these themes from within the admin. I was surprised to not find any feature that allowed you to set colors for the menu bar. This would be helpful.

    It would also be great to be able to add footer content (Read Copyright notices) from within the CMS.

    I know we want to give Designers more free reign in their themes, but I think that by making these few minor tweaks to an already great default theme you may find more people using it.

    A common complaint that I recieve from “traditional” designers is that they don’t know how to design for WordPress. On a developer’s side, I like to use other designer’s themes and I find that many designers that design for WordPress don’t know all of the things they can do with their theme. It would be nice if there was some sort of standard in the way Theme’s are designed that would make it easier for traditional designers to enter the market and to allow developers to be able to edit their code.

    I can’t wait to hear what you come up with. See you there!

  12. Elisabeth

    I don’t consider myself a computer geek. I also don’t consider myself a dummy either. I’m somewhere in the middle.
    I started a blog in November 2008. It’s on, self-hosted.
    I picked a theme (free), and managed to make it do what I wanted, without learning html. For the really fancy stuff that I was too stubborn to let up on: I looked up a command or two on the internet.
    All this to say: I don’t understand much of the comments ahead of mine about WordPress. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. When I look at what I created, all by myself, I am astounded.
    Wordpress rocks.
    Wordpress makes you feel like a web geek…without being even close to one.

  13. Elisabeth

    Damn. I meant November 2009. I was trying to get the point across that I really am a newbie at the blogging thing!

  14. Tom Hermans

    For me as a theme/plugin developer I applaud the custom post types becoming a more powerful tool.
    My wish though is a step further .. something like the guys from PodsCMS are doing right now. Build a real cms out of wordpress, the custom post types are definitely a step in the right direction.
    Wish #2 is a better user management system, along the lines of what Justin Tadlock’s already doing with his Members-plugin. Let’s say, make it easier to assign a user to one post or one page, with various roles and capabilities.

    But for the majority of users and for potential new users, it should be as easy as it can get, setup “their homepage”, pull in info from their social profiles and vice versa.. WordPress as their online identity.

    See you saturday, let’s see what other ideas come up.


  15. Michael

    Hi Scott,

    I’m curious! I would like to know how went your presentation? I’m living in Europe .. so far away from SF. Is there a chance to see it online? Up to now I haven’t found anything.



    1. Scott Berkun

      Hi Michael:

      The presentation went very well – I’m told all the presentations from wordcamp sf will be posted on Just not sure when. I’ll post on the blog when it’s up.

  16. Barbara Obata

    Just reviewing my notes from WordCamp. Your talk sank in, and made me re-appreciate the desire to communicate. I particularly enjoyed your bringing to the surface the meaning of the word “revolutionary”. I thought that in itself was brave of you to bring up, if not revolutionary!

    Thank you.



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