Musings on my future with WordPress

Regular readers of this blog, if such exist, may have noticed that one of the three (!) posts I published yesterday has gone missing. I unpublished it this morning, as I further contemplate the future of WordPress, and whether or not I want to be a part of it.

First off, I need to make it clear that I will be a part of it, because ICS Calendar Pro has become a substantial part of my business, and I only see that growing. The question for me, however, is whether or not the rest of my business will continue to revolve around WordPress the way it has since 2014.

I’ve been building websites for much longer than that. By 2014 I had already been writing HTML for 20 years, and building websites professionally for 18. My decision to go all-in on WordPress in 2014, and abandon the CakePHP-based custom CMS I had been painstakingly crafting for the previous 6 years, hinged on my realization that WordPress was evolving quickly into a powerful, general-purpose CMS.

But therein lies the problem. I am part of a very large community of serious, professional web developers who embraced WordPress (the open source project) as a general-purpose, if decidedly idiosyncratic, Content Management System (CMS). And we’re the ones who collectively turned it into the dominant platform that it is today. But I don’t think Automattic, or much of the WordPress core team, sees it that way. They’ve never lost the original vision of it as a simple blogging platform, even though the web world has largely moved beyond blogging (at least the open source, self-hosted kind).

Automattic (the company owned by WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg) isn’t competing with Drupal or Joomla. They’re competing with Squarespace, Wix and Medium. And as such, their focus is on how to make (their commercial, hosted version of WordPress) into a stronger challenger to those platforms. The open source WordPress project that I and my fellow developers have grown to love is just an afterthought to that mission. Or at least, so it seems, with the aggressive pushing of Gutenberg (a.k.a. the Block Editor) since 2018, and even more alarmingly, full-site editing (a.k.a. Site Editor) this year.

Gutenberg is one thing. I started off hating it, not because it was a bad idea, but because it was a poorly executed one — or more specifically, that it was forced on the WordPress community before it was mature enough to replace the classic editor. But I absolutely believed in the idea of block editing in general. I had already been working extensively on my own custom theme that was built around ACF Flexible Content. Many others turned to “page builder” plugins/themes like Divi, Beaver Builder, WP Bakery, or Elementor.

I despise those page builders because they introduced their own, often convoluted interfaces that look and feel nothing like WordPress, and most frustratingly, are not easier for end users. The only people they’re easier for are “no code” website builders, and maybe I’m an old man yelling at clouds, but I feel like you shouldn’t be charging people money to build websites for them if you don’t know how to write code. Less curmudgeonly: These page builders require just as much work to learn as writing code does, but if you learn to code, you walk away with a much more valuable skill.

But I digress. For the sake of adding block editing flexibility to the content management aspects of using WordPress, I have no problem with Gutenberg as it stands in 2022. In fact, I’m using it to write these words. It is much nicer than the old classic editor — at least, now it is; not so much when it debuted in 2018 — and more importantly, it’s the WordPress way as opposed to page builders. Even if it’s only “the WordPress way” because WordPress has changed to be like it, rather than it fitting what WordPress was before.

I still have a major problem, in principle, with the entire concept of the Site Editor though. And the blog post I cited earlier this year feels more relevant to me than ever. I still don’t think it’s really for anybody. Except Automattic.

It’s not that the Site Editor is going to put people like me out of work. It’s that, if this is the direction things are going, it makes absolutely no sense for people like us to continue to use WordPress as our platform of choice.

Taking this thought a step further (and following the links), we get to the heart of the matter for me, which is perfectly summed up in a post called The Complicated Futility of WordPress. Specifically (emphasis mine):

The thought of client side marketing interns ‘play(ing) around with site-wide designs’ should make the blood of any professional run cold. Sites that have been painstakingly, designed and built, reviewed and refined to the last detail every step of the way with stakeholders on the client side, optimising UX, legibility, performance and upholding the client’s brand can now be squelched in an instant by someone 3 months into their job who prefers yellow.

No doubt we could work up a system to prevent this, we can restrict access and force use of the classic editor etc, but that’s where the ‘complicated futility’ comes in. It’s one thing to find a way to cherry pick aspects of the software to serve your purpose, it’s another thing entirely to try to build in complete opposition to it.


For me, it’s been a difficult year of loss, with the death of my mother in September (and several months of decline preceding that), and some distance from my work. It’s also been a year when I have struggled constantly, through my efforts at building a new Block Editor-friendly theme to replace my trusty old ACF-based one, to find some sense in a lot of the decisions that have been made about how Gutenberg works and the direction WordPress is going. My low motivation, easy distraction, and generally slow progress on the theme, I am just now realizing, has been due to the amount of cognitive dissonance I was feeling, as I realized that everything about my approach to building websites as a professional developer, everything I am looking for in the tools I use to do my job, seems, as coderjerk put it, to be in complete opposition to what WordPress is becoming.

As a freelancer, I keep fairly diligent records of my time spent working on client projects. I have to. It’s how I make money. But I am not as rigorous in tracking how I use my personal time. I wish I had logged the time I’ve spent over the course of 2022 experimenting with, and then abandoning, various potential WordPress replacements. It usually only takes me an hour or two to realize that, as much as I am resisting learning the seemingly nonsensical framework (if you can call it that) for building custom blocks, block patterns, block themes, and everything else in the “new way” of WordPress, it is still probably superior to whatever platform I’m testing out that day. So I’ve dismissed ClassicPress as a backwards-looking dead-end. I’ve tried and cast aside more random niche CMSes than I can recall. (But, to prove this isn’t just empty talk, a few of them are e107, Craft, and Concrete, and I’ve even contemplated Drupal, of all things, as well as resurrecting my old CakePHP-based system.)

None of that has gone anywhere, because it was immediately apparent to me that none of them felt right. Not built on the right foundation, not polished enough, not enough momentum behind them. Well, nothing has as much momentum as WordPress. But now I’ve begun to wonder, is it momentum… or inertia?

Today’s discovery feels different. Since I agreed with so much of coderjerk’s post, I took the final suggestion of Twill to heart. I don’t have experience with Laravel, but I know that back when I was in CakePHP world, it was a big competitor. An employee of mine — in the short sliver of time when I had employees — built a custom site for a client using Laravel and he loved it. Twill is built on Laravel, so it seems fitting for me that the next chapter of my career might revolve around a return to MVC frameworks, in their much more modern, mature form. And while this gives me a lot of new stuff to learn — I’ve avoided doing much with systems that rely on Composer and managing dependencies — it all feels like the right stuff to have to learn in 2022, vs. what I’d have to learn to be a Gutenberg ace.

I’ve spent a few hours this afternoon getting the lay of the land with Twill. And while it has thrown me a few surprising challenges even in the basic setup, it’s also giving me a giddy feeling of just having fun geeking out on learning new systems… those moments of delight when I finally get how something works and I see the genius behind it. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the structures underlying Gutenberg, and the only feeling that ever gives me is… “What… why???”

I plan to spend most of tomorrow continuing to tinker with my little Twill test setup. I may still end up scrapping it, and I know I will probably never completely leave the immense gravitational pull of WordPress. But I’m feeling more excited about web technology than I have in years, and more optimistic about my future in this business.

Gruber and Moltz take on Musk

You may not be into nerdy tech podcasts (although if you’re a reader of this blog it’s probably a higher than average probability), but the first main segment of the latest episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show, dealing with everyone’s favorite billionaire Elon Musk, is really excellent, for a couple of key points:

1. Musk bought Tesla and SpaceX. He didn’t found them. And both of them seem to be succeeding at their missions largely because they have developed a corporate culture that placates Musk’s whims while largely shielding the companies’ primary objectives from the damage those whims may cause.

2. The Boring Company, however, is not a success, and increasingly seems like it may be intended not to be. It’s easy to see Musk as a “world saving visionary,” if that’s what you want to do. But TBC’s main accomplishment, to date, seems to be squashing large public transportation infrastructure projects. And remember that Musk owns Tesla, too. It’s well established by now that mid-20th century automakers exerted their influence to kill public transportation. (Streetcars used to be everywhere!) And it seems quite plausible that TBC is little more than a front for the same activities on behalf of Tesla in this century.

ST:TNG Treadmill Review #5: The Measure of a Man

The Measure of a Man
Season 2 Episode 9
Original airdate: February 11, 1989

Netflix Synopsis

Data resigns his commission rather than be dismantled for examination by an inadequately skilled scientist.

My Brief Review

This episode has a strong premise, but is hampered by clumsy dialogue and two entirely unlikable guest characters — Captain Louvois, the JAG officer assigned to the new star base Enterprise is docking at (who we are preconditioned to dislike because we’re introduced to her as the prosecutor of a court-martial against Picard several years earlier), and Commander Maddox, a cybernetics researcher who wants to disassemble Data and study “it.” The episode centers on the trial at which Captain Louvois will determine whether Data has rights, or is the property of Starfleet.

As if things weren’t getting heavy-handed enough already, after asking for a recess in the trial, Captain Picard, who is acting as Data’s defense, consults Guinan — in the epitome of her role as the show’s “Magical Negro” (a term I use here reluctantly but with careful intent) — who helps him to see that the vision Maddox has of creating thousands of Datas, all property of Starfleet, is tantamount to slavery.

At the end of the episode, in a final failure of quality writing, Maddox inexplicably has a change of heart after Captain Louvois rules in Data’s favor, and refers to Data as “he” for the first time, instead of “it.” He might has well have handed him a trophy and declared “You’re all right, LaRusso!”

Still, the episode deals with some serious moral and philosophical issues, on a level that would seem elementary to a college freshman but is fairly sophisticated for a syndicated TV series. It’s a strong episode, but it loses marks for the issues outlined above.

Memorable Moment

There are several memorable moments — Data carefully removing wrapping paper from a gift so the paper can be reused; Data’s reluctant admission during the trial that he and Tasha Yar had been “intimate”; but none can surpass our introduction to the officers’ poker game, where Data wears his ridiculous visor for the first time, and also learns what a “poker face” is when Riker successfully bluffs him, beating Data’s three queens with a worthless hand.

Crew Rando

Not really a crew member, but since there are no crew randos to speak of in this episode, the award goes to Commander Maddox, for being one of the few Star Trek characters you wish was a “red shirt.”

Distance Rating: 4K

IMDb score: 9.2/10

(Bonus points for myself: this review contains three 70-plus word sentences.)

On doing what you love, loving what you do, and not burning out along the way

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few days about Michael Arrington’s blog post concerning the long hours and dedication it takes to work for a startup.

I’ll keep my general criticism of Arrington to a minimum here, but to sum it up as I understand it: he founded a popular tech blog, stirred up controversy by investing in some of the companies he covered, sold said tech blog to Huffington Post, fought with Arianna Huffington something something CrunchPad/JooJoo something something Aol. Now he’s a VC, to more perfectly promote himself, which is what this all seems to be about anyway. (In short, I’m not a fan, and had solidified my opinion long before this week’s events.)

His blog post, berating overworked startup employees for being whiny crybabies (because they need things like sleep and a life apart from their jobs), while also somehow implying that Zynga is creating something of lasting value to the world, quoted extensively from a 1994 online diary (blogs didn’t exist back then) of former Netscape programmer Jamie Zawinski. Zawinski was, to put it mildly, not happy that Arrington used his words in the service of Arrington’s VC agenda. In the wake of Zawinski’s retort, there’s been a swelling of further outrage on Twitter and by bloggers like Amy Hoy and Rachel Andrew, among just a few links I’ve clicked in the past 48 hours.

All of this is increasingly resonating with my own experience. I’ve never worked for a Silicon Valley startup, but I’ve had a couple of startup-like experiences in my 15-year career as a web professional. I’ve never actually been driven to the point of sleeping under my desk and not leaving the office for days at a time, but the opportunity was there for me, if I had wanted to take it. Instead, I walked away, every time.

First, in 2000, just before the first tech bubble burst, I was brought in to be the “HTML guru” on the first e-commerce venture of a certain big box retailer. It was no startup, but it was being run like one. The .com team took over a (very) large conference room, turned off all of the overhead lights, and built a cubicle maze lit by floor lamps and dotted with potted trees. Aeron chairs and (promises of) vast fortunes in stock options for all! After a few months I started to see through the façade. The likelihood of a separate .com stock spinoff (the thing that was really going to make us all rich) evaporated, and our inspirational, visionary VP resigned the Friday before the site launched. It wasn’t long before I was gone, too.

Then, in 2008, I went to work for a (more-or-less) real startup. It was a “fun” work environment where we were entitled to all of the free breakfast cereals, ramen noodles, and caffeinated sodas we could consume. There was an XBOX 360 with Rock Band (which was still cool at the time) in the breakroom. We could hang out, bring dogs to work every day, ride around the office on scooters, all of that. We were encouraged to think of ourselves as “co-presidents” (actual shares in company ownership notwithstanding). We were also expected to log 36 billable hours a week. Maybe that’s no big deal when you’re fresh out of college, have no external commitments, and can be adequately enticed to stay at work until 11 PM with the promise of free ordered-in burritos. But I was 34, with two preschool-aged kids at home. And having to log 36 billable hours when you’re only in the office for 40 (and have to reserve enough energy to chase two kids around when you get home) can prove just as stressful as working 60 hours a week when you’re sleeping under your desk. (Or so it seemed at the time. I don’t care to try to prove it.) I only lasted at that job for 3 months.

As it happened, just as I was beginning that job I was also subconsciously assembling the pieces of what I really wanted to do, which was to go out on my own as a freelance web developer and consultant. I had acquired the necessary technical skills over a (then) 12-year career working for the two aforementioned companies as well as four others. I had built up a large enough network of contacts that I could tap into to drum up business (if you’ll permit such a ghastly mixed metaphor). All I needed was the confidence to take the leap and do it.

My goal was not to get rich (at least, not directly). It was not to revolutionize the industry. It was just to do what I do well, on my own terms. To please and delight my clients with top-quality work. To do what I love, and love what I do. And let it grow from there.

Three years later, I’m still here. I’m not rich. I haven’t started a revolution. But I’m making a stable living, and I’m meeting my target of 25 to 30 billable hours a week. I have a growing list of satisfied clients, and I’ve built something pretty cool along the way. This business is working, and I’m working on my own terms.

I don’t say all of this to gloat. I am proud of what I’ve achieved (and that I’ve done it without an “angel investor”). But there are a lot of people who’ve achieved a lot more in the Internet than I have, and probably more than I ever will. Still, there’s room for me, and there’s room for more, too. You just need to have the confidence to take the risk. But when you do it, do it for yourself.

Tilt-shift and time-lapse

Once again I fail to provide anything profoundly new or original here: I found this on BuzzFeed, but I hope to add some value to the extent that I can supplement what you’re seeing with my own witty commentary, and I’m assembling items from a few separate pages that took me some time to find, but now they’re in one place for your convenience.

The topic of the day is the wonderful tilt-shift, time-lapsed videos of Australian photographer Keith Loutit. Tilt-shift is a photographic technique that is a popular trend these days, wherein some sort of focal adjustment (beyond my knowledge of the technical aspects of photography) is used to bring sharp focus to a particular portion of the photo, while blurring the background. The resulting effect is that the objects in the photo look miniaturized. I think this is a learned response we have to these photos, because we’re used to this focal effect occurring naturally when a macro lens is used to photograph actual miniatures up-close.

Whatever the cause for our perception of the photos, the effect is undeniably cool. Here’s one of my favorite examples:

Time-lapse photography is a much more familiar (and much older) technique, wherein individual frames are shot at specified intervals (say, one per minute), then played back at regular motion-picture speed, to allow the viewer to perceive very slow changes (such as the blooming of a flower) in a comparatively short period of time.

Put these techniques together, though, overlay a wicked techno soundtrack, and you’ve got pure genius. Here are two examples from Keith Loutit’s website:

This one is cool to me because it features the Circular Quay region of Syndey, Australia, home of the famous Sydney Opera House. I spent a few days in this area around Christmas of 1995 and it has always stood out in my mind. It’s great to see one of my favorite spots on the planet in a whole new way. (Now, if only I could be sipping a nice chilled Victoria Bitter as I watch it…)

This is the video that was featured on BuzzFeed, and was my introduction to Keith’s work. I was a bit surprised to see that he was in Australia — I didn’t realize Brisbane was so redneck (googling the phrase “Brisbane redneck” yields only this, which just leads back to us anyway) — although it explained why the chalk-paint flags on the dirt track were U.S. and Australian instead of U.S. and Canada. (For those who have not had the unique pleasure of attending a monster truck event, apparently here in the U.S. they always involve an absurd trumped-up rivalry between the U.S. and Canada.) Anyway — this piece is absolutely brilliant.

You can read more about — and see more examples of — tilt-shift photography at Cheapshooter. Also be sure to check out the Keith Loutit PhotoBlog.