There’s been some discussion of late around who the typical WordPress user is, and what they can and cannot learn. I’d like to take this discussion in a slightly different direction, because I think that asking what a WordPress user can and cannot learn is the wrong question. In my experience, it comes down to what WordPress users will and won’t learn.
Before I go any further down this path, I’ll point out that this has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with frustration on the part of users by a barrier of entry that is perceived to be high. In some cases, it actually is, but in others, it’s a high barrier due to a number of factors, some of which are completely outside WordPress’s control and other factors that are within the control of those who are building the tools meant for average users, both within the WordPress project itself and the surrounding community.
None of the data I have is based on research. It’s only anecdotal, based on my years of teaching blind people how to use their technology, and how to use WordPress in particular, through the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired WordPress and CMS Fundamentals course.
This course aims to teach users how to build a basic website with WordPress’s built-in features, along with some plugins recommended based on ease of use with screen readers, and accessibility-ready themes. During its first successful run, some code was covered, but I found that my students could not tolerate the extra work involved in using code to make what they perceived were simple customizations.
For me, the code bit was easy, and I figured that since it was literally “I’m going to give you some things to copy and paste, and tell you where to put them in your theme’s files,” I thought it would be easy for my students too.
It turns out I was wrong, because my students weren’t, and still aren’t, willing to tolerate the extra work involved, no matter how little it actually is.
Having a good understanding of what users will and won’t tolerate when it comes to WordPress and the websites they build with it is critical to the further success of WordPress down the line. If we tell users that WordPress is a piece of cake to use, then it has to be so. We can’t expect that users who are not developers are going to do things like use their browser’s development tools to troubleshoot an issue. By way of illustration, every single support call I take, (and yes, they’re calls, as in on Skype or on the phone, because the type of user I deal with on a regular basis considers user forums too high of a barrier to entry when it comes to getting support), involves me using my developer tools on their site to see if what they’re reporting to me is actually occurring, or to get a better handle on what’s actually going on before I start walking them through how to solve a particular problem.
WordPress can be powerful, or it can be easy. And I think it’s time we pick one of those options. making something powerful means that it has to become more complex. Once it starts becoming more complex, it’s no longer easy. I think that, at least for wordPress, we may need to abandon the “easy” rhetoric. It’s almost always never true, and if we tell users that something is easy to use, and they find out that in their experience it’s not, they become frustrated and move to another platform like Wix or SquareSpace.
And we shouldn’t be a Wix or Squarespace knock-off, we should be WordPress.