Is WordPress Good for Beginners? Yes, But Not Always

Why can’t WordPress do everything I want, AND read my mind?

WordPress is such a nice system that its popularity has skyrocketed. It’s easy to use, and has a phenomenal feature set. As its fame increases, many newbies are now coming into the fold, and while many are happy, some of them are having a lot of trouble.

WordPress has been the premier open source tool for blogging for quite some time now, and people are also discovering that it can be used for other types of sites. The developers (and plugin authors) have done a superb job adding features and making the system easy to use. While this has allowed people with moderate computer skills to use it, an inevitable byproduct of such popularity is emerging: a lot of people cannot figure out various parts of the system, and they are having trouble getting technical support, even though there is a nice free support forum where people can join for free and ask questions.

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that I like WordPress. Because I like WP (WordPress) so much, when I have time, I go to the forum and answer people’s questions to give a little bit back. But it seems that the number of people needing help may be outstripping the number of volunteers who can answer them. Because I’m not being paid to do it, frankly, I am selective in what type of question I will answer. If someone doesn’t make an effort to clearly describe their problem, pass. If they have a rude or annoying tone, same thing. If the problem doesn’t sound fun to work on, or at least interesting, no go. And of course, there are many questions that I can’t answer, even with quite a bit of experience. It’s a big, complex system, and there are many, many plugins that are not part of the core software. In spite of all that, the hardcore gurus on the WP forum do a superb job.

I ran into one funny type of grievance last week. The person had an interesting question, and said that they had been able to do fancy tag styling with another system, and how could they do that with WP? I answered with a suggestion that did not produce the identical result, but gave them some of what the other system did, and with a bit of extra CSS work, could end up with the same visual appearance as the other system. Her response was along the lines of “well, thanks, but I just can’t believe that WP can’t automatically do the same thing as System X…”, and went on to describe how angry she was about it, and how bad WP must be. I just shrugged and wanted to say, “then why not go back to System X”, but instead, I voted with my feet. I’m offering free support – why spend any more time with someone who is ungrateful, angry, and won’t ever be satisfied anyway?

It’s kind of sad now – as newcomers flock to WP, I see some forum questions that are so basic that they sound forlorn: “My site just crashed. What do I do now?”

While making the rounds trying out a variety of content management systems, I keep running into a particular personality type: someone for whom a particular system has essentially become their mother, so System X has become the paradigm that everything is judged against, and as such, any other system will automatically be found lacking. Kind of like the iPhone fanboys. Just typical group dynamics. There are so many systems available, paid or free, and there’s probably something out there for almost anybody who wants to build a site. WordPress does tick a lot of boxes for me, yet it isn’t the only system I use. Different jobs may require different tools.

For a newbie, WordPress will work very well for someone of this description:

  • They like WP’s bloggish format, structure, and flow.
  • They have good basic computer skills. They want to write articles, and can do basic word-processor-style editing, know how to save files, how to use menus, how to install things, etc. They don’t mind sticking to the basics when editing something: headings, paragraphs, some formatting (such as bolding), and maybe adding some photos.
  • They can find a WP theme design that looks good to them.

A newbie to WP will probably not enjoy it if:

  • They like to do a lot of customizing, and want to make significant changes to WP’s typical structure, but lack the skills or desire to write at least some code and possibly deal with things like functions and the API. I actually have a friend who is extremely adept at web development, yet even he finds that the prospect of editing PHP code keeps him away from using WP. Many newbies find this out way too late.
  • They want to produce complex multimedia content. A simple WYSIWYG editor is no good for this. Some plugins may make this easier, but the forums are littered with questions from beginner users baffled by trying to handle video, fancy photo galleries, audio, etc., often not even able to handle simple installation of plugins or things like file uploading. Also, the web is not Microsoft Word, nor is it Adobe Acrobat. People get upset when they find that their content online doesn’t look exactly like their document, and also are puzzled why people wouldn’t want to download their 4 megabyte PDF that contains all their sales literature. I would argue that no Content Management application will ameliorate a lack of basic knowledge in web technologies.
  • They’re not self-sufficient. Thought there is sometimes good help out there, using open-source software generally requires a user to be resourceful.
  • The commonality in the items above is that they all require advanced skills, and though newbies often want to accomplish these things themselves, they will really need to hire a professional to pull it off. I suppose the main factor here is cheapness – it costs money to get professional help.

Bottom line: WordPress is great out-of-the-box for the user with regular needs, yet it will reward the very advanced user with endless customization possibilities.

6 Comments


  1. Thanks for those thoughtful lines. I did a lot of semi-professional IT support some years back, and your comments about the *psychology* of people that one encounters really ring true. Absolute beginners can be terribly tricky, since – compared to more experienced PC users – they have no way of judging what’s involved in the answering of a question. (‘Why doesn’t it do what I want?’) That’s tough if you’ve got a user who doesn’t have basic knowledge about programs, operating systems, hardware, HD organization, internet. It didn’t happen often (maybe one in a hundred) but it happened often enough for me to try to stay clear of one type: people who get really *angry* because they don’t understand what you’re trying to explain.

    Reply

    1. Hi,
      Those are some good points. It is very true, when someone is intelligent, but doesn’t understand computers, they can get quite annoyed – they’re embarrassed, after all, and are used to sounding intelligent.

      And there’s another special kind of goofball – the one that asks you the question, and when you answer, they tell you, no, you’re wrong, even when they have no clue.

      Reply

  2. You’ve convinced me to have another go at WP. (Did a bit of playing around in the sandbox some while back here:
    http://amsterdam-adorno.net/ND/ but wasn’t very confident about my ability to customize it to my needs.) The idea was to see if it’s possible to write a book online; I was curious about the responses that one would get.

    Reply

  3. That sounds great – I hope it goes well for you. Customizing WP can be really fun if you have some good skills. If you’re good with CSS, that will take you a long way, and PHP skills, even further.

    There are some themes out there that are deliberately set up for easy customization – Constructor and Atahualpa come to mind.

    If those don’t offer enough possibilities, I’d suggest you investigate WordPress theme frameworks. There are a bunch of them, and each offers something different.

    Good luck with your online book!

    Reply

  4. WordPress – Reasons for a Clear Choice for the Majority of Websites –

    1. WordPress is easier to install than Drupal
    2. WordPress have more number of features than Drupal
    3. WordPress users can easily customize their websites than Drupal users.
    4. The availability of tech support is quite easy in WordPress.
    5. More attractive and innovative themes are available in WordPress.

    Manager
    http://www.pixelcrayons.com

    Reply

    1. Mark,
      Very valid points, and you’re preaching to the choir here, of course. đŸ˜‰

      I haven’t seen Drupal’s code in awhile, but I dug into it about 3 times before in the past. As a devil’s advocate, I’d say that Drupal may be a more flexible application framework than WordPress. As such, it requires quite advanced skills to build on it and alter it, just as you have described. I was approaching it as a theme developer, and it wasn’t too bad to make templates for it. The website of The Economist is an excellent implementation of Drupal.

      WordPress’s massive popularity is great, but it’s so big now that we’re seeing the downside as well. Here’s a great article about the issues involved.

      Dave

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *