The WordPress Versus Problem

March 14, 2024

As an avid basketball fan, player, and just generally competitive person, I can see the desire to want to be the “fastest”, “strongest”, “best”, “most valuable” player. It’s team versus team, player versus player, me versus you.

Competition fuels us, whether on the basketball court or in our daily endeavors. Yet, it’s the spirit of teamwork and unity that often leads us to greater heights. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Thankfully, the WordPress community is pretty unified. Or, at least it had been until recently.

Let’s look at a few scenarios.

WordPress versus other platforms

I chose to start with this one because, well, it’s still mostly the WordPress community rallying together. (We’ll look at the more divisive ones as we go along.) Us Pressers in the community certainly believe that WordPress is the best platform out there, me included. I love the software, the community, and the whole ecosystem that’s been built around it.

What about Shopify, though? Or Squarespace? In our quest for dominance, we’ve pitted ourselves against these also-great platforms. We’d do well to learn from what they’ve accomplished (and vice versa) instead of dismissing them as viable alternatives – or even in some cases, complimentary pieces!

WordPress vs Shopify
WordPress vs Squarespace
WordPress vs Drupal

I love WordPress’ ecommerce tools, but they’re definitely not as simple as something like Shopify. I’ve seen plenty of agencies recommend a WordPress site with a Shopify store on a subdomain… and I don’t think that’s the worst approach – in some cases. It’s all about using the right tool for the right situation for the end user.

Hosting company versus hosting company

As someone who works at a hosting company, I understand why the “versus” mentality has started to creep into a community that used to value collaboration over competition a little bit more. Recent layoffs and tightened budgets mean we all have to have something to show for our time in the community with each other.

Those that have been in this space for any length of time know that there’s plenty to go around and that less for you does not necessarily mean more for me. In fact, when we all champion WordPress, we all benefit. We can push each other create better products and experiences for all WordPress users, coming together in the open source space to bring the best pieces from each effort to all site builders and site visitors.

I genuinely do like all of the people I’ve met from other hosting companies and, generally speaking, we all enjoy our time together at WordCamps and other events. Hopefully this mutual admiration continues and we don’t sacrifice all else for the bottom line.

Full Site Editor versus page builders

Here we go… we’re getting into some more hostile territory now. This seems to be the hot topic as I write this at the beginning of 2024. If you’re reading this in 2027 or later, hopefully people have moved on to debating more important topics.

The issue here is not which one is better (and therefore which one will win the Page Builder Wars™), but what each one has to offer a different set of site builders. Gutenberg/blocks/full site editing are not just the future of the core WordPress experience, they’re the present. Notice I said the “core” WordPress experience, though.

Elementor vs Gutenberg
Elementor vs Bricks

WordPress has always been built on the premise of providing a solid foundation with extreme extensibility. It’s what makes WordPress so good in the first place. You have options. The options are good. With millions of people using WordPress each year, the chances that we’re all the same skill level designer, developer, or site builder and all want to build a site for the same purpose are pretty slim!

As I see it, there’s room for everyone in this space. Full site editing provides the core experience if you want to quickly set up something simple for yourself. Need just a little something extra? Add in a plugin like CoBlocks or a Kadence Blocks for some additional choices.

Then, there are tools that take that a step further for design and branding-focused site builders with tools like Elementor, Beaver Builder, Divi, and the like. These tools require very little (if any) code to create very beautiful, complex layouts.

Are you a developer that wants to use your coding expertise to build sites? Great! Maybe check out a builder like Bricks or Oxygen — or even code your own custom theme. This is what makes WordPress so powerful and so useful to so many people!

Community versus leadership

This is one I’ve only seen come to light more recently, and it’s not a good look for the community. I won’t dive into specific situations here because, well, that doesn’t really solve anything. The thing is, this community is passionate about the software, the people, and the direction of the project. Maybe that’s because it fuels so many folks’ livelihoods, but also people have poured a lot of their lives into this space and want to see it thrive.

The problem is that there’s no winner in this scenario. We all lose. Whichever side feels the most slighted will ultimately withdraw and, face it, we need both the community and the leadership. We can’t afford to lose one or the other.

And “slighted” may be a bit of an understatement for some of the dialog I’ve witnessed lately. Let’s all remember that we’re people with feelings, emotions, and the desire to be heard. We can disagree with civility. If we come together with transparency, an open mind, and a genuine interest in doing what’s best for the community at large, we can right the ship. It’s not too late!

So, where do we go from here?

The culture of “us” vs “them” that we’ve begun to create is objectively toxic. We need to restructure our thinking to understand that “them” is a temporary state. We actually don’t want people to be “them”, we want people to also be part of “us”. Folks don’t join if it’s uncomfortable, though, let alone abrasive. For a community that is getting older each year, we need younger people on the outside looking in to want to join!

In some cases, we’ll want people to be “us” in the sense that they are on the same side – thinking the same way. In some cases, though, being able to collaborate and work alongside each other is just as valuable of an “us”. Like in the case of WordPress and Shopify, for example. Shopify isn’t going to fold into WordPress, but there’s no reason we can’t work alongside each other to benefit clients, customers, and end users. Same for hosting companies competing for the same customers and page builders looking to be your go-to tool.

The good news is that there are some things already in place to help facilitate this. Mentorship programs have been started and there are constantly chats happening behind the scenes and at events about how competitors can work together to grow the overall ecosystem. It’s going to take everyone hitting the reset button on this mentality though to be successful.

We don’t need to be the same, we just have to have the same goal in mind – benefiting the web, the project, and its users. I think the WordPress community has done that so well for so long and it’s critical that we find a way to continue that legacy.

Wanna chat about this article or any others? Feel free to DM me or mention me on Twitter @marcusdburnette to start a conversation!

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