Adweek’s Attack on WordPress

Adweek recently published what comes down to an attack on WordPress, and I was quoted in that attack.

As Rebecca Haden of Haden Interactive explains, “If you use WordPress, you may have a software platform built by one team, a theme built by someone else, and a bunch of plugins and extensions built by other people.”

I said that, and it’s true. Read it in context.

What’s more, I’m delighted that Adweek brought up this issue, along with some other concerns about WordPress, because it has to do with Open Source, something that matters a lot to WordPress faithful and the WordPress organization, but not much to the average WordPress user.

Before getting into that topic more deeply, I feel a need to respond to some of the objections to WordPress author Curtis Sparrer brought up.

Is WordPress less secure?

Lots of people think so, and Sparrer claims it, but WordPress is actually not less secure than other platforms. Here’s why people think it is:

  • Volume. WordPress powers 28% of all websites on the internet, even when you count WordPress.com as a single website. Are there more security issues on WordPress websites? Probably. There are probably more accordion players on WordPress sites, too. This is a math question.
  • Transparency. WordPress reports all vulnerabilities in core, themes, and plugins in real time. Sparrer looked at the list of all known vulnerabilities, noticed that there were a lot (8,000 — but please note that there are more than 52,000 plugins alone), and concluded that WordPress just isn’t safe. This is once again a volume issue, but it’s also about telling people there are vulnerabilities. Sparrer’s piece is basically an ad for Duda, a platform I’d never heard of before. I quickly searched for their vulnerabilities report, and they don’t have one.

The volume and transparency mean that people are always searching for, finding, and fixing vulnerabilities in WordPress. LOTS of people. That may or may not be true for proprietary platforms like Duda. They’re not telling.

Are WordPress websites slow?

In a word, no. WordPress websites are built by all kinds of people, updated often or rarely depending on their owners, and serve all kinds of purposes. Many are managed by people with no tech background and lots of them have very cheap hosting. Some are faster and some are slower. There’s nothing about WordPress software that makes websites slow.

Actually, Sparrer doesn’t say that there is anything slow about WordPress software. He doesn’t even offer any evidence that WordPress websites are slower than other websites. He points instead to the number of returns on Google for “speeding up your WordPress site.”

I have to note that, while Sparrer seems to rely heavily on counting for the support in his article, he doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion from the fact that WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world, powering 55.8% of all websites using a CMS. Next most popular is Joomla, with 6.5% of market share. You don’t get that kind of market share with a bad product.

Is WordPress bad for SEO?

No again. I like Sparrer’s argument for this: he says, “WordPress actually makes it all too easy to mess up your SEO.”

WordPress is easy. Here at Haden Interactive, we’re WordPress professionals. We get better results for our clients than they would if they took care of things by themselves. But we also love the fact that WordPress allows everyone to make websites. Sure, it’s easier to make messed-up websites with WordPress than with html and css alone — though we’ve seen plenty of bad websites built with any tools you care to name. That’s not because WordPress has SEO problems. That’s because WordPress democratizes publishing. It’s easier to make any kind of website, marvelous or messed up, with WordPress.

Open Source

That point brings me to the discussion of Open Source. I’d like to see this question be part of the broader discussion about the web.

By keeping WordPress open, the developers of the software allow everyone to take part. Everyone can create with the WordPress software. Whether you want to make a new theme from scratch, configure an existing theme, develop a Plugin for your own website, share your plugin with others, propose changes to the core software, or publish something amazing without making any changes to the code at your website, you can do it. You don’t need permission from anyone, you don’t have to work within limiting parameters, and you don’t have to go it alone.

The enormous, highly supportive WordPress community is part of the wonderfulness of WordPress.

Automattician Josepha Haden told me yesterday that the average user of WordPress doesn’t care that much that it’s open source. The whole Open Source philosophy isn’t what drives people to use WordPress, except tangentially by making the process easier and more supportive. I think she’s right.

But the Open Source philosophy allows broad collaboration, responsiveness to users, and creativity that a Wix or a Squarespace doesn’t. “WordPress,” the contributers say, “is free as in free speech.” It’s not mostly about the fact that the software can be used by everyone without paying the originators of the tools. It’s about allowing people, from small businesses to independent professionals to devoted hobbyists, to share their words and pictures and ideas with everyone.

That is a very freeing concept.

WordPress allows us to build websites with functionality that would have cost a lot of money in the past, allowing small organizations to spread the word as effectively as larger ones. It lets us update websites economically, so small businesses don’t have to lose their websites after a few years of service. It lets us provide effective blogging and social media at an affordable price because we can streamline our process.

The Adweek article implies that WordPress is out of date. In fact, the Open Source nature of WordPress allows the platform to stay up to date and ahead of the curve. Maybe it’s time for the everyday user of WordPress to get excited about that, to embrace the larger concept of Open Source and see their involvement with WordPress as the revolutionary thing it can be.

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