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An Automattic Future

As far as the code goes, there’s nothing I think WordPress has to have right out of the box.

No, really. As far as the basic ‘This is a blog’ software goes, I was able to make a new WordPress site, find a design I liked, spin a child-theme to tweak a couple things, teach someone how to upload images, and basically filled out Artistic Showcase in all of five hours. That’s five. Like ‘I have five fingers.’

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some ‘things’ I’d like to see from the Automattic kids. Like what about those ‘other’ products getting priority?

Automattic ‘owns’, in so far as anyone can own Open Source products, the official WordPress suite. WordPress, BuddyPress, bbPress, GlotPress … Those guys. And WordPress is the grand poobah of them all.

What I love about WordPress is it’s extendibility. Everything I want to do, while it may not be built into WordPress, can (generally) find or write a plugin to do it. That new site I made isn’t running a single plugin to do what it does, however. Everything in Artistic Showcase is bog-standard WordPress. Oh, the domain has some tweaks, but that site doesn’t have a single extra plugin. Isn’t that cool? That’s what I mean when I say WordPress is complete for me.

But then I look at JFO and there’s a hell of a lot more going on. 33 plugins, a ton of .htaccess tweaks, some server hacks and a whole lot more. Which isn’t to say there’s something lacking from the other site, but it’s a whole question of ‘What is my site’s goal.’ For the Showcase, I just wanted a simple photoblog sort of gallery, where we could type up explanations of the gallery, upload the pictures, and have it look really pretty. The design I picked, not my own, was both rustic and similar to our other, somewhat related, site about the SCA (Meals on Camels).

And in many respects, there are ‘things’ that need ‘fixing’, but they’re not inherently WordPress. It’s the other Automattic products that need some fire under them. The problem is that WordPress is so big and so known and so used that it takes priority to just about every other product right now, or so it seems. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it causes problems.

All of the WordPress sites use bbPress for the forums. bbPress, while I love it, is sort of the red-headed step-child of the lot. It’s fallen aside, it’ll likely become a plugin instead of a stand-alone app, and the best I can say about it is that it’s usable. This means the forums for WordPress.org are usable, and they have great RSS feeds. They’re easy for me to read, but they can be difficult to follow. They really just need a bit of organizational cleanup.

Before you read much into that, I should point out that I’ve used at least a dozen forum softwares over the last 15 years. In order of how I picked them up, I think it was YABB, YABBSE, phpBB, SimpleMachines, Invision PowerBoard, bbpress to name the ones I remember best. There was one before YABB, and a few that I didn’t host on my own server, and some I made for other people, and some I tried and wanted to burn with fire. And of them all? I cannot, in good conscience, recommend any of them. They all have massive issues, they all have massive problems, and they all annoy me.

There is no forum software I look at, like I do WordPress, and go ‘Yes, daddy, buy me that one.’

Sad, isn’t it? It’s the inherent problem of forum software, I think. The concept is not flawed. Anyone can make a post, anyone can reply, anyone can converse. But somehow in the execution, there end up being bells and whistles and extras and methods that just stop working. You want to track read and un-read posts, you want alerts to specific posts you ‘follow’, you want to mark everything as read. And every forum has it’s own way of doing that.

I will say, the BuddyPress forums annoy me right now because their RSS feeds per topic are broken, and the ‘washed out’ colors are too pale. They need darker text and link colors. But the rest of my issues with their forums are just that … they’re forums. And I have issues with forums.

Speaking of BuddyPress… It’s the baby of the WordPress related sites! Okay, maybe bbPress is the baby, but BuddyPress was adopted. If you know Ning, then BuddyPress is pretty much like that, but as an add on to WordPress, which makes it really cool, in my mind. But BuddyPress is growing and having the requisite growth issues. Right now they need more people helping out, and people worry that what’s happening to bbPress (a slow, agonizing death) will happen to BuddyPress.

bbPress’ peculiar fate is far more complicated. See, one day the WordPress people decided they needed a forum for wordpress.org and they whipped up bbPress. Then a few lonely developers ended up ‘in charge’ of it, in the wild, and they carried on. As far as WordPress was concerned, the forums did what ‘they’ wanted, they were happy. But Open Source is what it is, and things grew and changed and developed. Then the most well known of those devs got pulled into the WordPress fold and suddenly … bbPress looked abandoned. Abruptly, Matt Mullenweg, the ‘main man’ behind WordPress and it’s parent company, Automattic (get it?) said ‘Ah! You are not lost! We’re coming back!’ And that was a year or so ago and there wasn’t a whole lot of traction.

On the other side is BuddyPress, which was a plugin some people developed that was then picked up by Automattic (who ‘owns’ all these things) in 2008. Now the main brains behind BuddyPress are working a lot on WordPress, with less time for BuddyPress, and people are afraid that BuddyPress will be dropped.

Everyone needs to chill out and breath. They seem to think that because Automattic is a company, that is should run like the Fortune 500, monolithic companies. Or maybe, because it’s hip and cool, it should run like Google. Automattic is neither. It’s Open Source development and Open Source work. That means it’s kind of like getting a bunch of cats in a room and giving them toys and leaving. You come in once in a while to feed them and scoop the litter, but mostly they’ll get things done as they do.

The traditional business model isn’t going to work for them. They don’t all sit in an office, most of the people who help out (like me) don’t get paid a red cent. That doesn’t mean I don’t think a dose of corporate America might not be a bad idea (nail things down a little, organize a little, tighten a little), but it means I think all that should be implemented carefully. Automattic works best the way it is because of freedom. At the same time, projects other than WordPress work less well because of the freedom to roll between projects. WordPress takes more work, but BuddyPress and bbPress need more work.

For me, today, everything works well. There are a few annoyances (like user management) but most everything I want can be done easily enough, and I’m happy. I can see that Automattic needs to change a little, adapt to be able to support WordPress as well as the children projects, but they’re growing, they’re learning, and with Ning charging people, I suspect BuddyPress will be picking up even more steam soon.

Now if they’d only fix the damn forums.