Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the philosophy behind WordPress theming. It seems that the prevailing attitude is to make things easier than ever before. We want to enable the masses to create and manage their own websites. This sounds like a noble goal, but is it really really a good idea?
A few months ago, Chris Lema wrote about the “race to free” in his article WordPress Plugin Prices Are Too Low. He points out that more and more functionality is becoming available for less and less cash, and that this probably isn’t a good thing in the long run. In the same way, WordPress themes are bringing more and more features to people with less and less understanding of the web. You could even call it the “race to your grandparents.”
The race to your grandparents
Do a quick web search for WordPress theme “without any code” or WordPress theme “drag and drop” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. We’re making the process of putting together a website so easy that even our grandparents can do it. However, do we ever stop to think about whether or not this is a good idea?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to keep people off the web. There will always be services that aim for the lowest common denominator. But let’s take a step back and look at products and services as a whole, not simply products and services for the web.
Who builds things anymore?
How many people build their own house? A few. How many people build their own car? Even less. How many people build anything for themselves anymore? Not many. So we must ask ourselves, why don’t people build things for themselves?
For the most part, I think people realize that building quality things in the physical world takes time, knowledge, resources, and dedication. In short, it takes expertise. However, when it comes to the web, there is an assumption that anyone should be able build anything they want, regardless of their expertise. And we confirm that assumption every time we market a complex solution that “just works” even “without any code.”
Digital != Simple
Just because something is digital, does not make it simple. Yes, pretty much anyone can build a website these days, in the same way that anyone with a tarp and a couple sticks can build a house. But how many tarp companies are advertising drag and drop home building kits?
There is a reason that companies that have money choose to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their web presence. They recognize that expertise is a requirement for a job well done.
So here’s my request: Can we quit pretending that anyone can build a great website if given the right tools? All the tools in the world won’t make someone a mechanic, nor will a drag and drop editor make someone a web designer, no matter how convincing the marketing.
Just two quick things. First, I just want to say that Theme Foundation is building solutions for developers who have expertise already, not for clients who should be hiring experts (for example, the Widgetize plugin). Second, I realize that this could be controversial subject and I’m not trying to point fingers, just promote thought. If you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear from you on twitter.
…also, please have a great day! Thanks.