Does WordPress Need To Divide To Conquer?

Does WordPress Need To Divide To Conquer?

The online publishing domain is undergoing rapid change. Tablets and smartphones are taking over from desktops and this has potentially profound impacts for WordPress.

What can WordPress do to remain the champion of open-source online publishing? What can it do to compete with potential new competitors that are focussed on exploiting just one aspect of content management?

If WordPress is to thrive for another ten years, does it need to divide to conquer?

Mountain climber at the summit of K2
The CMS landscape is no longer one big challenge but a series of challenges

One of the most remarkable aspects of WordPress’ lifetime so far, is how stable the content management domain has been. Yes, technologies have changed, albeit at the usual glacial pace, but the basic idea of creating content, wrapping it in a theme and delivering it to a primarily desktop-based browser has remained unaltered.

The explosive growth in smartphones and tablets (by 2015 the number of tablets shipped will be greater than desktops and laptops combined) will ensure that the next ten years will be far less stable.

Change Is More Rapid Because It’s Behavioural

Change driven by technology is often slow. Hardware change has often been expensive; software technologies tend to take time to get a foothold as the applications play catch-up. There’s usually plenty of lag time between adoption by those at the cutting edge and the general population.

Not this time. The technological change this time around – the tablets and the smartphones – are actually significantly cheaper than the technology they are replacing. But the impact of the change has not been in the what but in the how. It is technology-driven behavioural change.

This change has started the beginning of the end for the desktop website. Although it won’t disappear completely (the office computer will ensure survival) the desktop website will, in the not too distant future, be relegated to a minority channel as even small-time publishers, WordPress’ heartland, add web apps, native apps and digital magazines to their publishing channel mix.

Content Creation Is The One Constant

Amongst all the turmoil that mobile devices and new devices to come may have on the publishing channel, the one constant is content creation and the need for a simple but flexibile interface through which content can be workflowed and then made available for the relevant publishing channels.

This will be where WordPress faces greatest competition.

As the demand for theme-based HTML content delivery diminishes, replaced by delivery by API to specialist delivery applications, publishers will become more sophisticated and realise that best-of-breed can be applied at the modular level – best content creation tool, best website delivery tool, best native app creation tool.

As a result virtually all content management systems will need to rethink their purpose: are they front-end or back-end?

This will provide a new opportunity for old competitors such as Drupal, whose content creation capabilities are arguably more sophisticated and flexible than WordPress, to reposition themselves as the open-source content creation tool.

New players will also enter the content creation platform domain, joining the likes of GatherContent, confident that unencumbered by legacy code and interfaces and the need to actually deliver the content to end-users, they can leverage the latest technologies to provide a better content creation experience.

The proliferation of content creation platforms will undoubtedly lead to a similar proliferation in content delivery platforms: services or apps that can focus solely on integrating with the creation platforms to target audience and deliver content.

Largely untroubled by competition for most of its life, WordPress will suddenly find itself under attack on multiple fronts. If it wants to remain relevant and not just be a legacy tool for sites awaiting migration to a newer platform it needs to do some of its own restructuring.

The Need To Split Content Creation From Content Delivery

WordPress needs to move away from the all-in-one tool approach and spin out the content creation functionality into a standalone application. In doing so, the WordPress community can devote resources to focussing on evolving the administration interface into a flexible, extendable, industry-leading, open-source content creation platform.

Key, but by no means all, areas for enhancement would be:

  • Workflow – including the ability to create a new version of content whilst leaving the original in its published state
  • Content modelling – all content becomes a custom content type
  • Channel management – how and where the content is published, including third-party and social media sites
  • Extended API – flesh out the XML-RPC and JSON APIs to provide a fully-featured interface for channel apps

As well as providing perhaps much needed focus on the admin interface, a separate application would have the added benefits of:

  • freedom from the constraints of a shared code-base
  • removal of any conflict with delivery-side plugins (no more coding if ( !is_admin() ) )

A Suite of Delivery Applications

With the admin application spun out, then what’s left is the content delivery components. Actually, specifically what is left is a delivery engine for theme-driven HTML websites. This is the first of a suite of potential delivery applications that could also include:

  • web app engines – theme-able HTML5 applications that deliver content by pulling content from the admin application using the API
  • native app engines – theme-able apps (iOS and Android versions) that like the web app use the API to pull content from the admin application
  • digital magazine – applications that can pull content from the admin application and generate digital magazines for Newstand, Google Play and Kindle (as well as PDF and ebook formats such as .mobi and epub).

No doubt there will be other channels, but by having specific applications (and dedicated teams working on those applications) WordPress starts to cover all bases and develops a framework that can be extended to new channels as they arise.

The Future Is Not All-In-One

WordPress’ first ten years has been a huge success. Whilst the raw numbers are incredibly impressive what has always excited me about the application is the opportunity it provides to anyone to publish online. The next couple of years could see more change in online publishing than we’ve seen in the previous ten and if WordPress is to remain as the champion of equal access to publishing then it needs meet those challenges head-on.

The future of online publishing is likely to be one of mix-and-match (if it isn’t already) where publishers utilise best-of-breed applications for specific functions that talk to each other using APIs. WordPress needs to be part of that mix and in doing so it needs to think hard about its all-in-one approach.

Ultimately, WordPress needs to consider whether it needs to divide if it’s to continue to conquer.

What do you think the future of online publishing looks like? And what do think that WordPress needs to do in order to remain the open-source publishing champion that has become?