How do I (as a developer) use Automattic products (and their competitors) – Part 1

Hello there,

If you’re a random reader, this post is exactly as its title reads.

If you happen to be from Automattic Inc. itself, you know why this post is here!

Now without further ado, I’ll tell you a story about how I came to choose and use some of Automattic’s products.

A. WordPress itself

Since 2011, I’ve been using it:

  1. as my personal / tech blog (which you are reading)
  2. to build my friends’ or clients’ websites
  3. to help me apply for jobs *rolling eyes*

Somewhere along the timeline, Ghost joined the game and apparently gained rapid tractions. Although we can -if we want- argue that the organizations behind WordPress and Ghost have different goals / focuses, it’s undeniable that considering the blogging space alone, these 2 are competitors. (<small> I read that John was from WordPress but that’s beyond the scope of this post</small>)

I actually use Ghost for at least 2 of my company blogs. Being a developer who happens to use both PHP and JavaScript (NodeJS), I’m comfortable with both products (for those coming from yet another world: PHP is to WordPress as is JavaScript (NodeJS) to Ghost).

On a side note, my music blog is a Tumblr one, while I also run a “subtle” blog at svbtle and write on Medium for fun, but since those aren’t developer-first solutions, I won’t be talking too much about them in this post.

So, you may ask why I chose X for Y. My answer probably won’t be too satisfying, though:

“I started using / developing on WordPress when a Google search for ‘Ghost’ probably resulted in Casper the cartoon rather than a blogging platform like today”

But it’s the simple truth.

All those years learning how to write WordPress plugins and themes, trying to understand “The Loop” and the relationships and conventions between filenames and page/post templates could not just “go to waste” easily, could they?

Even the sheer fact that this tech blog of mine was started on WordPress and I once decided that it would be “too much work” to transfer everything to another blogging system means quite obviously that enterprises who set up their businesses / blogs on a WordPress-based system would hardly switch platform merely for “the hype” only.

Of course, if we dig deeply, we’ll find spaces where Ghost has an upper hand, and vice-versa. In my personal opinions:

The Pros of WordPress:

  1. Familiar to a quite a large number of developers, esp. those from before the heyday of NodeJS or even Ruby on Rails
  2. Strong theming support / availability (many more years of theming compared to Ghost)
  3. Strong extendability (WooCommerce, BuddyPress)
  4. Strong media management capability (media and image uploader is a 1st-class citizen in any WordPress-based backend). To be frank, I find other platforms’ inconspicuousness or complete lack of image uploading / hosting capability a big drawback, but that may be just me.
  5. Widely-supported hosting requirements (any host with a LAMP stack will do)
  6. All of the above might make it less costly to develop / maintain a WordPress-based website.

The Pros of Ghost (and the others):

  1. Markdown can be a more pleasant way to write (at least to me) and produce cleaner HTML than the default writing toolbar found in WordPress. Svbtle has this, too.
  2. The default admin (a.k.a backend) interface looks less intimidating than that of WordPress. Svbtle, Tumblr and Medium have this, too, because they simply only focus on blogging. Fewer features = simpler interface, no?
  3. Developer-friendliness: if you are a decent JavaScript Backend developer, setting up & running a Ghost blog can be simple enough (npm install does most of the stuff). On the contrary, if you’re a decent PHP developer, you might still run into an issue or two while setting up a WordPress blog, esp. if you’re a bit green at System Administration / DevOps.

There are more to discuss if we really want to dig even deeper, since Dev and Ops intertwine (eventually) and it’s far from easy for any single solution to please all kinds of developers / operators. Here in this post, I decided to stop the Pros – Cons comparison as seen above. Again, please note that I play both the Dev and the Ops guys, so my experience with WordPress / Ghost / other blogging solutions may greatly differ from yours, especially if you come from a different ground.

Conclusion on WordPress vs. the others? I use them all and enjoy each of them for reasons I stated above.

Anything I could think of to improve WordPress?

Firstly, *improving WordPress* is a rather bold statement. You don’t simply improve a decade-old platform (inserts LoTR meme).

But if I were to work at Automattic, and were staffed to explore approaches to gain even more traction / bloggers / coders for WordPress itself, I could see myself start with:

  1. Making it more developer-friendly (like, can utilizing composer make WordPress closer to the developers the way npm “natively” does for Ghost?). I can see some other guy already travelled this path, but as long as I don’t see it yet on the official WordPress code repo, there’re probably still rooms for improvements.
  2. Distributing it under different flavours with differently-designed admin interfaces. Those who prioritize writing may enjoy a simpler composing interface (possibly with Markdown as a 1st-class citizen), while ‘old-dog’ developers with years of theme and plugin writing experience still sit comfortably in front of the “intimidating” interface; yet these guys surely know how to write simpler / easy-to-use interface for their clients (a.k.a the true end-users).
  3. Provides a stricter set of rules for plugin writers. This I know can be a controversial opinion. I myself haven’t developed that many WordPress plugins before in my life to tell, but I do get a feeling that the current system still allows for accidental clashes / hard-to-see bugs when different walks of plugins and themes are used together. It is always a nightmare to maintain a typical few-year-old WordPress codebase geared with various plugins and themes (and their leftovers even after being removed) mixed together, causing the entire site to crawl in agony.

B. Simperium

It’s explicable that fewer people know of Simperium than WordPress. I myself probably couldn’t have known about Simperium if I had not stumbled upon Simplenote. And while I can go for another 1000 words on this topic, I find it better to save that for Part 2 of this post.

So, until we meet again, dear fellas!


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