THAT thread

This post is just about certain WordPress issues.

So another style may, or may not, come with the next WP install.

I am writing this from the standpoint of probably having read more forum posts than the majority of others, and certainly from the position of having responded to more than anyone else. Given the amount of time that I spend not just in the forums but also using email and IM helping people out, I think my view has a certain validity. I am fully expecting what I write here to be dismissed by some, and attacked by others. Destructive / abusive comments will be deleted, and your IP will be added to my .htaccess file (just so you know).

Actual WordPress issues are generally fairly easy to solve – at least the ones I can tackle. Installation is a ‘one-off’ job, as generally is installing plugins and putting back bits of code, and such things are probably not going to be touched again by the user.

CSS issues are a whole different bag of spanners. I have yet to see a post where someone says that they would like to alter something, but have not yet tried because they are unsure. They more usually come to the forums with some complete mess due either to them not using the default CSS and wondering why they have bullets all over the place, or they have tried and not realised that what they have done has had knock-on effects. They come along because their knowledge is exhausted, they don’t know what to do, they want help to fix it. But it’s not a quick fix is it ?

If the helper and user are only using the forums to communicate, it’s slow. The helper has to try to be specific in what they say and has to assume some level of knowledge in the user. How many times do we have to say “CTRL-F5” ? We can also only see the source, and have no real way of seeing what other php they are using. And it’s painstaking and frustrating work – have YOU tried to do it ? At least with PHP you may know the core code and hooks into it or failing that send them to php.net – I assume you realise that css.net does not yet exist (and don’t be a pedant). Even Carthik said today that it takes an investment of time. But the forum help is slow simply because of the medium and the depth of the issues. I’ll admit I have looked at a thread before, checked the link, and inwardly groaned because I know how long it will take. Sometimes I’ve then helped, sometimes I’ve moved on to another post. But what we have now is at least some work we can point people at for some of the more mundane issues. That work takes load off the forum helpers. Note I said helpers.
The forums could cope with several thousand more posts a week – it’s software. The helpers cannot. (You know if everyone who inhabits the IRC channel answered just a single question a day, no matter how beneath them it was, it would help out hugely. But they do not). I noted today that Michael (who designed Kubrick) said “As for Gemini and Trident, I hadn’t heard of them before just now”. Now I’m not digging at him, but given the profile that those two stylesheets have, and given that he may not frequent the forums as much as some (and why not – I have no life away from my keyboard) then if support is going to be offered, Michael may not be in the best position to do that (and again, that is not a criticism). But that means someone else has to do that support. Someone else has to learn the CSS, learn how to change the CSS, produce some sort of guide that enables people to figure things out on their own. Do not forget that as much maligned as the default CSS is, it is not as complex as Kubrick. And if my site has had over 40,000 visits for an uncomplicated stylesheet, how many forum posts will we get for a complex one ?

One of the best quotes I ever heard was this : “A question is only difficult if you do not know the answer”. Sounds stupid maybe, but it’s true. But a question becomes even harder when no-one around you knows the answer anyway. WP has a reputation for good support forums. Recent bitching aside, that help comes from a minority of users. A small minority, and the simple fact is that we could not cope with an influx of issues. We just couldn’t. And that, like it or not, will reflect onto WordPress. So people aren’t using WP because they don’t like the default CSS – how many may be alienated if not only does it look and act in a more complex way, but the level of help they need just isn’t there ?

If WordPress wants to become even more widely adopted – as I am sure the aim is – then regardless of what actually comes out of the zipped download, there must be lots of good help around in the form of guides, and enough people in the forums willing to help. The latter cannot be made to happen – the former can, and should. And in any download, there should be links to those resources. Yes, there will always be some who run to a forum yelling for help as soon as something looks wierd, but I would bet the majority want to work it out for themselves – guides make that happen, and I don’t mean a book from Eric Meyer. People can only customise what they understand, and do we really want people to stay beholden to the forums ? Or do we want people to enjoy the freedom of being able to alter their CSS knowing that they can ? There will always be questions – as there are with all the PHP – but if WP wants to be a success, then the work that needs to go on behind the scenes to prepare for a new default/bundled CSS needs a lot of careful attention. And then some.

(And seeing as this is about WordPress and I get enough email and IM’s about this on this issue, I’ll take the opportunity to tell people that no, I am not a WP dev, I’m not connected with the project in any way other than a user – like most of you reading. The work I’ve done started out from a post written by Southsea back in March. Nothing more, or less, than that.)

25 thoughts on “THAT thread

  1. That’s what beta testing is for, the idea is that we work out the majority of the issues and prepare resources before the release and a couple of dozen thousand people download it. What do you think of the online wizard idea for customizing colors and graphics? Once that step is done, it wouldn’t be too hard to take it to the next step and support alternative layouts as well.

  2. Don’t you think a well-commented stylesheet can make a marked difference?

    What about having a default wp blog installed somewhere, and a bunch of stylesheets, each showing the effect of a change made in the stylesheet, and links which apply those stylesheets to the index.php like the styleswitcher? This could be a replacement for your graphical css guide, if we ever need one.

    Better still, what about an app that lets you edit the stylesheet and apply it to index.php so you can see changes in real-time? Would that help users try out different things and decide on the best set of rules for their stylesheet? What I am suggesting is like a public template editor that multiple users/people can work on together to arrive at the perfect design, if required.

    Matt’s idea of an online wizard is probably the same, I was just not sure, and so decided to be verbose with this comment.

  3. Beta testing is only as good as the beta testers, and that’s a bit like a toy company saying their new truck is unbreakable. When they say that, you just know they never left one alone with a kid for very long. In principle it’s sound, but in practice, you need to use testers who will reflect the ‘real users’.

    Wizards. I hate them :)
    There has not yet been invented the wizard that has produced results good enough for me to use. An online wizard ? I wouldn’t go near one (after a first look). It would take control away from me, not enhance my control. And the server it is on must be robust enough to support the hits it will get – not just from users, but from people trying to break it / fault it. The wp server gets stressed now – I suspect that will worsen when 1.3 gets out.

    This sounds negative, but any help has to be understandable to someone who is stressed and frustrated. It must be clear, unambiguous and lead them in straight lines, and they must never be given the chance to say “but the program changed it to what I didn’t want”.

  4. None of those fancy solutions are going to work unless the people running it have grasped CSS positioning. All the evidence is that many of them don’t. Sorry Matt but you need to get out more. Any respect I had for you has gone.

  5. As to beta testing. None of us have ever heard any suggestion at all that any type of interface change was being mooted. Nor has the current model ever been discussed in an open and mature way. Nor has there been any sign that devs understood what many people want or why. Tonight you have defended the indefensible – or tried to. And Mark wont mind me mentioning his blog runs on Gemini. As does Wordlog.

  6. Mark, I agree there is no automated, magical write-me-a-stylesheet script or tool, but if at least some of the problems in trying to customize a stylesheet are solved by an online tool, then couldn’t that be a good thing?

    Maybe, just maybe, we should stop offering in-depth support for stylesheet modifications. The reason I say this is because of the problems associated with supporting all these requests, largely to do with the number of people who would be willing to donate their time and effort. This is not something too un-user-friendly I guess, since it is better to be good in offering complete support for a few things, than to be bad in answering support requests, with an insufficient number of volunteers.

    A look at the MT forums shows that stylesheet support is limited to the default stylesheets. Please do not think that I am washing my hands off the issue of supporting style requests. I will try and learn some CSS and then start answering those questions. But you do realize that individual needs, and the ability to articulate the needs is highly varied, and so answering style support requests is the most difficult thing, don’t you?

  7. There have been commits to the CVS, which are reflected in the CVS mailing list emails. All committed changes are known to everyone, and it is assumed that a few users will try out the CVS and the nightly versions. That’s the way it has been working, and so far it’s lead to some good results. I remember the last couple of weeks before 1.2 was released where pretty busy with bug-fixing being the main activity, with user-provided input dominating the bug reports.

    Root, your method happens to be an old method, that has been around for a while, if I may say so. I was curious and so I tried it for a change, so I can say I have, is all. I am no CSS expert, and I don’t know how to say which one’s better than which, to be honest.
    I use Kubrick too, on my latest blog. It just so happened that Kubrick was around and I wanted a new blog, so I used Kubrick, just like I used your template for the previous blog, which happens to be WordLog. Thank you for the design, it works, but, as far as I am concerned, so does the default wordpress design, modified to meet my requirements, which are not very high :)

  8. An online tool would be good, but it has to be part of the solution, not the solution itself.

    As to reducing support …. where do we draw the line ?
    That’s a bit like saying “Got a plugin problem ? Email the author”.
    The PHP requests we get on there are sometimes met with almost glee by those that code, yet those of us that help would just like more help.

    Take right now – there are posts on the forums which people could easily answer, yet my money says those same people are on irc chattering away.

    I’ve said my bit before about the irc channel in a mailing list post, I won’t repeat it here, but it had no discernable effect.

  9. Nested comments! I didn’t notice these earlier. Nifty.

    Where the line is drawn is a very good question. How much of what you do with regards to CSS problems is fixing the problem versus basic education? Along those lines, some people want to learn new things but I would say most of those we get on the forums are goal-oriented, not process-oriented.

    For the latter pointing them to W3Schools, Sitepoint, CSS-D, or webdesign-l would be the best possible thing we could do for them. Their thirst for knowledge would be far better met there. The former just want it to work, and don’t care how they get there. For them we should just try to help them first and encourage best practices (eg not using tables) if we can.

  10. I agree Matt, we do need pointers outside, but that also we need to be able to fix people up.
    Part of the reason for the initial posts to that thread are not to do with the change per se, they are more to do with what you just said – “we should just try to help them first”.

    The ‘we’ is only 2-4 people at best.

    It’s not the change, it’s who is going to be there for users when that change comes about. For all the people whacking into that thread, and the hundreds of others spectating, not a single person has put their hand up and said “Hell, I’ll help out with people’s CSS issues”.

    That’s the issue.
    We had one CSS, we have mastered more, but for then, on a major release a new beast to be unleashed…

    It’s not the software, it’s us, the people who read and respond to the posts who will have the workload.
    I do hear what you have said about this, but if the core code needs a lot of time so it works in different environments, so does the CSS.

  11. Why should these guys have to make any suggestion to the forum? Carthic, Matt, Alex, Ryan are not in any way beholden to the end user to tell them what they’re intending to do. You can make suggestions to them, but that is simply it.

    I don’t see why this has become such a big issue when the product isn’t even in beta yet, and no one has actually bothered to ask or look at the proposed CSS and index.php code itself. Its not going to be kubrick 1.2.x but a derivative of it. Did anyone actually read what Michael said when he first announced it?

    So far I’m seeing a lot of people acting childish and going over the top in their reaction to this and a lot of it is coming across as if its just sour grapes that their own theme wasn’t chosen instead.

    As for the support issues… Like any new product there are going to be teething problems. Thats just the way of it. Look at how many people wanted help upgraded from 1.0.2 to 1.2. I seriously doubt the CSS is going to be any where near as complicated as the full blown Kubrick styles are and if its all commented, where is the problem? Hell, I’ll gladly offer the time to comment it myself if no one else wants to.

    Yes, the forums are going to take a pounding, but the forums are also starting to suffer from ego bloat lately. This whole issue of Matt not debating the new interface in the forums is just pathetic. There is no obligation for him to do so. If people don’t like the way he, Alex, Ryan and Carthic are putting WordPress together, then they can simply fork it. Funny thing about GPL code, its simple to do.

    Korgan

  12. I think something like your idea–a CSS Zen Garden for WP, if you will–is a lovely idea. Show people that CSS is not as intimidating as it seems, within the context of the WP generator. Ipsum lorum has its uses, but some people want to see a “real” WP install that they can learn from. With Alex’s style switcher plugin, such an implementation would be fairly easy, wouldn’t it? Link it to the annotated CSS in the wiki, etc. …

  13. You’re not engendering much respect yourself, with comments like these. :down: It’s not Matt’s job to teach CSS to the masses (unless he chooses to do so). So I don’t understand your “loss of respect” for Matt at all.

  14. I have decided on the course of action I am taking.

    I am not writing it here, but if you email me and I decide that I can, I will tell you.

    I will not have my words, and my actions over the last 7 months twisted, nor will I be drawn publically any further into the battle.

    And right now ? There are people with problems on the forum which need answering. So that’s where I will be.

  15. Carla I think you are under a misapprehension if you understood me to mean that Matt should be teaching us CSS. I think you have things ass backwards and I am entitled to ask whether you have a clue what is being discussed, by who and why ?

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