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Take the fork

For a few years, I’ve been hoping for a WordPress fork (WordPress is an open source project that allows taking the code and using it to start a new platform, or ‘fork’) that focuses on the Content Management System (CMS) capabilities to better support business websites rather than blogging. Burdened with blog-centric features, creating and maintaining CMS-based business websites has been more complex and time-consuming than necessary. Nearing the release of Gutenberg as part of WordPress core, just such a fork was created: ClassicPress. I became involved with the project, and what follows is the case I made (ultimately successful, as it’s a view supported by most people in the project) for ClassicPress to make explicit its focus on CMS-based business websites. The article was rewritten, refocused toward speaking to ClassicPress’ developing community to be posted on the ClassicPress blog on October 29, 2018.

ClassicPress should focus on a huge, obvious market: business websites and developers who support them

From the beginning, WordPress has been dedicated to democratizing publishing, making it easy for people who don’t have significant web development skills to publish personal content in the form of blog posts. In fairly short order, developers discovered the platform was flexible enough to be used as a lightweight CMS for business applications. That usage really took off with the introduction of custom post types, in combination with custom fields. For a few years it appeared that WordPress would fully embrace ‘WordPress as a CMS’ and support both bloggers and CMS users. A robust ecosystem of plugins and hosting arose to support WordPress as a CMS, and a lot of developers earned a living making and supporting CMS websites on the WordPress platform.

With Gutenberg, WordPress emphatically reaffirmed its commitment to its original purpose of enabling personal publishing. WordPress is entitled to pick its market, and we respect their decision. ClassicPress serves the business website market, and the ecosystem that supports it, by explicitly announcing that its focus is CMS-based business websites and developers who create and support them (including plugin developers).

What’s the difference between a blog site and a business website?

There are a lot of blurred lines (certainly a blog can be a business platform), but let’s make some general distinctions. And, let’s acknowledge there are many edge cases that fall outside these generalizations.

Blog sites are typically managed by a single person or small group of people. Their web development expertise is often low-level or non-existent. Their content is often very personal to them, and they value the ability to customize individual pages and posts beyond what base theme templates and CSS styles allow. Most blogs are not run for profit, but when they are, their business model usually has to do with the value of their content. The blog site market primarily uses ready-made themes and very often, page-builders, which enable them to over-ride the ‘limitations’ of their selected theme.

Business websites are typically managed by employees, although many small business owners shoulder that responsibility themselves. In either case, updating the website is only one of their responsibilities, and fussing with pages or posts is not something they value or desire. Basically, they prefer to minimize the time spent on their website so they can move on to other tasks. Adherence to branding and style guides is more highly valued than original layout for a particular page or post. Page-builders actually increase their work load and often degrade their online branding. As a result, this market is best served by custom themes designed and developed specifically for their business needs by professional developers.

With these two fundamentally different use cases, it’s easy to see why a split development community arose at WordPress. Two fundamentally different markets with different needs and motivations are (were) being served by the same platform. Inevitably, WP had to choose between them, and Gutenberg makes their choice apparent (regardless of WP’s insistence that they still support both).

How can ClassicPress take advantage of the opportunity?

While ClassicPress was formed in reaction to Gutenberg, it will only succeed if it provides an overall better alternative to the market that WordPress turned its back on. Frankly, to the business website owner, there is little difference between installing ClassicPress and installing the Classic Editor plugin (actually, installing the plugin is easier, and it’s available now).

But beyond Gutenberg lies the real opportunity for ClassicPress: there are literally hundreds or thousands of improvements that can be made to better serve the business website market, and WordPress will never make them. ClassicPress can make CMS-based business site development simpler (eliminating much of the time spent disabling or overcoming blog-centric features) and build on WordPress to create a more robust business website platform, serving a huge market already hoping for a WordPress fork that understands and focuses on their issues and interests.

But it can only do this if we explicitly state that CMS-based business websites and developers are what ClassicPress is all about. WordPress opened the door by reaffirming that their primary market is blogging, not ‘WordPress as a CMS.’ ClassicPress walks through that door by declaring and committing its support for the market WordPress has turned away from, and differentiating ourselves from WordPress in the most fundamental way possible: in the market we choose to serve.

I think it’s important to point out: ClassicPress is not anti-blog nor will it eliminate blog posts as a post type. It simply shifts the focus to improvements that better support business website development. Please contact me if you’d like to know more.

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