Over the last few years, I’ve provided a lot of support for WordPress users, so the low opinion many in our community have about the “typical WordPress user” is not shocking. Having the privilege of attending WordCamp US and the WordPress community summit was a highlight of my year, and I had a great time but a few things about the experience were very disappointing.
The biggest disappointment was hearing so many people put down the intelligence of WordPress users.
There is a lot of disagreement on what a typical WordPress user is and what they can do. I witnessed and participated in some really serious disagreements about what a typical WordPress user can and can’t do. Whether they can use FTP, click 3 inputs in cPanel to update PHP, are a total moron, etc.
Too often this discussion becomes condescending towards the regular folks who make up the huge adoption numbers we see, and buy the products and services that make it possible for all of us to make a living.
This dismissive view of users is worse than the coffee was at WordCamp US. It’s fine to be a coffee snob, it’s not OK to look down at other for knowing less about WordPress and the related technologies than we do.
I’m OK with not budgeting for enough high-end coffee to keep 1800 of us awake. Remembering to bring my travel french press, which I did not, was my responsibility.
Coffee is a personal responsibility, but learning how to better know and empower our users — that is community responsibility. It’s worth the time, money and effort to do it right.
It’s an important discussion to have, but at the same time the argument has a logical flaw — the “typical WordPress user” is an undefinably large number of people. Even if we could define the total number of users, and calculate the mean technical ability set, the number of users within a reasonable range of that impossible to calculate value would be huge. The number who fall outside of it, but can’t be ignored, is also huge.
As much as I believe in the importance of good coffee, I believe that trying to define or design towards the typical user is the wrong approach.
I assume, based on the taste, that WordCamp Tampa Bay spent way more on coffee than most WordCamps do.
It’s probably fair, though I haven’t done the research to prove it, that most “typical” WordPress users are unaware of the web browser console or how to use it to diagnose issues. As we move to more and more AJAX-driven processes, learning to use the console and network inspector to diagnose problems or at least give useful information in support requests is essential.
I am probably right that most users don’t know this skill. I’m only going based on my years of experience supporting WordPress users, not any data, when I make this assertion. My experience also shows that it is not a skill users can’t learn.
To argue that the typical WordPress user can’t learn this, or to upgrade PHP, or install a plugin is insulting.
WordPress is the single most empowering, and educational community, software, and experience of my life. I want that experience for everyone.
Not everyone will learn all of these skills. But trying to define the typical user, not the many user profiles, leads to an all or nothing approach. We end up with nothing useful.
It’s as wrong as drip coffee machines.
Starting with better questions
Thinking that we can define a single user is insane. A better first question is how many user profiles should we be designing this software for? That question leads to a lot of other questions:
- How many profiles should be defined?
- What are those profiles?
- What relevant skills do typical users in those profiles know and not know?
- What relevant skills do users in each profile not know, but could be easily trained in?
Many people reading this hopefully have some thought on these questions. I’d love to hear them in the comments or on Twitter. But, I’d also like to hear how you would gather data to test these assumptions. Is it surveys, user testing, or something else?
I don’t know. It’s something I’m thinking a lot about. I’ll share more of my thoughts in the future, but right now, I think the first step is to rethink the problem. I lack the data to have an intelligent opinion. But helping to gather that data and put it to use is a very valuable thing that I want to work on and would encourage others to do.
Empathy and Empowerment Before Dismissiveness
We can’t help those we think are morons
The reality is a lot of people asking for help with WordPress do not know what they hell they are talking about. We could dismiss them as morons, or realize that the failing is our failing, not their failing.
We told them WordPress was easy. We told them our plugins, themes, services, etc. were intuitive to use. But clearly that wasn’t true for them. If that was true they wouldn’t be asking for help. They wouldn’t be frustrated. They wouldn’t be scared that they might not be able to complete the project they are working on. A project they might be getting paid for, or that their job may be riding on.
It’s easy to dismiss less experience users as noobs who are out of their element. It’s harder to empathize with when we ourselves didn’t know what the fuck we were doing with WordPress, or how bad we are at other things.
Some of us may feel good about tangible evidence of our superior technical knowledge.
In order to move WordPress forward, we must push past our assumptions, rely on data not anecdotal evidence, and stop ourselves from being dismissive. Once we do that, we can empower the many different types typical users.
Doing so will open us up to discovering the multitude of other solutions to the problems that scaling to 25% have brought us. Challenges that must be face before scaling past that.
It’s a wicked challenge and it sounds like a lot of fun to solve.