The limitations of the 'limitless' platform: why Wordpress is the jack-of-all-trades, master of none

The limitations of the 'limitless' platform: why Wordpress is the jack-of-all-trades, master of none
By Oliver
21st May 2015 at 08:33

We often are approached by customers asking if we can build and develop in Wordpress, and the simple answer is yes - yes we can. Wordpress is simply a content management system that runs using PHP, the same language that our bespoke content management system runs off.

So we can build and develop using the system, but we would avoid using it in the same way that you would perhaps avoid serving wine in a coffee mug at a dinner party. Sure, a mug acts as a perfect utility for drinking wine, but it's just not quite good table manners. You can do it, certainly - but given the option, you perhaps wouldn't.

Wordpress started life as a free-to-use, open-source blogging system. Essentially, this means that it started off as a free online system that people could log into, write short articles and publish them. It stood out from the crowd of other blogging software by providing open-source access to developers, allowing developers to meddle around with the source code, expand the software and create their own plugins.

Why Designers Chose to Use it

For independent designers and small web development teams this was particularly useful as it allowed them to circumvent developing their own CMS platform. It can be time-consuming to create content management systems. Whilst in-house content management systems are almost always more desirable, for many start-ups, using an off-the-shelf package that could be immediately utilised was an easier option for them.

As Wordpress grew in popularity, more and more features were developed, and the software was expanded to allow the creation of contact forms, carousels, image galleries, even very basic shopping software. But all in all, the legacy and focus of Wordpress - and indeed what you will always find when you first sign up - is a blogging software.

As a blogging software, Wordpress is particularly adept, and with the plethora of designers and developers contributing to the off the shelf platform on a daily basis, there were and are some beautiful templates and pre-built sites to use for free. Wordpress is a great little bit of kit for self-publishers, in the same way that a mug is perfectly suited to drinking hot drinks.

Over the Years

Whilst the platform has grown extraordinarily since it was first introduced 12 years ago, the very format that allowed it to dominate market has also hindered its ability to cater to the more demanding users - and the more demanding users are, in such a highly competitive (cyber) space, becoming more common.

Whilst 10 years ago the impetus for a business was having a website, now the impetus is having a better website that your competition. The demand for high-quality, targeted web design is exponentially growing.

As Wordpress is forced to cater towards such a wide diversity of groups, its resources and focus is spread incredibly thinly. To combat this, they introduced a 'plugins' gallery, allowing third-party users (also known as members of the Wordpress community) to create and publish 'plugins'. Other users are then able to download literally thousands of plugins to provide more functionality through their site.

This provides great, wide-reaching functionality and expansion to the system, but also makes users reliant on sometimes unreliable third-parties, and plugins that are updated and maintained by other members of the community, some of whom may have little invested in keeping their plugins up and running, error-free.

Since most of the plugins are released for free, as downloadable content from other members of public, and there is no guarantee or quality control. If a plugin breaks, for whatever reason, you could find yourself with no-one to turn to.

Update Considerations

To further add to the problem, plugins also usually have version requirements, relating to which version of Wordpress you are running (currently, its latest iteration is running version 4.2.2).

Since the main build is updated several times a year, plugins can sometimes become redundant or no longer work with a future version of Wordpress. When this happens, there is little to no guarantee that the plugin will ever be updated to work with the latest release.

Sometimes, the only option is to not upgrade your software - never a good position to be in. This is called fragmentation, and it is a real issue with the Wordpress software.

But no matter how many plugins are created, there is never going to a plugin for every intricate requirement. That is something that a universal blogging system is always hindered by. Being universal ultimately and immediately makes it impossible to be individual.

We found this problem with a number of solutions we have provided for customers, with a number of our websites having functionality simply beyond the scope of Wordpress. Websites such as Archive Document Scanning, for example, include a bespoke folder-stacking carousel, which simply doesn’t exist as a plugin. It was a bespoke idea, created in-house. That type of individuality, which sets a business apart from its competition, simply cannot come from a system like Wordpress.

The Community

Whilst a global community of contributors makes Wordpress a seemingly limitless juggernaut in the web development world, its stringent legacy support, thinly-spread resources and a reliance on somewhat anonymous plugins make the platform very limited in real-world scope.

Setting up a content management system is initially time-consuming and costly for a web development team, and many may delay doing so – some indefinitely, instead recommending open-source alternatives to clients like Wordpress or Drupal.

Since we have been in business, we have seen an explosion of web development agencies pop up globally. If you are starting up a web design business when so many alternatives exist, and then spending several months developing a content management system before you even start to make money, it is easy to see why Wordpress can be an attractive alternative to you.

For start-up web development agencies, small web development teams and self-publishers, Wordpress is a great little generic system that allows them to hit the ground no quite running, but at least moving in the right direction.

But this doesn’t affect the cost of developing the actual website – when agencies discuss the cost of bespoke, it is similar to a taxi driver discussing the cost of upgrading from an old, inefficient diesel to a nice, cheap-to-run modern hybrid. It will cost them a lot initially, but it doesn’t change the taxi fare price.

Why bespoke wins out

This misconception can put off many potential clients from going bespoke, thinking that going bespoke will translate to exorbitant costs for them. We often find potential customers of our own initially shy away from the idea of going bespoke, but once the system is there, bespoke is comparable in cost and – in many cases – considerable cheaper to develop than equivalent Wordpress websites.

Advanced Web Designs has been in business for 15 years, before Wordpress was even an idea. We can develop in Wordpress (as mentioned, they are built on the same scripting language, so clearly it agrees with us) but we wouldn’t recommend it.

We like to serve our wine in wine glasses. We do, however, serve hot drinks in mugs. And we also provide free hot drinks to all clients and potential clients, so if you’re thinking of getting a website built, re-developed, updated or even simply made responsive, why not swing by for a free, no-obligation consultation?

1 Comment(s)

  • John at 09:00 on 26/05/2015

    For me, the biggest issue with Wordpress is the update issues. Older versions are targeted for flaws and if you update, the plugins break. Sometimes I wonder if it's more hassle than it is worth. - Reply

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