On WordPress Core Updates, Anxiety, and Earning User Trust

When plugin and theme authors, and WordPress Core itself thinks of their own timelines as more important than their users, trust is eroded.

WordPress 5.0 is coming very soon. One benefit of working with WordPress is how open and transparent the project owners and contributors are. I’ve written previously how users have no excuse for not knowing when a WordPress update is coming out.

That truth is more relevant today than ever in light of WordPress 5.0.

This update will push the new block-based editor — Gutenberg — to be the default editor. While every effort has been made to ensure it is as stable of an update as ever, the nature of this update means the likelihood that your theme and/or plugins will create conflicts with Gutenberg is very high.

WordPress Updates Cause Anxiety

I have a close WordPress friend who pokes me on FB pretty much every time a new Yoast SEO update is released. She says:

Dammit Yoast! I just did this yesterday, really!?

~ My lovely WordPress friend, anonymously quoted 

As a plugin author, I respect the minor releases Yoast pushes out bi-monthly. It helps ensure that each release is minor and is less prone to breakage. But, my dear WordPress friend is also understandably fatigued. 

For any freelancer or agency that provides regular maintenance to their client websites, updates to plugins and themes are a point of friction or even anxiety. The unfortunate reality of the WordPress environment is that updates are unpredictable and prone to breakage.

The plugins or themes that communicate well in advance and manage to have very few problems with their updates tend to gain major loyalty points.

The result of loyalty points is that users start to trust that plugin more and more when they see the update notification. This is good an excellent — but it’s earned.

The WordPress 5.0 Release is Causing Anxiety

One of the points I made in my previous post on WordPress Release Days highlights how you can be informed on upcoming updates. And true to that post, the WordPress Core Team has been communicating really, REALLY well on the upcoming release. See all the 5.0 announcements here.

Despite the high volume of communication, there still has been a lot of anxiety around this release — far more so than previous Core updates have evoked.

That’s right. One original date floated for releasing WordPress 5.0 was the week of Thanksgiving. Agencies like Jennifer Bourn’s BournCreative.com, expressed legitimate concern that the WordPress Core team were not considering the work involved when WordPress Core updates are pushed out. Would they have to spend late nights on client sites in order to enjoy their family holiday this year because of inconsiderate release timing?

Recently, that date has been postponed. For many that is great relief because the date is now the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is #GivingTuesday — a day of giving that many thousands of nonprofit organizations around the world participate in. In 2017 alone over 300 million dollars were raised online for NGOs participating and reporting to Giving Tuesday.

I’ll just say… I didn’t take the news well.

As someone who advocates for WordPress daily, who provides support for 50,000+ users taking donations online, as someone who truly wants to help democratize both publishing and generosity, I hope and expect the users and their timelines to be of paramount concern, and a release any time around Giving Tuesday doesn’t do that. 

While I am unsatisfied with this release announcement, I trust all our Give users to be prepared for this and I’m advising them to avoid doing any plugin, theme, or Core updates at all this entire month. I think that’s safest, and there is no reason to update if their site is working and running as intended.

In light of all this, I’d suggest all eCommerce and NGO sites to avoid doing any plugin, theme, and Core updates unless absolutely necessary. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Don’t risk your #GivingTuesday campaigns on plugin, theme, or Core updates.

~ Me

How Can Product Authors and Core Prevent Anxiety?

Because updates are a natural cause of user anxiety, and that anxiety puts your relationship with your users at risk of losing trust, what can plugin, theme, and WordPress Core authors do to help prevent this kind of anxiety? 

  1. Communicate about upcoming releases in every way you can.
  2. Test, test, test your code extensively. If you have users with unique environments, ask them if they can offer a live staging copy for live testing of your release candidate.
  3. Work hard to ensure that each release is as small as possible, making only the most necessary changes. This helps ensure a smooth and problem-less update.
  4. Understand your users and their natural commercial seasons of the year and avoid major releases at those times. 
  5. Make changelogs as detailed as possible so users can be informed about how this update can potentially impact their site.

The WordPress Core team honestly nailed all of these recommendations. There has been great communication about Gutenberg both on the website and even notifications in the WordPress admin. There has been a lot of stability testing including on WordPress.com itself and on all WordCamp websites. 

Even the idea of ensuring the release is as “small” as possible is acknowledged in the 5.0 release. Essentially, several changes were made in WordPress 4.9.x releases in order to make integrating Gutenberg more possible and seamless. Additionally, the only real change in 5.0 is incorporating Gutenberg. 5.0 is essentially 4.9.8 + Gutenberg (with minor exceptions).

The one frustration that is not resolved is the release timeline. That it was announced on very problematic dates, both initially and this new postponement are not considerate of many, many users. 

No one is Perfect, Anxiety is Part of Reality

I know from experience that every person working on Gutenberg, every contributor to WordPress 5.0, and project lead and co-Founder of Automattic Matt Mullenweg has worked extremely hard with all the best intentions. No one is perfect, no one can hit a homerun every day all the time. So while I have my gripes I do try to come to this issue with a lot of grace in mind. 

It also has to be acknowledged that anxiety around websites of all types and product updates of all types is natural and part and parcel to working on the web. Even doing everything in our power to avoid anxiety, there will still be days that are very inconvenient to many, or anxiety because of the features themselves. That’s only natural. 

But that reality should be motivation to prevent as much anxiety as possible, not an excuse to ignore responsibilities to our users.

2 thoughts on “On WordPress Core Updates, Anxiety, and Earning User Trust

  1. Re: the Yoast updates. I have a client, where we do weekly updates, and one of the items is what plugins/Core got updated. A running joke is that Yoast is updated every week.

    People who know what this update is are correct to have anxiety.

  2. Every organization, company, non profit, for profit, Business Owner (aka WooCommerce!), every one….. Needs a much heavier emphasis put on mental health like you do Matt!
    Over the last ??? years, I can’t even begin to mention how spot on you are -EVERY- time I read something of yours.
    It’s almost as though some folks …. {thinking out loud here} …. “can’t seem to see past their own keyboard” to realize that there is indeed a land of reality that exists beyond Pokeballs and command lines.
    Still, to-this-day, it’s epidemic and tragic that the word *EMPATHY* has to cognitively be *TAUGHT*.
    Nonetheless, you do it. And you do it quite eloquently as well.

    Thank You

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