Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Two Decades with WordPress

WordPress will be 21 years old this year. This blog, which originally existed as a hand-coded website, moved to WordPress just over 20 years ago. I’ve been using WordPress for almost its entire lifetime. I hoped WordPress would make blogging easier, and it mostly has been, but I also struggle with it.

I’m comfortable writing HTML. It just got tiring after a while when I just want to focus on the content rather than the HTML that would produce it. I did end up writing code, including a build system, to generate all the HTML and CSS statically for my website. However, this wasn’t a great long-term sustainable solution.

That’s where WordPress stepped in to make things a whole lot easier. WYSIWYG-editing was a godsend. It’s like moving from LaTeX to Microsoft Word. In fact, my build system to generate HTML and CSS was like getting LaTeX to compile my text into postscript (the standard in those days) or PDF. WordPress revolutionised blogging.

Except that it wasn’t a whole lot true. I do care about how my website would look and how my content would be rendered. I was disappointed that I could not, for example, find a WordPress theme that was pleasant enough for me to use, let alone something I really liked. There wasn’t something close enough to what I could accept that was easy to modify to my liking. I ended up creating my own WordPress theme.

Instead of just writing HTML and CSS, I then also begun writing PHP. I’ve had mostly been a Perl (and C) programmer up to that point. My first foray into PHP was in writing my WordPress theme.

WordPress evolved over the years. It broke my theme from time to time, and I had to fix it from time to time. Eventually, I got tired, and things changed too much for me to catch up.

In 2018, I found myself giving up on my original theme. I was so far behind catching up that I decided it would be easier to simply restart my theme project altogether. Zimberg was born. It was forked out of gutenbergtheme because it was simple enough and had all the important bits in place to allow me to easily figure out how to change things.

WordPress continues to evolve. There were API changes, template changes, and various other changes that keep me busy. Most of the time, it’s about debugging convoluted CSS and seeing how I could fix them in my theme in an elegant and non-kludgy way. Sometimes, I got to figure out new function calls, so that I can make things work properly, again, in an elegant and non-kludgy way.

With every WordPress upgrade, I will silently pray that nothing breaks, and breathe a sigh of relief when my blog looks exactly the same after the upgrade. The truth is, I seldom care for the new features in most WordPress upgrades. The only thing that I’ve been significantly impressed about was the Gutenberg editor released with WordPress 5.0 in late 2018. Surprisingly, that did not break things as much as I thought it potentially could have. Although, the CSS within the editor continues to be a hassle to fix every now and then.

Sometimes the thing that annoys me is not-public facing. For example, I just fixed a CSS styling problem last week that manifested only in the WordPress editor. I’m going to be the only one seeing the problem, but it was sufficiently important to me that I had to fix it.

I wished I didn’t have to spend that much time. You might say I asked for it by wanting to write my own theme. However, I am writing my own theme only because I can’t find anything (at least not mainstream) that could render my blog the way I want it to look. It’s important to me: I mind the layout, I mind the spacing, I mind the fonts, etc. I wished WordPress had made all of that easier.

Despite all my rants about WordPress, it doesn’t seem like I have better alternatives. I’ve been intrigued by the likes of Wix and Squarespace. They are modern, look good, and seem quite configurable. Unfortunately, they only exist as managed services in the cloud. I want to self-host my website, so these options are simply not suitable.

I’m stuck with WordPress. There’s no doubt that it has been instrumental in making this blog possible. I do hope it continues to improve, but in ways that don’t keep breaking old stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comment Policy