Stratechery 4.0: Not Just Another WordPress Site

Many moons ago I refactored Stratechery 3.0. I use “I” only because it’s convenient. Usually, when you do work with someone like Ben Thompson, it’s collaborative. At the time the bulk of the work was centered around gutting the old Stratechery codebase and making room for a new _s-based theme, new membership software, a better mobile experience, and more exposure for Daily Updates, Ben’s highly sought after and substantial analysis of the tech news of the day.

This time around, for 4.0, it was all about content discoverability. This meant, in short:

  • creating new content taxonomies;
  • integrating better search;
  • avoiding the disruption of Ben’s revenue stream while allowing paid content to selectively be shared freely;
  • exposing featured insights in the lesser noticed areas;
  • and improving the readability of Stratechery’s content.

The actual list of work done was much, much longer than this, but it shouldn’t always be the goal of a developer to expose everything but the kitchen sink. What the Stratechery reader sees on the front end is the tip. My job was making sure that it appears exactly as it should but, more importantly, ensuring that Ben is able to interact with the rest of the data management from the control panel of his site. The part that people will never see was the most difficult.

Working on Stratechery, or a site like it should be a requirement for anyone in WordPress or web publishing development that thinks he knows it all. Sometimes we create solutions we believe real, serious writers need, only to find out that everything we thought about publishing was wrong. Add in a revenue component, and our shortsightedness becomes even more apparent.

When I think about someone like Ben, who makes his living by writing independent, high-quality, fierce, uncompromising analysis of modern technology and all that it entails, I don’t know if WordPress alone could ever meet the mark. There are so many holes in the software’s publishing experience that it’s almost a certainty that themes and plugins as we know them—both custom and premium—will always be around to play patchwork.

We were promised that premium solutions (themes, plugins, you name it) would die back in 2008 and I’m still selling them in 2018.

Toss in Gutenburg, sure. Throw in style packs on themes if you like. Do what you will with content blocks or Jetpack or this or that, and it still won’t address a vast majority of issues that are faced by writers who depend on a predictable, controllable, unbreakable publishing experience.

If I had to recreate Ben’s website using WordPress and only WordPress, I wouldn’t be able to. We tried it. God knows I would have loved to make it happen, but it just wasn’t possible. Stratechery is the perfect example of a website that with WordPress should just work but doesn’t, and it’s also a perfect example of a business website that doesn’t look the part.

Stratechery is what I would show anyone who thinks that WordPress is just for blogs (it’s not) and also anyone who says that Jetpack-powered WordPress is enough to run a real business (it’s not). What’s my point here?

It’s mostly that I don’t know what WordPress is supposed to be anymore but I don’t mind where it’s at. It’s been shuffled into the category of my “must-haves” for site building but taken out of the category of quick-and-easy solutions for the average business owner.

What would I suggest now? I don’t know. There’s a void that can still be filled. WordPress powers a massive portion of the internet and will continue to do so, but it’s not immune to losing market share. We’ll see how things play out in the next decade. I hope that WordPress is still around. It’s how I spend the majority of my waking hours. I’d be lying, though, if I said that I didn’t think it could be completely disrupted by something better.

I wanted to write a post-mortem on the Stratechery 4.0 launch yesterday but I was too busy buying the dip.

Author: Philip Arthur Moore

CEO at We Cobble. We build digital products for people.™

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