Quickly becoming obsolete in the WordPress ecosystem

WordPress (WP) is the software that runs this site. WP started out as ‘just a blog’ software. In many ways, WP has stayed true to its blog roots but has grown into a full-blown CMS (Content Management System) on par with Drupal, Joomla, and Text Pattern to name a few. Nobody sees WP as just blog software these days whether that’s good thing or not depends on your prospective. My school of thought is blog software by definition is a content management system. Writing software so it works for a multitude of different sites is just good business sense. At the end of the day, if the software is versatile enough to run a small site like this one or my local bank‘s website, or a ginormous site like CBS New York and the CNN Newsroom it’s good enough for deployment on any site in my book.

Whenever people ask me what I do online I always say “Web Design.” While it’s not exactly what I do it’s a lot easier than trying to explain that I’m essentially maintenance man. Over the years moving domains, mail, and database driven websites between hosts, servers, and/or platforms has become like second nature almost boring. Fun to plan but the execution is pretty boring unless something goes wrong. Solid planning means things rarely go wrong which in turn makes things boring. Nowadays saving my clients money by consolidating web servers to new infrastructure is a significant part of my work. Right now, consolidation is the most challenging and enjoyable part of work for me.

Most of my ‘work’ time is spent doing preventive maintenance. Installing core or plugin updates across X platform. Most times the platform is WordPress but in addition to my own communities I have a smattering of XenForo and vBulletin clients too. WordPress has made installing updates trivial. It went from manually having to FTP in updates for core, plugin, and themes to point and click updates for all three in a relatively short period. Nowadays point releases (usually security or bug fixes) get installed automatically without any user intervention. This is great for site administrators who don’t know or don’t want to be bothered with the technical aspects of running a site. Not so great for guys like me.

In the last few months Jetpack, a plugin by Automatic (WP’s parent company) has added new services including automatic plugin updates and the ability to manage multiple WP sites from a central location. There is a paid service called CMS Commander (which I used for some time) had this functionality years ago and worked great. My bet would be they’re losing business due to the tight integration of Jetpack with WP and the stream of upsells from the Dashboard.

 

This leads people to wonder what my purpose is; Who can blame them? If WordPress can update itself and they can pay a nominal fee to JetPack for completely automatic updates to both core and plugins along with backups what do they need me for? WordPress has done great job with updates the past few years. Core upgrades rarely break a site. Plugin upgrades sometimes will break or significantly change functionality but overall it’s been a non-issue for the most popular plugins.

I see the writing on the wall and am working to expand my skill set into the coding side of things as quickly as possible. After the inital install, tweaks, and training JetPack can replace many of my services and do so much cheaper than me just because of their scale. Without question JetPack will cannibalize my client base and that’s okay. Technology marches ahead. We have adapt even if means having to learn new skills to put a bowl of beans on the table. If you can be replaced by a few PHP scripts you’re doing something wrong. 

There will always be people who need their hand-held, just want someone with experience to have their back, or just plain want security to be someone else’s headache. There will still be guys like me for those people. We’ll just have to learn additional skills to stay afloat. For my business purposes WordPress management has always been a value add to hosting. I cannot compete with GoDaddy or Host Gator’s hosting services on price but I can and do compete on customer service and peace of mind. My clients know if they read about a major WP exploit I’ve already patched it.  Their site is running smoothly and everything works properly because functionality gets tested after every core and plugin upgrade. A few PHP scripts will never be substitute for having a knowledgeable and experienced person to answer your questions.

Who knows maybe I’ll actually become a web designer.

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