The latest incident involves the newly introduced infinite scrolling feature. But first, some notable previous cases:
✸ June 2010: WP, with an eye to the popularity of Facebook, introduces reblogging. Lots of protests in the wordpress.com forum (some reasonable, some not), several staff replies (some reasonable, some not). Many users support a reasonable suggestion: make it optional. WP refuses to do that, and refuses to explain why. Matt comes up with some marvellous ‘arguments’ (see the June 10 Update in my post on reblogging), and finally closes the main thread. His closing words:
“I would like everyone to try out this feature for two weeks. [...] In two weeks I’m happy to have a discussion with everyone on their concerns, ideas, bugs, and hugs, but we really need people to actually use and comprehend the feature first!”
But when, three weeks later, a follow-up thread was opened, Matt wasn’t happy at all (especially since some of us had already “used and comprehended” the feature better than them). Matt’s only reply:
“The feature is not going away, and is going to continue evolving. If you don’t like that, perhaps consider an alternative blogging service or hosting your own WordPress.”
[See Update 14]
✸ July 2010: WP imposes an outrageous 30-minute block on volunteers in the wordrpress.com forums, to give staff a head start. “Considering focusing more staff support on the forums”, they say. “Going to do our utmost to respond to every thread that comes through quickly”, they say. Volunteers protest, WP doesn’t listen, Matt replies by resorting to irrelevancies and dreams about plans that never materialized.
Block remains in effect for almost a year (up to May 2011), although staff presence in the forums never increased, and staff very rarely managed to reply faster than us.
✸ June 2011: WP imposes a monospace font for the HTML editor. Some users protest. Matt doesn’t show up this time. A staff member replies, echoing His Master’s Voice:
“The new font is actually here to stay”.
Unbelievably, he then urges us wordpress.com users to voice our complaints in the wordpress.org forum.
His reply also includes a cheap politician’s trick: the new font, he says, is
“part of the core WordPress Dashboard redesign, built on the feedback of millions of WordPress users”.
The overall dashboard redesign may be based on the feedback of millions, but that doesn’t neceassarily include the HTML editor font. Three days later, on the same thread, another staff member gives a link that reveals exactly how many the alleged millions were:
✸ November 2011: WP introduces the gallery carousel slideshow (in my opinion, a great improvement over attachment pages). Many users complain, and again they make the reasonable suggestion: make it optional.
When Matt first shows up, the only thing he’s got to say is that he’s interested in buying a print from one of the users!
When he finally gives in, his main reply is the usual serving of poor arguments:
“Fixing the core issues, rather than ignoring it by allowing the loudest people complaining to turn it off, will benefit everybody.”
(That’s the rhetorical ploy known as false dilemma: fixing the issues and allowing users to turn the feature off aren’t mutually exclusive.)
“This may sound uninteresting because the issue in front of you seems like the most important in the world, and would be SO EASY to fix if we just added a toggle or switch, but that path ends in ruin. Either we do that for everything and WP is just a thousand options that no one remembers or cares about anymore, or there’s some shortcode switch or hidden feature for you to deactivate the carousel and because it’s not widely used it’ll probably break in a future release, or it makes the underlying code more complex in a way that slows down future development, or you end up with so many non-default hoops you have to jump through to get your blog the way you want that posting becomes slower and slower until one day you just give it up or switch to something else. I’m exaggerating for effect, but I’ve personally witnessed the above happen to many, many software projects.”
(And that’s the rhetorical ploy known as appeal to fear or scare tactics. Matt isn’t exaggerating, he’s just lying: WP already has a thousand options, there are other little used features yet they don’t break so long as WP doesn’t want them to, and making the carousel optional is easy if you want it. It’s also particularly revealing that twice in the same reply Matt feels the need to belittle users: they aren’t users making a legitimate and reasonable request, they are “the loudest people complaining”, and –according to Matt and only Matt– “the issue in front of [them] seems like the most important in the world”.)
[See Update 14]
And so we come to February 2012…
Users who are using Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven wake up one morning and find that their front page has changed: instead of displaying the number of posts they’ve set it to, it continues to load more and more posts as you scroll down. “Infinite scrolling!” says WP, happy that they aped Facebook once again.
(By the way, that wasn’t the first time that users found their blogs changed without a warning or a notice. For another example, see my post “On the recent featured image issues” – and notice the Update 2 at the bottom of that post. But the most despicable case was the Pearson/Pressrow/Cutline affair: Matt quarrels with a designer, so the same day he removes the designer’s name from the credits of Pressrow; soon after that, more than 300,000 blogs no longer wear the themes their users had selected, because Matt had been pissed off…)
A staff member posts a sticky thread in the forums, expressly asking for feedback. Eighty-two users reply before Matt comes in, almost all of them negatively. Again they make the reasonable suggestion: make it optional. Again Matt refuses, again he offers poor arguments (for instance that usage stats increased, as if this couldn’t be due to any other factor, or as if the stats is the only thing that matters), and again he closes the thread (two days after it was started).
This resulted in some behind-the-scenes reactions as well:
WP had started a private blog in which experienced forum volunteers could communicate and collaborate with staff. Two of the most experienced volunteers were so annoyed by what Matt did again that they asked to be removed from that group blog. (Matt accepted, without being able to realize —or pretending he couldn’t realize— that the issue wasn’t the new feature). One of these two experienced volunteers stopped helping in the forums, and so did a third one. Matt personally banned a fourth volunteer from the forums (on the pretext of rude language), closed the group blog, then changed his mind and opened it again, then closed it again I think.
(If you want to know about me: I was never a member of that blog, I’m still helping in the forums but a lot less than I used to, and ever since the 30-minute block I don’t reply to wordpress.org users, I don’t modlook threads that need staff or moderator attention, and I don’t report mistakes when I test new themes, except if I have to correct a wrong staff reply.)
As for the feature itself, it was badly and prematurely implemented (and Matt knows this: in contrast to most other great or purportedly great features, this one wasn’t announced in the official wordpress.com blog). Check this post:
WP didn’t observe any of these suggestions (not yet, at least).
In the meantime another forum thread had been opened, and a gross side-effect was pointed out: both Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven support footer widgets, but infinite scrolling disables them. So Matt came to realize that people are very into their footer widgets (what a startling discovery: Twenty Eleven doesn’t display the sidebar on the single post view, so what else did he expect?) and was forced to make infinite scrolling optional – but only if you use footer widgets.
In other words: Matt didn’t know how to use this gimmick correctly yet, but he was so excited that he couldn’t wait, or select a retired theme to play with till he learned. Instead, he started with the most widely used theme and its younger sibling (the default theme for 2010 and the current default theme). He was so excited that he didn’t notice it disables another feature, or he didn’t think it matters, forgetting that the other feature is essential in the case of the younger sibling…
Why did he start with those themes? Why did he get so excited?
There’s a common denominator in the cases in which Matt has personally intervened and refused to make a feature optional: the features in question result in more posts or more traffic or more page views or more time on a page; and this means more money for the company.
Is that wrong? To me, not at all. (And I consider it the single most realistic and persuading reply to complaining users). But Matt seems to think it’s not a nice thing to say, so he always hides or denies the fact when talking to users, and always says it’s all for our own good.
Right. Now check my post on reblogging again, near the bottom: WP cares so much for you that if you dare hide the Reblog button they’ll suspend your blog…
(By the way, when not on the forums, Matt can be more candid as to what we wordpress.com users are. Recent interview video, at 25:10: “on wordpress.com we’ve got 25 million beta testers”.)
And why does he have difficulties with reasoning, finds it hard to accept criticism, closes threads, alienates users and such? Well, you tell me… Couple of extra hints: a) he just turned twenty eight; b) the name he gave to his company is Automattic, and the name he gave to the theme he designed is Matala.
The second thread on infinite scrolling didn’t get closed. But they found a more sly way to kill the thread: they exiled it to Off Topic. Nice, Matt, very nice…
Infinite scrolling got added to Coraline. And messed the background of the theme. Great job, Matt.
Update 3 (March 14):
Bottom of main page in Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven and Coraline now sports a “Load more posts” tab. Seems they’re beginning to learn? Not really: as before, the tab will show up only if you’ve added at least one footer widget. And infinite scrolling was just added to MistyLook as well: MistyLook doesn’t support footer widgets.
Oh, and they goofed again: infinite scrolling in MistyLook disabled image scaling down. Great job, Matt.
Update 4 (March 17):
Infinite scrolling was just added to Bueno (as expected, they target the most popular themes first). And when more posts are loaded, their text shows up in huge bold font. Once again: great job, Matt.
I start a thread, scorning WP for the mistakes in Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, Coraline, MistyLook and Bueno. Other users add their thoughts. A staff member pretends it’s a bug report, then a second staff member pretends it’s a bug report on Bueno only and closes the thread. Nice, guys, very nice… (My response remains unanswered, of course.)
Infinite scrolling keeps being added to more themes. To see which themes have been molested, check this link:
At the moment, the gimmick has been added to:
a) Bueno, Coraline, Titan, Twenty Eleven, Twenty Ten;
b) Ari, Misty Look, San Kloud, Sunspot.
Themes “a” support footer widgets. If you’re using one of these themes and you don’t like infinite scrolling, go to Appearance > Widgets and add widgets to the footer areas (if you don’t really want any widgets in your footer, just add an empty text widget). Once you do that, then an option that allows you to disable infinite scrolling will appear in Settings > Reading.
Themes “b” don’t support footer widgets. So if you’re using one of these themes (and don’t want to switch to a different one), the only thing you can do is create a static intro page in Pages > Add New, set your front to display that page in Settings > Reading, and rely on the Recent Posts widget and the Categories widget for navigation.
Update 7 (March 25):
1. When infinite scrolling is active, the number-of-posts-per-page option disappears from Settings > Reading. Because it’s pointless in that case, claims WP. In their infinite wisdom, they forgot that the option is still needed for category and other archive pages.
Advice to Matt: think first, apply second.
2. A couple of days ago, the number of available themes in Appearance > Themes decreased by four (now it’s back to normal). I didn’t bother to check which themes had disappeared. Now I know. WP apparently realized they goofed once again, and changed things again in themes “b” (see Update 6 above). So, if you’re using one of these themes and you don’t like infinite scrolling, go to Appearance > Themes and temporarily activate one of the “a” themes; go to Appearance > Widgets and add a widget to one of the footer areas; go to Settings > Reading, uncheck the option “Scroll Infinitely”, scroll down and click Save Changes; go back to Appearance > Themes and re-activate the theme you were using. The bottom of your main page will now display the good old “Older Posts” navigation link.
Advice to Matt: think first, son, apply second.
A bad change is accidentally introduced to the post editor screen.
The same staff member who had said that the new HTML editor font is “here to stay” etc does it again. At first he cannot tell what’s going on (although the user who originally posted about it had already discovered exactly what the issue was and had pointed it out). Then he tries to dismiss it as “intentional” (instead of realizing that it made things awkward for thousands of users). And then he says you can’t do anything about it except “raise some concerns” at the core developers’ site (while the one who should have been alarmed and raise the concerns was him, not us). Core developer’s reply (emphases mine):
“Sorry about that. Trunk is the development branch or .org core, and that change should not have merged to .com. That said, this is not the place to report wordpress.com issues. Reporting it to [staff member] in the .com forums was the right thing to do and he should have gotten in touch with the .com people who handle merging code.”
Update 10 (May 30):
The fun continues: WP adds infinite scrolling to Vigilance; just as with Coraline, they mess the layout and the background of the theme. Guess they’re trying hard to convince us they’re amateurs…
In the meantime, users continue to complain that their drafts disappear (partly or not) when they try to publish them. This has been going on for months, and so far WP has found nothing to say (or do). Guess turning your blog into a Facebook-like page is more important than making sure you don’t lose your content…
Update 11 (May 31):
WP adds infinite scrolling to Koi; once again, they mess the background of the theme. This is a joke. I mean, really.
Update 12 (June 12):
WP finally feels ready to post an announcement and a support doc.
And it seems somebody finally talked some sense to somebody: the option to disable the feature is no longer hidden. It took Matt four months before he could start accepting our suggestion…
But actually they’re incorrigible: they’re so bent on imposing this thing that when you disable it you now get a “Load more posts” tab at the bottom of your main page (which is infinite scrolling again, just with clicks instead of automatically – which is almost pointless).
Update 13 (June 26):
The joke continues: a) WP adds infinite scrolling to Choco, and for a while the main page of blogs wearing Choco goes blank. b) In Tarski, the extra posts that load don’t have a comment link, and the title of each post doesn’t link to the single-post view. c) In Inuit Types, if you have selected the two-column post layout, the extra posts load in one column. WP’s professionalism and thoroughness remains admirable….
Update 14 (July 6):
“We’ve introduced two new options: background color and the ability to disable the carousel in favor of standard WordPress image galleries. We’re working to make Carousel something we hope you’ll all enjoy — but we understand it’s not right for every site, so we’re giving you the option to turn it off”, says WP. When we suggested that in November 2011, we were offered bullshit excuses why it shouldn’t be done and we were dismissed as “the loudest people complaining”; eight months later WP understands…
Same thing goes for reblogging: when I first pointed out that a reblogger could easily turn a reblogged post into a stolen post by changing the title and removing the link to the original, WP wouldn’t listen; some two years later, WP understands…