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What Matt Mullenweg is Getting Wrong In the 5.0 Release

gamepieces on an off-white background, with a black piece leading a group of red pieces
We need a leader. I believe that Matt Mullenweg can be that leader.
But first, an attempt to empathize with the core team.

The reality that many of us on the outside need to grasp is that Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 needs to ship, and soon. The urgency, far from being a conspiracy theory or hostile takeover, is that it’s already late at this point. Many of the developers and designers who have been working on this risk burnout or worse the longer things go on. By nature of how the rollout has gone so far, we’ve reached a point at which many on the inside feel that it simply needs to be released, and soon. The longer we wait for it to be in core the worse it will be for the core team who has already had to weather more than their share of criticism.

Additionally, Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 as they currently exist are fantastic products. It will tangibly make better the process of publishing on the web, and erase barriers that have existed for years to publishing for a certain set of users.

From the core team’s perspective, when you have the option to make millions of users happier tomorrow by flipping a switch today, you should do that. As Matt Mullenweg said, at some point it becomes a moral issue to withhold an experience like that from so many.

Where things have gone horribly sideways in this process has been the communication piece. I shouldn’t have to scour Twitter threads and @-replies to find what Matt Mullenweg thinks about (a) the timeline, (b) the blockers for release, or (c) the overall vision for the urgency of releasing this product.

Let’s return to Cliff’s masterful thread that started the discussion:

Here’s the apex of that thread:

You don’t have to convince everyone of your viewpoint—you just need to affirm the validity of the concerns and address them directly. Do it in office hours, sure, but do it in public: your blog and your Twitter account. As @JJJ said, responding is *crucial*.

Instead of responding to that point, Matt followed a rabbit trail defending the urgency of the rollout with what was easily misconstrued as talking points for a politician: “5.0 will be a non-event, use the classic editor plugin.”

Here’s that rabbit trail:

Matt: It bothers me at a deep, moral level to hold back a user experience that will significantly upgrade the publishing ability and success of tens or hundreds of millions of users. It hasn’t been ready (for core) yet, so it’s not released. I hope it will be soon!

Me: I know you don’t know me personally and online dialog is tough to err on the side of civility. Please hear respect here: you’ve essentially responded to “It’s not ready/worth the risk of releasing over the holidays” with “but I really really like it.”

We like it too!

Matt: User needs will be solved better. They will be able to publish easier than before, and create things they could only imagine before. WP exists to solve user needs. Do you not care about improving the experience for people?

Me: (here’s where I started misunderstanding, more in a bit) I don’t know where to begin in response to that, Matt. It felt dismissive of all the care I’ve put into not attacking you or the team.

Yes, I do care. I spend 5+hrs per day in the back end of sites that aren’t ready and deserve to have a chance to get ready.

I’m on your team.

Matt: That’s how each of your tweets comes across. If sites aren’t ready, please install the Classic Editor plugin and 5.0 release will be a non-event. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding if “making things better for our users” isn’t a reason to do Gutenberg or release.

I’ll fully admit that I had to read them multiple times and with the help of wiser friends before I was able to pull the clarity I attempted to give them in the opening paragraphs. My initial response was much the same as Cliffs:

These responses are completely unacceptable from the leader of this project and community.
Cliff Seal

After a day or two of reflection, I have changed where I land on this, at least in part. In context, Matt was replying to each individual point in a Twitter-like way. A gracious reading goes like this (with thanks to a friend for the help seeing the exchange this way):

Cliff: Why the urgency?
Matt: Because Gutenberg gives users new features that solve problems and holding that back is a disservice to our users.
Ben: So, just because you like it?
Matt: No, because I think it solves problems that our users have. You don’t care about solving problems?
Ben: Of course I care, I’m on your team!
Matt: You sound like you don’t think Gutenberg solves problems users have. If you don’t think it does, use the Classic Editor, that’s what it’s for.

The thing that changed for me is that I took offense essentially at the topic and tone of the rabbit trail, and once I saw the responses in context, it changed things for me. I am highlighting only my personal mental timeline here, with no intention to either defend or discount Cliff’s position. He’s a smart dude.

Where I still agree that these responses are lackluster (being gentle) is the fact that they don’t address the core issue of lack of directly acknowledging all of my previously-articulated concerns, or even any of them.

The beginning of Cliff’s thread was Matt asking for help with making folks feel heard.

The crux of the thread is “here’s how to do that: lead us publicly”

At the end of two days of responding to that thread from Matt, I still don’t feel heard, much less understood, and not led so much as dictated to.

For me, the way I’ll feel heard is for Matt to clearly articulate how I feel, or to validate the concerns I have about the 5.0 rollout. It would also help for him to acknowledge that there are very smart, very pro-Gutenberg people out there advising that we wait on January (earliest) for release, for a number of reasons, and then to address each reason with a rebuttal if he feels that the January date is a bad plan.

All I’m asking for is clear and comprehensive leadership. Own your mistakes in clear leadership in the past, and reset with a renewed effort toward transparency and over-communication.

This is what @photomatt can do to make people feel heard in the #gutenberg discussions Click To Tweet

*this post has been updated to clarify that I am not saying that Cliff was wrong to react the way he did. I was the only wrong one.

And, well, Matt. 🙂