A user experience in content management that I could live without

Back in the summer of 2005 when I was still a web technical support rep, still studying for my master’s and running out of time for both, I decided it was time to convert my website from something I was manually updating into something that used an actual Content Management Service.

I researched Joomla and Drupal, but they were more for, well, content, and I was running a webcomic and everyone knows a webcomic fits a blog format better than a content site, because regular publication updates are the key to a webcomic.

So I archived my old site… somewhere, i don’t even remember where… and installed WordPress.

Now to be clear, I had graduated with a master’s in software engineering only a few years before, so I was still pretty tech savvy then — but also, as installations went, WordPress was pretty simple.

By the 30th of June, I had WordPress installed and I was back in the business of writing and drawing, free from the drudgery of manually updating my stuff.

I can’t honestly tell you what version of WordPress I was running at the time because the release history page has everything prior to 2.3 listed as September 28, 2007, and I clearly had it installed almost two years before that.

***

Fast forward 4 or so years to 2018.

WordPress replaced their admin interface with the Gutenberg engine in December and the first things I started to hear in the UX and accessibility industries was that it was horrible to use if you had accessibility needs.

I said then, and I still stand by it now, that I wouldn’t upgrade any of my websites to the new engine until it started passing more accessibility tests. And I’ve been watching it — maybe not carefully, but carefully enough.

As of the 2020 WPCampus conference, maybe 2/3 of the issues that had been found during an accessibility audit were resolved… but fixing those issues allowed people to access areas of the site that hadn’t been previously tested, which spawned more issues. Plus, developers don’t stop writing new capabilities or refactoring old work just because the accessibility defects haven’t been resolved, so new issue were still cropping up.

As of a check a few minutes ago of the accessibility audit on WordPress’s GitHub page, there’s still at least 21 issues still open.

Which, I mean, geez I wish I could get the day job’s backlog down to 21.  This is real progress. Everyone involved should be proud.

***

Meanwhile in 2020, I did launch a site that used the Gutenberg engine — my accessibility subsite. And while Gutenberg is a bit on the slick side, it’s, well, it’s hard to compose in it. And having spent 16 years composing straight in my CMS, I’m loathe to move back to a world where I draft in GDocs and then copy/paste into another editor.

So this spring I tried switching content management systems.

But boyo, we are not in 2004 anymore.

My first hint of trouble came when I read in a Drupal 8 book, “Ensure that your Drupal developers have professional training in Drupal 8” and I said to my husband, “Shit, I am my Drupal developers.”

Let me tell you, my Drupal developers really let me down. They couldn’t even get the software to install.

And so I looked into CraftCMS, because that’s the CMS that the WCAG org is rumored to have chosen for their next set of web updates. If it’s accessible and able enough for them, it’s probably ok for me too.

Except I couldn’t get that 🤬 to work either.

Either I’ve been away from development way too long (16 years and counting) or these applications have become way more complex to install (probably also true). Whichever combination it is, I’ve lost four weekends this year to trying to install content management systems.

It’s not fun.

So it appears WordPress and I are stuck together.

***

I still have some experiments to run to see if the “classic interface” plugin for the WordPress admin system is still available and whether I can get it working on the new site. If it works there, I’m likely to upgrade this site and most of my others… not necessarily because I think WordPress is ready to go, but mostly because I need to get the actual content work up and running again and I don’t have time too spend that much time on code.

(Also I’d like my hosting service to stop sending me email about how all my WordPress installations are running potentially vulnerable old software.)

That’s why I — and I suspect most of us — bought in to the content management system promise: more time on the content, less time on the management.

So I’m angry at myself for losing my mad skillz (ha!), angry at the industry for leaving me behind, angry at tech for becoming more complicated, and mostly mad at WordPress for launching without accessibility in the first place.

None of which get the words on the screen.

So compromises will be made.

Stay tuned as I boot up the old content brain systems…


Also published on Medium.

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is Principal UX Designer and general troublemaker for a big/small technical company outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things.