WordPress 2.5: The Write Post Interface

WordPress IconShortly after I installed WordPress 2.5, I blogged at length about my experiences with (and dislike of) some of the “new and improved” features of the administrator’s interface. The Write Post interface was a particular bone of contention with me, but my co-host at The Secret Lair made it known that he thought the entire design of the administrator interface was poorly done. You can find our discussion in Episode 0009 of the podcast, beginning at the 07:57 mark.

A couple of days ago, Matthew Hill ((Check out Matthew’s own views on the change in his blog post, WordPress gets it wrong…and goes deaf.)) left a comment here directing me to a very helpful post on the official WordPress Support Forums. As I began exploring the forums, I discovered that Chris and I were hardly alone in our feelings toward the WordPress 2.5 Admin interface. There are several threads at the forums devoted to the administrator interface, with special attention on the Write Post screen and the Widget control panel.

One thread in the Requests and Feedback forum caught my eye, as there were more than 100 replies when I began reading it, with new replies continuing to trickle in at a fairly steady rate. I felt somewhat vindicated to learn that other WordPress users were being very vocal about their dislike for the new Admin screens, and more than a little disheartened at a forum moderator’s attitude toward people posting on a forum that is clearly labeled as being designated for feedback and criticism:

Well, prepare to continue to be annoyed then…

WordPress developers generally don’t comment in these forums, as a rule. They’re too busy developing. If you want a say in the code development, then login to the bug tracker and make your comments there. Submit patches to the code. Whatever.

But really, please, stop complaining about it here. These are support forums, for people with actual problems. Not liking the layout is an opinion, not a problem. And this is really not the proper place to vent opinions or to suggest changes to WordPress. ((Initial response to users by forum moderator Otto42.))

More disheartening than Otto42′s attitude, however, was his assertion that the development team simply doesn’t pay attention to the “Requests and Feedback” forum, leading me to wonder why they would even bother having forums in the first place.

Fortunately, a number of users were doing more than just expressing their dislike for the new Admin interface: they were diving into the WordPress code to do something about it. The post Matt linked to contained information about a hack created by Judy Becker of the knitting blog, Persistent Illusion. That’s right, a blogger whose focus is knitting hacked WordPress 2.5 in order to make the Write Post screen resemble the old WordPress 2.3.3 interface.

Judy’s hack moves the Categories, Comments & Pings, Tags, Post Author and Password Protect sections (what someone collectively referred to as the meta-data sections) to the right of the editor window, much as they were in WordPress 2.3. Unfortunately, since the changes require modification to some core WordPress files, it doesn’t appear that what Judy has done could be accomplished with a simple plugin, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

I applied Judy’s hack and, lo and behold, the Categories section was back where it belonged: to the right of the post editor. If only there were some way to fix some of the other design flaws: ((Yes, I call them “design flaws”, and I will continue to do so. The attitude that the only constructive approach to resolving these issues is to suggest a solution that does not involve reverting back to the WordPress 2.3.3 design because that would constitute a step “backward” is simply pig-headed. The changes to the design could hardly be called a step forward, as they forced efficiency and functionality to take a backseat to making the screen look simple “above the fold”.)) an overabundance of white space above the editor, unnecessarily large typeface for the blog title, etc.

Then I found the Fluency Admin plugin, which “re-skins” the entire WordPress Admin interface. Fluency arranges the major admin functions (Dashboard, Write, Manage, Design, Comments, Settings, Plugins and Users) in a column on the left side of the screen, while displaying sub-functions across the top. The interface feels cleaner and tighter, though I still think that some of the space above the fold could be put to better use.

Unfortunately, the Fluency plugin didn’t look so great with Judy’s hack: the repositioned sections overlapped the editor, making the whole thing feel very cludgy, which it was; the hack and the plugin weren’t designed to be complementary, after all. Rather than give up, I decided to do a little hacking myself. I tweaked some of Judy’s CSS to fix the overlap problem and hacked the postbox JavaScript file to remove the “twisties” ((Also known as “disclosure triangles”.)) from the section headers. The result is very satisfying. Compare the two screen shots below: the first is the default WordPress 2.5 Write Post screen, the second is the Write Post with the Fluency Admin plugin and Judy’s hack applied.

WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Default/Safari)
WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Hacked/Fluency/Safari)

There are a couple of drawbacks to this approach. First, the Fluency Admin plugin only works on CSS2 compliant browsers. That’s not a major problem because I do the majority of my blogging from Firefox, SeaMonkey, Flock and Safari, all of which display Fluency quite nicely. Every once in a while, I’ve got use Internet Explorer 6 or 7, neither of which is CSS2 compliant, so the Admin interface reverts back to the default theme with the hacks Judy and I made. It’s not entirely pretty, but it’s still functional and still better than using the standard interface.

WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Hacked/IE7)

But ultimately the biggest problem is that I’ve had to utilize a hack to fix a user interface issue, a hack that will be overwritten with the next WordPress upgrade. The likelihood that the interface will be improved with that upgrade seems slim, given that a request to revert the layout of the Write Post screen was deemed “invalid” by the developers, ((So much for following Otto42′s advice.)) which means that I’ll have to re-hack WordPress after the upgrade.

Okay, I was wrong: the biggest problem is the lack of any kind of official response to the community feedback. Several people have reverted back to WordPress 2.3.3 rather than fight with the new Admin interface, some are simply not upgrading, and I suspect that others may jump to another blogging platform. Me? I’ve got a hack in place that I can live with for now, but I’m only going to re-hack WordPress so many times before I start looking elsewhere.

36 thoughts on “WordPress 2.5: The Write Post Interface”

  1. “Knitting is at its fundamentals, a binary code featuring top-down design, standardized submodules, and recursive logic that relies on ratios, mathematical principles, and an intuitive grasp of three-dimensional geometry.” (quote courtesy of Kim Salazar of wiseneedle.com)

    Why are people so surprised that knitters are at least somewhat technologically proficient? :-)

  2. Excellent follow-up post, Kris.

    We need to get our 2.5 experiences more widely known. No-one reads my blog, and when I’ve posted on high profile like sites, like Zeldman, there has been no response. Any ideas?

  3. Matthew — I wish I had an answer. I’ve only got a handful of readers, myself, though several of them do use WordPress. In some cases, they’ve been shying away from the upgrade based (partly) on my experience, but that’s not going to be a viable solution for very long. Sooner or later, someone is going to identify a security hole in WP 2.3.3 and the upgrade will become a necessity (and if the developers are turning a deaf ear to concerns over the new admin interface, the likelihood of them providing a security patch for the old and outdated 2.3.3 is pretty slim).

    Will we see more of an outcry once those folks (and folks like them) are forced to upgrade? Possibly, but will that renewed clamor have any effect on the developers? Doesn’t seem like it.

    Apart from posting on the official feedback forums (which, as it turns out, is apparently an exercise in futility), submitting trac/idea requests (ditto), ranting about it in my podcast and blogging about it here, I’m out of ideas.

  4. I took the bull by the horns and sent Matt Mullenweg an email asking when he’s going to make a public comment about the negative press that 2.5 has been getting. I just got this response:

    “There has been plenty of discussion on the public developer mailing lists. Every release of WP generates polar reactions, to be honest 2.5 hasn’t really had any more than we have in the past. We collate the feedback and will be trying a few different approaches to things like categories that people seem to be having the most trouble with.”

    That was all he said, he didn’t respond to my comments about the Feedback forum being ignored.

  5. Matthew — I wish I could be surprised by Mullenweg’s response, but I’m not. I think the developers have chosen their path and they’re going to follow it, leaving hackers, modders and plugin/theme authors to clean up the mess. Of course, if they want to prove me wrong, I’ll be more than happy to eat that particular crow.

  6. He admits they are going to be looking at the Categories problem (and by extension, one assumes the Write screen problems in general). Sounds great? Yes and no.

    If HappyCog couldn’t get this right before the software was released and Matt now says they’ll try again, it rather suggests the whole thing was ill conceived in the first place, which further suggests the ‘user analysis’ they conducted suffered from a major flaw: they aren’t working with a representative user set.

    I’ve been trying to find information about how decisions for the Write screen were made. Here’s some stuff from Liz Danzico about her involvement — doesn’t say much about Write specifically, but might be interesting to you:

    http://comox.textdrive.com/pipermail/wp-hackers/2008-February/017922.html

    This slideshow is not narrated, but has some of the early analysis of WP users. You should be able to glean some useful things from it:

    http://bobulate.com/2007/07/22/how-not-to-get-noticed/

    Here’s a discussion that was had on the mailing lists during 2.5 dev, about concerns over the write screen. Sadly, no-one listened (check out post #4, which was written by Otto the moderator we know and love. He hated the new Write too!)

    http://groups.google.com/group/wp-hackers/browse_frm/thread/aee66ca7affc8a2f

    This is all gate-horse-bolted stuff, but might interest you nevertheless.

  7. Matthew — I don’t know whether or not the way I use WordPress is representative of the user base at large, but I’ve discussed this with enough people in and outside my circle of friends that I’m beginning to feel like I blog the way most people do.

    Thanks for the great links. A couple of observations:

    The Happy Cog slideshow seems to (at times) advocate an attitude that is entirely the opposite of what Happy Cog did with the Write Post interface, namely the whole idea of not noticing the interface because it works so well (which is certainly not the case with the new Write Post interface) and the revelation that users don’t like surprises.

    As for the discussion on Google Groups, I applaud Otto and Stefano for recognizing the overuse of whitespace and poor arrangement of elements, but the “it is what it is” attitude that follows their comments isn’t terribly promising.

  8. Yep, there’s some deeply ironic commentary to be made about HappyCog here but I’m kinda past caring now.

    Wondering if you might share your .js/.css changes that you made to get Judy’s hack to work with Fluency?

  9. Matthew — I was going to post my tweaks to Judy’s hack, but you nailed it! I can’t tell you how long it took me to track down how the disclosure triangles worked so I could comment out that one line in postbox.js. Well done.

  10. There are some problems with the expanded side bar disappearing under the footer bar as it scrolls up the page, but I can live with that for the sake of the improved functionality. (I did try to fix it using a pure CSS solution, but I think it needs some HTML tweaks and I don’t want to dive further into the mess that is the WP core.)

  11. Matthew — Zeldman doesn’t seem to have approved your comment yet (assuming you posted it after I posted mine); I’ll check back a bit later.

    I did noticed that the sidebar overlaps into the footer when my Categories are expanded, which is why I hesitated to publish the hack tweaks. Like you, though, I can live with it; function before form, right?

    I’m impressed with your tenacity on the whole issue. You’re like a pit bull!

  12. You wouldn’t say that if you met me; maybe more like a poodle when viewed side on. ;-) Seriously though, I don’t like not getting answers: that’s the only reason I keep pushing it. I’m already testing out Expression Engine, Drupal and Symphony, ready to move to something better. Sadly I need to stick with WP for some ‘in production’ stuff as it’s gone too far to switch now.

    Yup, the comment isn’t approved yet. Here’s a copy:

    http://www.friskdesign.com/zd.txt

  13. Matthew — I mentioned Symphony to Chris “Codeshaman” Miller and he said he didn’t care for it. We didn’t go into a lot of details; I was just moaning about my installation issues (that’s what I get for installing to my hosted site instead of building a LAMP server at home for testing).

    I do have an installation of Expression Engine running on my site, just to play around. I need to dig into the documentation and see what I can do.

    As for Drupal, the biggest advocate I know has got to be Ken Newquist. He posts a lot of Drupal-related stuff in Twitter feed

  14. I can’t get my head around Drupal — it has a very odd way of doing things! I’m one of those people who doesn’t like ‘live’ admin areas being combined with the site so this really confounds me — and I have no idea how to build a nested menu system despite having gone through several tutorials. It’s pretty arcane.

    Haven’t yet had time to look at the others.

    Back to WP, there is an interesting discourse between Matt Mullenweg and Andy Boyd over at On Blogging Australia. While it’s good to see Matt finally engaging on some of these issues, he’s still pretty choosy about the truths he decides to respond to (note his comment about the forum/moderator issue — unsurprisingly, it’s all in defence of WP and doesn’t actually address the attitude problems that Otto brought to the table)

    http://onblogging.com.au/2008/04/26/b-is-for-blogging-platform/

    Ironically, while this discourse is about responsiveness, I’m still waiting for Matt to reply to my email about the problems with the feedback forum. Somehow I doubt he will.

  15. Matthew — Thanks for another great link. I’ve added my two cents on Andrew Boyd’s blog as well and now I wait for the sun to rise on the other side of the planet so my comment can be approved.

    I can’t claim to know the first thing about Drupal, myself. I managed pretty well in WordPress, but too much exposure to a full-fledged Content Management System and I start bleeding out of the eyes.

  16. Have either of you posted your mods to my hack over on the WordPress forum? I stopped using Fluency after I’d hacked the write page into submission, but I know a lot of people still use it.

    Thanks for the link to Andrew’s blog as well. I’d like to see if Matt ever does follow up on moderator callousness.

  17. Well, there are more important things really — earning money for one! Not entirely sure how much time I’ve spent on all this, when I should probably have been investing it in my business… :-0

  18. KJToo, you might want to take a look at the Baltic Amber Admin Themes & Schemes plugin. It allows you to modify the Write panel in the following ways:

    - put ‘Categories’ and ‘Tabs’ as two columns right below the main text input area,
    - remove ‘Title’ label to save additional 30px of vertical space that brings the ‘Categories’ and ‘Tabs’ selection up even more.
    - place the main navigation bar right next to the blog’s title.

    These are the only small modifications that I personally needed to find the new admin panel superior to the previous one.

  19. Kaspars — Thanks for the link. Baltic Amber is indeed a nice plugin. I looked at it when it was was featured on Weblog Tools Collection, but by that time I was already using Fluency with Judy’s hacks. I installed Baltic Amber on one of my other blogs last night and it does look nice, but I do still prefer the Categories and Tags in the sidebar.

  20. I just added this to one of my blogs, and the wp-admin/css/global.css file is only 198 lines long, and doesn’t have the lines that you mentioned you edited, yet it’s working just fine. Ideas?

  21. Hi Adam — sorry, that’s a mistake, it should be the wp-admin/wp-admin.css for those margin tweaks, and they only apply if you’re using the Fluency admin theme as well as Judy’s hack, unless she fixed it in her 2.5.1 update. My tweaks were for implementing the hack in 2.5.

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