I heart WordPress

Why The Washington Post uses WordPress

These are the notes from my lightning presentation at #ONADC. See the slides.

The Washington Post hearts WordPress and I heart WordPress.

Let’s talk philosophy.

I’ve worked on hundreds of news sites. They all suck. And I think they suck because we had the wrong philosophy. We had big teams, and big ideas and big management layers and people who had no business designing making design decisions.

Philosophy drives actions. At the Post we use an empathic design philosophy. Our philosophy is the reason we use WordPress.

Our philosophy


Design starts with people. You have to understand your users and understand what they really want. We know a lot of information about you the people who use our web site. We know people’s age and gender and income and most of design and development time is spent focusing on these people.

We concentrate so much on the front end, a lot of times we forget about the people who use the system more than anyone. We the people. The reporters, photographers, editors. People like Ezra Klein. People like me.

Everyone hates their CMS. The problem is enterprise software isn’t build for us. It’s built for people who buy enterprise software, not for users. Newspaper CMSes were built to handle every problem ever. They can do newspaper pagination and online management and make waffles.

This makes doing simple things difficult and change near impossible because each change has to worry about every feature. Features rarely help and more often than not they complicate everything else you do going forward.

More is rarely the problem with users. In fact, more makes things more difficult for everyone.

Less is easier. Less makes programming easier. Less makes design easier. Less makes change easier. Less makes adding features everyone wants easier. When there is less to do, there is less ways to screw up. When there are hundred of buttons to press just to publish an article because someone wanted a feature no one else wanted, there’s that many extra steps to get something done.

The WordPress admin has one core purpose: Post content. It’s easy. Reporters need little to no training. People get it. WordPress is great because someone along the way decided not to listen to everyone and include everything, but to be serious about saying no.

Empathizing is about listening to users and understanding their needs, not fulfilling every desire. We say no. No to new features. No to complications. No to things that aren’t important. When empathizing you have to discover if the pain is real or illusionary.

In journalism we call this: “Killing babies.”

Empathizing is about finding the pain and finding the solution.

Being able to blog shouldn’t be difficult. It’s a sad state of affairs that so many newspapers have horrible blogging software.

The WordPress admin offered Washington Post bloggers a better, easier system.

We did a test with Ezra Klein’s blog by converting it to WordPress. He loved it and the blog has seen such a massive increase in pageviews we’re now moving all our blogs to WordPress and we’re launching new blogs every week.

Rapid Prototype

Nothing is the scariest thing in the world. So many projects fail because starting from nothing is really difficult. WordPress gives us a starting point. It’s much easier to destroy than to create. Starting with something makes everything faster.

When you have a megalithic multi-million dollar system people paid real money for, they don’t want to invest in anything new and whenever anything changes people freak out. So to rapid prototype: We start small. Small inexpensive changes stay off the radar. WordPress makes this easy. It’s free.

Small changes have immediate results. The second you change something, you can see how people internally and externally react.

When you start small, it’s easy to go forward and manage the project. Massive change takes lots of committees and decisions and planning and resource allocation and omg way to much stuff to wrap your head around, so you end up spending most of your time in meetings instead of designing, which is what we really want to do. Small changes can be approved and implemented in a single day.

It’s also easy to go back. If you screw up, and you will, you can go back just as easily. Change doesn’t have to always be forward. Some of the best changes are going back.

One of the greatest benefits is that you can do this in an every day project or you can carve out one hour every day and work on change, you can do it on the side or you can scrap the change if you get busy and no one minds because it was small anyway.

When we wanted to redesign our mobile site we started doing rapid prototypes with foundation and WordPress. Rather than building a Washington Post mobile site with articles, we wanted to build a mobile site with a great reading experience that happened to be by The Washington Post. This was obviously going to be a radical departure from most mobile news sites so to get buy in we had to have real prototypes management could use and approve.


Iterating means constantly changing. ABC. Always be changing. I like to take the approach: Change one thing a day you don’t like. In a year, you’ll have something entirely new that you do like.

WordPress makes change easy because almost everything we build is done at the theme or plugin level, so it can be sectioned off without affecting the whole.

We can try a new plugin in one blog. Play around with it. And spike it if it’s not what we want or keep messing with it until it is what we want.

One of the best ways to come up with better ideas for your products is to use them.

Once we had tested out the liveblog a few times, I wanted to use it myself to see how we could improve the system for our internal users. So we got a team together and I helped liveblog the Mad Men season premiere with Ben Bradlee.

I got drunk on whiskey with Ben Bradlee, blogged and tested software.

Keep playing. Keep testing. Keep iterating.


The Washington Posts uses WordPress for blogging and to quickly build products and prototypes because while being a lightweight system, WordPress is a good foundation for what we need.

The crazy thing we’ve only been using WordPress for about six months.

I don’t think The Post has ever launched so many products, so quickly with such success.

I heart WordPress and I hope you will give it a try.