Embracing Change: The New WordPress Reader

I’m a big fan of WordPress. It never stays still. Any half-experienced WordPress blogger knows that every so often they’re going to be briefly blindsided by one of those changes that suddenly happens. Of course it can be disconcerting – a bit like waking to find out that Santa Claus rearranged the furniture overnight as a kind of thank you for leaving him such tasty mince pies with his glass of milk, and now the picture of Aunt Mamie seems to have disappeared. 

But it’s part of what I love about WordPress – the other side of the coin that comes with innovation. And I’ve got to be honest, left to myself to install each new update, I’d soon be living in the dark ages.

I want to think the new Reader is perfect because it’s what we’ve got, for the time being. Seen purely on its own terms, as a piece of art in itself, it looks good. Great, even.

Apparently the new picture formats have come about because the majority of people who like to read don’t like to scroll. I’m not quite sure how that works out for them, but I’ll accept this is what the research says. Personally, I don’t mind scrolling that bit more if it means I can understand what I’m looking at.

The looking-through-a-letterbox crop for image posts when viewed on a desktop is a great way to maximise screen real estate, but it’s not the best way to show off pictures. I don’t know enough about the history of photography to know if there has ever been a movement where cropping was random: I doubt it somehow.

I used to ooh and aah over some of the wonderful images in my Reader. Now I keep catching myself gazing with deeply furrowed brows, thinking ‘What’s that?’ over and over. Not only will my cosmetic surgeon* be troubled, but I’m not as tempted to click.

I truly understand WordPress are in a cleft stick: each time they roll out a change someone will prefer the old way or have a suggestion of how it could be done better. I’ve seen people suggesting the users should approve changes before they are implemented, but no organisation can design by a committee of millions. So we have to trust their vision. And I do.

If the US election and Brexit have taught us anything it’s that old cliche you can’t please all of the people all of the time. The new format is preferred by lots of people according to the feedback left on the post where it was announced. Other than the way it displays images, I like it too.

I can see from my own readership how widely WordPress reaches out across the world and can’t imagine the complexity this causes for their technical team. I think they do an amazing job. And would I ask other bloggers to scroll more to suit me? Of course not. But I do have a suggestion.

Just as we have a choice of themes, I’d love it if WordPress could offer us a choice of Readers, so we can consume content the way it suits us. I’ll hold up my hands and admit I haven’t a clue what kind of issues this would create technically. My uninformed guess is that the Reader is a skin for content, much like a theme, so having several versions running concurrently might just be possible.

We wouldn’t need many choices. A more photo-centric Reader option would be useful for people who follow some of the many talented photographers and artists here on WordPress. And I can imagine people with poor internet connections (or no wifi and expensive data packages) might appreciate the option to browse using a version of the Reader that doesn’t display the pictures at all.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to suggest work for other people to do, but offering a choice of Reader formats would be a step towards pleasing more of the people more of the time.

*You guessed it – I don’t really have a cosmetic surgeon.

21 thoughts on “Embracing Change: The New WordPress Reader

  1. keebslac1234 says:

    Updates, schmuckdates. Mixed blessings, in my book. With the Discover changes I can get to where I want to go more quickly, but it’s a heck of a lot less interesting getting there. Sometimes it’s fun to get derailed by a good graphic.

    • susurrus says:

      I hadn’t heard the term schmuckdates before and had to look it up. Discover is a great way to show us thoughtfully curated content but I enjoy looking through the tags just as much, unless someone has hijacked a tag with unrelated content which sometimes happens. I have a theory that tagging ought to be a revocable privilege not a right, but that’s another story!

  2. Heyjude says:

    It came as a big surprise to me. One day I had no access to the Reader, the next there it was showing 4 photos from a post instead of just the one. I quite like it, but it also means that people might be even more tempted simply to click like without actually visiting the post itself now they have more photos to view. I always try to visit posts in my reader, after all they are by people I choose to follow, but then I don’t follow a huge number of blogs so that is easy. Folks who follow hundreds of blogs probably only ever visit a few so for them the new format is good.

    • susurrus says:

      I try to make it a rule to click through to visit the actual blog when a post catches my interest, (you could say I like to know what I’m liking) but you’re right, some people clearly like directly from the Reader as posts can have more likes than views.

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Humans always seem to resist change, but progress only comes with change. Despite that, we are surprisingly adaptable. Soon we’ll adjust to the new Reader and forget about the old one. WP must know this and simply waits for the cacophony to die down.

  4. biggardenblog says:

    [J] D and I only discovered the Reader relatively recently. However we use it only for reading others’ posts. For design and authoring, we use the full WordPress software in an internet browser. As the technical department, I’m more aware of the systems that support all these different means and mediums, and I’m beginning to realize that most WordPress bloggers are signed up directly with WordPress, and don’t self-host. I’ve come to realize that simply signing up to a WordPress account (especially a free one) provides only very very limited design possibilities. As self-hosters, we use server space provided by our domain hosting ISP (1&1), who also as part of the package provide the background routing of traffic. Everything else is built by me, by installing and configuring the full WordPress software on that server space. This self-hosting allows us the fullest choice of the thousands and thousands of themes and plugins that make all things possible. That possibly sounds very technical, but to in fact it’s very simple to set up, though requires a bit more technical know-how to maintain and update. The fact is, though, that more sophistication, more choice, adds complexity, adds cost. That has to be paid for. In our case we have 1&1 charges of about £8pm, as well as domain charges. The investment of time in acquiring the know-how is far greater!

    • susurrus says:

      D is fortunate to have her own technical department! I looked at the different options, including self-hosting, before signing up with WordPress.com and found it all quite confusing for the newby blogger. It seemed a toss up which option I went for at the time and I often look back and think ‘that really was a stroke of luck’ as I am really happy here.

      You might be surprised how much design flexibility you have with just a free blog. I have only ever used free themes, for example, including my current one, Sela. I upgraded to a premium plan a year or so ago, and have made a few design tweaks since then, but they are really just little refinements that please me, nothing major.

  5. Oddment says:

    I try hard to keep an open mind and a proper mood about any WordPress changes, but every one of them has left me in a bigger muddle. I go with “updates, schmuckdates.” But I did love your line about how easy it is to think up work for others to do; in all modestly I can say that I’m quite good at that.

    • susurrus says:

      I love the ‘open mind and proper mood’! Have you every tried asking the Happiness Engineers for help? I got to know a few of them through the old BloggingU forums and have found them unfailingly kind and patient.

  6. Safar Fiertze says:

    I don’t mind the changes either, aware that they are responses to feedback. However, I like to click on the little ‘visit’ icon and read it as the writer intended me to view it. It’s a view on their site, and you get all the colour and razmataz of their creativity. Because of that, I’m not really too concerned about how the Reader looks as long as I can find my way round it without getting lost.

  7. sportsattitudes says:

    Well done Susan. I admittedly am one of those who doesn’t like to see a lot of WP changes. I often think tech-types in general tinker just for the sake of tinkering and don’t really advance their product (Apple comes to mind). I take a ultra-minimalist approach to my blog but after reading this and the comments I may be inspired to peek a bit behind the veil and see if I want to make any changes (dare I say improvements) in the year ahead. Almost time to fire up the TARDIS. We’ll be watching some Doctor Who over the Holiday. Have a great one! Bruce

    • susurrus says:

      I’ve often sensed that today’s technical people have had to get used to working against the limits of what they understand, in what is still a remarkably young industry. If they stayed satisfied with what we have, they wouldn’t be able to make the difference they keep making. One of the biggest challenges an established company has is to gently ease the rest of us along with them, so we don’t act as a collective anchor. You mentioned Apple: I’m not wildly impressed that consumers have to buy a connector if they want to plug an iPhone into a MacBook, but I am impressed by the confidence that sweeps us along and anticipates we will do that.

  8. odell01 says:

    Your look at the WordPress Reader got me quite interested in how it was and now how it works. I don’t understand every technical detail either, but I think a very good point you make is that as long as Reader works for people on it, it keeps the service user-friendly and that in the long run is a good thing.

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