What might the WordPress project learn from Svbtle?


A few weeks ago Dustin Curtis (designer/blogger/self-described Villain) wrote about his experimental new blog network called Svbtle. Svbtle is the codename of both the network and the content management system running he created to run it. Curtis said that he decided to create his own blogging solution after being “irritated by the complexity and uninspiring nature of most blogging platforms.” Along with a minimalistic design and approach to blogging, Curtis is also (currently) only allowing those bloggers onto the network who he has invited on board.

Since the announcement in March, Svbtle has seen a bit of attention.[ref]Dustin Curtis announced Svbtle on his blog. TechCrunch covered the Svbtle launchThe Verge covered the Svbtle launch.[/ref] Soon after someone else released an open source clone of Svbtle on Github, which itself caused a heated discussion on Hacker News.[ref]The discussion on Hacker News is worth a read, but isn’t what I’m focused on here.[/ref]

There are 23 members of Svbtle right now. A number of them have run their blog on WordPress before. A handful of the Svbtle members were using WordPress to power their blogs immediately before switching to Svbtle. It’s easy to write that off as little more than excitement over something new and exclusive, but perhaps there’s more to it.

“Simplicity”, “great fit”, “how I think”

It’s far too soon to make any statements about Svbtle’s appeal in the long term. Besides, it’s far more interesting to look at what attracted current users on in the first place. Let’s look at how they talked about Svbtle when making the switch.

Christina Warren, Entertainment Editor at Mashable and frequent WPCandy commenter, said:

My hope is that the simplicity, the Markdown compatibility and the blank aesthetic will help me realize my goal of putting more content out under my own name, without having to be about work.[ref]Quoted from Christina’s blog.[/ref]

That comment wasn’t pointed right at WordPress. This one is, though. Jared Erondu, founder of The Industry, said:

Coming from the complex CMS that is WordPress, I could relate entirely with Curtis’ frustration. Don’t get me wrong. WordPress is the perfect platform for large sites like Mashable, TechCrunch, and RWW. However, for “personal blogging,” as I call it, we don’t need the fancy plugins, SEO, colors, featured posts, news post, OP-Eds, social sharing links, call-to-actions, author bio box, contact form, and the list goes on. Rather, give me a clean minimal space that encourages me to dump my thoughts and add a title, I’m sold. Svbtle is just that, just a tad bit sexier. Oh, and the Markdown support helps.[ref]Quoted from Jared’s blog.[/ref]

Around these parts we’re usually talking about how to make WordPress a fit for larger sites. We don’t criticize it nearly as often for what it lacks for personal bloggers.

Brad McCarty of The Next Web, said:

2 years and a few posts ago, I started this site on WordPress. I always wrestled with themes, ideas and the workflow of the site, and I never found anything that actually felt right to me.

Then I saw Svbtle. Suddenly the way that my brain worked was sitting in front of me as a blog platform. I applied, got accepted and today is day 1 of the new journey. [ref]Quoted from Brad’s blog.[/ref]

Aside from the direct mentions of WordPress, other Svbtle members pointed out highlights of the new system that many of us would likely assign to WordPress. Derrick Ko of Kicksend (who moved over to Svbtle from Posterous) said:

But more importantly, I’m thrilled with Svbtle’s focus on the experience of producing and consuming great content. It’s something that has – up till now – been sorely lacking among the services and platforms out there. And to be able to join an amazing community of bloggers is always a privilege. Thanks a lot Dustin.[ref]Quoted from Derrick’s blog.[/ref]

Or there’s Bobby Ghoshal of Flud, who said:

Its “the essence of blogging” as Dustin puts it. Its clean, well designed, and i bet its actually going to get me to want to write.[ref]Quoted from Bobby’s blog.[/ref]

You get the idea.

The Svbtle difference

Svbtle is still in private invite-only mode while Curtis works out the kinks and gets ready for a full public launch. Yet he did post a handful of screenshots showing what the Svbtle user experience is like. Just for kicks, let’s line them up against WordPress screenshots.

First, there’s the manage posts screen (click the image to enlarge).

Svbtle doesn’t call something a “post” before it’s published. Actually, based on these screenshots it doesn’t look like posts are mentioned at all. Authors write ideas and then those are published.

The writing experience is somewhat similar, when you turn on Distraction Free Writing in WordPress (click the image to enlarge).

It sounds as if those are the only two screens within Svbtle. At the very least they’re the only ones that have been published so far.

I realize it’s not entirely helpful to just set those screenshots side by side, and true comparisons are difficult without actually using both products. These screens and the quotes from users are all we have to discuss, for now.

Is there a takeaway (or a few) here?

I don’t mean to give Svbtle more credit than it’s due. After all, it’s new and not yet publicly accessible, WordPress is used by a strong (and growing) portion of the web. Still, perhaps there is a morsel or two we can take away from it.

Discussing which content management system (CMS) is better doesn’t interest me in the least.  When describing my choice of WordPress over other options, I say it’s my preference. Really it solves problems I’ve run into, and I keep using it because I still like it. I certainly don’t have the experience (or the criteria) to measure one CMS against another, let alone every one available against the rest. Calling a CMS the best would require specifications such that it would only apply to a single person, or a small group.

I think it’s helpful to see what a project like WordPress might learn from something new like Svbtle. Svbtle is receiving the kind of praise I think the WordPress project would like to see come its way. At least a few WordPress users think Svbtle offers an elegant, simple solution to a problem that WordPress itself wasn’t addressing.

Svbtle is receiving the kind of praise I think the WordPress project would like to see come its way.

On the other hand, perhaps I’ve misread this from the start. Maybe WordPress isn’t, and shouldn’t be looked to, as a dead-simple way to blog online. Perhaps it’s moved on from that and other options can fill that role.

I know I would like WordPress to be the easiest, simplest way to blog on the internet. It’s also a solid tool for more complex web publishing, and I don’t want that to change. I wonder if it can be both without sacrificing one or the other.

I brought up Svbtle and discussed it with Brad Williams and Dre Armeda on last week’s WP Late Night, if you’re looking for more on this topic. I would also recommend Joshua Strebel’s editorial contrasting WordPress with Tumblr for a similar discussion.

14 thoughts on “What might the WordPress project learn from Svbtle?

  1. This post made me start thinking about this WordPress Idea suggestion: “Option for: Blog or Website?

    I didn’t really see the point of that idea before reading this article, but it makes me wonder weather, WordPress could have multiple custom setup options with appropriate settings for each. This might always be the domain of plugins, but how cool would it be if you just check an option when setting up WordPress to select “Single Author Blog,” “Multiauthor Blog,” “Website,” “Website with Blog” and the admin interface and default settings were instantly tailored to those uses?

  2. This is a little off-topic but how do you go about having a quote inset with the rest of the text like that? In case I’m not making sense I’m referring to the quote “Svbtle is receiving the kind of praise I think the WordPress project would like to see come its way” that has the article flow around it. It looks beautiful!

  3. It’s important to remember that, just because a feature is available in WordPress, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be used. The same is true for a lot of other comprehensive web tools (Twitter’s Bootstrap framework comes to mind). Use what you need, set aside the rest.

    Take, for example, the points that Jared Erondu makes about unnecessary clutter (author boxes, contact forms, et al). Those are all defined on the theme level, and are completely optional.

  4. Am I the only one who gets irritated by comments like this?

    …we don’t need the fancy plugins, SEO, colors, featured posts, news post, OP-Eds, social sharing links, call-to-actions, author bio box, contact form, and the list goes on.

    They make it seem like WordPress forces you to do all of that.

    • I’m not saying that WordPress forces one to use these features. I love WordPress. I’m merely saying that for my personal writing space, I prefer not seeing them at all. They’re not in Svbtle, which I like. For work, however, they’re vital tools that I use everyday.

  5. Ok, so I don’t see the point. WordPress is as simple as it comes to install, and right out of the box, with NO configuration needed, you can start blogging with nothing getting in the way. No SEO, no plugins, ect.

    So, from what I can see, it seems like a developer that just wants to build their own CMS, or rather, blog system, so their own names can get noticed. Of course, the best way to get it noticed is to simply bash the best software available, especially if you have been tied to it for any real time.

    Yes, WordPress is maturing and growing as a full CMS. But for those that only want to blog, the setup is minimal at best. Install, choose a theme (if you want to), click “add post”, enter a title and the content and finally click publish. To borrow a line from Geico, “its so easy a caveman can do it.”

    So fine, if you want to go to the trouble of creating some new blogging system just so you can brag that it isn’t WordPress, go for it. But to say that WordPress is too complicated and requires a lot just to blog is completely ridiculous! (this ain’t Drupal for crying out loud!)

    And to say all of that just to get noticed for the new blog platform you are developing is simply self-serving and misleading.

      • Whether he is known or not, still feels like a “look at me” thing. I have never heard of him, but that doesn’t matter either.

        It’s one thing when a developer wants to exercise his skills and try something new. It’s another when you have to make negative remarks about another piece of software to justify why you want to exercise your skills.

        Nick, as you pointed out, no one forces you to add all the extra plug-ins and go through all the extra steps. So it frustrates me as well when people want to criticize WordPress because it’s too complicated when all they want a something straight out of box anyway. And to fix that problem, they turn around and spent a lot of time to create a new piece of software to do the exact same thing.

        I don’t know the true motivation for anybody. But on the surface it just sounds like a call for somebody to “look at me.”

  6. Oh, and I just find it amusing that the developer complains that WordPress is too hard and prevents focus on blogging, that instead of simply using a standard WordPress installation that takes less than 2 mins to install, he opts to spend countless hours to program something new that does exactly want WordPress already does, and does well. LMAO… Yeah, that’s simpler!

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  8. So as someone who has moved to Svbtle (and was busy at NAB and then getting married when this was posted — sorry for the delay), let me say that my goal wasn’t to criticize WordPress or say that it’s without merit, more that for me, Svbtle and its network fits more of my needs when it comes to personal writing.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many Svbtle members are writers by profession. When you make your living writing for the web, you wind up interfacing with a CMS, be it WordPress, Drupal, a custom-Django or PHP or .NET instance, etc., than the average user.

    I think that many of us are TIRED of dealing with a CMS at all — no matter how great it might be — which is part of the appeal. Incidentally, this is a similar appeal that Tumblr has over alternatives too.

    As I said in my introductory post, I fully intend on still using WordPress for other projects — and I’ll likely be turning ChristinaWarren.com into more of a portfoilio site and content-gate keeper (and one that will likely be powered by WordPress), but for my personal writing, I like Svbtle.

    In some ways, much of what led me to WordPress to begin with — having control of my own space — is what led me away from it for personal writing.

    With WordPress, as much as it can do, I often felt trapped by all my choices. I’ve been trying to redesign my website for over two years and have been paralyzed by too many options and choices. As soon as I had one gameplan ready, something would change and I’d have to reevaluate.

    This likely isn’t going to be the same situation for most people, but it’s what is true for me.

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