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Before you dive into this somewhat silly controversy, I encourage you to check out our long, thoughtful post from Allie Nimmons on Hiring Through the Front Door, and my recent thought experiment on Funding the Future of WordPress. This article covers less-substantive issues about things people say on Twitter. 🙂
Search Engine Journal, a popular (and legit) SEO news source, recently ran an article entitled “WordPress Creator Mullenweg: Designing In Wix Is Faster.” As the resident expert on writing clickbait headlines, I’ll explain the context and backstory about why I think this story was framed in this way. Here’s the full quote from WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg that the headline is paraphrasing:
“…it’s such a basic layout, it’s hard to imagine it taking a single person more than a day on Squarespace, Wix, Webflow, or one of the WP page builders.”
Mullenweg is talking about a new page on WordPress.org that he thinks is taking too long to build. As others have mentioned, this statement kind of sounds like it’s coming from a client who devalues your work and has no idea how long things take – but let’s look at the actual question of Wix vs. WordPress for now. Mullenweg is not really praising Wix here – in fact, he is lumping it in with pretty much every other site builder, including “the WP page builders” like Elementor and Beaver Builder.
So, why highlight Wix in the headline? I suspect it’s because Mullenweg has a long-standing public beef with Wix, dating back at least to 2016, and most recently outlined in Mullenweg’s 2021 post entitled Wix and Their Dirty Tricks. The folks at Wix take a very strong anti-WordPress marketing angle, which Mullenweg correctly derides as “like Encyclopedia Britannica attacking Wikipedia.” So, picking Wix for this headline seems like it’s basically a callback to this well-known rivalry, rather than a reference to anything particularly good about Wix.
Of course, the fact that Mullenweg can rattle off five or six page builders that make page-building simpler than the Gutenberg / Block Editor in WordPress core is not great. As Brian and I will discuss in our next episode of the Press The Issue podcast, if I could set the priorities for WordPress, they would be recruiting new contributors and really focusing on shipping some best-in-class features. The Gutenberg / Block Editor isn’t yet best-in-class, and that’s why Wix is living rent-free in Matt’s head right now.
That said, I don’t read this comment as Mullenweg praising the alternative page-builders, but as debating the “custom theme vs. page builder” approach. The crux here is simply that it takes a lot of overhead to build a custom Block Theme, since you’re dealing with React, JSON and all sorts of things that don’t exist in the other approaches. Mullenweg even suggested using flat HTML to avoid this overhead and ship the page quickly.
This is one reason I invested a bunch of money in the Understrap open-source theme framework, which lets us build super-custom pages with Bootstrap and Advanced Custom Fields super fast. Compared to Understrap and ACF, the Block Editor has the value of being more visually equivalent on the back-end vs. the front-end, but it has the drawback of requiring more work to produce that experience. And as for the visual page-builder plugins and software-as-a-service options, those tools are generally easier for laypeople but result in slower and less-accessible pages due to their one-size-fits-all approach, so they’re rarely appropriate for our clients. I also don’t think they’re really the best path for WordPress.org, since ideally that site should be a showcase of the best parts of WordPress development.
So, did Mullenweg make the case that designing in Wix is faster than WordPress? Not really. But he did illuminate the fact that the Block Editor is still new and requires significantly more custom coding than the alternatives – which is why my company does not yet use it for clients on production sites. As the Block Editor matures, hopefully our competitors will fret about WordPress instead of the other way around.