WordPress 5.0 brought with it a lot of change and controversy.
Most of the buzz surrounded the switch to a new block-based
editor named Gutenberg. It seemed to have left a lot of people both
frustrated and uncertain about the direction of their websites and
even their careers. And for some, it prompted action.
Among those who opted to act was developer Scott Bowler. In
2018, he took it upon himself to create a fork of WordPress –
one with the “classic” editor left in place and with a more
community driven process for adding core features. Its name:
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A Fork in the CMS Superhighway
It’s a big step, for sure. So, what drove such a large
undertaking? The reason, according to the project’s marketing
co-lead Michelle Coe, “We believe that WordPress wasn’t broken
and didn’t need to be fixed by mandating a block editor. We also
believe the pre-5.0 WordPress publishing experience was (and still
is) a tried and tested solution complimented by a wide array of
plugins that extend its functionality.”
Coe says that “By creating the ClassicPress fork, we provided
an option for people to continue using the CMS they trust, while
also creating an opportunity to create a more robust,
Indeed, the focus of ClassicPress seems to be the business
community, where stability and predictability are often preferred.
Rather than pushing out large changes (such as Gutenberg) that
could hamper users with a steep learning curve and/or potential
incompatibilities, Coe says the fork will take what WordPress does
well and make it “…leaner, more secure, and more useful.”
One of the undercurrents of the WordPress 5.0 development
process was a perceived lack of communication between project
insiders and the community at large. To some, it seemed like user
concerns were being pushed aside in favor of directives from the
top. Fair or not, it was a common lament.
Beyond the fork’s new name, ClassicPress is aiming to avoid
this sort of communication breakdown. Coe says the fact that they
are a “community-led” organization gives ClassicPress an
advantage, in that they can facilitate “…democratic discussion
and decision making via petitions, our forums and other digital
Further, she notes “Our decentralized organizational structure
allows us to adapt to meet the expressed needs of the ClassicPress
community, and we make decisions collaboratively with the overall
mission of ClassicPress in mind.”
This is certainly a different approach than that of WordPress,
which, for better or worse, is at least in some capacity tied to
co-founder Matt Mullenweg’s company, Automattic. While Automattic
doesn’t run WordPress.org, it does wield some (or, depending on
who you ask, a lot of) influence over the direction of the
But that top-down structure may have an advantage in terms of
decision-making and getting things done. With the more democratic process
ClassicPress is employing, one does wonder if that eventually leads
to some friendly stalemates.
Making the Switch
Yes, you can take a site originally built with WordPress and
covert it over to ClassicPress. In fact, as long as your theme and
plugins are compatible with WordPress versions 4.90 up to 5.03, it
should work just fine in the forked software.
And, ClassicPress intends to keep that compatibility humming
along throughout version 1.x of its CMS. According to a forum
post regarding the long-term plans for the software, committee
member James Nylen states, “If there are potentially breaking
changes in ClassicPress v2.x, we will add a new screen to the
upgrade process explaining the changes very clearly and carefully.
We will also do as much as possible to automatically confirm that
your site can be safely upgraded to the new version.”
As for stability, the software is currently in the release
candidate stage of development. Version 1.0 is set to be released
in the first half of 2019.
Creating a fork of an application as mature, intricate and
popular as WordPress seemingly would take a large commitment from a
lot of people.
Developers have to continue improving the software and fixing
bugs. A community of plugin and theme authors have to decide to
make their products available and compatible. And users have to
jump on board and get behind the project. Therefore, the natural
question many have about offshoots like ClassicPress is: Can it
survive over the long haul?
For their part, Coe says ClassicPress has a goal of reaching the
1 million user mark by the end of 2020. It sounds like a very
ambitious number. However, when you consider that WordPress
powers over 33% of all websites, a million users might not be
all that far-fetched. In fact, it’s a rather small fraction of
the WordPress market share.
When asked about her hopes for the future, Coe states
“Ultimately, we want to ensure that those who use ClassicPress
find it to be a positive experience that supports them as they
focus on their own personal and business goals. We want to be the
CMS of choice for business owners around the world.”
Where Do We Go from Here?
It’s clear that some level of dissatisfaction with the
direction of WordPress drove developers like Scott Bowler to fork
the project or jump to an existing alternative.
A key factor in how well something like ClassicPress does is
whether that dissatisfaction affects a large enough group of people
who are willing to switch.
But with the Classic
Editor likely to be around for a while, WordPress isn’t yet
backing users into a corner with regards to Gutenberg. Having the
option to keep the status quo could convince some users that
changing to a new (albeit forked) CMS might not be worth the
While we don’t know what the future holds, watching it unfold
should make for quite an interesting ride.
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the Scenes of ClassicPress – the WordPress Alternative
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