Why it’s always nice to ask first

Coming back to the blog after an enforced lay-off during a busy term, I was more than a little disconcerted to find that someone had hacked into it, and vandalised it; or so it seemed when viewed on an iPad. Of course they hadn’t really. It was just that WordPress had thought it a good idea to impose a new theme for all their blogs when viewed on an iPad. Without letting anyone know in advance, and without providing a clear way of opting out.

I’m sorry if I upset the nice man at Onswipe, who created the app for WordPress on iPad, when I told him that the result looked like something thrown together by a high school student who’d been drinking (although I still think it did).

I’m sorry if WordPress’s Happiness Engineers (yes, they really are called that) had to spend their Saturday rushing to put in a quick and easy opt-out, which thankfully is now in place.

And I’m sorry, if a bit surprised, if WordPress really think that a mention in their newsletter is sufficient advance notice that the appearance of all our blogs is going to be drastically changed, without our agreement. Oddly enough, in these times of information overload, following the newsletter of every system that I use isn’t really feasible. And, given that WordPress have no problem in sending me multiple emails when they want to collect a small amount of money twice a year, would it have been that hard to let everyone know in advance?

Anyway it’s all sorted out now, and we are back to normal. But why didn’t WordPress and Onswipe avoid all this stress by giving notice, or, better, making it opt-in rather than opt-out?

On the merits of the new app and theme itself, opinion – judging by the vigorous debate on Twitter – seems divided. Some users find it ‘great’, ‘cool’, ‘neat’, ‘nice’, ‘beautiful’, ‘magical’, ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, and ‘good stuff’; they ‘really like it’ and ‘love it’. Others think that it is ‘bad’, ‘godawful’, ‘what a fright’, ”sucky’, ‘stupid’, ‘obnoxious’, ‘crap’, ‘not liking’, ‘annoying’, ‘awful, and there’s no way to turn it off’, ‘totally ruined the way the blog displays’, ‘a mess’, ‘I can’t stand it’, ‘really don’t like it’, ‘really hate it’, ‘all site design is destroyed’, ‘[sites have] lost their visual identity’ and a ‘fundamental usability violation’; some comment ‘I’m about to unsubscribe from blogs I like; it’s that bad’, and ‘sanity at last – have removed onswipe from my blog’, and they recommend ‘do not fix what is not broken’.

So clearly some blog writers love the new display; perhaps those who already have a very visual and magazine-like style to their blog. But others, like me, don’t. And we feel that that our blogs are, well, ours. We determine the style; and if it’s deliberately understated, unflashy, and rather old-fashioned looking, then maybe that’s what we intend, and perhaps what our readers like. We don’t want it altered, for the iPad or any other environment, without our knowledge and agreement, and it would be good if WordPress remembered that.

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