What is the Block Protocol and why does it matter? What’s the significance of Matt taking over at Tumblr? And is WordPress way too complicated?
In this episode of Post Status Excerpt, David talks with Lesley Sim about Joel Spolsky on the Block Protocol, Matt Mullenweg for taking over for the exiting CEO of Tumblr, and a blog post by Dan Devine entitled “The Complicated Futility of WordPress.”
Why This Is Important: It’s good to examine the views of influencers inside and outside the WordPress community about managing content (especially with blocks) and how complex content management systems (like WordPress) have become. Tumblr is a potential wildcard — social network, gateway to more advanced publishing, both, or neither?
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Conversation with Lesley
David Bisset: Let’s start with Joel. Spolsky’s a post he did on January 27th. Um, link in shownotes by the way. But Joel is basically using WordPress already. He’s seen, he knows the concept of blocks and inserting blocks and all of that. If you’re not as old as me, you may not know who Joel Spolsky is and you can read up on them.
He. I wrote something called fog bugs, like a long time ago, which was like a, the, probably the initially like one of the first bug trackers, big popular bug trackers. I don’t know where that is today. We’ve kind of moved on from there, but it was a really popular, it was kind of like the, um, the GitHub of it’s day or the git of its day, but he was proposing a, something called a block protocol.
That was a protocol. And basically he wanted to standardise blocks across WordPress or Medium or Notion or something along those lines, you read this and what were your thoughts about this?
Lesley Sim: Oh , wait, so I need to preface this by saying that I’m not a developer. I’m not a developer, and so by that means is I feel like I am missing kind of one huge chunk of perspective when you know, like, so my opinions are- it’s as though I’m a color blind person trying to describe, uh, a bunch of flowers and I’m like missing, missing something important. Um, I’m sorry, I wanted to kind of mention that before I said anything else. Um, but the cool thing to me about the block protocol is that I feel like it’s the right level of abstraction.
And what I mean by that is, um, if you go to the Twitter thread, with Joel and Matt. Matt also talks about, you know, the, um, Gutenberg block editor and how the idea for the block editor is to be what Joel is trying to do. Um, you know, interoperable, you can use it yes on WordPress, but also, you know, on Tumbler, um, on Medium and, um, everywhere else.
I think that’s kind of what Matt, um, was saying in hope Gutenberg will be. Um, but my problem with that is I feel like that’s not the right level of abstraction. I feel like that’s too, too far down, like it’s too opinionated already. It’s too built out already. Um, and if, what. What Matt really wants is to kind of be plug and play across a web.
Like I think he has to go take a step back and
David Bisset: be more actualize
Lesley Sim: talking about yeah, be more abstract. Um, in order to be more interoperable because you know, somebody coming up with their own indie CMS, isn’t one, uh, isn’t it we’ll, we’ll never basically never want to plug and play the entire Gutenberg block editor.
In my mind, like I know a bunch of people who are building their own indie CMSs. I know that, like, that would be the worst nightmare for them. Right? Like the reason why they built it is because they don’t want the heaviness of WordPress. The idea of having like plug and play blocks because you’re seeing it increasingly as well.
Right. Like notion is using blocks and notion itself like spawned, you know, dozens, if not hundreds of copycats who use this like concept of blocks as well. So like this whole like block concept is becoming increasingly popular and widespread. If there was a way for startups or software to quickly spin up blocks to use in their software.
That editor just sounds really cool to me. Um, and the idea of being able to take things with you, like that would be really cool as well. So I’ve built, you know, something. This like kind of more abstract level. I can now build like, you know, a set of blocks that can work on both Shopify and WordPress and you make more money that way.
That would be really cool, right?
David Bisset: Yeah. Because when, once you start getting into, you can export your content in WordPress with still with blocks, the blocks don’t come with it. Right. It’s just kind of like. Content or semi raw or slightly cooked, whatever phrase you want to use, but you’re not going to be able to take the content from WordPress and move it over to another CMS and still have that perfect layout that you had in over in WordPress and probably vice and probably vice versa.
I mean, you’ll have the texts, you’ll have the content, but so much more now of WordPress is paging, especially with the blocks are like repeating blocks and, and your, your posts. But it’s and correct me if I’m wrong. Cause I haven’t actually done this very much lately with the new blocks, but you’re basically getting just the raw HTML or you’re you or you or the content, the blog posts themselves.
But you’re not really getting much of the layout in that process. So what he’s talking about or what the protocol is talking about is. You can have anyone develop a block once and have it work in any blog platform or content management system or note taking app. Right. And it’s of course it’s free and it’s open source.
And then you’d be able to like create a paragraph or a table over here and be able to use that same block over, um, someone else who’s supporting the same protocol. Does that sound about right?
Lesley Sim: Yeah. I mean, I don’t, the siding would carry over. Also, I think it would
David Bisset: The structure maybe?
Lesley Sim: It something, yeah, the structure like the schema.
Right? So like if you call it something, a podcast here, it’s going to also show up as a podcast there. Or you call it something, a graph here. It’s also going to show up as a graph that it doesn’t just break. So I think that would be really cool. Um, yeah. The other thing that would be really cool, it’s kind of like.
Um, from an end-user perspective, you know, if, if there was some kind of, um, standard diarization on how blocks work immediately makes a lot of software, understandable to people because they’re just like, oh, when I click this better, this is what’s going to happen. I understand how blocks work in general.
David Bisset: Yeah. So if a block works generally in one application will work generally in the other. Matt’s always said Gutenberg was more important than WordPress. So obviously this kind of fits into a kind of a larger picture. And that’s why I think when this was published, If the protocol has been started. So it has been published. It’s not just a conceptual blog post, but it’s in the very, very, very, very early stages.
Yeah. When I read this, I was pretty much thinking along the same thing. Like what if you could take very abstract Gutenberg plugin, and automatically use it in someplace else. Um, Drupal is adopting Gutenberg to a certain extent as well, but this is, I think, agreeing with you. I think it needs to be a little bit more abstract, less opinionated if you expect it to work.
Um, probably a little bit of a broader scope or at least the scope that Joel is shooting for here in this. Post, uh, over time it will mean that anyone can easily publish complex typed datasets on the web that are automatically machine-readable without extra work. Yeah, this was, this was really cool.
Lesley Sim: One thing I am interested in is also the, the, in the thread, there were a bunch of people talking about, you know, how does this compare to web components?
Because that’s the whole thing. Why, why not just kind of try to build off of that. Um, and also some people was saying, uh, why… Like web components or the concept of it never really took off or never, maybe like, um, fully fulfilled its potential. And. I guess like kind of knowing why that didn’t take off would be helpful in knowing some of the potential obstacles that this new protocol might face as well.
David Bisset: I, I don’t know enough about web components on why that hasn’t taken off on paper. It sounds great.
Lesley Sim: Yeah right. I have no idea either. I’m sure there’s angry people who know all about that. And that he’s super curious if you don’t post on it.
David Bisset: I encourage somebody who’s checking it out and we’ll put a link to not just the article, but also the conversation that was there with Matt.
I thought there was some pretty interesting comments there as well, or Marvel cinematic universe. And now I’m trying to come up with a better acronym, but so far it’s I have the, the Mo woo and it’s Matt’s open web universe. And we reason why we were trying to come up with this awful awful name was because of tumbler.
Um, recently, you know, you saw the same, you saw the same thing as me where, um, and apparently I did not know this, but, um, until I read it yesterday, but apparently tumbler’s CEO quietly kind of departed, uh, Tumblr, no reason given. And, and then Matt said he’s personally taking over. Don’t know yet how that affects the WordPress releases moving forward if that affects his role as leader, anything like that. But Tumblr out of just came out of nowhere again. And what you said you were a tumbler user. I use tumbler a little bit back in the day when it was just starting out, but it just happened to be like using WordPress at the same time.
Tumbler was becoming popular. I kind of had to pick one thing or the other, and I decided to go with WordPress amount of blogging, but instead of, you know, posting it on Tumblr, what were your experiences with tumbler when you started, when did you start using tumbler? Are you still using it now? I
Lesley Sim: am not still using it now.
I’m trying to think back when I did start, probably definitely more than 10 years ago, maybe. Yeah, maybe 15, 15 years ago. Something like that. Maybe more, I don’t know. Let’s not age myself, um, I have nothing but good nostalgic memories of tumbler. And I guess like what I, when I think, think about tumbler, when I think about is super lightweight, um, posts that were like very template fight, like it’s like heavily templated, um, very structured. So you can’t deviate that much, or if you, if you did, you had to put in a lot of work to do that. Um, and it, simplicity is what made it really stand out. And that’s why I used it. Not having to worry about the technical complexities, um, is nice. And also you were kind of writing, it felt like you were writing directly.
On your page. Um, so in comparison, in WordPress, you kind of write in the editor and it’s, it looks separate from the website itself, which, you know, full-site editing is changing. Um, but with tumbler, from the start, it would be, this is your, your site and you write a new post and it would just. I have all the colors and like, you’d be writing.
David Bisset: It’d be like, would it be like a live preview?
Lesley Sim: guess so. Yeah. I mean directly on, no, it was like super life, but like, it was, it didn’t feel like it was a preview. It felt like you were writing directly on top of your previous posts. You’re writing it there and then you just like post it and it’s done. Um, yeah, and that, that was really nice.
Um, and there was always kind of this thing. Tight knit community in tumbler and everything. Everyone was kind of niche focused. So you, you know, if you were into, I dunno, knitting than that, you’d have a thousand friends who are all knitting buddies. And you share your knitting, um, beanies and stuff like that.
Um, or if you are into pizza, then that would be your thing.
David Bisset: That’s your fond memory of it. Now that you heard him? Must’ve been interesting when you heard this, it was it back maybe a year or two ago when automatic purchased it from Verizon, I think, it must’ve been interesting for you to see that name pop up again.
Where do you see, um, uh, mats. Kind of hinted the fact that, um, we’re, it’s being rewritten, rewritten in WordPress. What’s your guests in terms of how tumblers will be playing out in the open web space. Cause we have that, that, um, Matt’s open web universe. How do you think tumbler, but where, where would, where do you think Tumblr would like let’s let’s if it gets it’s WordPress, um, um, integration, where do you think that would fit in the open web?
Lesley Sim: So I kind of hope people argue about this on Twitter. I think tumbler, I see tumbler as guardians of the galaxy.
David Bisset: How do you think Tumblr is going to fit into the open web after WordPress gets integrated? Do you think it’s going to take an a, like a new role will be refreshed?
Lesley Sim: I don’t, I don’t have any specific well-defined hopes.
I think it’d be really nice if a new generation of emo younglings, um, use tumbler. Uh, okay,
David Bisset: well, let’s talk about that then. I think you said like new generation. So do you think Tumblr is the key of introducing new, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but is it possible that it could be a new way of introducing Gutenberg to a new generation?
Lesley Sim: That would be really interesting. I don’t think WordPress is seen as very cool at all amongst young people. Um, so having a different way to introduce blogging and gutenberg to the younger crowd, I think is super cool. And I’m all for that. Um, yeah, so that would be really cool, actually.
David Bisset: So if it wasn’t, if you never knew WordPress existed, what would you use today to host a very simple blog?
Just your own personal blog?
Lesley Sim: Uh, me right now, I probably go on product hunt and sign up for every single in DCMS on there and see your genetics. I think that’s what I would do.
David Bisset: So there isn’t a clear second place right now for you and I didn’t hear tumbler in that response either. So you probably right now, as of right now, like a tumbler as it exists right now, wouldn’t be of a viable option.
Lesley Sim: Probably.
I don’t think the draw of tumbler is. There are some software which are tools and there are some software which are platforms and I think tumblers are platform. And so the draw of tumblers is in its community, not in like how great its software is. So like, if you’re asking me now, um, have no affinity to the Tonga community.
So there’s no job for me there. And like my goal with coming out with now and blow would just be like, cause I went to ramble on. Life and stuff.
David Bisset: Right. It’s not a social thing. It’s a publishing thing, but it, it seems like to me though, um, I think you read the same article. I did think it came out in December where they profiled Matt Mullenweg and they kind of figured out like, kind of laid out a little bit of all these acquisitions that automatic has been doing for the past year or two.
Actually I think it may have started with tumbler is cause I can’t, well, maybe it’s possible. There could been a few before that. There has been acquisitions regarding note taking apps. There’s been acquisitions regarding podcasts, um, players, I believe podcast players. Yes. Pocket cast and all of that. And we we’ve, we’ve seen.
The we’ve seen it. Um, hinted at that Matt is collecting like one of every type of thing it seems like. And his, and with his, um, very, very honest and straightforward and true, um, vision of things remaining open sourced. I kind of viewed tumbler as kind of like as, as two things. One is a gateway maybe to WordPress and publishing.
But also as kind of like the social network of his Avenger open web team. Right. Um, you know, this is, you know, of the mats open web universe, uh, type of, type of thing, the Millwall or however we want to describe it. Because it’s the closest, because he has a note taking app or I, I shouldn’t say he automatic acquired, so that’s probably the proper way to, to phrase all this, but there automatics acquired a note taking app it’s acquired a podcast, um, player and system that goes along with that, and Tumblr is a publishing system, but like you just said, there’s, there’s a larger social community involved with that, but it’s just interesting that how Matt personally stepped up into.
And we’ll probably find out more later.
Lesley Sim: Uh, I love that view. Like that’s, that’s super cool. So when you said it, um, it sounds to be totally on board. I want, I want to see how tumblr becomes the social network of the of Matt’s cinematic universe.
David Bisset: Well, he’s the collector, right? Or maybe, or he, or automatic is the collector.
There seems to be one of everything. Cause I don’t see acquiring a great note. Like I said, there was note taking, there was podcasts there’s this and there’s one or two other examples too, that I’m not figuring, um, right now, buddy. So yeah, that’s how I kind of viewed it. W it would be wonderful to, to see if Tumblr was that also that gateway into Gutenberg.
And that’s why I think this block, the block discussion. Outside of WordPress brings on heavier meaning.
Lesley Sim: Um, yeah, I guess, I guess tumbler in that sense would be like a live experiment on just how interoperable is the block editor. Right? Cause it’s. Fine and easy to say. Yeah. We built it with the intention of being plug and play everywhere. But then like the moment someone actually does it, they’re like, no, this is way too opinionated. There are all these weird WordPress artifacts we just can’t use it. Um, and so, you know, all of us being able to sit, sit on the, on the sidelines and watch as Matt tries to plug and play, um, the block editor into tumblr, that’s, that’s going to be interesting. Right. And you’ll probably lead them to a lot of, to like realizing a lot of the things that they thought were abstract enough were not abstract enough and all of the things. So that’s going to be interesting.
David Bisset: And I don’t want to think of what a Thanos would be doing in this analogy either one last one last thing. And, um, this week, From Dan Daveen goes by coder jerk. That’s his word, not mine. And I’ll put the link in here. And it was, it was, um, it was a little newsworthy. Um, it got a little tension on hacker news, complicated futility of WordPress, and he had an interesting conversation with Matt on Twitter as well.
Matt’s been pretty much very conversational Twitter, and we’ll also include that link as well as WordPress continues to grow with blocks with the full site editing. You think WordPress is trying to be too much to too many people, uh, which is what the article was, was kind of leaning towards, or is it leaving anybody behind from your perspective?
Lesley Sim: I guess the answer is yes, the answer is yes. But in the sense that, so for sure. In any healthy living, thriving community organization, group of people, there are always going to be people coming in and leaving for a million different reasons. And you know, the very reason that has caused someone to leave is probably going to be the same reason why someone decided to come in and say, oh, amazing.
You know, I was going to use Squarespace, but now. Um, what press has finally caught up and has this like whole drag and drop thing. Now we can use WordPress instead. Um, you know, and that could be the exact reason why someone leaves, right? Like, I don’t want to ever do drag and drop. Um, the editing in the block editor, all I want to do is type text.
Um, so I think like just saying is good and button leaving anybody behind, um, like the answer is always going to be yes. And the answer is always going to be but. Um, and so I think it’s important to take kind of a broader approach with those a broader kind of view on those things. Um, so that’s like the very politically correct answer.
Yes. But I think it, it bears saying, because you know, it’s annoying when people just approach it from one
David Bisset: perspective. Do you think newsletter glue could be possible without bots?
Lesley Sim: Uh, it would be very different. Um, it would be. It has to be more simple, I guess. Um, right now you can draw, you can do pretty much any, any template that, um, you can do it.
And email service provider, um, you can do with us. So, you know, that wouldn’t be possible if there were no box, you wouldn’t have to hardcode everything.
David Bisset: So you could say the blocks kind of allowed your, that particular plugin to be as a good experience at, as, as it would be in WordPress, which is a good thing.
Lesley Sim: Yeah, I think so. What is the thing that I find kind of interesting about what he said. How he like resents having to, he seems to want kind of like the simpler times or something like that. Right. Would you, would you agree with
David Bisset: that? I commented on this on Twitter and I said, you know, I, you know, I don’t agree with every, with some of the things that he said, but I kind of get where a lot of people, especially in the last year, I think, I think it started last year when there was, uh, there was, there was discussion a lot around like developers having to learn all these new things in order to build, you know, WordPress themes and all of that. And I think it’s just, we’ve been in this industry so long and WordPress has existed for so long that we start to start to have those good old day feelings, you know, like things were so simpler 10 years ago and it’s not just WordPress either.
There’s like the industry in general. Back in the day, you could write something, push a button, and maybe you had to wait a little while, but you would have a nice static website with movable type, you know, and the, you know, in Gatsby and all those other things are trying to bring those things, you know, trying to bring that back, but it’s just, you cannot get away with now just.
Or very rarely get away with something that’s HTML and CSS anymore. There has to be all this other stuff that you need to have. It, it’s very difficult as a, as a plugin, as a single person to create a successful website or a plug-in anymore, because there’s so much added complexity and you have to interface with this API and so forth.
And I think a lot of people, especially when it comes to WordPress, it’s like, you know, you’re making this more complicated than it needs to be, but at the same time, people want WordPress to be more competitive and more attractive. Yeah, like that attracts more complexity. I mean,
Lesley Sim: yeah. I mean, you can’t have it both ways, right?
If, if an end user wants to use WooCommerce and wants to have 50 different plugins to optimize their a hundred million dollar e-commerce site, I think it would be hard to say, no, let’s go back to the simpler times. Right. Because you know, often these things that. The tools kind of followed the money and they follow the trends.
And if the trends are headed towards complex e-commerce sites are complex membership sites or whatever the case, you know, um, complex LMSs then, um, learning management systems. Um, then that’s. Gets built and that’s where things go. And, um, yeah, I think like it’s one of the nice and not so nice things about working in technology are kind of always at the forefront of things you’re always having to, as a result, learn constantly.
Um, you know, if you don’t want to do that, then go be a librarian, be a sushi chef.
David Bisset: Um, I think there’s always going to be a challenge for any freelancer to have this kind of, um, you know, um, you know, having to put things together, like. Learning curve type of thing. I think WordPress has gotten more complex.
Definitely. If I was to do just a blog, like I asked you before, if I was just, if I, if I wasn’t going to use WordPress because it’s familiar and I, we just wanted to do a blog, maybe I would choose something else. Something else that would be a lot easier. Like one of these smaller CMS is that, or one of those things that run on Google, um, GitHub pages.
Because, you know, I mean, in, in putting aside that it’s not, I’m not owning it, technically it’s on GitHub, but I mean, I was like, yeah, if it’s just a blog and I put it up there and I can get stuff off of it, like I won’t have to pay any hosting. And it’s so simple, I press a button. So, but yeah, that’s, that’s what I would do.
Uh, I don’t think, um, if I was just running a very simple blog with no design, I don’t, I think WordPress is probably those days are far behind it. Um, and I would use WordPress just for familiarity, but that’s not what is going to make WordPress. Continue to grow and mature. And I think some people want to look back on those days and go, I really wish I can just make a simple, this, this simple thing.
And I can’t do it a WordPress anymore. And that’s fine. I use whatever tools that you, that you want to use. Right. Um, but yeah, but WordPress was never going to be something you’d be able to use far much in the future of that. If it just stayed like that, that’s. Two sentences. Yeah. But I always like to share people’s opinions.
Like Dan’s here about, um, you know, the complications of WordPress and, you know, you’re building a website for people and not necessarily a WordPress website, you know? And there was a conversation Post Status Slack this morning about, you know, should you be giving the keys to a client, um, to mess up their own website because you can block blocks now in Gutenberg or something.
But anyway, but I want to thank you very much for sitting down and talking with me this your, your night and my morning.
Lesley Sim: Yeah. Thanks David. Thanks for having me. Uh, I am on Twitter way too much,
David Bisset: lady. Have you seen what I do?
Lesley Sim: I have wished wish that I could meme as well as you. I just like don’t have that spark in me.
I see a bit dead. I just think picture not
David Bisset: stop taking your medication for a few days and it’ll just come right to you. What is your Twitter handle by the way?
Lesley Sim: My Twitter handle is @lesley_pizza, L E S L E Y and .
David Bisset: And w if somebody wanted to check out your plugin or check out something about you, where would they go?
Lesley Sim: Uh, they can go to newsletterglue.com. So newsletterglue.com and they can have a look at what we do and just you, right? Yeah. Re we that you write news that does in the block editor. I
David Bisset: really appreciate what you do and where you’re sharing your opinions, especially in Post Status slack. So, uh, look forward to seeing you there.
Lesley Sim: Okay.