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In the article, WordPress: A content management system to democratize publishing. IEEE Software it is clear to see that the author is a fan of WordPress.  Cabot discusses how the software dominates the industry with up to 29% of all websites using WordPress (Cabot, 2018).  He discusses how the WordPress foundation was started to support and promote the use of the freeware and how the goal of the WordPress founder is to democratize access to website creation.  He proudly shares that WordPress can now even be used to create apps.

Cabot writes enthusiastically about how WordPress is about functionality and not language or size of a website.  I found it ironic how often I had to check the acronyms used by an author writing about making technology accessible.

Up until very recently WordPress had a philosophy of “make new friends but keep the old” as it relates to technology.  They have very graciously allowed people to keep using what they know and are comfortable with.  The Gutenberg option which they have invested a lot of time in will force users to re-write and make changes if they choose to use this major adaptation.

WordPress has allowed people to monetize their freeware in unprecedented ways.  The software has a community of users that can test, sell, and provide needed feedback on additions to the software.  WordPress is not just democratizing their product; they are capitalizing it and by using their community to preform much needed testing and hiring the best of those people they are also a meritocracy. 

WordPress is at the top of the heap in website design, and they intend to stay there.  Other companies try and chip off specialized pieces of their capabilities and they are banking on Gutenberg to prevent that from happening.  Unfortunately, they may lose some long-standing users in this push to stay competitive. 

Cabot speaks of WordPress in glowing terms and makes it sound less like an enterprise than a social movement.  He concludes by saying that he is surprised more research hasn’t been done on the software.  I am surprised as well.  Coming from a social science perspective, I am surprised more research hasn’t been done on the community of users and the hierarchy of the company.  WordPress has created an online environment with a wide range of uses and users and are they shaping WordPress or is WordPress shaping them?

In article two, Styling the self online: Semiotic technologization in weblog publishing. Social Semiotics Adami looks at this very question.  She begins by saying we are able to design our own web personas with allegedly endless options when in reality we have limited choices (Adami, 2018). 

The author notes that tastes change, and we are in an era where language is being technologized.  We are being told that trends rise spontaneously from the ground up when in reality they are the result of broad social dynamic we could be totally unaware of.

In her study Adami is looking at discourses, practices, and products available through WordPress.  WordPress is presenting itself as an entity created by the people for the people and yet there are rules and roles most users are not aware of. The meritocracy that Cabot speaks of actually is a conformity award.  People that conform the most to WordPress stated ideals are rewarded for that conformity.

Adami pointed out something I would never have noticed on my own – the absence of opposites. For every clean – there is no messy.  The choices being offered by WordPress are creating taste.  This is templatization of semiotic production does democratize self-expression while at the same time standardizing it.  It is very similar to a cook being told you can make whatever you want to eat – but only with the approved ingredients.

Not all WordPress community members are satisfied with these constraints and certainly not all are even aware they are being constrained.  Voluntary conformity in the name of professionalism is still conformity and limits self-expression.  Some users will profit from this conformity, and some will profit from flouting the rules.

Adami used much more accessible language than Cabot did and that feels very informative about their philosophies.  Adami is suggesting that there is some hidden agenda in the inner workings of WordPress where users are being herded into acceptable buckets of self-expression and Cabot seems to think that WordPress is a wide-open resource that must be protected. 

I actually think both authors are saying things of merit.  Cabot is encouraging the support of WordPress as an important societal tool.  He is right, it is important for people to be able to express themselves online.  Adami is saying we need to be careful with WordPress as an arbitrator of taste.  She is right too. 

My thought is that the non-conformist need to have a run at WordPress.  They need to provide the opposites that Adami points out are missing.  Consumers and producers of websites need to fight the algorithm that only shows us content we agree with in ways we find appealing.  Living in a world where you are not challenged, are not required to deal with being uncomfortable or to carve out your own spot is a terrible fate.

These articles are looking at the affordances WordPress offers and how they can guide, develop and provide access to the world.  Cabot thinks WordPress is a democratic, capitalistic, meritocracy and Adami thinks it could be a covert taste maker that is informing the world via its platform about what is and is not desirable.  For me the bigger issue and the related issue is not just how messages are being packaged and presented but how choices are being limited through our desire for pretty packaging we agree with.

My experience thus far with WordPress is that it is not as accessible to the techno novice as Cabot would like you to think.  Adami has me giving serious thought to every choice I make and what those options and choices are saying about me as a content producer. Bottom line, WordPress is a tool and will only be as good or as bad as those using it.

After reading these two articles I searched out commentary on the role of algorithms in social media. Per the Richardson-Golinski et al, 2020 each of us have a role in regulating social media and that is true of all of social media. If we want choices, we have to choose something different often enough for it to remain an option to do so.

References:

Adami, E. (2018). Styling the self online: Semiotic technologization in weblog publishing. Social Semiotics, 28(5), 601–622. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2018.1504713

Cabot, J. (2018). WordPress: A content management system to democratize publishing. IEEE Software, 35(3), 89–92. https://doi.org/10.1109/ms.2018.2141016

Richardson-Golinski, T., Harshfield, A., & Deshpande, A. (2020, February 7). Our actions determine what we read and see online. algorithms are only a part of that process. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/02/our-actions-determine-what-we-read-and-see-online-algorithms.html

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