WordPress 3.3 Media Uploader – Developer Indulgence at the expense of Reliability

I upgraded my personal blog to WordPress 3.3 shortly after it came out. The automatic upgrade still doesn’t work (in both of my attempts)… it almost gets the job done but then leaves the website in Maintenance Mode – showing an error message (that will never go away on its own) instead of my blog (which will never come back on its own). It seems that all I had to do was delete the .maintenance file and the upgrade looked to be complete and working.

But the issue I want to address in this post is a wonderful example of what I consider to be misdirected decision making when UI decisions are in the hands of developers. WordPress 3.3 introduced a new media-upload interface. When you click on the new consolidated media upload button (there is now one where there used to be four – which is actually an excellent improvement) a new drag and drop surface onto which files can be dropped is displayed.

If you read about this feature inside the WordPress community then it will be hailed as a “cool” feature … and to developers or technically oriented users sitting in front of two screens it may be. However if you think about most users this “cool” feature is actually an obstacle.

For many (if not most) non-tech people “mouse drag & drop” is not an intuitive interaction – it is in a different league of difficulty compared to the simple “mouse click”. It is also fairly complicated to use when it involves more then one application window – which is why most people can drag & drop while playing solitaire but not much more.

I believe (no numbers or research to back this up so do with it what you will) that most people work with their browsers in either full screen or almost full screen mode (the latter mostly because they don’t know where to click ┬áto get to full screen). Therefore the chance that they will have a screen containing a file browser and web browser side by side is very very slim. This means that for a lot of (if not most) people this will be a useless feature. Correction, it will be a distracting feature – standing in the way of something they already know, something they will have to figure out, something they will have to skip, EVERY time they want to upload media on their way back to the straightforward interface of “click & select”.

I am not one of those people. I am somewhere in the middle, I use drag and drop, I understand new interfaces fairly quickly. I work on one screen and my browser is full screen and I don’t expect to benefit from this feature. However this is not the end of the story – it isn’t just about what I like or like. There are further consequences in the two websites where I have upgraded to 3.3:

  • In one site media uploading is dead – nothing works, neither the old nor the new. Since I upgraded I’ve been unable to upload images. I’ve gone over all the support suggestions I could find in the WordPress community and nothing helps. My personal support request, beyond an initial well intentioned response is hanging in the air silently and uselessly.
  • In the other site the new drag & drop interface made a short appearance and I haven’t seen it again. Fortunately the older interface is still there and does work so I can still upload and publish images.

From searching the web I know that this feature has had other disturbing ripples, some of which have been solved.

I am confident that the WordPress developers in charge of this feature are proud of it as are their other colleague developers – I understand them, really, I’ve been in their shoes. But the introduction of this feature is a mistake – it sacrifices simplicity and core stability (uploading media is a very basic function) for a whim that very few people will benefit from.

How about getting that upgrade process to work instead of complicating things that already work?

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