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Why last night’s surprise announcement of WordPress 5.0 was a concerning decision by Matt Mullenweg

Last night around 8:30pm, Matt Mullenweg posted to WordPress’ Make blog that WordPress 5.0 would be released December 6, just two days from now.

The decision contradicts earlier guidance issued by release lead Gary Pendergast, an Automattic employee. In an October blog post, Pendergast proposed a November 19 release date, with an additional caveat:

We know there is a chance that 5.0 will need additional time, so these dates can slip by up to 8 days if needed. If additional time beyond that is required, we will instead aim for the following dates:

Secondary RC 1: January 8, 2019
Secondary Release: January 22, 2019

Pendergast confirmed on Slack that the intent was to avoid shipping during the holiday season.

The current release date is November 19, but it can be pushed as late as November 27 if needed. To avoid the numerous holidays from the end of November through to January, we’ll move the release to January if more time is needed.

Based on this, last night’s announcement seems totally out of left field.

But a close reading of Matt Mullenweg’s Slack message over the past few weeks suggests that he was well aware that his plan differed from publicly available guidance. We didn’t know exactly what that would mean until last night though.

In response to a November 28th question from Ben Keith about the apparent change of plans, Matt had demurred, saying simply that the earlier plan of avoiding December, “was based on the best information available at that time.” It is not clear what information changed regarding Pendergast’s avowed intent of avoiding the holiday season. If anything, it seems that Matt’s opinion changed, with him becoming more comfortable about the idea of a December release.

In that November 28 chat, Matt expressed frustration with having to listen to feedback in public, instead preferring private video chats.

these discussions are extremely hard to have in this forum because people bring lots of different personal, company, even vacation-related issues

we aren’t deciding release dates for WP based on what a few dozen people in a Slack channel complain the loudest about

Matt Mullenweg in Slack

That November 28 conversation marks the last time that a release date was meaningfully discussed in the #core channel.

Many expect that the release is meant to be done in time for WordCamp US, taking place this weekend in Nashville. Travel and other obligations related to WordCamp US are another major complicating factor that ecosystem companies have faced in preparing for the release.

As Yoast SEO founder Joost de Valk explained in Slack this morning,

Well my main reason for being annoyed is the fact that we’re proving our official announcements have no merit. If we weren’t planning on doing January, why’d we say so? If we said we’d skip December, why don’t we? My main concerns are about disrespect for the community. Not even readiness.

As Daniel Bachhuber responded to Joost in regards to the disrespect for the community,

I think a lot of community trust has been lost in the last few weeks. I don’t know what the longer-term ramifications are.

WebDevStudios head Brad Williams offered his own take

WordPress has been built on respect for its users and backwards compatibility for many years. Rushed and clandestine decision-making contravenes those values.

In addition to legitimate resource allocation issues, there also remain significant accessibility gaps with Gutenberg. As developer Luke Pettway commented on the blog post,

If something isn’t accessible it isn’t innovative.

The WordPress community deserved a formal opportunity to provide input once more on a release decision based on the current state of the software, and it deserved more than a couple days of leeway to the biggest WordPress release since 3.0.

I am extremely excited for Gutenberg but I wish deeply that it’s launch were being handled with greater empathy and care.

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