Back in the WordPress MU and the recent WordPress Multisite 3.0.x days, we had something called a ‘Dashboard Blog.’ This was the ‘main’ site of your install, and ostensibly was the default blog to sign users up to and control them from. This was also where you, the admin, had the Super Admin menu. So what were those things for and why were they moved? After all, a lot of people will tell you they worked just fine.
The simplest answer is that it’s considered good design to separate the ‘user’ interface from the ‘admin’ interface. That’s why, when a regular user with the lowest role possible logs in to a regular (non-MultiSite) WordPress install, they see a very limited site. They see a dashboard, their profile, and that’s it. You want to keep the subscribers out of your meat and potatoes. Pursuant to that, there are plugins like WP Hide Dashboard that kick users to just their profile. I love that plugin, because it hides the man behind the curtain. If the Dashboard of WordPress is not a part of your desired experience (and really, it only is for the people who run the site), then you keep Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion out, Ruby Slippers or not.
When WordPress 3.0 came out, it was a bit of a chimera. We’ve got all sorts of weird parts where we call things blogs instead of sites, and from the back end, it’s really confusing. The sad thing is we cannot declare fiat, fix it all, and move on, because that would break backwards compatibility. Did you know WordPress is backwards compatible, nearly all the way to the start of WordPress 1? (17 Reasons WordPress is a Better CMS than Drupal – Mike Schinkel, Dec 1st, 2010) In order to be able to upgrade from WordPress MU (which was a fork – i.e. a totally separate version – of WordPress), the fold-in of MU to regular WordPress was a lot of work and duplication. There are some things I’m sure the devs would have chosen to do differently in a perfect world, but they decided the headache for them was worth it because it was beneficial to the users. For that alone, I laud them and owe them beers and coffee.
One of the many drawbacks of that mentality is the users are very much used to getting what they ‘want.’ The users think ‘This worked before, it will always work, therefore, it’s cool to do it now.’ Take (not for random example) the issue with the
/blog/ folder in the main site of any subfolder install. (Switching to WordPress MultiSite Breaks Links – Mika Epstein, 14 July, 2010) Back in the 3.0 days, we had a work-around to fix this, but that was a ‘bug.’ We were all taking advantage of a flaw in the system, and that flaw was plugged (mostly) in 3.1. Of course, fixing the flaw meant breaking things, and those people who were not up to speed on the dev channels (which in this instance included me) went ‘Hey, what the hell!?’ We were angry, we were upset, and then Ron told me that it was bug and I stepped down.
A lot of people are still annoyed by this, and while there is still a buggy workaround, it’s not something I would generally suggest be used for my clients (myself, yes). Then again, the original tweak wasn’t something I considered using for clients, since I was always aware that WordPress’s stated intent was to make that
/blog/ slug customizable. And I hope they do.
What does this have to do with the new dashboards? It’s another change WordPress implemented to ‘fix’ things people didn’t see as broken. The people are wrong.
Now don’t get all het up, thinking I’m drinking the WordPress Kool-Aid. There’s a vast difference between being ‘WordPress is always right, WordPress can do no wrong’ and the acceptance that what WordPress did was for a good, understandable, reason. In software development, I’ve learned to distance myself from the all too personal feelings of investment in my product. Many times, the product needs to be designed in a certain way to work better for the majority of people, and many times, I am not that person. Look at JetPack. This is a fantastic plugin for people moving off WordPress.com and onto self-hosted WordPress. It has absolutely no meaning to me, and I won’t be using it. But it’s great for the target audience. I accept that I am not that audience, and I look at the product with as unbiased an eye as is possible.
I have to look at the Network Admin and User Dashboard the same way.
The Network Admin was moved from a Super-Admin sidebar menu to it’s own section, in order to provide a clearer delineation between Site Admin (in charge of one site) and the Network Admin (in charge of all sites). (Network Admin – Trac Ticket) (Network Admin – WordPress MustUse Tutorials, October 21, 2010) This is a basic, normal, every-day bit of separation in my everyday life. For one app I use, I even have a totally separate ‘Admin App’ to use when I want to control the whole network, versus just one part of it. It’s done for security, but also to kick our brains over and go ‘Hey, moron, you’re in the Network admin section!’ Our brains need that kick, and it lessens the human errors. In doing this, we also found the plugin management was separate. Per-site admins saw the non network-activated plugins only. The Network Admin had to go to the Network Admin section to see the network-activated plugins and the must-use plugins, though many plugins needed to be recoded to handle this move. (Adding a menu to the new network admin – WordPress Must Use Tutorials, November 30, 2010) While this is annoying and takes a little time to get used to, this is good, sound UI/UX. It’s called “Separate of Duties” in the buzzwords game, and it’s really a blessing.
Once they moved the Network Admin, the devs took a shot at getting rid of the Dashboard Blog. (Personal Dashboard – trac ticket) Once you moved the super users off to their own network, there’s no need to sign-up users to a main blog. I assume this was originally done becuase you had to hook them in somewhere with 3.0, to make them be a ‘user.’ Well, now WordPress.org Multisite now behaves like WordPress.com. You sign up for a blog but unless you get assigned a role to the blog, you’re not a ‘member’ of the blog. And you know… that’s sensible. You have no real role as a psudeo-subscriber. Nor do you need on.
As I pointed out, part of the goal with moving the menus to Network Admin is that the whole ‘Dashboard Blog’ concept was a massive annoyance to everyone code-wise and UI wise. Having to say “Oh yeah, the main site is the master site and it’s where I control the universe” is logistically unsound. Much like you cannot in-line edit posts, you should not be mixing up Admin and User areas. So to further that separation, your users are not assigned to any site when they register. I find I need to repeat, a lot, that in most cases, this has no effect on usability. It doesn’t affect my BuddyPress site at all, because the users are the users. They just don’t have blog access. They can comment, which is all they need to do for me, and they’re happy. If they need to make posts, I can add them if I want to. But now I have security, knowing they can’t accidentally get in and poke around.
Like it or not, it’s not going away. And most of us won’t need it to come back. I do know that some people do need it, and are struggling to find a way to auto-assign users a role on their main site at ID creation, so if you know of a fix for 3.1, please share it!