Configuration paralysis

I made a mistake last night helping set up a WordPress blog for my wife (and shamelessly, I’m offering up a link to it). Since this is the first time she’s used WordPress, after getting the domain and installing the software, I sat down with her to go through the configuration options. General settings, easy. Commenting settings, easy. Permalink settings, easy (gotta keep those URIs cool). Then we moved on to picking a theme.


As of this writing, WordPress has over 1,300 themes. Two-column? Three-column? Graphics-heavy? Light? Take your pick. Furthermore, many themes have configuration options of their own.

We quickly realized that she could easily have spent the next few hours, or days even, agonizing over picking the right theme, then tweaking it until it was just perfect. But even after all that, how could she be sure she had got it right? Design decisions are always at least a bit uncertain.

But for most people, the point of blogs isn’t the design, it’s the writing. Time spent tweaking the theme is time not spent using the software for its customary purpose, posting. And especially for a first-time blogger, you can’t really know if you want a particular widget or plugin until you’ve spent some time in the trenches. Consequently, we backed off, stuck with the default WordPress theme, and my wife started writing. The only change we made to the appearance was replacing the header graphic.

There are no doubt some people whose optimal learning style is to go through all of the configuration options first. However, I suspect is far more common for people to learning software effectively by using it. Show too many options up front, and you risk paralyzing their decision-making.

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