My Future with Oxygen

TL;DR - Soflyy, the parent company of Oxygen, released a second builder called Breakdance that is supposed to appeal to less technical WP users and compete alongside Elementor. Tons of the features and improvements the Oxygen community has wanted for years are present in the Breakdance alpha. At face value, it feels like the rewrite that everyone wanted for years that is now packaged up in an entirely new product.

The resulting outcry from the Oxygen community has been massive. This post is to explore how I feel and what comes next for myself and my agency.

Oxygen Has Worn Me Down

The level of secrecy and lack of general transparency of the Oxygen team has worn me down.
This began long before the announcement of Breakdance Builder. I started to wonder things like “Is Oxygen the end all be all?” and “What other builders have I been overlooking?”

I’ve grown tired of no roadmap, no transparency, no sense of whether the feature requests that are actually upvoted will get developed, and no ability to speak candidly with the dev team. Any questions are either ignored or get the standard “we don’t answer this/upvote it on github/nobody knows.”

I attended WordCamp Europe 2022, had a fantastic time, and learned a lot. Of course it’s a Gutenberg indoctrination event, but I have to admit that GB and its potential has grown on me. I feel that GB is no longer something I can afford to ignore.

Yes, I said it. How you feel about Gutenberg is almost more controversial than this Breakdance launch. It’s no secret that GB is not there yet. It’s way further behind than any other builder and it’s extremely controversial to say you like it, but it would be stupid to be entirely dismissive of it.

I’m not ready to go all in on anything else just yet. I did that with Oxygen and the nagging feeling of uncertainty over the last 48 hours is making me carefully analyze every detail of this launch, my business, the people involved, and what builder (or lack thereof) comes next.

All of this is to say that I’ve been quietly looking at Bricks, Gutenberg, and others for the past few months and the Breakdance launch has me thinking more on that. My general lack of YouTube content over the recent months can be attributed primarily to a disillusionment with Oxygen’s game breaking issues for myself and my agency like the builder slowdown in 3.9, the inability to have multiple tabs or user sessions at once, features that should be core staples that instead rely on 3rd party addons, among many other things.

But It’s For Developers!!!

It’s extremely frustrating and disheartening in retrospect the way that Oxygen has devolved into this unwelcoming developer-only beast, and that trend is to continue and even be exacerbated now with Breakdance on the market.

You can try to argue it’s always been developer focused and while that’s true to some degree, I can guarantee there are countless people (myself included) that came to Oxygen having never properly coded anything. Sure, I built plenty of websites before, but Oxygen forced me to learn HTML and CSS, it forced me to get better and do things properly, and that was exciting and fun.

Not only that, but the #1 review published on the Oxygen Builder site word for word starts with “As a non-coder….”. The 3rd review on the site says “...enables you to surpass every limit a non-coder has…”

Only for developers, am I right?

This makes the argument that Oxygen’s market is hard-core, “insane” developers and Breakdance is for a non-technical, Elementor-like market even tougher to believe.

I have strongly advocated for Oxygen for years now and knew there was nothing like it. It has tons of faults and annoying ass bugs, but I dealt with it because the upshot for my agency work and for anyone who used it was so massive, I was willing to deal with the tradeoffs.

Oxygen empowered me to utilize things I would’ve never dreamed of like conditions, dynamic data, custom post loops, custom functions, Advanced Custom Fields, classes, and so much more. Every single one of these features is present in Breakdance, albeit slightly stripped down.

The Backwards Compatibility Problem

I get it. Oxygen already did the forget-backwards-compability thing from version 1.x to 2.0. The user base was smaller, so there was no audible outcry. The product leap was so compelling I literally rebuilt client sites at no cost to them because it was so much easier for me to maintain.

As I already said, I didn’t start as a real developer. I’ve worked my way backwards via Oxygen. When flexbox came out in Oxygen, it was the most empowering moment of my webdev life. I was so fired up, I didn’t care that there were old sites that couldn’t be migrated. I just started new sites in 2.0 and left the sites that didn’t need it alone.

Louis said in the livestream I did with him that tons of people complained back then, even despite the tiny user base at that time. But you know what? The exact same thing was done then that was done now.

There was no polling the users, no announcement, no insight into what was happening. Development went quiet for 10 months (April 2017 to Feb 2018).

Then suddenly an email announcing 2.0.

Prior to 2.0, there was no Oxygen community, there was no Permaslug, there were no advocates for Oxygen at that time.

Breakdance was also developed in total secrecy. Louis dropped a hint some time ago that he was working on a new product, but I thought “Surely, SURELY it can’t be another builder.” And here we are.

The difference between the update to 2.0 and now is that there are countless advocates for Oxygen that would have staunchly defended a rewrite to Oxygen that was not backwards compatible, and likely would’ve defended a pricing model change.

It Could’ve Been Different

The team should’ve come out and fallen on their sword. They should’ve said the LTD is over (it’s literally said limited time offer since the beginning) and the newest version of Oxygen will fork, it will have X, Y, and Z, but it won’t be compatible with older versions. Your existing Oxygen will continue to receive security updates and bug fixes.

You know what would’ve also helped? Some degree of transparency. Had there been even a discussion thread or poll of the Oxygen group asking how you’d feel in X and Y scenario, we’d have had a chance to express these concerns, show our willingness for the proposed scenarios, and actually have the team hear our thoughts. But instead, Breakdance was developed in total secrecy and the fallout we’ve all seen is what we’re left with.

Of course there would be an uproar in this supposed poll as well, but there is absolutely no universe in which it would’ve been as poorly received as the Breakdance announcement. People not even involved in Oxygen are messaging me asking WTF is going on.

I would have made a video on day one of this hypothetical pipe dream scenario with excitement and conviction telling people this is such a huge leap forward for all of us that it’s worth dealing with. Just like how I’ve stuck by Oxygen all this time despite the many annoyances over the years. I know many others who would’ve come to Oxygen’s defense as well.

Louis started developing this product 3 years ago. Imagine if there was 3 years spent on a rewrite of Oxygen. It could’ve had a free and pro version just like Elementor and been a hybrid baby of Oxygen and Breakdance. No more LTD woes, Soflyy gets their annual subs.

“Oh but what about all the existing LTD holders, they shouldn’t have to pay!”

That doesn’t actually make any difference because Oxygen users already get a year free of Breakdance and then you pay just like everyone else. Either you pay or you get left behind! That’s what it comes down to in either scenario, hypothetical or real life.

What do you do? I know I pony up the money and pay. Fuck LTDs.

Instead, there’s a brand new builder that’s 90% the same as Oxygen with new, silly branding and a tarnished reputation from day one that has left me much to ponder.

It Can No Longer Be Just Oxygen

One of Louis’ primary problems with the lack of transparency and roadmap in Oxygen is that it’s an LTD so there cannot be visibility into what is happening. Clearly the product has undersold and the driving force here for the existence of Breakdance is tapping into a far larger cash cow.

The side effect of this for people like myself is that I (perhaps very foolishly in retrospect) went all in on Oxygen. I took my agency in an entirely Oxygen focused direction, which was a great differentiator for us, to be fair. I created a course that sold very well. My entire YouTube channel was dedicated to Oxygen.

And now I feel it would be foolish of me to continue down that path. How do I know Breakdance is here to stay? How long does Oxygen actually continue to exist for? How can I possibly trust the words from the Soflyy team when there’s never been any visibility behind the curtain.

Some people assume because I am the largest Oxygen creator that I have some special access to know what’s going on.

Nope.

Not ever have I known or seen what’s coming before you do. I don’t want some special privilege just because I have some number on a screen others don’t. But what I do want is the ability to know that my belief and faith in an ecosystem like Oxygen is a sound one and it no longer feels that way.

Do I think Oxygen is going to die overnight? No, but I do believe that in the not-so-distant future it will suffer. Louis said Oxygen is at 80% of its capability and won’t be rewritten. So it’s just going to stagnate and die out? That’s not where I want to be left standing.

As much as Louis and the Soflyy team say that Oxygen won’t stop development and won’t be affected by Breakdance, how can I possibly know that? How can I safely bet my entire livelihood on a product that was essentially already deprecated by its founder 3 years ago in total secrecy?

It’s just so easy to envision a scenario in which the Breakdance product is doing far better financially and Oxygen is struggling along. This presents a huge burden on the Soflyy team to keep developing and supporting a product that isn’t making money.

So what’s the logical next step from a business perspective? Keep forcing it? Pump money into Oxygen from a different product? No, it’s to focus all resources and bring the talented team members working on Oxygen into BD. Sunset Oxygen and provide critical updates only. One builder that makes far more money, problem solved.

The “Differences” Between Oxygen and Breakdance

To me, Breakdance is a beautifully rewritten, simplified version of Oxygen because people would riot if it looked and behaved too similarly to Oxygen. It’s easy to take the “they’re two totally separate products” argument at face value, but when you dig deeper it’s so painfully obvious it was stripped down to avoid overlap. If it looks like a duck…

I think it’s worth it for you to pull up the Oxygen vs Breakdance video Louis posted and go through each portion of the video, pause, and explore it in Breakdance.

Classes for instance - Louis says Breakdance isn’t a class based workflow. That’s true, but classes are there in 2 additional clicks and can even be styled with all the controls you’d expect for not writing any CSS yourself. Breakdance even has a right click dialog to copy, paste, & paste styles! Uggh.

Less obfuscation: This is actually a detriment to Breakdance because every builder names their styling properties a little differently and with their own flare, which makes understanding what you’ve done extremely difficult, especially when searching for help online.

Oxygen’s way is the way that every other builder should be. No screwing around with styling controls that have some fancy naming by a UX design or marketing team. Make it the proper CSS control and move on. There is simply no better way.

As I’ve already said, I knew literally zero CSS when coming to Oxygen and it took me way longer than I care to admit that Oxygen was quite literally teaching me CSS and HTML. Once I realized that, it was immensely empowering to explore more CSS and try to push myself. I could actually google exactly what I needed or look at Chrome inspect to make sure the changes I wanted actually showed up. Did it matter that I didn't know CSS? Not even slightly.

No Repeater - If Easy Posts and Repeater had a baby, then what you get is the element called Posts List in Breakdance. It’s one “Advanced” tick box away from being an amazing Repeater in Oxygen. Almost everything you’d want is there. Yes, there are obvious limitations, but it was designed this way from the outset.

I could keep going, but surely you get the point. Nearly every stated “difference” is just a simplified or stripped down version of Oxygen, but done better.

It’s incredibly frustrating to see how well done some of this stuff is. If that same level of care and attention was given to an Oxygen rewrite, we’d be in a different WP stratosphere.

What’s Next?

The way this whole debacle has gone down has eroded my trust in Oxygen, which is a crying damn shame. I love Oxygen and, as you know, I’ve advocated for it so strongly for many years.

Apparently though that advocacy has had no real impact on Oxygen, so I won’t keep wasting my time.

I’ve benefited massively from my Oxygen content. I’ve made good money, but more importantly met some incredible people. The friends that Oxygen enabled me to create will last with me forever and that, luckily, doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

Is it time for me to abandon ship? No, I have a plethora of client and personal sites that are on Oxygen and will likely stay there, but it will most certainly not be my bread and butter anymore.

The grass is very green in the WordPress builder space and I’m very excited to explore it. A lot of my tunnel vision with Oxygen has been lifted and that’s incredibly exciting. New types of content and learning are for sure in my future.

So if nothing else, thanks to Louis and Breakdance for allowing me to see things in a new light.

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Jonathan Jernigan, Founder
Permaslug and APEX Web Solutions

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