23 Jun 2017

feedWordPress Planet

WPTavern: WordPress 4.9 to Focus on Managing Plugins and Themes, Gutenberg Targeted for 5.0

photo credit: Oli Dale

Matt Mullenweg, the overall product lead for core releases in 2017, has published an overview for what users can expect in WordPress versions 4.9 and 5.0. After the success of 4.8 and the initial release of Gutenberg last week, Mullenweg is aiming to see the plugin installed on 100K+ sites during the next few months before merging it into core. He also suggested that WordPress could put a promo for the plugin in the upcoming 4.8.1 release.

"In the meantime I think we can do another user-focused 4.9 release with the theme of editing code and managing plugins and themes, doing v2s and polishing some features we brought into WP last year," Mullenweg said. "Weston and Mel already have some good ideas there, and we can start to discuss and brainstorm at the Dev chat next week. This will also allow the Gutenberg-driven release to be 5.0, which is a nice-to-have but not the primary driver of this decision."

Mullenweg elaborated on changes to the release process in a post on his personal blog. The original idea was for releases to be driven by improvements to the three focus areas (the editor, customizer, and REST API), but the radical changes that Gutenberg introduces to the editing experience means that customization improvements will need to wait until the editor is a little further along:

Mel and Weston took this as an opportunity to think about not just the "Customizer", which is a screen and code base within WP, but really thinking in a user-centric way about what it means to customize a site and they identified a number of low-hanging fruits, areas like widgets where we could have a big user impact with relatively little effort.

WordPress is littered with little inconsistencies and gaps in the user experience that aren't hard to fix, but are hard to notice the 500th time you're looking at a screen.

I didn't think we'd be able to sustain the effort on the editor and still do a meaningful user release in the meantime, but we did, and I think we can do it again.

During this week's core development meeting, contributors brainstormed more specific items for inclusion in 4.9. The ability to schedule customizer changesets is one feature they discussed as a possibility. Customizer component co-maintainer Weston Ruter described the feature as "adding statuses for changesets: being able to draft a changeset to come back to later, and then to be able to schedule it to go live."

The Customize Snapshots feature plugin contains the UI for this and Customize Changesets, the term for the underlying infrastructure required for saving a Customizer session as a draft, was added in WordPress 4.7. Adding the UI in WordPress 4.9 would allow users to share Customizer sessions, preview them outside of the iframe, and schedule them to publish at a future date.

Andrew Roberts, a contributor to TinyMCE, said they should have a new mobile-optimized UX, which would result in a responsive toolbar, that could land within the proposed 4.9 timeframe.

"I would wonder if we couldn't tweak the UI to be closer to Gutenberg (e.g. white toolbars)," Roberts said. "I had raised this idea before and it was thought it was better to wait until Gutenberg, but I remain of the opinion we could iterate a little bit closer to get users used to it."

Contributors also discussed the possibility of changing the default font in the editor to ease the transition to Gutenberg in the future. Currently, Gutenberg uses system fonts for UI and Noto Serif for the editor text.

Mel Choyce, who is heading the Customizer focus with Weston Ruter, said she hopes the team can finish the Gallery Widget for 4.9. Current progress on the widget can be found on GitHub.

WordPress 4.8.1 is tentatively planned for the last week in July, and contributors anticipate including a fix for some issues with the new Text Widget stripping out code.

23 Jun 2017 9:57pm GMT

22 Jun 2017

feedWordPress Planet

WPTavern: WordPress’ New Gutenberg Editor Now Available as a Plugin for Testing

One of the featured sessions at WordCamp Europe 2017 was Om Malik's interview with Matt Mullenweg, followed by a 20-minute Q&A from the audience. After showing a preview of the new Gutenberg editor with dynamic blocks replacing widgets, Mullenweg announced that it is now available as a plugin on WordPress.org.

Gutenberg has been in development for six months and is ready for testing, but its developers do not recommend using it on production sites. Anyone interested in the future of WordPress will want to take it for a test drive, as the new editor will revolutionize the way users think about creating and editing content. The demo video at WordCamp Europe also showed Gutenberg working smoothly in a mobile context.

At first glance, it may appear that WordPress is trying to copy its more recent competitors (Medium, Wix, and others) to keep pace, but the 14-year-old software has offered many of these content capabilities for years. Mullenweg explained how the new editor simply unifies the UI into blocks that can be placed anywhere. Gutenberg is set to replace widgets, the HTML UI of shortcodes, and blocks previously offered through the TinyMCE toolbar.

"We've taken stabs at this before, if you imagine our previous efforts with post formats - to make it easier to do certain types of media or quote posts or things like that," Mullenweg said. "That whole concept can now flatten to just being a block. Working all that in, it's bringing things we've been thinking about for a very long time in WordPress."

If you've ever sat down with a new user to introduce them to WordPress, then you probably answered a long list of painful questions regarding the many varied and confusing ways of creating content. Gutenberg has the potential to make WordPress much easier to use.

"Right now WordPress makes you learn a lot of concepts - shortcodes, widgets, the stuff that exists inside TinyMCE as blocks today - and people rightly wonder why they can't use those things everywhere," Mullenweg said. "What we're trying to do is shift it so that you only have to learn about blocks once and once you learn about the image block, that can be in a post, in a sidebar, in a page, in a custom post type, and it will work exactly the same way. Whatever is integrated with it, let's say a plugin that brings in your Google Photos or your Dropbox, that will now work everywhere, too."

Mullenweg said his previous attempt at replacing TinyMCE lasted approximately two years and they never ended up shipping it. Getting Gutenberg off the ground at this time allows WordPress to take the best of what competitors in both open source and commercial spaces have been doing, and improve upon it.

"Medium started five or six years ago," Mullenweg said. "Browser technology, what you can do, has advanced quite a bit. I think this actually allows us to leapfrog past some of the really great visual editors, because we're able to build on the shoulders of things like Medium, Wix, Squarespace, and others that have come before us."

Gutenberg First Impressions and Concerns

The Gutenberg plugin is now active on more than 300 sites and first impressions are rolling in. This is the first time the new block editor has been easily accessible to any user who wants to try it. Gutenberg also offers a somewhat unique testing experience in that it creates its own menu inside WordPress, so users don't have to choose between the old editor and the new one. Activating Gutenberg doesn't make it an either/or experience and users can test at their own convenience.

From my initial testing, I found that Gutenberg provides a clean and enjoyable experience. Up until this point many of us couldn't fully anticipate what Gutenberg would look like, but the interface is very similar to what one might imagine for an improved "distraction-free writing experience." Gutenberg provides a more minimal UI for both the visual and text editors, although inserting blocks seems to be less functional when using the text editor.

There are still many bugs and rough edges, but this interface appears to be a natural evolution of WordPress' content editing experience. It feels like WordPress. The editor pulls in many of the elements that have worked well historically and introduces a minimal UI that makes it possible for anyone to build a beautiful, feature-rich post without knowing any HTML. Gutenberg is the most exciting thing to happen to WordPress in a long time.

"The default state is likely my favorite 'Distraction Free Writing' implementation in WordPress yet," WordPress core committer Aaron Jorbin said in a post listing his initial observations. I'm simultaneously able to focus on my content, and yet I have all the tools I need for writing. I don't have all the tools I need for content creation."

Matt Cromwell, co-author of GiveWP, also wrote up his first impressions of Gutenberg with high compliments for the new writing experience.

"In recent years we've seen Medium become the de facto elegant writing experience," Cromwell said. "Medium is able to do that though by limiting the formatting and layout options dramatically. Gutenberg has the potential to allow writing to be as elegant as Medium or more so, plus deliver far more flexibility with layouts and content types."

One area of uncertainty for WordPress developers is how Gutenberg will handle support for plugins and maintain a high level of performance with a large number of custom blocks added.

I'll try again when it has support for plugins. I can't see this landing in core if it doesn't work with plugins.

- Josh Pollock (@Josh412) June 22, 2017

It *should* store the block data as JSON (or serialized object, IDC) into postmeta, but instead it uses regexp to parse HTML and queries DB.

- Christian Nikkanen (@k1sul1) June 22, 2017

"I miss a lot of the meta boxes I'm used to seeing on the screen," Aaron Jorbin said. "Things like Yoast SEO (on some sites) and custom taxonomies are just not shown. If every metabox ever made for WordPress needs to be remade, it sure is going to make developers' lives a living hell."

Matt Cromwell also detailed a nightmare scenario of having more custom blocks than the current UI can handle.

"What happens when you have 25 plugins that all want to load 25 custom blocks into that tiny 'Insert' dropdown?" Cromwell said. "Will there be a search? Or will it just scroll forever?"

Mullenweg specifically addressed some of these concerns in his Q&A session at WordCamp Europe.

"A lot of people have a lot of things built into the edit screen, so part of the reason we're putting it out there as a plugin first and also pushing it so hard to get as many people to install it as possible, is so that everyone who has posting and editing screen adjustments can rethink them to be beautiful within this new framework," Mullenweg said.

Mullenweg anticipates that WordPress will release version 4.9 before merging Gutenberg, because he wants to see it tested on more than 100,000 sites before replacing the edit screen. If all goes well, the new editor could land in WordPress 5.0.

"I think that some things that people did, like TinyMCE toolbar things, aren't really needed any more," Mullenweg said. "Stuff that people did in the past with custom post types might be better as blocks. It gives us a real opportunity to reimagine a lot of the user interactions and flows that today we've taken for granted on the edit screen for five or six years."

Check out Mullenweg's WCEU 2017 interview below to see the live demo of Gutenberg and make sure to take a few minutes to install the plugin to see it in action for yourself.

22 Jun 2017 10:29pm GMT

Post Status: The future of the WordPress economy, and why I’m not worried

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Joshua Strebel, the CEO and co-founder of Pagely. Pagely was one of the first managed WordPress hosts and continues to be a market leader. Josh had some thoughts about the WordPress economy, which I asked him if he would share here for the Post Status audience. He's been around for a while, and I think he's got a pretty good hold on the state of things. I hope you enjoy his commentary. And if you like this post, you'll also enjoy Post Status Publish.


There's been some recent speculation on whether or not the WordPress economy is beginning to slump. I would answer 'yes' and 'no'; it is clearly evolving, and some areas are contracting while others are growing. I believe we are feeling the effects of market maturity.

Are downmarket "one stop shop" alternatives and in house teams the best solution for the future of WordPress? No, because hosting providers, developers, and agencies who specialize in this space are where the concentrated real quality resides, and people are always willing to pay for quality. Ultimately WordPress has staying power because of its ecosystem, so let's take stock of that.

The current state of the WordPress economy

In 2017 WordPress is used by major publishers, enterprise, universities and even custom SaaS applications. In fact the world's leaders in business and marketing trends use WordPress (and aren't necessarily leveraging in house teams to do so). To name a few:

WordPress powers an estimated 28% of all websites which run the gamut of single contributor blogs and simple websites to applications and complex portals. That's nearly 75 million websites built by anyone from a very beginner to an extremely advanced level of technical skill. It's both easy to use and graceful in its complex abilities to do just about anything you would need a website to do.

There's also the community behind WordPress, an ecosystem in and of itself of people around the world with this one thing in common. As an open source community, our entire industry is plugged into every update. We can contribute to testing or code. We have all the power to make sure the WordPress economy stays strong and continues to grow.

New businesses are constantly being formed around plugins, themes and services built specifically for WordPress, with no signs of stopping. In fact, we'll continue to find more and more creators of WordPress specific companies, with full time jobs elsewhere, using this as an opportunity to contribute to the community.

However, the near constant flow of new entries into an already saturated market is outstripping demand. The WordPress pie overall is still growing but not quick enough to absorb the new sellers entering into the lower third of the market. The new players are typically unable to challenge the dominant players for a significant market share, and the demands and needs of the customers are also moving up the value chain. Yes, some newcomers do disrupt the established WP players, but it is happening with less frequency and the barrier is ever higher.

Economies ebb & flow: Apple and Airbnb (and WordPress)

The companies and brands that have changed the way people live experience low points. Just like the ones we've feared will appear in our own industry. But you know these companies well and they, and their economies, have persevered.

Take the classic example, one of the greatest comeback stories of all time: Apple. Apple defied all odds and went from near bankruptcy to the powerhouse hardware leader it is today with over a billion iPhones currently in use. They lost Steve Jobs and many feared they would lose their focus and tumble downward. Instead they're the largest and most profitable they've ever been. Walk down the streets of New York City or San Francisco and you'll see brick and mortar shops dedicated to alt-genius-bar services and shattered screen replacement. The Apple economy is strong.

Just like Apple, Airbnb almost flopped, but came out on top. It has an ecosystem of its own with tons of offshoot companies that support various aspects of the community, just like WordPress. After near failure Airbnb now supports a community of over 100 million and is valued at over $30 billion. They also face growing pains and - at times - volatility, but companies like this that fundamentally change the way the world works aren't going anywhere.

WordPress itself isn't in danger of a near flop, but these are valuable examples of economies that fared far worse, and still made it through.

The core strengths of WordPress

WordPress possesses fundamental characteristics that so many of today's great leaders encompass. All leaders like this are built to support a growing economy for a long time to come.

Brand

In Pagely's own recent user survey, the most important factors for choosing a service were reliability and security. These are cornerstones of the WordPress brand (haters gonna hate - but core has been really solid for many years in both respects) and reasons why such a large percentage of the internet continues to choose it to power their websites. As a brand, WordPress is synonymous with being one of the most reliable and secure CMS options available. Quality service providers that support WordPress, like Pagely, also often encompass these brand characteristics. We often hear of these same characteristics as pain points from customers trying to work in-house or with downmarket alternatives.

Ubiquity

WordPress users span nearly every industry in the world. Publishers, Fortune 500 Companies, Music, Fashion, Tech, Politics, you name it. Like I mentioned above, ~75 million websites exist with WordPress and they are published in dozens of languages/locales. WordPress is literally a web that has woven itself through the digital and physical world.

Community

The WordPress community is made up of contributors, coders, engineers, designers, marketing professionals, and every other title necessary to run a business. The community reaches so far that it touches every corner of today's tech workforce. Not only is the community large, but it cares. We care. The number of blogs and forums dedicated to helping people understand WordPress are impossible to count. Events like WordCamp, LoopConf, Publish, and PressNomics occur all year long and prominent core contributors participate. Don't hate me for loosely quoting Lincoln. But, it could be said here that "[WordPress] of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The WordPress ecosystem rewards quality

While the core strengths of WordPress support the service itself, quality is what supports the economy as a whole. And the fact remains that people are willing to pay for quality. To paint the picture, at Pagely a core aspect of our mission is to bring a flexible, friendly, and first-rate experience to all our customers. In staying true to that high standard of quality we've seen substantial year over year revenue growth since 2014. With an ecosystem that strives for and rewards quality, the larger WordPress economy is in a position to keep growing - continuing to take us along with it.

Any 'economy' will ebb and flow but when a technology powers 28% of something, it has staying power; WordPress and the ecosystem we've built around it isn't going anywhere, but it is changing.

The ecosystem is maturing - and growing

I would argue that after 12+ years the WordPress ecosystem has firmly moved from "New market" territory where there were wide open spaces for entrants to dominate. As an example, commercial themes really took off in 2008, managed WordPress hosting came to prominence in 2010, and commercial plugins rose to fame in 2011. These, and most channels in the ecosystem are now clearly defined "Existing markets".

Since 2015 or so, the majors players in each category are known, with few exceptions of new entrants claiming significant market share. Those that are doing so are using strategies common in existing markets: Resegmentation based on price, and resegmentation based on a niche strategy.

Borrowed from this article, we can identify six signs a market is maturing. Not every point applies completely to our ecosystem, but enough do I believe we can safely make this call.

  1. Customer needs/desires do not appear to be evolving rapidly.
    - eCommerce and membership sites are the most recent 'asks' that come to mind, and that was a few years ago.
  2. Consolidation by leading competitors is reducing competitive intensity.
    - GoDaddy, EIG, Envato, and Automattic are rapidly consolidating products and services into their domain.
  3. Disruptive innovations and new entrants are gaining share only gradually and top out at relatively low levels.
    - Some really innovative things are happening, but around the corners and seem slow to pick up traction.
  4. Market shares of leading competitors have solidified and are changing gradually, if at all.
    - We pretty much know who the leaders are in every category and at what price points they own.
  5. Price, brand and/or channel strategy has supplanted product innovation as key value drivers.
    - Refining the value proposition to our customers has greater focus at Pagely vs. shipping the latest tech du jour (which is happening just behind the scenes at measured pace).
  6. Cash flows are increasingly turning positive and being returned to investors rather than invested into the market.
    - Not in all cases, there is still much energy being focused into market expansion.

The pie is still growing overall, but a higher % of that growth is being concentrated among the established leaders that do more than the basics.

The massive low-cost hosting providers are enrolling many thousands of new WordPress users a day. Their product offering is good enough for the price point, their marketing spends are huge, and any new customer starting to use WordPress is landing there.

It is the same with eCommerce on WordPress - there are just two or three plugins and services absorbing new users.

In the agency space, the buyers willing to spend capital (enough to sustain a high-end WordPress agency) on WordPress solutions are not buying $500 websites, or $5,000 websites as they once were. They are buying $50K-$1M custom-built WordPress backed applications. The resources and talent required to serve these clients is concentrated at a handful of established and well known shops.

These examples continue into every segment of the ecosystem.

WordPress is getting easier and easier to use right out of the box. And if the majority of the new WordPress users needs are solved on install (via core, bundled plugins, or the hosting platform) then a wide swath of the current ecosystem is going to shrink.

In all channels, new market entrants or existing small shops are being out-gunned by the established players, or the buyers needs are being met upon install.

Adapt to win

So is the WordPress ecosystem shrinking? Yes, segments of it are and will continue to do so.

It's like in any industry: the car replaced the horse and the robot replaced the factory worker. What was successful in the New Market phase may not work in the more mature, Existing Market phase we are in.

Other segments, many not even identified yet, will expand. There are still big challenges that need to be solved in WordPress, the solutions for which will surely prove to be innovative and profitable. Go find the next blue ocean.

22 Jun 2017 10:00pm GMT