It absolutely was, and congratulations to everyone involved! Inspired by the fine work done to get another release out, I finally completed the last step of co-leading WordPress 5.0, 5.1, and 5.2 (Bebo, Betty, and Jaco, respectively).
As React (via Gutenberg) becomes more present in the WordPress world, I’m seeing some common themes pop up in conversations about it. I spoke a bit about this kind of thing at WordCamp US last year, but if you don’t feel like sitting through a half hour video, let me summarise my thoughts.
I’m honestly shocked when someone manages to wade through the mess of tooling (even pre-Gutenberg) to contribute to WordPress. It’s such an incomprehensible, thankless, unreliable process, the tenacity of anyone who makes it out the other side should be applauded. That said, this high barrier is unacceptable.
I’ve been working in this industry for long enough to have forgotten the number of iterations of my personal development environment I’ve gone through, to get to where I can set up something for myself which isn’t awful. React wasn’t around for all of that time, so that can’t be the reason web development has been hard for as long as I remember. What is, then?
Over the past year or so, I’ve been tinkering with a tool to help deal with the difficulties of contributing to WordPress. That tool is called TestPress, it’s getting pretty close to being usable, at least on MacOS. Windows support is a little less reliable, but getting better. If you enjoy tinkering with tools, too, you’re welcome to try out the development version, but it does still has some bugs in it. Feedback and PRs are always welcome! There are some screenshots in this issue that give an idea of what the experience is like, if you’d like to check it out that way.
TestPress is not a panacea: at best, it’s an attempt at levelling the playing field a little bit. You shouldn’t need years of experience to build a reliable development environment, that should be the bare minimum we provide.
React is part of the solution
There’s still a lot of work to do to make web development something that anyone can easily get into. I think React is part of the solution to this, however.
Perhaps a little controversially, I don’t think that React is guilty of causing the web to become less accessible. At worst, it’s continuing the long standing practice of web standards making accessibility an optional extra. Building anything beyond a basic, non-interactive web page with just HTML and CSS will inevitably cause accessibility issues, unless you happen to be familiar with the mystical combinations of accessible tags, or applying aria attributes, or styling your content in just the right way (and none of the wrong ways).
React (or any component-based development system, really) can improve accessibility for everyone, and we’re seeing this with Gutenberg already. By providing a set of base components for plugin and theme authors to use, we can ensure the correct HTML is produced for screen readers to work with. Much like desktop and mobile app developers don’t need to do anything to make their apps accessible (because it’s baked into the APIs they use to build their apps), web developers should have the same experience, regardless of the complexity of the app they’re building.
Arguing that accessibility needs to be part of the design process is the wrong argument. Accessibility shouldn’t be a consideration, it should be unavoidable.
Now, can we do better? Absolutely. There’s always room for improvement. People shouldn’t need to learn React if they don’t want to. They shouldn’t have to deal with the complexities of the WCAG. They should have the freedom to tinker, and the reassurance that they can tinker without breaking everything.
The pre-React web didn’t arrive in its final form, all clean, shiny, and perfect. It took decades of evolution to get there. The post-React web needs some time to evolve, too, but it has the benefit of hindsight: we can compress the decades of evolving into a much shorter time period, provide a fresh start for those who want it, while also providing backwards compatibility with the existing ways of doing things.
WebAuthn is now a W3C recommendation, bringing us one step closer to not having to use passwords anymore. If you’re not familiar with WebAuthn, here’s a little demo (if you don’t own a security key, it’ll probably work best on an Android phone with a fingerprint reader).
That I needed to add a disclaimer for the demo indicates the state of WebAuthn authenticator support. It’s nice when it works, but it’s clearly still in progress, and that progress varies. WebAuthn also doesn’t cover how the authenticator device works, that falls under the proposed CTAP standard. They work together to form the FIDO2 Project. Currently, the most reliable option is to purchase a security key, but quality varies wildly, and needing to carry around an extra dongle just for logging in to sites is no fun.
What WordPress Needs
Anything that replaces passwords needs to provide some extra benefit, without losing the strengths of the password model:
Passwords are universally understood as an authentication model.
They’re portable: you don’t need a special app or token to use them anywhere.
They’re extendable: strong passwords can be enforced as needed. Additional authentication (2FA codes, for example) can be added, too.
One of the defining aspects of my 2018 was travel. There was travel for fun, travel for work, and travel for adventure. This year, I was fortunate enough to visit all seven continents, so in honour of my selfie habits over on my photo blog, here are some of my favourite selfies from this year, by continent.
South America was entirely for fun and adventure. My dad and I got to tourist our way around, before we visited Antarctica.
Leaving from Punta Arenas, we travelled with Aurora Expeditions south along the Antarctic Peninsula, crossing the Antarctic Circle, before returning north again. Visiting Antarctica was one of the most spectacular, other-worldly, and unforgettable experiences of my life. If you’ve ever considered it, I highly recommend taking the plunge! (Both figuratively and literally. )
Work dominated my travel to North America, but there was some time for fun and selfies.
Thanks to a long layover, I just managed to visit Asia, dropping in for dinner with some friends in Hong Kong.
Europe was mostly work travel, which meant a distinct lack of selfies, sadly. This is clearly a shortcoming in my selfie taking habits that I need to work on next year.
Home was a place for fun, family, and a little bit of introducing my kids to the excitement of travelling!
(I wish I could fit into an economy seat like a three year old.)
Rounding out the year, my first trip to Africa! Just a little adventure to Kenya, seeing a few of the sights, but leaving plenty more for my next trip.
So, that’s been my year of travel. I flew 202,717km, visiting 28 cities in 12 different countries, maintaining an average speed of 23km/h over the year.
I’m looking forward to an exciting 2019, I hope your 2019 will be excellent, too. Happy New Year, everyone!