WordPress 5.0 Needs You!

Yesterday, we started the WordPress 5.0 release cycle with an announcement post.

It’s a very exciting time to be involved in WordPress, and if you want to help make it the best, now’s an excellent opportunity to jump right in.

A critical goal of this release cycle is transparency.

As a member of the WordPress 5.0 leadership team, the best way for me to do my job is to get feedback from the wider WordPress community as early, and as quickly as possible. I think I speak for everyone on the leadership team when I say that we all feel the same on this. We want everyone to be able to participate, which will require some cooperation from everyone in the wider WordPress community.

The release post was published as soon as it was written, we wanted to get it out quickly, so everyone could be aware of what’s going on. Publishing quickly does mean that we’re still writing the more detailed posts about scope, and timeline, and processes. Instead of publishing a completed plan all at once, we intentionally want to include everyone from the start, and evolve plans as we get feedback.

With no other context, the WordPress 5.0 timeline of “release candidate in about a month” would be very short, which is why we’ve waited until Gutenberg had proved itself before setting a timeline. As we mentioned in the post, WordPress 5.0 will be “WordPress 4.9.8 + Gutenberg”. The Gutenberg plugin is running on nearly 500k sites, and WordPress 4.9.8 is running on millions of sites. For comparison, it’s considered a well tested major version if we see 20k installs before the final release date. Gutenberg is a bigger change than we’ve done in the past, so should be held to a higher standard, and I think we can agree that 500k sites is a pretty good test base: it arguably meets, or even exceeds that standard.

We can have a release candidate ready in a month.

The Gutenberg core team are currently focussed on finishing off the last few features. The Gutenberg plugin has evolved exceedingly quickly thanks to their work, it’s moved so much faster than anything we’ve done in WordPress previously. As we transition to bug fixing, you should expect to see the same rapid improvement.

The block editor’s backwards compatibility with the classic editor is important, of course, and the Classic Editor plugin is a part of that: if you have a site that doesn’t yet work with the block editor, please go ahead and install the plugin. I’d be happy to see the Classic Editor plugin getting 10 million or more installs, if people need it. That would both show a clear need for the classic interface to be maintained for a long time, and because it’s the official WordPress plugin for doing it, we can ensure that it’s maintained for as long as it’s needed. This isn’t a new scenario to the WordPress core team, we’ve been backporting security fixes to WordPress 3.7 for years. We’re never going to leave site owners out in the cold there, and exactly the same attitude applies to the Classic Editor plugin.

The broader Gutenberg project is a massive change, and WordPress is a big ship to turn.

It’s going to take years to make this transition, and it’s okay if WordPress 5.0 isn’t everything for everyone. There’ll be a WordPress 5.1, and 5.2, and 5.3, and so on, the block editor will continue to evolve to work for more and more people.

My role in WordPress 5.0 is to “generally shepherd the merge”. I’ve built or guided some of the most complex changes we’ve made in Core in recent years, and they’ve all been successful. I don’t intend to change that record, WordPress 5.0 will only be released when I’m as confident in it as I was for all of those previous projects.

Right now, I’m asking everyone in the WordPress community for a little bit of trust, that we’re all working with the best interests of WordPress at heart. I’m also asking for a little bit of patience, we’re only human, we can only type so fast, and we do need to sleep every now and then. 😉

WordPress 5.0 isn’t the finish line, it’s the starter pistol.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the goal is to set WordPress up for the next 15 years of evolution. This can only happen one step at a time though, and the best way to get there will be by working together. We can have disagreements, we can have different priorities, and we can still come together to create the future of WordPress.

The Mission: Democratise Publishing

It’s exciting to see the Drupal Gutenberg project getting under way, it makes me proud of the work we’ve done ensuring the flexibility of the underlying Gutenberg architecture. One of the primary philosophies of Gutenberg’s technical architecture is platform agnosticism, and we can see the practical effects of this practice coming to fruition across a variety of projects.

Yoast are creating new features for the block editor, as well as porting existing features, which they’re able to reuse in the classic editor.

Outside of WordPress Core, the Automattic teams who work on Calypso have been busy adding Gutenberg support, in order to make the block editor interface available on WordPress.com. Gutenberg and Calypso are large JavaScript applications, built with strong opinions on design direction and technical architecture, and having significant component overlap. That these two projects can function together at all is something of an obscure engineering feat that’s both difficult and overwhelming to appreciate.

If we reached the limit of Gutenberg’s platform agnosticism here, it would still be a successful project.

But that’s not where the ultimate goals of the Gutenberg project stand. From early experiments in running the block editor as a standalone application, to being able to compile it into a native mobile component, and now seeing it running on Drupal, Gutenberg’s technical goals have always included a radical level of platform agnosticism.

Better Together

Inside the WordPress world, significant effort and focus has been on ensuring backwards compatibility with existing WordPress sites, plugins, and practices. Given that WordPress is such a hugely popular platform, it’s exceedingly important to ensure this is done right. With Gutenberg expanding outside of the WordPress world, however, we’re seeing different focuses and priorities arise.

The Gutenberg Cloud service is a fascinating extension being built as part of the Drupal Gutenberg project, for example. It provides a method for new blocks to be shared and discovered, the sample hero block sets a clear tone of providing practical components that can be rapidly put together into a full site. While we’ve certainly seen similar services appear for the various site builder plugins, this is the first one (that I’m aware of, at least) build specifically for Gutenberg.

By making the Gutenberg experience available for everyone, regardless of their technical proficiency, experience, or even preferred platform, we pave the way for a better future for all.

Democratising Publishing

You might be able to guess where this is going. 😉

WordPress’ mission is to “democratise publishing”. It isn’t to “be the most popular CMS”, or to “run on old versions of PHP”, though it’s easy to think that might be the case on the surface. That these statements are true is simply a side effect of the broader principle: All people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, should be able to publish their content as part of a free and open web.

The WordPress mission is not to “democratise publishing with WordPress”.

WordPress has many advantages that make it so popular, but hoarding those to ourselves doesn’t help the open web, it just creates more silos. The open web is the only platform on which publishing can be democratised, so it makes sense for Gutenberg to work anywhere on the open web, not just inside WordPress. Drupal isn’t a competitor here, we’re all working towards the same goal, the different paths we’ve taken have made the open web stronger as a whole.

Much as the block editor has been the first practical implementation of the Gutenberg architecture, WordPress is simply the first practical integration of the block editor into a CMS. The Gutenberg project will expand into site customisation and theming next, and while there’s no requirement that Drupal make use of these, I’d be very interested to see what they came up with if they did. Bringing together our many years of experience in tackling these complex problems can only make the end result better.

I know I’m looking forward to all of us working together for the betterment of the open web.

Forking is a Feature

There’s a new WordPress fork called ClassicPress that’s been making some waves recently, with various members of the Twitterati swinging between decrying it as an attempt to fracture the WordPress community, to it being an unnecessary over-reaction, to it being a death knell for WordPress.

Personally, I don’t think it’s any of the above.

Some years ago, Anil Dash wrote an article on this topic (which I totally ripped forked the name from), you should read it for some context.

With that context, I genuinely applaud ClassicPress for exercising their fundamental rights under the GPL. The WordPress Bill of Rights makes it quite clear that forking is not just allowed, it’s encouraged. You can and should fork WordPress if you choose to. This isn’t a flaw in the system, this is how it’s supposed to work.

Forks should aways be encouraged.

Forks are a fundamentally healthy aspect of Open Source software. A relatively recent example is the io.js fork of Node.js, which resulted in significant changes to how the Node.js project is governed and developed. WordPress has seen forks in the past, too: Lyceum was a fork that added multi-site support, before it existed in WordPress. WordPress MU was something of a sibling fork which also added multi-site support, and was ultimately merged back into WordPress.

There are examples of forks that went on to become independent projects: WordPress itself is a fork of cafelog/b2. X.org is a fork of XFree86. LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice. Blink is a fork of WebKit, which in turn is a fork of KHTML. MariaDB is a fork of MySQL. XBMC has been forked dozens of times. Joomla is a fork of Mambo. (Fun historical coincidence: I very nearly accepted a job offer from Miro, the company behind Mambo, just a couple of months before Joomla came into being!)

Maintaining a fork is hard, thankless work.

All of these independent forks have a common thread: they started with a group of people who were highly experienced in building the software they were forking (often comprising of core developers of the original software). That’s not to say that non-core developers can’t drive a fork, but it does seem to require fairly fundamental knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the software, in order to successfully fork it into an independent product.

From a practical perspective, I can tell you that maintaining a fork of WordPress would require an extraordinary amount of work. For example, WordPress.com effectively maintains a fork (which happens to almost exactly match the Core codebase) of WordPress. The task of maintaining this fork falls to a talented team of devops folks, who review and merge each patch.

Now, WordPress.com is really only an internal fork. To maintain a product fork of WordPress would require so much more effort. You’d need to maintain the web infrastructure to push out updates. As the fork diverges from WordPress Core, you would need to figure out how to maintain plugin and theme compatibility. You’d likely need to do your own bug and security fixes, on top of what’s merged from WordPress.

I’m not saying this to dissuade anyone from forking WordPress, rather, it’s important to go into this aware of the challenges that lay ahead. For anyone who uses a fork (whether it be a fork of WordPress, or any other software product), I’m sure the maintainer would appreciate a word of thanks for the work they’ve done to make it possible. 🙂

What’s next for ClassicPress?

Well, that’s ultimately up to the folks building it, and the people who use it. As a member of the WordPress core team, I certainly hold no ill-feelings towards them, and I hope they’ll be open to working with us in the future. I hope we’ll be able to learn from their work, to improve WordPress for everyone.

It’s humbling and inspiring to build something that’s used by so many millions of sites, but at times it involves accepting that we can’t build the tool that will work for 100% of people, 100% of the time. Regardless of WordPress’ future popularity, there’ll always be a place for alternatives, whether that be forks like ClassicPress, different CMSes like Drupal or Joomla, or even different publishing concepts, like MediaWiki or Mastodon.

Ultimately, we all share the same goal: creating a free and open web, for everyone to enjoy. While ClassicPress has styled itself as a protest against Gutenberg for now, I hope they’ll find their voice for something, instead of just against something. 💖

WordPress’ Gutenberg: The Long View

WordPress has been around for 15 years. 31.5% of sites use it, and that figure continues to climb. We’re here for the long term, so we need to plan for the long term.

Gutenberg is being built as the base for the next 15 years of WordPress. The first phase, replacing the post editing screen with the new block editor, is getting close to completion. That’s not to say the block editor will stop iterating and improving with WordPress 5.0, rather, this is where we feel confident that we’ve created a foundation that we can build everything else upon.

Let’s chat about the long-term vision and benefit of the Gutenberg project. 🙂

As the WordPress community, we have an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future of web development. By drawing on the past experiences of WordPress, the boundless variety and creativity found in the WordPress ecosystem, and modern practices that we can adopt from many different places in the wider software world, we can create a future defined by its simplicity, its user friendliness, and its diversity.

If we’re looking to create this future, what are the key ingredients?

Interface unity. Today, the two primary methods of embedding structured data into a WordPress post are through shortcodes, and meta boxes. Both of these have advantages, and drawbacks. With shortcodes, authors can see exactly where the shortcode will be rendered, in relation to the rest of the content. With meta boxes, the site creator can ensure the author enters data correctly, and doesn’t get it out of order. Additionally, meta boxes allow storing data outside of post_content, making it easily queryable. With blocks, we can combine these strengths: blocks render where they’ll be in the finally content, they can be configured to only allow certain data to be entered, and to save that data wherever you want it. With block templates, you can lock the post to only allow certain blocks, or to even layout the blocks exactly as they need to be, ensuring the post is saved and rendered exactly as intended.

Platform agnosticism. There’s never been a nice way for plugins to provide custom UI for the WordPress mobile apps (or any other apps that talk to WordPress, for that matter) to render. Thanks to the magic of React Native, this is a very real possibility in the near future. The mobile team are working hard on compiling Gutenberg into the mobile apps and getting the core blocks working, which will guide the way for any sort of custom block to just… work. 🤯

Concept simplification. Even vanilla WordPress has masses of similar-but-subtly-different concepts to learn. Within the post, there are shortcodes, meta boxes, and embeds. Outside of that, we have menus and widgets (and widget areas, of course). The first phase of Gutenberg is focussed on the post, but ultimately, we can imagine a world where the entire site creation process is just blocks. Blocks that can fit together, that can be easily rearranged, and can each take care of important individual things, like their own responsive behaviour.

A common base. Gutenberg isn’t going to replace page builders, or custom field plugins like ACF. Instead, it give them a common framework to build themselves upon. Instead of every page builder having to spend a huge amount of time maintaining their own framework, they can use the one that Gutenberg provides, and focus on providing the advanced functionality that their customers rely on.

A design language. I don’t know about y’all, but as a developer, I find it challenging to create quality interfaces in the WordPress of today. I’d really love if there was a simple library for me to refer to whenever I wanted to create something. Desktop and mobile environments have had this for decades, but the web is only just starting to catch on. The WordPress design team have some really interesting ideas on this that’ll help both core and plugin developers to put together high quality interfaces, quickly.

There are side benefits that come along for the ride, too. Encouraging client-side rendering gives a smoother UX. Using modern JS practices encourages a new generation of folks to start contributing to WordPress, helping ensure WordPress’ long term viability. Because it’s Open Source, anyone can use and adapt it. This benefits the Open Source world, and it also benefits you: you should never feel locked into using WordPress.


What’s next?

Naturally, there’s going to be a transition period. WordPress 5.0 is just the start, it’s going to take some time for everyone to adjust to this brave new world, there will be bugs to fix, kinks to iron out, flows to smooth. The tools that plugin and theme developers need are starting to appear, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. There’s a long tail of plugins that may never be updated to support Gutenberg, the folks using them need an upgrade route.

If you feel that your site or business isn’t quite ready to start this transition, please install the Classic Editor plugin now. Gutenberg is very much a long term project, I’m certainly not expecting everyone to jump on board overnight. Much like it took years for the customiser to get to the level of adoption it has now; every site, plugin, and agency will need to consider how they’re going to make the transition, and what kind of timeline they’re comfortable with.

Ultimately, the WordPress experience, community, and ecosystem will grow stronger through this evolution.

I’ve been been working on WordPress for years, and I plan on doing it for many years to come. I want to help everyone make it through this transition smoothly, so we can keep building our free and open internet, together.

Podcasting: Tavern Style

Earlier today, I joined JJJ and Jeff on episode 319 of the WP Tavern’s WordPress Weekly podcast!

We chatted about GitHub being acquired by Microsoft (and what that might mean for the future of WordPress using Trac), the state of Gutenberg, WordCamp Europe, as well as getting into a bit of the philosophy that drives WordPress’ auto-update system.

Finally, Jeff was kind enough to name me a Friend of the Show, despite my previous appearance technically not being a WordPress Weekly episode. 🎉