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Matt Mullenweg delivered the State of the Word in Nashville, Tennessee this past weekend. The speech was almost immediately following the release of WordPress’ new editor, Gutenberg. The editor’s progress and release have been much anticipated by the WordPress community. This State of the Word was the first time Mullenweg had addressed the WordPress community since Gutenberg’s release just two days earlier.

Mullenweg began the talk by offering the audience a perspective. “With so much going on, I’d like to give WordPress a chance to reintroduce introduce itself,” he said. “WordPress isn’t a physical thing, it’s not a set of code. It’s kind of an idea. It only exists in the space between our minds. It has a constitution, it’s built on the four freedoms: the freedom to run the program for any purpose, the freedom to study how the program works and change it to make it do what you wish, the freedom to redistribute, and the freedom to distribute copies of your modified version to others.”

Democratized Publishing for Life

WordPress is entirely portable making it both free and priceless. WordPress is also scalable. Mullenweg said that means that you can keep WordPress with you your entire life. It will grow with you. You can be sure, that what you out into WordPress now, you’ll be able to get out a decade later. The WordPress commercial ecosystem now generates over $10B/year. All these companies align under one mission: democratizing publishing.

Democratizing the web means that anyone can use it. Any language spoken, any physical ability, income, location and technical proficiency. WordPress is an operating system built for the independent web, a platform that others can truly build on. However, most WordPress users will have limited technical or general knowledge about WordPress itself. It’s good to keep those users in mind when asked why certain projects, like Gutenberg, even began. Mullenweg then proceeded to play uncomfortable user test videos that included phrases like “this feels like writing a blog back in 2005” and “this is very finicky, this does not work.”

Enter: Blocks

This has been the editor experience in WordPress for over a decade now. This status quo isn’t good enough. We shouldn’t have to work around or get used to the finicky nature of the editor, it should just be better. This is why blocks were created. Blocks are predictable, tactile, and can be simple rich. Gutenberg takes the HTML structure that was behind the page and makes it more explicit. Then it simplifies it to the more comprehensible blocks, which are simple, consistent for the end user and reusable.

The list of improved capabilities with blocks is extensive. First of all, copy and paste has been improved. WordPress users can now copy and paste from Google Docs, Quip, Office 365 and Microsoft Word with ease. Developer tools have also been added to help optimize workflow. Users can export a block by taking any executable block, turn it into a chunk of JSON and upload that to create a reusable block.

The Lead Up to Gutenberg

Gutenberg is the bulk of what the core team has been working on for the past few years. During the first few months, Gutenberg was purely Javascript. Later, it was turned into a plugin. Prior to the 5.0 release, there were:

  • 1.2 million installs
  • ~40,000 posts per day
  • 8,684 commits from 340+ contributors
  • 277 WordCamp talks on the new editor
  • 555 meetup events
  • 1,000+ blog posts
  • 100+ Gutenberg ready themes in the directory

Learn Blocks Deeply

Mullenweg referenced his 2017 State of the Word where he told the WordPress community to “learn JavaScript deeply.” He said the second request is much easier: learn blocks deeply. The blocks are now the DNA of WordPress. Once you have learned about blocks, the possibilities with creation will multiply. Some examples of noteworthy blocks include: per block readability analysis from Yoast SEO, VR embedability via 360 blocks, per block suggestions on making your content AMP compatible, Drop It, products block via WooCommerce, recipe blocks, tarot card blocks, and more. PootlePress has even introduced transition blocks that add design and aesthetics in between blocks.

Democracy Means Anywhere, On Any Device

Not only should anyone be able to use and develop with WordPress, it needs to be accessible from devices of all sizes. To future proof the new editor, anything built with Gutenberg is responsive at all sizes. Mullenweg also made a point of pointing out the investment in WordPress mobile apps, something he views has one of the most important long term investments. With that, he said the beta editor for mobile apps will hit Gutenberg in February 2019. This means you’ll be able to navigate and implement blocks in the mobile apps. This also means that all mobile app development will be fully open source available for iOS and Android.

What’s next? Gutenberg Phase Two

While phase one of Gutenberg addresses blocks and what is inside them, phase two will concentrate on what else is on the page and thinking outside of the post content.

Widgets

Widgets are the content that sit around, above and below the post content. Phase two will be transitioning these widgets, written in PHP, to blocks you can implement in the sidebar and other areas of your website. This will address a whole in the Classic Editor to Gutenberg transition because many WordPress themes support widgets in the content area, which can clash with Gutenberg.  

Menus

Navigation menus help add organization to your website. Transitioning menus to have  Gutenberg functionality will allow users to edit menus inline. Mullenweg said that experimentation would be required to master this but an idea would be  a restricted number of blocks that could be arranged into a customized menu that are previewable on the front end in real time. To avoid confusion, there will also be a renaming of Menus in the editor.

Phase Three: Collaboration, Multi-user editing, and Workflows

Google Docs is perfect for collaborating because multiple people and workflows can be operating at the same time. Integrating these capabilities into WordPress would expedite projects and avoid frustrations. Integration would allow for user revisions and allow them to be fully extensible in a way that a SaaS service, like Google Docs, will never be. Phase three is set to take place in 2020. After that, the team will introduce phase four: an official way to deal with multilingual sites.

Core is Now Open

While WordPress core was frozen in order to address the needs of Gutenberg, it is now open. Mullenweg called on everyone to expand and improve core during 2019. During his talk he posted the top requests to the WordPress Core discussion board. Additionally, WordPress will be changing its minimum PHP version to 5.6 in April 2019.

Lessons From 2018

Wrapping up on what happened this year and preparing for 2019, Mullenweg closed with some lessons learned.

  • Need the various teams across WordPress to work better together.
  • Need to keep learning Javascript-even more deeply
  • Importance of triage and code freezes
  • Always announce release dates
  • Betas were tested more than any other releases
  • Open source is amazing and open source is difficult to develop in public