In this episode, John James Jacoby and I discuss the news of the week including, the removal of offensive lyrics in Hello Dolly, a request for plugin developers to stop supporting legacy PHP versions, and changes coming in WordPress 4.9.5.
We also talk about community management, the difference between comments and forums, and finally, John shares his concerns on how the Gutenberg call-out prompt is being built into core.
Ive used Gutenberg for several months and during that time, there have been moments where I love it and situations where I've had to disable the plugin because of frustrating bugs.
One of the most frustrating aspects of using Gutenberg is the lack of support from the plugins I depend on.
Publish Post Preview
I use the Publish Post Preview plugin to generate a preview link for posts so that people can see what it looks like before it's published.
In the current editor, the checkbox to generate a link is in the Publish meta box. In Gutenberg, that option doesn't exist. According to a recent support forum post, the author does not plan on making it Gutenberg compatible until there is a finalized API to extend the sidebar.
Telegram for WordPress
We use the Telegram for WordPress plugin to automatically send published posts to our Telegram channel. The plugin adds a meta box that has options to send the post, configure the message structure, send a file, and display the featured image.
In Gutenberg, the meta box is open by default which provides access to those options. However, when I edit a published post, there are times when the meta box is closed and clicking the arrow to expand it doesn't work. Since the Send this post to channel option is on by default, saving changes to the post will resend the post to Telegram subscribers. Something I don't want to happen for simple edits.
We use Edit Flow to collaborate on posts and often use the Editorial Comments feature to provide feedback. In Gutenberg, the meta boxes for Editorial Comments and Notifications do not open when clicking the arrow. Therefor, we can't use those features.
After the Deadline
I'm a fan of After the Deadline which is a proofreading module in Jetpack. It checks posts for spelling, grammar, and misused words. When activated, a button is added to the visual editor to perform the checks. This button is not available in Gutenberg, so those features are not available as well.
Adding Images to Paragraphs is a Pain
Adding images to paragraphs in Gutenberg is more cumbersome than it needs to be. In the current editor, all I have to do is place the cursor where I want to insert an image, add media, choose image size, align it, and I'm done.
In Gutenberg, you need to create an image block below the paragraph block, move the image block to the paragraph block, align it, and use handlebars on the corner of the image to resize it.
I realize that there are a few workflows that I'm going to have to change because of how Gutenberg works, but this workflow doesn't make any sense to me, especially when I can't insert images without creating a new block. Thankfully, the Gutenberg team is on top of it and is working on a solution to add images within a paragraph block.
Random Blank Paragraph Blocks
I recently copied a large amount of text from a Google Doc and pasted it into Gutenberg and was surprised by how well it worked. Blocks were created in the right spots and I didn't have to edit it much.
I opened the post in the classic editor so that I could use the proofreading feature and it mangled the post. I opened the post in Gutenberg again and noticed a bunch of empty paragraph blocks created in-between paragraph blocks.
This resulted in having to spend some time deleting the empty paragraph blocks and questioning whether I should avoid transferring posts between editors in the future.
Tags Sometimes Appear Blank in the Meta Box
When adding tags to posts, sometimes the tags appear blank although they show up on the front-end. Also, deleting tags sometimes doesn't work. I click on the X and nothing happens in the back-end, but the tag will be removed from the front-end.
Gutenberg Has a Lot of Rough Edges
If this version of Gutenberg were merged into WordPress today, it would be a disaster. It's clear that the project has a long way to go before being considered for merge into core. Most of the issues I've outlined in this post are known and are being addressed.
Gutenberg is supposed to make everything we do in the current editor easier and more efficient. If it doesn't, then I have to ask, what's the point?
What concerns me the most about Gutenberg is plugin support. Some of the plugins I mentioned above are active on 10K sites or less but are important to the way I craft and publish content in WordPress.
Without them, using Gutenberg is not a great experience and instead, makes me want to use the current editor where things simply work.
Mullenweg was asked a few times if he could provide a concrete date on when Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 would be ready. While a date was not given, Mullenweg said, "For those who want a concrete date, we will have one or two orders of magnitude more users of Gutenberg in April."
It's now clear what he meant by that. WordPress 4.9.5, scheduled for release in April, will feature a call-out prompt that has links to information about Gutenberg and a button to quickly install the plugin if user permissions allow.
The core team added a Try Gutenberg prompt in October of last year but it was removed in WordPress 4.9 Beta 4. After discussing the subject with Mullenweg, it was determined that Gutenberg was not ready for large-scale testing.
The prompt in WordPress 4.9.5 changes the button text based on the following scenarios.
If Gutenberg is not installed, and the user can install plugins, the Install Today button is displayed.
If Gutenberg is installed but not activated, and the user can install plugins, the Activate Today button is displayed.
If Gutenberg is installed and activated, and the user can edit posts, the Try Today button is displayed.
If Gutenberg is not installed and the user can not install plugins, the button is hidden from view. If you'd like to hide the prompt from users, David Decker has created a plugin that's available on GitHub that simply hides it from view.
One of the concerns about the prompt is the lack of warning of the risks involved using beta software on a live site. Gutenberg is beta software that's still in development that could adversely affect sites. There is no warning on the call-out box and in two clicks, users can install and activate Gutenberg.
Whether it's Gutenberg or some other beta software, this general advice applies. Create a full backup of your site before installing and if possible, install it on a staging site first.
I predict that the volunteers who manage the WordPress.org support forums will have their hands full once WordPress 4.9.5 is released. The support team is preparing by brainstorming user outcomes, common questions that may be asked, and potential pitfalls users experience after installing Gutenberg.
If you'd like to give them a helping hand, check out the Support Handbook and if you have any questions, stop by the #forums channel in Slack.
The Gutenberg call-out has the potential to pave the way for large audiences to test major features in core without needing to use or install a beta branch of WordPress. However, this convenience comes with risks and while they can be reduced, WordPress needs to be up front and center to users about those risks.
Tevya Washburn has been building websites for more than 20 years and building them on WordPress for 10. He bootstrapped his website maintenance and support company, WordXpress, that he’s worked on full-time for more than seven years.
Late last year he launched his first premium plugin, and presented at WordCamp Salt Lake City. He lives in Caldwell, ID and is the founding member of the WordPress Meetup group in Western Idaho.
It was only a few months ago that I knew almost nothing about WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor. I had a basic concept of what it was and this vague annoyance that it would mean I’d have to learn new things and probably put a lot of effort into making some sites or projects work with it.
I kept hearing all of the frustration and issues with Gutenberg itself and the lack of information on how to integrate with it. At WordXpress we recently pivoted away from designing websites. When we designed them in the past, we used premium themes. I figured Gutenberg was the theme developer’s problem.
I still had this feeling of dread though, knowing many of my favorite plugins might not add support for it. I also felt some apprehension that even if the themes we use did add support for it, they might have a lot of new bugs through the first few releases.
Then I launched my first WordPress plugin, Starfish Reviews, and suddenly they weren’t someone else’s problems anymore! Now I’d have to come up with a plan to integrate our plugin with Gutenberg. I installed the Gutenberg plugin on a test site where we were testing our plugin with the nightly releases of WordPress and started playing around with it.
I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive and easy it was to use! Now it wasn’t (and isn’t) finished, so there were bugs and annoyances, but overall I was impressed.
Around the same time, I suggested we should have someone present on Gutenberg at our local meetup. My brief experience was more than what anyone else had, so the responsibility fell on me. Preparing for the presentation forced me to look at Gutenberg more carefully and pay more attention to the information and debate going on throughout the community.
I started reading blog posts, paying more attention in podcasts, and even looking at what was being said on Twitter. I watched the State of the Word at WordCamp US where the general tide in the feelings toward Gutenberg, seemed to turn, though many people still remain skeptical, critical, or antagonistic toward the project as a whole.
Today, I saw someone suggesting legal action if Gutenberg caused problems on their sites. That’s ridiculous on several levels, but shows that there’s still a lot of suspicion, frustration, and outright anger around Gutenberg.
A couple notes: 1. the graphs below are for illustration purposes only, they’re not meant to be accurate to any actual data. 2. If you prefer listening, you can watch my screencast version (13:12) of what follows. The message is the same, but differs in many aspects of presentation.
Finding the Why
Simon Sinek is known for his Ted talk where he explains that most people explain a new product or service by talking about ‘what’ it is and ‘how’ it works, but they rarely explain the ‘why’ behind it. The ‘why’ actually resonates with people the most. They want to understand the reason and beliefs behind it.
In my research, I couldn’t seem to find a clear answer to the most important question: “Why Gutenberg?” If I was going to present to people who knew little or nothing about it, I wanted to provide a reason why this major change was coming that might cause significant frustration, work, and pain for them.
I found a lot of ‘what’ and ‘how’ about Gutenberg. In some posts by Matt Mullenweg and Matías Ventura, I found hints about ‘why’ Gutenberg existed, but no really clear, simple explanation of why this whole project was happening. Why would Matt and others want to seemingly force this major change on us all? Why does it have to be such a radical departure from the past? Why now?
I was certain the conspiracy theorists—who seem to believe that Automattic’s sole mission is to make their lives more miserable—were wrong. But what was the purpose? Could it really just be a me too attitude that left all of these brilliant minds feeling like they had to keep up with Squarespace and Medium? That didn’t seem to fit. Especially since Gutenberg is already leagues better than Squarespace’s convoluted visual editor.
Taking cues from those hints and suggestions, I started thinking about the innovative disruption model. It was popularized in business circles, starting in 1997 when the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” was published by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor. His book was an expansion of an earlier article in the Harvard Business Review.
At the risk of oversimplifying the model, innovative disruption is what happens when an existing company who is the top dog (either in sales or market share) gets comfortable with their position at the top along with their revenue stream and quits innovating. They make small, incremental updates to their products or services to keep customers happy, but fail to look at the future of their industry.
This makes it easier for a startup or smaller, more innovative company to bring a new product or service to market that completely disrupts the existing market because it’s better, faster, cheaper. The established company doesn’t see the disruption coming because they feel secure in their large market share and steady sales revenue. They often respond with “why would anyone want that?” when approached with the new model that is about to completely upset their business model.
Blockbuster Gets Busted
The classic example of this is Blockbuster Entertainment, Inc. They had over 9,000 stores at one time, allowing people to rent VHS tapes and later, DVDs. They had a huge portion of the market all to themselves and it seemed nobody could compete with this juggernaut.
Then along came two small startups: Netflix and Redbox. Netflix comes along and says “we’re going to stream movies over the internet. That’s the future and the way everyone will want to consume movies and TV in the future. But since the internet is too slow right now, we’ll just start by mailing DVDs to people.”
Blockbuster looked at this and said, “the internet is way too slow to stream movies. That’s ridiculous! Who wants to wait two weeks to get a movie in the mail?! Hahaha! Stupid startup, they’re wasting their money and energy.” In hindsight this seems ridiculous. At the time, most people would have agreed with Blockbuster.
As you know, people started changing the way they rented movies. Once they tried it, they were happy to pay a subscription and use a queue to get DVDs delivered in the mail. Ultimately, making the decision of what to watch ahead of time was better than wandering through a cathedral of DVDs only to find the one you wanted to watch has already been checked out.
Consumer internet bandwidth speeds quickly caught up. Netflix even invented some of the technologies that provide high quality streaming video to your home. Now, most of us can’t imagine having to go to the store to rent a physical copy of a movie. And those that can, get them from a Redbox kiosk that has a limited selection, but is much quicker and easier than a video store. Netflix now has a larger market share than Blockbuster ever did, with zero physical locations.
There are exactly nine Blockbuster stores still operating, mostly in Alaska. From 9,000 down to nine in only a few years! This is what failing to innovate does. This is how comfort and confidence in market share and sales blinds people and organizations to the coming innovations that will disrupt their market.
Literacy, Disruption, and Gutenberg
Disruptive innovation doesn’t apply just in business. I have a Bachelor’s degree in history. So one example I love to use is how literacy and education ultimately toppled monarchies and traditional power structures in favor of republics and representative democracy.
The choice of Gutenberg as the name of the new WordPress editor seems prescient in this example as well. The name was one of the clues that led me to answer the ‘why?’ question. It was Johannes Gutenberg and his movable type printing press that was the innovative disruption that changed everything!
Before that, the vast majority of people in Europe were illiterate and uneducated. The scarcity of books and written material made it impractical and prohibitively expensive for most people to learn to read. It also allowed the Church and aristocracy to control the opportunity to become literate. That meant the rich and powerful were the gatekeepers of knowledge. Most riots and uprisings to this point were about hunger.
The Gutenberg press changed all that. Suddenly books could be mass-produced faster, cheaper, better than they ever could before. Literacy caught on like a wildfire. The power structures thought they could control it and maintain the status quo. They outlawed printing without state approval and did many other things to limit the spread of ideas through printed materials.
But it was too late, the power to spread ideas that the printing press provided was much too viral. Many printing presses were operated illegally, then destroyed when they were discovered by authorities.
The tipping point had been reached though. The ability to read and spread ideas via printed documents was much more powerful than the money, soldiers, and weapons of the monarchy. Though hunger might have sparked riots and uprisings from this time on, those tiny flames were fanned into an inferno of revolution by ideas spread through printed words. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is a great example if you want to learn more about concrete examples.
The Pain of Disrupting Yourself
I don’t have a business degree, but from my understanding, The Innovator’s Dilemma can be simplified down to this: to survive, and stay on top, a company (or software, or community) must innovate. It can not be incremental innovation. It must be innovation that disrupts the company’s core product or business model, even to the point of entirely replacing it.
Blockbuster tried some Redbox-like and Netflix-like solutions, but they were too little, too late. The only way they could have survived would have been to disrupt their own business model and service. They would have had to say, “in five years we will close all 9k stores and completely shift our business to providing video online.”
Who does that? Who thinks “we have built an empire, but we have to completely change it and replace it all over again”? That’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that the book’s title refers to: it’s incredibly difficult to think in those terms when you’re on the top. It’s nearly impossible to say, “we have to disrupt ourselves. We must compete with our own business and products and services.” But ultimately it’s the only way to survive.
…Or you can buy an innovative company and let them disrupt your main business. Did you know Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000? It was pocket change, but they passed because it was a very small, niche business.
Had they bought Netflix and allowed it to continue innovating and disrupting their core retail rental model, Blockbuster might still be around. It wouldn’t have 9k retail stores, but it would have an even larger market share than it ever did renting DVDs.
In either case, the process is painful. That’s why it’s called disruptive. Not because it’s a walk on the beach or small speed bump, but because it takes a lot of work and forward-thinking and causes a lot of pain to create and implement.
If you are the market leader, you can’t rest on your previous success. You have to change everything once again, like you did to get to where you are now. Despite the pain of doing it, you have to invest yourself and your resources into hard work and difficult questions and challenging thinking that goes directly counter to our natural tendency as humans. If you want to stay on top, it’s the only way.
WordPress is Ripe for Disruption
WordPress has a 30% market share right now. It won’t be long before 1 out of every 3 websites is built on WordPress. No other platform is even close.
As WordPress professionals and community members, it seems like we have all the momentum and benefits of being the leader. “Surely nothing could displace WordPress!” That’s what Blockbuster said. That’s what monarchs of past ages said. The truth is simple: “yes, something could. In fact, something will, if WordPress doesn’t innovatively disrupt itself.”
Is it going to be painful? Yes. Is it going to cause a lot of work and effort on the part of the community? Yes! Absolutely. But the alternative is to learn a totally new platform in five years when WordPress dies like Blockbuster did. You think this change is going to be difficult? Try throwing out WordPress entirely and moving your website(s) to an entirely new platform. Because that’s the alternative.
Good Arguments Against Gutenberg
I see many people listing a string of bugs in the Gutenberg UI/UX and concluding that Gutenberg shouldn’t exist. I see others critiquing the underlying technologies and claiming that’s evidence that Gutenberg is entirely wrong.
I’m sorry, but those arguments are entirely invalid. They may be great arguments for how Gutenberg needs to change or improve, but they are not valid arguments against the existence of Gutenberg and its inclusion in core.
Hopefully, I’ve made it clear that WordPress is in dire need of innovation. If that’s true, then as I see it, there’s only one really great argument against Gutenberg. As one person in one of the meetups I presented at put it: “is it the right innovation?”
That's the crux of the whole thing: WordPress must innovate to survive. Matt Mullenweg and the entire Gutenberg team have looked at the past and the future and decided that a better, faster, easier user interface and experience, are the disruptive innovations that WordPress needs to survive.
You can argue that it’s not, that there’s some other innovation that will completely change WordPress and thereby save it from disruption by outside forces. And that's a totally valid argument to make. But in my opinion, you can’t argue that continued, incremental changes are enough. You can’t argue that the path we’ve been on the last five years is going to keep WordPress on top for the next five years. It simply won’t.
I Like Gutenberg, but I Love What it’s Doing
In my experience thus far, I like Gutenberg. I believe it is the right disruptive innovation WordPress needs at this time. It will make WordPress easier to use and help its underpinnings be ready for the future. Being easy to use is what got WordPress where it is today.
It’s not very easy to use any more. There are significantly easier options out there, that could disrupt WordPress and replace it. I think Gutenberg will allow WordPress to disrupt itself and keep ahead of other disruptive innovations. It will save WordPress and allow us all to keep using it and building our businesses on it for another 10 years into the future.
I like Gutenberg, but I really love what Gutenberg means, what it represents, and what it's doing. Gutenberg is bigger than just a new post editor, it shows that the leaders of the WordPress community are willing to make hard decisions and innovate even when it means disrupting their own work and previous innovations.
I have huge respect for the Gutenberg team, who have not only had to rethink everything and do all those difficult things I referred to before, but have had to do it all very publicly, while navigating a gauntlet of criticism, personal attacks, and much more.
I hope this post shows my thanks and newfound appreciation for what they’re doing and going through. Flipping the phrase from The Dark Knight, the members of the Gutenberg team are “the heroes the WordPress community needs right now, even if they’re not the ones we deserve.”
WordPress 4.9.5 Beta 1 is available for testing and brings with it 23 bug fixes and improvements. A release candidate is scheduled for release on March 20th and a final release on April 3rd. Here are some notable changes you can expect in the release.
"Cheatin’ uh?" Error Message is Replaced
The "Cheatin’ uh?" error message has existed in WordPress for years and for some, is insulting. The error doesn't explain what went wrong and accuses the user of trying to cheat the system.
Eric Meyer highlighted the error in his keynote at WordCamp North East Ohio in 2016, when talking about Designing for Real Life. He also contributed to the ticket with suggestions on how to improve the wording.
In WordPress 4.9.5, the error has been changed to more meaningful messages depending on the error that occurs.
Recommended PHP Version Increased to 7.2
Inside of the readme file in WordPress, the current recommended PHP version is 7.0. This version of PHP reached end of life last December. In 4.9.5, the recommend version is PHP 7.2. This is the same version that is recommended on WordPress.org.
Offensive Lyrics Removed From Hello Dolly
As we covered earlier this week, some of the lines displayed in the dashboard from the Hello Dolly plugin are inappropriate without context. In 4.9.5, the plugin will no longer display those lines.
There's a possibility that in the future, there will be a musical note icon or symbol placed next to the line to indicate it's from a song. In addition, the lyrics are more in line with Louis Armstrong's recording.
To see a full list of changes in WordPress 4.9.5, you can view a full list of closed tickets on Trac.
In this episode, I’m joined by Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate working with the Web Content Ecosystems Team at Google, and Weston Ruter, CTO of XWP. We have a candid conversation about Google’s AMP Project. We start by learning why the project was created, what its main goal is, and the technology behind it.
We also dive into some of the controversy surrounding the project by discussing whether or not AMP is a threat to the Open Web. Medina and Ruter provide insight into AMP’s transformation from focusing on the mobile web to providing a great user experience across the entire web. Last but not least, we learn about the relationship between Automattic, XWP, and the AMP team and how it’s helping to shape the future of the project.
Iain Poulson has published a thoughtful request on the Delicious Brains blog asking WordPress plugin developers to stop supporting legacy PHP versions. He covers some of the benefits of developing with newer versions of PHP, what Delicious Brains is doing with its plugins, and using the Requires Minimum PHP Version header in readme.txt.
While we wait for the Trac discussion to roll on and the WordPress development wheels to turn we can take action ourselves in our plugins to stop them working on installs that don’t meet our requirements.
We do this in our own plugins where it is strictly necessary (WP Offload S3 relies on the Amazon Web Services S3 SDK, which requires PHP 5.3.3+ and will we will move to PHP 5.5 in the future), and the more plugins that do this out of choice will help move the needle further.
Its main goal is to reduce the number of WordPress installs running on unsupported PHP versions through education, awareness, and tools to help users update their site's PHP versions.
This project is in need of contributors. If you're interested, join the #core-php channel on WordPress Slack. The team has meetings every Monday at 11:00 AM EDT. You can also follow the #core-php tag on the Make WordPress.org Core site where links to chat logs and meeting summaries are published.
Have you noticed how many sites ask if you want to enable push notifications? I've answered no to every request but thanks to a tip suggested by Thomas Kräftner, you can disable requests from appearing altogether in Firefox.
Last week, Mozilla released Firefox 59.0 and added a new privacy feature that allows users to block sites from sending push notification requests. To enable it, open the Options panel in Firefox 59.0 and click the Privacy&Security tab.
Scroll down to the Permissions section. Click on the Settings button for Notifications and check the box that says Block new requests asking to allow notifications.
There have been many discussions over the years on whether or not Hello Dolly should be unbundled with WordPress. Seven years ago, it was argued that the lyrics are copyrighted and could potentially violate the GPL license.
The latest issue with Hello Dolly is that some lyrics that appear in users dashboards with the plugin activated can be degrading to women without context.
Joe McGill has created a trac ticket proposing that those two lines be removed. "The Hello Dolly plugin has been bundled in WordPress for many years, being a simple example of how to build a plugin for WordPress while also adding a bit of whimsy to admin," he said.
"However, there are several passages of text from this song which are inappropriate to display without any context to people using WordPress—particularly as the WordPress project seeks to promote inclusivity for all."
The discussion within the ticket suggests creating a black list or replacing the lyrics with less offensive versions. In many of the Google search results for Hello Dolly lyrics by Jerry Herman, shows that the lyrics inside the plugin and those in the song are different.
The lyrics say, "Find me a vacant knee, fellas." In a video on YouTube of Hello Dolly featuring Sarah Gardner singing the lyrics, she clearly says "Find her an empty lap, fellas." In a YouTube video of Louis Armstrong singing Hello Dolly live, he says "Find her an empty lap, fellas."
Putting aside the debate of which version of the lyrics are used, displaying the text above without context can and is seen as degrading women. At a time when WordPress and its community are doing what it can to be more inclusive, changing or removing the lyrics seems like an easy win.
Tickets for the event may be sold out, but you can watch the event from anywhere thanks to a free livestream. The stream starts today and covers both the E-Commerce and developers workshops. The stream begins tomorrow at 8:30AM EDT with separate links to morning and afternoon sessions.
Let's Encrypt is an open certificate authority that's part of the non-profit Internet Security Research Group. It's mission is to make 100% of the web HTTPS. Operations are financed through sponsors and donations. If this is a mission you believe in, please consider donating to the project.
In this episode, John James Jacoby and I discuss the news of the week including the results from the 2018 Stack Overflow survey, Tech Crunch’s rebuild, and Let’s Encrypt adding support for wildcard certificates. We also talk about Google working towards AMP or parts of it becoming official web standards. I ranted about how the mobile experience on the web sucks, and we end the show with some event news.