Progressive themes was a hot topic at WordCamp Europe 2018. During the event I had the opportunity to set up a panel with four experts who are working to integrate progressive web development practices more deeply in WordPress core, plugins, and themes. These practices make it possible for a website (or app) to work offline, load quickly, deliver content on unreliable networks, and use device-specific features to provide a better experience for the user. The PWA (progressive web app) created for WordCamp Europe is a good example of this in action.
“At the most abstract level, it’s all about user experience,” Medina said. “How do we maximize the pleasure that our users get when they use our websites? And delightfulness in this context means things like performance, speed, having content that isn’t blocked. If you think about themes built according to those principles, then we are basically seeking an awesome user experience in WordPress.”
It’s not yet clear what this will look like for the WordPress theme landscape, as current solutions are somewhat fragmented. WordPress contributors are working to standardize progressive technologies in core so the ecosystem can collaborate better together.
“There are many progressive themes being built these days,” Medina said. “One of the problems that is happening is that there is a lot of fragmentation. There’s a lot of plugins that are using service workers but in their own ways. What we want is to say, ‘This is the best way to do things,’ this is a uniform API to do it, and then enable progressive theme developers to take advantage of the core functionality.”
Currently, the prospect of setting up a WordPress site that uses progressive web technologies would be a daunting task for regular users, even if they are implementing existing solutions.
“There’s also a user aspect of it, because the people for whom we design WordPress, plugins, and themes, are the people who actually publish their own content onto the web,” Rand-Hendriksen said. “There’s a really valid question in how much should they need to know about how the web works to be able to publish some content. When they spin up a WordPress site, should we impose on them to know that they need to add all these optimization plugins and do all this other stuff just to make the site work properly? How much of that can be offloaded onto the theme itself, or plugins, or even WordPress core?”
The members of the panel are working together to on various projects and core contributions that will standardize the use of progressive enhancement technologies in WordPress.
“The goal is to have a common API for service workers so that plugins and themes can each install their own logic, just like they can enqueque their own scripts today,” Ruter said. “Also to be able to enqueue their own service workers and then core can manage the combination of them, as well as having a common app manifest that plugins and themes can collaborate on and have a single output into the page.”
This is how Rand-Hendriksen’s WP Rig starter theme project came about – to help developers take advantage of these best practices in the meantime, without having to figure out how to put all the pieces together.
“WP Rig gives you the platform to build a progressive theme that uses all the latest performance and WordPress best practices, in a convenient package, and over time it will evolve with these new progressive technologies,” Rand-Hendriksen said.
We also discussed AMP and Gutenberg compatibility, core support for web app manifests, and how the commercial theme industry will react to these new technologies. Check out the full interview in the video below.
In this episode, John James Jacoby and I spend the first half of the show discussing WP Engine’s acquisition of StudioPress. We share reactions from social media, debate on whether it’s a good or bad thing for the WordPress ecosystem, and webhosts being at the top of the food chain.
We also talk about a recent security vulnerability that was publicly disclosed, ProsPress acquires AutomateWoo, and the release of Tide beta 1. Also of note, we identified an issue that causes John’s audio to turn into static. His audio should be fixed in the next episode.
If you’re writing all your posts in the new Gutenberg editor but don’t want to give up convenient access to your fancy gifs and stock images, the new Drop It plugin has you covered. Riad Benguella, one of the engineers who is working on Gutenberg, created the plugin to offer one-click image insertion/upload from Unsplash.com.
Drop It adds a droplet icon to the Gutenberg sidebar that launches a search form for Unsplash.com or Giphy.com (a feature contributed by Julien Maury). Users can click the “+” sign on the image or simply drag and drop it into the content area.
Drop It seamlessly connects Gutenberg to the Unsplash and Giphy libraries, putting hundreds of thousands of stock photos and gifs at your fingertips while composing in WordPress. In the earlier days of Unsplash, many of the same images were used all over the web, but over the past few years its library has grown to include more than 550,000 high-resolution photos.
Check out this demo to see how how fast it is to search and insert images:
Benguella said the Drop It plugin’s code is a good example of how developers can extend Gutenberg’s UI using â€œpinnableâ€� sidebar plugins. It also shows how to use the Data module to access and update Gutenbergâ€™s state (data).
In the future, Benguella plans to add more sources for inserting media. He currently has a proof of concept for adding content from Google Docs and will add more depending on contributions from others and his availability to work on the plugin.
According to Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine, this is the largest acquisition in the company’s history.
“In all, our contributions to the WordPress community in time, money, writing, coding and thought leadership totaled more than $1.7 million in 2017 and weâ€™re already doing even more this year,” he said.
“As WP Engine continues to grow and scale, the way we give back to the WordPress community must grow and scale also, which was one of the deciding factors behind our acquisition of StudioPressâ€”our largest acquisition in WP Engineâ€™s history.”
The company plans to heavily invest in the Genesis Framework community and ecosystem by hiring people to work on different aspects of the framework. Support will receive a boost as well as the ecosystem surrounding StudioPress’ products.
With Gutenberg on the horizon, Cohen says the Genesis Framework will be a shining example of what’s possible with WordPress’ new editor.
“Thereâ€™s been plenty of concern about how Gutenberg will affect existing plugins and themes, so Genesis can serve as an example for how Gutenberg can work brilliantly,” Cohen said.Â
“This directly advances the goals of WordPress Core. This precedent doesnâ€™t stop with Gutenberg, either. Gutenberg is the transformation of todayâ€”there will be more tomorrow. While the topic of the day will change, the idea of supporting Core through themes and theme frameworks that support those efforts is an asset for the wider WordPress community.”
Gardner will stay on board and be part of StudioPress’ leadership team at WP Engine with an emphasis on product development and community. Nathan Rice along with the support team will transition to WP Engine with Rice continuing to serve as the lead developer of Genesis.
Gardner admits that the acquisition is bittersweet, but that it’s a founding moment in the company’s history.
“As my new colleague, Jason Cohen, the founder of WP Engine often says, ‘There are many founding moments in the history of a company.’ This is one of those moments and I know itâ€™s time for StudioPress to take the next stepâ€”and WP Engine is the right partner to take it with.”
StudioPress customers can expect better support, more themes to choose from, and little to no disruption of service.Â
Gordon will be streaming the talks live via Crowdcast. Approximately 1,300 seats have been reserved so far, a number that rivals most WordCamps. Unlike WordCamps, however, the entire schedule is focused around developer education, featuring more technical talks that are often missing from traditional WordPress events.
“Most of my courses this year will be Gutenberg related (have one now and a theme course launching next week, followed by an Advanced one after that),” Gordon said. He has also done courses at Udemy, Frontend Master, WP Sessions, WP101, and some consulting with Udacity.
“I’m still learning the right price points and packaging and size,” Gordon said. “A few companies have gotten group accounts for their teams which is really positive and encouraging for me.”
“Now with React in Core and the rebuilding of many parts of the admin with JS, we will have more real practical reasons to heed Matt’s call than we did before.”
Gutenberg 3.1 added a tips interface that supports and guides new users who are learning to navigate the editor’s blocks and settings. The tips appear when a new user opens Gutenberg, highlighting useful items on the page.
Although the tips may seem cluttered and intrusive to users who already know what they are doing, they are a necessary evil for introducing the UI to new users. Gutenberg is not yet intuitive enough to be able to stand on its own without explanation inside the interface.
10up recently conducted Gutenberg usability tests that unearthed some startling realities about how new users interact with the new editor. The tests were done on previous versions of the plugin (2.9.2) with users who frequently create content using the classic WordPress editor. 10up asked testers, who have had no training on Gutenberg, to write a news-style blog post.
One of the most surprising results was that participants struggled with the simple task of adding an image to a post.
“Although the interface is clean, a lack of focused attention or hierarchy on the page became apparent,” 10up Experience Designer Sarah James said. “Participants struggled to complete tasks like adding an image that did not have a clearly exposed and labeled element like the title and paragraph fields. Heatmap tracking of the backend captured 734 unique clicks in the new post interface and only 40 of these clicks were on actual clickable elements. This suggests a struggle to find basic interactive elements, such as image blocks.”
Participants also had a difficult time finding and inserting additional block types – several testers overlooked the â€œ+â€� symbol that triggers interface for adding a new block.
Gutenberg 3.0 and 3.1 have already improved on these pain points with changes that highlight common tasks. The 3.0 release redesigned the inserter, ditching tabs for collapsible panels. This makes it more friendly for hunting among blocks. Version 3.1 includes a new design of the sibling inserter (the “+” symbol that appears to allow user to insert blocks between other blocks).
In addition to improving usability issues with the inserter, Gutenberg 3.1 fixes some of the mechanics of previewing and saving posts. Users can now preview changes to a published post without updating the post. The editor was also updated to trigger autosave as a standard save for a draft by the user currently authoring the post.
HTML blocks that have been converted into shared blocks now show in preview mode, which makes it easier for users to see what they do and insert them visually. The code will only show if the user wants to edit the block.
TaxJar, a company that offers automated sales tax software, is hosting a free webinar June 27 at 11:30 AM CDT to answer questions regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on South Dakota v. Wayfair. The court ruled in favor of South Dakota on June 21st, 2018, allowing any state to require online sellers to collect taxes for sales made from customers in that state.
The provisions identified in the South Dakota vs. Wayfair ruling identifies retailers making $100K+ or 200+ transactions in the state as having an “economic presence” that would require out-of-state retailers to render sales tax. However, it’s not yet clear how other states will measure sales tax liability.
TaxJar has gathered a panel of tax experts to discuss the requirements of the new sales tax compliance burden for online businesses. Nearly 2,000 people are currently signed up to tune in and attendees can also submit questions in advance. A few popular questions submitted so far include:
“How will we know which states we are required to pay taxes in, and do we have to create accounts in every state and pay for returns in all 50?”
“I read that South Dakota, Colorado and Louisiana have a threshold of 100K in sales in their state to start collecting taxes. Is this really the case, and where can we find the threshold for other states?”
“Does each state that wants to participate have to pass a law like South Dakota or is this now automatic for all states with a sales tax?”
WooCommerce has created a guide to help users set up and collect taxes as required by the tax jurisdiction where their stores are located. Online store owners in the US and Canada can set enable automated tax calculations using either the WooCommerce Tax or TaxJar add-ons (both free), depending on whether the merchant operates within a single tax nexus or multiple nexus locations.
Automatic sales tax calculations are also available for merchants using Easy Digital Downloads. Pippin Williamson built a free integration for EDD and TaxJar that passes all tax rate determinations to TaxJar to calculate automatically, eliminating the need for manual tax rate entry.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is very new and many state-specific details are yet to be worked out, but state legislatures are likely to be highly motivated and eager to rake in this new source of revenue. The TaxJar blog will be a good source for updates as more compliance information becomes available.
At WordCamp Europe I had the opportunity to sit down with Matías Ventura, the technical lead for Gutenberg. Ventura, who has been responsible for building the vision for Gutenberg (in addition to building the actual product), shared a few things the team might have done differently in the earlier days to improve its reception in the community.
“I think we should have put a little bit more effort into clarifying what we meant by the ‘editor,’” Ventura said. “When Matt announced that we’re going to be focusing on the editor, the WordPress community generally took it that we were going to focus on TinyMCE. But the idea from the start was to focus on the editing experience as a whole, how a user perceives that, which is the whole page. I think it took some time to rectify that that was always what was meant – to look at the whole editing interface at once.
“With some of these projects people are going to be in different places at different times and things will coalesce and make sense at different paces. I think we’ve gotten to a point now where we have built enough of the Gutenberg vision that we can see where it can lead us.”
Several representatives from the Gutenberg team were available at WordCamp Europe for informal chats with the community. They also conducted workshops and gave presentations to prepare designers and developers for what’s coming in the next few months. Momentum for the new editor is building and Ventura shared what he hopes the world will see when version 1 is included in core.
“The thing that has been the most fulfilling, at least to me, has been seeing the regular users when they can use Gutenberg and build things that would have been very hard for them to do before,” Ventura said. “When they share those impressions – that they can build something that they are proud of express themselves – to me that is the most fulfilling because that’s really one of the major points behind this. At the same time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the design and developer community can build with it and where their imaginations can take us from there. Core is going to supply the infrastructure and the main building blocks but it’s everything that can be built around it that’s going to be exciting, as always with WordPress.”
Ventura also described some of the interesting possibilities of templates, nested blocks, and child blocks, and how they can be combined to create more sophisticated solutions. He recommends the WordPress.org/Gutenberg page for resources on getting started with the new editor. Check out the video below for the full interview.
If you happened to miss out on WordCamp EU this year, check out the following short film produced by Production Pool. Production Pool is a video production company based in Belgrade, Serbia that was hired to record all of the videos and wrap up the live stream for WordCamp Europe.
The video is just shy of three minutes in length, highlights the size and scope of the event, and is well produced. You can almost feel what it was like to be an attendee.
At his WCEU keynote address in Belgrade, Matt Mullenweg laid out a detailed roadmap for Gutenberg to land in WordPress 5.0 within the next few months, garnering mixed reactions from attendees. Gutenberg’s timeline is one of the most pressing questions for those who work in the WordPress ecosystem.
The Gutenberg team has sustained a rapid pace of development over the past year with 30 releases since development began. There are currently 14,000 sites actively using the plugin and Mullenweg plans to roll it out to WordPress.com users in the near future. He announced that the WordPress 5.0 release could be ready as soon as August. In the meantime, the Gutenberg team will continue to refine its current features according to the roadmap Mullenweg outlined in his keynote:
Freeze new features into Gutenberg
Hosts, agencies and teachers invited to opt-in sites they have influence over
Opt-in for wp-admin users on WP.com
Mobile App support in the Aztec editor across iOs and Android
4.9.x release with a strong invitation to install either Gutenberg or Classic Editor plugin
Opt-out for wp-admin users on WP.com
Heavy triage and bug gardening, getting blockers to zero
Explore expanding Gutenberg beyond the post into site customization
August 2018 and beyond
All critical issues resolved
Integration with Calypso, offering opt-in users
100k+ sites having makde 250k+ post using Gutenberg
Core merge, beginning the 5.0 release cycle
5.0 beta releases and translations completed
Mobile version of Gutenberg by the end of the year
Mullenweg said he hopes to increase Gutenberg usage to 100,000 sites with 250,000 posts made over the next few months. WordPress.com will be instrumental in that goal with a call to action for opt-in that will appear on several hundred thousand sites. In July, WordPress.com will switch the Gutenberg editor to opt-out. Mullenweg said he hopes to gather data from how users respond, especially those who have third-party plugins active on their sites.
Switching between editing posts in the mobile apps currently breaks but Mullenweg anticipates this will be resolved by August, with full mobile versions of Gutenberg available by the end of the year.
Mullenweg opened his keynote by drawing attendees’ attention to a new “Public Code” link in the footer of WordPress.org. This campaign, organized by Free Software Foundation Europe, aims to require any publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made available under a Free and Open Source Software license.
Mullenweg also announced St. Louis, MO, as the next location for WordCamp US in 2019-2020. The local WordPress community in the city spans two states with members from both Missouri and Illinois who have hosted seven WordCamps since 2011.
Developers and Agencies Double Down on Gutenberg Preparation, “Playing for Keeps”
The process of getting products and client websites ready for Gutenberg is a leap for nearly every company and freelancer invested in the WordPress ecosystem. Mullenweg said he cannot guarantee a specific date for release but thinks that “5.0 is going be ready within a relatively short time frame.”
Although many WCEU attendees expressed skepticism about the accelerated timeline for Gutenberg’s inclusion in core, most recognize the importance of working towards making their clients and products compatible with the new editor.
Gutenberg technical lead Matias Ventura said it’s too early to tell whether the WordPress community will be ready by the time Gutenberg is included in core. “I think people have already been trying to get ready and we’re already seeing many major sites being launched using Gutenberg,” Ventura said. “From what we’ve seen with plugin authors building compatibility for Gutenberg, it seems there’s already enough momentum going on that it could be achievable.”
Brad Williams, CEO of WebDevStudios, said his company’s team of engineers has been actively preparing for Gutenberg since late last year and is “very excited about what it means for the future of WordPress publishing.” Williams assigned two Gutenberg Leads internally to head up everything related to the new editor and conducted internal training with staff. WebDevStudios also built and released its own Gutenberg add-on framework called WDS Blocks, a framework that includes new custom blocks that many WDS clients use.
“Having a potential release date, even if it’s only a target month, is incredibly helpful,” Williams said. “This gives us a goal to work towards with each of our clients to verify we are ready for the release. I expect the majority of our clients will not enable Gutenberg on release, but we still need to make sure we have an upgrade plan ready for WordPress 5.0. We are working closely with each of our clients so they understand what is coming, the benefits Gutenberg can provide them, and what a potential roll-out plan will look like. We are also making sure any new leads coming in the door are aware of Gutenberg and the impact it will have on their new WordPress project.”
Gary Jones, plugin developer and WordPress engineer at Gamajo, expressed apprehension about the timeline. He also plans to make use of the Classic Editor plugin to opt sites out of using Gutenberg.
“With 737 open issues, I think the August timeline may still be a little short,” Jones said. “That’s only for the ‘critical issues’ to be resolved but introducing such a massive change to the basics of managing content like this needs more than just the critical issues resolved; it needs all of the workflow to be very smooth as well.”
Jones said he doesn’t think the typical rhetoric of getting a ‘1.0’ release out the door applies in the case of Gutenberg. “There’s too much riding on it for it not to make a great first impression for the user base who haven’t been following its progress,” Jones said. “A plugin can have a much quicker release turnaround time for non-critical improvements and fixes than what WP core would have.”
Jones said he plans to wait until the merge proposal before tackling plugin compatibility and will wait until 5.0 is out to start improving the experience for his clients. He said this may require creating custom blocks or installing plugins that add custom blocks clients might need. “By then we’d also know how ACF, Pods. and other plugins we use, and the Genesis theme, are supporting Gutenberg editor (or not),” Jones said.
Jake Goldman, President and founder of 10up, said his company already has an internal mandate that all new public plugins and major plugin updates must have at least “beta” support for Gutenberg. 10up’s Distributor product is already Gutenberg-ready and the company has several Gutenberg-ready plugins and updates expected to ship in the next 1-2 months.
“Clients are trickier,” Goldman said. “We have two big client projects started in the last couple of months that are using Gutenberg, and some pretty complicated custom blocks and extensions. We have a couple of other customers who are curious or in the exploratory phase. Two big client projects have us a bit gun shy about adopting [Gutenberg] as the ‘standard’ on newer projects until it matures a bit more and begins to focus a bit more on the ‘enterprise use case / user stories’ – there are some real challenges with those user stories.”
Goldman also said he was encouraged to hear that Calypso will adopt Gutenberg in the next couple of months, because he hopes it will address some of the confusion and fragmentation issues.
He doesn’t anticipate Gutenberg actually landing in August, however. “I don’t see August, frankly, because I don’t think the core team has a clear vision for ‘how’ an upgrade with Gutenberg will work,” Goldman said. “That said, I suspect Matt is knowingly putting timeline pressure on the team – a bit of ‘if I say August, we can probably hit November’ type mentality.”
Mason James, founder of Valet, said he is confident his clients and products will be ready after testing Gutenberg on hundreds of sites. His team is watching a few products that have compatibility issues but he is hopeful these will be resolved soon.
“The timeline of August seems a bit optimistic,” James said. “I’d be surprised if that is met, but our clients will be in good shape if that happens. We’ve also been sending information to our clients via email, a whitepaper, to try to mitigate any surprises ahead of time.
“We decided last year that Gutenberg was a tremendous opportunity for us to reinforce our value proposition to our clients,” James said. “It’s an ongoing important initiative for us this year; We’re playing for keeps.”
Carrie Dils, a WordPress developer, consultant, and educator, has also jumped head first into getting her products compatible with Gutenberg ahead of the new timeline.
“I’m feverishly working to get an updated version of the Utility Pro theme (my primary product) out the door,” Dils said. “The Gutenberg updates are just one part of a larger overhaul (including a minimum requirement of PHP7 and WP 5.0+). I’ve also made the decision not to incorporate Classic Editor theme styles. All looking forward, no looking back.”
In this episode, John James Jacoby and I are joined by Milan Ivanović who helped organize WordCamp EU in Belgrade, Serbia this past weekend. Ivanović describes what it was like to organize such a large event, challenges the team overcame, and a few details related to WordCamp EU 2019 that will be held in Berlin, Germany. John and I finished the show discussing Matt Mullenweg’s keynote presentation and Gutenberg’s proposed timeline.
It contains a heavily optimized code and file structure, support for lazy-loading images, and documented helper functions. The build process requires no configuration and provides a modern foundation to develop on top of.
VS Code is tightly integrated with WP Rig but developers can use any code editor they choose.
Rand-Hendriksen says the goal of the project is to provide a starting point where developers can write accessible and performant code from the start using best practices.
“It’s also about accessibility and build processes and coding standards and performance best practices and and modern coding languages and browser support and a myriad of other topics.
“WP Rig bridges this gap by building accessibility, performance, coding standards, and modern coding best practices in by default.”
LinkedIn Learning donated Rand-Hendriksen’s time to WP Rig. In collaboration with XWP, Google, and other members of the WordPress community, it was released as an open source project that is maintained by him and Rachel Cherry.
“It is not owned or branded by any company, nor beholden to a company goal or ideology,” he said. “The purpose and goal of WP Rig is to provide the WordPress community with a theme development rig that puts accessibility, performance, and modern best practices in the front seat to the benefit of the end-user and the web as a whole.”