State of the Word 2018: Learn Blocks Deeply

With snow lightly falling in downtown Nashville, Matt Mullenweg took the stage for his annual State of the Word address. The speech wrapped up another successful WordCamp US 2018 full of talks, networking, and fun.

Mullenweg began by letting WordPress reintroduce itself. Reminding the community it was built on the constitution and is powered by the community.

“It is both free and priceless,” he said.


After stating the reasons we are all here, Mullenweg played some user test videos of the current editor. “Suffice it to say, this editor experience is not working for us,” Mullenweg said.

The solution for these frustrations is blocks and Gutenberg. Mullenweg demonstrated building a page using Gutenberg featuring Bebo Valdés, the musician for which 5.0 is named. This portion focused on the user focus of the project.

The demonstration went on to show how to export and import reusable blocks from the developer end. There are over 100 Gutenberg themes and the Gutenberg block tag for plugin developers.

Harkening to his 2016 speech where he urged the community to learn JavaScript deeply, Mullenweg is now calling upon developers to Learn blocks deeply. Then took us on a tour of the various blocks that have already been created including a recipe block, an ecommerce block, and a ghostwriting block.

Mobile has also been a huge focus of 2018, and mobile blocks will be in Gutenberg in Feb. 2019. You’ll be able to navigate and manipulate blocks in native apps on the web. There will also be blocks allowing you to edit in iOS and Android.

What’s coming next?

What is happening in Phase 2? Phase 1 deals with everything in the content field, Phase 2 will tackle the rest of what’s on the page. The idea is to use blocks to edit every piece of your site such as widgets and elements.

Phase 2 will also experiment with editing menus either in one block or a series of blocks, with live changes.

The focus is customization and thinking outside of post_content. If you have upgraded to 5.0, you can begin to experiment with this.

Mullenweg then revealed what Phases 3 and 4 will be; collaboration, multi-user editing, and workflows.

With Phase 3, the idea is to replace Google Docs and allow people to co-edit directly in WordPress. Phase 4 will focus on an official way to support multilingual sites.

Phases 1 and 2 are not done and will continue to focus on those. Phases 3 and 4 are set for 2020+.

5.0 came out with very few issues. Support loads have been smooth, about the same as what they’ve been before. After one day, 5.0 has 2,354,502 installs.

Since the 5.0 release,  the Gutenberg plugin has 561,478 downloads, and Classic Editor has 811,679 downloads.

Mullenweg shared that the community learned some crucial things throughout the 5.0 process:

  1. Need various teams across WordPress working together better.
  2. Need to help learning JavaScript even more deeply.
  3. Importance of triage and code freezes.
  4. Always announce release dates.

Not announcing a second release date after missing the first one created a lot of fear and uncertainty, and caused some stress.

With all this, the betas were tested more than other releases, which was a huge success. There were up to 100 times more testers than with previous releases.

Open source is amazing and difficult to develop in public. Gutenberg was developed completely in the public eye. You can go back a year and see one-star reviews on the plugin. That is something to keep in mind as we move forward.

“We have to keep in mind in addition to treating each other well, things might appear worse than they actually are,” Mullenweg said. “Unlike a normal company we were doing this all in the public eye.

Now that Gutenberg is live anyone can start building on top of it finding more ways to use blocks.

As far as changes outside of Gutenberg, we will look at optional autoupdates for plugins, themes, and major WP updates. The PHP minimum will also be raised with 5.6 in April and 7 in December.

Sites using SSL crossed over sites without. 20 percent increase in one year and it’s continuing. Now 57% of WordPress sites are using SSL. WordPress led the way in this by supporting Let’s Encrypt. We are seeing that we can change something fundamental about the web.

Community updates

Of course, it wouldn’t be a State of the Word without celebrating the community. Event numbers were way up this year! There were 145 Wordcamps in 48 countries and over 45,000 tickets sold.

The huge number was there were over 1,300 organizers which up 33% year over year

Meetups also went above and beyond in 2018 with 351,818 members, 687 meetup groups, and 5,450 meetup events.

The WordPress Foundation was able to put on 12 events tripling the amount from 2017. These events support charitable organizations by making them a site for free. They were also able to put on a number of open source workshops in Ghana, India, St. Lucia, and Columbia

The Foundation donated $10,000 each to Internet Archive, Girl Develop It, and Black Girls Code.

Mullenweg mentioned that the foundation’s ability to continue to give so much might be hindered in the future. Only $3,445 has been donated to the Foundation by 85 people since last year. If you have in some way benefited from WordPress please consider donating.

Mullenweg Acknowledges Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned in the 5.0 Release Process

WordPress 5.0 was one of the longest and most controversial release cycles in the project’s history. Those outside the inner circle of decision-making endured a great deal of uncertainty, as dates were announced and then missed, with secondary dates thrown out in favor of pushing 5.0 out with just three days’ notice.

“We were scared to announce a new release date after missing our previous one,” Mullenweg said, acknowledging the controversial release date. He said this seemed to create a lot of fear and uncertainty until they announced a new date. The dates seemed to come out of the blue and were stressful for the community.

Mullenweg highlighted the lessons they learned in the process of releasing 5.0:

  • Need the various teams across WordPress working together better
  • Need to keep learning JavaScript, even more deeply
  • Importance of triage and code freezes
  • Always announce release dates

Mullenweg noted that WordPress 5.0’s beta releases were tested 100 times more than other releases, which he said contributed to Gutenberg becoming more robust before landing in 5.0. However, these positives seemed to be overshadowed by several critical breakdowns in communication that many feel betrayed the community’s trust.

He noted that people used the plugin review system as a way to vote on Gutenberg and that perhaps the community needs a different medium for expressing those kinds of things. Users did this because they felt it was one of the only feedback mechanisms where they had a voice. Negative reviews piled on in the early days of the plugin’s development but they continued steadily throughout the feature plugin’s journey into core. After 5.0 was released, negative reviews on the Gutenberg plugin have continued to pour in, and its rating has fallen to 2.2/5 stars.

During the Q&A, Mulllenweg said he listened to vigorous discussion and diverse viewpoints from release leads coming from different companies, while gathering as much information as possible from reading reviews, blog posts, and comments from the community. He described this process as part of the art of trying to make sense of all the different things people are saying and balance that.

Supporting a BDFL-led project requires a certain amount of trust that the leadership is listening. Over the past several weeks Mullenweg has made a strong effort to keep the channels of communication open.

The painful user testing videos Mullenweg shared demonstrated how desperately WordPress needed to grow out of its old editor. It isn’t often that core makes changes that affect nearly every corner of the WordPress ecosystem at the same time. This experience came with its fair share of growing pains. Despite communication missteps during the 5.0 release process, Mullenweg has successfully navigated the project through this rocky transition. Although WordCamp US attendees seemed road weary after 5.0, they were united by a shared desire to move forward and continue working together with the leadership that has kept WordPress on the course of growth and improvement for the past 15 years.

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