Matt Mullenweg gave his annual State of the Word, an update on all things WordPress, . He focused on a few key areas, like how WordPress grew in a pandemic year, an update on each major release of WordPress, and where Gutenberg is going. There was also a big focus in the Q&A on virtual events, multilingual WordPress, and performance.
Intro: Hey, everybody and welcome to another episode of the WordPress Year in Review podcast. Earlier today was the State of the Word 2020 given by Matt Mullenweg. So today I’m going to share with you the audio from my Reaction Live Stream. This is the direct audio from the live stream. I’ve only edited it a little bit, but it’s kind of very obviously from the live stream. So if you want, I will link in the show notes over at wpreview.io the actual YouTube link where you can see me adding comments to the screen and showing different screenshots from the State of the Word. You’ll get the gist of it without seeing it if you’d rather listen to it in podcast form. But I’m just letting you know that perhaps this particular episode will be better consumed over on the live stream.
Now, I’ll say all of this in the audio, but just to give a quick primer. The State of the Word was only about 26 minutes this year. It’s about half of what it normally is. Probably because it was pre-recorded. And then we had about an hour’s worth of questions. So I thought that that was really nice. They hit on a few big topics, the block editor, obviously, but virtual events, and then being more accessible. Multilingual came up a lot, and then performance came up a lot. So what you’re about to hear are my thoughts right after the State of the Word. I live-tweeted the whole thing too. I’ll link that over at wpreview.io. But thanks so much for tuning into this. Let me know what you think afterwards. You can comment on the YouTube video or anything else. So here we go. Let’s bring in the audio from the live stream.
Joe: Hey, everybody, I hope you enjoyed the State of the Word 2020. It was about 26 minutes of Matt giving updates and then about an hour’s worth of questions and answers, which I thought was pretty cool. You know, I thought that was a nice way to highlight the community. I’m going to dive right in. I’m going to dive right into some of my thoughts and updates. I was live-tweeting basically the entire thing or doing the best I can at least to live-tweet the entire thing. So I’m going to tweet that I’m live even though probably if any of you saw my tweet, you’ll know I’m live.
So I took notes and I live-tweeted. I’m just going to run through the tweet. I tried to take pretty judicious notes here, so I’m going to scroll back to the beginning of my tweets and kind of see how things progressed. Matt started off by giving his standard updates. He said, “Howdy, everybody.” I think that’s how he opens most of his State of the Word. I have to go back and watch. Howdy, Patrick. Thanks for joining me here for my hot takes. If anybody has any comments, feel free to drop them into the comments and reactions, comments, questions, things like that. I will be happy to highlight them.
Matt started with, “Howdy everybody,” and then he just went right into the three major releases. Something that I thought was interesting was that he introduced himself I think a little more than he normally would have if it was an in-person WordCamp US. I think the assumption is that if you are paying money to attend WordCamp US, you probably know who Matt is, or you at least have a history or a general idea of who Matt is and what WordPress is. But the live stream where people could watch it for free at any time they want, there’s no context of an event around the State of the Word this year, Matt introduced himself, who he is, what he does.
He did the same thing with Gutenberg. So he talked about the three major releases 5.4 first. But he mentioned Gutenberg and he gave a brief introduction or overview of what Gutenberg is. I thought, interestingly, that he made the distinction between the block editor and Gutenberg. This was something that there’s been some chatter online about, some confusion or potential confusion around what is the Block Editor versus what is Gutenberg? Are they the same? I don’t see Gutenberg in WordPress and I’m confused by the plugin.
So Matt took some time to define that and say kind of why they have the plugin and why it continues to be developed under the name Gutenberg. He went over the four phases of Gutenberg, which are editing inside the post page, which was phase one, phase two, which we are currently in, editing outside the post and page. So things like the header, the footer, the widget areas, collaboration, which is on deck for next year, and then a multilingual aspect, bringing native multilingual aspects to WordPress. He said, “That’s just in the imagination stage at this point targeted for 2022.” So a little bit of time before we get to that. Of course, I remember 5.0 coming out like it was just yesterday. I’m sure that time will fly by much to the chagrin of the development team who has to think about these problems.
So he went through an overview of 5.4 5.5 and 5.6. Some notable things. 5.5 had over 800 contributors. It’s the most contributors ever for a major release of a WordPress project. That was pretty great. Really nice to see that here in 2020. He also mentioned that block patterns, which is one of his favorite new features. And he mentioned the distraction-free editor. Now a little context behind that is that was something that he decided to ship very quickly in 5.4. I think they were in beta, close to release candidate, and he said, “I want the distraction-free editor on by default for WordPress.” So there was a little bit of drama around that because it was a late-breaking change that happened that fundamentally changed the UI. He likes it, I personally do not like it because I’m always reaching for something in the admin. It’s usually just like the view post and that’s hidden by distraction-free editing. So that’s something I thought was interesting that he pointed out. But block patterns, one of his favorite new features, super cool.
He had a great quote from Sarah Gooding on 5.5. The 5.5 update is a testament to the stability of WordPress during uncertain times as well as its unstoppable distributed contributor base who continue to get things done despite the pandemic’s unique challenges. I think we saw this highlighted a lot in the State of the Word. The power of our community, the reason that we want to be so inclusive and accessible to everybody is because our community has shown strength throughout the pandemic through things like the events going online, our community being able to pivot, and of course, the thousands I think of contributors this year, right? I mean, it’s probably hundreds, maybe thousands. But we had over 800 5.5, we had over 600 5.6, which I think was really fantastic.
Then he talked about 5.6. 5.6 Simone, introduced major core updates as well in 2021. It was also the first all-women and nonbinary release team. So kudos to the team there. Again, another highlight of the greatness of our community. Then he mentioned that we’ve cracked 39% of web usage. Some of the first of 2020 that Matt highlighted. Virtual State of the Word, that was a first, cracking 39%. Along with that, he said that it was the fastest growth year over year. We have not seen WordPress grow as fast in a single year than we have this year. And then lots of online events that happened.
So after that, he shared a pretty interesting slide here. Maybe I can show that here in the stream. I think I can do that. I’ll hide my face as well. GarageBand going crazy over here. Okay. Sorry about that. So he showed this slide, the lockdown. These are kind of the good that came out of the bad. I guess I could show my face because it’s really just Matt’s face. If you could see me moving instead, not that I want to cover Matt with me. Anyway.
Some of the good that came out of the bad as far as 2020 goes. The lockdown allowed for space and time to connect online and blogs. ecommerce, this was Patrick’s favorite mention here. So I’ll throw that on the screen here. ecommerce 20 billion in sales on WooCommerce. And then something I didn’t include in the note here, but it’s more than double the year before, which is absolutely crazy. So that’s a really great stat. Thanks, Patrick, for highlighting that. And then economic uncertainty. People became entrepreneurs to supplement their income. There have been other stats to highlight that as well. But it’s something that WordPress has been able to help with. And I thought that that was a really nice thing for Matt to highlight. Again, not just focusing on the software development here, but also talking about the community and how the community has grown, either through more users, more contributors, more people coming to online events.
Then he highlighted some WordPress sites like Tonal to show that, hey, WooCommerce is a scalable ecommerce platform, which I thought was really cool. And I think something important to talk about too, right? Because I think that WordPress and WooCommerce still kind of get the short end of the stick here as far as…well, it’s not performance and things like that. But Matt highlighted some sites to show that yes, it is important. This was…I believe I didn’t start noting it until later but I think this was the first mention of learn.wordpress.org, the Learn WordPress platform that launched this week, continuing to talk about how we can supplement or kind of fill the void of in-person events, make WordPress more accessible, help more people because education was kind of the third tenant of how the community has grown this year. So WordPress and WooCommerce has allowed people to connect and scale ecommerce businesses and learn in 2020.
After that, we got a sneak peek of the site editor. So this is something that’s being worked on in core right now. Again, part of phase 2 is bringing the block editor outside of just content for posts and pages. In the full site editor preview, we learned that the full site editor engine will store all of the changes for you. So you don’t have to worry about writing any code or anything like that. It gets stored in the database for you.
Theme developers, I thought it was great that they mentioned or Matt mentioned…Actually, my apologies. I forget who presented this part. But they mentioned that theme developers can create templates to recreate demo content and things like that. So there’s a lot of worry over whether or not the full site editing experience will make themes and theme developers obsolete. But I believe there’s still a place for that. We still need theme developers as guideposts to create general designs that maybe we can build off of right. So I don’t think that full site editing is going to kill themes. I think it’s going to empower them to do even cooler things.
And then the demo pointed out that you can make global changes from anywhere in the block editor to things like color, fonts and font weights, and things like that. So it was a pretty cool demo. I’ll be sure to link the State of the Word in the description for this video. If you’re listening to this on the podcast later, it’ll be in the show notes over at wpreview.io. After that demo, there was a brief mention of Five for the Future. That’s people donating 5% of their time to the WordPress open source project in some way, shape or form.
But that was it. As far as I know, that’s the shortest State of the Word at least since WordCamp US has started. Generally, the State of the Word is around 40 to 60 minutes. This one clocked in, according to my watch, at 26 minutes. So it was very short. I suspect because there was fewer applause breaks and less awkward handoffs. This was a pre-recorded thing. You could tell because there were certain cuts, which is good. I think that if you’re going to do something like this, it should absolutely be pre-recorded. Why would you risk an important update like this to be subject to real-world things like noisiness outside or internet going out, awkward handoffs doing that live. So it absolutely should have been pre-recorded. I think that was very smart for Matt and the team that put this together.
And then there was a lot of Q&A. I’m not going to rehash all of the Q&A. I’ll link this in the description and in the show notes too. But if you go to my Twitter feed and follow the #WPRSotW, I did live-tweet every single question and answer.
The first question started off by asking how WordPress is integrating voice AI? I thought that was really interesting, because it hasn’t really been on any radar. But it’s something that’s growing. Matt said that it’s still at least a few years from being in core and he hasn’t thought about it, but he’s seen other people doing it.
How can we get more recognition for all contributors? I think Matt floated a pretty good idea here, where one form of recognition is the badge system and an improvement could be clicking on that badge to see who else has that badge. So basically a page for each way you can contribute to WordPress, and the contributors, I thought that was really cool.
Learn WordPress was mentioned a few times. There’s been a rise in PHP jobs. How can we help employers as it relates to the Learn WordPress platform? So this is interesting. Matt talks about first organizing Learn WordPress and getting high quality content out there. And then next, possibly self-certification or even an administrative certification. When I was at Community Summit 2015, there was a lot of discussion around this. I remember this was like my first impression of Morton. But we talked about how we can offer certification and if it would even work. My impression coming away was we would need the WordPress Foundation to be behind it for it to be credible at all right. I mean, we have other organizations saying that they can WordPress certify you. But that basically just means you take their course. So I thought that this was interesting.
I think that there’s probably a lot of—and Morton mentioned this on Twitter—a lot of governance that needs to happen around this. But I think that we’re talking strictly about the Learn WordPress platform here. This is something that would give the Learn WordPress platform a competitive edge over some other educational institutions.
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Joe: We talked about in-person events versus virtual events and how, yes, we definitely want to see in person events come back. But online events, virtual events are more accessible, they are more inclusive to everybody who might not be able to travel to an event. That question came up a lot during the State of the Word and in the QA.
There was a question about the block editor, making them more in line with page builders. Matt mentioned that there’s a fine line that the core team is walking here making the block editor as easy as possible to use as well as offering customization. Then he pointed out something that I thought was interesting. And that was that they’re doing something that’s never been done before, a Wysiwyg editor, and he described that more, but one that is semantic and accessible with fast markup. And I don’t think that that’s hyperbole, right? Because if you look at other page builders, there’s a lot of markup there that doesn’t need to be included. If you look at other websites like Squarespace and Wix, I think it’s even worse. If you look at the source code there, it looks terrible. Whereas the block editor, it’s doing its best to generate semantic HTML. So it’s very challenging, which means that the customizations are even more challenging.
But I think, as Matt pointed out, where page builders are prioritizing that customization over semantics or at least over having as, let’s say spelt or as clear markup as possible, they’re prioritizing customization over that. That’s the sole reason…not the sole reason, but that’s the primary reason page builders exist, right, is to give us more control over customization. Whereas the block editor is giving us more flexible content, but it’s prioritizing semantics accessibility and speed over the full customization. As we move into more full site editing, we’ll probably see that change. But to be honest, I mean, I know CSS, I’m a web developer, I know code, I’d rather a theme consistently define all of the padding and margins and spacing and things like that for me.
You know, CSS variables make it easier to do that. But that visual or vertical rhythm or whatever, if you’re changing every little aspect of it, if you have control to do that over every block and every piece of content, your website is going to look worse. And it might not look worse in the oh my gosh, this looks like a Dumpster Fire, GeoCities website from 1998, bad, but people are going to be reading the site going, “Something’s off about this. I’m uncomfortable reading this.” So I think the priorities for the block editor are correct here. It’d be nice to have as much customization as possible, but no more I think.
There was mention of headless WordPress, and then Matt mentioned that he doesn’t like the word headless. I kind of agree. I think it’s kind of unclear. Decoupled I think is a better term here. And then he also said he doesn’t think that decoupled is right for everything and everyone. Again, I would agree with that. I think that over the last couple of years with Gatsby and Jamstack, or whatever, I barely know what Jamstack is, I think we’ve seen people decoupling and doing headless just for the sake of it. I mean, on an academic level, it’s interesting. But to put forth an academic hypothesis over this stuff as this is something we should all be doing, you know, I don’t think that we should be doing that.
In the actual academic realm, there’s peer review and stuff. In web development idea, there’s not. I was just explaining this to my wife the other day. There’s no way to verify that I’m an actual web developer. I can just say I make websites and I make websites. And it’s the same thing here, like, “Oh, you can do headless with Gatsby.” But do I need to? I think just because we can doesn’t mean we should. I think we need more of just Jeff Goldblum’s character from Jurassic Park. Sorry, I’m forgetting that name. Jurassic Park fans are going to be very mad at me.
There was another question about Gutenberg and the block editor. As it adds more features, do we anticipate slower page speeds? The answer from [00:29:11] Riyadh was essentially since launch performance has improved, the block markup must be as clean as possible. It also has semantic markup. And he mentioned a feature here that only the CSS needed for the blocks on the page are loaded now, which I think is super cool. He said he wants to see that expanded into more areas. I could not agree more. I think it’s I’m doing this off the cuff so my apologies if I’m messing up the technology. But either HTTP/2 or HTTP/3 I think allows for better calls to the server, multiple calls at the same time.
Amy Hall… Sorry, I am interrupting my train of thought here. Amy Hall mentioning. Dr. Ian Malcolm is Jeff Goldblum’s character. Thank you, Amy. Gosh, I was drawing a complete blank on that. So, thank you for that. Amy, and thanks for joining. Anyway, so I think it’s HTTP/2 or HTTP/3 is allowing for faster and multiple requests from the browser to the server. So we could take advantage of that technology, and have kind of like we used to have smaller CSS files that had just certain aspects of a site that we could load and hot swap or whatever, I think that would be really cool and help performance a lot.
Another question about considering customizations to the back end. I always think about this. Like how can the WordPress dashboard be improved? Is it confusing? But the point was made by…I’m sorry to the person who answered this question. I did not catch your name. You know, that there are challenges that the dashboard has been unchanged for a long time. There was a UX study…gosh, I went to an event apart several years ago now, and…Man, I really forget who did this. I’m really annoyed that I forgot who gave this talk. But they talked about how giant redesigns are actually bad for user experience, because your users get used to your website being a certain way, and then you just change it on them overnight, setting the learning curve or user knowledge back to zero. I think that if we are going to redesign and optimize the dashboard, the person who answered this question made a very good change—the changes need to be iterative.
Amazon is like the master of this. Amazon knows because any UX change could cost them millions of dollars. So they test and iterate and do small changes over time to make sure that everyone always understands how their website works to make it easier to buy things. I think we should all remember that as we go through massive redesigns, make changes that are best for the user without resetting their knowledge back to zero.
Wrapping up the Q&A, there was mention of is there a public roadmap? What can we do? There were a lot of multilingual questions. So that looks like it’s on the forefront of at least the open source projects mind, the foundation’s mind because they selected the questions that would go into this Q&A. They were pre-selected. So there was shout out to the roadmap by Mateus. Joe Simpson Jr. Asked about making events more accessible. Again, that’s a nod to in-person events are great, but online events more people can attend. There was a question about gearing content to WordCamps and WordPress events towards content creators. Josepha mentioned that’s really important. So perhaps that will be encouraged more going into 2021.
Again, more performance optimizations. It seems like the themes of the Q&A and maybe the overall State of the Word were multilingual performance and inclusion and openness as it relates to both the community and to virtual events. Again, if you want to read all of the questions and answers paraphrased by me, full disclosure, I was typing as fast as I could, you can see them over on the Twitter feed.
Again, I thought it was interesting that the Q&A was much longer, about double the length of the actual State of the Word. It gave more people in the community a voice. You could see it wasn’t just Matt answering questions. Either he virtually passed the mic to a number of people, from core contributors to the community events and Learn folks. We saw a lot more faces in the State of the Word. Not just for the Q&A but from people actually presenting and giving answers, which I thought was really cool. One thing I think…I want to make sure I find that the context for this. Because, again, another multilingual question came up, and Matt pointed out that, yes, he really wants that too but they want to make sure that they get phases 2 and 3 perfect. He said, “If we don’t get phase 1 and phase 2 just right, phases 3 and 4 won’t matter.”
Again, I think that’s super important. I think that we saw the ramifications of not getting the first part of phase 1, it rolling out extremely quickly. And I think that people are still a little nervous to adopt the block editor. So it’s nice to see that things have slowed down a little bit and that we’re not just rushing to full site editing, and we’re not just rushing to real-time collaboration just to say that we have it. I think that we’ll see a slower rollout of things moving forward.
So overall, I enjoyed the State of the Word. Let’s see. Checking the chat. Amy mentioned that it would be great to have a content creator’s WordCamp. I agree with you, Amy. I mean, Josepha said this in her answer. She said that you can have a pretty website but if your content is bad—I’m paraphrasing again—but if your content is bad, it doesn’t really matter. And writing for the web is different from technical writing or from writing prose. So if we can help more people in the WordPress community, more WordPress users write better, create better content for the web, then it’s going to help everybody in the WordPress community and outside the WordPress community. This is the whole point of the block editor, right, is that we can make better, more flexible content. So if we can get the foundational stuff down at a WordCamp, I think that that’s a great idea.
Amy, let’s…you know, I’m saying this live. Let’s talk about what we can do for content creators in the WordPress community in 2021. I think that’s a really interesting opportunity. Because you’re right, as Amy just said here in the chat, they have different issues than developers and designers. Oh, who was it? Laura asked that question. So we’ll get her on board and we’ll see what we can do for content creators in 2021. You’re hearing it live. I shouldn’t be saying things like this live unless I’m really going to do it. I guess exclusive here first is my hopes, my yearly theme for 2021 is more opportunities. So here’s another one. Amy, I don’t want to rope you into this. You haven’t promised anything. But if you’re interested, let me know.
All right. I’ll be on here for a few more minutes if you want to get questions, comments, concerns in here. I’ll also look through Twitter as I was live-tweeting to see if anybody answered or asked questions or had general thoughts. I know Morton had some thoughts on certification. I tagged him in that answer. He had some thoughts. Amy in the chat says that she’s in, so sweet. My first opportunity opening up for 2021 here, which is exciting. I like this a lot. I’ve been really focusing on content in 2020. I blogged just about every week from when I started consciously doing it in March. I blogged, I released a YouTube video every week. I’ve released a podcast every week. And I’ve been live-streaming weekly too. So I’m all about content. So if we can help more people create better content, I am in. That’s a mission. That’s my mission.
Calypso was mentioned. Somebody asked about what technologies are you excited for in 2021? And Matt mentioned that he hopes to have more native apps. And the lessons they learned with Calypso are being used there, which is cool. So overall, I thought it was a good State of the Word. Doug Stewart tweeted me about the API question. Piece of there should be an API and everything consumes that even the built-in front ends? That is the appropriate way to use…I believe that’s and he believes too. He’s a lot smarter than me. That’s the appropriate way to use an API, right? You have an API and your products also consume that API.
NPR was doing this I think in 2012. They built their own content management system with an API and then everything consumed that API, from their apps, their website, their real-time alerts and things like that. I think it’s NPR. I think it was Jen Simmons or Erica Hall talked about this. I’m digging like eight years back at this point. So forgive me if I’ve mentioned the wrong person. But I think that’s absolutely correct as well. So all in all, it was a great State of the Word. I thought it was pretty tight. A lot of good questions from a lot of good people.
And then I got to do this analysis and podcast. I’m undecided as to whether or not I’m just going to release this raw audio for the podcast, or if I’m going to edit it to remove live stream specific mentions. If you’re listening on the podcast, you’ll know what I decided. But to everybody who tuned in to this live stream, or is watching it on the replay later, leave a comment with your question and I’ll dive in and answer it. But thanks to everybody who live-tweeted the State of the Word with me. Thanks to everybody who joined in on this live stream. And until next time, get out there and build something.