Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. Each week we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and my contributions over on TorqueMag.Io where I get to do podcasts and draw cartoons and tutorial videos. Check that out.
Each month we like to do a community focused episode. We like to call them Word Around the Campfire, where we talk with WordPress friends about events and news within the community. Joining us this week is Mike Davey, a Senior Editor at Delicious Brains. Mike, how are you doing today?
Mike Davey: Oh, not too bad. Doc and yourself.
Nick Diego: Doing great! Thanks for having me.
DP: Let’s start off with the biggest news in the community this week. Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address. Matt gave this presentation just yesterday. Nick, can you kind of tell us a little bit about the State of the Word and kind of where it happened, set the scene for us?
ND: Yeah, absolutely. So the State of the Word is something that’s done each year and it’s delivered by the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. And the goal of the event is to kind of share reflections on the progress of the project during the current year or the past year, and also kind of set the scene for what’s gonna be coming in the future of WordPress.
This year it took place in New York City, and it was actually live again this year to a handful of folks. And we learned a lot of great things about what happened in 2022 and also some things that we can expect this coming year.
DP: WordPress is turning 20. That was kind of a big eye-opener for me. The other thing to expect is the end of Gutenberg Phase Two. Nick, can you tell us about that?
ND: This whole block project started, Gutenberg project started, it’s broken into kind of four parts. We’ve been in stage two for quite a long time now. And that’s kind of everything focused around being able to build with blocks. The different supports and controls and functionality, Full Site Editing, all that kind of stuff.
And we’ve seen huge advancements in 2022 towards that stage two goal. There’s still a little bit of work left to do and that will be completed as we move into 2023, but the goal is that once we get to the end of the year, we will be completely done with the bulk of everything that’s needed for that stage two goal.
And then we can look forward to stage three.
DP: So, end of this year or end of next year, we should be done with Phase Two?
ND: Oh, my apologies for that. End of 2023.
DP: Okay. So 6.1 was sort of the biggest version of Site Editing so far. Of course, that’s how WordPress releases work. Each version’s gonna be the biggest one or the newest one. But 6.2 I was thinking, was going to kind of book end that at least as best as possible, try to wrap up any of the major issues or bugs?
Is that still correct or am I just misunderstanding what 6.2 is gonna be doing there?
ND: No. You’re a hundred percent correct there. I think that there’s a few outstanding items regarding Full Site Editing, and the Site Editor. A lot of work’s being done there. Kind of polishing off some remaining functionality that folks have been looking for. That’s all aiming at 6.2.
DP: And they talked a little bit about new plugin taxonomies being introduced. And I’m gonna say I didn’t fully understand that part of the talk. Mike, can you help explain to me what Matt was talking about there?
MD: Sure. Essentially, the idea is that plugin and theme developers sort of self-identify what their project goals are through that new taxonomy. Just looking at plugins though, there’s a few different categories they can put it in. One of them being commercial and I’m in favor of greater transparency.
My main concern with that is that a lot of users, especially a lot of new users, may skip right over anything that says commercial. And it seems to me like that might be a barrier for the freemium plugins, especially the new ones that don’t have an audience yet. And I mean, just from my personal perspective, the Delicious Brains plugins all have free versions, and those free versions do significantly enhance your capabilities. And so I worry that new users might miss that if the plugins are just tagged as commercial. Right.
And speaking of looking just still at new users, I don’t think the current taxonomy scheme that we’ve seen is going to be of much help for them when they need to figure out which plugins to use. Solo? Community? What does that even mean? And don’t get me started on canonical, I seem to recall there was some confusion about that term just a few months ago, even among the WordPress cognoscente. Right? Like it’s not an obvious term to use.
And if I were just going in blind, I would see the words canonical plugin assume that that means it’s something you have to have. And then I would question why it wasn’t just included in Core. Right? So I think maybe the way we’re terming them is confusing.
DP: Yeah, there seems to be a lot of kind of confusion about this. Maybe it wasn’t rolled out great. It sounds like the goal is to help identify a user on the plugin repository of what type of plugin they’re getting. It sounds like that’s the noble goal. And these are supposed to be self applied or self-identified.
I know that currently there’s some folks who are looking at the way that these have been tagged and not fully understanding ’em, but yeah, you’re bringing up some other points too, just like canonical. I mean, the terminology of that seems pretty off for sure.
MD: Yeah, I mean, I seem to recall the first time I’d ever seen the term. There was a big discussion a few months back about the plugin download stats being removed. And Matt Mullenweg said that I believe at the time in a comment on WordPress.org that the best way to do this would probably be via a canonical plugin.
And there were plenty of questions generated from that, like plenty of questions coming from very knowledgeable people saying, what is a canonical plugin?
ND: So I think the spirit of the initiative is a good one. I think there are a lot of plugins in the repository. I’ll leave it at that. There’s a lot of plugins in the repository and the more that we can do to categorize them, I think is helpful. How that’s done. You know, there’s always gonna be concerns and questions around that.
I think that the commercial thing might actually be beneficial personally. I think that there’s a lot of plugins out there that are, it’s hard to tell if they’re being actively supported. Is it just somebody who built it and put it out there and just left it? Who’s actually behind these plugins?
It can kind of cut both ways. I know, but I think it could also be beneficial to showcase, “Hey, this plugin is free. Use it however you want, but it’s backed up by a company, and they are actively supporting this and they’re putting dev time towards it.”
Again, I’m not sure how it’s all gonna play out in the end, but I do think that the plugin repository is a bit of a wild west and what can be done to kind of tame that, I think is in concept helpful.
DP: Each year we do the Plugin Madness competition over on Torque Magazine. It’s coming up in a few weeks or a few months. When I first heard about the taxonomies, I was like, oh, that sounds a little bit like, we’ve got kind of an enterprise and a maintenance and optimization.
We’ve brought basically plugins into four kind of pillars, which is not easy to do. And every year we get a lot of complaints about how we do it. It’s not an easy task. So I can kind of see that. And this is obviously something different. It’s not breaking it up into its functionality quite like that.
But it is kind of fun seeing other people have to deal with the criticism that we get when we try adding any sort of taxonomy or grouping to things. And Mike actually mentions the developer download issue that came up where stats on downloads were removed.
I think probably for privacy concerns for users. Both of these things do kind of have that similar vibe where I think plugin developers, I feel like plugin developers are feeling like this kind of came out of nowhere, or maybe they weren’t consulted or they sort of feel like out of the loop on both of these. At least with this one, if I understand correctly they should be able to fix that. Like there’s no fixing the download stats.
MD: I’m actually not sure to be honest, like I don’t know that you can, once it’s set, there’s probably some way to change it. Like, for example, because somebody made a side, “This was a commercial Plugin when I developed it five years on, I’m just making it totally free.” So there must be a way to, to change that setting, but I don’t know for sure.
ND: Yeah, I don’t either.
DP: We’re gonna take a quick break and when we come back we’re gonna talk a little bit more about the community as seen through Matt Mullenweg and the State of the Word and what we’ve kind of learned about 2022 and 2023. Stay tuned for more.
DP: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress Community podcast. I’m your host, Doc Pop, and we are doing our Word Around the Campfire segment where we talk about the WordPress community. Today we’re really talking about the State of the Word that happened just yesterday, as we’re recording. I’m joined by Mike Davey from Delicious Brains and Nick Diego from WP Engine. Mike, I’m curious, what was one of your favorite questions during Matt’s famous Q and A segment after State of the word?
MD: I’d have to say that my favorite question was, “Are we going to get to one universal theme?” Because it mirrors something I was thinking when Matt was showing off some of the new stuff about Gutenberg and he was showing the new Twenty Twenty-Three Theme with I think 10 style variations. Because it really does seem to me that that seems to be the sort of way that it’s driving. Right.
Is that we may eventually get to the point where we have just sort of one universal theme and you can change so many things about it, right? Fairly easily that it’s the only theme you really need. Now as Matt did say during State of the Word, we’re probably going to see some really weird themes still, no matter how advanced we get with these new themes, right? We’re probably gonna see some niche themes, I think he mentioned one that looks like a terminal, that sort of thing. But I suspect we’re going to see eventually it driving towards one universal theme.
One of the other things he mentioned, you can create themes just using blocks and style variations, and I really think that that is in line with WordPress’s initial and continual mission of democratizing publishing.
It seems to me that you can now be a low code or no code person and actually build a custom theme. It’s probably gonna take you a while. There may be some stuff you’ve gotta learn, but you can get in there and start doing it. And I think the more open we make this and the easier we make it to do, the more we fulfill that mission of democratizing publishing.
ND: Yeah, I agree. And I think that one of the things that we’re looking at as well as maybe there’s a kind of a default base theme for WordPress that people can build on. But I also think that when it comes to businesses, it’s going to be what a lot of people do. They have their own base theme. Then every single client site or every single site that they build is from that base.
Maybe they have some custom functionality that’s specific to their business. Maybe they specialize in eCommerce or whatever. That may require a bit of a different base. But having a solid base, whatever that might be, whether it’s the WordPress base or their own custom base, you can build so much on top of that, like never before.
I think we’re gonna see a lot of that especially in the agency framework.
DP: That makes a lot of sense that if you’re an agency, that you might have a theme that you just kind of like cookie cutter, just to start off everything with and then build around that. I could definitely see that. When I’m looking for themes, I keep finding more and more that themes are actually getting in my way.
Even with the Twenty Twenty-Three Theme that I got, I still ended up like trying to strip it down to the point where some of the things, I can’t find them. I think like the border around the edges or whatever. I’m kind of looking for just a theme that’s just a blank sheet to start with and I kind of wonder if that’s maybe gonna be what themes start becoming, and then they just have these like patterns and things kind of tucked in on the side.
If you want that border, it’s gonna be tucked in on the side maybe rather than kind of baked in. I think the more we bake into themes, the more difficult it actually becomes for some users.
ND: Once you have those controls and you want to be able to to change things, the theme can definitely get in the way of doing them.
DP: So my favorite question was, I think it was Courtney Robertson asked about certification in the WordPress space. And this has been a highly contentious issue, I think in the 10 years I’ve been covering it with Torque, and I was really surprised when she asked Matt about it, that he said that he’s kind of come around on it.
Matt was one of the people who felt that the idea of certification, the idea that there’s a global body saying here’s a test to see if you’re qualified, and kind of organizing that, it just didn’t feel very WordPressy. It felt like WordPressy should be a little more self-organized. And even in general, maybe the idea of certification wasn’t really a good idea.
I got the impression during Courtney’s talk very quickly that Matt was like, I’ve come around on this and I think it’s not a terrible idea and he didn’t say that things are in the works for that, but just the idea that he’s kind of come around on it makes me wonder if there’s possibly some sort of certification process talk happening behind the scenes.
I know that recently CertifyWP.Com has popped up as one of the newest groups trying to kind of create a certification process. The whole conundrum that they’re trying to solve is these people also hire WordPressers and sometimes they just don’t know what they’re getting when they’re hiring someone.
They don’t know if they really know what they’re talking about or not and the hope is that if someone has certification in WordPress, whatever that means, that you can hire them knowing that they’ll be able to do what they say they can do. Sort of like a little blue verification badge. Mike, did you have any thoughts on that particular segment?
MD: Overall, I think certifications are actually a sign of a maturity, which is not necessarily that WordPress needs to have them, but I mean, WordPress is turning 20 next year and certifications do provide some assurance to people outside of WordPress that this person knows what they’re talking about.
For example, you mentioned that somebody may hire a WordPress developer but they don’t necessarily know if that person’s competent. And I know enough about WordPress that I’m positive I could convince a small business owner that I know it all. But the fact of the matter is I don’t, and I’m not a developer.
Right? So a certification would help to, I think, alleviate some of those concerns for people outside of WordPress.
DP: Nick, do you have any thoughts on the WordPress certification as a program that should be adopted or not?
ND: Yeah, I think it’s an interesting one. I think that you know it. One, it gives something for people to strive towards. It kind of creates this collective idea of what, it’s hard because you gotta say, what is included in that certification? What are the things that you need to know? I think in concept, I like the idea. It’s a little bit gatekeepy, but I do like the idea.
The problem I have with it is how fast WordPress is evolving.
ND: You know? I couldn’t do what I did last year, what I do now, even though I would be considered a “WordPress expert” last year. So I think that this is something that you kind of gotta work into that process, whether it’s a recertification or hard questions to answer. But in concept, I like the idea, but the how it would work is a bit of a challenging one.
DP: It seems in general like, a lot of things are changing really quickly with Site Editor and I wonder if two years from now it’ll feel quite as radical or if something else will come around. You know, cause you’re right, like certification a year ago versus now, it seems like totally, it doesn’t mean you know what’s happening in WordPress necessarily cause things have changed so much.
I’m hoping things settle down because it’s actually getting a little hard to write tutorials on things right now with everything changing so quickly.
ND: Yeah, and maybe this is a perfect time to revisit certifications cause you’re a hundred percent right. Once we get to the end of Phase Two, things will settle down a little bit more and it might make more sense cause we’ll have a bit more of a solid understanding of what it means to be a certified WordPress professional.
DP: There we have it, Gutenberg Phase Five, certifications. You heard it here, first. Mike and I were talking a little bit before the show about Matt’s new love of AI. Mike, you want to tell us a little bit about that?
MD: I mean, I’m also very excited about AI and Matt did seem to be pretty excited about, in particular, OpenAI. He mentioned ChatGPT, which I’m sure by now just about everybody’s heard about it. The current level of technology we have in AI takes me back to nearly a decade ago when an editorial colleague asked me if he thought we would be replaced by AI.
My answer then is the same as it is now, not completely. There’s too many judgment calls to make, and more fundamentally, you need to really understand your audience on a gut level. And I don’t think that applies to just editorial and content either. I think that applies to just about everything.
AI is an excellent tool and a lot of work can be automated and we’re rapidly gaining access to the tools we need to do it. And from my perspective, that would free me up to do what really does need human intervention, planning, strategy, and ensuring that what we’re producing is the very best it can be and really meets the reader’s needs.
However excited as I am about the potential of AI, there are a lot of social implications here that I don’t necessarily think that people that really need to be thinking about it have been. And that would be its societal implications. I’m with Bill Gates on this one. At some point I think we’re going to have to start taxing robot labor. That is a policy intervention that goes far beyond anything Matt was talking about, but eventually I think we will need to do that because we’re going to need fewer people doing fewer things.
With that said, I mean, if you’ve looked at what I’ve heard about Open AI’s like ChatGPT can in fact generate code and sometimes the code works like somebody built a working WordPress plugin using ChatGPT. But what I’ve also heard is that the code it produces, while it may work, is not good code. Right. It does need a lot of human editing. Again, it’s not best practice. It’s not necessarily secure. It does things in ways that a human developer probably wouldn’t.
So we definitely still need human intervention there and human oversight and to make those judgment calls. But it is a very exciting era. And I think we’re just starting to see the potential.
DP: Matt certainly seemed excited about it as I think almost every CEO is, they’re at least open to the possibilities. The same thing happened a year ago. Everybody was excited about NFTs. I think AI has a longer lasting potential. During his talk, Matt, used a line that was written in ChatGPT, kind of as a throwaway gag.
Everyone seems to be throwing that into their speeches now. But at the end, Michelle Frechette asked him about OpenVerse, which is a CreativeCommons project where you can upload images or media, music, video. And these are open for anyone to use, and WordPress has adopted OpenVerse. It’s now something that they’re trying to get people to use and people are contributing.
But the question from Michelle Frechette was saying that usage isn’t that high. People aren’t using it that much. And during his answer, Matt said some of the rules that they use for OpenVerse include things like no faces can be shown because they don’t wanna get into legal troubles and worry about releases and stuff like that.
They’re trying to keep it simple and some users do need a face or want an image of someone who has a face. So, Matt’s suggestion, coming back to AI, was talking about using AI to generate images, sort of like ThisPersonDoesNotExist.Com images to help add faces to that category.
And I know that, Mike, to what you’re saying, this is kind of a contentious thing for some people in terms of ethics, in terms of where are these images being generated from, or, you know, the source material. It’s pretty interesting and it kind of caught me off guard to see Matt really excited about it.
But I do think there are parts with ChatGPT in particular to help build maybe an article and you can go through and flesh it out more. I think there’s a lot of exciting stuff there. So I get it. We’re gonna take a final break here on Press This, and when we come back, we’re gonna wrap up our Word Around The Campfire segment and talk about Playground. So stay tuned.
DP: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. We are doing our Word Around The Campfire segment with Mike Davey from Delicious Brains and Nick Diego from WP Engine. We are mostly talking about the State of the Word address that Matt Mullenweg gave yesterday in New York. And the final thing I think I wanted to talk about was Playground.
I know both of y’all have interesting things to say with it. Nick, why don’t you just kick us off? What is Playground?
ND: Oh, that’s such a hard question. So WordPress Playground is a tool where you can spin up WordPress, right in your web browser. How it’s done is a bit beyond me technically, but I understand that it uses web assembly to create PHP and the server. Everything behind the scenes in WordPress, all within your browser.
So, it’s a pretty fascinating piece of technology. Even Matt said in the presentation, when he first saw it, he didn’t think it was possible. But it’s a really interesting way for you to spin up WordPress sites right in the browser and it really opens the doors for all sorts of interesting things.
DP: I was understanding that it even allowed you to kind of play with other people’s sites. Mike, do you know if I’m wrong on that?
MD: I’m actually not sure. I’ve only used it myself a bit in the last couple of days, but I did report on it back in the Delicious Brain Bites newsletter in early October, and I was impressed by it then and I’m even more impressed that it’s already ready for primetime.
My thought when I first heard about it was, that’s really neat. I can’t wait to see where it is next year. I never expected it to be ready this early. Now it is still experimental and in development, but there’s a lot you can do with it. This is another area that’s gonna be really helpful for people who are just getting started on their WordPress journey.
You can play and experiment as much as you like, and the only investment is time. You don’t even need to log in, like you do not need to be logged into WordPress org tag. That’s the playground. If you just type in WordPress playground into your search engine, go to that link. You can start right away. You can get right into the backend of the site and see what does what.
ND: Well, one of the things I think is also really cool is that if you want to demo something in WordPress, instead of having to have a user, install a local version of WordPress and download the various plugins they need to demo. You can set up an entire WordPress site, all preconfigured what you want to have in it, and then that user can just hop in and start experiencing WordPress with your predefined configuration.
So, new users, great. Showcasing products and features, great. All sorts of cool things that you could do. So you could take something like ACF, Advanced Custom Fields, and have a Playground instance with it. You go in there, you could play around with ACF, learn how to use it, all that sort of thing, all within the browser.
So there’s a lot of really interesting implications for this technology.
DP: Playground is being marketed as a WordPress experience that runs totally in your browser. And as Nick is saying, you can use it to embed a real WordPress site in like a tutorial or a course, or you can use it as part of your pitch when you’re sending something to your client you can kind of put it in there. And then also in the description it says, experiment with an anonymous WordPress website, which is where I was kind of getting the vibe that maybe you could kind of plug in someone’s URL and just kind of play around with it and see if you can modify it and learn how it was made.
I was suggested to try using Playground specifically, cause I have a weird bug that I can’t tell if it’s in the theme or if it’s something I did and someone was like, “Oh, well, very easily you could just put your site into playground and try switching the theme up a little bit.” It’s sort of like a Local install, but maybe even easier.
Is it sort of like Local in a way? Is it possible you’re gonna be fitting that need?
ND: There are echoes of Local in Playground. However, I mean, Local’s obviously a much more advanced tool. All the integrations with Flywheel and WP Engine and all that kind of stuff. But there’s definitely some echoes between the two.
DP: That’s all we have time for on this episode of Press This. I want to say thank you so much to Nick and Mike, we will drop links to your projects in the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode of Press This, I’d recommend checking out our recent interview with Brian Gardner. He did a predictions about themes and trends for 2023, talking about what we think are gonna happen both with like, themes in general, like how websites look, but also themes like how themes are being used.
So if you’re interested in that, check out that episode. I also recently talked with Sé Reed and Courtney Robertson on the WP Community Collective, a group that is seeking to fund WordPress contributions and initiatives. You can hear that on the Torque Social Hour Livestream. You can find that on YouTube or on TorqueMag.io
DP: You can follow my adventures with Torque magazine over on Twitter @thetorquemag or you can go to torquemag.io where we contribute tutorials and videos and interviews like this every day. So check out torquemag.io or follow us on Twitter. You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download it directly at wmr.fm each week. I’m your host Doctor Popular I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to spotlight members of the community each and every week on Press This.