State of the Word 2018 and Enterprise WordPress

Last week saw the release of WordPress 5.0, the project’s first major update in a little over a year. It’s most notable for the addition of the new Gutenberg editor component, which introduces blocks as the new mental model for WordPress content management.

In his 2018 State Of The Word speech, project lead Matt Mullenweg told attendees at WordCamp US that the pace of change would remain high. Gutenberg, he explained, was only the start of a process to address some fundamental problems in the software’s overall user experience.

Here’s our selection of key highlights for VIP clients and the enterprise WordPress community.

WordPress is all-in on blocks

Blocks have been designed to be predictable and tactile. They can cope with the full range of functionality expected of any WordPress site: they can be simple, like a text block, or as rich as an entire e-commerce interface.

They reflect the reality of HTML structure, making it (finally!) possible to meet user expectations on things like copy-and-paste from applications like word processors. But as developers we’re able to simplify their presentation, make their function readily apparent to users, and make them reusable across the interface.

Already we’ve seen an explosion of creativity within the community. Creators of well-established plugins have made early efforts to adapt their interfaces to exploit the potential of blocks: Matt specifically highlighted the popular Yoast SEO and AMP plugins, which provide feedback on a block-by-block basis. And new plugins are being created, bringing structured content into the editor area without the clumsy use of shortcodes.

We’re also seeing the growth of libraries, toolkits and tutorials, making it easier than ever for developers to surface complex functionality or embed external services within the authoring experience. It won’t take long for users to expect to find a block for every purpose.

Matt Mullenweg, State Of The Word 2018

Blocks will break out of the text box

Matt confirmed that the next challenge for Gutenberg is to take the same block concept beyond post content. He showed examples of how blocks might replace what we currently know as ‘widgets’ and ‘menus’. Configuration would take place within the WordPress admin area, in the Customizer – or perhaps even inline, on the front end.

Development of phase two will take place, as before, in plugin form – giving developers plenty of visibility into the process, and plenty of time for experimentation and testing.

Key enterprise functionality ahead

Matt also shared his thinking for the third and fourth phases of the Gutenberg initiative, both with particular appeal to large scale professional content publishers.

Phase three is set to focus on collaboration and workflows. It is likely to include content locking based on blocks, rather than pages as now. This will be especially valuable to newsrooms working on breaking stories: we know many of our clients already have elaborate workarounds to allow journalists to work on different parts of the same article simultaneously.

Matt admitted: “One of the reasons that copy-and-paste from Google Docs to Gutenberg is so good, is that when I’m writing a post that I’m going to collaborate on, Google Docs is better for that. But if we can integrate these workflows directly into WordPress, we can integrate them with user systems, we can integrate them with revisions, and we can allow them to be fully extensible in a way that a SaaS service will never, ever be.”

Phase four will finally bring an official way for WordPress to support multilingual publishing. Numerous proven approaches already exist, of course. But the lack of a canonical solution within WordPress core is often cited as a weakness, and existing solutions often cannot guarantee to be compatible with other plugins and services.

Both these phases, proposed for 2020 and beyond, are likely to have implications for existing solutions, including plugins created and recommended by VIP. We’re excited to contribute our experience in these areas to the core initiatives, and encourage all of our clients to get involved as well. Feedback and participation from VIP clients provided the core team with critical insights during phase one, and those insights become even more pertinent as the team takes on the next areas of focus.

Enterprise takeaways in brief

  • The next phases of the Gutenberg project will continue to take place in plugin form. This will allow enterprise teams to test and adopt new functionality gradually as it comes out, and evaluate it in the context of existing workflows and customizations.
  • Phase two will focus on admin elements outside of pages and posts, further simplifying and streamlining the experience for users.
  • Phase three will focus on collaboration and workflows, which will be particularly useful for busy newsrooms as well as brand and product teams.
  • The fourth phase will take on multilingual publishing, bringing a canonical solution into core.

There are lots of ways for you to participate in the project! Whether directly through the many points of entry outlined on Make.WordPress.org, by sharing a private demonstration and feedback session with us at your offices, or simply by testing and working with the new features as they are developed, you can play a critical role in the project’s success.

Photos courtesy of: Brian Peat, Jen Hooks, Val Vesa. Thank you!

The Sun’s World Cup Coverage Shines With WordPress

Two years on from joining the VIP program, The Sun’s WordPress-powered website has grown steadily to become the UK’s biggest digital commercial news website, with over 30 million unique users each month – that’s fast approaching half the UK’s total population.

Sport, and specifically soccer, has always been a key part of The Sun’s offering; and with England headed to the summer’s World Cup in Russia, the newsroom were keen to make the most of the opportunity.

In a characteristically cheeky talk at our recent London BigWP event, The Sun’s head of newsroom systems, Joel Davies described how they were able to create a new destination section, with the ambition to cement The Sun’s brand as the ‘home of the football fan’.

The new section, built and launched in three months, incorporated a new mobile-first design, reflecting the fact that 90% of traffic was mobile, with full-screen teasers, interactive on-page components, plus new commercial slots and navigation.

Joel explained some of the design elements and special content features the team developed, making full use of the flexibility offered by the WordPress platform. They used the Shortcake plugin, a precursor to the new Gutenberg editor’s block concept, to construct complex page layouts, rendered on the front end by React components.

They produced just under 100 articles per day during the tournament, and almost 1,000 videos, viewed a total of 11.5 million times. The World Cup section alone drew 23 million unique visitors over the course of the competition, with a return rate of 45%. (Sadly, the England team returned empty handed.)

Entries Now Open For The First Automattic Design Awards

Automattic is putting together our first ever Design Awards, and we want you to be a part of it.

Earlier this year, in his talk at WordCamp Europe, John Maeda announced plans for an Automattic Design Award, to highlight and encourage examples of great design work in the WordPress ecosystem.

With WordCamp US fast approaching, we are now inviting entries at automatticdesignaward.blog. Submissions need to be in by November 16, with the announcement of the winners on December 3.

There will be nine awards in total, with three trophies presented in each of three categories – Best Site, Best Solution and Best Style.

We aren’t just looking for your prettiest pieces of work. At WordCamp Europe, John talked about the need for ‘deep design’ – rather than just sprayed-on design, added as an afterthought. Too often we focus simply on shipping; and whilst that may have been acceptable in the past, today’s users know they can and should expect more.

So we’re looking for work which demonstrates thorough processes of discovery, consideration, delivery, and listening to users’ responses.

 

There are two core eligibility requirements. Submissions must be ready for the arrival of Gutenberg, the new WordPress editor; and they must demonstrate accessibility as a ‘need to have’, not just a ‘nice to have’.

At VIP we’re fortunate to work with some of the most ambitious design and development teams in the WordPress space. We see many examples of smart, sophisticated design in the projects we support; and we’ll be encouraging our clients to put themselves forward. But we’re particularly excited to see what’s happening elsewhere in the ecosystem, especially behind the scenes.

Full details of the awards, the assessment criteria, the judging panel and the beautiful trophies can be found at automatticdesignaward.blog.

Photo: Ivan Gatic, via Flickr, CC BY-SA

Choosing the right multilingual solution for enterprise development

The idea of multilingual web publishing sounds straightforward enough. A publisher operating in multiple countries, or in a country where multiple languages are spoken, needs the ability to manage content – as well as site features like navigation – in multiple languages.

But having worked on many such projects in my career, I can assure you that multilingual publishing means different things in different situations. Is content always created in one particular language, then translated into the others? Or can content originate in any of the operational languages? Is every piece of content translated? If so, when, and by whom? If not, what do you do when a piece of content isn’t available in the language being viewed?

WordPress has been fully translated into dozens of languages, from Afrikaans and Albanian to Vietnamese and Welsh; but it doesn’t have a built-in solution for multilingual operation. While that might initially seem like a negative, it means there is scope for a number of different approaches, reflecting the different scenarios and workflows associated with multilingual publishing.

At last month’s Big WP event in London, Giuseppe Mazzapica from VIP agency partner Inpsyde reviewed the approaches taken by some of the best known WordPress plugins, noting their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Inpsyde are, of course, the agency behind Multilingual Press, the multilingual plugin we use most often at VIP. Its approach, based on the multi-site mode built into WordPress, stays closest to ‘normal’ WordPress operation. This means other functions, including third-party plugins, are much more likely to work without workarounds.

But the VIP platform also supports other solutions, which may be a better fit for certain clients, their requirements, and their workflows. Our engineers are always happy to talk through the workflow needs of any given project, and help our clients make the right choice.

Thanks to Chrissy at Inpsyde for the beautiful featured image on this post!

Using Gutenberg In Production: One Agency’s First-Hand Experience

The WordPress core development team has just announced a draft schedule for the next WordPress release, which will include the long-awaited new editing component, Gutenberg. But for many leading WordPress agencies, Gutenberg has been a fact of life for several months already.

One such agency is VIP partner Big Bite, whose technical director Jason Agnew described the experience of implementing Gutenberg on a number of enterprise-level projects at September’s BigWP gathering in London, hosted by our friends at News UK.

Big Bite have recently been working with a major global bank, to produce an internal news app for consumption primarily via iOS and Android smartphone apps, but managed in WordPress using Gutenberg blocks. And as profiled here previously, they delivered a block-based solution for Amnesty International to build and manage pages in visual form.

Jason describes how Big Bite nominated one team member to become their in-house expert, giving him the time he needed to build his own knowledge, which he could then spread across the company.

Developing with Gutenberg can feel a lot slower, Jason says: ‘you can’t really build the site until you have all the blocks.’ His rule of thumb is that it takes a week to build a block: but if a client is in it for the long run, ‘it’s definitely worth the investment now.’

Discussing Gutenberg with clients has been really easy: some even described the authoring experience as ‘fun’, which is rare indeed in the world of content management systems! Project owners expressed concern at using beta or newly-merged functionality; but Jason has explained that it’s worth a little bit of risk now, in order to save a lot of upgrade costs in the future. ‘Most people can relate to that,’ he says.

VIP has been helping clients and developers prepare for the arrival of Gutenberg. We have a test environment showcasing the Gutenberg experience: just go to testgutenberg.com and start clicking around, no login required. We also have a series of free how-to videos for developers; and a free plugin allowing site owners to manage the rollout of Gutenberg functionality across their site at their own pace.

WordCamp Europe in Belgrade: bigger, bolder and better than ever

 

More than 2,000 WordPress users, designers, developers and entrepreneurs, from across Europe and beyond, gathered in the Serbian capital, Belgrade last week for what proved to be the biggest WordPress event in history.

WordCamp Europe, now in its sixth year, has become a fixture of the global WordPress calendar. Each event seems a little larger, a little more polished, and a little more mature than the last: and this year was no exception. Few of us knew much about Belgrade before we arrived; but we left with many fond memories of a unique and welcoming city.

With two tracks of uniformly excellent speakers over the two days, plus extended workshops and fringe events, it was impossible to see everything and everyone. But the two sessions which seemed to get most people talking were:

Both subjects represent significant evolutionary changes in what WordPress does, and how it does it. Inevitably, passions have been stirred: but those passions are the fuel which drives WordPress forwards.

I was struck to see both Matt and Alberto wasting no time in acknowledging and addressing the community’s concerns. The audience was left in no doubt about the depth of consideration and planning which has gone into both initiatives.

As in previous years, VIP’s agency and technology partners were highly visible at the event: in addition to those already mentioned, Human Made, 10up, Inpsyde and Yoast were all represented on-stage at various times. VIP has chosen these companies as partners because we believe they are at the top of their game. It’s great to see their talents also being recognised by the speaker selection processes for these events.

The main conference tracks were all live-streamed; and are now being edited for posting on WordPress.TV in due course. If you weren’t at the event – or even if you were! – you’ll be able to catch up on everything you missed on-demand shortly.

In keeping with tradition, the conference’s final act was the announcement of next year’s host city. WordCamp Europe 2019 will take place next June in Berlin: a city known for its creative community, in a country more devoted than most to the principles of the open web. It’s certain to be a great event.

If you can’t wait that long, the next major gathering will be WordCamp US, returning to Nashville, Tennessee in early December. But before then, there are dozens of smaller, local WordCamps happening all around the world: check out the full schedule at central.wordcamp.org.

Thanks to the organisers for the fantastic ‘aftermovie’, embedded above; and our fellow Automattician Clicky Steve for the featured image.

BigWP returns to London in December

london-bridge

Our next BigWP London event is only three weeks away, and it’s going to be a pre-Christmas cracker.

Twitter’s central London office will again play host to our gathering for enterprise-level users of WordPress, and the agencies who support them, after work on Thursday 7 December.

Our London events are organised by the WordPress.com VIP team with the invaluable help of our partners at leading global WordPress development agency Human Made. We aim to hold them once every six months: but this will be our third in calendar year 2017.

We’re very excited to announce Tammie Lister, design lead on Gutenberg, as one of our speakers. Gutenberg is the project to reinvent the main WordPress editor component, using the principle of content blocks; and is due to be integrated into the next release of WordPress, version 5.0. It makes content creation beautiful and effortless; and lays the groundwork for exciting developments further down the line.

Gutenberg represents the most significant change to the core user experience in several years. It’s essential for enterprise clients and agencies to understand what is happening, and the implications for custom development, now and in the future.

Tammie will be racing back from WordCamp US, taking place just a few days earlier in Nashville, with Gutenberg certain to be a hot topic at the event. It’s your chance to hear the very latest from one of the project’s leads, and to ask her any questions you may have.

Also on the evening’s agenda:

  • Having been strong advocates for Drupal in recent years, global technology consultancy Capgemini recently moved their entire corporate web presence from Drupal to WordPress. Parker Ward, Capgemini’s global head of digital and content will tell the story of the move.
  • VIP is currently working with our agency partners Big Bite to rebuild our popular Liveblog plugin for WordPress. Jason Agnew will explain how the new version gets around the performance bottlenecks of its predecessor, using React, Redux and RxJS Observables to simplify the overall build.
  • Sotic are a digital agency focused exclusively on the world of sport, running sites for top-flight professional clubs, national governing bodies and international events. Over the past year, they have adopted WordPress as their platform of choice; and senior front-end developer Dan Drave will explain how they used it to power the data-rich website for the British & Irish Lions rugby tour to New Zealand this past summer.

Come straight from the office: we’ll be providing food and drinks. We expect to finish around 8pm, and will go on somewhere for a festive drink or two.

Capacity at the event is limited; so please sign up today via our page at meetup.com to guarantee your place. You will need to submit a request to join the group if you aren’t already a member: this is purely to ensure the group retains its enterprise focus.

We’ll always have Paris: thoughts from WordCamp Europe 2017

Simon Dickson and Matt Mullenweg on stage at WordCamp Europe

WordCamp Europe has become an annual highlight for anyone working with WordPress on this (or that) side of the Atlantic, and it was great to see so many familiar faces gathering in Paris last week for the 2017 event, from Europe and beyond.

The event is now in its fifth year, with each a little more polished and professional than the last; and Paris was no exception, drawing a crowd of almost 2,000 people from 82 countries, with another thousand following the live video streams.

The speakers programme featured some of the most prominent names in the WordPress space, including lead developers Andrew Nacin, Mark Jaquith and John Blackbourn; Automattic’s global head of computational design and inclusion, John Maeda; plus of course, the now-traditional Q&A session with WordPress co-founder and Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

It was great to see a number of faces from the VIP partner ecosystem on stage, too. 10up’s Adam Silverstein led a workshop at a busy Contributor Day. rtCamp CEO Rahul Bansal gave a flash talk on bringing new people into the WordPress community through translation sprints. Human Made’s Petya Raykovska, Jenny Wong and Rian Rietveld gave rousing talks, with Ant Miller bringing his customary energy to the job of MC’ing one of the Tracks. (Or so I’m told: I was MC’ing in the other room at the time.)

A particular highlight was the beautiful and spacious sponsor area, between the registration desks and the main conference hall. Speaking as something of a WordCamp veteran, it felt like the first time I’ve ever seen sponsors receiving the prominence their support deserves – and without detracting from the community feel of the event, too.

The VIP team has always considered the broader ecosystem to be an integral part of our value proposition. When we represent WordPress at enterprise level, our message is all the more compelling when potential clients can see a diverse marketplace of products and service providers. Looking around the sponsor area, few could doubt that WordPress now demonstrates the kind of maturity and sustainability that corporations expect to see when selecting a strategic platform.

A recurring theme throughout the event was Gutenberg, the new block-based text editor component, whose first beta release Matt Mullenweg announced during his Q&A. Although still some way from being production-ready, it’s clear there is a lot of excitement about its potential to take WordPress content creation to the next level, far beyond the current capability of other enterprise CMS solutions. The VIP team will be working with clients and partners over the coming months, to help them make the most of its new possibilities.

The organisers have wasted no time in cutting up the videos for viewing on demand. All the talks, plus a few behind-the-scenes extras are already available at WordPress.tv; many are also available on YouTube. You’ll need to supply your own café and croissants.

But really, there’s no substitute for being there. If you use WordPress for work or for pleasure, and perhaps even both simultaneously, large-scale events like WordCamp Europe or its transatlantic cousin WordCamp US provide an amazing opportunity to meet people and hear stories from far and wide. Your next opportunity will be Nashville in December; or next year’s European event, in the Serbian capital Belgrade. See you there?

Photos courtesy of Val Vesa (@adspedia), published on Flickr under GPL

Challenging times for online journalists: thoughts from ONA Dublin 2017

A few of us from the WordPress.com VIP team were delighted to join journalists, producers and developers from Europe and elsewhere for the Online News Association’s conference in Dublin, Ireland in mid-May. VIP is a long-time sponsor of ONA’s events: this was their third outside North America, but the first to venture away from London.

Dublin’s regenerated Docklands area has attracted countless global businesses in recent years, including many from the tech world. Google were our hosts for the drinks reception on the evening before. Facebook’s international headquarters, just a few minutes walk away, was the venue for the main event.

Mark Little: photo by Leopold Stuebner, used with permission #

The highlight of the day was closing keynote speaker Mark Little, known to many in the audience as a TV journalist and presenter on Irish state broadcaster RTÉ. He left to found social media news agency Storyful, bought by News Corp in 2013; then took charge of media partnerships at Twitter. Few could be better placed to describe the quandary in which journalism, particularly digital journalism, now finds itself.

Social networks had not set out to become the most powerful news distribution platforms of all time, he contended; it was an unintended consequence. Authoritative news content is ‘flowing through a pipe that is ranked and priced on the basis of emotion.’ With revenue dependent on competing for attention, and generating an emotional response, Mark suggested ‘you could not design a better model to erode trust in news and information than the one we sit in right now.’

His remedy lay in a move towards subscription-based funding, perhaps via bundled models as Netflix does for movies, or Spotify for music; and deeper and more direct engagement with consumers. Restore that trust, he proposed, and there was a bright future for journalism as a public utility, telling readers not just what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear.

A theme running through many of the day’s sessions was the uneasy power relationship between publishers and platforms, including our hosts for the day. As a man with a foot in both camps, Mark said it was time for platform companies to recognise and address those unintended consequences of their growth, ‘not through marketing, but through changes to the product’.

But there was no shortage of optimism in evidence, with sessions touching on artificial intelligence, clever use of smartphone notifications, and immersive storytelling techniques. Many of these can be watched on demand via the ONA website.

Online journalism may be going through turbulent times, but sometimes, that’s when the most exciting ideas emerge.

We’re already looking forward to ONA’s main annual event, taking place in Washington DC in early October. VIP will once again be a sponsor, with our Recharge Lounge providing an opportunity to power up your portable devices, whilst talking to us about the VIP service or WordPress more generally. Tickets are available at a reduced rate until June 29.

WordPress.com VIP hosting now certified under Privacy Shield

We’re delighted to announce that we have completed certification of WordPress.com VIP’s hosting service under the EU-US and Swiss-US Privacy Shield Frameworks.

This means global publishers and European residents can host and store data on the VIP platform, with confidence that you’re doing so in accordance with current legal standards.

The EU-US Privacy Shield Framework was agreed in July 2016, following the collapse of the earlier Safe Harbour scheme. It provides certain protections for the personal data of EU individuals transferred to companies and services based in the United States. These include limitations on US government access on grounds of national security, and the provision of several channels for making inquiries and complaints.

A similar agreement was reached between the US and Switzerland in early 2017.

Participating companies self-certify annually with the US Department of Commerce, confirming that they adhere to the Privacy Shield principles.

Automattic has a long and proud history of standing up for the privacy and legal rights of our users, as our twice-yearly Transparency Reports demonstrate; so we were very happy to sign up to the necessary commitments, such as notice, access, security and recourse.

Details of our participation in the Privacy Shield frameworks can be found on the US government’s Privacy Shield List. A detailed Notice of Certification has also been posted on the vip.wordpress.com website, in accordance with Privacy Shield requirements.

Certification applies to our core WordPress.com VIP hosting service, and does not include any add-ons, a VIP client may elect to install and use on their website.

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