Categories
WP Tavern

Gutenberg 6.9 Introduces Image Titles, Block Patterns, and New Theme Features

On November 13, the Gutenberg team launched version 6.9 with several features, most of which were aimed at developers. Users can now add custom image title attributes. Plugin developers can start diving into the new Block Patterns API. Plus, theme authors can begin tinkering with the experimental gradient presets and block templates features.

Gutenberg 6.9 fixed numerous bugs, including an annoying invalid content error when selecting a color for the pullquote block. The update included several enhancements and changes to the underlying codebase.

Much of the work in version 6.9 went toward experimental features, including the navigation block. At this point, the nav block still needs a ton of work for practical use. The interface is still a bit clunky. Undoubtedly, this is one of the toughest user experience challenges to solve and will take time before it is ready for widespread usage. Right now, it is about continually iterating upon the work from previous versions.

Image Title Attribute Field

Screenshot of using an image title in the Gutenberg block editor.
Editing the image title field in Gutenberg.

The ability to add image titles is perhaps the biggest user-facing feature added in Gutenberg 6.9. The original ticket for adding the feature has been simmering for over a year.

The Gutenberg team added the title field under the “Advanced” tab when editing an image block. This was a smart decision because image titles are often used incorrectly to describe an image, which is the job of the “Alt Text” field located under the “Image Settings” tab. Image titles are also generally unnecessary. When used, they should describe the role of the image on the page.

Initial Block Patterns API Merged

Screenshot of selecting a column layout in the Gutenberg block editor.
Choosing a column layout in the block editor.

The Block Patterns API is a developer feature primarily for creating initial setup states for complex blocks. For example, the columns block has several common patterns that users may want to choose. By providing those patterns when first inserting a block, the user does not have to go through the routine of configuring all of the settings for it.

The idea is to cut back on the complexities of configuring some blocks so that users can more quickly get to the point of adding their custom content and getting their desired results.

The first step toward the Block Patterns API was merged into Gutenberg 6.9, but it is still in the experimental stage at this point.

Block Gradient Presets

Screenshot of setting a button block gradient background in Gutenberg.
Adding a gradient background to a button in Gutenberg.

Gutenberg introduced gradient backgrounds in version 6.7 for the button block. The feature launched with a set of gradients that did not match users’ themes, which meant the feature was little more than a fun experiment.

In version 6.9, developers can register custom gradients that are less of an eyesore by using colors that fit into the theme’s color palette.

Currently, block gradient presets are marked as an experimental feature and use the __experimental-editor-gradient-presets theme support flag. Now is a good time for theme authors to begin exploring this feature so they can be ready when the experimental flag is removed.

Block Templates for Themes

For theme authors, block templates were the most exciting aspect of Gutenberg’s potential when it first launched. Throughout all of WordPress’ history, creating custom page templates, particularly front page templates, has been an exercise in frustration. Theme authors have always had great ideas about what their themes’ front pages should look like. In a way, it is an author’s signature on a theme project. It is often what sets one theme apart from another.

However, creating an interface that allows users to change what is traditionally a blog post list to something more ornate and complex is not an easy thing to do. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of varying implementations are currently in the wild, each with their take on how to create a custom front page.

Enter Gutenberg. Theme authors, regardless of whether they love or hate it, usually see the potential of a block-based editor in terms of laying out a front page. The idea of having complete control over where specific blocks sit and how they appear on the front end is an alluring one, especially if there is a standardized experience for users to figure out how to plug their content into the blocks.

Gutenberg 6.9 laid the groundwork toward this reality by resolving block templates from a theme’s /block-templates folder.

At this point, theme block templates are still in the experimental stage as part of the full site editing feature. From a theme development perspective, this could be revolutionary.

Categories
WP Tavern

24 WordPress Snippets ’til Christmas, Submissions Open for 2019

Screenshot of the WP snippets 'til Christmas website.

After a multi-year hiatus, Elliot Richmond has relaunched his WordPress advent calendar and is looking for volunteers. The WP Snippets ’til Christmas site will host 24 days of WordPress code snippets starting on December 1 and lasting until December 24. With each passing day, a new code snippet will be revealed.

Advent calendars are special types of calendars used to count down the days until Christmas. They are often a part of religious celebrations but can be used for other purposes such as family traditions and games. For Richmond’s advent calendar, it is a way to contribute something back to the WordPress community.

Richmond opened the site for developers to make contributions to the 24-day event. “I’ve been in touch with the original contributors in the hope that they’ll submit again and registration is also open to anyone else who wishes to contribute,” he said. “Otherwise, it will just be the Elliott Richmond show.”

He would rather have community submissions than attempting to write all 24 code snippets alone. Jeff Star, Zac Gordon, and Tom McFarlin, all prominent developers in the WordPress community, have already signed on to submit code. Author’s note: I am also considering joining because it sounds like fun.

Anyone who wants to receive updates each day of the event can register for free on the WP Snippets ’til Christmas website. The same signup form is available for contributors.

There are no limitations on the types of code snippets that contributors can submit, only that they should be related to WordPress. Richmond says he has some ideas such as a WP-CLI script and a deployment tool for use on the command line. However, code snippets can be something as simple as sticking a basic function into a theme to more complex scripts.

“I come from a frontend world and I’m a self-taught PHP developer,” said Richmond. “I’m evolving constantly and always eager to learn new things. I think WordPress is similar, it’s always evolving and inspiring innovation. If you put any limitations on things they rapidly become stagnated.”

The code snippets are not aimed at any type of WordPress user in particular. “I think it’s really useful to see bite-size code snippets to help those in the community who are taking that next step into development,” said Richmond. “To those more seasoned developers, I think it’s always useful to see how other developers approach things.”

Each code snippet will have an open comments section similar to a traditional blog. This will allow others to say thanks for sharing or to jump-start a conversation.

The Road Back to the Advent Calendar

Richmond has been a WordPress user and developer since the launch of the platform. He is the director of Square One Software, a software development company that specializes in WordPress development.

He last ran the advent calendar in 2013. After the success of the first year in 2012, he decided to put it together for a second round. He wanted to keep it going beyond the first two years, but work and other commitments took priority.

In the years since, Richmond met other local WordPress enthusiasts at WordCamp London. He now helps host the local meetup in Cheltenham, UK. With the help of the community, he organized four teams of local project managers, designers, developers, and content writers for a local do_action event. “I’m still an enthusiastic proponent of giving back to the community and actively encourage others in our local community to share their experience and knowledge,” said Richmond.

do_action events are charity hackathons that use WordPress to help provide local charity organizations an online presence.

“Every single team and team member did an amazing job on the day for four local non-profit charities, putting together a functional WordPress website for each charity while I personally gave a charity representative some hands-on training,” said Richmond. “Taking away some of the overhead of creating a website for the charities allows them to concentrate on what they do best, which is raising money for their own community.”

Richmond described needing to find something to do next while still riding the buzz from the event. That is when he decided to relaunch the WP Snippets ’til Christmas event.


Because it is the season, Richmond crowned “It’s a Wonderful Life” as the greatest Christmas movie.

“I love classics and this one is a true classic, pretty apt in the current move to make people aware of mental health,” said Richmond. “The movie starts with depression and pending suicide when a guardian angel is bestowed to the main character George Bailey. George is shown how many lives he’s impacted on in his own local community and how things would have been if he didn’t exist, a real heartwarming feel-good reflection on the things that we take for granted in our own existence.”

With this upcoming holiday season, considering taking the time to give back to both your local community and the WordPress community. One great way to do that is to contribute a code snippet to WP Snippets ’til Christmas.

Categories
WP Tavern

bbPress 2.6 Released After 6 Years, Includes Per-Forum Moderation and Engagements API

On Tuesday, John James Jacoby announced that bbPress 2.6 was available to the public after a six-year wait in a post titled bbPress 2.6 — Better Great Than Never. The announcement landed with a whimper as it was overshadowed by the release of WordPress 5.3 on the same day.

bbPress is an official WordPress project for powering forums. It was initially launched on December 28, 2004, by Matt Mullenweg as a standalone project. During the first iteration’s heyday, it was popular within the WordPress community as a simple forum solution. In 2011, bbPress 2.0 relaunched as a WordPress plugin with Jacoby as the lead developer.

The bbPress team is primarily comprised of four part-time contributors with nearly no volunteers available for user testing. Stephen Edgar, Brandon Allen, and Sergey Biryukov were the primary developers other than Jacoby behind version 2.6.

“Jennifer M. Dodd deserves a mention for her contributions to 2.6 early on; she’s largely moved on but is wonderful,” said Jacoby. “Behind the scenes in the meta and forums teams are Samuel ‘Otto’ Wood, Dion Hulse, Mika Epstein, Marius Jensen, and countless others who provide feedback and feature requests upstream based on how WordPress.org uses bbPress.”

Contributors resolved 420 open tickets with 1,737 code commits over the multi-year span it took for version 2.6 to drop. The new version ships with hundreds of bug fixes and improvements. Its features include per-forum moderation, new platforms to import forum content from, and an Engagements API.

The new Engagements API connects user IDs to the various types of content in bbPress, such as forums, topics, replies, and topic tags. This works as a sort of relationship system between users and any content they interact with on the forums. In previous versions of bbPress, all of this data was saved in the user metadata table.

Per-forum moderation is a key feature for forums, but it has been one of the missing elements in bbPress. The new feature takes advantage of the Engagements API to connect user IDs to forum IDs. In turn, this allows site owners to create moderators for individual forums. This feature works in contrast to the existing “moderator” role in bbPress, which provides users global moderation powers.

Why the 6-Year Wait?

You could be forgiven for wondering if bbPress was all but dead. The last minor release happened in 2017 when the team dropped version 2.5.14. The same year, bbPress 2.6 was headed toward a third beta and even had a few release candidates.

“There was not very much feedback on the 2.6 beta or RC, and I had just transitioned into my role at Sandhills Development,” said Jacoby. “I decided it was better to concentrate on doing a good job where I could make a direct impact on people’s lives, rather than have no idea if I was doing a good job at all with bbPress.”

Jacoby did not want to release a potentially buggy version 2.6 and take on the support burden at the time. Doing so would have interfered with his responsibilities at his new job. “Younger me would have tried to do both, and failed at both,” said Jacoby.

Why such a long wait between releases? Most likely, it was for the same reason the Twitter announcement got fewer than a couple of dozen likes and even fewer retweets. There is not much community engagement with the project. On the flip side, the bbPress team has not been active on social media or the project’s official blog in the past two years.

Despite the lack of community engagement, bbPress is currently installed on over 300,000 sites. It runs the forums at WordPress.org, WordPress.com, CSS-Tricks, and other large communities. However, there is not much help sent back to the bbPress project from most places.

“On WordPress.org, bbPress is just one piece of a very complex puzzle, and everything is mostly in maintenance mode all the time,” said Jacoby. “The forums team focuses on the needs of the forums and the meta team helps maintain the code itself, but WordPress has made it easier and more rewarding to contribute to; so contributors graduate up to WordPress core and rarely look back.”

The idea behind switching bbPress 2.x to a WordPress plugin from its standalone roots was that it would be simpler for the larger WordPress community to pitch in. Jacoby said that contributions have improved since the pre-plugin era, but it has not helped enough. “There’s more attention and accolades with WordPress and Gutenberg than there are with the bb’s or GlotPress,” he said.

One of bbPress’ biggest problems is the lack of resources. There is no commercial element to the plugin and no major companies are funding anyone to work on the project full time.

“For an open-source project to be sustainable long-term, it needs to have an economy behind it,” said Jacoby. “Without an economy, what’s the real goal? Market share? Building better forum software? Those are not enough by itself when people need to make a living, and when less work with WooCommerce can help you earn a better living.”

The Future of Forums

Six years between major releases is a lifetime in technological years, plenty enough time for another company to claim the WordPress forum market share. However, bbPress managed to keep its crown as the most-used WordPress forum plugin during the wait. It does beg the question of whether companies or developers see a future for forums.

With so many alternative options for user engagement, are forums a dying breed of software?

“If forums are dying, it’s a slow death, according to the numbers anyway,” said Jacoby. “Chat apps like Slack and Discord (or Twitch and YouTube) are where people do forum-type stuff these days. Moderating your own community takes dedication and work, and if you’re going to do work, why not build an audience someplace else instead?”

Jacoby has hope for the future, however. “I can imagine a bunch of reasons why forums seem unattractive,” he said, “but to me they are still what everyone circles back around to, just like having their own blogs!”

Categories
Uncategorized

WordCamp US 2020 Date and Location Announced, New Weekday Schedule

Mark your calendars, folks. WordCamp US 2020 will start on a…Tuesday.

On November 11, the WordCamp US team announced that next year’s event will happen during the middle of the week, from October 27 through October 29. This is a change from the usual three-day weekend event. The time frame puts the event’s days on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The yearly conference will remain in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2020.

Those planning ahead can sign up for updates via the new WordCamp US 2020 site.

Thus far, the switch away from a weekend has been met with generally positive responses via Twitter and Slack. However, some people fear the schedule will not allow them to attend.

The WordCamp US Twitter account cited date availability, Halloween, and giving the weekend back to attendees as the reason behind the change.

For professionals in the WordPress space, this move will likely be a welcome change. They are often able to get extra time off from work, sometimes paid leave, to attend the event. The company they work for may even be funding their travel. For them, attending a WordCamp is a part of their work.

The unfortunate side effect of attending a WordCamp over the weekend is that some attendees usually have to wake up for work on Monday morning after traveling back home on Sunday. Many are essentially working two weeks straight without any downtime. This helps pile on the problem of developer burnout. Rest days, time with friends and family, and getting away from code-related things is a part of a healthy work-life balance.

Moving the event to the middle of the week should allow professionals to better maintain that balance.

On the other hand, some attendees may find it harder to attend during the week. This is particularly true for WordCamp-goers who do not work with WordPress professionally. They may not be able to get the time off work.

As a general rule, Americans tend to have little paid leave they can take advantage of throughout the year. The average worker in the private sector only gets 10 paid vacation days per year after one year of employment. Those numbers rise the longer an employee sticks with a single company. The US does not guarantee paid leave for workers.

Without support from their employer, some people may have to choose between using their paid time off to attend and keeping those days in reserve for family vacation or holidays.

Unlike local WordCamps, the US conference is more of an industry event that sees professionals from across the US and the world. The move to a weekday schedule should be a nice change for many.