The modernization of WordPress goes into the next phase. "Collaboration" is now on the schedule. In this article I'll give you a first overview of the planned new and improved features. Also a redesign of the backend is planned.
The "Gutenberg" project of WordPress consists of a total of four phases, two of which are considered so advanced that now the next one starts. As a quick reminder, Phase 1 was titled "Easier Editing" and basically consisted of the Block Editor that was introduced as a new standard with WordPress 5.0. Of course, the work on it is not finished. But the time of massive changes is over for now.
The same is true for phase 2 ("Customization"). It began with WordPress 5.8, where site editing was a major innovation. Since then, blocks can also be used outside of the content to customize the design and functions of a website, as long as your own theme plays along. Block Patterns, the Block Directory and Block Themes also belong to this phase.
Now that blocks have been introduced in many places, the third step is to improve workflows. This phase 3 has the overall title "Collaboration". This mainly concerns teams that until now had to resort to plugins or third-party services to organize and coordinate their work. It's about time, because WordPress has long been used on large websites, on which numerous internal and external helpers work. Until now, many functions that facilitate such collaboration or even make it possible at all have been missing.
Phase 3 will also bring improvements for individual users, as you will see in a moment.
In a series of posts on the "Make WordPress Core" blog, the team has outlined where they want to go and would like feedback on this from developers .
Here is an overview of some key ideas and concepts:
Collaboration in real time
Currently, WordPress sometimes puts obstacles in the way when more than one person is working on the content of a site . For example, a post is locked and thus inaccessible to others as soon as someone edits it. Another person can only "take over" it and thus unlock it. However, two or more people cannot edit at the same time, as is the case with Google Docs and similar offerings. Gutenberg's third phase is now supposed to fix this point.
The responsible team makes it clear that these functions should be available to as many users as possible. Therefore, all solutions that require complex server setups are excluded. As Matias Ventura writes in the "Make WordPress Core" blog, they want to use open web standards like WebRTC as a basis.
At the same time, the system should ultimately be flexible enough to be supplemented and adapted for individual solutions. For example, plugins could allow more users to work on a piece of content at the same time than is possible with the standard implementation.
An important point for these functionalities is conflict resolution, i.e. dealing with conflicting, simultaneous changes originating from different users . Or situations where one person is offline while continuing to work on a piece of content. This is where Yjs will likely come into play.
Another item on the team's wish list is that everyone involved should be able to see who is currently active and editing a piece of content ("presence"). This is also familiar from offerings such as Google Docs, which visually display who is viewing or editing a piece of content.
With all that said, the team wants to implement these new features using the existing block API. This way they want to make sure that it works without any further adjustments to the blocks.
Another focus is on improving workflows and publishing processes. The goal is to seamlessly support the entire editorial workflow from the first draft to publication. users , for example, should be able to add comments, suggested changes and feedback directly within the editor. It should also be possible to tag another person, for example to draw a colleague's attention to a task.
Customizable review processes could then also be used to define what steps need to be completed before a post can even be published. For example, one person could mark outstanding media blocks that another team member must complete. This is enormously helpful when text and images come from different employees or even departments, as is often the case with larger projects. In addition, it is conceivable to create further conditions before a content can be published. The official post mentions a certain number of words or fields that must be filled out as examples. Integrating this functionality directly into the system could simplify coordination processes and ensure that employees do not forget important information.
Sharing content drafts or design changes should also become easier, with detailed access control and adjustable permissions. Here I would personally hope that designs can be easily shared with external people who do not have access to the WordPress backend.
The idea of extending the preview function so that plugins can use it more diversely sounds interesting. For example, a membership plugin could show how a content looks for members and non-members. Other examples are previews with ads in the post and without or how a post looks in the RSS feed or newsletter.
And last but not least: If multiple people are working on a piece of content, it should ideally be possible to display that to the outside world. WordPress today can display only one:n author:in per content without additional plugins, as you know.
Despite these new functions, the user interface should remain clear for writers and editors. This is likely to be quite a challenge.
More functions for versioning
Another important component for the collaboration workflows are the versions and the version history of the content. Extensive improvements are planned here to make changes more visible.
Until now, WordPress does show the difference between two versions. But for the content of blocks, this is often not meaningful enough and difficult to understand for laymen. The team wants to develop a better visual representation of the changes that is easier to grasp.
Another new feature is that in the future not only complete content will be versioned, but even individual blocks. For example, the previous version of an image block can be restored without changing the rest of the content.
Comparison views are planned for globally used styles and reusable patterns, where two versions can be displayed side by side or with an overlay, depending on the use case. This should make differences in the design easier to recognize.
The goal of the improvements is to make changes visible at a glance - whether content, styles or patterns. This would significantly simplify collaborative work while ensuring that individual errors can be corrected quickly.
Of course, these features need to work well with the other innovations I presented above. Also, the team is already thinking about phase 4 of Gutenberg, when it comes to internationalization, that is, websites with multiple language versions. This should also eventually become part of the WordPress Core.
More modern media library
The media library changed only in small steps during the first Gutenberg phases. However, the teams also had enough other construction sites. In phase 3, a comprehensive modernization is now on the agenda.
Planned are, for example, extended management functions such as categories and tags for media. Views and filters are also on the to-do list: This should make it easier to find the right files. For large and long-standing projects with thousands of images, this is an enormous challenge today, which is why specialized plugins are often used.
Another goal is to better merge media editing in the Block Editor and the individual views for media. The official post mentions unified crop functions as an example.
The team would also like to change the insertion of media so that users does not always have to open the entire media library. For example, if images have already been uploaded but not yet assigned to a post, WordPress could display them directly when inserting an image block.
On the to-do list are also the workflows around published media as well as post formats that consist of only one media block. There will not only be improvements for images, but also for audio, video and other file formats, as Matias Ventura writes in his post on the topic.
Considering how important multimedia content often is these days, these innovations and improvements are definitely very welcome. Finding a particular file is not always so easy these days, unless everyone on the team is disciplined and names everything sensibly. At the same time, it will be interesting to see how well the new media library works with other new features such as team workflows.
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Better handling for blocks
Because blocks now play such an important role, Phase 3 of the Gutenberg project aims to improve the management of the Block Library.
The plan is to expand the existing Block Manager into a central management for blocks, similar to the environment for plugins. Then WordPress admins can, for example, activate or deactivate individual block types globally for the entire site . It should also be possible to define more precisely which blocks are available for which user roles via extended permission controls. Individual functions of a block can then also be specifically enabled, according to the official plans.
There is also a hidden function to link post types with blocks. For example, a certain type could always have an image block instead of an empty text prompt. This feature should be easier to find and use in the future.
Installing blocks from the directory should also be more convenient than before. For example, it should be easier to see which blocks are added by plugin .
This extensive wish list should please both admins and users of WordPress. It addresses many points that are currently not optimally solved because they require additional clicks. And especially the point to disable certain blocks and block functions for entire user groups should reduce many a headache of website admins.
Backend design and navigation
Last but not least, an important project in phase 3 is the modernization and revision of the backend. After many years, a comprehensive redesign is now coming. The Site Editor should serve as a starting point and inspiration for this.
One aspect is to make the navigation more flexible and modular. The most important menu items could then be positioned and arranged freely, similar to widgets. A distinction between core functions and plugin areas is also conceivable.
If there are particularly many menu items, a "drilldown"-like navigation should provide more clarity. Areas and settings are opened step by step instead of displaying everything on one level. The backend should also be better adaptable to individual needs. The team is investigating how parts of the admin area can be optionally shown and hidden.
Another goal at this point is to unify the backend and block editor. Components and design systems from the editor should therefore find their way into the admin area. For plugin developers, a library with reusable UI components will be created in the course of this. This should help plugins to fit harmoniously into the environment.
Last but not least, the Phase 3 team wants to work closely with the WP Feature Notifications team so that notifications have a separate and compact place in the future. This would replace the current proliferation at the top of the backend.
Conclusion on Gutenberg Phase 3
I personally can only welcome many items on the wish list for phase 3. The features for collaboration and workflows in general are overdue in my opinion. When I maintain a WordPress website together with others, I always find it surprisingly cumbersome to organize and coordinate everything externally.
At the same time, I hope that all these features support the work without pushing the visual and cognitive complexity of WordPress too far. The switch from the simple Rich Text Editor to the Block Editor was a cautionary tale: the new interface and additional features were welcome, but the usability of the editor suffered at the same time. It often takes significantly more clicks for the same effect.
In this respect, I hope that the team not only adds many new features as described, but quite fundamentally rethinks how the various users of WordPress cope with it.