State of the Word 2021 | Q&A

It was a treat for me to see some folks in-person and online at Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word on December 14th. For me, the thrill of his annual keynote is hearing his perspective of the year and what questions it raises in the community. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to all of the questions! We only had a handful of pre-submitted questions which I’ve included along with their answers in my post below. After those, I’ve listed all the questions that were received during State of the Word (with the exception of the banana shake questions 😉

How do we do this?

All unanswered questions have been assigned reference numbers (Q1, Q2, Q3, etc) and any corresponding answers that come in the comments will be labeled similarly (A1, A2, A3, etc). Just like twitter, but slower! 🙂

Pre-Submitted Questions

Matt, me, and my team are building a decentralized publishing infrastructure to bridge WordPress users to Web3. We hope to help content creators leverage blockchain to reach the end goal of democratic publishing. Especially for heavily censored places where people don’t have the freedom to distribute and access information. What do you think WordPress would evolve in the Openverse/metaverse, and how could we deliver the right tool to the WP community? Thanks for answering my questions, and if there’s a chance, I would love to get in touch for a follow-up conversation with you or the team.

– Phoebe Poon

Web3 is currently a collection of ideas, aspirations, and technologies and, in this context, refers to a decentralized web built on cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. 

It’s important to note that decentralization is not exclusive or inherent to the blockchain and crypto. Solid, a project from Tim Berners-Lee and MIT, is an excellent example of this. Self-hosted, open-source WordPress sites are already a great example of decentralization on the web, where users already own their data. The blockchain itself may be trustless and decentralized, but the gateways to access it and abstract it for users might not be. Openverse is an open-source, centralized tool to enable the discovery of openly-licensed media that challenges proprietary libraries of stock photography, licensed audio, and more. – Zack Krida, Openverse project lead.

I’m curious how many people use WordPress Block Editor vs. Classic Editor, raw numbers, and percentages. I’m looking forward to tuning into the event on Dec. 14th.

– Mathew Wallace

The Gutenberg plugin has over 300,000 active installations, while Classic Editor plugin has over 5 million. It’s hard to draw any specific conclusions from these numbers since each plugin serves a different purpose. Having the Classic Editor plugin provides users and clients with a choice of how to create their content, so folks who have that plugin installed could still be publishing primarily with the Block Editor.

My question is about the plugin review team: This is a very special team. It is closed, has only two members, and although we have nearly 60k plugins now, 100+ more coming every week, the team never got more members. The team has power (reject plugins, closing plugins, ban users, etc.), and it has no rotating policy, although the work is very stressful. WordCamp organizers have a rotating policy; why do we have no rotating policy for the plugin review team? And/Or how can we prevent misuse of powers here?

– Torsten Landsiedel

Great question. We have had several people on the plugin review team at various points. Unfortunately, there have been cases of legal threats and illegal harassment against the team’s members, and I will not expose community volunteers to that. That said, there are other community teams involved in reviewing disputes about blocked accounts, and there are plans in place to automate any checks we can, so humans are involved in the parts humans do best. – Josepha, WordPress Project Executive Director

I am afraid that the block editor is dividing the community we are so proud of. As a long time community member, many people come to me as a “representative” person (WordCamp & meetup organizer, speaker, moderator, GTE, etc.) and complain about Gutenberg. Devs are complaining about the fast moving target, the incomplete documentation, and the changes. Users complain about full screen mode and UX problems (especially with older themes). How can you help us volunteers or the people in general to have a smoother transition?

– Torsten Landsiedel

Although the recommendation is to build themes as block themes and migrate existing themes to blocks, older themes are still supported. In this direction, the Widgets Editor was released in 5.8 to support Legacy Widgets in the Block Editor and add native blocks in Widgets Areas. However, it is recommended to implement migration paths from Widgets to blocks.

With the advent of FSE in WordPress 5.9, the new Site Editor will supersede the Customizer, hidden by default. Still, whenever WordPress detects hooks that need the Customizer in themes and plugins, it will be available automatically.  Further, companies participating in the Five for the Future initiative are increasing the number of sponsored contributors focused on developer advocacy and documentation to help smooth this transition. – Matías Ventura, Gutenberg project lead

Hi Matt, first, thank you for providing this space to ask a few questions. My questions relate to the newly formed PHP Foundation and the future of PHP. In your 2015 State of The Word, you told the community to learn JavaScript deeply. With Automattic as an integral part of the newly formed PHP Foundation, is it time to learn PHP deeply? Any chance you might like to read the tea leaves and share your thoughts about the future of WordPress, JavaScript clients with PHP servers? Where do you suggest we (the community) focus our efforts in 2022?

– Rita Best

PHP is a foundational language for WordPress, so many people in the ecosystem already know it deeply. That said, it’s always smart to know your software’s tech stack well. The WordPress project has benefitted so much from the PHP project and community. This sponsorship is giving back in the way that I hope companies in the WordPress ecosystem give back to our project—think of it as a proactive Five for the Future contribution to PHP. – Matt Mullenweg, WordPress project lead

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The Panel Predicament

For anyone who has worked with me organizing content-driven events, you will have heard me say regularly how much I hate panels. I am quick to declare my dislike of them, but generally only in the safety of a group of organizers. I’ll try to provide some clarity in the need for panels, why I dislike most panels I see, and what we can change to make them better.

The Value of Panels

In theory, I understand the appeal of panels. There is a lot of information available in the world, and it’s increasingly difficult to assess how trustworthy to consider the opinion of any self-proclaimed expert. There are many ways to achieve expert level opinions: by education, by research, by practice. Probably other ways, too. To solve the problem, we host panels. We gather industry thought leaders or experts and have them discuss things openly, in the accountability-forging context of “filming in front of a live audience”. We then leave it up to the audience to decide — what is your version of this truth that we’ve presented to you, almost without editorial aid?

The Failing of Panels

In practice, panels are far from that. They are either overpowered by a single voice or are overpowered by apparent fighting among the panelists. Moderators double as panelists and leave the group with no discernible direction. Panelists answer in a round robin style, often leaving no time for interesting or informed viewpoints to shine through. Panels are overstaffed and used as a way to prevent the discomfort of having to turn down speakers. Most people don’t apply to be on a panel, and many who get assigned to participate on a panel think that it means no preparation is required.

The Best Panels

It’s not that we’ve never seen a good panel. We see them from time to time, on TV or at large-scale niche events. There is a lot of writing available about how to be a better speaker, but not a lot about how to be a better panelist. Or even how to craft an excellent panel as an organizer. So I’ll tell you what’s proven to work for me over the years, as a long-time event organizer.

Crafting an Excellent Panel

In my experience, the best panels require a thoughtful moderator and panelists with a decent level of rapport (but not best friends). It’s great if you already have a group that fits that description. If you don’t there is a short, simple process that you can follow to foster one from the expert panel you have assembled.
  1. Dedicated Moderator – Find your moderator first, because you’ll need them throughout this process. The best moderators keep the discussion moving by helping with time management, directing questions toward particular panelists, and resisting the urge to join the discussion.
  2. Limited Number – If the time allowed for your panel is one hour, you should select no more than three panelists not including the moderator. That gives each speaker about 15-20 accumulated minutes assuming everything else is perfect.
  3. Prepare Panelists – Your moderator and panelists should have two meetings. Each meeting should take about an hour and be via voice (or a video call if you feel fancy). In the first one, do some general introductions and learn about everyone’s expertise as it relates to your broad topic. The moderator should take notes* and the panelists should explore what they are all excited about so that a topic can be defined.
  4. Clarify Your Topic – After the first meeting, the moderator will know what the most interesting areas of expertise each panelist has. That will help them guide questions (whether prepared or from the audience) to the right people. It will also help create a panel title that is clear, concise, and marketable.
  5. Written Questions – In the second meeting, the moderator should have some questions that have already generated interesting discussions among the panelists. Ask the panelists if, since their last meeting, they’ve been wondering about something another panelist said. Write down 5-10 questions and be prepared to start the panel on the day with 2-3 of them.

Rinse and Repeat

That’s it! Five steps and most of them are talking. 🙂 The first time through it will feel strange and uncomfortable, but after that it’s like riding a bike. *A note on notes. If you’re the moderator the notes you’re taking are:
  • who has a tendency to talk the most
  • who needs encouragement to talk
  • what panelists do 
  • what panelists wish they could do
  • why they do what they do (their philosophies)
  • why their future vision is what it is (their observations)
  • etc

WordCamp US 2015

WordCamp US is over and I’m watching scores of recap posts slide by on my feed. I don’t have a recap of the content, which will 100% not cause anyone to miss vital information, but I do have a recap of my experience.

It was my invitation to this event last year that changed everything. In my five year plan (yes, I have my own five year plan) one of my major goals was to speak at WordCamp San Francisco, a place where the cream of the WordPress crop could be found. My plan had that set for 2016, so when I got to check that off my list in 2014 I admit that I wasn’t sure what to do next in that arena. My time spent at WordCamp San Francisco and the accompanying events was the most enriching experience I’d had to date. Thinking back on it, and the renewed admiration I had for this community, I couldn’t imagine that this year would be any less fantastic.

Which brings me to WordCamp US.

I spent much of my time with contributors and collaborators who build and guide the WordPress project and my heart and mind have been irrevocably expanded. This may seem like an incredibly difficult way to spend a week, but I truly feel more invigorated for it. Being around this community, even if it’s a small subset, always reminds me of just how wonderful they are.

What do I love so much about them? I have a short list here.

  • They are giving, but self-aware. Most don’t give more than they have, but all of them give what they absolutely can.
  • They are passionate. We don’t all have matching things we’re passionate about, but that only makes me want to hear about what they love so deeply.
  • They question things when they don’t know or don’t agree. The willingness to question where you are, no matter how you arrived there, is an admirable thing and one that takes an immense amount of courage.
  • They look out for each other. I have no other things to say about this one. It’s just wonderful and true.

There are other things of course. There are things that aren’t so great, too, because we’re all people. People are delightfully complex no matter how well they work together.

So, here’s to all you wonderful WordPressers out there. May you never cease to amaze.

WordCamp Fayetteville 2015

IMG_0015This past weekend I headed south for a bit of quality community time in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The lovely folks there can teach a thing or two about WordPress just as easily as they teach you about hospitality. I didn’t take any pictures all weekend, so I have for you one picture of me with a banner and one picture of a merhog.

 In case you are unsure of what a merhog is…it’s a hog with a fish tail. It is mythical. Honestly, it’s probably the myth of a myth, but here it is in all its glory regardless. A glorious myth’s myth.
Thank you and good night.

Siteground notebook swag

Sightseeing in Brisbane

I had planned to make this a collection of sites and sounds of Brisbane, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to record video on my camera. So, here we have a collection of photos from my trip and WordCamp Brisbane.