A Little Background
I started teaching a course which was considered a cutting edge topic in 1995, Marketing on the Internet and Web Design, MOTI as the students used to call it. At the time, most people did not even know what the Internet was and those who knew flamed any user in any context on the Internet who tried to “market” goods or services. It was a total shame! Oh, how much has the world changed since 1995.
For many years, my course focused on how to use the Internet; properly, I might add; for marketing purposes, and how to build a Web site to support that. The available tools for site creation were extremely limited by today’s standards. Do one page at a time using hand-coded HTML pages and link them with a cohesive menu structure. Later on, we started using the new-fangled Cascading Style Sheets, CSS.
Eventually, I believe around 2006, WordPress was reintroduced as a content management platform and after some testing and trying, I moved the site creation part in my course to WordPress. Around that time, a guy named Brian Gardner came out with a theme that made the content managed site design a little easier, it was called the Revolution Theme. That theme later would become StudioPress and Genesis framework which I still use today. That remained at the core of my course until my retirement in 2012. In the meantime, I gradually moved my site design consulting business to the WordPress platform as well and still use it today.
I had been using a Web-based course syllabi since 1995 and I moved that to the WordPress platform as well which remains in an archived format from the last year of my teaching. It is not powered by WordPress anymore, just single pages linked to each other. Here is my first Internet course syllabus from 1996 when the course started as a special topics course in all its hand-coded glory! If you think it is too narrow, you need to remember that most monitors had a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. A small corner on your phone! Note that in those days it was a good thing to give lots of links to other places and Google was not among them! Eventually, my syllabi got under one roof and an archived copy of it remains on the Internet.
Over the years, I have seen and experienced WordPress steadily grow and become an extremely popular platform running about 35% of the entire Internet. Quite an accomplishment indeed. Features came, bugs got crushed, the circle of influence expanded. The open architecture of WordPress that allowed using themes to change the front-end appearance and plugins to add more functionality increased its popularity and its ecosystem.
In the last couple of years, WordPress has been developing a new editing interface that originally came as a plugin, Gutenberg, and eventually got incorporated into the WordPress core. The driving idea behind Gutenberg is the use of “blocks” that can contain different kinds of content and can be formatted differently and moved with ease. In its latest incarnation, WordPress has made its intentions very clear: The Future Belongs to Blocks!
Although it took a little time to get used to it, I have come to appreciate the flexibility and power of a block-based editor in the back-end of WordPress and have been using it almost exclusively in the last 3-4 months. Along with the changes in WordPress, its ecosystem is rapidly adapting to the new environment. All the new themes are coming out with their block-based structures and there is a myriad of block related plugins to help the user to achieve what they want. At least, that is the intention I am sure.
Blocks Blocks Everywhere
That brief history of my involvement in WordPress will continue with the evolution of the block-based world. As powerful as the new editor paradigm is, it also comes with the potential of a period of confusion over dealing with the proliferating blocks in themes and plugins. I have been playing with different themes and different block plugins and I will share some thoughts without mentioning any particular brands. My writing will be from the users’ perspective without knowing what the challenges may be to make them happen. But, in their totality, WordPress will likely become even more powerful and popular.
Blocks and Block Settings
The WordPress core now includes a good number of blocks ranging from simple text paragraphs to images and galleries, from columns to groups, and many more. Much can be done with them without adding anything, but carefully designed plugins and themes can make life easier and richer. Here are some ideas on my wish list.
Blocks Wish List
Without mentioning names or specific block types, I would like the following be given some thought and consideration by WordPress as well as theme and plugin developers and designers. Some of these already exist in some plugins or themes but a suitable level of commonality will enrich the experience for all and provide for a healthy competition among the developers. I have not done any reading or searching on the use of blocks, these are my thoughts as a result of my experimenting with the new tools. If they are redundant, my apologies.
- There needs to be some top-level standardization to minimize confusion and to make better use of new additions
- Whenever parameters can be changed, an overarching default setting should be available; say, I don’t want to change the radius of the images every time I use them
- Setting and adjusting some parameters like internal padding and external margins may have convenience features such as, small, medium, and large but it will be much better if these also have a numeric override
- The core idea of the Gutenberg editor was to bring the experience as close as possible to viewing the pages, an admirable one for sure
- To follow the above idea, it will be highly beneficial if the editing window interface which are now mainly controlled by the theme in use, mimicked the display format
- Along the same lines, the content width should drive the edit window, and departures from that like wide or full-width presentations should remain reasonably faithful to the final result
- The selection of typefaces from commonly available sources like Google Fonts should be incorporated into either the core WordPress blocks or all should use a uniform protocol for their selection and use
- There needs to be a graceful downgrade from using a block plugin if its use comes to an end, especially by switching to another block plugin
- The presentation of blocks offered by each additional plugin should be clearly grouped as done by many now but I am not sure if the same is followed by all
- After all, columns are columns whether done by using core WordPress or a different plugin. Some fundamental features need to be cross-plugin cross-theme usable
- This interchangeability will benefit the users and the developers as well with the full understanding that some unique features may be missing but the core functionality should remain somehow transferable.
- When a feature is so unique that it cannot be reduced to a common minimum, it will benefit all if this is clearly marked
- Users skilled in CSS can add their custom touches to any theme or plugin. Any customization offered at the time of editing content will be welcome by all users.
Now, some of these ideas may already exist in the themes or plugins but no harm in grouping them all. Also, the above list will become richer with your addition of ideas, needs, and concepts. Feel free to add your comment!