29 Comments

  1. Anh Tran

    An exciting post! I was searching for “content blocks” yesterday and now this post covers everything around the idea.

    I think WordPress did a good job on improving the editing content with the editor (from simple text to drag & drop images and preview galleries and embed media). But it’s too far from the true content creation tool.

    Talking about content creation, it’s interesting that the page builder plugins are doing this better than WordPress editor (except they use shortcodes). They provide some kind of content blocks (with configuration) and some basic elements (like rows, columns). Besides, the frontend editing makes them a good tool for this purpose.

    It’s worth noting that there are a lot of intesting ideas in the discussion at make.wordpress.org!

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    • Reid Peifer

      It’s true that the folks pumping out page builders have done a lot to push this concept forward. We gotta remember though that they have a teeny tiny little user profile to worry about. The folks working on this problem for WordPress at large have a much more daunting task.

      You can see that come into play in how most page builders choose to address the objective.

      If your tool is presenting with you margin and padding inputs in the content creation UI – you’ve already lost. That’s a visual code editor (which serves the user profile that they’re solving for).

      For anyone that built websites in the 90s, going back to a dreamweaver-lite content creation experience is not something I’m too excited to do.

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    • Pete

      Page builders are a terrible concept. Content itself should be modular but page builders almost universally just handle presentation and in doing so break the important separation between content and presentation.

      I use my website as a cms to organise and record content and a dashboard to distribute it to a multitude of channels (email, feeds, social media, amp, google, etc. What my content looks like on my website to a human is in many cases irrelevant.

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  2. mark k.

    In the end wordpress is not a CMS. It is some hybrid of a CMS and web page builder, but much closer to the page builders than CMS.

    There is no need to look far to see this. On the post edit page you first have the slug which the page is going to use and only after that the content.

    You can see it also in the automatic way archive pages are generated, zero editorial control over them.

    Unfortunately seems like in 4.8 core will attempt to compete with pure page builders like WIX instead of attempting to get into the big CMS league. From following the discussion, it seems like the focus is on the layout in the front end for the single post, instead of building the blocks and tools to create more interesting aggregations of content.

    IMHO the first step should have been to finish the unfinished business of post formats. I can’t understand how anyone seriously believe that he can design any sort of aggregation of content types when the simpler task of handling just one content type per page is still an unresolved issue.

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  3. Matt

    Wonderful post, Reid.

    I couldn’t agree more that when the “exciting” developments in WordPress hit the pavement, the narrative trends to the more (geeky) technical aspects of making it exciting again. How people experience content creation and how they expect to manage it (easily) is secondary to how we’ll build it. When in some cases, it should be the opposite, start with the user and work our way backwards through their desired use case.

    The other challenge will be how much of WP can and *should* adopt your new experiences? -When should it be left to 3rd party vendors to develop, like yourself?

    Page builders (of all sorts) are how most people want to experience (and will) experience WordPress. The real disruption will start when core rolls out their builder-like solution to the masses. I think we’ll find page builders staking their claim of users, by tailoring their solution as a new “flavor” of WordPress. i.e. Come experience WP the Beaver Builder way, experience it the Divi way, etc.

    Fragmentation? Yes. I’ll save my “what is WordPress anyway?” for a beer at our next conference :)

    I don’t know about you, but I’m giving up my battle with page builders, creating a new experience for WordPress isn’t something I’m interested in, nor do I have the resources to tackle that head on.

    Content blocks for WordPress? That’s where I’m moving Conductor into for the future. Hyper-focused control on the output of the data you have stored in WP, and attempting to make it easy and compatible, with the builders of the world. We’re even on Github now :)

    https://github.com/sdsweb/conductor

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    • Reid Peifer

      I’m gonna hold you to that beer.

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    • John

      Love that you’re on github, but isn’t conductor just a very expensive query and view builder? Seems a bit overpriced compared to say Toolset, if all you want to use is views with an easier GUI

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    • Nathan B. Weller

      I 100% agree with your thoughts here Matt. As a content creator first and foremost, my own journey reflects the frustration that comes from the dynamic you’ve described.

      In the past, I’d have this grand vision for something I wanted to create and I’d buckle down to work on it within WordPress. Then, before I know it, I’m bogged down in what should be basic formatting. After a short while I’m completely out of creation mode and into tinkering mode, amateur developer mode, and frustration mode.

      Enter page builders. A massive user experience improvement for people who want to create content. And by many accounts a huge pain (or, at the very least, a huge source of annoyance) to others in the community. But that’s a different conversation; one whose complaints (I believe) are being addressed as best and as fast as they can be by the major third parties developing page builders.

      (Full Disclosure: I work for Elegant Themes, creators of Divi, as their content manager.)

      I’m really excited to see what comes out of this next phase of WordPress core development. If they do indeed choose to take a modular approach to content, which I agree with Reid is the way to go, then they will have to address the same issues and concerns lodged against all current page builders while also creating a user experience that can compete. A tall order indeed! But one I’m confident we as a community can achieve.

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  4. Donna Cavalier

    Love this post! It is long past time for this to be considered. Thank you for bringing it to the forefront. I’m sure you’ve discussed it in the past, but it’s the first reference I’ve seen go into this much depth in the WP world. Please, WP, consider focusing more on making the content-creation process easy, AND flexible.

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  5. Tierno S. Bah

    The article is right on regarding the need to step beyond hierarchical taxonomies in organizing content. However it falls short to mention and explore the W3C standards for the Semantic Web, namely XML, RDF, OWL, Linked Data.
    WordPress should strive to integrate both the Web of Documents and the Web of Data paradigms.

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  6. David Skarjune

    Thanks, Reid. “What is ‘content’?” is a key question to consider as WordPress revamps the editor and customizer, stepping back from the technical issues of TinyMCE, shortcodes, etc., (remember Post Formats?)… The WordPress WYSIWYG experience has been disjointed between the dashboard editor, the customizer, and front-end editing. Now, we are considering a new vision for that experience, but it’s not so clear where it will go and how it might be accomplished.

    In Drupal the answer to your question is obvious: Node. And what’s a node? That depends upon the Content Type. Nodes are as atomic as one can get, though it’s rather abstract semantically, compared to how Brad Frost designates HTML elements as the atoms of web content. With Drupal the followup question is how do we construct content at the next levels for useable blocks? There are many answers, and the pathways become complex design and development projects.

    For WordPress, blocks seem to be the current answer for something less than a post/page, but there’s no consensus yet on what constitutes a block. Blocks are often constructed as a shortcode with page builders, but without clear semantics for that as it’s buried in the actual longcode behind them. The current core-editor discussion explores different directions: whether blocks might be text or paragraphs, plain or formatted, or even if they are HTML-based. Matias Ventura commented in one discussion, “There are tradeoffs depending on where we draw the line regarding what is the minimal unit that we consider to be a block.”

    For a lot of end users content is both the source material they start with—words, images, audio, video, products—and the output on the web that visitors experience. It’s simply their content, while WordPress and the web are just communication mediums that moves content out there. No wonder commercial site builders like Squarespace are popular, as they don’t get in the way, even if they box in the end experience.

    AX ≠ UX. That’s something Rick Yagodich explains in his book Author Experience. Web design has focused on complex and beautiful UX, but the content construction process is secondary, and as Karen McGrane summed it up, “CMS is the enterprise software that UX forgot.” (Content Strategy for Mobile, A Book Apart, 2012)

    You’re right that “to push WordPress’ content creation tools forward” we need to focus on defining the elements, their relationships, and how they work with a new editor along with themes, plugins, and other tools. And as we continue to democratize web publishing, let’s keep the barriers to entry low for authors, editors, content managers, and all the other content creator use cases.

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    • Toby Cryns

      @david, @reid – Good stuff.

      > let’s keep the barriers to entry low for authors, editors, content managers, and all the other content creator use cases.

      I know it’s complex to keep things simple, and, I actually think the WP core team does an _amazing_ job keeping things simple…for us coders!

      Can’t have it all, I guess, and good to see the content creator getting a moment in the sun (hopefully it persists).

      Excited to see what the next year brings for WP!

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  7. Abolfazl Ahani

    A nice hit, thank you for sharing this these ideas.

    When comparing WordPress with Drupal, you will see WP is outperforming Drupal in its easy content creation in posts & pages. I mean a very powerful editor integrated with media library, and a lot of hidden capabilities of its editor (internal linking, spell & grammar checking, embed support, mark down support, etc.). You will really miss them when using Drupal 7 and even Drupal 8. In Drupal you should install and configure a lot of modules (plugins) to prepare an editor friendly environment, so they are planning to enhance their Author Experience (e.g. media initiative).

    BUT …

    When it comes to more complex use cases (e.g. universities, … , web applications = big clients), you will front a lot of shortcomings of WP core and should install and configure a lot of plugins, write a lot of PHP code, or find a developer to solve your problem. I thinks here is the pain point of content management in WP. Drupal is doing this very good, using modules like:
    * CCK (to define fields and custom post types (CPT) in dashboard, no PHP coding. in core since Drupal 7 = Jan. 2011)
    * Views (to define presentation of post types + other lists based on CPTs, relationship between CPTs, arguments, …, to feed content area, blocks (widgets), RSS, etc. It’s a real beast. in core since Drupal 8)
    * Panels / Display Suite (allows you to take full control over how your content is displayed using a drag and drop interface. Arrange your nodes, views, comments, user data etc.)
    * Rules (to define conditionally executed actions based on occurring event = configure workflows = Beast No. 2)

    For a detailed review, see this post (Why Drupal Developers Make x10 More than WordPress Developers, Nov. 2013)

    So I think page builders are hardly part of the solution.

    I think Toolset components (the same guys behind WPML) present good alternatives of Drupal to WP. Although there is no alternative for Drupal Rules yet, and Toolset views is not as mature as Drupal views, but they are addressing the real pain points of WP.

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  8. Toni

    the Pressbooks community ( a wordpress plugin for books publishing) we are working on that, allowing a more open system of publishing.
    You can join our discussions

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  9. Ahmad Awais

    Interesting post, Reid! I’m incredibly excited about all things happening for the editor in WP core. I agree with a lot of what you wrote about in this post.
    Anywho I am really looking forward to how blocks approach is going to help us improve the WP content writing workflow!

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  10. Mehmet Hakan

    Hello there, the content are brilliant. I have read in a breath. If you don’t mind, I want to translate some of parts of this post for my Turkish followers on my blog. Thank you…

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  11. Dave Gray

    Very interesting article and discussion. I use both WP and Drupal for different types of projects.

    I’ve recently discovered the Paragraphs module for Drupal. I have to say that it is a very good step forward in creating structured content:
    https://www.drupal.org/project/paragraphs.

    Instead of putting all their content in one WYSIWYG editor, users can choose on-the-fly between pre-defined Paragraph Types independent from one another.

    Paragraphs can have any number of fields and can be anything you want from a simple text block or image to a complex slideshow or multi columned layout.

    The developer simply sets up the likely paragraph types required by the project. The content creator then chooses the paragraph and enters the content. No worries about formatting, style and layout. These have already been setup by the developer.

    The nearest WP equivalent that I’ve found is ACF’s flexible content field:
    https://www.advancedcustomfields.com/resources/flexible-content/

    Apart from page builders (which I’m learning to dislike) is there anything else similar?

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  12. Toni

    Maybe the problem is what we believe is a post, maybe a post must be dinamical and what now is a post, must be a component. In that way the formats have trully meaning.

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  13. Alexandra Wolfe

    I’m a book and magazine editor, and when WordPress or any other CMS does (or goes beyond) what the likes of QuarkXpress does for me, on my computer for layout, then I’ll buy in.

    I want to be able to move and manipulate each and every element on the page, text flow from page to page, and drag and drop to my hearts content to create not only rich visual content, but simple, clean, crisp texts.

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  14. Volkher Hofmann

    Excellent post!

    Coming at this from a more pragmatic perspective (= average user perspective), I still have a hard time grasping what it is that really needs to change (and how it should change), but change it must. Visualizing a modular (and more granular) approach and how that might look in the end is not all that easy.

    All I can say is that over the years, I have found myself increasingly weary of having to divide/sub-divide/categorize my content before it is even written. The strict model behind WP’s post and page creation is one that forces me (in my small world) to, for example, decide if I want to lose an important post in the stream of blog posts or, which is what I have done here or there, turn a post into a page and dock it to the main menu, highlighting it in a sense and pulling it from the stream. That isn’t really necessary as the search function can easily let me find that post, but, in the end, whatever I try always ends up in a print-design approach that has a table of contents and pages/posts that table links to. Not very satisfying.

    I would really love to see a different approach and am looking forward to this type of discussion (hopefully) growing the next couple of months.

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  15. PiedType

    I’m with Alexandra Wolfe. I worked in print publishing for 30 years and still miss the layout flexibility I had with PageMaker. I’ve been on WP for 9 years, doing the best I can, but still I hope …

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  16. Joen

    Great post. Found myself nodding along as I read the whole thing. I did the same when I saw your WordCamp presentation.

    It’s been a mad rush to get to the start line these past few weeks. A lot of groundwork had to be laid out. I have a feeling tomorrow the pieces will all be in place.

    Your concerns are duly noted, though I suspect we’re all largely on the same page. We are starting with the block as the smallest unit of content. The block has to scale from phones to desktops. The block has to be pluggable, even added itself by a plugins. Whether the block is a child of TinyMCE, or TinyMCE is a child of the block, that hasn’t been decided yet, because that’s just technology, and what matters is the user experience. We are making a bet on blocks as a way to build rich posts in an effortless way, while seamlessly surfacing the breadth of features WordPress already supports. If we can all together make this building block experience great, imagine what amazing experiences you can create by inserting these componentized little units of design — imagine a dynamic block as a replacement for custom fields!

    In fact, only copyright keeps us from calling these blocks LEGO pieces.

    Reid, it would be so great if you would contribute to this project, in any capacity really. Whether simply in an advisory role, or all the way up to contributing patches and code. Please consider this! We’ll for sure bring up this post in the chat, this Wednesday in #core-editor at 1900 CET! See you there?

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  17. Grant Palin

    I do so much desire modular content blocks in place of (or as alternative to) the main editor. When I write longform blog posts they are often interspersed with non-text elements, and managing the markup manually for these is tedious. I think modular content blocks would be a big stepping stone for WordPress in continuing the CMS evolution .

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  18. Joel McDonald

    Very interesting article. This is a very reason I shy away from page builders, because I want to impose organized and reusable content…actually have WordPress function as a true CMS. Your article has me thinking about creating modules that reuse that content in more creative ways.

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  19. David

    Hey Reid, great post, this is something we started to think about over a year ago and at that point we didn’t even see Matt’s original comments about ‘content blocks’, we just upped and made somehing!
    We’re in the final stages of getting our take on this whole ‘commodity/content’ blocks thing out for beta very soon and as I read all the comments here I’m reasonably convinced we’ve made a good start…
    If anyone’s interested in having a look and perhaps beta testing/reviewing, please sign up here:
    https://redforge.io and I’ll contact you with more details.
    Thanks
    David

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