#2 – Anne McCarthy on How Full Site Editing Will Impact WordPress

#2 – Anne McCarthy on How Full Site Editing Will Impact WordPress

About this episode.

So the podcast today features Anne McCarthy. Anne is Developer Relations Wrangler for Automattic. Her work is focussed on the WordPress.org space, and she is leading the Full Site Editing Outreach Program.

Full Site Editing is an endeavour to make it easier to manage how your WordPress website works. It’s hoped that tasks which once required a fairly technical understanding of the WordPress code, will become available to all. Creating headers and footers, deciding what information to pull from the database and where it should be displayed. These will become part of the Block Editor interface. Complexity replaced by simplicity; or at least that’s the goal.

This, as you might imagine, is not an easy task. Now that WordPress is pushing beyond 40% of the web, there’s a lot to consider, and that’s what Anne is doing. She’s part of the team trying to work out how this might look, how it should work and when it will be ready.

We start off with an introduction from Anne and how she became involved with WordPress and the Full Site Editing initiative in particular.

Then the discussion moves to an explanation of what Full Site Editing hopes to achieve. Which areas of a website are intended to be made available with Full Site Editing?

We then get into the specific details of what constraints the project faces; and there are many points to consider. Backwards compatibility, accessibility and how commercial and free plugins feed into the project roadmap.

Towards the end of the podcast we get into the process of how Full Site Editing is moving forwards, who is making the decisions and how the WordPress community can get involved in shaping WordPress’ future through endeavours like Anne’s Outreach Program.

It’s a very timely episode. Many of the areas discussed will be landing in WordPress soon.

If any of the points raised here resonate with you, be sure to leave a comment below.

Useful links.

Full Site Editing is moving fast. Since the recording of this episode, there’s been some movement. To get the latest information and learn more, see the following links:

Full Site Editing Outreach Program

Full Site Editing for WordPress Overview

Full Site Editing Go/No Go | April 14, 2021

Full Site Editing Go/No Go: Next steps


Nathan Wrigley: [00:00:00] Welcome to the second edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Our aim here is to create a podcast and transcript for people who are interested in WordPress and the WordPress community. We’re going to create one episode each month, for the time being, but that might change in the future.

We’d love to hear your feedback about the podcast. Perhaps there’s a subject that you’d like us to feature, a person who you think would make a great guest or anything else that comes to mind. We’re very open to suggestions so long as it’s to do with WordPress and the wider WordPress community. You can do that by going to WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. And there you’ll find a contact form for you to complete. Once again, WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and thanks in advance if you reach out.

Okay, so the podcast today features Anne McCarthy. Anne is a developer relations wrangler for Automattic. She focuses on the wordpress.org space and is leading the full site editing outreach program. Full site editing is an endeavor to make it easier to manage how your WordPress website works. It’s hoped that tasks, which once required a fairly technical understanding of the WordPress code will become available to all. Creating headers and footers, deciding what information to pull from the database and where it should be displayed.

These will become part of the block editor interface. Complexity replaced by simplicity, or at least that’s the goal. This, as you might imagine, is not an easy task. Now that WordPress is pushing beyond 40% of the web, there’s a lot to consider, and that’s what Anne is doing. She’s part of the team, trying to work out how this might look, how it should work and when it will be ready.

We start off with an introduction from Anne and how she became involved with WordPress and the full site editing initiative in particular. Then the discussion moves to an explanation of what full site editing hopes to achieve, which areas of a website are intended to be made available with full site editing.

We then get into the specific details of what constraints the project faces, and there are many points to consider. Backwards compatibility, accessibility, and how commercial and free plugins feed into the project roadmap. Towards the end of the podcast, we get into the process of how full site editing is moving forwards, who is making the decisions and how the WordPress community can get involved in shaping WordPress’s future through endeavors like Anne’s outreach program.

It’s a very timely episode. Many of the areas discussed will be landing in WordPress soon. If any of the points raised here resonate with you, be sure to head over and find the post at wptavern dot com forward slash podcast, and leave a comment there. And so without further delay, I bring you Anne McCarthy.

I am here with Anne McCarthy, Anne welcome to the podcast.

Anne McCarthy: [00:03:55] Thank you so much for having me.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:03:57] You’re very, very welcome. Now it’s a regular question, I often ask them at the beginning of such podcasts, but I think it’s important that we lay the foundations of who you are and how you’ve come to be on the podcast.

Would you mind giving us a little bit of backstory about how it is that you came to be on this podcast today? What’s your relationship with WordPress and perhaps tell us what the role is that you have currently?

Anne McCarthy: [00:04:20] Great question. It’s hard to succinctly sum up who I am, but I’ll give it a try. I first got started with WordPress in 2011 as a freshmen in college, and I was using blogger for many years before that to get out all my feelings on the internet as a millennial does.

And eventually, it turned into three years working at the university and their ITS department, which led me eventually to finding out about Automattic. In 2014, I joined them as a happiness engineer and very recently, almost exactly a year ago, switched into a developer relations wrangler role focused on the wordpress dot org community. And currently part of why I’m here today is cause I’m spearheading the full site outreach program. So I’m here to talk about that and talk about full site editing and all the fun stuff that’s happening. Cause I know it’s a lot to keep up with.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:05:08] Yeah, there is a lot to keep up with, but it is a really interesting episode.

There’s an awful lot to say when we’re recording this, in the month of April 2021, this episode will probably air shortly after we record it, and there’s an awful lot that has been going on, but there’s an awful lot to happen during the course of the rest of this year. And we know that there’s a lot of change coming.

First of all, just rewinding the clock. Would you just like to try and sum up what the ultimate ambition of the full site editing project is? I know that there may be things about that roadmap which change things you wish had been included that probably won’t get included, but just sum it up. What is the full intention of the project?

Anne McCarthy: [00:05:48] That’s a great question. I would simply say it’s to empower users more and bring WordPress to the future. There’s a reason these projects are taking so long. It really is about planting seeds for decades to come. And it’s something that Matt, the co-founder I really admire in him as he thinks about those decades.

And so this is a part of that push into using blocks as a paradigm into empowering users, more and bringing WordPress to the future.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:06:10] Okay. So it’s all about creating websites with blocks. What kind of areas is it getting into? What is it going to empower us to do? What things in the future will we be able to do inside the block editor?

Anne McCarthy: [00:06:24] Yeah, so everything you can edit any part of a global style on your site. So if you want to have every font color, be one thing, you can quickly change it. Even by block, you’ll be able to change things by block, which is really exciting to have a global point of view of your site, and to be able to actually customize it to your liking unlocks things.
There was recently a test that we did around, the 404 page. Normally that’s something that a theme author decides. And you’re locked into it, and if you want to change it, you have to go digging through the code. With full site editing, you can actually go straight ahead and customize it to your liking, make it real fun, make it really clever and make it really serious.

Like you can do whatever you want with that. So a lot of template editing that normally you wouldn’t have access to. So even editing, like if you land on your blog page, you can actually adjust how that looks, what shows up, what doesn’t, in a really powerful way. I try and talk about the tangible aspects of it, but there’s also a lot underneath the hood.

So there’s a lot of design tools for theme authors as well. That there’ll be able to hook into that ideally will make it much easier to create themes and to focus more on the aesthetics and the experience rather than on coding up the basics. So there’s a lot that I think across the board, whether you’re a user or a theme developer or a plugin author, there’s a lot to be excited about in the future.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:07:34] One of the things that keeps coming on my radar is the comparison between what we’ll call page builders, these plugins, or perhaps it’s a theme we’ve seen lots of commercial and free products available in the WordPress community, which enables you to achieve many of the goals that the full site editing hopes to achieve. So templates for this templates for that. Headers, footers, you can have global color palettes and all of the things, and it can be done within their interface. I guess the thing about those products is they are created by a team of developers and they are released presumably when they’re mature and they’re ready to go and the company believe that it’s now suitable and people will purchase it or use it and deploy it. Now you’ve got a very different set of constraints that you have to work within. And I think highlighting what those constraints are, would be really useful to give people some context as to why it isn’t where some of these other solutions might be, because you’ve got many, many things to be thinking about in the background. So if we just get into that, maybe one thing at a time, do you want to just rattle off a list of things that you’ve got to be concerned about that perhaps we didn’t know you needed to be concerned about.

Anne McCarthy: [00:08:48] Yeah. I’ll start with the most obvious ones, which is we’re building things so that other people can build upon it, including page builders. So I think that’s something that often gets overlooked. Like some of our audience members are these page builders. So it’s an interesting dynamic there because it really is about that foundational level. Anyway, 40%, the internet, just the diversity of ways that people use WordPress, whether it’s multi-site or what have you, there’s a lot to consider.

Then you add in internationalization, which is part of like future phase four. Accessibility is a huge issue. Something that really needs to be thought about including backwards compatibility, and that’s another. A lot of page builders could easily say, hey, update to this version after this, x Y and Z will no longer be supported. Doing that with 40% of the internet is huge.
Just recently actually, I did some outreach because in 5.2, which is many releases ago, some smaller APIs were deprecated. We’re finally removing them from the Gutenberg plugin. And there were still three plugin authors who were using these APIs, and I reached out to them, let them know and made sure they were aware that this was coming, but that’s something that a page builder is not building the same APIs that are going to be used across the internet in the same way.

So there’s a lot of just scale that I think has to be thought of, which is partly why things get pulled from releases until they’re ready. But it’s also why sometimes we have to include things in releases in order to get feedback in order to, hear from people what needs to be improved and what we haven’t thought of, because inherently you can’t talk to 40% of the internet at once.
You just can’t. So part of that is that dance of, hey, this is coming up, hey, this is what’s new. And seeing how 40% response. What did we miss and how can we do better next time? And the way I think of it as it’s this nice chance with every single release of thanks for making me better. Thanks for making the web better.

And when the feedback comes in, that’s what it is. Whereas I think page builders and site builders have a unique position where they might have a very large user base, but it’s not going to be 40% of the internet. You know, there’s just a huge difference there.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:10:42] So some of the constraints that you mentioned there were the audience size, 40% of the internet, you’ve got to be mindful of the fact that they are going to expect things to break as little as possible.
You’ve got accessibility and so on. And there were probably two or three other things that you mentioned there as well. In real terms, how does this constrain the development? How do these factors slow you down? Do they have a material impact in the amount of time it takes you to do things because you have to ask for more consultation or you have to receive feedback from various people before you can get the green light to push that and move onto the next thing.

Anne McCarthy: [00:11:18] What you described is very, very accurate. I’ll give a specific example. So the widgets editor, which is bringing blocks to the widgets editor. Originally, it was slated for 5.5. I’m pretty sure. And it’s gotten pulled from 5.5 from 5.6. Wasn’t even considered for 5.7 and is now hopefully going to be slated for 5.8.

And a big part of this was originally, it was just going to be a separate editor, separate from the customizer and with feedback, it became very clear, customizer is a key interaction that we need to prioritize. How do we bring blocks to the customizer, which is a whole unique experience to think about.

And this is where the 40% of the internet comes into play, right? Because we understand that you’re releasing new things, that’ll cascade to new people. But what about the person who’s had a site for five years? What benefits can we bring to them? Not just brand new users who are going to be using WordPress for the first time, because the majority of the users are people who have been using WordPress and who have trusted the community and the people building WordPress, with their site, with their, who knows what is their story, their business.

So there’s a level of thought that has to go into play with that, and I think part of it is why Gutenberg, the plugin does bi-weekly releases. And I think there’s about 300,000 active installs, which is a much smaller compared to the 40% of the internet. And it allows us to test things out, have experiments, go do outreach, like the outreach program I’m running, get the feedback that we need, reach out to specific plugin authors. And in the case of the widgets editor, it became clear with each release, it just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t in the place that it needed to be. It wasn’t as stable as it needed to be. It wasn’t refined, it wasn’t intuitive enough.

And in many ways, one of the things that slowed us down was wanting to have it in the customizer, which I think is a huge win. It’s a main interaction that people are used to. It’s something that people trust. So how can we go where people trust and extend that and provide an experience that they can also in the future trust and have actually unlock more things because when you’re able to use blocks in the customizer, you’re now able to add way more stuff than you would be able to and do way more things than you’d be able to when it was just the customizer, which is pretty exciting. So it’s both like trying to get user trust, but then also providing value at the same time and going to areas that people feel familiar with and slowly incrementally having stepping stones towards this eventual idea of full site editing, where everything is through a block paradigm, and you’re able to extend your site, however you want.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:13:35] Do you ever get feedback from people who use these tools? That sort of question I’m trying to frame is something along the lines of. How do you cope with people who wish that it were already something that their current tool can do? Take the example of a commercial page builder. There’s several, you could pick the names of, and they’ve got this tool and they’re quite happy with it. And it does all of the things that they would wish to achieve. And then they come over and they look at the project that you’re involved with, the full site editing, and they see a real difference. They see that this tool over here, which I’m familiar with that works. I’m very happy with it and it works and it does all these things that you are, you’re still trying to put together. How do you bridge the gap between what their expectations are and what you’re trying to build? Do you have conversations with people? In fact, you even download some of these commercial products and check them out and see what it is that people get excited about, about them.

Anne McCarthy: [00:14:33] I definitely check them out. I actually love, love, love hearing about new plugins because I do, I actually test full siting every single day. I have been, it’s been a challenge of mine like last couple of weeks, but I do also love when people flag things and say, hey, this new page builder or this new plugin provides a really interesting experience.
One of the recent ones, I actually went back and checked out was the Iceberg plugin that simplifies the Gutenberg editor. And I recently checked that out again cause I was actually talking to someone in a completely different, it was a developer relations, a Slack community, and I have an alert word set up, anytime someone says, WordPress, I love doing that’s my favorite little hack, life hack for everyone just joined a bunch of communities and then set up alert words. Yeah. He was just like, oh, man, this editor sucks. I don’t know what to do with it. I immediately reached out to him and said, hey, no pressure. If you’re game to talk about this, I’d love to hear your concerns are what features are missing or what has you blocked? And I ended up sharing the Iceberg plugin with him and then went back through and tried it out again. And I bring this up because I think something to be said is that, the hope is that WordPress can provide common tools so that people, for example, aren’t locked into one single page builder.
Like you can move around, and I get the rush to say man, I want to use the core system, but right now I’m relying on this page builder, and we’re frustrated with that too. There is a sense of urgency and Matias and Josepha touched on that in a WP Briefing podcast very recently that there’s this urgency of getting features out to people now, because we know that it will benefit them.

And I think that as a really exciting position to be in. I know where we’re coming… It’s going to come, I promise, hang in in there. Which I think is a neat space rather than this impatience or hesitancy, which I also think happens, but I do seek out feedback like that, and I do enjoy talking to people whenever they explicitly have a bad experience. And one of the best questions that I ask is, what features about this page builder do you really like, what would you want to see in the core experience. And then from there, I can be honest with them and say, oh yeah, we’re working on that. That’s going to be like, here are a couple of Github issues that you might be interested in that this is the design. This is whatever it is. But then on the flip side, There is also going to be a role that plugins have to play into the future. Same with the Gutenberg editor right now, and the core editor right now with Iceberg, for example, like where it simplifies the editor.
I imagine in the future with full site editing, there will be both plugins that really open up the options in the settings, and I also can imagine there’ll be plugins that really simplify things and make it really easy for certain users to use it and people can pick and choose and customize as they’d like, same to what we see with plugins now, anyway. And the biggest thing I often say to people whenever they talk about page builders, I’m like, that’s fine, if you’re not ready to switch, that’s totally fine. But at the end of the day, when you’re starting with new client or you’re starting a new site, or you’re redoing your site at some point, you’re going to have to learn something new, and it’s better to learn the sure thing. Doesn’t mean you only have to learn this your thing. I can imagine a world where people have these like hybrid experiences for some time, but the hope is that we can provide common tools so that people are not locked into one single page builder. Ideally the page builder is actually build alongside full site editing and the editor tools that we have. And then from there, people can customize to their liking either having more options show up or having less, and I do love hearing, what do you want? What’s missing? Cause it helps sharpen our thinking, and oftentimes I hear about things that I would never think of. That’s the beauty of having 40% of the internet is it’s like, whoa, I never thought about that. You’re right. That is a really interesting use case.

Like someone recently a good example with the custom 404 test, as part of the outreach program, we had people build fun, custom 404 pages and someone reached out and said, well right now, it’d be really awesome to have different templates depending upon how the person landed on the 404, having some level of customization of what you present.

So maybe you have four different 404 templates and it cycles through them. They were like, is this possible? I would want to put a feature request in. And it was pretty easy for me to say, you know what? That probably will be done by a plugin. So, that’s a great idea. That’s a really interesting use case, and I do think that’s something that’s desired, but this is also where plugins will still play a role. And being able to tell people that, so that expectations are in line as much as possible, I think is really important. There are going to be aspects that will not be covered by the site editor and that’s good.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:18:39] Commercial page builders if you like, the process which I often see is they’ll release a statement out into their email list or what have you, and they’ll describe the features that they have been working on that have now been released and so on. And so in many cases you don’t really know what is happening unless you probably take great interest in their team and what have you. So I’m curious to know what is the actual process that is going on in the background that iterates your project, the full site editing project. How did the little leaps forward get made? Who is involved? How can people get involved? How can they find out what it is that you’re working on currently? And ways in which they can help you. And there’s a lot in that question, so probably the first thing I’ll just rewind a little bit and say, could we just concentrate on how the full site editing, the team that’s behind that, how does it actually work? What is it that you do? How do you communicate with each other? How do you ensure that things are being built that people want to have in.

Anne McCarthy: [00:19:38] Yeah, that’s a great question. To start, I would say Matias is kind of, I think Josepha described him as the spark behind Gutenberg, and I really love that title, so I’m going to use it, reuse it. He is the project architect. So imagining multiple steps ahead, thinking about where we need to go, thinking about truly the infrastructure of what’s being built, APIs, is design tools, all that sort of stuff. And really thinking about based on many, many, many years of experience in the WordPress community, what do we know for sure that people need? And then from there, a lot of it is just this back and forth with the community, releasing stuff, doing calls for testing. The outreach program is a big part of that. So getting feedback from the outreach program, but one of the things that I recently came up that I am working on doing a better job of communicating is the outreach program is bringing in feedback, but that feedback and the high level, top feedback items are likely going to be different than what are the top issues to solve for full site editing if that makes sense. So there’s the feedback there’s actually using the tool, and then there are, these are the things that have to be solved and sometimes there’s overlap where sometimes some of the feedback becomes a top issue. But not all the time. And that’s partly because the MVPs is a work in progress.

And as those things get clear, for example, I think after April is gonna be a jam packed month, but once there’s that decision point that go no go date, there will be a time where the full site editing outreach program can start switching into a more narrowed experience of testing. And I’m really excited for that, where it’s okay, here’s the MVP. Here’s what we’re thinking for 5.8 which are two separate goals, by the way, there’s like building MVP, and then there’s, what’s going to go in 5.8 and I think that’s important to keep in mind as well. And yeah, one of the biggest ways that we get feedback and figure out what needs to be done next, especially now that we’re in a more refinement period is through the outreach program is through people filing feature requests and just doing as much testing as possible. Ideally this is also where a theme authors start exploring what it’s like to build block-based themes and give feedback on that experience. So, yeah, there’s a lot of ways that the feature development goes on. I will say a lot of the work happens in Github and then every, probably I think, a two month cadence, there’s some high-level posts about full site editing, whether it’s about a specific release or just like a check-in post, or if it’s about FSE and themes. There have been various posts over the last six months and I expect to see a lot more in the coming months leading up to 5.8 so that people are aware and they don’t have to pay attention to the day to day with Github. Another really good post to keep an eye out on is the what’s next post. And that’s posted each month and kind of defines, this is what the team is working on next.

And a lot of that does come down to, what issues of have come up in testing, what issues does Matias think are high priority to solve? What else is remaining in the MVP that’s been discovered previously? And one thing that I think is really easy to miss with full site editing, and it almost feels weird to just say. This monolithic full site editing when actually it’s this really diverse set of projects, and each is further along than others.

So there’s this very interesting battle that goes on in my mind, whenever I talk about full site editing, cause what I really want to do is talk about a specific piece of full site editing, but that also can get too granular in a way that can be really confusing. But it’s something I like to mention where if you try out the experience and one part seems really good and one part you’re like what’s happening here, that’s on purpose. Because at the end of the day, I don’t expect the entire experience to go into 5.8. I expect certain things to fit in and for there to be a drip campaign, probably through even the 6.0 release, who knows, but definitely through the 5.9.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:23:02] Let’s say somebody is listening to this and they’ve got no experience contributing to any software project, and they’re interested, they like the idea of full site editing and they’ve got a few things they’d like to get off their chest and they want to be of some help. What are the most effective things that can help to push the project forward right now? That could be an answer as to which website to go to, and get involved in, or it could be, well, actually, no, we need help about this specific thing right now over the next month or two, you can take that in any way you like.

Anne McCarthy: [00:23:35] I mean the simplest answer that I would love to see is people joining the Core Editor meeting. If you can. If you can’t reading the notes and starting there, which you can see them posted on make.wordpress.org backslash core, there’s actually a tag for the Core Editor meeting. But I would start there, and I say that partially because we’re in a pandemic. Most places in the world, you can’t meet up in person. So getting connected with the people behind this work before you step into Github, before you step into anything else, I think is really important. There are humans doing this work. There are humans who are listening, who are caring, who are staying up late, thinking about problems. So join the meetings if you can, if you can’t asynchronous contributions are very welcome. So if you can comment on the post with a question and have it answered, but I want to start there with the human element, especially right now. So my answer, you’re listening to this many years in the future, hopefully we’re beyond this, but for now I really want to connect people with other people. And then from there, start as simple as just testing, get a test site up, try things out. There’s another make site, which is where we communicate in the project, make.wordpress.org backslash test. That’s where I post a lot of the stuff around this outreach program. So if you just want dip your toes in, that’s a great place to start. It walks you through, there’s instructions on how to set up everything, what to use what to pay attention to, how to actually go through the call for testing. It’s very purposely constrained right now, so that it makes it easy for people to jump in. But if you’re more advanced, I would just say, start scrolling th through Github. Look at different labels. There’s a really good label that I check regularly, the overview label. So if you want to get a sense of the top issues, or I guess the summarized issues, the overview label is my jam. I love going through that and seeing what’s new and also just seeing the status of things. It’s a really great way to dig into the project, but not too deeply. And if you’re someone who’s been around WordPress for awhile I would say starting to, try to create a block plugin or build a block based theme.

We’re going to need to see the community in the future, really adopt these things and starting early while things are almost refined, I think is super helpful because it helps us define them in a place that there’s early enough for things to shift. Getting that feedback is pretty key so that we are creating tools that you can actually use, because the whole point is this is all being built, so other people can use it. Other people can’t use it, and we don’t know that. That’s a problem and it’s hugely helpful and valuable to do that.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:25:48] You highlight the fact that you obviously need help with the things that you just described. All those technical areas. If I was to be listening to this and I am a more casual user of WordPress, I use it to create blog posts and I’m good at writing, but I’m not really into the code, and that side of things is of no interest to me, are there avenues that would still be open to me to assist with this?

Anne McCarthy: [00:26:09] Yeah, I would actually say the testing should be pretty basic enough that you can dig into it. I’m saying this as the person who writes the test, I purposely try to make them very contained, so anyone can jump in and if they want to spend five minutes, ten minutes, that’s great. You don’t need to spend hours on this. Some people do, some people really like to go deep with it, but the whole point is that it’s something that anyone can jump into.

And even if a call for testing is passed, it’s still great to go back through previous calls for testing and I actually have videos as part of the calls for testing so that you can see me walk through it. So if you get stuck, if you’re reading my instructions and you’re like, what is this person saying?
You can watch the video and watch me go through it. And even just watching that and giving feedback and saying, hey, this is really weird, or, I really like when my page builder does this , do you all have plans for that? And another thing that’s actually coming up that I plan to do that anyone can participate in is another big call for questions. So there was a lull in testing. I was waiting for a new Gutenberg release and a couple of months ago, I did just, anyone could ask anything about full siding and I would find the answer for it. And we ended up getting, I think it was 46, 47 questions, which was fantastic. And I grouped them into different chunks, answered them, all, publish them, pass them on to the documentation team, the marketing team, but that allowed people where if they don’t have time to test, but they’re nervous about it, or they’re curious about it or they’re excited for it, or they’re impatient, whatever their emotional state is. Ask any question and I’ll answer it. And I plan to do those, another round of that definitely in the future. Probably at the end of April, and if that’s of interest paying attention to the, make.wordpress.org backslash test as the best place to pay attention or in Slack there’s in wordpress.org Slack, there’s a FSE hyphen outreach hyphen experiment that you can join, and you can just sit back and listen to me update you as I go, but that’s also a great way is asking questions, sharing concerns. That is actually hugely helpful. It sets the foundation for documentation. It helps the people building it know what the points of confusion are likely to be. So yeah, if you just want to ask a question by all means that’s a very easy pathway to jump into.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:28:10] Thank you. I’ll be sure to take those links off you before we finally hang up the call today and we’ll make sure they make it into the show notes. Do you feel that you have. Enough people giving you feedback to justify the decisions that you made. I mean obviously in any software development, the answer I guess, is going to be, well, it would be great to have more. Do you feel that there is enough people assisting you at the moment so that you can be confident in the direction that you’re going? We’re doing this, we’ve got some feedback, but curious whether or not, if we have more feedback, we’d go in a different direction or not.

Anne McCarthy: [00:28:44] That’s a great question. I am always someone who wants more people involved. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy with the numbers. Right now we have between 10 to 15 people with each test. And one of the things I actually recently consulted some of our design team with an Automattic, and I asked, I said, with usability testing what kind of numbers do you look for when you all did this with 5.0 what did you look for how many people? And a lot of times I got feedback saying, Oh my gosh. Anne, five to 10 people, it was great. You can calm down. It’s fine. I’m like, no, no, no. I need like 50, you know, it is this weird sense of no, no, I want more and more and more. And I can tell you, I don’t think we can ever get too much feedback, especially if it’s relevant and its… I mean, obviously there’s like irrelevant feedback where it’s make WordPress like Facebook. I mean, whatever, it could be something outrageous. That’s not terribly helpful, you know? But imagine if we just got completely inundated with feedback in the outreach program, that would be amazing. My goal, my personal goal that I’ve been trying to say outwardly in hopes it encourages people is I would love to have 20 to 25, really dedicated, diverse testers, each release and not each release each call for testing. That’s my ideal. And the reason I mentioned engaged testers is because I want people who are along for the journey a little bit,ideally. Obviously I think it’s great if people jump in and out, I think there’s something to be said for really new perspectives and I love when people comment saying, hey, this is my first time using full site editing and here are my thoughts. That’s excellent. But the idea of quality over quantity, I think is really key, for this phase of testing. I think when things actually get merged into core and certain aspects get merged into core, that’s when things can open up and be a bit more, having 2000 people give feedback, but yeah, I don’t think there’s ever enough testing and honestly, I do worry about that.

And it’s something, one of the things I’ve been very intentional about is reaching out to the accessibility team to try and get people to help give feedback so that we’re thinking about accessibility needs and reaching out to folks in the polyglot space so that we have translations of these posts so that people can participate. I only speak English and I had been in countries where all of a sudden, you see something in English and it’s like this it’s like such a relief to have a menu in English. Like, Oh yes, this is so nice. And I want that outreach to happen because I think sometimes the software development I’ve seen this like arrogance of, oh well, we’ll just be doing the work and if they’re curious, they can come to us. And I actually think this is one of those situations where we need to go to them. And that’s what the outreach program is all about is meeting people where they are doing the outreach. Bringing people along with us and learning from them as we go. Part education, part feedback loop, and part, hey, here’s a really easy way to get involved and walk you through what’s coming.
I would love to see more engagement from folks who are non-English speaking. We’ve had Italian, Spanish and Japanese translations very consistently. I’m so grateful for the people who’ve done that. I think it’s just, oh, I’m so bad at languages that it just amazes me. I also think everything looks better in a different language. So it’s neat to see my own words translated, which is a kind of a wild experience that I never thought would happen, but I’d love to see more engagement. In those polyglot and local spaces, because the last thing you want is for all of a sudden it to land and only a specific audience benefits or sees this or understands it or knows what’s coming, right. There’s a big responsibility for 40% of the internet. And I’ll never forget the day that Matt at a State of the Word said that non-English downloads passed English downloads. And so when you think about that 40% I think a lot of us English speaking, Western world think of a certain type of person, but really it’s much more expansive than that.
So I’ve been really hammering the polyglot space as much as I can, as much as volunteer time people can give to translate those posts and to try and get feedback. But it’s something that I’d love to see more of.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:32:22] I’m curious actually, if you’ve got a really nice concrete example of an instance where somebody’s feedback turned into something actual. It was realized off the back of a piece of feedback, which you passed on to the team, and somebody reached out said, I would like this. And you were able to provide this, Hearing those stories. Ah, it is possible.
Anne McCarthy: [00:32:44] Yeah, I can think of a really specific example that I was actually thinking about this morning when I was making coffee. A blind developer, I got connected with her through actually posting in a different Slack community. So, you would not believe how many Slack communities I’m a part of and how much I try to drop links and engage people in different spaces. And I got connected because someone said, hey, I have a friend she’s blind, she’s a WordPress developer, and she cannot use full site editing. And I was like, whoa, tell me everything.

How can I get in touch, and got in touch, her name’s Taylor. And she very kindly jumped on for about 30 minutes. We recorded the session so that I could pass along the feedback. She just walked me through the experience of both using of using two different screenreader tools. And. It was fascinating. It was awesome.

We found so many bugs. It was one of those things where I think the biggest, the most jarring one that I keep thinking about that I actually want to see if we can get some development in on ASAP, is that the save button, and the saving process for full site editing right now is pretty non-intuitive, it’s a little bit clunky and it’s something that’s come up with sighted folks as well. What is the saving process, how does it work? But for people who rely on screen readers, it’s really impossible to save. Like you basically have to search for the phrase save in order to find the save button because there isn’t an aria label. And so that’s a big one that came up and on top of that in just the session, I worked with her another piece of feedback that came up with the columns block.

So if you have columns and you’re imagining, let’s say two columns and you are using a screen reader, it doesn’t tell you which column is which. So all of you here just announces column, column it doesn’t say like column one or column two or right column or left column. There’s no identifier for how to navigate.

And so that’s actually, there’s a PR right now that’s underway. I actually just filed it for the accessibility team last week to see if someone could review and someone already stepped in to offer some thoughts to fix that, to actually announce, I think they’re going with like column one and column two and column three rather than right and left due to internationalization. And that’s going to be a huge improvement because right now Taylor was just like, columns block is so confusing. This is almost useless. Another one is the spacer block. I’d love to hear. If you use a screen reader, I’d love to hear your experiences with the spacer block, because that’s a really confusing block for people I’m relying on screen readers.

And I opened up an issue for that, and we’ve had some discussion back and forth about improvements that need to be made there as well. So those are some of the, and I can tell you, there’s probably about. I think six issues I opened just from that 30 minute conversation. Some are like a work in progress, but this was very recent and something I keep thinking about, especially as we start to refine things and decision points come up because we don’t want to release something that has such blatant problems with it.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:35:24] It marks a very big change for WordPress this last couple of years have been really extraordinarily different, the experience that we’re all going through, but in particular, around full site editing How do you calm people’s fears that things in the future are going to be going in the direction that they wish it to go in. So, as an example, let’s imagine that we’re a theme developer. We may be getting concerned that themes are going to become a thing of the past that the livelihood that we’ve created for ourselves is going to disappear before our eyes. People concerned that the way that they’re working with at the moment, the way that they’ve taught their clients to work, this is how WordPress works, and this is how you can manage your website for yourself, and so on. What do you say to people? What is the golden light on the hill? The thing that you draw attention to, to say, look, all of this will be worth it. How do you keep people focused on the positives and not worrying about all the different things that are going on left right and center?

Anne McCarthy: [00:36:20] Yeah. The biggest thing I say is there’s a reason that the last milestone is gradual adoption. And one of the things that I also love to talk about is the fact that full site editing is a bunch of sub projects actually gives us the flexibility to ship reliable items rather than shipping it all at once.

Yes, they’re interdependent. Yes. And some cases they rely on each other and there needs to be probably a certain order or approach to releasing things. But by having so many different tools that provide value. It actually gives us the ability to step back and say, okay, what’s ready. And that should be a big relief to people.

It’s not like there’s going to be this on-off switch full savings here is taking over your site. Good luck. That’s not going to happen. Gradual adoption is the game plan. It is the final step. And I imagine right now, a gradual adoption as a milestone is not fleshed out. But I imagine, especially you have to 5.8, that will become a much more fleshed out milestone in the same way you see other milestones, I think, Josepha has talked a lot about this, and I really love the way she basically says we want to fulfill the WordPress promise. We want to keep that trust and we want to release things in the best state possible while at the same time, recognizing that there’s this urgency to offer tools that people are just lacking right now, at some point, we need to get those out in front of people and to provide value and making that determination is super tricky. But the good news is like I was saying earlier, we have that flexibility built into the fact that these are all sub projects and that many of them can be shipped independently.
And for theme authors, Themes are going to be so important in a full siding world. And one of the things I am so excited about is that there’s going to be a ton of what they’re calling. I .. the idea of these hybrid universal themes that can work with for example, template editing.

So going and being able to edit like your single page template, your homepage template, or your 404 template. You could have a theme, that’s a classic theme or traditional theme, whatever you want to call it. And you could use template editing. You could update your theme to hook into the tools have been made to allow for template editing.

Same thing goes for global styles. You could just use one part of the full site editing machine, so to speak and all the projects and slowly integrate, more and more, as you want to, like theme authors will have a lot of control of what they opt into and what they opt out of. And for us building it, it’s on us to make it so desirable to opt in.

Right, and that’s where the gradual adoption, so many pathways are going to be created. And I’m actually really excited to see people move from this framework of anxiety to looking out across the space and going, hmm, what can I use? What is it that I hear from people all the time that I can integrate into this and moving into an exciting creative space rather than thinking, hh, I got to get caught up, I’m behind. This is so bad. Like that kind of feeling, which I hear from a lot of people was like, I don’t have time to get up to speed. And the ideal is that we’re actually providing tools that save you time and add value. And that makes me really excited. I fully understand the fear. I fully understand the fear.

I don’t say that lightly. As someone who is thinking about like how it’s going to land in 40% of the internet and who every single day is talking to people who are giving feedback about, what’s not quite there, I don’t spend a lot of time talking to people who are just like, oh, I’m so excited about this.
People don’t go out of their way to tell you that you often hear from the people who are upset or something’s missing or promises broken or whatever it is. And it’s something I think about a lot. And I understand why there is panic there, especially with livelihood in the situation that we’re in.
And I have a lot of empathy for that. And I think in the future, and one of the things that I think you’ll hear from leadership and you’ve, everyone’s priority heard this from leadership. It’s just that we are purposely moving slowly and things get pooled for a reason. And it is to fulfill that promise and to think about backwards compatibility, but at the same time, balancing that with wanting to provide value for users and empowering users, especially in a day and age, when a lot of tech companies are actually taking away a lot of the power, whether it’s in the form of privacy or what have you.

I think open source and the way WordPress is working is actually trying to resist that and really focus on giving everything we can to the user, to build the site that they want and to have the experience that they want. And also to free them up, to focus on what the site actually gives them, whether it’s a business or platform.

I think that’s the part that makes me… that hopefully makes other people excited. And that makes me really excited.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:40:26] Speaking to that. You’ve done an incredible job answering all of my questions and you’ve obviously got to wear the Automattic hat during a discussion like this. I’m curious if we cast away the Automattic hat just for a moment and we ask you personally, what in the next six months to a year, what’s the one single thing, the thing that you are most excited about, the thing that you most want to see happen, the thing that gets you personally switched on about the project.

Anne McCarthy: [00:40:54] It’s a great question. I would have to say block patterns, because we’re talking about all these tools and features and things coming along, but ultimately as a user, it’s like, what can I do, and what can I do quickly? And block patterns will really be the glue that ties together all these projects. You can insert a block pattern, manipulate it as you want to. And when you’re manipulating it, you probably won’t be thinking about the fact that you might be using global styles or that the block pattern is relying on block styles or whatever it is.

But the power of that. And the promise of that, I think is just such a high impact, such a high impact feature that will really be like a cherry on top. And we’ll bring together a lot of the things that we’re talking about in a way that will be really tangible. And especially in this world of, you know, we’re not able to gather in person we’re not able to have those moments.

I think having something that is easy to understand almost the point of being, so intuitive that it’s like, why didn’t we do this years ago? That’s what I want the feeling to be. And that’s when I had someone in design, tell me this one time. And it always stuck with me as like the best ideas are the ones where you’re like, well, no, duh, like, yeah, of course.

And that’s what block patterns I think you’re going to feel like, and I think it’s really gonna fulfill a lot of these things and bring a lot of these things that we’re talking about together in a way that will be really fun to play with. And also people will be able to submit to the block pattern directory, ideally in the future, similar to the block plugin directory.

So personally, I’m most excited to see the marriage between block patterns and full site editing along with these hybrid themes.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:42:24] I know there will be no metric to judge this, but it would be fascinating in a couple of years time. Were we able to measure it, to see just how much of humanity’s time has been saved by something like block patterns, the fact that you don’t have to do things over and over again. Yeah. I completely understand why you’ve selected that one. We have gone through so many questions. If somebody at the end of this, has been listening to this and thinks I would like to help, but I want to contact Anne directly before I go to these Slack channels and Github repos and so on. How might somebody get in touch with you should they wish to?

Anne McCarthy: [00:43:01] I would say go to my website. I am a weird millennial without social media. I jump on and off of Instagram. That’s my one holdout. I love photography too much, but yeah, my website is nomad.blog and I have a contact page and I truly welcome to hear from anyone seriously. All I ask, and this is on my website as well. I like to do pen pal. Kind of writing back and forth. I think we don’t rely, I think email, I’ve read too many books about this, but I think email has ruined our ability to relax and unwind, and I refuse to opt into this always responding world. So as long as you’re patient with me, and if I get a bunch of emails, as long as you’re patient with me responding, I promise I will respond genuinely with a lot of thought. I do not like to do short, low quality responses. So if you’re willing to engage there, that would be awesome to hear from you. I’m also an annezazu in WordPress dot org Slack, if you end up joining there as well.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:43:53] Well, thank you very much. I appreciate all of the hard work that you and everybody connected in the project is doing. It’s making great inroads into our editing experience in WordPress. Greatly appreciated. Thanks for coming on the podcast.

Anne McCarthy: [00:44:06] Of course. Thank you so much for having me.


3 responses to “#2 – Anne McCarthy on How Full Site Editing Will Impact WordPress”

  1. One of the things overlooked frequently and not discussed enough: what are we actually talking about when proclaiming a bright future of compatibility and interchangeable Blocks? If it is only the base technology (React etc.) or the building experience, the much proclaimed shared Blocks foundation evaporated pretty quickly. Just take the current state of affairs… there are a many Block-Libraries and plugins that implement their own basics like rows and columns. It even becomes worse with monolithic Blocks with many settings. My point being that one now scatters all these Blocks through ones pages and articles and actually become locked-in. To migrate away from a specific Block-Library (lets say after development was abandoned or one wants to change to another Block-Library), one would need to refactor all pages and blocks that have used the old blocks. In a sense Gutenberg seams to be spawning many more vendor base lock-in scenarios that might be less compatible than one is made to believe. Correct me if i am wrong, as it feels much like the themes on the old forest. I am not confident if the core blocks are “atomic” enough for people to actually refraining from reinventing the wheel on each Block-Library. Ideally, they would be focusing on the higher orders of design (https://bradfrost.com/blog/post/atomic-web-design/).

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