[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, multi-author collaboration in WordPress.
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So on the podcast today we have Steve Burge. Although Steve is originally from England, he now lives in Sarasota, Florida. He leads the team at PublishedPress, which is a plugin company focusing on improving the publishing experience for WordPress users. The topic of today’s podcast is very much in his wheelhouse.
Several years ago, the block editor was brought into WordPress core. It was a dramatic change from the classic editor. Pages and posts could be created and edited with a growing variety of blocks. Blocks for paragraphs blocks for images, in fact blocks for everything.
This ability to edit content with blocks was just one of four phases of the Gutenberg project. The other three phases being site editing, multi-author collaboration and multi-lingual support.
If you’ve been following recent developments, then you’ll know that we’re currently in the site editing phase. And when that’s done, it will be time to turn our collective attention to multi-author collaboration.
But what is that? And what does it mean? I think that the best way to think about this would be to imagine Google docs. For years, you’ve been able to open up a document, click a button and share that document with others. Those with the correct permissions can interact with you in real time. And you can see the amendments they’re making as and when they’re making them. It’s utterly brilliant, and how most people would prefer to work with their content. One document. One source of truth.
Compare that to how WordPress currently works. Only one person can edit a piece of content at the same time. If you want to edit a post or a page at the same time as someone else, you can’t.
Phase three of the Gutenberg project aims to bring into WordPress the ability for multiple users to interact with content at the same time. Steve talks today about why this is an elegant and necessary update to WordPress. But also why it’s a difficult feat of engineering to pull off.
WordPress has a history of working with all manner of hosting configurations, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s so successful. Will it be possible to run WordPress on more affordable tech stacks given the burden that multi author collaboration will require?
We also get into the projects that Steve has found from community members, which try to lay some of the foundations of how this might be implemented, as well as talking about how Steve’s finding it hard to discover new information concerning this important topic.
If you’re interested in finding out more. You can find all the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.
And so without further delay, I bring you Steve Burge.
I am joined on the podcast today by Steve Burge. Hello Steve.
[00:04:29] Steve Burge: Hey, Nathan.
[00:04:30] Nathan Wrigley: Steve and I met not that long ago. It was WordCamp US. We met for the very first time. Because he was at WordCamp US, you can pretty much guarantee that he’s into WordPress. But as we always do at the beginning of the podcast episode, just to orientate the listeners, Steve, about who you are and what your relationship is with WordPress. You can go back as far as you like, could be last year, could be 10 years ago. Tell us a bit about your WordPress journey, and then we’ll get into the subject of today’s podcast.
[00:04:57] Steve Burge: Sure thing. I’m from England. I live in Florida in the US, and I’ve been dabbling in open source since about 2003, 2004 or so. And ran a training company for a long time called OS Training, and we were involved in publishing. We published a lot of videos and also a whole series of books on WordPress, Drupal, Magento, php. And about five years ago flipped into developing plugins, and so we went right into the publishing side of WordPress plugins.
So we run three different plugin brands now, all focused on publishing. One is PublishPress, one is TaxoPress and one is Meta Slider. And that’s really kind of what led me to this interest in Gutenberg phase three. We work with a lot of publishers and to have the kind of collaborative editing that should be coming in phase three is really exciting for a lot of them.
[00:05:55] Nathan Wrigley: Can I just pause the podcast general subject, which is, as you’ve just described the Gutenberg editor and phase three in particular, collaborative editing. Can I ask, because you ran OS Training, which I’m sure many people will have heard of, they might have books on their shelf or content on the computer and used it in the past. I certainly did. When you came into WordPress, was it your experience from having a real deep background in publishing that made you interested in publishing inside of WordPress? Because obviously your career now is very much tied up with publishing content, collaborative publishing permissions, and so on.
[00:06:31] Steve Burge: Yes, partly. We had to do a lot of co-authoring of books. I wrote initially the first three or four books in our series, and then we started to work with authors. We had to do a lot of co-authoring. We worked with some big publishers like Pearson, and often collaboration involved, sending Word documents back and forth endlessly.
And so you are working on chapter three. The first draft would be chapter_2.1 .doc. You’d edit it, send the Word document back, word document back and forth, and collaborative editing in those days would mean you got to like 250 Word documents for chapter two, and the name would be confused and you’d make an edit and your editor would say, oh, which document are we working on?
I think I worked on the wrong document. I imagine now if we were able to do that kind of book publishing, but collaboratively online in something like a Google Docs style environment, my life would’ve been much, much easier.
[00:07:29] Nathan Wrigley: I’m kind of imagining that literally anybody under the age of 25, is probably completely unfamiliar with a world in which technology wasn’t synchronous. So I don’t exactly remember the date it happened, but the first time I ever saw synchronous editing on a screen was, I guess I was sitting in my house and Google came out with a product called Google Wave.
I don’t know if you remember that? Much like a lot of Google properties it’s now been mothballed and no longer in existence. But essentially for the very first time, you could open a document in a browser and you were able to see other people’s edits in real time. The cursor would appear and it would’ve a different color, and you could see that Joseph over here was writing text and Pauline over here, she was writing texts and it was all happening on the screen at the same time.
And I remember at that point feeling that it was sublimely clever. I genuinely mean that. I’m not just saying that for the purposes of this podcast. I really did have a moment where breathed in and thought, boy, we’re not going back from here. This is the way it’s always going to be done from now on. It’s completely normal. Just about everybody, I would imagine, like I say, under the age of 25 is probably, this is the only way to do things.
You can hand documents in online easily, and your tutors or peers or whoever it might be, your boss, can give you realtime feedback. And there’s one canonical version of the document, so you don’t have to keep sending it via email and adding .1, .2, .3 to the end of it, and so on. And it just seems that’s so straightforwardly the way it should be done.
[00:09:05] Steve Burge: You end up with a, an undo and a back and forward button and everything is just, there’s no revisions. There’s, well, technically there are revisions, I guess, but so much easier to handle. I guess the big difference is all of those are often done on one central platform. Google Drive, Google Wave, back in the day. Just yesterday my kid was doing her homework with a friend and they were doing this collaborative editing online.
This was Microsoft, because that’s what the school gives them. They’re on FaceTime, happily chatting back and forth while working on the shared document. But all of that was done on a big central shared server, on the Microsoft server or the Google servers. And it does get more complicated when it comes down to doing that.
[00:09:49] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah so, we’ve got all of this positivity around collaborative editing, and the fact that more or less, everybody now understands that paradigm, and it basically is the way to edit documents, for most people at least anyway. You may have instances where you just want something to be completely private and you don’t want it to be in the cloud, and so it is still done in a, an old fashioned document, which is saved away, and you edit it yourself, that’s fine.
But then you open up a WordPress website and you are confronted with a completely different paradigm. You’ve got the option to create content of whatever type you like, text and images may be the, the most common use case. But you are utterly constrained in your collaborations. The best that you’ve got at the moment is, you go to edit a document, if somebody else is editing it, you get a little warning telling you that somebody else is editing and you can either back out or you can take over. In other words, you can kick them out, and they’re your two choices. And so it must seem to people coming to WordPress, like I say, under the age of 25, let’s keep going with that paradigm.
It must seem that WordPress is something from like a time machine. What do you mean I can’t edit it at the same time? Of course I must be, I’m doing something wrong. But it cannot be done at the moment, but it is in the pipeline. And maybe Steve, you could just lay out the four phases of the Gutenberg project so that we can see where this fits into that jigsaw puzzle.
[00:11:19] Steve Burge: Sure thing. So this dates back to about 2018 or so, when, I think that was when Matt said we’re not just doing Gutenberg, but Gutenberg is going to be a big four phase product. We’re going to have one, the actual Gutenberg editor inside the posts. And that one shipped in WordPress 5.0. Then we would tackle full site editing, which I think has just been renamed to the site editor.
[00:11:51] Nathan Wrigley: That’s right.
[00:11:52] Steve Burge: And that one shipped at the beginning of this year I think, in 5.9.
[00:11:57] Nathan Wrigley: I think 5.9 was what’s in my head.
[00:11:59] Steve Burge: And we are in that stage two, which is customization. And then they’re going to be two more phases. And one we’re talking about is the next one up, phase three, called collaboration, which has the Google Doc style editing.
And then the fourth and final one is going to be multilingual, where inside the core you’re going to be able to translate every element of WordPress.
[00:12:23] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, so phase three is going to be the main thrust of this podcast. So this is basically what we’ve just talked about. The ability for multiple people to concurrently edit and leave comments and you visually see on the screen what other people are doing as they’re doing it. So, I guess the question to begin with is why hasn’t this been done already? And I don’t mean that in a cantankerous way. I literally mean to serve that on a plate. Are you able to give an explanation of why this hasn’t been done already?
[00:12:57] Steve Burge: There are limited resources, and Gutenberg itself was a big project, a big changeover. We still see probably equal usage between Gutenberg and classic editor in the support tickets we get. And then there’s all the other page builders too. And then an even bigger project was the full site editing, which is still ongoing now.
So the resources have been constrained. It takes a very big team, working very hard, simply to ship what we’ve been able to ship so far. So that’s part of it. And also the collaborative editing is just going to be a, quite a difficult challenge I think. Technically, it’s one thing to run collaborative editing on your Google servers with Google Docs, where you are in control of just about everything.
But, if you try and do something similar on a $2 a month hosting company, which WordPress is going to have to do, because almost any WordPress feature you ship has to work on any WordPress site anywhere. That’s when the challenge comes in. If everyone was hosted on WP Engine or WordPress VIP, we probably would’ve had this already. But actually rolling it out to 50% of the web, and all the different hosting configurations, it’s going to be a challenge, a technical challenge.
[00:14:17] Nathan Wrigley: So two reasons there. The first one is the amount of time it’s taken to get through the first, well, the first stage. And then we’re, as you said, we’re in the second stage, the full site editing. I’m going to link in the show notes to an article that you wrote over on Publish Press several years ago, actually it was 2019. In fact it was almost exactly three years ago. It was written in November, 2019.
And at that point you were talking about getting through full site editing, getting through stage one and two, customization, full site editing, and then eventually landing on the collaborative side of things. It was interesting because back then, much more, probably confident in the ability to get through those first two stages because you were pointing to perhaps a date of 2020.
[00:15:03] Steve Burge: Oh yeah. Blame me. Those are my guesses.
[00:15:05] Nathan Wrigley: That’s right. But it just goes to show, doesn’t it, especially the full sight editing is taking a lot longer. And there was never a flag in the sand which said, this is going to be the date that we’re going to begin. It was very much, these are the things that we want to achieve, but there’s no date in mind. So it took a lot longer.
And then you mentioned the fact that yes, it’s all very well working on Microsoft products or Google products, but they own all of that. They’ve got the infrastructure and it’s probably, let’s be honest, pretty impressive infrastructure. And they own the full tech stack, so they can make sure that everything works, and your Google Doc is going to work seamlessly, no matter what level of computing you have at home. You don’t need a particularly fast computer. It’s all handled on their end.
WordPress has a completely different problem. Some people spend a fortune on their hosting because they need it and they’re happy to do that. Other people spend very little. Sometimes, really, it can be incredibly affordable.
Are you able to, I don’t know if you are, but are you able to go into the technicalities of why cheap hosting wouldn’t be suitable for, let’s say something like Google Docs at the moment? In other words, what’s actually happening when a page is open that two or more people are trying to edit on. And does the problem scale?
If there’s five people editing, is it more resource heavy than if there’s two people editing or 10 people editing, what have you? So are you able to discuss what the problems are from a technical point of view a little bit?
[00:16:40] Steve Burge: I’m not a hardcore developer enough to dig too deep into this without embarrassing myself, but it is very process heavy, and you need some kind of a central server or perhaps a peer-to-peer network that is able to be a central source of truth for what is the latest update and to connect the two together.
I’ve looked at different approaches that people have taken to doing this. One of the most common ways is web sockets. Which are able to update the content on the screen without refreshing the whole page. Which is a key part of this because both people need to see their page refreshing in real time.
A few years ago that was impressive to do with Ajax. We’re doing a much more advanced version of that now with both people seeing live updates on the content without refreshing their page. So you need some way to connect the two or three or four or five people who are doing those updates.
And web sockets is perhaps the most popular way to do it. It’s basically an API to send messages and responses back and forth. But the limitation there is, some of the low budget hosting companies are not able to do it. And you do need some kind of a central service.
Part of me wonders whether, I don’t know if they would do this, but if they’ve thought about perhaps running it through the WordPress.com or WordPress.org infrastructure, in order to make this work for low end hosts. Because they do need some kind of, like Google servers or Microsoft servers, some kind of centralized server would be a massive benefit to this.
The alternative, which I’ve dug into most, is from a company called Tag One in Europe. They’re like a big, a big agency and they’ve been developing a script called YJS, which allows you to do collaborative editing through a peer to peer network.
It’s a pretty different solution to web sockets, but it seems to be, and I’m guessing here, the one that the Gutenberg team have taken on board. There seems to have been a bit of radio silence on the technical side of things. We’ve seen Matt mention phase three at a couple of State of the Words. He talked about it in Europe a little bit, in Lisbon.
But I’ve been trying to pull the strings on the technical side of things on GitHub, and there’s not much there at the moment. I think from what I’ve been told, that there’s action going on in private. They’re working on it in the background and perhaps on some private repositories. But the only real thing that’s emerged, at least, someone feel free to correct me on this, is a script called an Isolated Block Editor, which basically takes Gutenberg as a kind of standalone product that I think could be used in Tumblr, or the Day one app, or Drupal or anywhere else. And it’s kind of building in collaborative editing into that isolated block editor, which is a version of Gutenberg.
So really the technical hints that I’ve heard about this, are two or three years old. We did a big interview on the PublishPress blog with the YJS team, where they dig into some of the technical challenges around this. But from everything I’ve been able to read or talk about with people, it’s a real technical challenge.
The CK Editor team, WordPress uses TinyMCE. CK Editor is kind of an alternative to TinyMCE. They have a really long and detailed blog post about how they tried to build collaborative editing into their, into their editor editor. It took four plus years, and I think ended up with lots of them tearing their hair out and growing prematurely gray. And there’s a Twitter thread from a guy who tried to do this with Microsoft Office. He basically says the same thing. Just an enormous technical challenge is particularly in retrospect, to try and take existing software and add collaborative editing to it. But, and this is one of the reasons why I wonder if they’re thinking about some kind of a central server, for example, WordPress.com.
We’re finally starting to see the possibility of collaborative editing coming soon. Automattic have a product called P2, which is I think used for their internal blogs, their internal networking. And just in the last month or so, they have an update on the P two blog. They’ve been rolling out collaborative editing to some of their P2 users. I don’t know if I’m on a blacklist or something, but I’ve been sending several messages to the WordPress.com staff seeing if I can get in on the beta invite list. But no luck so far. So collaborative editing is actually live on WordPress.com for some users at the moment, and I can share the link that you can put in the show notes.
But down in their, in the documentation they have about it, they say that it’s a work in progress, it’s a beta. It can become unstable under some circumstances. If you are running a VPN or some kind of a proxy, often if you’re using Safari, it can become unstable.
It is kind of a long winded answer to your original question. The technical side is a little bit of a mystery still. I suspect that YJS will play a part. I suspect they may be working on some kind of a central server to make it stable to run on those $2 a month hosting companies. And if you go over to the P2 area on WordPress.com, there’s a little video of it emerging, and collaborative, editing, we may start to see a lot more of it in the next few months suspect.
[00:22:24] Nathan Wrigley: There was a lot in there, wasn’t there? And I’m just going to go through some of the thoughts that were coming into my head as you were saying it. So the first one is obviously people like Google, they’ve completely cracked this nut. I cannot remember a time at any point where my Google doc froze, for example. Or I was editing it with somebody else, and they seemed to sort of blip out of existence. Suddenly 20 lines got updated when it looked like they weren’t even editing the document. In other words, they were always typing. I could see them typing. It was as if they were right next to me in many senses. No problems in other words.
[00:23:04] Steve Burge: Is a beautiful experience when it works well, right?
[00:23:06] Nathan Wrigley: But I’m guessing that could be the problem, couldn’t it? You know, if somebody has infrastructure running their WordPress website, and it simply isn’t up to the task. I don’t fully understand what that means, but we all know that computers given a certain volume of things to do, tend to grind down and prioritize some things over others, and in some cases just cease to function and collapse. But if you were editing a document, you mentioned a source of truth. You have to know, don’t you? You really have to be confident that what you are seeing on the screen now, is what the final version is looking like.
You can’t be in a situation where, I’ve got you Steve over there. You are editing, I’m editing this document, and it looks to me like you finished because you are no longer contributing. And it turns out you’d written another couple of hundred words, which never made it into the document because your system collapsed in the background. And I didn’t know about that, and that would truly be a calamity.
You can also imagine collisions in terms of things getting overwritten or me saving a document in some way that then removes the possibility of your a hundred words ever making it in there in the first place. So there’s all these really big problems and as you say, the very fact that we are all using different qualities of hardware, different computers, different versions of Linux, all sorts of different engines going on in the background, powering our websites.
There has to be some way of figuring out what the source of truth is at this moment. And I really do, kind of understand a little bit more now that that really is genuinely a tricky challenge and one that perhaps hasn’t been faced by another company. Also, your idea of it being a dot com type thing. In other words, this capability is offloaded to, let’s say, some sort of Automattic property.
[00:24:59] Steve Burge: I would put a caveat in there that that is entirely my guess. I have no, no evidence to that at all. I’ve just been thinking through possible solutions to the problem.
[00:25:09] Nathan Wrigley: But I find that to be quite an interesting solution. So again, let’s assume that this collaborative editing is something that everybody aspires to. But we can also agree that if you have incredibly modest hosting, it may be something that your aspirations aren’t living up to.
Well, maybe there is a sort of commercial angle for having that capability built on top of affordable hosting, if you know what I mean. In other words, WordPress.com, whichever company it may be, I don’t know. There’s some kind of upgrade. You have a WordPress website, but you would like the collaborative editing capability to be added in, simply because you know that your infrastructure can’t cope with it.
Now, that’s less than ideal. I think it would be the ideal that any architecture can cope with it. That would be obviously ideal. But it was an interesting thought, and it just sort of prompted me to think, I wonder if even a company as large as Automattic, I wonder if they could saddle the burden of all of that given that there wouldn’t be any commercial side to paying off that debt, if you know what I mean.
If there’s 40% of the web, let’s say 20% of those websites can’t manage it, and so they’re doing their collaborative editing on Automattic’s hardware. Presumably there’s a bill for that, which would need to be paid.
[00:26:33] Steve Burge: I mean, that’s part of the problem of being WordPress, right? You’re trying to solve problems at a scale that no one else has ever solved it. We talked about CK Editor for example, Well, CK Editor has collaborative editing. It took them four years and just about burned out some of the best developers. But there were tiny fraction of the size of WordPress, and what WordPress needs to do. I guess until we, until more of this starts to emerge, perhaps when the full site editing winds down, we’re not going to know too much.
But I think the two options available are either to build a peer to peer network, using something like YJS or to go through the centralized option of WordPress.com .org or an other service.
[00:27:19] Nathan Wrigley: I wonder if there’s other options that could be explored. And forgive me, my technical ignorance here might be screaming loudly at you as I say these words, but I wonder if it might be possible to have a scenario in which you are alerted to the fact that changes have been made, but you have to, I don’t know, maybe click a button or.
[00:27:42] Steve Burge: We have lost a connection. There’d be some kind of mess. I guess the most common point of failure for collaborative editing will probably be, the connection is lost, and each person goes back to editing their own separate version of the document. You just lose the collaboration aspect, and there could be some kind of message saying you have disconnected from the collaborative editing, you have disconnected from the network.
[00:28:03] Nathan Wrigley: Yes. And of course that throws up all sorts of enormously difficult problems on its own. Because then, let’s say there’s four people editing the document, do they then carry on? And then those four people have to combine their efforts after the fact to figure out, okay, well what did you do? Which bit did you?
Can we just copy and paste that in here now? In other words, it makes more of a mess than the old asynchronous way of doing things, where I edit it, hand it to you, you edit it, hand it to person three, they edit it, and it finally comes back to me. And at least I know that those three edits have been made. And that’s in the scenario of collapse that we just described, we’d be back to that basically. And obviously if we’re offering the promise of collaborative editing, you have to trust it.
Another thought occurred to me is, does it need to be as beautiful, let’s say as Google Docs? And what I mean by that is, I can literally watch you type letter by letter. I’ll see each letter coming in one at a time. Does it need to refresh quite as often as that? Is a two second delay, a three second delay, a five second delay. I don’t know if this adds complexity. I don’t know if it solves any problems or creates others?
[00:29:13] Steve Burge: Well, there is a video on the P2 site. Just a little five second video showing how this works. And it is just like Google Docs to be honest. It has the avatars of the people editing in the top right corner. Each person gets assigned the color. So, if there’s a little Nathan avatar on the top right, you might have red around your avatar, and any changes you make are being highlighted in red. I might have purple. Any changes I make are being highlighted in purple. It is, at least in this video, aiming right for the Google Drive, Google Docs experience.
[00:29:49] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s interesting. In your article, I will link to it, and people can go and find it and there’s a couple of them in fact, and I’ll make sure to link to both of those. There was raised, and I can’t remember whether this was raised and then has now been put to bed, or if it was raised and is still a possibility. In order to try and do this, people are coming up with interesting and clever solutions to sidestep maybe some problems that were becoming obvious.
The idea of being able to only edit the block that you are currently editing by yourself. So in other words, let’s say for example, if we’ve got a page and it’s got 50 paragraphs and a couple of images. I could edit one paragraph, but that paragraph would be locked to you. But all the other 49 paragraphs would be open to anybody. And the first person that gets in there, gets to edit it until they are in effect booted out.
So we’d have a, an option, very similar to what we have now, on a page basis where I can’t get into the page if somebody else is editing it. We’d have that on a block by block basis. And I think in many cases that might satisfy 90%, 95% of the problems. What are the chances that I want to edit an image at the same time as you? What are the chances that I want to edit a paragraph at the same time as you? Maybe there’s a high chance of collision. I’m not sure.
[00:31:05] Steve Burge: No, no, I think that kind of thing makes sense. And certainly, while we’re talking, I have the, the demo video playing on my screen in front of me. And that seems to be what they’re doing. That it is a block by block approach. I may be wrong. They may have something else in the background.
But in the video that I’m watching, one person is editing the header, one person is editing a table, one person is editing a paragraph, and they’re working on the same document, but on different blocks.
[00:31:32] Nathan Wrigley: One of the things that you introduced to me just before we hit the record button, was there’s a developer called Riad Benguella, and I’m sorry, Riad if that is in fact not how you say your name, I do apologize, but I’ll link to a website that you mentioned in a tweet. I’ll mention the tweet, and I’ll post the website URL as well. It’s Gutenberg with collaborative editing built into it. And you and I were editing on it, ala Google Docs. And it all seemed to work. So obviously there are people who are tackling this problem, but I’m sure the problem that, that we have here is that we don’t know what the tech stack is behind it that’s making it possible.
We’re both looking at asblocks.com, a s b l o c k s .com, and you can go there. I suspect it’s going to be there for years to come, and share. The first person that logs in can share the link, assign themselves a name, and then presumably that shared link looks the same to you. You have to assign yourself a name and we can both see each other editing and it works as far as I can see perfectly.
[00:32:32] Steve Burge: Yeah, Riad solved this problem two plus years ago with as blocks, and the demo is still live and still working now. It’s the, the scale out to every WordPress site that is the big stumbling block I presume.
[00:32:47] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, we just simply don’t know how many people are using this at the same time. And so the collapse of it might not be a problem. Do you have any insight or any kind of spidey sense of when things may start to move in this direction? So obviously we really have to get to the point where full site editing or site editing is more or less complete to the satisfaction of the majority of people, at least anyway. Then we’ll be working on this thorny problem. Do you have any conception of when the work on this will begin properly?
[00:33:20] Steve Burge: I wish I did. To be honest, I’m a little geeky about this stuff and, our customers want it, and I really wanted it. It would be a wonderful feature for WordPress. So I’ve probably been following this as closely as anyone that isn’t actually involved on the technical side. Every time I Google Gutenberg phase three, I seem to come across something I wrote myself, because there’s not much written about it.
It’s been done a little bit, not entirely under a veil of secrecy, but maybe they don’t want to distract from the focus on full site editing. But it has been hard to find information. And so I was happy to see something emerge on the P2 blog that this is in progress still. If I had to guess, we’ll start to see more next year. We’ve had a couple of mentions of it from Matt, I mentioned at different WordCamps, and Matias, who is one of the lead developers of Gutenberg since the beginning, has a blog post from June this year on WordPress.org talking about phase three, but really only tangentially.
It was more about the ending of phase two and full site editing. And so there really has been a lot of radio silence. Quite a lot of the active GitHub repos have gone quiet. I hope next year. But as someone who follows this closely, I’ve not been able to find that anymore.
[00:34:39] Nathan Wrigley: Everything that I’ve heard has stuck rigidly to the four phases of Gutenberg. I haven’t heard of anybody discounting phase three. So collaborative editing I think is definitely destined to be tackled, and hopefully succeeding in tackling. But you’re right, it’s been very, very quiet.
Normally, there’s a lot of speculation. There might be more proofs of concept or people popping up, giving their insight into it. But as you say, you followed it really, really closely, and it’s, it’s almost like a veil of secrecy, as you said. So hopefully that doesn’t indicate anything negative. It just means that people are concentrating their efforts on other things and trying to get those things tackled.
Steve, I’ve probably used up more of your time than I intended to. I’m sorry about that. Just before we go, if people want to talk to you about this whole proposition, collaborative editing, where’s the best place to reach out?
[00:35:32] Steve Burge: firstname.lastname@example.org. And actually one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this topic with you was I hoped I might be able to shake a bit more information out of the tree. Someone hears this and has information about it, wants to talk about it, happy to do a video podcast or share the information.
I would love to see this in WordPress. I’m happy to help. I’m sure they have the reasons for keeping it, for keeping it quiet to the moment. But, this would be a killer feature for WordPress, and if anyone has more information, I’d love to hear it.
[00:36:00] Nathan Wrigley: I really think you are right. I think the realization of this in Gutenberg and if we had an implementation which worked basically effectively for everybody, the day it was released into WordPress core. I think it will really, would dramatically change the prospects of what people would wish to do with WordPress. At the moment it’s largely for websites.
It really genuinely could be a tool for all sorts of internal communications and publishing things that just are for your close network, your job, your industry, whatever it might be. There’s a, there’s a whole lot that could happen that at the minute is probably left to the likes of Microsoft Teams and Google Docs and all of that kind of stuff, so.
[00:36:43] Steve Burge: Well, it did pop up on P2 initially, which is the kind of WordPress versions of Google Docs, the kind of internal, Automattic, documentation system.
[00:36:51] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, thank you Steve for chatting to me today. I really appreciate it.
[00:36:55] Steve Burge: Thanks, Nathan.
On the podcast today we have Steve Burge.
Although Steve is originally from England, he now lives in Sarasota, Florida. He leads the team at PublishPress, which is a plugin company focusing on improving the publishing experience for WordPress users. The topic of today’s podcast is very much in his wheelhouse.
Several years ago, the block editor was brought into WordPress Core. It was a dramatic change from the classic editor. Pages and posts could be created and edited with a growing variety of blocks. Blocks for paragraphs, blocks for images, in fact, blocks for everything.
This ability to edit content with blocks was just one of four phases of the Gutenberg project, the other three phases being, site editing, multi-author collaboration, and multilingual support.
If you’ve been following recent developments, then you’ll know that we’re currently in the site editing phase. When that’s done, it will be time to turn our collective attention to multi-author collaboration. But what is that and what does it mean?
I think that the best way to think about this would be to imagine Google Docs. For years, you’ve been able to open up a document, click a button and share that document with others. Those with the correct permissions can interact with you in real time, and you can see the amendments they’re making as and when they’re making them. It’s utterly brilliant, and how most people would prefer to work with their content. One document. One source of truth.
Compare that to how WordPress currently works. Only one person can edit a piece of content at the same time. If you want to edit a post or a page at the same time as someone else, you can’t.
Phase three of the Gutenberg project aims to bring into WordPress the ability for multiple users to interact with content at the same time.
Steve talks today about why this is an elegant and necessary update to WordPress, but also why it’s a difficult feat of engineering to pull off. WordPress has a history of working with all manner of hosting configurations, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s so successful. Will it be possible to run WordPress on more affordable tech stacks given the burden that multi-author collaboration will require?
We also get into the projects that Steve has found from community members which try to lay some of the foundations of how this might be implemented, as well as talking about how Steve’s finding it hard to discover new information concerning this important topic.
Collaborative Editing is a Really Difficult Challenge in WordPress
Automattic’s Isolated Block Editor on GitHub
Steve’s podcast with the Tag1 team about YJS
Steve’s post about why collaborative editing in Gutenberg is hard
CKEditor post about lessons learned from creating a rich-text editor with real-time collaboration
Matias Ventura’s post about thinking through the WordPress admin experience
WordPress 6.1 to Focus On Refining Full-Site Editing, Next Phase Collaboration and Multilingual Features Anticipated in 2023-2025
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