Post Format History And WordPress 3.6

While WordPress 3.6 is almost ready for release, one of the features that is already generating a love/hate relationship is the new Post Formats UI. This new UI exposes the Post Format functionality that is now relegated to a radio button post meta box. While researching this feature, I came across a discussion on the Make.WordPress.org site where it almost didn’t make it. If you use Post Formats now, the new UI is actually much nicer to use than the simple radio selection box. With each Post Format, the Post Screen changes to accommodate specific items. For example, when the Quote format is chosen, a quote source and quote link area is displayed above the post title. However, if you don’t use Post Formats, this new UI becomes yet another distraction into your publishing routine. Thankfully, the standard format is selected by default which is just a normal post.

Post Formats UI
Post Formats UI In WordPress 3.6 Beta 3

If you would like to hide the new UI from showing up, there is an option within the screen options drop down tab where you can un-check the Post Formats box.

Hide Post FormatsThis only hides the UI from an individual.  For multi-author sites, you’ll need to install a plugin such as the one Justin Tadlock created. If you’re curious to see an idea of a post format UI before WordPress 3.6, read Alex Kings post on a plugin he released called Post Formats Admin UI.

Where Did Post Formats Come From And What Are They?

Post formats is a feature introduced in WordPress 3.1 as a way for themes to visually differentiate between types of content. Before the addition of post formats, users had to rely on CSS tricks to create specific styles for different kinds of content. A great example, is this post written by Lorelle Van Fossen from 2007 that explains how to use WordPress Categories combined with assigned CSS classes to style posts. Coincidentally, Tumblr launched in February 2007 and introduced a beautiful new way to publish content. This review by LifeHacker shows the layout for creating different types of content. I was part of the mob that hopped onto the Tumblr bandwagon coming away from that experience very impressed with how easy it was to publish content. I didn’t have to worry about tags, categories or any of that meta stuff. It was simply pick a type of content, provide content, publish. What a joy that was. The best feature of Tumblr was their bookmarklet. This bookmarklet I feel is one of the biggest reasons for Tumblrs success.

WordPress on the other hand has this bookmarklet called PressThis. It works in a similar fashion to the Tumblr bookmarklet but because of the publishing process on WordPress, it was never as elegant or convenient to use. Using PressThis, you have to select a category for the post, usually have to edit the title and most of the time had to edit the link text not to mention the addition of tags. In May of 2010, Mashable conducted an interview with Matt where one of the topics discussed was the PressThis bookmarklet. Around the 2:06 mark in that interview, Matt says that Tumblr did a beautiful job of removing that little bit of friction to publishing content which he hoped would be similarly achieved with PressThis.

Once post formats reached the masses with WordPress 3.1, the general community had the task of explaining what post formats were and to this day, it’s still a struggle without being able to visually show someone. People were so confused with the terminology, Mark Jaquith and Otto both published posts with explanations. At the time, I thought post formats would be awesome because of the Tumblr like inspiration but as users, we had to rely on Themes for how the formats were used and displayed.

My Thoughts On Post Formats

I used post formats for a few months on WPTavern.com and I’ve made a few conclusions. The first is that post formats encourage short form content. Not only is short form content easy to do, it also promotes creating a fire hose of content. The second, the majority of people were reading WPTavern.com via their favorite feedreader. Feedreaders don’t display content the same as a website. Third, some of the formats I selected displayed on the home page without a post title or an ability to comment. I think this had more to do with how my theme was displaying the formats more than anything else. Last but not least, I started treating post formats as categories.

Some of my frustrations with post formats came at the cost of not fully understanding the when and why of the feature. I’ve also discovered that depending upon how the formats are displayed, it’s very difficult to determine what’s content and what’s something else. I’m so used to seeing the Post Title, content, post meta layout on websites that when I see a posts that are quotes with little text, it sometimes becomes difficult to navigate. A good example of this is the 2013 Theme.

I no longer use post formats. Instead, I just write a normal (standard) blog post containing a quote, video, image or anything else I want. Creating different styles for different types of content was cool but now, it’s not a big deal anymore. I’d rather see a consistent style for the content I consume and create versus wildly different layouts, colors, and expectations.

Discussion Points

I want to hear from developers and consultants on how they teach post formats to clients. How do you make the distinction between the different kinds of posts that can be created? What do you think of the revamped UI for post formats in WordPress 3.6, will it get more people to use this feature?

23 Comments


  1. If you don’t want to install a plugin to completely disable the Post Formats UI, there’s a filter for that :)
    add_filter( 'enable_post_format_ui', '__return_false' );

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    1. Yeah. That’s probably the one line of code inside of Justin’s plugin.

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  2. The post formats is confusing and a waste. Like you said, keep things standard and just embed a video or audio or quote inside your post. Why complicate things? Visitors get confused easily and are used to how most sites are set up.

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  3. Isn’t PF sort of like Styles in a Word Processor? And don’t most people just fill their docs with lots of carriage returns and tabulars to get things the way they want?

    Your statement about a consistent style is right on. Expecting the reader to care about what kind of post it is…really?

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  4. I like post formats. I don’t care whether my readers know or care about what kind of post they are looking at. But I do care and I want to write my posts so that I can sort them with formats too. Like If I wanted to see all the images I posted in travel categories or all the status I posted in ramblings. I also like post formats because they kind of remind me that it is not necessary for me to write lengthy articles. They also make WordPress a little more personal and blog-like.

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  5. @Noumaan Yaqoob – But see, Post Formats have nothing to do with sorting content. Post Formats are all about style and how certain pieces of content look. I fell into the trap of treating Post Formats like categories and therefor, I believe I was using them wrong.

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  6. @Jeffro

    I know lots of people who use them to better sort their blog content, the icons in the list table will only make that easier. If you click a format icon in the posts list table you’ll get a filtered view by that format: http://cl.ly/image/3D2I2C1t3F0B

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  7. @Drew Jaynes – Ok, that makes sense. But, my question is, what’s the difference between selecting the Quote icon to see all posts with the Quote format and the Quote category listing all posts with that Category? I am assuming that if both exist, that a Quote formatted post would also reside in a Quote category.

    I think I’m confusing myself here since it’s not a requirement to have a Quote category for the Quote format, the Quote format can be used for any category, if one is even selected.

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  8. I can see how post formats are useful for straight up blogging, especially personal blogs. But I don’t see the value for my stuff or for most of my business/ministry clients. I’ll be adding that filter to remove the post formats to most every project I do.

    Personally I would prefer the filter to be reversed – so we’d have to add a filter to enable them instead of to disable them.

    Why turn on such a bloggy feature by default when WordPress has been working so hard for so many years to get respect as a full CMS and not just a blogging platform?

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  9. “Why turn on such a bloggy feature by default when WordPress has been working so hard for so many years to get respect as a full CMS and not just a blogging platform?” @Chris Cree

    Agreed. To be taken seriously as a CMS, WordPress should be thinking about adding the ability to create many-to-many relationships between posts of any type or the possibility to add meta data to taxonomies, instead of this.

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  10. Post formats should be used as a way to signal the theme what part of the content should be emphasized, they got nothing to do with categorizing content. Problem is that right now no theme that I know of (haven’t tried 2013 yet) does anything interesting with that information.

    IMO this feature suffers from the “options instead of decisions” decease It only looks like the WP implementation is similar to what tumbler do, but in reality tumbler enforces many restrictions on what content can be associate with a format, something that WP doesn’t do, and this restrictions pay off for both users and themers as they both know exactly what content to use and expect for each format.
    The current implementation has too many options with no apperent distinction to the author. Maybe to make it more useful there should be a faster preview option when toggling between post formats.

    The best approach IMO is to automatically apply formats based on the content as I suggested here http://core.trac.wordpress.org/ticket/23094.

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  11. @Chris Cree @Albert – Until 3.6, Post Formats were half baked and because the User Interface for them was not exposed, at least not like what we’ll see in 3.6, adoption of Post Formats has been low. I think they went this route to expose the feature to more people and thus, get more folks to use them or at least investigate what they are. In my opinion, Post Formats add one more step in the publishing process if you’re not going to use the standard format.

    @Mark k. – You make a great point, especially about expectations. One of the drawbacks for me that I didn’t mention was that I was not sure how the content would look until after I published it. Hitting the preview button shows the content within the single.php page template therefor, not allowing me to see the content post formatted. This was frustrating and was another reason why I stopped using them.

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  12. @Mark k.

    Problem is that right now no theme that I know of (haven’t tried 2013 yet) does anything interesting with that information.

    IMO this feature suffers from the “options instead of decisions” decease It only looks like the WP implementation is similar to what tumbler do, but in reality tumbler enforces many restrictions on what content can be associate with a format, something that WP doesn’t do, and this restrictions pay off for both users and themers as they both know exactly what content to use and expect for each format.

    That all gets fixed with the 3.6 implementation – not the UI per se, but moreso the underlying functionality that standardizes on what content exists, and how content gets stored, for various post format types.

    Once that standardization exists, I’m fairly certain you’ll see more Themes taking advantage of post formats, and doing interesting things with them.

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  13. @Jeffro

    Ok, that makes sense. But, my question is, what’s the difference between selecting the Quote icon to see all posts with the Quote format and the Quote category listing all posts with that Category? I am assuming that if both exist, that a Quote formatted post would also reside in a Quote category.

    At its most fundamental, “Post Format” is simply a taxonomy – just like “Category”. The difference is that the Category content defines the description or subject of the content, and Post Format defines the format/medium of the content.

    You can certainly use the two taxonomies interchangeably (and likewise for the post-tag taxonomy), and there would be nothing wrong with that. But you gain an extra degree of taxonomization by using the two taxonomies for their different intended purposes.

    For example, if you focus on quotes, then you could have a “quotes” category, and do everything with that content that you can currently do with the quote post-format (though you would have to roll your own formatting implementation).

    But say you have a “BBQ” category, that could include standard posts, quotes, videos, photos/galleries, etc. It would then be logical to use the post format taxonomy in combination with the “BBQ” category.

    Another benefit of the post format taxonomy is that the terms are fixed. Theme/Plugin developers can do interesting things with the taxonomy that would otherwise be more difficult when using arbitrary category terms. For example: creating a widget that displays recent posts with the status post format (or with the quote post format) – or a custom page template that displays images or videos or galleries -is dead simple. Trying to replicate that using arbitrary category terms requires user intervention, such as selecting the category to display.

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  14. @Jeffro
    The bigger deal really is the output you’ll get from a post format that you wouldn’t with a post and category. I’m sure you could hack something up do it that way, but the fallback on the fallback output for formats is what makes it attractive. All of X format will be presented the same but differently than the other formats.

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  15. As Chip has described, the concept of a “format” really just started as supported taxonomy to allow theme developers to apply consistent treatment across any blog (instead of one theme using post meta, one using a category, etc.).

    Jump forward to 3.6 and realizing there is more nuance. What if this is a video post and my theme wants the video on top of the content and her theme wants it below? Standardized meta on that allows for more interesting things and the ability to solve more interesting problems.

    To Rob’s point, the initial implementation was confusing, but we (Crowd Favorite) created the FavePersonal theme and the Post Formats UI plugin because if we standardized on meta and fields, we could do fun stuff in the loop views, single views, and feed very easily (eg: put a full width image on the single view of “Image” posts and drop the sidebar, replace the permalink in the feed with the “Link URL” a la Daring Fireball or other linkblogs, etc.).

    Hopefully this leads to more interesting uses of WordPress in the near future…

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  16. @Chris Cree – I’m equally frustrated its all-or-nothing now, too. For a blog, all post formats being supported means portability and changing themes won’t “break” things (presumably). But when building a company marketing site, I may just want a “Video” and “Image” format so now what… we “hack and hide” the other formats? Hm..

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  17. @John Pratt

    Looks like post formats are being removed from core (stuck in a plugin), and 3.6 will be released without them…

    You left out a critical two letters: UI

    The Post Formats feature hasn’t been removed from core; rather, only the new UI developed in 3.6 is being pulled back out of core. Otherwise, Post Formats will remain exactly as they were, prior to 3.6 development.

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  18. well yes, that was inherent…the post format improvements being worked on in 3.6 (UI), are being removed. Normal (previous) post format functionality remains.

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