Time To Abolish Post Specific Metaboxes in The WordPress Post Editor

WP Metabox Featured Image
photo credit: packing up(license)

I’ve used WordPress to write about WordPress for more than seven years, it’s how I make a living. Recently though, writing in WordPress feels more like being a data entry specialist. I guess in some ways, it’s not surprising considering that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The post editor is more or less a pretty user interface that enables me to add data to a database. I think the feeling is stronger if you write in WordPress every day as it’s an endless cycle of filling in text areas, fields, uploading media, and clicking the publish button. Many of these tasks take place within their own metabox which is something that detracts from a seamless experience. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to try something different.

Many of the posts I write post consists of content blocks such as: blockquotes, media, etc. Thinking about how I create content in WordPress, the conceptual post editor proposed in 2013 makes complete sense. Instead of a full-blown TinyMCE editor, I could select from a set of established content blocks. In addition to the content block idea, some of the metaboxes are integrated into the editor.

Proposal To Revamp The Post Writing/Editing Interface

The publish, categories, and tags metaboxes are integrated into the editor. It probably wouldn’t take too much effort to add a way to feature an image. I don’t know how usable this interface is, but I’d love to give it a try for a few months. The more metaboxes that disappear, the less I feel like I’m hitting switches and turning knobs before clicking the publish button. By having some of these tasks integrated into the editor, I think it’ll provide a better publishing experience.

I probably wouldn’t be able to get rid of all the metaboxes because of the plugins I use. However, I’m most interested in an interface that consists of less scrolling, searching, etc., that gets me to the publishing stage quicker without feeling like a data entry specialist.

Despite a large amount of discussion surrounding the proposal, the concept lost steam. Although I’ve never used it, I feel like I’d prefer it over the current editor. It’s anyone’s guess if we’ll ever see the post editor undergo a major change, but if it did, this is the direction I’d like to see it go.


51 responses to “Time To Abolish Post Specific Metaboxes in The WordPress Post Editor”

  1. I’ve been silently thinking for a while that 2015 would be the year of drastic suggestions to the post editing process in WP. Whether it be front end live editing or Layers and Conductor with their Customizer on steroids approach things have got to evolve with content creation soon. I like your idea because it feels more like a natural evolution of the native TimyMCE editor but perhaps it’s just one iteration along a long journey of changes this year.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Jeff,

    My fear is that IF this happens it will be catered to Blog Only users, and stymie any continued progress of WordPress as a CMS. I’ve always thought that there continues to be a gung ho dichotomy between the desires of the Blogging and CMS advocates who use WordPress.

    Maybe, the JSON REST API will provide a foundation for both.

  3. The challenge is that the editorial process is different for every website. As mentioned by Paul and Shapeshifter above, there’s the big difference between a blog and CMS. Then there are all the ways the editing area is being customised with custom meta content (now shown in boxes). For one website you might add a few lines of meta info. For the next you might add a big box for some Geocoding lookup including a map. So in all those cases you are dealing with very different kinds and amounts of content to edit. That will never fitt in one unified new post editor, like you showed.

    Maybe before completely overhauling the current area, it’s better to improve it first. Because it can be improved massively. Better visual hierarchy, better visual cues to what is what, to how things work, etc.

  4. I like the idea of ditching meta boxes and use blocks to build up the content instead. Metaboxes has been a great use for how many years and I can’t deny the fact that its what makes WordPress flexible and easy to use. Though I still think there would be massive work needed in order to achieve this while providing plugin/theme developers to integrate their own post fields.

  5. Hi Jeff
    “The post editor is more or less a pretty user interface that enables me to add data to a database. I think the feeling is stronger if you write in WordPress every day…”

    I have no problems using the Post editor but the big difference between you and me is that, as you say, you write a post every day.

    Maybe if I wrote every day I’d be looking for quicker and more efficient ways of putting words, quotes, lists and images together.

    Be interesting yto see how the editor progresses in the future.

  6. One problem, meta boxes are a good way to extend the capabilities on a per post/page basis. Think of SEO plugins and even custom post types that need more data than just a title/body/tags/categories. IMO those CMS capabilities are essential to WordPress going forward.

    A redesign would be welcome change, but those meta boxes should still be there.

    • There is also a very important distinction between:
      – boxes meant for meta information and
      – boxes meant for post/page content

      An image insert button/box is something used to put content -inside- the post or page. Tags or categories are things describing the post/page. Meta information. My guess is that for most users it is confusing if that distinction is not clear in the UI. With one button you make text bold, with the next you add some meta info which is not visible. Maybe confusing.

      In that sense, I think a clear content editing area should “contain” (visually) all functions of putting content in the post or page. Images, text, links, etc.

      All actions having to do with -meta info- should then be separate.

  7. I disagree with this solution, there are stiil too many visual-builder out there… Metaboxes (i use ACF a lot) are useful to give clients the option to use only what they really need into a particular custom post type. This solution will be too much oriented to self-made solutions.

  8. As others have mentioned above, the API will allow some cool things to happen here.

    My desire would be to give users a choice of Editor layouts via Dashboard->Settings or better yet, User Profiles where they can choose from “Blogger” “Photographer” or any number of built-in choices where the post editor layout changes according to a pre-defined workflow for each data entry “type”.

    And then these choices could be extended by developers via the API to create completely custom editors based on user needs.

    Think Editor Templates.


    Make the Editor layout more customizable by users than it already is via Screen Options. Drag and drop your most used elements into the exact layout you need (or your client needs before handing off the site).

  9. Why not ditch the editor completely and just move to in-context editing on the front-end? I think continuing to build features into the back-end is a complete waste of time when the disconnect between back and front is still present.

    This is exactly the type of thing that we solved with https://story.am

    The WordPress editor is “generally” acceptable to everyone, but not “specifically” built for anyone.

    • I very much hope this doesn’t happen!

      Some people might be able to create nice-looking posts and pages like that, but most will just find it an easy way to create ever more hideous sites. Think of what would happen on a site with many contributors, each trying to design their own posts. Ugh!

      As others have said, there is a big difference between creating content for a blog and creating it for a CMS. For my own CMSs, I’m never going to be writing the content direct in WP anyway, because it’s never going to offer the sort of tools that are available in dedicated writing software.

      • Front-end editing is not synonymous with a page design free-for-all! It can be restricted to a page template allowing only certain areas of the page to be modified (or auto-populated). The editing model is appropriate for both blogs and CMSs – it’s just a different visual skin.

        • What is essential in this discussion is that there are different kinds of users of WordPress. And for each of those, a different kind of editing experience is better. That is the challenge.

          For example, you can have non-tech content editors. Say the client you build the wordpress website for. For him/her, the current backend interface, even though it’s relatively well-designed and simple compared to other CMS’s, can be quite complex. So for someone like that, front-end editing could be a good solution. You as the developer build the site, create some templates, make certain portions of the pages editable, and the client just has to login, browse his/her website and click “Edit this page” to change some text, on the front-end.

          For more technical developers working with wordpress, such a front-end editing would be of little use, since he/she wants direct access to all more advanced features (meta-boxes, other sections of the admin, etc).

          And so on.

      • KTS915,

        I’d like to learn something from you since you stated that you prefer to use outside content editors when creating a new post:

        1. What publishing application would you recommend to create Content and then Copy & Paste or Embed into a WordPress Post (instead of using the WordPress Visual or Text Editor)?

        2. Which publishing application have you used that created the LEAST amount of conflict when adding to a WordPress Post ?

        • @Shapehifter 3,

          My choice of software tends to depend on the length of the post. If it’s going to be short, then I like the blogging client, QTM. You can then upload posts with a simple click.

          If the post is going to be longer, I use either LyX with the eLyXer and LyXBlogger extensions, or NoteCase Pro with hermocom’s Document Tools extension.

          Unless you already know LaTeX, NoteCase Pro is easier to use than LyX, but you need to copy and paste from it to get the text into WordPress. (I use hermocom’s Document Tools extension to convert each rich text note to HTML, and then copy that into the WordPress HTML editor. This gives perfect control.)

          You can also export from NoteCase Pro to LaTeX and then import into LyX if you later decide to use LyX instead. LyX has the advantages that it produces superb PDFs, handles images and formulae with ease and, with the LyXBlogger extension, you can upload posts direct without bothering with copy and paste.

          I have never experienced conflicts using any of these methods. But, especially if using LyX, you will need to make sure that your CSS includes the right classes to make sure everything looks good.

  10. Visual Composer and Live Composer have been doing this for years now, and I’ve used their plugin even on large institutional websites built on WordPress. My feeling is that this feature should be left outside of core, just because like someone here above said, each user’s editorial needs and workflow is different. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to have such a feature in core, but would that upset those who don’t need blocks and rely on WP as a much simpler blogging platform?

  11. Did you recently have a look at what tumblr has done? I very much like how they managed to keep the editor as such (including the switch from rich text to html or markdown), but add the possibility to set content blocks. See here: http://staff.tumblr.com/post/109422757605/big-update-tumblr

    This way, nothing would get lost for the ones who prefer a clean textarea, and the ones who need content-blocks, would have them a click away.

    • A little self promotion here: http://shapeshifter3.tumblr.com/ , as I have been tinkering with tumblr, but I definitely DO NOT want to lose the massive amout of functionality that a self-hosted version of WordPress can currently offer. Let simple minds choose simple products; let more complicated minds choose more complicated products. I apologize for being somewhat brash or sarcastic, but human beings are not all created equal, and choose different consumer products for different reasons.

      WordPress evidently started as simple Blog software, but its diverse usage has evolved into quite something different. Please don’t let any one person or group of users (who love what it used to be) limit that continued evolution.

  12. i would cry if i lost tinymce and woke up to that “blog editor” back-end. especially since mine is setup to allow font size and other text settings, that are drastically needed when trying to actually post readable content on a site that isn’t just a blog. Blogs are cool and you guys/girls have your niche, but trying to llimit wordpress to a blog is crazy, since it is one of the BEST cms systems on the market. maybe the solution is to have an option in the admin stating whether you are using it as a CMS or just a blog.

  13. First, people form near-religious relationships with an editor-environment they are familiar with and use a lot … even if they complain about it. Trying to address complaints by taking away “their” tool is a good way to lose your arm at the shoulder. (EMACS, VIM and Notepad are not only still around – they have aggressively vibrant communities … because of this editor-phenomenon.)

    Second, high-production writers like Jeff Chandler with a full-time work load, great subject-matter, and an assured audience … still pay a price for the repetition, confinement and general burn-out. No one in Jeff’s position should be without quality therapist-services. ;)

    Low-end users have to pretty-much inform the decision on editor-policy. Skilled & successful operators have their resources to address or change things. High-end WordPress websites even have their own dedicated IT Dept. … may well even provide custom external editing environments for each writer.

    Indeed, the basic Update Welcome blurb has rather recently touted the improved & expanded role of TinyMCE, and a growing cast of supporting-actors for it. For the masses, what we see is what it is, and will be for the indefinite duration.

  14. I agree with many here that “abolishing metaboxes” is shortsighted (to put it mildly) and would be a huge mistake. A large percentage of people like myself use WP as an awesome custom CMS, built to suit my client’s needs.

    I’m able to provide my clients with an easy interface for entering content, they love it, and those metaboxes are the reason for the love!

  15. I don’t know.. I like meta boxes.

    One of the reasons why I’d want to keep them is that I DO NOT use the visual editor. I feel like the change you’re suggesting is very geared towards people who do use a visual editor. And while your suggestion may be fine for a blogger who wants a very WYSIWYG experience, I think it would hinder anyone who wants a different/”manual” approach (like me).

  16. I agree that this change can come across as leaning towards bloggers instead of a CMS. WordPress is trying to do everything, and the fact is there are more bloggers on the internet than there are large scale websites (CMS). So we have this issue where WordPress has to cater to everyone despite developers and large publishers wanting a push for a stronger CMS. However, to maintain market share it has to be simple for the average blogger which causes complications
    who do you assist first? Drupal wins when it comes to larger scale production websites because it is smarter than WordPress but for WordPress to keep its market share it has to act as a blogging platform… Rather disappointing to see an update that was kind of focused on bloggers time and time again..

  17. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned a solution such as the one offered by the Tabify plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/tabify-edit-screen/). I haven’t used it yet, but I’m planning on trying it out. I like the idea that meta boxes aren’t cluttering up the edit screen but are still easily accessible via tabs at the top of the page. And this way the edit screen remains completely distraction-free without loss of space or endless scrolling. This could be the simple solution that would please a lot of different types of users, especially if tabs can be controlled via user roles…

  18. The main selling point with this type of interface that not everyone immediately understands is that “content blocks” are WP’s default content types plus any CPTs you add. This would allow WP to function more truly as a CMS without doing anything that isn’t good for blogging as well. It would just be a lot easier to craft your own content model where content types can be re-used and moved around within other content types, and each type of content could have its own taxonomy or share a taxonomy with other content types. Several good new-ish CMS projects were born partially out of frustration with WP (and others) on this point. I think Expression Engine has always been attractive to a certain type of marketing and content focused user because it makes it easy to re-use content and define many-to-many relationships

  19. Ok, time to clarify a few things as my post title was a bit strong. It’s obvious that a lot of people find meta boxes to be useful. I’m ok with that. What I’m saying in the article and I used the image of the conceptual interface to point out is that, I’d like to see the Post Specific meta boxes be merged into the post editor so they disappear. Removing all meta boxes is probably a bad idea but if I could merge the ones I use most into the editor, then we’re on to something. That’s why I’m such a fan of the conceptual editor because it does exactly that.

    As someone else mentioned, it’s also an iteration of the editor instead of something completely new. I think users would be more inclined to use it versus outright reject it. But who knows since no one likes change.

    Also, I can’t wait for the REST API because apparently, someone would be able to come up with an interface like this or something like it.

  20. This is relevant to my interests and I am glad to have read the post. Thank you for the information.

    However, the exquisite mangling of the English language is really the star here. This may one day find a home as a tutorial on how not to write.

    There are grammatical errors of nearly every variety, heavily buttressed by trite and hackneyed colloquialisms. Participles dangle from every branch of the agreement tree. Each sentence suffers to some extent, if only running afoul of debatable–but generally accepted–style norms. In all, it is a remarkable 380 words.

    SEO-driven prose will never rise to the level of great literature; no one expects it to do so. Adequate compensation for artists is often scarce, and those who make a hard tack towards their intended audience tend to fare better at the bank than their purist counterparts. If the intended audience is something called Googlebot, three appearances of ‘WordPress’ in the first two sentences can be expected and even excused. The post did make the front page after all.

    However, Google’s well-meaning but ultimately disastrous site-ranking algorithms can hardly be blamed for this mind-numbing lexical scat mound:

    “Many of the posts I write post consists of content blocks such as: blockquotes, media, etc.”

    Come on man. Get it together.

    If this seems overly harsh and the term “grammar Nazi” is on the tips of anyone’s fingers, check yourself before you yecch yourself.

    The writer asserted himself as a long-time professional in the very first sentence. Sadly, that declaration occurred immediately after an egregious semi-colon error.

    This is not a sports forum or a text message between BFFs. This is published information presented in a journalistic idiom about a software platform used by millions. There are minimum standards in such cases. This didn’t even make it past mall security.
    – – –
    Grammar Nazi needs a hug.

    • Wow, I think more like grammar-troll. Just because one feels it’s important to be an aficionado of the finer points of language does not make it a necessity to communicate in a blog-driven world. Now go and check on all of those other millions of blogs and see if you can find perfect grammar. Odds are you aren’t going to find even 1% of them which utilize the language to the level of perfection you’re requiring. So you can stop being a back-seat editor and grammar-troll and find a way to put your English talents to use. Maybe land yourself a job as a book editor?

  21. Jeff I can’t agree more with your take on the editor. More needs to be streamlined and also could use an option to even disable various items that you will never need. I like the image of the concept editor too. Seems like something that somebody clever could work into a nice WP plugin even if it’s not put into core.

    I listen to WordPress Weekly by the way and love the show. Seems we also have a common/similar upbringing and probably about the same age based on what you shared on a recent episode (I think it was at the end of the year). I thought that was cool. Got to love those old PC games like Doom and Quake!


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