WordPress 3.7 to Remove Post By Email Feature in Favor of Official Plugin

The option to post by email will be removed from the WordPress core in the 3.7 release. As WordPress evolves, there are some lesser-used features that would be better served as a plugin, in favor of keeping the core leaner. Such is the case with the post by email feature, but don’t worry – WordPress won’t leave current users out in the cold. A plugin is in the works that will be the official replacement, providing a virtually seamless transition for posting by email when 3.7 is released.

kat-haganThat’s where Kat Hagan jumped in to contribute. Kat has been working as a WordPress freelancer and was recently selected for an internship with WordPress as part of the Free and Open Source Software Outreach Program for Women. The program was inspired by Google Summer of Code and was created because so few women applied for participation in GSOC. The Outreach Program for Women (OPW) sponsored Kat Hagan to work on WordPress and last week she released version 1.0 of the new Post By Email plugin.

I checked in with Kat to find out what she plans for the future of the plugin. I was curious as to why she selected Post By Email as the project for her internship, and she replied:

I was reading through the list of suggested WP projects, and Post By Email was something that jumped out at me as having a lot of potential.

I knew it would give me the opportunity to learn about some areas of the WordPress code that I hadn’t had much chance to dig into, and I liked that it was very open-ended in terms of which features would be a part of the project. I also noticed while researching it that it was sort of an abandoned feature — the code in Core was buggy, there were Trac tickets that had been open for years, but I also saw a lot of comments from folks who were using the functionality and wanted to see it revisited. So I guess you could say it appealed to my desire to work on something that needed love.

The post by email functionality in core is on track to be deprecated in 3.7. Hagan has submitted a patch, which is now awaiting review. The patch essentially removes the functionality from the WordPress core without deleting the settings. Current users of the native post by email functionality will have a seamless experience installing the new plugin and migrating their settings.

Hagan had a number of challenges during her internship, both in building this new plugin and adjusting to a new community workflow:

I chose to incorporate a third-party library for retrieving and parsing emails, which was fairly difficult. Documentation was scanty (when it existed at all), and the library wasn’t really written to be used in a standalone way, so I spent a lot of time digging through the source, duct-taping stuff together and figuring out how it worked by experimentation. I’m glad I chose this route, though, since it’s saved me a lot of time in implementing new features (not to mention spared me the bugs I would certainly have introduced in reinventing this particular wheel).

From a non-technical standpoint, just learning how the WordPress community works was a significant challenge. As someone who’s never worked on open source software before, I’m used to projects having a very clear hierarchy and schedule — you have a manager or a tech lead who acts as the final arbiter of what gets done, how it gets done and when. In WordPress land, it’s much more democratic: while there are loose areas of responsibility, everyone joins in the discussion about how to implement things and what to focus on. It was a bit overwhelming at first!

How is the Post By Email plugin different from Postie or Jetpack’s post by email feature?

You may be wondering, as I was, how the new plugin differs from counterparts such as Postie and Jetpack’s Post By Email, both of which already do almost everything one could imagine. Hagan’s plugin was built for a different purpose.

For starters, it’s not as full-featured, at least not yet; we wanted a canonical plugin that, while it doesn’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles, makes it fairly easy for anyone who’s been using the existing functionality up to this point to migrate over. I do think they fulfill slightly different needs. Postie allows a lot of customization, almost like a template (e.g. specifying start and end, excerpts, post format) and Jetpack’s Post By Email integrates support for other features used on wordpress.com, like polls. Jetpack also uses an auto-generated wordpress.com email address instead of connecting to a third-party email account.

The good news here is that when the changes happen in WordPress 3.7, users will have a lot of options for continuing their posting by email. I asked Kat if she’ll be adding in all the new features that were outlined in her original proposal for the project. She replied, “I’m on track to finish everything, with two exceptions: multisite support was tabled for now (it’s a larger discussion) and replying to comments via email is going on the roadmap for a later version, since I know I won’t have time to do it justice.” The current version of the plugin actually adds support for HTML-formatted emails, a welcome addition for those who actively post by email.

WordPress Gains a New Contributor

Hagan plans to continue her support and development of the plugin after her internship has concluded. She very much enjoyed her software development internship with WordPress and looks forward to helping out in the future. “I’ve learned that WordPress is a wonderfully supportive community, and it’s been a blast meeting and working with everyone this summer,” she said. “Open source projects can be intimidating, especially when they’re as large and active as WordPress, so I think having a more structured introduction is extremely helpful for folks who aren’t sure where to begin. I know that having mentors and a well-defined project really made the difference for me. I would definitely encourage anyone who’s eligible for an OPW or GSoC internship to apply to those programs.”

opwAre you interested to try your hand at an internship with WordPress or another open source project? Applications for OPW will open in October 2013, with a deadline in early November. The next round runs from mid-December to mid-March. This is an excellent opportunity for any woman to get started contributing.

The WordPress project has definitely benefited from offering mentors for interns and, in this case, the result is that the Post By Email functionality will happily live on as a plugin. Want to help out? Test the new Post By Email plugin with a test email account and leave some feedback for Kat Hagan.

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