WordPress Core Development Goes to Warp Speed With Features-As-Plugins Model

photo credit: *Ijon - cc
photo credit: *Ijoncc
There’s no denying that the new features-as-plugins model has super charged WordPress core development. It’s amazing how much has been packed into the upcoming WordPress 3.8 release with such a short development cycle, especially given the fact that WordPress 3.7 was being developed simultaneously.

WordPress 3.8 isn’t even out yet, but the plugins included were already very solid before merging into the core. This helped make it possible for contributors to continue pushing WordPress to meet every deadline so far on the 3.8 project schedule.

The Feature Plugin tracking page has been updated to show the current status of each plugin as well as the ones that have now landed in core. WordPress 3.8 incorporates three of these plugins:

  • DASH – the updated dashboard screen
  • MP6 – the new admin design
  • THX38 – the redesigned theme experience

New Feature Plugins Emerge

John Blackbourn posted last week on the Make WordPress Core blog, inviting proposals from developers, designers, curators/project leads and anyone who wants to be involved in the development of a feature plugin. If WordPress is to maintain its momentum for 3.9 and future releases, now is the time for new feature plugins to get fired up.

So far, a handful of team leaders have responded to John Blackbourn’s post asking for teams to register their interest in a new feature plugin:

  • George Stephanis responded with his plans to move forward with The Search Initiative, the project formerly known as Omnisearch. This plugin gives users a way to easily search the backend of WordPress and turn up relevant results.
  • Chris Reynolds spoke up for the Admin Help project team. They are working together to reshape how help is presented in the WordPress admin.
  • The WP API Team, led by Ryan McCue, is working to build a JSON API that will hopefully be included in WordPress 3.9.
  • Mike Schinkel posted about the Relatable project. The goal is to improve Post/Object Relationships, making it possible to relate post types using parent-child and/or many-to-many relationships.
  • Janneke Van Dorpe offered an update on the Front-end Editor project. It’s currently in the idea/planning/design stage. The team has regular meetings and a plugin is under development.

It’s important to remember that not all of these features are guaranteed to land in upcoming versions of WordPress. John Blackbourn notes, “Feature plugins are not tied to any specific release and will only be considered for potential inclusion in core once they reach a certain level of completeness.” These projects are in various stages of planning and development and none have been set in stone.

The Benefits of Developing New Features as Plugins

So far, one of the strongest benefits of the new features-as-plugins model is that it brings a broader audience to the software while it’s under development. Plugin development teams are able to garner more feedback from a wide range of WordPress users at an earlier stage. This helps to avoid costly mistakes in both function and design.

Features-as-plugins also makes the new features more accessible. Not everyone is comfortable with beta testing the trunk, but it’s easy for anyone to install a plugin. Developers are able to gather a richer range of feedback from WordPress users at all levels, not just those who are comfortable with testing the trunk. Users don’t have to wait so long for new features they need and/or want, which makes them much more likely to get involved in testing.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring benefits of features-as-plugins is the exponential increase in collaboration and teamwork. This new model gets people working in teams, giving team members a sense of ownership over the project. Everyone involved works together to make that feature the best it can be.

All of these teams are in need of more hands to help out on development. If you’ve ever thought of getting involved in WordPress core development, now is great time to enlist. It’s no longer every man for himself. The bulk of the work for new features is now team-driven and you can be a valuable part of a small group.

The best thing about the features-as-plugins model is that work is never lost. If a feature doesn’t end up landing in core, it can live on as a plugin and those who like it can continue to use it. This is the beauty of the WordPress plugin architecture in action.

The Features-as-Plugins model may not work forever. WordPress core developers may someday find a better method for collaborating. But for right now, features-as-plugins is kicking core development into high gear.

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