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New WordPress Website Showcase, Ollie Theme Controversy, Plugin Previews πŸ—žοΈ November 2023 WordPress News w/ CodeinWP

📆  This is the November 2023 edition of “This Month in WordPress with CodeinWP.” 

Hey, WordPress fans.

We are back with the latest batch of WordPress news and stories from the past month.

Over the past 30 days or so, there was plenty to talk about, with debate over the Ollie theme’s onboarding process, a new website showcase at WordPress.org, WordPress 6.4 release candidates, live previews for plugins at WordPress.org, and lots more.

Let’s get to all of the stories from the last month:

November 2023 WordPress News with CodeinWP

WordPress.org relaunches website showcase (now powered by blocks)

For a long time now, WordPress.org has had a showcase to feature different sites that are built using the WordPress software.

However, over time, the showcase started to show its age and look a little outdated.

No longer!

WordPress.org just launched a brand new showcase page with a modern design powered by blocks.

Personally, I find it to be a huge upgrade over the previous system.

Visitors can browse a list of sites, search by keyword, or filter by tags, categories, and “flavors*”.

*The WordPress “flavors” are “WordPress,” “WordPress Enterprise,” and “WordPress multisite.” I don’t find the term “flavors” to be very intuitive, but it’s clear enough when you expand the drop-down menu.

The individual site listing page includes a description, desktop and mobile screenshots, as well as some basic metadata.

Currently, there are around 100 sites in the showcase, but you’re allowed to submit other sites (as long as you’re logged in to your WordPress.org account).

However, there are some submission criteria, and WordPress.org notes that “Only a relatively small number of submissions are eventually added to the WordPress Showcase.”

If you want to see some other sites that use WordPress, we have a collection of 100+ famous brands using WordPress.

WordPress showcase

Ollie theme launches on WordPress.org without custom onboarding

Over the past few weeks, one of the biggest debates in the WordPress community has been the Ollie block-based theme and its custom theme onboarding system.

Here’s the short version:

  1. Ollie is a brand new FSE/block-based theme from Mike McAlister, formerly of Array Themes (before Array Themes was acquired by WP Engine).
  2. To help users more easily set up their sites, Ollie included a built-in custom onboarding system that got pretty universally positive reviews.
  3. Because the onboarding system was contained in the theme itself instead of in a companion plugin, it went against the rules at the WordPress.org theme directory. This is why themes like Neve have to put their starter site import tools in separate companion plugins.
  4. Because Ollie’s system was so much better than the native WordPress system, some people were pushing to make an exception for the Ollie theme (or for changing the rules entirely for block themes).
  5. The theme review team eventually decided against making an exception or changing the rules.
  6. After trying to work with the theme review team to find a way to include the onboarding system in the theme itself, Mike eventually released the Ollie theme on WordPress.org without the onboarding system (though it is available via a separate plugin).

Again, that’s the short version…

But the long version is that there was a lot of debate on both sides, even with Matt Mullenweg weighing in with his thoughts on allowing it as an experiment.

Some people pointed out that full-site editing themes need all the help they can get because they are not very popular (or very intuitive for casual users). There was even talk of finding a way to add Ollie’s solution to the WordPress core so that other themes could use it.

However, I also understand that making exceptions to rules opens up all kinds of future issues for the theme review team, so I sympathize with them not wanting to go that route. If you give one theme an exception, every other developer will think their theme also deserves an exception.

Eventually, Mike gave up and placed the onboarding system in a separate plugin from the Ollie theme on WordPress.org.

While the onboarding system is available in a plugin, that plugin is not listed in the WordPress.org plugin directory yet because of the lengthy plugin review queue (which we talked about in last month’s news post).

All is not lost, though! You can still access the onboarding system by downloading the Ollie Dash plugin from the Ollie website or from its GitHub listing.

Is that a good experience for new users who want to try a block theme? Absolutely not! But it’s the way things are…for now, at least.

And once the Ollie onboarding plugin passes the plugin review process at WordPress.org, things should be easier because users will be able to install it directly from their WordPress dashboards.

Ollie theme

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Kinsta launches free static site hosting

While Kinsta started as exclusively a managed WordPress host, it’s since been expanding into other areas such as application hosting and database hosting.

In October, Kinsta made another push with the launch of its new static site hosting service.

What makes this noteworthy for WordPress users, though, is that Kinsta is also offering free static site hosting forever as part of that. The free tier also has pretty generous fair use limits:

  • Up to 100 sites for free.
  • 600 build minutes and 100 GB bandwidth per month per account.
  • 1 GB build size and one concurrent builder per site.

If you use a WordPress static site plugin like Simply Static, this would let you host your WordPress site for free forever using Kinsta’s infrastructure.

Of course, you can also use other static site generators, such as Gatsby and others.

WordPress.com joins the fediverse

Last month, we talked about the ActivityPub plugin version 1.0, which lets you add your own self-hosted WordPress site to the fediverse.

In October, we saw another related piece of news – WordPress.com has officially joined the fediverse by adding support for ActivityPub for all of its plans, including the free one.

This means that users on other fediverse platforms will be able to follow your WordPress.com blog and also sync comments on other platforms to your WordPress.com blog.

Adding your blog to the fediverse is as simple as going to Settings → Discussion and turning on the Enter the fediverse toggle. You also have the option to customize your blog’s fediverse domain name.

The fact that you can access the fediverse even on plans that don’t allow you to install custom plugins is probably the most noteworthy piece of news here.

This step is probably no surprise that Automattic acquired the ActivityPub plugin earlier in 2023 and kept on the developer to continue working on the plugin.

There’s also some talk of adding the capability for WordPress.com users to subscribe to other fediverse accounts via the WordPress Reader, but WP Tavern reports that this isn’t officially on the product roadmap yet.

WordPress 6.4 release candidate is ready for action

WordPress 6.4 is currently slated for release on November 7, 2023.

However, we got plenty of looks at the new release in October as it wound its way through the beta and release candidate processes.

As it stands at the time that I’m writing this news roundup, WordPress 6.4 release candidate 2 (RC2) has just been released, which means that it’s pretty much ready for prime time.

If you want to test it out, you’re free to install it on a test site or local development environment – just don’t install it on your live site.

I’m sure that I’ll talk about WordPress 6.4 in a lot more detail next month once it’s actually been released. But for now, here’s a very brief rundown of what will be new in the release:

  • A new default WordPress theme (Twenty Twenty-Four)
  • Lightbox functionality for core Image blocks
  • Writing improvements, including new keyboard shortcuts, more reliable pasting, a new toolbar experience for certain blocks, and more
  • New design options such as background images for Group blocks and aspect ratios for image placeholders
  • Improvements to the Command Palette feature from WordPress 6.3
  • Improved organization tools for synced and unsynced patterns, including the ability to import/export patterns as JSON files
  • 100+ performance updates to improve backend and frontend performance

WordPress 6.4 was also supposed to add some new font management features. However, we learned in early October that those features have been postponed until the next release (WordPress 6.5).

Another postponed feature is improvements to pattern management for non-block themes. That will also be postponed until WordPress 6.5.

Automattic acquires all-in-one messaging app, Texts

This little tidbit might not be WordPress-specific, but it does involve Automattic and an interesting tool, so I thought it was worth sharing.

In late October, Automattic acquired Texts for around $50 million.

If you’re not familiar with Texts, it’s a messaging app that lets you manage messages from a bunch of other apps within one unified inbox.

It has support for iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Slack, and Discord DMS.

What makes it unique is that it lets you do this locally without needing to trust a third-party intermediary service.

Matt Mullenweg told The Verge that the acquisition marks a big new focus for Automattic. Previously, Automattic had focused on publishing and commerce, but it now wants to add messaging to the mix.

Self-publishing, commerce, and messaging covers a good chunk of all human activity, and they’re also three areas where I think an open-source solution is necessary for the long termMatt Mullenweg

Interestingly, the WordPress.com announcement post said that Automattic had previously focused on three areas – publishing, commerce, and advertising (via Tumblr), and that messaging would be the fourth focus.

Whether it’s Automattic’s third or fourth “focus,” Texts seems like a really cool app, so it’s great to see that it will now have Automattic’s backing.

WordPress.org adds (and then reverts) live previews for plugins

In early October, WordPress.org added a cool new feature – live previews for plugins.

This feature was powered by WordPress Playground, which lets users run a fully functioning version of WordPress right in their browsers.

The basic idea was that users would click a button on the WordPress.org listing, and then it would use WordPress Playground to open a working WordPress site in a new tab with the plugin pre-installed. Users could then play around with the plugin to see how it works before installing it on their own websites.

Sounds pretty cool, right? What’s the problem?

Well, the issue is that this approach doesn’t work for all plugins, but it was still enabled for all plugins.

Sometimes, it just wouldn’t be a very good experience for certain plugins, such as plugins that rely on other plugins for functionality. For example, imagine opening a preview for a plugin that extends WooCommerce but the core WooCommerce plugin wasn’t installed.

In some situations, the plugin could even throw a fatal error when the user opened the preview because of issues with the configuration from WordPress Playground.

Obviously, some plugin developers weren’t very happy about these facts because it could create an unfairly negative perception of the quality of their plugins. Additionally, people were upset that the change seems to have been pushed through very quickly, without much testing or feedback, and without advance warning to developers.

As a result, the new preview feature was removed a few days later.

Overall, I think that the idea is very cool and could be useful to people browsing plugins. However, the execution definitely left some things to be desired.

First off, plugin developers should have had time to provide feedback and prepare for the new preview feature.

Additionally, there should be some opt-out mechanism so that developers can disable the live preview feature if it doesn’t play nice with their plugin. This was actually suggested by Steve Dufresne on the initial ticket, but it doesn’t seem to have been factored into the design.

It would also be helpful if the preview feature were able to factor in dependencies, such as installing the core WooCommerce plugin alongside plugins that require WooCommerce. There are plans to add this via the Blueprints feature in WordPress Playground.

The Blueprints feature will also allow for importing demo content, which should help developers create a much better demo experience.

Still, I think developers of commercial plugins would be better off creating their own plugin demos using something like InstaWP, as it lets developers better control the demo experience and also generate leads.

That sums up our November 2023 WordPress news roundup. Anything we missed?

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:

 

Layout and presentation by Karol K.

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