NOTE: This article was originally published at carsonified.com.
By Richard Shepherd
4 June 2010
Editors Note: In his first article for Think Vitamin Richard Shepherd looks at what’s new in the upcoming 3.0 release of WordPress and quizzes a number of web designers on their thoughts on the new features.
According to founder Matt Mullenweg, WordPress now runs an estimated 8.5% of all sites on the internet. This is a staggering amount – almost one in every ten sites is sitting on what was once just ‘blogging software’.
Put another way, there are 20 million eager WordPressers looking forward to the long awaited upgrade from 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0.
The first release candidate is now available and most of the new features are well-known and have been described in detail. Others, like custom post types, are leaving some users scratching their heads. But what does the new version of WordPress mean for the millions of web designers that use it every day?
“Version 3 is absolutely a step forward for designers”, argues Chris Coyier from CSSTricks”
“For one thing, I think it will finally squelch the ‘WordPress is a blogging platform, not a CMS’ argument. With custom post types becoming a core feature, it is straight up CMS territory.”
We’ll come back to custom post types later, but the point that Chris makes about WordPress becoming a true Content Management System (CMS) has lots of support.
Elliot Jay Stocks is a well-known designer who uses WordPress, and he’s also excited about this development towards a true CMS:
“It’s definitely a step forward. It’s moving further and further away from its roots as a blogging engine and incorporating powerful tools that make it a viable CMS.”
Jeff Starr, who co-wrote ‘Digging into WordPress’, believes that:
“WordPress 3 is custom everything, and it’s awesome. These features provide greater control and flexibility in terms of content organisation, presentation, and management. Custom content types take us beyond the days of posts and pages. Custom taxonomies take us beyond tags and categories.”
Adii Pienaar from WooThemes agrees:
“I’m very excited about custom post types as this makes WordPress even more of a fully-fledged CMS”
So let’s take a look at some of these features in more depth, and just how they will affect web professionals designing sites for the WordPress platform.
Perhaps the feature that causes the most confusion, or at least the most questions, is custom post types. At its heart it’s a relatively simple concept – instead of just posts and pages you can now specify your own type of entry.
Admin screen for a custom post type of “Video”
Chris from CSSTricks explains the concept well:
“Think of how Tumblr works – how you can publish photos, quotes, links and whatever else. You could create those same types now with WordPress, and build themes to support and have special styles for them. This is fantastic stuff for building custom sites!”
Fantastic stuff indeed, and it’s interesting to hear Chris mention Tumblr. WordPress’s nimbler, younger cousin continues to grow at a phenomenal rate and has many fans out there. Indeed, some designers have ditched WordPress altogether for Tumblr.
Others, like Corbus Bester, have designed amazing WordPress sites that look and feel like Tumblogs. Perhaps there is some mileage in this fusion of styles; it’s certainly now possible – and considerably easier – with custom post types.
Chris Spooner from SpoonGraphics also sees the benefit this new feature will bring:
“As someone who uses WordPress for almost every website I build, I’d say it would be really useful to be able to create a new entry for a particular section of a website that’s different to the usual post and page layouts. A new portfolio entry springs to mind as a good use of this feature.”
One of the other highly publicised additions, thanks in no small part to the goodwill and marketing genius of those WooThemes folk, is the new Navigation System.
Admin screen for the new menu system
It is, in short, a master-stoke. It also blurs the line between the open-source platform and its profit-making community. Adii Pienaar explains:
“I’m happy to be a bit biased, but the new menu system that WooThemes contributed is long overdue and a massive benefit to every single WordPress user, In essence, this is such a basic feature of any CMS, but due to it being a benefit to all WordPress users I think this is a significant new addition” he adds.
Chris Coyier believes:
“The menu building tools are going to be huge for designers as well, and unquestioningly a step forward. Building dynamic menus in the past has involved using WordPress functions in the theme code itself with a bunch of parameters. Nerdy stuff, and not for the average site owner or even for many designers.”
WooThemes designer Magnus Jepson agrees:
“The navigation system will let designers concentrate on setting up the menu instead of hard coding it.”
So how does it work? Chris explains:
“The new menu builder puts a GUI on [menu building], putting menu control in the admin where it should be and where anybody can intuitively control it.”
Of the myriad other features on offer with version 3.0, the more noteworthy include:
The new default theme “TwentyTen” home page
So will these new features make a difference for designers? Adii argues:
“Not necessarily for designers, I think the new features are probably more geared to end-users, like the menu system, or developers, for example custom post types.”
He has a point. The level of comfort and experience you have with PHP really does affect how much you can squeeze from the WordPress system; HTML and CSS are simply not enough. Elliot touches on this:
“I hope it becomes easier to work with template files. Less PHP wizardry required and more functionality built in from the start.”
Chris Spooner thinks that others will benefit from the upgrade:
“I see the upgrades more suited to the everyday end user. The extra customisation options will also allow the non-tech user to add their own touch to their blog.”
Others, like Jeff Star, believe that WordPress 3 will bring benefits to designers as well:
“[It is] definitely a step forward. A huge step. In addition to better content management, its integration of WPMU makes it that much easier to create entire networks of sites with a single installation. WordPress 3 also features bulk updates for plug-ins and themes, saving users even more time.”
And it’s that hacking that keeps WordPress, even version 3.0, out of the reach of anyone without a basic grounding in PHP (and, arguably, jQuery). Elliot argues:
“It still doesn’t look as powerful as Expression Engine, But for ease-of-setup and ease-of-use, WordPress remains my favourite CMS. My only beef with WordPress is that it can take a lot of hacking to get what you want, and I’m hoping that WordPress 3 will solve this problem.”
So just what does the future hold for WordPress? Is it too early to speculate what we’ll see in WordPress 4?
“I’d actually vote for it not to develop too much,” said Adii from WooThemes. “WordPress is great because it has never been the most complex or complicated system to use. I am however in favour of adding functionality that will make WordPress a more complete CMS, even if that means having different ‘flavours’ of the platform i.e. blogging vs. CMS.”
Perhaps WordPress.com will remain as the hosted solution for casual bloggers, and a ‘WPLite’ version will also become available.
We then might see an offshoot, the more powerful CMS version, which caters for the needs of its considerable and growing user-base of web designers looking for a back-end system.
It makes sense, and it could see an opportunity for Automattic to further monetise part of its software-as-service stable. But who exactly would profit? And who would pay?
When asked about the future or WordPress, Jeff focuses on usability for designers:
“Make it fast, make it secure, and make it easy on the server. Go for lean and mean, and deprecate the fluff that nobody uses.”
This sentiment is echoed by Magnus:
“I hope that WordPress will develop to be faster and more secure than it is today, and also that it adopts the most widely used functions into the core for all to use. Maybe wishful thinking to have both new functions and faster system, but everything is possible.”
Chris Coyier also offers some thoughts about the future:
“As far as the software itself, I hope it continues to have a big community and have a good, smart, quick core team. There are no particular ‘features’ that I’m pining for anymore, mostly just a wish that the team keeps my WordPress nice and secure as we move forward.”
There’s a nice turn of phrase here from Chris, “My WordPress”. The wonderful thing about WordPress is that it’s us, the users, the designers and the developers that help create its ultimate direction. And it’s our creative and unique implementations of this powerful system that will guide its future development.
Over the coming weeks we will be taking a more code based look at some of the new features in WordPress 3.0. Watch out for our first article which will focus on “Custom Posts” in the next few weeks.
Richard (@richardshepherd) is a UK based web designer, developer and online marketer who has been designing websites since before this was all fields as far as the eye can see. He loves to snuggle up with CSS, HTML, jQuery and WordPress, and is currently engaged on a number of projects for a range of commercial and charitable clients. He has an awesomeness factor of 8, and you can also find him at richardshepherd.com.
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