What to Watch for in WordPress in 2020: Community Hot Takes

The great thing about WordPress and the WordPress community is that we build it together. The features and code, the opinions, aspirations, goals, and hard work of each member of the community pushes it forward. 

Following up on our first “What to Watch for in WordPress in 2020” piece, we wanted to hear from community members what they think will be important and significant for 2020 in WordPress. These community members know the Zeitgeist of WordPress well, so their “hot takes” are worth bookmarking and watching for this year.

Our Hot Take for WordPress in 2020

At Impress.org, we’re most interested in “Code for Good” and “Democratizing Generosity”. As we look into 2020 there are several initiatives that strike our interest.

Headless WordPress

The way in which a lot of the web is moving is toward a more structured and well-architected model of web development. WordPress as it stands today is still a major part of what the web looks like, but it needs to evolve to maintain its significance five to ten years in the future.

With tools like Gatsby and GraphQL, WordPress can become an engine rather than a page renderer.

Automattic as Project Lead

This subject needs quite a bit of a disclaimer, so if you feel you don’t need that, skip to the last paragraph of this section 🙂

A lot can be said about how the WordPress project is led from the billion dollar corporation of Automattic. Without getting in the weeds of that discussion too much, the subject itself remains very relevant in 2020.

Most business’ that build their income on the WordPress marketplace (those that we mingle with most at least) have noticed a “shift in the force” over the past few years. Mullenweg and Automatticians are generally speaking being more assertive about the direction of the platform itself. This makes sense since it still is the engine that drives WordPress.com — which is responsible for presumably not an insignificant percentage of the revenue of Automattic as a whole. As business owners ourselves, we understand the need to own the destiny of your own company and the software that generates your income.

The dissonance though has been how that has meant — by necessity — that the leadership of new initiatives (namely Gutenberg, the Block Library, and the next phases of Gutenberg implementation) must be led by Automatticians, and less so by WordPress community members. It’s understandably so; volunteer lead developers are a rare bird and under the best of circumstances they can only put in so many hours to be “project lead” of anything of significance.

Our take on this shift is simply that it is a necessity of Automattic’s and there shouldn’t be drama around that reality. We’ve often said that if one day GiveWP powered tens of millions of websites and the GiveWP community wanted to build a Products Add-on we’d say no — regardless of what the community wants, we need to own the destiny of our codebase. Automattic has to make the decisions similarly.

This doesn’t exclude community involvement any more than contributing to VS Code, or React or anything else is. The reason there’s some “growing pains” here is just because contribution to the WordPress project in the past was far easier and more accessible and welcomed in the past than now.

So, the hot take is: expect to see more assertive leadership from Automattic on the WordPress project in 2020.

The Evolution of What it Means to be a WordPress Theme Shop

One of the most fascinating trends to watch is what Theme Shops like Genesis (now owned by WP Engine), Organic Themes, Astra and other will do as Gutenberg moves into the Customizer. In terms of major economic shifts in the WordPress marketplace, this might be considered a 10.

It was fascinating to watch Advanced Custom Fields embrace Gutenberg — that was a huge win for them. How will Theme Shops adapt?

GoDaddy has already released a new theme called “Go” which is a very lean theme overall and completely block-driven. That might be a big indicator of what others will need to do.

But there’s also potential for themes becoming virtually obsolete. If Gutenberg plus the Customizer can create layout, colors, fonts, and content for you, then the “job” of a theme becomes ultra-minimalist to the point of not being worth spending money on one.

Of course, this doesn’t impact big themes that are driven by their page-builders like Divi, Elementor, Beaver Builder, etc. They are essentially now an alternative to the WordPress Core vision of website building.

Bottom Line

There’s a lot of big questions as to the direction of the WordPress project this year which we are uniquely invested in and paying attention to. One thing though that has not diminished in the slightest, is our appreciation of the broader, most generous WordPress Community members.

What the Community Has to Say About WordPress in 2020

When we asked community members what they were looking forward to in 2020, some people gave us more in-depth, higher-level answers than we ever could have hoped for. Here are their goals, hopes, fears and hot takes.

Here’s what they had to say:

Ahmad Awais is an Open source engineer and developer advocate. @MrAhmadAwais

I believe that 2020 is the year where WordPress will grow as a high quality headless CMS. Both WPGraphQL and WP REST API projects are going to play a big role in that. And advanced JavaScript based frontend has become a necessity nowadays but not many are looking into making web performant. There’s a huge opportunity for business growth here.

I for one plan to launch a couple of developer tools that will make it easier to maintain your plugins and themes in a more automated and continuously integrated manner.

Lots of things in the WordPress space are now very complex for no reason. We as a community need to “dumb it down a little” in a good way.

WordPress community has grown a lot. There were very public violations of the Code of Conduct (CoC) from many important members of the foundation and WP.org. Having a good CoC is useless if it’s not enforced on the enforcers. That needs to change.

Andrea Middleton is a WordPress community leader and Automattican. 

At this time of year I think a lot about scarcity and abundance. I am so grateful to help steward a community like ours, that has creative, optimistic, and generous people in abundance; people who do not generally operate in a scarcity model. In 2020, I hope WordPress enthusiasts continue to share their own stories and ideas — and continue to read and listen to the experiences and thoughts of those outside their circles, and outside our community.

Every year, I look forward to welcoming new people into our community and watching those who are already with us to grow their skills and understanding and then share their learnings. If I had three wishes for us as a group, it would be that we all examine our privilege more closely, hold our strong opinions a little more loosely, and be more gentle with ourselves and others.

Angela Jin is a WordPress community builder, Automattican and WordCamp US Co-Organizer.

My perpetual hope for the WordPress community is that we continue to grow and support each other.

For 2020, I expect that we will see more creativity from the community. We’re seeing greater demand for workshops and varied content, so I predict a rise in new, unique, and variegated types of highly engaging sessions, not just at WordCamps, but at local meetups too. We’ll also be more intentionally inclusive when it comes to community building, giving more thought to the composition of our organizing teams, speakers, and volunteers in order to nurture representation.

And at the end of the day, we’ll share what we’ve learned with each other so that we can continue to iterate on best practices.

Beth Soderberg is Web developer, strategist and WordCamp DC/DC Meetup organizer.

The WordPress ecosystem is changing rapidly due to the cascading impact of Gutenberg and the corresponding re-architecture of the software and best practices. Whenever innovation happens, some people are left behind. My hope is that the community is strong enough and has enough heart to write documentation, create trainings, and mentor people both new and veteran to WordPress through these changes.

Vova Feldman, Founder & CEO at Freemius. @vovafeldman

We recently announced that Freemius is getting strong into video and already started delivering quality content on our YouTube channel. That’s a substantial investment that we made, and I’m anxious to see what impact will it have on plugin and theme developers in 2020, as well as on our brand awareness in the market.

Following the slightly disappointing experience in WordCamp US, I’m very excited and looking forward to the first WordCamp Asia event in Bangkok this February. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet and network with the Asian community. I’m particularly interested in learning about their unique needs and pains, to see how we can better address their needs in our platform, improve our marketing efforts in Asia, and explore partnerships with local product companies. Our entire team is attending, and our Head of Marketing is was selected as a speaker.

Brian Richards is the Creator of WP Sessions: WordSesh and WooSesh. 

I’m excited about things that are outside my own purview, I’m very eager to see what becomes of the different block library solutions, and how themers and layout builders continue to evolve.

From a developer point of view, I look forward to seeing what Branch and other CI/CD tools do for our collective workflows AND what neat things people do with GitHub Actions and WP.

Cami MacNamara is a Web Designer and GoDaddy Pro Ambassador. 

I hope the future of WordPress includes more accessibility features.  And not just for the visitor. I recently had the experience of working with a visual impaired client on a website for her consulting business. She works with large companies to improve accessibility for people with sight loss in technology, wayfinding, transit, recreation, travel, and entertainment. 

When I was training her to update her own website with a screen reader, it was quite apparent that the dashboard was going to be an enormous challenge.  It would be wonderful to empower people like my client with the tools needed to update their own WordPress websites with ease.

Christie Chirinos is the Product Manager for LiquidWeb’s Managed WooCommerce

In my opinion, we’re going to watch WordPress grow up in 2020. The companies in the ecosystem are starting to act like mature companies–reviewing their business models, merging and acquiring, and putting forth real research on what the size of the market opportunities are. That means we’re going to see bigger, better products, more options, and more innovation. I also think we’re going to watch headless WordPress make a big splash, and the types of skills and people involved with the ecosystem are going to reflect that. 

Overall, I’m super excited for 2020–I think it’s the right time to be doing the work we’re doing and being at the center of how we craft an increasingly interconnected world.

Henry Holtgeerts is a Developer at Impress.org.

Even more block editor!

The new site building features in Gutenberg will really stretch the way theme authors think about building themes, and will continue to shift perception of WordPress from just a CMS to a proper no-code web app builder!

We will also see increased use of the block editor in plugins, not only in adding blocks for folks to use on their websites, but also in the actual administration of the plugin itself. As a fun kinda-meta example of a plugin that’s doing some really cool work with this concept check out: https://wordpress.org/plugins/lazy-blocks/ . It uses the block editor to help you build new blocks.

Jason Ada,s, Lead Developer at Impress.org. 

I agree with the assessment that the amount of JS in upcoming themes and plugins is going to ramp up, especially the usage of React and Vue.

More and more plugin and theme shops are going to push the quality of PHP development now that the WordPress min version is PHP 5.6. This will help catch up the WP standards with the rest of the PHP dev world.

GraphQL will continue to increase in utilization as WP GraphQL and Gatsby take off. People are going to be doing more and more experimentation with different forms of headless WP.

Jean Perpillant is the Co-Owner of JP Design Theory and WordCamp Orlando Organizer.

I’m increasingly excited about what I think will be advancements in the digital space with regards to WordPress. While this platform continues to grow in usage, I’m hoping it will dominate to a level of a household brand name when it comes to website building. There are quite a few building platforms out there with various types of features, but it makes for a cloudy and confusing space for business owners and starters to make a good decision without having any background influence or knowledge. 

One more thing to coincide with this, is the willingness of many to purchase premium software to enhance their WordPress websites. Whether that’s through SaaS or skipping a trial or free version of a software to outright purchasing it with the confidence and comfort that the purchase will help their website goals be achieved. Consumers are becoming more savvy with understanding the limitations of “free” and instead are looking for a sure fire solution and are willing to pay for it.

Josh Pollock was the lead developer/co-owner of Caldera Forms.

I hope to see things get simpler.  There are so many different places in wp-admin we need to go to set things up in WordPress, and there are so many different UI patterns to follow. As developers, one way we can make things simpler for WordPress users is to make use of the Gutenberg components and build more of our settings into the block editor.  This year we will be looking at ways to make it simpler and faster to get Ninja Forms and Caldera Forms set up with email marketing and CRM providers. And we’re working on a new add-on that will let you use saved entry data right in the block editor.

I also hope this is a year it gets easier to use WordPress as a headless CMS. I’m hoping to find spare time to keep working the Headless Mode plugin I made with Ben and Jason into making and related open source tools for making headless WordPress simpler.

Kevin Hoffman is a Developer at Impress.org.

Component Driven Design (CDD) will become more popular in WordPress for the following reasons: Blocks!

The most popular JavaScript frameworks emphasize components. As more developers turn to JS for development, a component-based approach will naturally follow.

Plugin and theme conflicts have always been one of the most frustrating pain points for a WordPress developer. CDD addresses this pain point by focusing on modular components that can work anywhere with fewer side effects on other vendors.

Tools like Storybook and Bit are allowing developers to create, document, share, and learn from each others’ components more than ever before.

Mary Job is a Support engineer for Paid Memberships Pro Plugin and Creator of How Do You Tech, and WordCamp Lagos Organizer. 

This year, I think we would see more participation from East and West Africans in the WordPress Open Source Community. I will speak for Nigeria precisely, WordPress still has a long way to go and I see the stereotypes about it being a tool for “wannabe developers, designers or content creators” being shattered this year.

The technicalities involved in learning to use WordPress effectively might also increase, Gutenberg is supposed to make the learning curve shorter, I see it making it steeper. And despite the popular thinking that Themes will go away, unfortunately it won’t, not this year, at least not in my region but maybe the prices will come down. Plugins however will continue to be relevant this year, and prices may just go up due to the cost of maintenance.

Lastly, I’m super excited about WordCamp Lagos 2020, I get to experience a WC in my city as a participant, not a Lead Organizer.

Matt Medeiros is a Account executive at Pagely.

The launch of Gutenberg drew the proverbial line in the sand for many of my colleagues and product owners in our space. As time marches on, we’ll see more consolidation of smaller companies being scooped up by bigger players, while the mothership of Jetpack expands her reach over the WordPress beginners in our ecosystem. In an attempt to thwart off big competition — trust — will become the ultimate currency on which businesses back their products with. If plugins & themes were the undiscovered gold mines of yesteryear, blocks and block discovery will become the “regulated” market of the new age.

Will the Matt Report be around to offer an opinion? I can’t guarantee it. However, I can guarantee that my New Year’s resolution is to create a new “line of content” to get back to doing what I love most — helping new businesses in our space!

Nathan Knowler is a Developer at Impress.org.

1. Overall more JS-frontend-heavy plugins.

2. SPA (single page app) admin plugins — I don’t know if anyone else in the WordPress community has even tried this, but I have and I think it’s the future of WordPress plugin admin frontends. In a nutshell: no page refreshes between a plugin’s sub-pages, just one consistent experience. If you are curious about this technique, I checkout this demo plugin I put together.

3. CSS-in-JS in WordPress — especially admin-side. Plugins are a really great use case for CSS-in-JS since because the selectors are randomly generated, you don’t have to worry about naming conflicts.

Nidhi Jain is a Speaker, blogger and WCAsia Organizer.

I would recommend going for innovative technologies like Machine Learning & AI Based Technologies if you still want to stick yourself in programming.

Regarding WordPress – its community is awesome & it won’t let you down.

We all are expecting great progress in accessibility, user experience, and performance improvement in Gutenberg. Same for WooCommerce and a few of the plugins within WordPress ecosystem. Technology is moving fast and agile shipment of technology based on user feedback makes it more productive for small businesses and the end-user.

Another development that we see is in WordPress API & Integrations. With thousands of platforms and technology make it possible to decouple, which is highly effective both with time and cost and brings a great value as whole. People are even going serverless with WordPress in some cases.

There is still not much involvement of women in WordPress. So, I am hoping in 2020 that we will get more involvement of women in the WordPress world.

Topher DeRosia is a Developer, Curator of HeroPress and Evangelist for BigCommerce.

Watch for API driven e-commerce to become an increasingly popular choice. The “best of both worlds” approach that unlocks openness and flexibility on the experience layer while offering the peace of mind of having a secure e-commerce layer. Headaches that are common in the WordPress space like maintaining GDPR compliance, PCI compliance, etc will be problems of the past.

William Jackson is a WordPress community advocate, blogger, and evangelist.

My predictions are: More HBCU – Historically Black Colleges and Universities will sponsor their tech, communications and public relations students to attend conferences. There will be a growth in WPKids Meetups similar to the WPJaxKids Meetup held in Jacksonville, Florida and other parts of the nation.  There will be an increase in youth, teens and young adults as volunteers, speakers and even intern organizers. 

To draw a broader audience educators like me need to be increasingly engaged as advocates in school districts as ambassadors and evangelists.  More women of color will take leadership roles not just as organizers, but because of the empowerment of WC and KidsCamp they will start business and mentor next generation of young women of color to start businesses and cross-cultural collaborations to built unity and social engagement.  WordCamp conferences and KidsCamp conferences will tremendously explode in Central America, Africa, Asia and Canada. There will be a need for STEM, STEAM and STREAM teachers that are found in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, St. Louis, Canada and Central America.  

There will eventually need to be two tracks for WC conferences one in English and one in Spanish to support the growing involvement of our Latina and Latino brothers and sisters that now have the opportunities and finances to travel.  Finally there will need to be dedicated facilities to have WC and KC conferences because to many venues are upping their prices to make money off of the conferences not to help the community.

Special shout-out to our whole Impress.org team for this piece. This truly was a team-effort.

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