April 2020 Newsletter

This newsletter coincides with the release of WordPress 5.4.

Contents

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases
WordPress.com Changes
WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign
WordPress 5.4 Release
What is Next?
Accessibility
Notes on Using WordPress Forums

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases

Just for information. There were two maintenance releases back in December 2019, 5.3.1 and 5.3.2, which comprised a small number of security and bug fixes.

WordPress.com Changes

Several recent changes have been made to WordPress.com which are not part of the Gutenberg project.

My Home is displayed on the Calypso interface after you have clicked on My Site(s) as part of the login process. It contains a number of quick links which allow faster access to various parts of the system.

Page Layouts. When you add a new page you will now be presented with a screen which allows you to pick a layout for it. I would personally call it a template, but WordPress uses that term in a different context. There is quite a wide range of layouts. If you are not interested in any of them then simply select the blank layout. This blog describes the feature in more detail.

WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign

This appeared in my WordPress.com account last Thursday (March 26th, 2020). The general layout looks more professional. It includes redesigned icons, better spacing, text colour options and a range of initial block patterns that can be incorporated into posts / pages. See the relevant blog for more information.

I must admit that I am confused with the timing of this introduction. The features recently appeared in Gutenberg 7.7 which, when you read the section below on the WordPress 5.4 release, you will see is post WordPress 5.4?!

WordPress 5.4 Release

The latest version of WordPress was released to WordPress.org users on March 31st, 2020. It will follow shortly on WordPress.com. It incorporates 10 Gutenberg development releases, from 6.6 to 7.5.

FYI – Gutenberg releases appear approximately once a fortnight. They are mainly for internal use by the WordPress developers although they are available as a plugin on WordPress.org for anybody who is brave enough to play with it (but this is absolutely not recommended for typical users or for use on production sites).

WordPress 5.4 could be best described as a release which concentrates on polishing the block editor. It includes:

  • A new Social Icons block which allows you to incorporate links to multiple social media sites by using their standard logos. This is the sort of thing that you see on many websites nowadays, viz. a row of social media icons
  • The revised Buttons block now allows you to set up multiple adjacent buttons
  • Various updates to the ongoing accessibility and privacy projects
  • Full screen mode in the block editor is now the default on a new WordPress installation or on a new device. This means that the sidebars to the left and right of the display of the post / page are not shown. If you do not like this setup (and I do not) then you can change it by clicking on the three dots menu item in the top right-hand corner and un-checking the full screen mode.

See the Release Blog for further information, while the WordPress 5.4 Field Guide contains much more technical information, if you are interested.

What is Next?

A quick reminder on the overall Gutenberg project. It is said that it will consist of four phases:

  • Introduction of the block editor in phase 1
  • Expansion of the block editor to encompass other parts of the system in phase 2, e.g. menus, widget areas and the Customiser
  • Collaboration and multi-user editing in phase 3
  • And multilingual support in phase 4.

We are currently in phase 2, and tentative dates for further releases in 2020 are August for WordPress 5.5 and December for WordPress 5.6. I consider that this phase will probably go into 2021. Obviously, any talk of dates is purely speculative at the moment, given the COVID-19 virus.

It might be useful to know that work on the various aspects of phase 2 goes on in parallel. Decisions on what will be incorporated in any given release depend on the stability of the relevant software at the time, and on whether it fits coherently into the overall design at the time. For example, the navigation block (the menu in old money) was considered to be ready to go into 5.4. However, it did not fit coherently into the current design, and so it has been put on one side for the moment.

Work on the full-site editing feature continues. A prototype was developed back in September 2019 if you want to take a look at how it might possibly appear. I suspect that it will be WordPress 5.6, probably later, before it is likely to be released.

The block directory, a home for third-party blocks, is currently planned for inclusion in WordPress 5.5. It will primarily be for use by WordPress.org users.

The ability for WordPress.org users to control the automatic updating of plugins and themes is also slated for WordPress 5.5.

Finally, XML Sitemaps can be used by search engines to discover the content on a website with less fuss. A WordPress prototype, implemented as a plugin, has recently been developed. Presumably, it will eventually appear in the core WordPress product at some point.

Accessibility

Here are some notes if you have an interest in this subject:

  • The majority of the current development work in this area tends to relate to the use of the WordPress software, not to the website that you create / update. In addition, any new features are likely to be limited to use with the new block editor, not with the classic editor
  • However, there is a WordPress project which has been set up to look at accessibility on websites. Their Accessibility Handbook may provide some useful information
  • There is a theme review team which checks new themes for various things, including accessibility. If a theme passes the checks in this area then it is deemed “accessibility ready”. This relates to the theme itself, not necessarily to the website that you design with it
  • If you are interested in WCAG compliance read this document from gov.uk

Notes on Using WordPress Forums

There is a set of forums for WordPress.com users and a separate set for WordPress.org users.

You can browse any of the forums without logging in. However, if you wish to participate, e.g. start a new topic, then you will need to log in with your relevant account details.

The forums are manned by a mixture of Automattic employees, WordPress contributors, volunteers and ordinary users like you and me.

Beware that if you ask a question which relates to the other set of forums, then you will be politely requested to redirect it.