September Update

Some short notes ..

Some WordPress.com users have started to receive an invitation on the dashboard to try Gutenberg out. This includes me (on my WordPress.com account). Do not take up the offer unless you are prepared to be a guinea pig. WordPress.org users have been receiving the invitation for a number of weeks now.

There is going to be a version 4.9.9 of WordPress which is currently slated for release on November 5th. This will presumably push the date for 5.0 (the Gutenberg release) back. As they originally said (way back) that it would be released sometime in 2018, I guess that there will be some pressure to get it out in December? Who knows!

I get the impression that 4.9.9 is an attempt to clear the decks of any current problems / issues (a) to ease the effort required to implement 5.0 and (b) to minimise any problems that WordPress.org users who choose not to install 5.0 immediately (for whatever reason) may encounter.

WordPress.org users who are happy to install 5.0 when it hits the streets but do not want to use Gutenberg should install the Classic Editor Addon plugin. This can be done now. Consult your developer / support person before taking this step.

August Update

We are getting closer to the point when Gutenberg will be implemented in the core WordPress software. So far, it has simply operated as an optional plug-in for WordPress.org users during its development. This is an update on the current status. If you do not want chapter and verse then it can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • Gutenberg could appear from late August onwards, although I consider that November is a more likely date
  • there is still no clear information as to how a user can decide which editor he/she wants to use, assuming that there will be a choice.

Background on Latest Developments

Many of you will have worked on projects (not just IT) where management applied pressure to implement them sooner than would be wise, usually because they have made promises to clients or people further up the food chain. Gutenberg is a classic example of this phenomenon.

Matt Mullenweg, Mr. WordPress to all intent and purpose, decreed in an address to a conference of European WordPress users back in June that August would be the target date for implementing Gutenberg. Fatalists, such as myself, consider that this is not viable given the current state of the software, at least not without sacrificing reliability.

The Proposed Timetable

The original plan (not publicised) mentioned two more releases of WordPress 4.9: 4.9.7 at the end of July; and 4.9.8 around mid-September. On that basis WordPress 5.0 with Gutenberg installed might have appeared around early November. However, the following revised timetable was made public by Matt Mullenweg at the above-mentioned conference.

WordPress 4.9.7 was launched in early July. It was limited to a straightforward bug fix release although the original intention had been that it would include some functional changes.

WordPress 4.9.8 was due to be launched at the end of July. It was in fact launched on August 2nd. In summary, it includes:

  • a “Try Gutenberg” Call Out, i.e. it contains a screen to try to get you to give Gutenberg a try. What some people are calling a nag screen! Mullenweg’s objective is for 100K sites to try it in August, creating 250K posts / pages in the process.
  • An updated version of the current editor (TinyMCE)
  • Some fixes and minor changes to the privacy functionality that was launched back in May to support GDPR, although there are no new features in this area
  • 40+bug fixes

PS Jungle drumbeats mention the possibility of WordPress 4.9.9. Presumably, this is a backstop in case there are so many initial problems with Gutenberg when people try it out that they feel the need for an interim release to cure them before the big bang that will be version 5.0?

WordPress 5.0 is slated for ”August and beyond”. This will be the Gutenberg release. My money is on “beyond” .. November?

Latest Gutenberg News

Information on the latest Gutenberg features is given below, New development was effectively frozen in early July. Apart from minor changes the focus from that point onwards has been on testing.

Widget blocks. You may remember that these blocks allow widgets to be displayed in the main body of the screen, not just in a sidebar or footer as at present. Two additional widget blocks have been added: Post Archive and Recent Comments.

The Video block now has various settings: autoplay, loop, mute and displaying playback controls.

Inline image is a new block type. I have wittered before about the ability to have images alongside text, mainly because I make heavy use of this facility. After various debates on how this should be implemented they have now come up with this new type of block.

Columns (beta) block. I did not explain this very well last time. The Text Column block has been around since the first Gutenberg test version. As the name implies, it allows you to have multiple columns across the page. Columns (beta) is something quite different. It provides one or more containers across the page (currently limited to two), each of which can consist of multiple blocks. In essence it provides a nested block capability. The following picture shows a very simple example where there are two columns, each containing an image block followed by a heading block and a text block.

The main rationale for the Columns (beta) block is to provide tighter control over where individual pieces of content are displayed on the screen. I get the impression that this facility is liable to be subject to change. Why else would they call it beta?

Classic Editor Block. I mentioned last time that one option for users who adopt Gutenberg might be to limit its use to this type of block, the idea being that it will continue to give you the facilities of the current editor. On closer inspection there are a couple of things missing – there are currently no facilities to add an image or a contact form. I notice that the lack of these features has been pointed out to the developers. It remains to be seen if they do anything about them, at least in the short term.

Disabling Gutenberg. At least one person has developed a plug-in to disable Gutenberg and continue with the current editor. The one that I have seen is called the Classic Editor Block Addon. However, this option will only be available to WordPress.org users and to WordPress.com users who are on the Business Plan.

There is still no clear information as to how the use of Gutenberg / the current editor will be managed on a site by the user.

Apart from people on the Business Plan, WordPress.com users are still in the dark about Gutenberg and how it will impact them. In theory, any news should initially appear in the WordPress.com blog https://en.blog.wordpress.com/ In an odd way the lack of news may be good news. It is difficult to imagine that Automattic would spring a major change on their users overnight unless they will not be forced into using Gutenberg.

Some Useful Resources

https://testgutenberg.com/ allows you to have a play with the Gutenberg editor. It is based on version 3.0 of Gutenberg which was released in early June (3.4 is the current version).  If you hover over an area of the document the outline of that block will be displayed along with the type of block that it is. If you then click on the same spot the relevant editing buttons for that type of block will be shown just above the block itself. You can go ahead and edit the block if you wish. Do not click “the submit for review” button in the top right area of the screen.

The official Gutenberg information site is also supposed to let you play with the Gutenberg editor. At the time of writing it looks distinctly messy and I would not use it personally. I merely mention it in case they improve it and thereby make it a useful resource. Beware that if you access this link, at the time of writing you mostly get an empty screen. Click refresh to see the content.

https://youtu.be/P6CyTF32K2w is a four minute video introduction to Gutenberg. The delivery is a bit on the quick side for my personal taste (perhaps it is just my aging brain!) but it is worth a look.

Other WordPress News

Finally, several items which are probably not relevant to the majority of you, but I mention them here for completeness.

Unencrypted websites. Google continues to put pressure on sites to use encryption. Version 68 of the Chrome browser which has been rolled out from July 24th, 2018 will put a “not secure” message on the address bar line of all pages that are not encrypted. From October this message will appear in red. All WordPress.com sites are encrypted so this is not relevant to them. However, WordPress.org users will need an SSL certificate to encrypt their sites. This may come free from your ISP, or more likely you will have to pay for it.

Sharing options from WordPress.com to Facebook. It is no longer possible to share posts in WordPress.com with your Facebook account. Facebook no longer allows third-party tools to share posts to your Facebook profile. If you use the WordPress.com Publicize facility to share posts to your Facebook profile please read this article to see how you may be affected by this change.

Podcasts. WordPress.com now allows sites to host and manage their own podcasts. Further details can be found in this article.

Free stock photo library. WordPress.com has partnered with Pexels to provide access to stock images. The option will be found under the Add image button in the editor.

May Update

The two main topics in this post are the introduction of GDPR and an update on Gutenberg. In addition, I have included minor items on website verification services and site icons.

GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25th, 2018. Hopefully, you have already assessed what it means for your organisation. With respect to your website, you should minimally have a page which describes how you deal with privacy matters, including cookies and emails. The cookie and forms / emails sections in the privacy page of the Ascot Volunteer Bureau website might give you some typical words, if you need them.

WordPress has had an EU cookie law widget for a number of years. If employed, it will bring up a cookie & privacy policy message when a user first enters the site, similar to what you find on most websites these days. It also includes the ability to specify a link to your privacy page, if you have one. The message appears as a banner at the bottom of the screen.

WordPress 4.9.6, which includes some GDPR functionality, has just been released to WordPress.org users. As usual, WordPress.com users will see it shortly. Versions 4.9.1 through to 4.9.5 over recent months have simply been maintenance releases for bug and security fixes. This release also contains a number of fixes, but its main focus is GDPR.
I get the impression that 4.9.6 introduces the first tranche of GDPR functionality, i.e. there is more to follow. I am not sure that it will be relevant to the WordPress users that I know, but obviously it is up to you to decide whether that is the case. In summary, the facilities include:

  • A privacy policy page template (if you have not already got a privacy page)
  • Facilities to send an email to a user who has requested details of the personal data that you hold about him and / or for said personal data to be removed from your site. This email asks the user to confirm the request(s)
  • The returned email from the client then goes on a to do list which the site administrator will subsequently action. The result will be a zip file which contains the data that you hold for that person on your WordPress site
  • If you allow comments on your site then the name and email address of the commenter will be stored in a cookie. The first time that a person comments he will be asked to opt-in to this process.

It is important to realise that this functionality is limited to the data held on your website. It obviously does not deal with any personal data that you may hold manually or in other systems. This article in Wptavern gives an overview of the proposed functionality in 4.9.6.

Gutenberg Update

Work continues on its development (to be released in WordPress version 5.0) with new test versions appearing roughly once a fortnight. We are currently on version 2.8 of Gutenberg. Much of the recent work deals with quite low-level functionality which is mainly of interest to developers of plug-ins and themes, and not to average users such as ourselves.

Recent changes to the editor
The new features that I would mention at our level include:

  • a pagination block where you wish to split a post or page into multiple pages. A list of pages appears at the bottom and the user clicks on the next page that she wishes to view. This is similar to an online ordering system where the list of possible products is usually split into pages;
  • a spacer block to provide better control of spacing, as the name implies. Precise spacing has always been a tad problematic in WordPress;
  • some reasonable facilities to allow an image to sit alongside text (a facility which I use quite heavily in the present editor). The initial versions of Gutenberg had no facilities in this area;
  • a columns block.  This block was introduced on a trial basis a couple of months ago. It appears as if it is now here to stay
  • and a table of contents in the editor for quick access to sections within a post / page. However, it only operates where you use the heading styles, and it is only useful in larger posts or pages.

In addition, a significant amount of effort has gone into the user interface, prompting discussions which have resulted in some of the changes being discarded, a case of two steps forward and one step back?

The rapid rate of change on the project shows some initial signs of slowing down, but I think that I will stick with my guestimate that it is unlikely to be officially released before late summer or early autumn.

Thoughts on what WordPress 5.0 will mean to existing users
What is of most concern to existing users is the degree of change that may be necessary on their sites to accommodate Gutenberg. I have a clear(ish) idea in my mind how version 5 will operate for WordPress.org users. I am less clear how WordPress.com users may be affected, principally because there is virtually no information on this subject from Automattic, thus far. Anyway, here are my thoughts at this point in time, for what they are worth:

  • The functionality of the present editor (now called the classic editor) will be available, alongside Gutenberg. It is not clear which will be the default editor, or if you will be able to specify which editor you want to be the default. However, the bottom line is that you will be able to continue to use the existing editor. This is obviously good news for those users who do not wish to change. However, I wonder how long this may last, particularly as the plan is that Gutenberg will eventually be implemented in other parts of WordPress.
  • If you open an existing post / page in the Gutenberg editor it will appear as a single classic editor block, and you will be able to use the basic tools of the current editor. So, this is another way to avoid using native Gutenberg features
  • There is then a facility to convert this single classic editor block into multiple native Gutenberg blocks if you want to move your post / page over to pure Gutenberg

Finally, I assume from what I have said above that you will be able to mix and match classic editor and Gutenberg editor-based posts / pages on a site, although I have not seen this spelt out by anybody so far.

Plug-ins and Themes
Wordpress.org users who make use of plug-ins and / or third-party themes will need to ensure that they work with Gutenberg. There is now a Gutenberg Plug-in Compatibility Database which may provide you with the information. It contains about 500 entries at the moment. Otherwise, you will need to check with the authors of the software.

Finding out more
The level of change has arguably not slowed sufficiently yet to warrant investing too much time and effort in getting up to speed with Gutenberg. However, A Tour of the Gutenberg Editor for WordPress by Rachel McCollin is worth a read to give you a flavour of the editor at this stage of its development (May 2018).

If you wish to follow the Gutenberg project slightly more closely I would suggest the following sites: Gutenberg News and Wptavern.

Website verification services

Does it irk you that a set of search results which shows your website, also shows that Norton (or other anti-virus software) does not know if it is safe or not?

Search engines have tools for verifying websites. They can send you a key (which they tend to call meta key content) which you put on your site. The search engine and the anti-virus software can then work out that your site is safe.

Settings > tools > available tools in the WordPress wp-admin section allows you to enter the meta keys for a range of search engines. It also provides links to the tools in these search engines, e.g. Google webmaster tools, where you can find out what you need to do to get a meta key in the first place.

Site icons

A site’s icon appears in various places, most notably alongside the site title in a browser tab or in a list of favourite sites. If you do not have a site icon then the standard WordPress icon will be used, i.e. a white W on a blue background.
If you have a compact logo, or similar image, that you wish to use as your site’s icon then first upload it to the media library. You will find the facility to change the site icon in general settings. For further information, including the size of an icon, see https://en.support.wordpress.com/site-icons/.