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The state of WordPress heading into 2021

Curious about what’s going on in the world of WordPress? You’re in luck. 

Each year WordPress’ co-founder Matt Mullenweg delivers his State of the Word address, in which he details some of the accomplishments of the past year and discusses where WordPress is headed in the future. 

This year he delivered the address virtually rather than at WordCamp US due to the pandemic. In his address, he provided information on accomplishments over the year and where WordPress is headed in the future. He offered Gutenberg updates, reviewed the year of WordPress version launches, and announced the revitalization of Learn WordPress, an educational platform that’s part of the WordPress open source project.

Because Namecheap recognizes the power of WordPress, we are always keen to see what we can learn from the annual State of the Word. Let’s take a look at the major takeaways and see where WordPress is heading.

WordPress updates

Mullenweg started out the talk by noting that WordPress now powers 39.3% of the top ten million websites. This is an increase of 4% over last year, which represents the largest growth since 2011 (when these stats were first collected). 

In addition, he pointed out that due to the pandemic, most WordPress events (such as WordCamps and local meetups) shifted to virtual events. While disappointing, the shift to online events ended up allowing many more people to participate since there were no physical or economic barriers to attend. 

dominoes representing four phases of Gutenberg

The four phases of Gutenberg

One of the main points of the address was to talk about Gutenberg. As Mullenweg described, the Gutenberg project is the most ambitious project in the 17-year history of WordPress. Once it’s complete, it will “redefine how people write on the web.” 

With Gutenberg, WordPress goes from being a document-based system (like Microsoft Word) to one based on atomic blocks. In turn, these blocks allow for various layouts, rich functionality, and more, reimagining what we can do on our websites.

There are four phases on the Gutenberg roadmap:

Phase 1: Creating fundamental building blocks 

As we have seen so far, phase one focuses on the post page writing and editing experience. This is where WordPress users were introduced to the block editor. This editor expands the functionality of the content areas and allowing more flexibility in layout and more powerful image handling, among other things. 

Phase 2: Full site editing

Phase two, which is about to start, is where WordPress will become a true WYSISYG editor. Within this phase, we will see code enhancements that allow editing outside of the posts, modifying layout on the fly, and other visual changes. As Mullenweg noted, this phase will change how themes work.

Phase 3: Collaboration, workflow, and real-time editing

When the WordPress Core team reaches this phase, they will be looking at how to make WordPress a serious content powerhouse. Imagine a day when people can work together in real-time to build a WordPress site and fill it with content. This level of collaboration will not only revolutionize how you build your personal or business website but could change how we work on the web as a whole.

Phase 4: Multilingual functionality

The goal for this stage is to make WordPress multilingual without needing plugins. If you want a site in two or ten different languages, you’ll be able to build it with tools baked into WordPress Core. Mullenweg admitted he would like to see some of these changes happen before phase 4 if possible, as he recognizes a real need right now for multilingual options, so it’s possible small improvements may be made along the way. 

Currently, we are still in phase one, but phase two is due to begin soon.

woman wearing a cape

WordPress 5.6 ‘Simone’ – powered by women

WordPress 5.6 ‘Simone’ was released on December 8, 2020, and the release squad was led entirely by women and non-binary folks.

According to Josepha Haden (and as reported in WP Tavern), 

“My hope is that with a release squad comprised entirely of people who identify as women, we’ll be able to increase the number [of] women who have that experience and (hopefully) become returning contributors to Core and elsewhere. This doesn’t mean the release will only contain contributions from women.”

Michele Butcher-Jones, the Documentation Review Lead for 5.6, shared with Namecheap her feelings about the process:

“Working on an all women-led release is definitely one of the most rewarding tasks I have done in my career. I was so humbled to be included with such an amazing group of brilliant, dedicated women in the WordPress Community.”

Changes to WordPress in 2020

Mullenweg noted that in 2020 there were three new releases of WordPress, all focused on adding to and enhancing Gutenberg. 

Updates in WordPress version 5.4:

  • Redesigned welcome screens
  • Improved design elements
  • New social media blocks
  • Improved privacy policy creation
  • Performance and code optimizations that increased speed

Updates in WordPress 5.5:

  • Block patterns, a shortcut to creating different layouts and design elements
  • A cleaner UI, including tweaked iconography
  • A new distraction-free editor, providing a cleaner writing environment
  • A block directory, allowing for an on-demand search of new blocks that you can insert into your post or page on the fly
  • Added support for inline image editing

Updates in WordPress 5.6:

  • Ability to opt-in to automatic core updates
  • Support for REST API for application passwords
  • Support for PHP 8.0
  • Cover block improvements, including the ability to make columns
  • Layout functionality around blocks
  • More block patterns

All in all, it was a great year for WordPress. As the Gutenberg project advances into Phase Two, Mullenweg encourages us to look out for design and other front-end changes.

Woman providing WordPress training

New WordPress training

As part of the State of the Word, Mullenweg announced that one of the components of the WordPress.org project, Learn WordPress, has been substantially reworked. 

The Learn WordPress platform provides free training on all aspects of WordPress, from the basics to advanced coding tricks and tips. You can access free video training workshops, multi-lesson courses, and text-based lesson plans that can provide guidance for in-person training. These lesson plans also offer useful information on the topic for someone interested in learning more themselves. 

According to Community Growth Strategist Andrea Middleton, the new Learn WordPress platform will offer on-demand training across all levels. As she said in the Q&A section of the State of the Word, the platform 

“has the potential to build more bridges and paths to WordPress, and success in WP, than we’ve ever seen at a time when more people than ever are looking to move their businesses online or shift careers to become WordPress professionals.”

The relaunch of Learn WordPress is incredibly important for everyone starting up new businesses and who need to build websites. And the content of Learn WordPress delivers on those needs. It provides courses on getting started with WordPress, keeping sites secure, migrating a site, choosing themes and plugins, e-commerce, and more.

Right now, most of the content is for beginning or intermediate users of WordPress as well as meetup organizers. However, the plan is to build out content for people across all levels, including advanced developers. The goal? A beginner will soon be able to use the materials on Learn WordPress to teach themselves all the skills needed to build a WordPress development business.

WordPress at Namecheap continues to get better

At Namecheap, we continue to make WordPress more accessible to individuals and small businesses. We offer affordable shared hosting plans that work great with WordPress as well as by expanding our EasyWP managed WordPress hosting.

We offer state-of-the-art WordPress hosting at a fraction of our competitors, and from time to time will offer free trials. Our goal with EasyWP, in particular, is to make hosting more invisible, enabling webmasters to just work on their WordPress without having to deal with behind-the-scenes hosting concerns.

The future of WordPress

In the State of the Word, Mullenweg spelled out a lot of accomplishments and planned changes to WordPress. 

What changes on the WordPress roadmap make you excited? Let us know in the comments what you’re looking forward to in 2021 and beyond!

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Jackie Dana avatar

Jackie Dana

Jackie has been writing since childhood. As the Namecheap blog’s content manager and regular contributor, she loves bringing helpful information about technology and business to our customers. In her free time, she enjoys drinking copious amounts of black tea, writing novels, and wrangling a gang of four-legged miscreants. More articles written by Jackie.

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