WordPress in 2016

A year ago, I published WordPress in 2015. In retrospect, I’m very happy how the article turned out. The predictions were for the most part accurate, but materialised at varying speeds. You can check it out here.

Looking back, 2015 was another strong year for WordPress and its ecosystem. We saw user adoption breach the 25% barrier (in front of Drupal which has a tenth of that). WordPress itself had big wins such as responsive images and the REST API. The ecosystem around it also thrived; we witnessed the acquisition of WooCommerce by Automattic, a deal rumoured at $30M. There are also over 40,000 other plugins on WordPress.org resulting in more than a billion downloads, one could possibly argue that we’ve even reached peak plugin. It goes without saying that there is a lot of momentum in WordPress today.

So what’s next, where do we focus our energy in 2016? Comments, feedback and other predictions are all welcome at the bottom of the post.

JavaScript, not so fast

Learn JavaScript, deeply.” was the phrase that’s been making rounds after Matt’s “State of the Word” talk at WordCamp US. I think it’s great advice, but JavaScript is so vast that you need to find the right entry point. At Human Made, we think the REST API coupled with a front-end JavaScript library (such as React) is the future of many websites and progressive web apps. The flipside, however, is that this sort of setup is simply not yet suited for smaller sites and service providers (the vast majority of WordPress installations). Let’s take the A Day of REST website below for example. We built it using the REST API/React over the winter and its code is open to everyone.

It’s just another website, but the daily development conversations around it are different due to the unconventional setup:

Jokes aside, there’s a large disconnect between creating a REST API powered theme (such as the one above) and managing your WordPress sites as you do today. Let’s say I install Yoast SEO, none of the Open Graph/social metadata is going to output on the frontend without additional work. That’s simply not sustainable if you’re a freelancer or agency catering to small and medium-sized businesses.

That shouldn’t preclude you from beginning your learning path though. React is purely a visual layer (and not as complete as Backbone or Angular) and a good place to start interacting with the REST API. React can be frustrating, but there are a numerous tutorials out there to try and make sense of it.

With all that said, JavaScript is still immensely valuable today. REST API aside, you should at the least have a working knowledge. Websites are not static pages anymore, but living canvases. Hard or sudden transitions between different states simply don’t cut it anymore. Users expect subtle motion to not only guide, but also help understand their experience (and I don’t just mean slideToggle). Microinteractions are becoming increasingly important, often using vanilla JavaScript or jQuery (or coupled with libraries such as Velocity.js).

Need some more guidance? Check out Zac’s JavaScript WP Master Course or Remkus’s learning path. As for Human Made, we’re working on a number of our own projects using the REST API and JavaScript; Nomadbase, FrontKit for WordPress, and a P2 replacement.

The decline of the WordPress Assembler

In 2012, I wrote a piece for WP Candy Quarterly talking about Happytables and mentioning the rise of the web assembler; the pro-consumer/hobby user that assembles a server package, premium theme and plenty of plugins to sell it as something called web design. As I’ve said in the past, it’s certainly not a bad thing, it’s necessary. You need service providers to cater to all price levels.

At the time (and in a similar fashion), the entry of digital cameras shook up the photography industry; amateurs turning “professional” overnight, dumping prices and generally frustrating film photographers which preexisted. But it all turned out for the better and the same has been happening with web design (though digital photographers are now complaining about our smartphones).

As our industry is growing, we’re left with an abundance of assemblers as clients are finding better solutions on either end of the spectrum. On one hand, Squarespace, Wix, Shopify and other website builder solutions have all matured a fair amount. We certainly noticed the increased competitiveness with our own website builder for restaurants, Happytables. The user experience, product features and pricing have all come together to provide more enjoyable platforms for users with vanilla requirements.

On the other hand, freelancers and agencies have become smarter about running a sustainable business (having good processes and strong rates). The general skill-level is also gearing up towards growing websites with retainers as opposed to pumping out cheap throw-away websites. After all, the first time a website goes live, you’ve only really launched a rough draft. The real iteration towards success begins the day after having launched.

Assemblers have been valuable during the industry’s growth spurt, but it’s time for them to up their game or risk becoming extinct. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, it’s simply based on my observations in the last decade.

Patterns over Pages

WordPress still ships with an interesting template called sidebar.php. It sets the wrong expectation by giving the recipient the impression that 1) such a file needs to exist, and 2) that it has to have some visual resemblance to an actual sidebar. Even Underscores, my go-to starter theme still ships it. But this is an outdated approach.

Over the years, we’ve started seeing a shift from designing complete pages to a more modularised approach. Starbucks popularised styleguides, Bootstrap was released, we’ve even been introduced to Atomic Design. Everything is moving towards components (though I can’t say we’ve used Polymer in any projects yet). Some of our tools already lend themselves heavily towards a modular approach (SCSS best-practices or React components). We should be seeing more of this mindset seeping into the WordPress ecosystem.

Centralisation of Community

2015 saw the first WordCamp US (inspired by a successful run of the WordCamp Europe conferences). These growing WordCamps of WordCamps, coupled with the new entity and the chapter account on Meetup.com, are a big push towards the centralisation of community around the foundation (something I incorrectly predicted last year).

In my own opinion, I feel that accessible and open source events are the big idea whilst WordPress is simply a medium for that. Thus, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t advocate foundation ownership and involvement at such a granular level (meetup.com groups). I do however understand the motivations behind such.

Meetups aside, we’ll see an acceleration of big WordCamps. In 2016, we can expect both WCUS and WCEU to have 2000 people in attendance (which is a massive jump compared to previous years). This will set the stage for further growth in 2017 & 2018, whilst also opening the door for the next continental WordCamp (Africa and then Asia if I had to guess). I also wouldn’t rule out a global WordCamp, but that is likely a good five years away. What excites me about these WordCamps of WordCamps, is that they are instrumental in bringing together influencers from various parts of the ecosystem (development, design, business, etc.). Who knows which next great idea/startup (built on WordPress) will be hatched at a future WordCamp (it’s certainly happened countless times before).


There are plenty of other (important) areas to WordPress that I haven’t touched on, the items above are simply what is on my mind these days. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I’m really excited about the upcoming year; all the new things we can build, the big community events and all the new faces I haven’t met yet. Another great year lined up for WordPress and more importantly, all the people that are a part of it. Wishing everyone a great year.

And now that you’ve read this far, use restatease as a 50% discount code to a A Day of REST. They won’t last as there’s only 5, so grab yours now.

Pictures taken at WordCamp US & WordCamp Tokyo