Top 9.0 Notable Things said by Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp US 2023

1. On (plugin, etc.) licenses in the WordPress space: “I think we should stop doing lifetime licenses (of plugins, services) in the WordPress world… when you say ‘lifetime’ I think it cheapens the word.”

2. On the $36k price tags of Automattic’s new 100 year hosting plan: “It’s a lot… But in some ways, I wonder if it’s too low. We tried to model inflation. Different cost of underlying things like the dot com registration or domain registrations.”

3. On standardizing LMS and making the category a higher citizen in the WordPress ecosystem: “This week, TutorLMS, Sensei, LearnDash and LifterLMS got together…. Can we actually agree on using some of the same SQL formats? Could we make it so that’s not a lockin? Also an “LMS” channel is now in the #WordPress official Slack. Now everyone involved in this space can come together and agree on standards and in the future they can work together better.”

4. WordPress plugins that “kinda do the same thing”: “Open source.. allows innovation happen. Good competition actually makes everyone better. Bad sometimes in that as a WordPress user, like if you go one plugin, you might be kind of logged into it.”

5. According to Matt: “WordPress was the original no-code tool.”

6. Letting go of “baggage” (notice I’m not using the d word – David): “I would just like officially for 2023 to reset all of that to neutral. So, if you think I like something or don’t like something, let’s reset that to zero so we’re not gonna make it another 20 years carrying around a lot of baggage, right?”

7. Someone asked a question, mentioning an attempt to education WordPress (core) developers on accessibility, with Matt’s response: “”One assumes [ordPress developers] don’t know about accessibility standards. And I would actually argue that they care about it quite a bit… they still going to mess it up. There will always be a process. If there’s certain things you literally think they don’t know about, the WCAG 2 .1, do a session and talk to them.”

8. Matt is concerned on how things are labeled and understood in the WordPress admin, and what to see that improved in the admin redesign: “I’m actually thinking about most in the Admin is how much knowledge it pre-supposes… can we name things simpler… media and comment mod needs to be better.”

9. What would Matt do differently at the start of WordPress? “Changing the name of the “ID” column name in the post table in the database” (Although he’s had time to think about this question and has revised it).

GIFs from WordCamp US 2023

Gutenberg Phase 5

There are four phases to the “long term” Gutenberg project. Each one has a focus or theme:

  1. Easier Editing — Already available in WordPress, with ongoing improvements
  2. Customization — Full site editing, block patterns, block directory, block themes
  3. Collaboration — A more intuitive way to co-author content
  4. Multi-lingual — Core implementation for Multi-lingual sites

Recently I posted a poll on Twitter and Mastodon that asked if you had to a fifth phase to Gutenberg, what would you make the single overall theme (note the wording – not “what would you like to see in Gutenberg next”, but the overall theme). I wanted to see what WordPress users (admittingly those mostly on top of WordPress news, Gutenberg, etc.) would like to see beyond the four announced phases of Gutenberg now that we are entering Phase 3. I’m here to summarize the responses, and include some comments made in Slack and privately.

First Things First

Of course, when you ask anything of Gutenberg people can’t help to voice their overall opinions about the project as a whole. While I will read whatever people have to say about it – good or critical – a handful of comments were just out of context (referring to maybe starting over with Gutenberg or in attempt to be clever their comments were too broad) those weren’t particularly helpful for the question… so I appreciate time it takes to respond to my question, I’ll be setting these aside… The rest fell into some main categories and some “runner ups” worth mentioning.

Media

I put this in the poll (although people were encouraged to add comments, and we’ll get to those) and it “won” the poll in terms of the choices I provided. “Media Library will get some well needed attention during this [imaginary] phase.” Jason Cosper remarked.

Some people said all they wanted was “folders in media”. I think because there isn’t a standard “good” media enhancement plugin, either people have their own enhanced plugin of choice or simply “suffer” with the current WordPress media system. And media doesn’t just mean storing photos or the “media” menu in the admin… it seemed to extend to how WordPress treats and stores media, photos, and videos. In fact, Hendrik Luehrsen commented that the “media” choice should be rephrased as “asset management” in general… and I would tend to agree with that.

So media was the most popular vote. But not the only one.

Mobile

Mobile was in the poll and overall scored second place. Not too many commented in the polls about mobile, but I’ve seen complaints during the entire Gutenberg project about the pains of trying to assemble something in mobile. Mobile rarely (if ever) appears featured in Matt’s State of the Word or major updates as far as I remember (correct me if I’m wrong). I can’t imagine experiencing even a striped down version of Gutenberg on a phone but a very lite experience should be possible – almost as if I’m entering something into Apple Notes even to update later.

Alex Staniford: “I think it is the single biggest thing that’s stopping WordPress from seeing wider adoption in arenas like social media. The app is not extensible at the moment, and I think that should change… I would love to see the new admin experience tie nicely into the future app, including extensions. If we’re all using a standard set of components, I think it’s do-able.”

AI

Remember if there was a Gutenberg Phase Five it would be at least TWO YEARS from now – something I don’t think occurred honestly to many of those who responded… but with the recent boom to AI I felt the addition of AI to the poll was a wildcard but valid. It got a decent third-place response (12%-19% of the poll votes). Not much commenting on this, so not much to tell. But considering what Matt Mullenweg said recently in Post Status Slack I’m wondering if he would have picked this personally:

Okay y’all: Forever ago I told you companies could be built in a remote and distributed fashion, and it’s amazing to see most WP companies operate in this way, impacting thousands of people’s lives. In 2015 I told you to learn Javascript deeply. I don’t have a catchy phrase yet, but my message for 2023 will be to spend as much time leveraging AI as possible. The boosts to productivity and capability are amazing. This is not a web3/crypto/widgets hype cycle. It’s real.

To this slice of the WP community, the ~1,300 people here, I want you to really internalize this message as deeply as possible. Open source and AI are the two mega-trends of the next 30 years. They complement each other, and you should think deeply about how. ChatGPT can’t ready Shopify’s code.”

Matt Mullenweg, Post Status Slack April 2023

Runner Ups

There were lots more suggestions – and while I think almost all are completely valid for a focus in WordPress, I honestly don’t think they fit the “Gutenberg Phase Five” title. That’s not to be exclusive but again if you look at the other four phases, they were in logical order and were effectively new areas where especially Gutenberg was going to change WordPress. The phases didn’t mean nothing else was being worked on – to various degrees of attention to some’s frustration – there were other areas that gained attention and that were included in the WordPress releases that included Gutenberg so far… but while I personally don’t feel they fit the “Gutenberg Phase Five” at least on the surface… these are worth a mention:

  • Ticket Clean Up / Bug Fixes – WordPress definitely needs to take a break and focus on cleaning things up – there are some old Trac tickets out there. I would support having a WordPress release JUST for this… similar to the Mac OS Snow Leopard release of Mac OS (for those who know about that release it was pitched as a cleaning up/performance version more than anything). Not a Gutenberg Phase, but def. a release maybe in between two Gutenberg phases… as Michele Butcher-Jones puts it: “Mine would be a mix of accessibility, UI, and a a good revisit back to what was the initial Gutenberg that we launched and might not had refined as well as we should have before jumping into another aspect.”
  • Accessibility – My comments to this are similar to ticket cleanup, although I would hope that accessibility improvements would be in every release and every phase of Gutenberg.
  • Extensibility – This was mentioned more than once, although it’s definition is a little hazy. This mention primarily came because of the comment from Milana Cap: “Better integration with existing PHP. Better extensibility. Modifying any part of Gutenberg, any part, shouldn’t be more than a hook away. Make Gutenberg works the WordPress way.” While I don’t agree that things should have been “extensible” from day one (things change and people will complain when they do – sometimes better then things settle to add certain hooks), I think some items have sat long enough… but this would need more specifics.

There was also mentions of “in browser block development”, “user experience”, “admin redesign”, and “community growth”.

Remember, i’m not saying these are less important than anything previously mentioned. The context was Gutenberg Phase 5 though and for me that is a meaningful context to the Gutenberg project and long-term strategy.

Wrapping This Up

How about me? I’m not a Gutenberg developer – I’ve built small sites entirely with blocks but still can ignore the block editor for certain projects. My feelings about it’s past and present are mixed although I’m excited to see it move forward.

I believe that although I don’t feel they should be the “theme” of a “Gutenberg Phase” I think having a “pause, clean, and polish” release is a GREAT idea. Focus on the three bullets of “runner ups” I listed above. I don’t think even a release will resolve majority of the items to catch up on… nor will it likely satisfy the harshest critics, but it’s a start. And this could be between a Phase 4 and the imaginary Phase 5.

But to actually answer my own original question of “Phase Five” of Gutenberg… for the sake of keeping WordPress competitive I would say “mobile” – what experience can we provide on smaller devices (that outnumber desktop devices around the globe) would be benefit content creators? Media rework is a very close second… But I’m putting some side money on AI honestly. It might be a little early, but as my experience with it grows week by week I can’t help but feel that it will work itself into the editor and other areas of WordPress… i’m sure page builders and Wix and SquareSpace and [insert anyone in the space you think worthy of consideration here] are already working on their integrations (for better or for worse).

All in all this was a good survey… and I thank everyone who responded on Twitter and Mastodon.

I’m not expecting another phase added to Gutenberg officially and even if there was, it would be years away, with enough time for the landscape of WordPress to change so that new priorities are in place. It wouldn’t surprise me that if by Phase 4 there are new things to consider to keep WordPress relevant that might redesign that Phase as it’s currently understood.

Highlights of Matt’s Q&A At WordCamp Asia 2023

👉🏻 FYI here’s a link to the live stream video of where the Q&A starts.


This is a brief overview and highlights of Matt Mullenweg’s presence (usually in the form of a Q&A at WordCamps, now that the annual State of the Word has been separate for a few years). Matt wasn’t able to be there in person, but (despite some technical issues) was able to communicate on the big screen with Josepha Haden and Nirav Mehta hitting on stage in front of him.

Milana Cap was up first asking about resources and funds to allocate for tools, specifically for the #WordPress Docs team, but for teams and possibly per project.

“So the documentation team is not just writing documentation, we have so many things around it that we are working on and we — we are paying tools by our own money, I’m paying a tool by my sponsor’s money from XWP and if we could have some kind of support for those kinds of things, logistic that we are doing, to be able to do what we do for WordPress, that would be so helpful.”

Milana Cap

Matt said Automattic (or WordPress project?) would pay for tools if they had, but stressed considering open source solutions first. He did make it very clear that “If there’s ever something you need, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Meta team if you need a tool sponsored.”

It was a bit of an awkward slow start to a Q&A but with all things considered it was a good start and things seemed to pick up as it moved along.

A short time later Matt also mentioned this, more in passing it seemed but i caught it…

Which lead to a few initial reactions:

Matt added:

“It is not up to the standard of what WordPress, itself, provides, which is world-class software. Inside the core software, I think we’re doing pretty decent and in many places, fantastic job of many things. But we haven’t yet been able to translate that to the project surrounding it, including WordPress.org itself. So it’s very, very much on my mind and something I’m been talking to Josepha. Sometimes we need more DRIs, Direct Responsible Individuals. Maybe try that approach a little bit more than necessarily the consensus, which we’ve been attempting now for several years.”

Matt Mullenweg

My $0.02 (with my limited understanding) on this was (and still is) that the the speed of the redesign of http://WordPress.org isn’t going quickly enough. Perhaps not as quickly for a community and influence as large as WordPress as might go with other organizations. And not just development (the grunt work as it were) but maybe management and coordination. This fits in with Matt’s comment on Direct Responsible individuals and Matt also mentioning “too often, we are doing, particularly design by committee and trying to develop a consensus and everything and it would probably be better if we just chose a single person.”

Hearing Matt comment about “being embarrassed about WordPress.org” was a mix of raised eyebows and appreciation of an honest opinion, but it makes sense once you view the context. Of course the pandemic and Matt’s lean toward’s open source being a non-paid contribution (while sponsored work is ok) might not make this easy.

I will say that the foundation side of WordPress, as you know, had no employees. So, no one gets paid by the foundation. We do do grants and scholarships and things like that, but it’s not really set up to be an employment entity. It is a place where people can come together, regardless of who employs them or how they get paid and work together on something. I realize that this isn’t for everyone. And, that a number of folks, as part of their Five for the Future contribution, they get sponsored.

Matt Mullenweg

It might simply be a matter of time and power too. Glad to see Matt addressing this. But moving on!

WordPress being taught in schools was brought up and Josepha’s comment is good to take in:

“WordPress moves too fast for them to be able to build curriculum…. It’s also kind of like a “power to the people” sort of thing and schools find that moderately alarming.”

Josepha Haden

On a brighter note, Matt did create the Kids Camp Slack channel live during the Q&A.

Michelle Frechette then asks that with the layoffs we’ve seen what did Matt think that – as a community – can do to create more jobs and stop the anxiety and fear that comes with the layoffs we’ve seen.

Matt:

“I think actually WordPress can benefit from recessionary times, as well, because we provide one, economic agency where people can do things themselves, people can be entrepreneurs.”

“People with WordPress skills to look at businesses in their area who might be spending more on some of these other services and give them the opportunity to bring them to WordPress.”

“I can’t think of an developer application that hasn’t had a GitHub link. Contributing is a great way to fill those holes in your resume, as well.”

And also:

Matt got asked about ChatGPT, AI, and how it would effect open source. His response:

Matt also mentions the recent published “ChatGPT is a Blurry JPEG of the web” which I would recommend reading.

Matt says WordPress has “10x times the number of domains using it as the number two competitior Spotify” and “I could see WordPress being around – not just around, but core to the fabric of the web 100 years from now and I would love to attend a WordCamp Asia in my 80s.”

Matt got asked about the WordPress onboarding procedure (the 5 minute install for the most part). His response was to plan for the WordPress onboarding process to be serviced by hosting provides and there has been a ton of innovation in the onboarding flow. But there’s so much AFTER the WordPress onboarding experience to consider as well – with Gutenberg serving as the blank canvas that users get to and need to be able to use.

On localization and translation especially for Asian countries Matt would love to some improvement there:

On WordPress getting a “bad wrap” thanks to bad hosting and opportunities for hosting companies to improve:

Matt also stressed keeping plugins updated and he’s excited about SQLLite enhancements possibly coming:

Matt on the “lack of data” on WordPress.org plugin direct page and how we can get more feedback to plugin developers:

Matt also mentioned, in a response to another question, that he feels that the “title” field for a WordPress post should no longer be required… similar to how in Twitter you don’t need to add a title to write something.

I’ve been talking a lot about this and some of the Gutenberg team, how can we make it easier, both in theming and the Core interface to really make titles more optional because I just want people to be able to feel like they can post anything to their blogs. A little bit how bloggings evolved with people talking about SEO and findability takes a little bit of fun and spontaneity.

I used to post hundreds of times her year. I think it is more like writing a college essay. Just if we can lower those barriers to entry and make people comfortable with posting silly things or just posting a link or just posting a you tube embed or something and not every blog post having to be, like, a huge thing, with a title and paragraphs and, you know, SEO-optimized and featured image and all that sort of, you know, kind of additional burden we put on a post. It’s great to allow that, but I think that kind of microblogging is something that I want to make a lot more effortless within an interface.

Matt Mullenweg

Matt ends the Q&A answering a question on how we as the WordPress community can show off WordPress that it’s “not just for cheap website but can be even for Enterprise applications”. In a word: examples.

My quick answer is nothing is as good as showing examples. So, doing excellent work and then raising the profile of those and I know we’ve redesigned the showcase, but I really want to make this a lot more prominent and I want every single Rosetta site to have a really prominent showcase so by elevating the best examples of WordPress, I think that is better because we can, you know, say all day that WordPress is secure, it’s performant, but being able to point to a site, like whitehouse.gov, that switched to WordPress. Being able to point to examples like that and say, well, if it’s secure enough for the White House, like, it’s secure enough for you probably, is really, really helpful.

Matt Mullenweg

Note: Longer quotes taken from the transcriptions and the tweets and shorter quote from my imperfect human ears.

Animated GIFs From WordCamp Asia 2023