Footnotes #426

The State of the Word in 2020

On Thursday, December 17th, Matt Mullenweg broadcasted his State of the Word 2020 address. Normally, of course, this would have happened in a stage at WordCamp US β€” but for the first time, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pre-recorded and broadcasted over Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

This year's State of the Word can be broken up into two parts: 1) Matt's presentation with slides and 2) the customary Q&A session following. Taking Matt's presentation first, I feel it's a lot like his previous State of the Words. Matt started by summarizing the highlights of the latest WordPress releases, including proudly (and rightfully so) highlighting that over 40 women and non-binary people formed 100% of the leadership for the WordPress 5.6 release.

Matt also noted WordPress's increased market share over the past year. (It's currently at 39.3% of the top 10 million sites.) In fact, this is the fastest year WordPress has grown since it's growth has been measured. The three reasons why WordPress grew so much are:

  • Lockdowns β€” People simply had more space and time to be online, focus on reading and writing blogs and content.' πŸ”’
  • eCommerce β€” Many people moved to or expanded their online stores and shopping experiences. This spike boosted WordPress but also WooCommerce which generated $20 billion in sales, which was “double from the previous year.” (Note: it's unclear where that number comes from or what exactly it represents.) πŸ›’
  • Economic Uncertainty β€” Many people became entrepreneurs to supplement their income, and WordPress was a fast and relatively practical vehicle to accomplish that. πŸ’Έ

Next, a pre-recorded video was presented by Joen Asmussen, who is one of the designers working on Gutenberg. This video offers a preview of the progress of the FSE (Full Site Editing) project with a demo of the Site Editor in beta. The Site Editor allows WordPress users to edit and have greater creative control over a theme. It opens the door to edit and design elements that normally would require editing a template or having a template builder with settings for site titles, taglines, navigation elements, and even the 404 page.

Matt's part of the State of the Word was informative, especially if you have just been casually following updates. There were no surprises or special announcements, not that I think anyone was expecting any. If you are deep in the WordPress community and only had a few minutes, I think the Full Site Editing demo would be the thing to focus on.

While the entire State of the Word was about the same length as previous years' (about 90 minutes), thanks to the editing of the pre-recorded video, Matt's presentation took only 25 minutes. This left more time for a greater number of questions and a greater variety of the types of questions being asked.

Matt commented to me: “I really appreciated being able to see people in their own environment and have a bit more time to work on the answers. And more space for more of them!”

Since this was the first virtual and pre-recorded State of the Word, you may be wondering if the questions Matt fielded were cherry-picked. That was not the case. For the record, I've been told by Andrea Middleton that all submitted questions were addressed, however, they “did leave out a support question, and in the case of the person who sent in more than one question, the first one received was answered.” All these questioned submitted by community members were answered in alphabetical order based on the questioner's first name. Not all questions were answered by Matt. Andrea Middleton, Josepha Haden, Jonathan Desrosiers, and others replied too.

There were definitely pros and cons to having Q&A done in this manner, which the circumstances necessitated. I don't think a live Q&A via Zoom or similar platforms would have worked, nor would a non-edited video allow for so many questions. Far more questions were fielded than any State of the Word has covered in the past.

It was good for the community to see Matt doesn't have all the answers but will refer to others. It's also great that the questions were not restricted to people who happened to be in the first row during a live State of the Word. On the other hand, I do like some unpredictability in the questions being directed at Matt. That is something that only a live event can offer.

Speaking as an event organizer, I could see a hybrid form of the State of the Word being adopted in the future once in-person conferences are safe to hold once again. There are likely some good lessons to be learned from this year's approach. (For example, I'm hearing reports of a sub-par automated live captioning experience that was improved when the video was made live.)

One more thing: I've been told that the State of the Word video will be published in a blog post where people can ask more questions, including inquiries about the content of the slide presentation as well.

The most important message for me personally to get out of State of the Word 2020 is this: despite tremendous hardships on a global scale, WordPress continues to grow, and its contributors, volunteers, and community members remain a strong force. We got through the year together, and we'll continue to adapt and grow in 2021. πŸ€—


“It turns out that collaborative editing for platforms like WordPress is a very cool feature but an incredibly difficult technical challenge.” Steve Burge over at the PublishPress blog has a detailed take on the future of Google Docs style editing in WordPress. πŸ“


Matias Ventura has written a comprehensive status update for Gutenberg Phase 2: Full Site Editing. Matias describes the current state of all the primary projects and then explains how they fit together. If you haven't been keeping up on the progress toward full site editing (FSE), this is a good post to catch you up. πŸ‘

Related: the FSE outreach program is starting up soon to help test and get feedback. πŸ“£


Victoria McCullough announced for Automattic that they've “joined several of [their] peer companies” to launch Internet Works β€” a coalition dedicated to working with Congress “to promote the benefits of Section 230, a provision of the Communications Decency Act.” βš–οΈ

Also known as the CDA and first established in 1996, Section 230 guarantees immunity for online publishers from liability for any third-party content, allowing them to operate as “safe harbors.”As Wikipedia notes,

Coupled with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, Section 230 provides internet service providers safe harbors to operate as intermediaries of content without fear of being liable for that content as long as they take reasonable steps to delete or prevent access to that content.

The peers Automattic is joining are Cloudflare, Dropbox, eBay, Etsy, Glassdoor, GoDaddy, Medium, Nextdoor, Patreon, Pinterest, Reddit, Snap Inc., Tripadvisor, Vimeo, and the Wikimedia Foundation.

Automattic's full press release is here. πŸ“°


Kelly Dwan has written a script to automate a series of screenshots in each of WordPress's admin color schemes. πŸ“Έ


LearnDash LM co-founder Justin Ferriman shares his advice for those who are starting an online course or membership business:

“Making $$$ is priority #1 in entrepreneurship. Full stop. It's not about greed, it's about validation. Validating your idea, your position, and your message. If you're not making $$$ then one of those is not working and you need to fix it.”


I caught this announcement from Steve Grunwell that Nexcess is partnering with Branch for better deployment of WordPress sites. 🀝


WooCommerce released version 3.0.0. of its popular Storefront theme. The highlight of this release appears to be the removal of the big admin notice presented to the user after installing the theme. πŸ™ˆ

The new version can be downloaded from WordPress.org and GitHub. 🏬


Matt Brown from Vimeo defends PHP against two types of critics: those who view old PHP code as legacy code, and those who think PHP can't be “redeemed” at all:

“I'm here to tell you that [PHP] can [be redeemed], and Vimeo’s continued success with PHP is proof that it’s a great tool for fast-moving companies in 2020. πŸ’¨


At first glance, CSS seems straightforward, but Tim Severien dives into what makes CSS hard to master:

“I worry that the way we think about CSS might affect how beginners perceive the language. If they are taught that CSS is easy, they might be discouraged from seeking help when they struggle or just blame the language. Admitting you struggle with something is difficult enough. Let’s not make it worse for them.”


Suzanne Scacca shares some thoughts on how to design a simple UI when you have a complex solution: if the backend is very complex, it may “infect” the frontend. If it's “too complicated to navigate or too convoluted to understand, users will revolt and flee en masse.” πŸƒ

Some other key tips:

  1. Figure out your users’ goals so you can design a user-first UI.
  2. Evaluate the competition's products to create your MVP.
  3. Introduce complexity incrementally and confirm with user testing.

Github has published its annual State of the Octoverse, which looks at its communities and user activity in 2020. Even if you aren't a Github user, it's interesting to see what a vast piece of the developer community is doing on the platform. πŸ™

Some quick highlights:

  • There are 56 Million+ total developers on GitHub.
  • 60 Million+ new repositories were created in the last year.
  • JavaScript and Python were the top two most popular languages, while PHP came in at number 6.

Austin Parker hits a nerve with a bluntly titled post, “Virtual Events Suck” where he lays out all the reasons why the majority of online conferences offer a subpar experience. I agree with him on most, not all, points β€” and I think this is a good read for anyone planning on volunteering or organizing a virtual event of any size β€” but especially larger ones.

Austin does offer some potentially helpful insights that might help virtual events “not suck.” Not having a single track is one suggestion. Not having sponsor booths at all (and perhaps trying commercials instead), producing high-quality videos if you pre-record, and offering something that YouTube doesn't. πŸ“Ί

Most important of all, “figure out why your audience is there, work for them.”


Sally Strebel, co-founder of Pagely, opens up space via HeroPress for a lot of insight and reflection based on her experiences with sexism in the corporate world β€” even at WordCamps:

“I had to make the conscious choice to decide if I wanted to be right or be successful. I chose to focus on success and also I didn’t get here alone. Many wonderful men and women helped. I had to laser focus on my goal which was to provide the best hosting experience regardless of minor annoyances along the way.”

🚧 Sally also offers some ways for women to deal with these potential barriers and roadblocks:

“If there’s not room for you at a table, figure out something else. Perhaps, kindly discuss the observation, or create your own table. Life’s too short to be unhappy in someone else’s world. Create your own and invite others. WordPress is a great place to do that.”


πŸ—£οΈ Frederick O’Brien shares insights and reference materials that can help developers make their websites more voice-accessible:

“Developers, designers and writers alike should be prepared for the possibility that their work will not be seen or clicked at all β€” it will be heard and spoken to.”


Jo Franchetti, a Developer Advocate from Microsoft, came up with an inventive way to better communicate with her mother, who is hard of hearing, while she visits her with her mask on. It's effectively a way to live caption yourself. Very cool! The demo is impressive. 😷


Command Line Interface Guidelines is an open-source guide to help developers write better command-line programs. πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»


Upcoming Events πŸ“†

  • Wordfest Live 2021: The third, fourth, and fifth round of speakers have been announced including Jamie Hill, Robbie Adair, Nestor Angulo Ugarte, Angela Jin, Sabrina Zeidan, Graham Armfield, AmyJune Hineline, Amanda Gorman, Simon Kelly, Naomi C. Bush, Arun Bansal, Nidhi Jain, Nicole Osborne, Leonardo Losoviz, Camber Clemence, and Chris Ford. This 24-hour event is happening on January 21, 2021.

DAVID'S PICKS πŸ“¬

Video Picks

πŸ“Ή Here is my video pick of the week:

Podcast Picks

πŸŽ™οΈ Here are a few podcasts to listen to this week: