The State of the Word in…

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€—

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