3 Upcoming WordPress Breakthroughs

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WordPress has become the most popular CMS in the World – dominating its rivals with 23% marketshare for all websites in the World. In contrast, Joomla at 2% and Drupal at 2% are far behind. As seen in software and app development at Apple, Microsoft, and other vendors, the key to WP’s success is a very strong core development team and resulting platform  API which invigorates a strong 3rd party development environ producing over 10,000 themes and 35,000 plugins [more than 2/3rds of which are available free].

So the Apple jingle, “There is an app for that!” can be extended to WordPress with “There is a plugin for that!”. But it is worthwhile to review how the WordPress team has delivered a strong core platform which 3rd party developers can prosper in so that we can understand where the coming WordPress breakthroughs are likely to emerge from.

The WordPress Platform

WordPress is barely 12 years old and has seen rapid development and  improvements. The following table shows some of the key developments:

WordPress Development
Jan 2004
Search engine friendly permalinks, multiple categories, dead simple installation and upgrade, comment moderation, etc. Open/free code plus easy install and upgrade brought this user on board.
May 2004 Plugins introduced with simple API for 3rd party development
Feb 2005 Themes and page templates introduced again with API for 3rd parties
Dec 2005 Improved Post/Page editing with media uploads, enhanced plugin API
Jan 2007 Security fixes, Admin UI improvements, Edit spellcheck and auto-save features
Sep 2007 Tags, category and taxonomy updates, more security fixes
Jul 2008  Remote posting, and revisions storage for managing posts and pages
Jun 2009  Speed improvements, drag and drop menus and widget edits
Jun 2010  Theme API enhancements, custom post types, merge multi-user into core WP
Feb 2011 Admin Bar added, micro-blogging API enhancements, speed improvements
Dec 2012 Color picker, use of a standard theme-Twenty Twelve to promote responsive and magazine designs, improved  image workflow
Oct 2013 Auto-updates and security fixes, multiple language file support and auto-updates
Dec 2013 Plugin improvements, responsive theme support, framework for JSON API
Sep 2014 UI improvements to media handling, writing interface, plugin discovery, JSON API
Feb 2015 Speed improvements, security fixes

Three factors emerge in this summary of  improvements to WordPress. API enhancements dominate as themes, plugins and the general coding interface get top priority while interface and UI get slow but steady improvements – perhaps the biggest being the incorporation of jQuery and Angular JavaScript libraries. These API and JS library improvements have provided the foundation for the rapid and substantial 3rd party theme and plugin improvements which have propelled WordPress to the lead in CMS development features. 

The second factor to note is the constant refinement of the code for performance and speed. These refinements are due to better PHP, JavaScript and 3rd party caching plugins. And the net result is that WordPress is used on some very big websites – Vogue Magazine, Renault Autos, Smithsonian Institute, The New Yorker, Mercedes-Benz, Dole Foods, Tech Crunch, Time.com, Fortune.com, Alanis Morrisette, Sony Music and Justin Bieber [see full showcase of websites here].

The third factor is the constant set of security fixes. WordPress core has one of the best security fix records in the CMS business. However, the strength of WordPress, its thousands of Themes and Plugins is also its Achilles Heel. With approximately 50,000 independent code streams,WordPress is dependent on 3rd parties to maintain secure code. And recently there have been some large vulnerabilities associated with themes and  plugins. Remember the rush and scramble between Mac and Windows programs or more recently Android vs iOS apps.  First to market advantage also can bring bug and security risks.

But the bottom line is that adding  the JSON API,  Custom Post Types, and new JavaScript libraries to the Core API, WordPress has laid the groundwork for major feature breakthroughs. Already we have seen the vast improvements in Visual Drag and Drop Post/Page Builders as one example of new breakthrough plugin features in WordPress. And even Automatic, the WordPress developers, have joined the trend.  Following the  idea of Core Themes like Twenty Eleven thru Twenty Fifteen, WordPress developers  have embarked on creating plugins as features in WordPress releases. But 3rd party developers have already raced ahead and developed great  sliders and  drag and drop front-end editors. So conditions are ripe for major WordPress breakthroughs.

3 Major WordPress Breakthroughs…Likely

1)Better Integrated Form and Data Table Tools
wptables

For 12 years WordPress has been without good tools to manage and display database forms and tables either on pages/posts or for admin operations. Yes, there are many great  plugins for forms but these tools are primarily contact and email forms with a few being used for surveys and quizzes. But few of the tools provide a means of displaying collected data in tabular format. For example, a client uses forms to register users for an event but to display the registered users in tabular format with quick search and sorting capabilities requires two separate plugins and custom coding. Also, master plus detail records present thorny problems for most form tools.

The screenshot above shows the WPF-jGrid plugin that does  good Data Table insert/update/delete operations but has primitive data table creation and data-filling/validation capabilities. Likewise the TablePress plugin does good data table display with sorts and filtering but lacks robust data table maintenance routines. But waiting in the wings are dozens of excellent jQuery based plugins that have robust server side interfaces as well top notch table data display features. Given the emergence of the JSON API for simple, clean server-side data exchange, expect 3rd party plugin vendors to latch onto this huge potential market. The contenders will emerge from  either  the forms plugins vendors or the many drag and drop front-end Page Builders looking for ways to add unique functionality to their tools. There is a huge potential market even for small business websites managing events, contests, product tables, portfolios, projects, etc.

2)More Robust WordPress CSS Styling
csswpchromiThe CSS Inspectors available in most popular browsers allow developers to make changes to the CSS code used on any page. this way, users can tryout CSS fixes live. the only problem is that there is no way to save the changed CSS. Developers have to go back into their WordPress or other web development systems and find the CSS code to be changed. It is sometimes simple and other times tricky but always tedious because the CSS can be spread over many .css files.

What if users could do this realtime CSS editing  with a smart plugin or theme editor. The best tool for that is CSS Styling Editors from HeadwayThemes:
csswp
Now the Headway Style Editor can see all the blocks on a page/post, but it only display the blocks with Headway names/ids for styling. Yes, you can go into Headway and add a CSS class/id to the “unnamed” block but the process [and then add the CSS styling you want]; but this is tedious and time consuming. Also the Headway CSS editor does not provide tools to change CSS3 styling for transformations, animations, etc.

What this WordPress developer would like to see is for the Headway CSS Style editor to reveal all the class and ids on a post or page and allow me to make changes to the CSS directly using all those nifty Headway Style Editor tools.

If the Headway CSS Style Editor could add some of the latest CSS3 styling commands such as animations, transformation, color gradients it would be even more powerful. No tool does not trace the CSS back to LESS or Compass files used to generate specific styling, so the next LESS or SASS/Compass regen would overwrite any  CSS changes you have made. But  Headway has a snapshot capability which could allow one to restore back their edits after a LESS or SASS/Compass regen.

Now there are so many very good browser-based CSS editors it is hard to believe that opportunity for comprehensive WordPress [and any HTML CSS editing for that matter], is not in the cards. The market potential is huge.The obstacle for standalone CSS Editor tools like TopStyle is to move from the single CSS file approach to the the total web page experience … or the browser display view.

3)Interfaces to Enterprise Apps and Programs

WordPress is often regarded as blogging software not qualified for the big leagues of enterprise caliber software. Partly this is due to it beginnings which limited it to simple CMS applications. Another factor has been the slow emergence of programming interfaces. The first on board has been PHP-RPC remote procedure calls using an XML interface. But XMLRPC has had security breaches in the past and now is the subject of Brute Force attacks.

But for the 7-8 years, WordPress has added menu, widget, page template, child theme, and custom post type capabilities that have inevitably broadened its scope of usage. Coupled with ecommerce, business analytic, and media savvy plugins, WordPress has moved into more enterprise niches.  And now the Core API has added JSON and more robust Ajax based libraries for even better interface connections.

wppmtoolFirst there will specialized, one time plugins to interface software like the PM software in the screenshot  to Web Apps or Enterprise software. Then there will come a set of generalized interface elements to SaaS services like Netsuite or Oracle Fusion or SharePoint. And we are already seeing some of these WordPress interface tools emerge. Look here first at the surprise 4 years ago  at enterprise integration and now some of the latest connections: 227 CRM interfaces, 225 SQL Server integration notes, and Project Management integrations.  Expect to see more cross application tools as WordPress slips into the Enterprise mainstream.

Summary

The good WordPress developers at Automatic have already set the table for WordPress to emerge as a full body CMS. But the latest API enhancements mean WordPress will be taking its place as an enterprise application. So WordPress skills will stretch well from small business blogs and eCommerce websites to full fledged enterprise systems. Again, see the WordPress Showcase for many  samples of this progress already.