Trends

The Evolution of WordPress in 2014 and Beyond

Beyond just the sheer number of users, we look at some of the features and releases that have marked this year and also ponder on what could be coming in 2015.

2014 looks to have been another successful year for WordPress. The popular open-source CMS continued to dominate market share, powering over 23% of websites. It also continues to be adopted by more users than any other CMS.

Beyond just the sheer number of users, let’s take a look at some of the features and releases that have marked this year:

WordPress 3.9 "Smith"

Released on April the 16th, 2014 and named after jazz organist Jimmy Smith, version 3.9 brought us some much needed improvements to the WordPress Visual Editor and media capabilities.

The visual editor became a little bit more sleek and worked a lot better on mobile devices (it’s no longer as painful to demo the WordPress admin for my clients on an iPad now). The fact that you can now drag-and-drop images directly into the visual editor was also a major user-friendly improvement.

 A clean functional method for adding a group of audio or video files: Media Playlists.
A clean, functional method for adding a group of audio or video files: Media Playlists.

Perhaps the nicest feature 3.9 brought us was the ability to have media playlists. Finally a clean, functional method for adding a group of audio or video files is included in the core. No more plugins, no more (gasp) Flash – just an easy way to share multimedia. This may be my favorite new feature of the year.

Also included were widget previews and an overhauled theme browser. A maintenance release, version 3.9.1, was released on May the 8th.

WordPress 4.0 "Benny"

In a name honoring bandleader Benny Goodman (when will we honor some rock ‘n roll stars?), WordPress 4.0 was released on September the 4th, 2014. While there were not necessarily any groundbreaking features in this release, there were some nice enhancements nonetheless.

Firstly, this version of WordPress was the first to ask you which language you preferred during install. As founder Matt Mullenweg mentioned in his 2014 State of the Word address, non-English downloads of WordPress surpassed English language downloads for the first time. WordPress is truly a global platform and it’s great to see the software adding features for the non-English-speaking user base.

The media gallery also got a big makeover in 4.0.
The media gallery also got a big makeover in 4.0.

The media gallery also got a big makeover, making it much easier to find what you’re looking for. This is especially important for sites that have a lot of images/documents.

The ability to scroll in the visual editor while keeping the editor’s toolbar in a fixed position is a big improvement.
Visual editor scrolling has been a big improvement.

From my standpoint, the added ability to scroll through content in the visual editor while keeping the editor’s toolbar in a fixed position is a big improvement. Editing long posts is now quite a bit easier.

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Media embeds such as videos, audio files and tweets now render in the visual editor. Before this improvement, you had to preview a post to see what the media would look like. Thankfully, we can now see these items directly within the visual editor.

The Plugin Gallery looks and functions much better in 4.0.
The Plugin Gallery looks and functions much better in 4.0.

Last but not least, the Plugin Gallery now looks and functions much better than before. The addition of avatars for each plugin makes them much easier to pick out in crowded search results.

Maintenance release 4.01 fixed some security holes and was made available on November the 20th.

WordPress 4.1 (Beta)

Set for release in December, WordPress 4.1 will bring us the new Twenty Fifteen default theme. It’s a very clean and minimal theme, and has clearly been designed with a content-first approach and with mobile users in mind.

WordPress 4.1 will bring us the new Twenty Fifteen default theme.
The new Twenty Fifteen default theme.

Also, a somewhat controversial addition called Focus v2 is activated by default (at least in the beta release). It’s a feature that is meant to promote "distraction free writing", as the folks who work on the WordPress core like to call it.

Focus v2 will possibly be activated by default in 4.1.
Focus v2 will possibly be activated by default in 4.1.

Essentially, when you’re writing in the post editor all other boxes, menus, etc. fade out of view. This is meant to reduce clutter on the screen and thus make it easier to focus on writing. When your cursor is no longer active in the visual editor, all previously hidden page elements come back. I can see this being a nice feature for writers who don’t like a lot of clutter on their screen.

Also on tap is the ability to change language packs from the General Settings screen, and a nifty inline formatting bar for images (I’m really excited for this one).

What Will 2015 Bring?

While we don’t have official word of new features coming to WordPress 4.2 and other future releases, it’s a safe bet that we’re going to see continued improvements to the UI. It seems the development team is really keen on making WordPress easier to use with a less cluttered interface.

Media files have been a big focus and I can only see that continuing in 2015. The ease of uploading, inserting and editing media is one area where WordPress has lacked the past few years but thankfully seems to be a big priority of late.

One item I’ve heard discussed is finding a way to easily update a media file that is used on more than one page or post in a site. For example, let’s say you have a PDF file that is linked on a few different pages. Right now, there is no easy one-step method for replacing that link with a new PDF file when it’s time to update. You have to go page by page and update the link. While it may be somewhat of a niche use, this is something that would make running a larger WordPress site much easier.

Another potential feature in the long term was Mullenweg’s mention of allowing WordPress to continually update itself as new versions are released (both major and minor), much like the Chrome or Firefox browsers do. This could really help with keeping everyone’s site as secure as possible. Although, I wouldn’t imagine seeing this happen in 2015.

Lastly, expect more tweaks aimed at non-English-language users. This will continue to add more convenient features for international sites.

Wrapping Up

While 2014 may not be considered a revolutionary year for WordPress, the software has continued to evolve in the right direction. And, while not specifically mentioned here, there were also many "under the hood" improvements aimed at better performance and providing developers with powerful new tools.

WordPress is much better because of the improvements we’ve seen in 2014. That is something to truly celebrate!