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Real-Time Collaboration Is Coming to WordPress

Gutenberg Phase 3 is officially in the planning stage, as the Site Editor is set to exit the beta in 6.2 and the major tasks of Phase 2 are nearing completion.

Gutenberg lead architect Matias Ventura published a preliminary outline of what is planned to be included in the next “Collaboration” phase of the project. Real-time collaboration is at the top of the list, the likes of which users have previously experienced in apps like Google Docs.

“Imagine being able to work together in real-time across all block editors, crafting content and designs seamlessly without being locked out of editing,” Ventura said. “The goal is to provide all the necessary infrastructure and UI to handle multiple users working together on the same content simultaneously, making it easier to create, edit, and customize web pages and posts as a team.”

In a recent episode of the WP Briefing podcast, WordPress core contributor Héctor Prieto said he predicts this feature will take the most work.

“I would say, in general, the real-time collaboration sounds the most technically challenging because of what it represents and all the changes needed to how we interact with WordPress from async to sync, basically,” Prieto said. “That would be the hardest part. I think there are also already a few prototypes working, but we need to see how that scales, for example.”

Prieto was referencing Gutenberg engineer Riad Benguella’s AsBlocks project, which he introduced on his blog in 2020 and is available on GitHub. Another prototype, “Block Collab: New package, a framework for collaborative editing,” currently exists as a draft PR created by Gutenberg contributor Enrique Piqueras.

AsBlocks demo video

Asynchronous collaboration will also get some attention in this phase, which includes features like sharing drafts for content and design changes, inline block commenting, assignment review, improved version control, and task management. These are features that are currently available to WordPress users through a variety of different plugins.

“The goal is to enable users and larger teams to collaborate on projects and its different parts at their own pace and based on their workflows,” Ventura said.

Ventura also identified Publishing Flows and improvements to the Post Revisions interface as parts of the Collaboration phase. This would include features like an interface for editorial requirements, customized goals, and task completion prerequisites before publishing. Post Revisions would become more visual, inclusive of individual blocks, and may even be updated to to support more complex scheduling requirements across multiple parts of the site.

Collaboration may less critical to WordPress’ success than world-class publishing capabilities but it will be refreshing to look past the editors to begin improving the admin experience. There are a few pieces of the puzzle that will will require contributors to jump in on getting WordPress’ admin to the place where it can handle more modern collaboration workflows. Ventura said part of this project is to begin the process for an admin design update and navigation work, improving admin notices and the UI library of design components, as well as the ancient admin list views.

Ventura also loosely outlined a Library focus area that would introduce a place for managing blocks, patterns, styles, and fonts.

“As part of this work, also look at what improvements can be done to enhance the media library design, interactions, and extensibility,” Ventura said. He confirmed to commenters that this part of the project was left “intentionally vague as it needs a bit more thinking.”

The last item in the Collaboration outline is a global search and command component that would be extensible and allow admins to navigate directly to content or different admin areas as well as run comments like “create new post” or “toggle top toolbar.”

“As AI tools are taking the world by storm, this could also play an important role in letting plugin authors integrate novel solutions that are prompt based in nature,” Ventura said.

Although Ventura assured readers that projects related to prior phases will continue, such as more blocks, improved tables, grid layout system, and the block API roadmap, there are those who would like to see more time spent on editing and customization before moving on.

“I love the initiative, but I wish they’d slow down and focus on the overall WordPress experience and mobile design tools, which affect virtually every user,” WP Engine developer Mike McAlister said in October 2022. “Collaboration tools won’t make or break WordPress, but the user experience will.”

In March, McAlister commented again on the pace of the Gutenberg project’s phases. “I would add a new phase of User Experience between 2 and 3,” he said. “We need a whole phase dedicated to refining the experience of all these great new tools.

“I am very optimistic about all of the features, but even as a veteran WordPress builder, the experience is still quite maddening at times. I don’t know if we’re spending enough time understanding the problems before implementing solutions and moving on to the next thing.”

Ventura said the timing for breaking ground on the Collaboration phase would not be the 6.3 release coming in August 2023. Contributors are still working towards refining the customization experience as WordPress prepares to bring the Site Editor out of beta in the 6.2 release. He encouraged people to share feedback in the comments on the post if there are any items they were hoping to see as part of the Collaboration phase.