#10 – What’s in WordPress 5.9, and What Is Openverse?
About this episode.
Marcus is a team leader at Automattic. His team is involved in Gutenberg, and has been working on it from the start. Marcus is also the documentation lead for the 5.9 release of WordPress.
Zack is the team lead of the Openverse project, which will be the focus of the later part of the podcast.
So WordPress 5.9 is just around the corner. Initially scheduled for release in December 2021, it has now been pushed back until January 2022.
It’s an important release for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps the headline item is Full Site Editing. Full Site Editing, or FSE, will change the way that WordPress websites are built. Areas which were once the domain of template files and of developers will now be editable from inside the Block Editor.
The intention is to make everything much easier to work with, but it’s a big departure from how things have been done until now.
We’re moving into an era of Block Themes, Template Parts, Theme.json files and much more. But what does all this mean? Well, Birgit and Marcus are here to explain what’s coming in WordPress 5.9, why the changes have been made, and how you can make use of them.
Later in the podcast we pivot and have a discussion with Zack about Openverse. If you’ve not heard of Openverse, it is a search engine for openly-licensed media. It makes it possible to find media from a growing catalogue of freely contributed assets.
The project has been going for a while (it was previously called CC Search), but was recently brought under the stewardship of the WordPress Project. We talk about how you can make use of Openverse and what kind of media is available there. We get into how media is licensed and why this project is a good fit for WordPress, and we round off with some thoughts on how it will integrate with the Block Editor in the future.
Welcome to the 10th edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, the events, the plugins, the themes, the blocks. And in this case, the next release of WordPress and the Openverse project. Each month, we bring you people from that community and discuss a topic of current interest.
If you like the podcast, please share it with your friends, and you might also like to think about subscribing so that you can get all of the episodes in your podcast player Automattically, and you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WP Tavern dot com forward slash feed forward slash podcast.
You can also play the podcast episodes directly on the WP Tavern website, if you prefer that. If you have any thoughts about the podcast, perhaps a suggestion of a guest or an interesting subject, then head over to WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox and use the contact form there. And we would certainly welcome your input.
Okay, so today on the podcast, we have something new until now I’ve interviewed one person at a time, but today there’s three of us on the call Birgit Pauli-Haack, Marcus Kazmierczak and Zack Krida. Birgit is a developer advocate for WordPress and is an ardent supporter of the Gutenberg project. She publishes the Gutenberg Times and cohosts the Gutenberg Changelog podcast.
Marcus is a team leader at Automattic. His team is involved in Gutenberg and has been working on it from the start. Marcus is also the documentation lead for the 5.9 release of WordPress.
Zack is the team lead of the Openverse project, which will be the focus of the latter part of the podcast.
So WordPress 5.9 is just around the corner. Initially scheduled for release in December 2021, it has now been pushed back until January 2022. It’s an important release for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps the headline item is Full Site Editing. Full Site Editing or F S E will change the way that WordPress websites are built. Areas which will once the domain of template files and of developers will now be editable from inside the Block Editor.
The intention is to make everything much easier to work with, but it’s a big departure from how things have been done until now. We’re moving into an era of block themes, template parts, theme dot json files, and much more. But what does this all mean? Well, Birgit and Marcus are here to explain what’s coming in WordPress 5.9, why the changes have been made and how you can make use of them.
Later in the podcast, we pivot to have a discussion with Zack about Openverse.
If you’ve not heard of Openverse, it’s a search engine for openly licensed media. It makes it possible to find media from a growing catalog of freely contributed assets. The project has been going for quite awhile. It was previously called CC Search, but it was recently brought under the stewardship of the WordPress project.
We talk about how you can make use of Openverse and what kind of media is available there. We get into how media is licensed and why this project is a good fit for WordPress. And we round off with some thoughts on how it will integrate with the Block Editor in the future. It’s a deep and broad discussion. And if any of the points raised in this podcast, resonate with you, be sure to head over and find the posts that WP Tavern dot com forward slash podcast, and leave us a comment there. And so without further delay, I bring you Birgit Pauli-Haack, Marcus Kazmierczak and Zack Krida.
I am joined on the podcast today by three guests. This is the first time we’ve had a panel discussion on the WP Tavern Jukebox podcast. So it should be something a little bit different. Firstly, I’m joined by Birgit Pauli-Haack. Hello Birgit.
Nathan, thanks for having us.
You are very welcome and I am also joined by Marcus Kazmierczak.
Hello. Glad to be here.
Thank you also for joining us. And finally I am joined by Zack Krida.
Hey Nathan. Thanks for having me.
You’re very welcome. Now, in order to give some context to this conversation it’s probably a good idea to go through the panelists. I’m going to ask because of time constraints that we just keep it fairly brief, but a little bit of a background as to what your position is at the moment regarding WordPress. I should also say that this podcast is going to be focusing on the upcoming release of WordPress 5.9. And that will probably represent roughly half of the content, maybe a little bit more than that, but we’re also going to stray into something totally different, which is called Openverse. So that being said, maybe if we go to Birgit first, could you just tell us what your position is in the WordPress community, your employed status, and so on?
Yes. So I’m a developer advocate sponsored for WordPress, sponsored by Automattic. And I publish the Gutenberg Times. Co-host the Gutenberg Changelog podcast and run a YouTube channel for the Gutenberg Times.
Thank you very much, indeed. Okay. Moving right along to Marcus.
Hello, I’m a team lead at Automattic. I’ve been at Automattic for nine years. I’ve been working on Gutenberg now for three or four years. My team has been there since the start we’ve been greatly involved and this is my first lead role on a release. I’m the documentation lead for WordPress 5.9.
Thank you so much. And finally, Zack.
I am the team lead on the Openverse project. We’re a group of developers sponsored by Automattic to build Openverse. Which I’ll give you a lot more information on shortly.
Yeah. Okay. It’s a really going to be a really fascinating project, an awful lot to go through. I wonder if we’ll pack in all of the things that we hope to pack in, but we’ll give it a go. So we were on the cusp of having 5.9, WordPress 5.9 in our hands. This was due to happen well, sooner than it’s in fact going to happen. I don’t know which of you want to field this question. Anybody following WordPress will know that there has been a delay in the advent of 5.9, as much as six weeks is what I’m hearing at the moment. And I’m wondering if it might be possible to explain why this has happened. People may be thinking well, if something’s clearly gone wrong. But there’s probably a logical explanation for it, I’m sure.
Yes. I can start the answer and Birgit can add in any color if he likes the new schedule was just released yesterday. So if you look at Make Core site it has a full schedule. We’re looking at the beta was moved out two weeks and then the final then there’s going to be a set of beta releases and release candidates, with that final release scheduled for January 25th.
The reason it was scheduled so far out because it beta was only delayed two weeks, but the overall release is probably what was it? Mid December previously. So now maybe six weeks out. And that’s mostly due to holidays, the Thanksgiving holiday in America this week. And then there’s the slew of December holidays and New Year’s. So each of those kind of ended up bumping it extra weeks. It’s not, we needed six more weeks of development. It was, we needed one or two more weeks to get things all straightened up and cleaned up, so we had an excellent experience. And we wanted to make sure that it was fine, but with the holidays, it ended up moving out further.
The reasoning for the delays, more or less, it just wasn’t quite as ready. There’s a lot of late changes. The Full Site Editing, which we’ll get into is a huge set of features and a lot of them are interrelated and we really want it to be a great experience when we launch. And there’s a lot of late changes that just needed to be worked through a couple of times and get the flows really clean and nice. And we weren’t comfortable with that initial beta. So we wanted to move it back a couple of weeks and get all those others issues ironed out and straightened out.
Birgit, anything to add to that?
Yeah, sometimes when you have something like that, most of the time WordPress actually decides to take out the features that are not finished and then released without the feature and kind of put the features in the next time. But it was so intertwined that it was jeopardizing a lot more than just that one particular feature or module. Because it would have affected the whole Full Site Editing experience. There were design refinements, there were workflow issues, browsing issues, or block theme considerations. If you move one of that thing, that module, then you wouldn’t have a, it would delay also the default theme.
Everybody is waiting for a good, the community’s waiting for Full Site Editing that was promised for 5.9. And overall, I think it’s the best decision, that outcome from the release team to say, okay let’s just move the first beta two weeks. Even if it delays the whole release for five weeks instead of two weeks, but it’s a better experience that comes out of it and everything else falls into place.
And it would have, if I’m, what I’m reading also was that it would have been a similar, hard to pull out the features then to fix them. Yeah. So I think there was also a consideration there.
Now there are some big releases of WordPress. When we do point releases, there are some that are certainly bigger than others, and the anticipation builds up. New features, think back to 5.0, which was a fairly sizeable release and, it was widely anticipated, and so on. This one seems to be on that level. It’s bringing new features and new capabilities to WordPress, which really are going to dramatically change the scope of what’s possible. And whilst we haven’t got time to cover every single feature, I’m just wondering if it’s possible between the three of you, if we can hoover up and mention the things that well, it may be that the criteria there is that the things that you’re most excited about, or it may be that you’re not personally excited about it, but you realize that for the project as a whole, it’s going to be a great addition.
So in no particular order, I wonder if you could mention some of the highlight items, the things that you believe are going to make 5.9 a released to remember.
I can start. The 5.0 release introduced the block editor and introduced blocks, but it was maintained just around pages and posts. And what 5.9 is looking at doing is bringing all of that to the rest of WordPress.
At least from a theming standpoint. So from the page layout to page designs. And so the block theme is probably what I’m most excited about, but it’s not just the theme, but it’s bringing all the capabilities of blocks and the concepts of blocks to the rest of WordPress. And it all stems from a single block to expand out, and then you get into patterns which are sets of blocks. You get into a block theme, which is truly just a collection of patterns to a certain degree. You have like template parts, which is a collection of blocks and you can end up building on all these resources and building richer and richer interfaces all based upon just a single block.
And so it’s really exciting to see all of it somewhat coming together in 5.9. And the great thing about it is WordPress is still WordPress. You don’t have to use a block theme, you’ll still be able to use normal themes. There’s not going to be anything breaking in there. That’s going to be a big change. If you opt out of, if you use a existing theme or you’re not using a block theme, it will still be the great WordPress that you know. So again it’s a kind of an iterative approach of bringing it on, but once you start using block themes, it really does open up to a lot more use in a lot more capabilities, which is, I think it’s going to be really exciting.
Great. So you covered a lot of ground there, Marcus. That’s fabulous. Thank you.
I’ve got more to cover.
I’ll tell you what let’s keep that in mind. We’ll circle back. Let’s go through everybody at least one pass and then perhaps a second pass as well. That sounds good. So maybe I could go to Zack next.
Sure and again, I feel like this is something that Marcus can always speak to an even greater detail than I can, but I’m really excited about improvements made to the navigation block and there’s been a really tremendous amount of work done there, just streamlining those flows for users. And I think it’s a pretty core part of five nine.
Thank you very much and Birgit.
Yeah, I’m totally excited about it because as Marcus said, the block comes to every piece of WordPress now. So all the mysteries that user had to learn about like the shortcodes and the widgets and the menu items and the templates and theme, and then you switch a theme and your site is different and loses some content and all that.
That is going away, if you let it. Just to reiterate, unless you use a block theme that’s specifically built for Full Site Editing, nothing’s going to change with 5.9 for you. So there is not a whole, with 5.0, we actually had that the Block Editor took over the editing screen. This is not happening in with Full Site Editing or block themes.
But if you have it, once you get your feet wet, you like that you can change the header of your theme, that you can change how the post list, yeah, that’s on your front page or that’s on your news site, the information that’s there, everything that you can edit there, usually would require another plugin or another developer to go in there and help you to make that small change, like changing the format of the date or adding the avatar for the author or something like that.
You can do this all through the interface. And then you have the whole set of design tools that come with what was labeled earlier, global styles, that is in the, in 5.8, WordPress introduced the theme json file, which is our centralized configuration and settlings file for theme editors or theme developers, and now you also, 5.9 brings the interface, so that any user can use and change those settings. Be it the background, be it how each block looks in typography, color and layout as well.
So I’m really excited about that part, that there’s a lot of controls that come back to a user. And I know what designers are gonna say, oh I don’t want them to change things. Yeah, users normally don’t have a good feel for design, and that’s mostly true. But it also, there are now really good controls in there that a theme developer can apply to help a user with the choices of background colors, being a color palette, even switch out between color palettes. So that is certainly something that will come in 6.0, but we see the proof of concept already.
Yeah, so that is really exciting to me and the, what comes with it or the pattern enhancements, the block patterns, which are sections, as Marcus said, a collection of blocks that are specifically designed for a purpose, be it a header pattern, be it a gallery pattern, or just a call to action, like a pricing column pattern. Those on now prominently displayed in a better browsing experience.
So I really liked that. So the choices on pulling a page together you can now do in a few minutes instead of spending hours on it through template editing.
Thank you. I’m going to swing around one more time, just in case Marcus or Zack or Birgit feels like missed anything or there’s something that we just left lying on the ground there. So we’ll take one more pass. Marcus, anything that you feel we didn’t mention so far?
A couple of things, just a couple of clarifications for the navigation block. If you’re not familiar, that is the menus block. So it’s a little more than just a menu. We renamed it to navigation because it’s a little bit clearer for say restaurant sites where you might have a menu category and it gets very confusing.
So navigation is a little bit clearer on the usage of navigation block is it’s. One of the really cool features for that is the ability to instantly create a responsive menus. So on mobile, you can have navigation automatically hide, and this just comes built into WordPress now in WordPress 5.9. So make it much, much easier. So like one of the biggest things talking about the theme developers, is navigation tends to be one of the biggest areas for development and like getting responsive writing, getting a lot of these features right, is difficult and time consuming and now becomes bundled in with 5.9. So there’s a greater ability to focus on actual design versus trying to get the CSS right for different break points and things like that. So that makes it much, much easier. Theme json’s so awesome. Like it’s going to be it’s really cool. I’m really looking forward. One of the designers Channing Ritter, had an example of switching out, testing out how switching out theme json’s will allow you to create multiple, like versions of a site very easily.
And it’s almost the, I think I Justin, might’ve had a comment about, it’s almost like the CSS Zen Garden ability for WordPress. I think there was an article on the Tavern about that too. It’s really powerful. And having that ability to switch it out in different themes, it’s really going to be a game changer of sorts. So that’s another piece.
Yeah. That functionality in particular really reminds me of, much earlier days in my career where I was building WordPress themes for agencies and that ability to, as a theme developer, write one theme and then really make some dramatic changes just with configurating some color values or different styles is pretty cool.
Yeah. I think that’s going to be for theme shops and things like that. I think that’ll be a powerful tool. And it might, a lot of this stuff too, we’ll take some time as it gets in the hands of people and we find it. It’s software, so it’s never quite complete. So there will probably will be things you want to do. Oh, I used to do this in a normal theme, and I can’t do it in a block theme. And those are opportunities to like, okay, file an issue in the Gutenberg, and we can, you can try and address it and try and get all those cases addressed. So we know it won’t be perfect, but it’s gonna be… cause it’s definitely changing the way themes and WordPress, the way you defined the theme is now going to be in HTML and blocks and not PHP.
So you lose a little bit of power that you might have in writing PHP functions or conditionals and things like that. And so we’ll have to… what you gain in visual design, you might lose in other areas. So as we work and edit and refine it, it’ll get better and better.
Okay. Thank you for that. Zack, you’ve obviously had a little bit of a go there, but I don’t know if you wanted to add something new or if not, I’ll move on to Birgit
We could move on. So go for it Birgit.
Yeah. So there was this time in WordPress where themes would do so much more than just theming or skinning a website and this brings, WordPress actually back to the beginning where. The theme would just the look and feel, and now you have some more control over it, but then the functionality that is added is now going back to the domain of a plugin. And when you switch themes, you are not losing that functionality that was built in into the theme before. So I think it’s Tammy Lister who was a, or is a core contributor and was the design lead for a while on Gutenberg. She really said it right with “let themes be themes again”. So I really liked that. I also wanted to mention that with the 5.9, all the features that came with the Gutenberg plugin, already released in the Gutenberg plugin between versions 10.8 and 11.9 will also come to the WordPress core. One of the features is the duotone feature, which was a little bit in 5.8, but now got a, quite a new iteration, and now you can do duotone on the backend or a background color on a background image on a foreground image. So you can do quite a few designs with that with a duotone as well as with gradients. So I’m a fan with gradients, but there are other features that I right now can’t name specifically, but it all comes together with that release.
And the other release item is the new gallery block. And there has been quite a few changes there. The biggest change is that the gallery block is now comprised of a single image blocks. Which brings all the image features or the image editing features the style changes and to the gallery block as well. So if you know how to do an image block or how to configure an image block, you can also do this and a gallery block.
And one feature, a lot of people had asked WordPress for many years, is that in a gallery block, you can add individual links to each different image has different links. So that is now possible. And if that’s only one thing that you take from 5.9, this is it.
I was standing in a room the other day full of people who are not WordPressers. This room was filled with people who are very much into their own career. It has nothing to do with technology. And I stood in this room and I was confounded by the terminology that was floating about. And it just occurs to me that we’ve been throwing around a fair degree of technical jargon. And it may be one of the great things about WP Tavern’s audience is that there are some people who are just straying into WordPress for the first time.
So although you guys really know what it is that you mean by all of these things, I wonder if we might be able to go back and have a quick take on what some of these things are and how they might be useful to you in the near future. So I’ve written down more or less everything that we were speaking about over the last 10 minutes and very quickly. What are global styles? What’s the purpose of that?
So the global styles is for, I believe we’re just going to be calling it styles in 5.9. It is the overall, to a certain degree, just it’s the CSS. It’s a way of specifying the colors, typography, spacing, other items and properties that you would normally define in CSS and define it through the editor.
And then there’s a, there’ll be a new sidebar on the right. I believe it’s like an, a, like a double a icon. When you click that, you’ll see the different settings that you can have there, and that will, it ends up generating the CSS for both the front end view of the site, but also for the editor view.
And so it also gives a nice way to make sure that the two are consistent. So when you’re in the editor, it looks much more similar to the front end and it saves a ton of work for theme developers on creating you know, not having to duplicate a style sheet and a style editor sheet for the editor too. So it makes it much, much more consistent.
And that ties in nicely with this theme dot json file, which is probably the most difficult one for people to parse, if they’ve no understanding of what that is, again, same question. What is it? What does it do?
It’s actually one of the more human readable code files in a theme and it has instant effect. If you want to change the color palette or two or three colors, just a tiny bit, you can do this in the theme json file, on that particular section. So it’s all kind of colors for backgrounds, colors, for texts, colors for them. If you want to change that one thing, you would get instant gratification because when you reload the page or the site it’s already changed. So it’s different from the other big elephant in the room, the build process on Gutenberg and block developing kind of things. So this goes more to the tinkerers amongst us who just want to change one little thing and they can do this in their theme json file without having to really know much about it.
Theme dot json seems to be one of the things which just doesn’t seem to cause any controversy. I’ve yet to hear anybody thinking, no, this is not where we want to be. It just seems like such a sublimely good idea to be able to set something in that very simplistic, easy to read format, save it, and it’s just done, everywhere, once, and you can just take it and repeat it somewhere else, it’s brilliant.
Okay. So anybody using WordPress up until now will have been very familiar with the appearance and then menu section. And now we’ve got the option to, as Zack was mentioning, the navigation block. We’ll all understand the purpose of that, but is there any, is there going to be any difference in how it looks compared to what we’ve been using so far, is the interface dramatically different? Do you think people are going to stumble as they see, oh, this is not familiar, this is not what I’m used to.
There’s two pieces to it. There is a navigation editor in that feature, I think we, it will not be making it to 5.9.
And that was replacing the familiar menu screen with a block-based menu. There’s a lot of complexities. So the navigation, so that’s one piece is the editor and that’s the familiar menu screen, which builds a list of links, basically. And then the navigation block, which you’ll use in the block themes. And you can place inside of say a header or footer or any place within your block theme is a dramatically different, it’s a visual tool to create menus. But it’s not just a list of links. You can also have search boxes or site icons or page lists.
You get a lot more with navigation block, and that’s where the, it became very difficult to marry the old menus with the new navigation block, because the new block has so many richer set of features. It’s hard to figure out how to map the data and be able to switch. So as Birgit was saying, one of the great things about theming is you want to be able to switch themes and be able to keep as much as possible when you switch your theme.
And so that’s become of the challenges around navigation is trying to get the… how the data’s stored in a portable manner that it can go from, oh, we’re going from a block theme now back to a classic theme. What do we do with these search boxes inside icons that were in the navigation block and things along those lines.
And it just needed a little more testing, a little more refining to get that, those interactions. So that’s where the editor got removed, and now the interface will just be within the block theme itself. Did that does that answer? Yeah.
Yeah, that was perfect. I want to come back to the patterns in a minute. That was one thing that got heavily mentioned. But before that, there may be some people who are wondering why there’s this new class of theme, we’ve been talking for the last 20 minutes or so about blocks and how blocks are the new paradigm for anything, possibly. But what is the difference at heart between a new block theme and the old traditional themes and Birgit was very careful at the beginning to point out that one is not being thrown out. The baby is not going with the bath water. If you’re happy with the current status, you can just carry on as normal and disregard block themes and all of this stuff that we’re talking about today, in fact, but what are the major benefits? How will you interact differently between a theme and a block theme? And how would you even know that you’ve got a block theme as opposed to a normal theme?
It’s a very good question. So all of a sudden with a two, with the additional features coming with the theme json, there’s also a way to have the benefits of the theme json file with controlling the block editor for post and pages, also can be used in a classic theme. That’s I think the wording that is now a classic theme versus a block theme, and then there are two variations in between to confuse the whole thing is, so the hybrid theme is using theme json, but everything else is done in the theme. So you won’t be able to change the templates through an interface like the site editor.
You will still have the customizer where the theme developer provides you with specific ways to change some of the theme options, but you will not be able to override the theme developers choices through an interface and in your control. So that’s one big difference. Another difference is that you will see that the appearance menu will change when you have a block theme, because then the editor that allows you to edit templates and template parts actually becomes available to you.
And then when you click on it, you see all the other good features that come with it. And there’s also a additional admin bar there that gives you access to the templates and template parts, which are stored also in the database. From the front end view, you probably won’t be able to tell, is that a block theme or is it not? Unless you go into code and look at the HTML that is on the server.
Essentially, there’ll be a moment in time where additional functionality in the future will be available to you. If you go with the block theme and there’ll be certain ways that path will not be available to you if you stick with the traditional theme, it’s not to say that everything that you’ve grown to use will suddenly stop because it won’t. It’s just that some of these new, newer technologies and newer ideas will not be readily accessible. Maybe that’s my way of taking that.
A great thing too is the, and I don’t think we mentioned it by name the 2022 default theme is going to be a block theme. So it will ship, 5.9 we’ll ship with a new default theme. That default theme will be a block theme, so everyone will have the opportunity if they want to try that theme out, it is beautiful and they can use the new tools and play with it and see what it’s like. The main difference is, visual editing. So editing the headers, the footers, the layouts within the site editor, which in the site editor looks very similar to the post editor, as in you’re just manipulating blocks.
Whereas a classic theme required modifying and editing PHP files required knowing what functions to call and what variables to put in. And it works really well for people who understand PHP, but it’s not a, it requires someone to know that language and that knowledge versus the new tool, the new block themes allows anyone to modify a header and add pieces in and using the same tools you would for creating a post.
Yeah. Thanks for mentioning that it was on my list, but probably wasn’t featuring the prominence that it has the new 2022 theme. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Isn’t it? I really liked the way it looks. If I’m allowed to chip into this conversation. I think my favorite bit is block patterns. I’m all about the page. That seems to be where I dwell. And I just love the ability to file away a design or a piece, a part of a page, a row, if you like that I’ve fiddled with, and I enjoy and I’ve created it. And the idea that I can then just bring that out at a moments notice with the click of a single button and, there it is on my page. And if I wish I can make it go higher or lower or change things at that point, and it brings to mind the features that you would have in proprietary page builders, the ability to have saved rows and so on. And that just speeds things up greatly for me, you settle on a design and a theme and a color palette, the things that you enjoy, save away, half a dozen things, which, you’re going to use all over the site and then you can just deploy them. You’re about to create a new page. And whereas before it would take a great deal of work now, available for all inside of the default vanilla version of WordPress, you’ve got the ability to just drag these things in and really massively reduce the amount of time it takes. So that’s my favorite bit.
And to drive it a little further. So theme developers now are more inclined to give you a design system. Rather than just a theme and then you have to get with other plugins to get additional features in there. So you would have variations of headers that are available through the theme. Most block themes that I’ve seen in the repository, and right now there are 28 in there and the time yeah, that’s end of November, and all of them have additional dozens of block patterns in there for multiple scenarios what you could use. You have a menu for a restaurant. There are three or four different variations in how it can be designed and can look on your page or a footer or a a call to action.
Yeah. And before you, you would have maybe a plugin that would give you calls to action, which is a group block with background and then a headline, a text and a button, and you would still have to assemble that. But now the theme developer or yourself, you can create those patterns and then reuse it over and over again but have different variations of that available right now.
Yeah. And we’ve seen a new marketplace open up for people developing these patterns. They’ve got expertise in this area, they can make things look significantly better than I can, and they can put together some templated things with holding images and so on. And I’ve seen two or three of these come onto the market. And by all accounts be very successful, a completely new ecosystem of selling patterns to the market, just to speed things up. It’s fabulous.
Yeah. I think that’s a, it’s such a great addition and it allows like I’m a developer and my design sense may not be as great. And I can just grab patterns either from the pattern directory or one of these other marketplaces and be able to enter that into my page. And this is where also this ties together into the theme json and other pieces of the system, is, I want to use maybe your pattern in my site, but I want it to apply my style to it.
And so that’s where a lot of these pieces are all interconnecting okay, there are just blocks and we are just applying these different styles in settings. So you do want this cohesive ability to tie these things together. And I think that’s like the future looks really bright on being able to switch things. I want to be able to like, grab these pieces from other spots and be able to build a site using all these tools. It’s just going to be, it’s going to be great.
Okay. So the annoying, difficult question is going to be, is there anything about this release that you don’t like that could simply be a sort of feature that got left? That’s probably the, the answer that’s going to get you in the least amount of trouble, but it may be that you, there’s something that you just wish had been done in a slightly different way. I don’t wish anybody to put themselves into a situation where they don’t wish to comment, but if you don’t wish to comment, that’s totally fine.
We’ll go to Marcus.
Yeah, I don’t, it’s hard, it’s software, right? It’s the first version of Full Site Editing. Finally being released. Everyone is working really hard and trying to get it to a point that it’s going to be usable and functional. Is this something that if you’re running a huge site, you should immediately convert everything over? Probably not. There’s going to be issues. There’s going to be things I don’t have anything specific. Navigation editor was a big piece that we do want to get in. There’s others, there’s lots of small things and there’s going to be things that we don’t know that people want to do that we just don’t know, and it’s not going to be possible, but that’s, that’s part of the software. That’s probably been part of WordPress ever since, the very first release, you want to be able to do all these different things. And there’s a lot of people working hard to make it easy and quite usable. The nice thing is it’s still just HTML and CSS that you’re shoving out to sites and web browsers.
So if there’s something you can do in a theme setting, you can still write a, some CSS in a style sheet and do it how you want. You can still modify things. So it’s not completely limiting, but the power that’s going to bring is going to make it a lot easier for non-developers. The patterns is a great example. You can be a designer, you can design, you might have really good color sense, or really good layout sense or whatever it might be. You can build these patterns inside the editor, inside WordPress editor and create a pattern without writing any code at all. You don’t have to know this secret code behind PHP and what functions to call and all that stuff.
So to me, those benefits will outweigh the bumps as we go and grow. So I’m excited for it all.
That’s interesting though, you’re exercising a note of caution. If there’s something terribly complicated and complex, maybe it’s a good idea to tread lightly around the first few weeks and see where everything lands.
From what I’ve seen in using it for awhile now in the FSE, nothing is really broken. There’s not oh my God, this is just going to work one day and not work another day, or like it’s just unstable and broken. There’s going to be things like, oh, on this page. I want to do this type of thing, which I could do using PHP and pulling in whatever custom post type or something like there’s, people have built up a knowledge on how to do things in WordPress that may just have to get changed. Or maybe we haven’t built that part into FSE and it’ll need to be added. I don’t see it as being unstable or breakable, so it’s not like a, oh, we can’t use it this week and then, after the first point release, it’ll all be better. I think it will be, we can do a lot of stuff in 5.9 and we’ll be able to do even more stuff in six zero and even six one’s going to be amazing, it’s just going to be growing on itself. So it’s also like at what point can it do everything that you want? Does that make sense?
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you, Birgit. I don’t know if you want to answer that question or no.
What I’m missing. There is feature plugin to add web fonts to WordPress core. And that was slated for 5.9 early, early on, but then it was decided it probably needs a little bit more refinement and usage in a Gutenberg block first or not Gutenberg block, but in the Gutenberg plugin exposed to a few more users to figure out before it goes into a WordPress core. And it was a little sad to see that is not going to come, but it will be in the future.
And those of listeners who use the Gutenberg plugin will certainly see an earlier version of that, relatively soon I would think. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. And the navigation screen definitely would need some more thinking. There has been thinking for two years now, and it’s really hard because it’s such a prominent feature. Many plug-in and extenders and theme developers have added their own little PHP code to it, and it’s very hard to grab all those use cases now with a new thing, with the new screen, and then also the thinking, do we really want that? Or it that like something like technical debt that we are introducing. So that’s the thinking behind that and it’s not yet fully fleshed out. So yeah, that was the problem there.
WordPress 5.9 coming about fairly soon to the internet near you. You’ll be able to download it and make use of it. And obviously the intention throughout the whole project is to make the whole thing as easy as possible to use.
Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it the better than it was last time? Yes. And stay the course and have a play with it and report back to these guys about what you think about it and helping push the project forward and so no doubt at the end, we’ll manage to find some Twitter handles and email addresses and that kind of thing, but we’re going to change the direction of the podcast to something which I confess is really new to me.
And this is Zack’s chance to shine. Sorry, Zack, it’s almost like you’ve been locked in a closet for the last 40 minutes or so, but the closet is now firmly open, and you’re onto your area of expertise. So Openverse, I am fairly certain that a large proportion of the listenership of this podcast will not even know what Openverse is. So perhaps that’s the best he likes to begin.
Oh I definitely think that’s the best place to start and that would agree. And yeah there’s a lot of history here, so I can try to step back without stepping too far back. So yeah, a good place to start is probably with our name change, the project was previously known as CC Search and was created by Creative Commons, which for anyone unfamiliar Creative Commons, you can find it Creative Commons.org.
They create open content licenses which you may have seen if you’ve, for example, uploaded photos to Flickr. There used lots and lots of places, but these are essentially licenses where the users of these licenses are giving up some level of copyright of their work to make those works easy for folks to use, reuse, share, remix is a popular term we’ll use and love to see happen, not just with audio. But yeah very similar to open software licenses, which folks in the WordPress ecosystem might be familiar with. But yeah you know, roughly, gosh, five years ago now, Creative Commons sat down and wanted to create a search engine to find and identify all of the Creative Commons licensed works on the web. Which is currently estimated to be nearly 2 billion works and a massive portion of that is images, which is one of, if not, perhaps the most common use of the licenses, but yeah, in any case, they began undertaking this massive journey of identifying and consolidating all of the metadata of all of these different works on the internet and making that accessible through a single search engine.
Fast forward to the end of last year, Creative Commons was having some issues as far as sustaining the project and started looking for a new home for the project. So I was part of those conversations and the, at the end of 2020, got to keep my timeline in order, but yeah for a number of reasons, we found WordPress and it was a very appropriate home, essentially the work of CC Search, and now Openverse is, to take a model, very similar to that of WordPress and apply it to, not just websites and publishing, but individual pieces of media, pieces of content. Just making it very easy for folks to make their works available to others.
So yeah, in that light, we really have two major audiences. We have the creators of openly licensed works and then the folks who want to use and find those works and the project serves both of those audiences. Yeah, we had… I think it was in April of this year that Matt announced that CC Search was joining the WordPress project on his personal blog, with the goal of creating a service to compete with some of these more restrictive photo directories and things like Unsplash obviously come to mind as places where you can find some really beautiful, really high quality stock photography, but where many folks don’t find their custom license, which is the Unsplash license, they don’t find that to be compatible with the GPL, which is the source software license that the WordPress code base is licensed under.
And therefore a lot of people are unwilling to use Unsplash images in their WordPress themes, patterns, blocks. Yeah, we’re, we’re really hoping that, one of the more common use cases of Openverse will be to provide creators of WordPress sites with these openly licensed photos.
Yeah, we talk a lot about photos, but the project itself, it spans more than that doesn’t it? There’s obviously support for images of more or less every kind I would imagine. And also audio, video comes along as well. Is it just those three? They’re the ones which come into my mind, but there’s probably some quirky content that I can’t someone up at the moment.
Yeah, no, there’s there’s a lot of things we’re really excited about. So right now the only thing live wordpress dot org forward slash Openverse, is images, but team has been actively working on audio for the past several months. Essentially we’re bringing in multiple sources of really high quality, openly licensed audio files. And that includes everything from field recordings of someone might go out and do a field and record crickets that they hear at night, music, podcasts, samples and sound effects, which are really wonderful for anyone producing music. So that’s the first non image media source we will be adding. Yeah. And then beyond there, the possibilities are pretty endless. There’s a lot we’re excited about, but yeah, naturally that includes video 3d models are of increasing interest to us.
We’re going to have some limited support for 3d models. They appear as images in the search results, but then when you arrive on an individual result, we show the 3d preview where you can actually click through and interact with the model. Most of those are hosted on Sketchfab, which is a really lovely source of 3d models. Yeah, there’s also just, several other media types that we’d ultimately like to include, which is, could be anything from fonts and educational materials, just things as simple as PDFs or text files. Yeah, really endless. And with that comes the possibility of exploring support for other licenses outside of the Creative Commons licenses, because there are a few domains where the Creative Commons licenses aren’t commonly used. Fonts, font faces, and typography comes to mind is as a good example, where there’s some custom licenses specific to fonts.
You mentioned at the start that the Creative Commons Search wanted to be on a more stable footing. And presumably that’s where we now are. Could you explain if not the financial model that you’ve got at the moment, what is the bedrock upon which this is built? How is a service like this able to carry on without receiving payment for each image? Shall we say?
Yeah, that’s a really interesting question because there’s a couple angles to it. We have an interest in exploring ways of paying the creators of individual works in Openverse. That’s a ways away, but that’s something we’re really excited about. But yeah, as far as the actual funding and support of the project right now that falls under Automattic’s five for the future initiative, since Openverse is part of the WordPress open source project, the development, and, fundamentally the hosting of the search engine right now, falls under that.
So it’s really, and you can almost consider it a gift or a sponsored piece of web infrastructure for the WordPress community to use and have access to all these images and other content.
So a philanthropic idea, isn’t it? People take their photographs and decide that they would like that to be available to all people go to your website, and you mentioned that there’s the creators on the one side and what I’m going to call users. The people like me who may wish to put those images onto my website, the process of uploading, I guess is fairy obvious.
No, actually we currently don’t have a standalone upload mechanism to get works into Openverse. We’re collecting works from other platforms. Hypothetically, if you were to upload a photo to a Flickr in a matter of weeks, it would appear within Openverse. But yeah, we’re still a bit of a ways out from actually accepting our own content. That’s largely because there’s a whole host of issues with accepting user uploads around, obviously things like content moderation and verification of these works that they’re the actual creator. So yeah we’re a bit ways out from actually having our own upload mechanism.
From my point of view though, I would be looking at these images. I’m wondering if we’ve talked about the different sort of licensing models and the fact that maybe this came about, because there was, suspicion is the wrong word, but there was something not quite right about the licensing that you might find elsewhere and something that you believe to be truly available for you may have been available to you at one point and then fast forward a few years, perhaps it’s no longer available to you. And how would you even know that it was no longer available to you? So, is the promise of this, that something that you find on Openverse, yours to do with, as you like with no constraints?
In other words, if I wish to use that for the next a hundred years, that’s fine. If I wish to modify it, that’s fine. If I wish to take it and send it to my friends, that’s all fine. Are there any boundaries with the licensing that we need to be mindful of or is it literally free as in totally free?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think fundamentally with a platform like this, it needs to be clear to the users that there’s a level of trust. For example, things like relicensing are extremely rare and actually aren’t allowed with the Creative Commons licenses. Although there’ve been some historical cases where that has happened, that are a bit contentious and unresolved.
Yeah. At the heart of something like this, we really believe that, users need to know how a piece of media or content can be used and know that is true forever. And to the point of possible restrictions of various pieces of media, we support every Creative Commons license. There’s several, and they vary in their constraints and restrictions on how they’re used CC0 is, it’s not actually a license. It’s a, what’s called designation. It expresses the intent of the creator of the work to make that work available to people with no restrictions and Openverse allows for . Very easy filtering of the images by any particular license. If someone was looking for a work that they can always use commercially, that they can always use, that they can modify, I would recommend using the CC0 license or the public domain mark, but something that we also make very easy in Openverse is actually, one click copy and pasting of image attributions.
So that licenses like CC BY which is a very common license that lets you do absolutely anything with an image, but you need to credit the creator for their work. So we have a tool within Openverse to make it very easy to copy and paste that attribution for use directly in an image block on your WordPress site or elsewhere.
This is where the two conversations coalesce beautifully in a way, isn’t it. The idea of the image block with the Openverse search, just bolted onto it. And you’ve got that desperate urge to put a cat on your website and previously you have to go elsewhere and search through a myriad assortment of cats.
Whereas now, all of that cat-ness, for want of a better word is available inside the block editor. And the same obviously would be true for, in the future things like all the support for audio and the support for videos, maybe as a background to something, all of this will be rolled in and available inside the interface, instead of having to go somewhere, find it, download it, upload it to the media library, and then you’re off to the races. It’s going to be a much more seamless process.
Yeah. That is perhaps our primary goal for early next year is actually building out our core integration in whatever form it finally takes. But yeah your fundamental vision of the flow definitely aligns with mine. Just making it super easy to search for that media and attribute it as easily as possible.
If I could chime in, I’m also pretty excited for two way layer. So you can imagine that you have you’re, maybe a photographer, you want to upload your photos to your WordPress site, but also when you upload it, you check a box and say, yes, make this available to to other users of WordPress. And you can contribute directly from WordPress to Openverse would be a pretty exciting, I know, years off, maybe not years, but a ways off. But that’d be a pretty cool feature to grow the overall collection of openly sourced media. That’d be, I’m excited for it all.
Zack, is something like that on the roadmap, because yeah, Marcus, that’s a stroke of genius if it’s not.
Yeah, no, that’s perhaps what I’m where my personal interest lies the most and where I really think being part of the WordPress project enables so much potential.
Yeah. Fundamentally that model of allowing users to share media in the backend of their WordPress site with Openverse, really at the heart of that is turning every WordPress user into a WordPress contributor. It might not be through code, which is the standard thought of how to contribute to WordPress.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention translation as well as a really powerful way to contribute if you’re not contributing translations yet, please do and now, you with other directories, like the pattern directory, there’s more ways than ever to contribute to WordPress, even if you’re not a particularly technical individual or don’t work with code directly.
So yeah, it’s a very large technical undertaking and not without its challenges, but we are extremely excited by the idea of fundamentally making it easier for users to license their own works in their media libraries, give those the proper licensed attributions directly in WordPress. And then again, share those with the world through this directory.
Absolutely fascinating. The idea of using this with patterns again, another master stroke, what a great idea. You can imagine just by ticking a box, the impediment to making things available. And I think that’s probably the problem, isn’t it? The impediment is that you’ve got to wrap it all up, parcel it up and then go and upload it to some sort of third party service.
If that third party service, if you like Openverse, is already baked into the thing that you’re already using, and it’s the only impediment is the ticking of a box. And obviously reading through probably some terms and conditions and making sure that you understand them. That has the capacity to spread virally almost and make the project much more useful.
But when you get into the, obviously images and video, that’s of great interest to a larger number of people. Where probably we’re all at, the WordPress side of things, the ability to upload block patterns and who knows, the theme json files that we were talking about a moment ago and your design assets and that lovely font that you created, that’s absolutely enormously powerful, and I confess I hadn’t twigged quite how powerful it was until just that moment. That’s really astonishing.
Yeah. It’s amazing. How much of it all ties together? It’s a difficult challenge ahead of us too, because how do you get a font that’s openly sourced on Openverse to the theme json, right. There’s a lot of technical hurdles. So this isn’t, it’s not something that’s income in the next release or two releases or three, but it’s like something you can see, like looking out, you can see oh, I can see, like you have these open source fonts and you can apply it to your theme json directly. Or you can pull it into different patterns or create a set of patterns just around, say cats, but then go, I’m running a dog blog, and I want to see dogs and all these patterns, not cats, you switch, you can switch them out just with the switch of a search term or something like that.
It’s really, it’s really powerful. It’s exciting to see you know.
Amazing. Okay. A couple of thorny questions, which I probably should throw in. Let’s say for example, that I’ve taken a photograph and I got it somehow into Openverse. Have you spent any time thinking about the option to roll that back?
And if that image turns out to be something that I decided, you know what I’d rather that was private once more. And I was the person who had custodianship of that. Is that going to be possible? Is there a way to flip the license at a moment or are you signing in effect something imperpetuity when you give it to Openverse?
Yeah. So what first comes to mind there is that by default, if you are the creator of a work and you don’t say assign a Creative Commons license to it, at least in the United States, you are already implicitly buying into the copyright system and that work already has these protections applied to it that you haven’t necessarily consented to.
So interestingly, that’s fundamentally true of anytime you create anything, you’re joining this whole large world of copyright that you might not be interested in. Outside of actual creators who might want to, relicense a work, we have already multiple reporting mechanisms built in, for example, for images that might not actually be under a Creative Commons license, but have been improperly labeled and uploaded to one of our sources. Flickr would be the most likely place something like that could happen or Wikipedia Commons comes to mind. Those are our two largest sources that are really, almost social networks. There’s a user uploading component there. A lot of our other sources are what we collectively refer to as GLAM institutions, which is galleries, libraries, archives, and museums that have decided to take their entire collection, and, essentially open-source that collection and make photographs of all the works openly, licensed and available to folks.
But yeah. If you went to Openverse and you saw a picture of your cat that you took, that you had never licensed under Creative Commons license, you just had it on your personal blog somewhere, and someone else had taken that and uploaded it. We have a very simple mechanism to report that. It’s immediately flagged in the system and taken down until it’s properly reviewed.
My final question, I think is about the future, the longevity of the project. Obviously it ran into issues which as of now are being fixed by the purse strings, probably for want of a better word of Automattic. Are you confident? Do you have any guidance that this is something that the organization Automattic will be funding into the future?
Have they made any commitments around there? Because obviously, as this project grows and becomes bigger and is harder to police, the amount of effort and time and boots on the ground is only going to increase as well. And wonder if there’s any talks been had about the longevity of it so that we can all be satisfied, that the things that we take out from Openverse, we can keep taking out into the future.
Yeah. I appreciate your frankness and asking that question. It’s a really important one to us. The folks on the team right now. There’s a few layers to that as well. One is that there’s a lot of redundancy already built into Openverse. We don’t actually host the works on Openverse. We only collect metadata about these works, so they all exist on other platforms that have their own mechanisms of backups and redundancy.
So there’s no opportunity to hypothetically put a work in Openverse and then have us lose it. We simply can’t do that from a technological standpoint. But beyond that, the entire project is open source, much like WordPress itself. So in the event of any kind of problems or downtime or anything like that, it’s actually quite feasible for other folks to migrate and host the project themselves.
A great example of this is that we did this upon joining the WordPress project was move it from one set of infrastructure to another, which, I’ll be the first admit was no easy feat, but is you know, something that we actively and consciously try to make easier over time for folks. Yeah and then beyond that, I just think Automattic has a really great track record of supporting and maintaining projects, obviously financially, but also just like maintaining the spirit of a project. We were very nervous leaving Creative Commons, which is a nonprofit and finding a new home for the projects that had more resources would be ideal. But again, also just the reach of WordPress as a piece of software was really exciting to us and some of the power and capabilities that, that unlocks
Well, I’m more or less certain that many people listening to this will be really excited about something that’s just come across their doorstep for the first time, best place to probably search for that would be wordpress dot org forward slash Openverse. Did I get that right?
Yeah, that’s right. And then, anyone who is more development minded or looking to contribute, we are a community project. So we have our own make site on the make network of blogs. So you can go to make dot wordpress dot org forward slash Openverse and join up with our community of developers.
And like I said, translation contributors, and a whole host of other folks designers. Yeah. One thing that we are really proud of is our volunteer community. We had a lot of folks over at Creative Commons working on CC Search and now Openverse. The project has really bridged those two communities and an interesting way. Yeah. We kind of straddle two worlds right now of WordPress and the massive world of copyright and licenses.
I’m going to have to draw this to a close. I’ll just start with you Zack. If anybody was curious to get in touch with you individually, if there’s any place, contact form, Twitter handle, whatever that you’re happy to share now would be the time to do that.
Great. Yeah, I’d say the best place to find me would be in the making WordPress Slack actually, I’m not on any social media right now. So we have an Openverse channel there. You can also shoot an email to Openverse at wordpress dot org and myself or another member of the team will be happy to get in touch with you.
Thank you. And the same questions go to Birgit first, if that’s all right.
I’m really fascinated by all the museums that have, if you click on the Openverse, WordPress dot org Openverse sources. Yeah, at this moment, the Smithsonian has all their pictures in there and as well as the Reich’s Museum in the Netherlands, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art program museum. It’s really fascinating what you can all find. The spirit of open web, but also have the creators be in charge of their own creations, but have this big search capabilities, is so early nineties, but it really keeps the web open. So that’s just a little comment on that. I’m so happy that it’s in there.
If you want to get in contact with me also WordPress Slack definitely at BPH is my handle there. That’s also the handle on Twitter @ BPH and my direct messages are open if you don’t want to do it publicly. Yeah. You can always catch me on a private chat on the Slack or on Twitter, if that is easier for you.
Thank you so much Birgit, and finally, Marcus.
Yeah. You can find me at mkaz, M K A Z on make Slack also mkaz dot blog. I write a lot about WordPress and tips and tech things there. You can also find me on Twitter, I’m not that great on Twitter, so make Slack is probably the best if you want to reach out to me directly, feel free to ping me there.
Thank you very much. What a broad ranging conversation that we’ve had today. Thank you very much for joining us Birgit, Marcus and Zack, really appreciate it. What an interesting episode this has been.