After well over half a year since the previous 3.X release, two weeks ago WordPress 3.6, named “Oscar”, was released and the blogging world, it seemed, barely took notice.
Sure, there was the standard griping about having to update X number of blogs and clamoring to learn about the new features, but it can’t be said that those new features set the world on fire in any major way (good or bad). Sure, they were welcome additions, but most of the features aren’t particularly useful to any established blogger who is the sole author of their site.
Still, bloggers should be taking notice of WordPress 3.6, there are several additions to it that represent not just a pivot point for WordPress, but for blogging in general. If the release feels like WordPress isn’t moving forward, it’s likely just because it’s changing direction and soon, whether you like it or not, it’s likely that you’ll be going along with it.
In short, WordPress 3.6 may not drastically change how you blog today, but it may have big implications for your site down the road, implications you can start preparing for now.
What’s New in WordPress 3.6
WordPress 3.6 introduced several features that were highlighted in the various release notes and articles written about it. Those features include:
- New Default Theme: WordPress 3.6 introduces a new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, a colorful new theme with a responsive design and better implementation of post formats.
- Post Revisions: Though WordPress has long autosaved posts, revisions make it easy to compare versions of a post, so if two people work on the same post, they can easily compare what was added/removed and either accept or reject changes.
- Improved Audio/Video Support: Inserting MP3s, such as with podcasts, or videos into a post is easier than ever with new shortcodes and players built into the core. These embeds can be easily previewed.
In addition to these features, WordPress 3.6 also adds a slew of other features and changes, most of which will impact developers or will only have a small impact, such as using ellipses instead of three periods.
It’s easy to see why the average working blogger might not be that impressed with these new features. While a new theme is great, most established bloggers already use a new theme and have no use for a new default one. Likewise, though post revisions and a powerful feature, their usefulness is limited if there is only one author on a blog.
So, to an established blogger, WordPress 3.6 might seem like a long wait for not a lot of useful additions. But there’s a lot to read between the lines on these updates and those most subtle messages send a pretty clear signal not just about where WordPress is going, but also the future of blogging.
The Themes of the Update
When one looks across the changes that were introduced in WordPress 3.6, there are several themes that become very clear.
- Multimedia: The improvement of multimedia in posts and the expansion of post types in the default theme paint a clear picture that multimedia is playing a more and more prominent role in WordPress blogging. This dovetails with 3.5, which introduced a new media manager.
- Responsive Design: One of the most important features in the new theme is the responsive design, which adapts automatically to mobile devices. This reduces or eliminates the need for a plugin to make a site mobile friendly.
- Improved Collaboration and In-Browser Writing: The post revisions are clearly aimed both at improving collaboration in blogging and in reducing the risk of data loss due to technical issues. It’s clear that WordPress’ developers clearly intend more and more blogging to be done exclusively in-browser.
All of these changes represent shifts in blogging, both in the way that blogging is done and in the way blog content is consumed. These changes all are important to bloggers and should be closely watched.
What the Themes Mean
This biggest overall implication of these new features is that blogging is changing.
The word blog is a mashup of “Web Log”, which how blogging largely got its start, people wanting to post an online log or diary of the events of their lives. However, we’ve long since stopped seeing a blog as just a personal diary as the format has proved its usefulness for many different types of sites including everything from news sites to corporate sites.
Those changes have been coupled with shifts in the way people share personal information. Social networking and Tumblr, in particular, have had an impact. With those tools, longer text entries take a back seat to links, photos, videos and short updates.
In recent iterations, WordPress has been working hard to make itself more accessible to those needs, adding custom post types, integrating them with the default theme, making it easier to add multimedia and so forth. This is both a direct response to services like Tumblr, which have stolen a lot of the thunder from traditional blogging, but also an acknowledgement that blogging is not just about words on screen anymore.
Also important is the way blogs are being read is changing. with more and more people reading the Web on mobile devices, responsive layouts, such as the one in Twenty Thirteen, are crucial as they provide a good experience to users on everything from the largest monitor to the smallest smartphone.
Finally, also important in the changes is the acknowledgement that the way blog posts are being written is changing. More and more blogging is being done collaboratively, often in small teams, and that the browser is the most common word processor.
Previously, the editor in WordPress seemed almost like an afterthought. Many, if not most bloggers, used blogging software such as Marsedit, BlogDesk or Windows Live Writer to compose posts. while some of these applications ares still very popular, with Google Docs and other online word processors paving the way for better browser-based writing, more and more people are getting comfortable with doing their writing in the browser directly.
This makes it crucial that WordPress have a compelling blog editor and that it be at least on par with other online word processors.
In short, blogging is changing and WordPress’ new features are simply following that curve. While those changes may not seem to impact you heavily today, they will in the future and WordPress’ developers aim to make sure that it is ready.
For those who want shiny new toys and new features in WordPress, Automattic publishes a Jetpack plugin, where it introduces a variety of cool features that it doesn’t want to put into the more stable WordPress core.
But as for the core itself, even thought it might seem to be a lumbering giant that is barely moving, the shifts it does make are important and are indicative of the future of blogging.
If you’re a blogger, it’s time to start thinking about what these shifts mean, including looking at getting a responsive design for your site, how you can integrate multimedia into your blog and what changes you may need to make in your composition.
If anything, WordPress is actually behind the curve on many of these changes so the time to think about how these shifts will impact your site is now. Not later.
Because, while WordPress development may sometimes move slow, when it speaks, bloggers are wise to listen.