WordPress has been around since 2003. And the content management system (CMS) has undergone massive changes throughout its life. Today, it might well be unrecognizable when compared to its earliest versions.
Signs of that evolution are everywhere. The block editor means we no longer need a page builder plugin to craft custom layouts. And thanks to the site editor and block themes, an entire website can be built without writing a line of code.
Virtually every major component of building and maintaining a website has changed. And there’s every reason to believe that the innovation process will continue. What WordPress is today is only laying the foundation for tomorrow.
But how will WordPress change? While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can see plenty of areas that are ripe for improvement. Some may be solved by updates to WordPress core, while the plugin and theme ecosystem could tackle others.
With that, let’s try and predict the next opportunities for innovation in WordPress. They may not qualify as sexy, but they’re important nonetheless.
Making Website Data Easier to Access
Data storage and retrieval have long been a challenge for WordPress developers. Sure, everything is stored in a singular database. But things can get exceedingly complicated in a hurry.
Standard posts and pages are easy enough to import or export. But when you move into the realm of data generated by plugins, it’s a different story.
That’s because plugin authors have numerous options for writing to the database. On the surface, this freedom seems like a positive. It allows developers to store and retrieve data in a way that makes the most sense for their needs.
But for the rest of us, it can be a nightmare. Each plugin we install manages data in its own way. Thus, piecing together a coherent report is nearly impossible – unless you’re proficient with PHP.
For example, let’s imagine an eCommerce website that also has members-only content. We might install WooCommerce to power the online store, while a separate membership plugin restricts access to content.
If we just want to export data related to one of these site functions, it’s easy enough. But what if we combine each aspect into a single report? Not so easy. Data can be stored in different database tables and different formats. Even with the help of plugins designed to export data, it often takes custom code to make this work.
The obstacles to accessing data are large and complex. But there’s an opportunity for either WordPress core or a brilliant plugin developer to put it within reach of site owners.
Creating a Must-Have Block Theme
The idea behind the WordPress Site Editor (aka Full Site Editing) is simple: to empower anyone to build a custom website within a code-free environment.
The feature officially became a part of WordPress core in version 5.9. Since then, a steady stream of newfangled block themes has been released. Meanwhile, the feature’s functionality and user experience continue to be refined.
Progress aside, we’ve yet to see a rush of users migrate to this new way of building websites. The theme market continues to be saturated with Classic Themes. Plus, developers may still be wary of allowing key layout elements open to editing.
What’s missing is a compelling reason to switch. Part of that may be a matter of increasing what the Site Editor is capable of. But perhaps a transformative product (or 100) is also needed to attract user interest.
Imagine a block theme that is both powerful and versatile. One that offers a wide range of style variations to fit a multitude of use cases. And its author will hopefully have learned from the past mistakes of the third-party theme market.
A theme that is lean, performant, and easy to customize could be just the thing to entice users. Luckily, the market is wide open. That means there is plenty of room for competition in this space.
Bringing Top-Notch Performance to WordPress
Website performance is complicated. It starts with a high-powered server that is optimized for speed. Then there’s the website, where code and assets must be used efficiently. Add databases and calls to third-party APIs into the mix, and there are plenty of potential bottlenecks.
The WordPress Core Performance team has been established to help bring the CMS up to speed. And they’ve already made significant progress in the area of query caching.
Still, the WordPress ecosystem further complicates the process. Themes and plugins can vary greatly in terms of resource requirements. Some make multiple database calls, while others make extensive use of scripts and styles. And even items that perform well enough on small sites could struggle at scale.
There are a variety of caching plugins available to get the most performance out of a website. But neither they nor WordPress core can account for a bloated theme or plugin.
With that, some developers have decided to (mostly) bypass the ecosystem by running headless installations. With a WordPress back-end that handles content creation, a static front-end removes database calls from the equation. This can result in blazing-fast page loads, with the caveat that some plugin functionality won’t carry over.
Tools that simplify the process of building headless WordPress websites would be welcomed. And bonus points for those that can keep plugin functionality (shopping carts, forms, etc.) going on the static side or via a hybrid approach. Much progress is being made, and it will be exciting to see what breakthroughs come next.
That doesn’t mean WordPress core shouldn’t focus on speed, though. For most users, keeping a traditional install that uses a database is still the reality. Every step towards higher performance counts.
Looking for the Next Big Thing in WordPress
The predictions above represent opportunities that already exist. One or more people can take on these challenges and create a solution that makes WordPress better/easier/faster. But they’re far from the only ones out there.
The great thing about an open-source CMS is that developers are only limited by their imaginations. Thus, we could see innovations that haven’t even been considered yet.
As WordPress matures, the need to create a powerful and seamless experience increases. A community full of creative minds is hard at work, plotting the next big thing. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.