Keeping on Top of WordPress Core with Jonathan Desrosiers

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Keeping on Top of WordPress Core with Jonathan Desrosiers
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Jonathan is a full-time sponsored contributor to WordPress by Bluehost. He has his hands full in core helping with tickets to keep the gears turning. This keeps him busy and also on top of all the things WordPress core. And there is a lot to keep on top of these days.

As a Woo builder it’s important for you to stay in tune to these major changes, since WooCommerce runs on top of this platform that is seeing shifts through blocks and the full-site editor, just to name a few. Jonathan touches on these pivotal improvements and gives insight not only how to keep on top of it all, but how important it is for builders with Woo to keep themselves aligned with WP core.

A Chat with Jonathan

Noëlle and I talk with Jonathan about:

  • How he discovered WordPress in college and never looked back
  • What builders can do to keep on top of the changes and make the transition easier for them
  • Where are the best places to hang on WordPress Slack to help builders stay informed
  • What’s coming up including full site editing, WebP, the customizer and, of course, more on blocks
  • How block patterns bring customization opportunities for the builder
  • What helps with these transformations and ease any tensions builder might have affecting their products or services
  • Why these changes are bringing more opportunities for the Woo builder
  • How Woo builders can be prepared through testing

Connect with Jonathan

Also mentioned:


Thanks to our Pod Friends

Bob: Hey, everyone. BobWP here. We are back with Do the Woo episode 114. I know this last week had been kind of a flurry for you as I'm catching up on adding some extra podcasts. But yes, we have an exciting show today. It's almost like I want to just skip everything and jump right into it, but I'm not going to skip everything. First of all, I have my wonderful cohost, Noëlle. How are you doing today, Noëlle?

Noëlle: I'm doing fantastic, Bob. How about you?

Bob: I'm doing good. Good. It's that time of year. What? Spring is in the air, supposedly here and there. Yeah. Anyway, doing good. How about yourself?

Noëlle: Yeah. No, I'm in the Netherlands actually to visit family. So I traveled from South Africa. I mean, typically, I wouldn't be a fan of that right now, but visa, so really had no choice. But the bright side is, I mean, as you can see, but not others, in the background, I am at the moment staying at my wonderful grandparents. I'm getting to spend some time with family, which always brings about fuzzy, warm feelings, for sure.

Bob: Yeah, very cool. All righty.

Before I get into introducing our guest, we just want to thank a couple of our Pod Friends, first, YITH, with their 100 plugins plus. They have a ton of plugins over there on their site and they're all WooCommerce plugins. Yes. I just want to point out their membership and subscription plugin really is a perfect solution for selling those video courses, lessons, consultancies, helps restrict member content, and with the subscription recurring income, we all love recurring income. So those things go really well hand in hand. Just go to yithemes.com to check out.

And Mode Effect. Mode Effect is a Woo agency and they can even help other agencies with their clients with conversions and revenue. It's a great thing. They might be able to carry on, especially if you don't want to be in the long haul, you want to get their site built. Their team could be part of your team and help clients avoid the hassle of management and training. So visit modeeffect.com. So I'd like to thank those two Pod Friends this week.

Jonathan Desrosiers, that is our guest. We're going to start talking a little bit more about WordPress core. I think it's important that you, as a builder out there, know what is going on there. I mean, you do know what's going on there, but you need to stay on top of it. Jonathan is the man with the plan. He has his fingers touching all this stuff over there at WordPress core. Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan: Hi, Bob. Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Bob: I normally ask people how they do the Woo right now, but how do you do the core? Now, that's really sounds weird. What is your involvement with core right now? I know you also work for Bluehost. So, tell us a little bit about what you do.

Jonathan: Yeah. So, I'm a full-time sponsored contributor to WordPress. So my team at Bluehost, there's a handful of us and we're all full-time sponsored to contribute to WordPress in some way. So for some of us, it might be helping with WordCamps, if you remember those. It might be helping with core. It might be helping with the hosting team. Whatever might interest you at the time or where we're needed, we gravitate to and help out.

So my day to day is just helping with core, making sure that the tickets that come in and get the right attention, helping the gears continue to turn. As a sponsored contributor, I try to spend a good amount of time handling things that might be a little less glamorous and you might not see as much because they're just important to keep gears going and keep things moving along. The contributors that have less time per week, maybe a couple hours, might not be able to tackle certain things that have to get done. So, that's my day to day, my week to week as far as when I work on in core.

Bob: Yeah. First of all, thank you, Bluehost. Thank you for committing an entire team to core. That's huge. So, kudos goes out to Bluehost for that.

Well, how did you get into the WordPress thing? I mean, did it just pop up into your life or is it something you eased on into? Just maybe in a nutshell a little bit about that journey.

Jonathan: Yeah. When I was in college, my friend of mine said, "Hey, you should check this WordPress thing out. It's pretty cool. I think it's going to be big." So I used it on a couple of class projects I had to build some different sites. Yeah. From there, I started building websites on the side for family members and that turned into... I worked at a couple of small agencies after I graduated. And then after, let's see, probably about six years ago, I shifted into education space. I worked for a university.

And then I came over to Bluehost because I was really passionate about contributing and open source and I found the perfect fit for that over as a full-time contributor. So as far as doing the Woo, I did the Woo a while back, but it's been... I'm a little rusty with my Woo. I'm going to say that it was probably WooCommerce 2, it was probably the last time I was building some customer sites on WooCommerce, so it's been awhile, but I do try to keep and test things out as I see new cool things get released.

Noëlle: Yeah. So we know that a lot of awesome stuff is coming in core. Last time, the biggest release happened and say, for example, Gutenberg came out. I think the experience was, I mean, awesome addition of functionality, but with the release also came a mixed experience for different people. I think that depending on how much you like following it and how much you're into it, how do I say, yeah, keeping tabs on what's going on, I think that transition could be better for people when some awesome new functionality comes along.

So I'm curious, how can people keep tabs on what's going on, when is what coming up? Maybe start experimenting a bit in the meantime. How can they make that transition easier for themselves with everything that awesome things that are coming up, like full site editing, for example?

Jonathan: Yeah. So I think there's different levels as far as keeping tabs. So at the basic level, the minimum of what you do, before every major release, there's a field guide that gets published. And so, when there are technical changes, there'll be these posts on the Make WordPress core blog called dev notes. They will summarize basically a change that a developer needs to know about. So if you're implementing anything technical on your site, you should really go to that field guide every release, which comes out about three or four weeks before the release, give the posts and that guide a read over and see if there's anything that might affect you. That will really round up the changes that are coming and help you adjust and know that you're going to be safe with the next release. So at the basic level, I definitely recommend doing at least that.

At the next level, you can subscribe to some of those blogs that I mentioned, the Making WordPress core blog, as discussions are happening around changes and what changes should look like and how they should be made. Posts are made to that blog for feedback and asking for thoughts on what we might be missing or what we might have to do to change the approach. So even if you spend a couple hours a week maybe skimming through the posts that have been released over the last couple of weeks, again, that will give you a good idea of what's being discussed and what's happening, where's people's heads at and what are the goals that are being moved towards.

At the highest level, if you're building a plugin or a theme, I recommend that you always run the latest version of WordPress, like the development version in trunk or through the beta tester plugin on the site that you're doing your development. What this will do is as changes are made to core, which changes happen almost every day, you'll have the latest changes locally and you'll be building on those latest changes. So when a change happens and it affects you, you can look at the last couple of days and find the change that might be affecting your plugin or your theme. And so, that's always a lot easier than looking at an entire releases worth of changes and trying to figure out what change in that release is causing the problems, right?

So, you have that full spectrum of attention to detail that you can have. If you're a team of people, you're definitely better off to where you can say, "Hey, if you're interested in this, maybe watch over here. If you're interested in this, maybe watch the media posts. If you're into images and stuff like that, it's what you like to focus on." You can assign these niches for everybody to look around and just report back to the team if they see something coming through that might affect the plugin or whatever you may be building.

Bob: Is there any advice you can give to navigating WordPress Slack as far as keeping on top of things? Because I know there's lots of things going in there. I watch a lot of different channels. To tell you the truth, I'm not developer, so a lot of the stuff absolutely makes no sense to me, but I try to ingest it and pull some sense out of it. What's your tips for navigating the Slack channel?

Jonathan: Sure. Yeah. There's about 60 something components, I think, in core, and a component is just like a section of core that people maintain and probably 20 or so of them have regular meetings. So, there's something for everybody to find, that maybe your WooCommerce product is big on multi-site installs, there's multi-site meetings and things to that nature.

Noëlle: Awesome. So Jonathan, can you tell us a little bit more about the things that are coming up in core that you are excited about, that people should know about? You just mentioned full site editing, but maybe some people listening to this episode are not familiar with that yet.

Jonathan: Sure. Yeah. It's hard to talk about anything other than full site editing, right? Because it's the big thing right now.

Noëlle: Of course.

Jonathan: I guess a small thing that's coming is that the media team is working on supporting some newer image formats. So right now, they're looking at WebP. If you use something like Jetpack, Photon, they convert your images to WebP and they serve them through their CDN. It's a much more perform in image format. And so, the media team is looking at how that can be added to core so that you can upload WebP images and have optimized images. So that's another thing that's not full site editing to take keep an eye on.

A lot of people are familiar with the Customizer. That's been in core for quite awhile. If you're not, it's basically a way to visually edit the parts of your website. So, you go into the Customizer, you see your site and you can click on the menu and you can edit the items in the menu and so on. But full site editing is meant to be across the whole site and using the block editor.

So that block editor experience that you've come to love and hopefully that you've come to use a lot in your projects, that's now going to be able to edit your header on your website or your footer on your website and so on from there. I'm really excited about that because I think about back in my days in the agency, my agency time, and we would spend time creating a meta box that would allow you to put an image somewhere special outside of the content and have it display a certain way and things of that nature.

I'm excited to see what people do when those kind of things that you do on every site, because there really wasn't a good way to accomplish that previously, when you give that power to the users themselves, what are these people, these implementers that are building plugins and themes, what are they going to spend their time on instead and what else are they going to be able to build to further harness the block editor and make things more of a powerful experience for the user and for the site owner that manages the site.

A good example of that is there's a new block coming that's called the query block. The query block was basically just you drop it into your page and you can select the post type and maybe the category that you want to display, how many, things of that nature. That's something that you used to have to be able to go in into your theme. You'd have to know what a WP query object was, how to write a query to the database and through that object, and then how to actually display those posts that you get from the database. But now if any user can do that, that's really great and that's really powerful. So you can have unique landing pages. You can make a new landing page every week and you could display a certain category of products on there. You could use a checkout block underneath that, and then you could have a one page landing page for a specific product or a sale or something like that.

I think that's really exciting because... It's scary at the same time because some people have this business model that they've built around doing those things, but I'm interested to see how people adapt and how people fill the time with other things and build other things. I like to call it the fun stuff, right? You get the minutia out of the way that you do all the time, and then you get the focus on the fun stuff of what you're going to build and how you're going to enhance that.

Noëlle: Yes. What I'm personally excited about is I would love to play with it. So I know you can use it for the headers and footers, but you can also edit templates with the block editor. I mean, that's major because up until now, people had to know PHP to be able to do things like that. Now, this is going to open up to a whole new group of users, which is fantastic.

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. Those templates, you can edit them once and it will change everywhere. So maybe you have your template for a store page and you add a banner at the top for a sale or something like that. You do it once, and it would go to every page. It really just cuts down on, A, having to involve a developer, which is scary to developers, but again, you get to focus on some other stuff now, and B, it just saves you time. It's just easy. You could probably schedule things in the future, where the banner will show up for a little while and then disappear. These are all things that are being explored that are very exciting to be able to see what people are going to do with them.

Bob: So in the same line, kind of looking at block pattern, right?

Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. You can think of the block patterns. For anyone that doesn't know, it's a predefined group of blocks that you can drop into any post. So maybe you might have a gallery block with a contact form below it for whatever you might use it for and you would be able to drop that into any post to use. With the site templates, it's the same idea, but it's a group of blocks for a layout or a section on a website. And so, those, you can think of how those maybe In the Woo perspective, you would have a product listing with the query block and then a checkout form. So maybe that's your site template that you're able to put into different pages and list your categories. There's no limit to what you could define your templates as on your projects.

Noëlle: Yeah. Also, the patterns, I would really recommend people take it for a spin because honestly, when I first heard about patterns and I briefly saw something about making your own custom patterns, I thought, "Well, surely that's going to be majorly complex." But what I found was when I actually took the time to do it, it was surprisingly straightforward. It was very quick to do and lovely to experiment with.

I made some custom patterns for my client for a standard page and for their editorial posts and made a video and then off they go. They're totally empowered with that, which is awesome. It allows for them to do so much more and have me involved less, and I'm actually fine with that because there's always basically more to do, like you say, the fun stuff. The client loves being empowered and loves not having to involve a developer for every little change that they want to make so they can move faster too. So hey, if my client is happy, then I'm happy. There will always be things that they can't do themselves and that they will need you for.

Jonathan: Sure. Yeah. There's always going to be people that don't want to do it themselves either. So you might have a client like that. I have a freelance client and they don't want to update their content. They just send me what they want to change and I change it, right? So people like that are always going to want someone to be there to do these things for them. So, that's not completely going away and that probably never will go away, but it's going to change a little bit. And so, it's how do we adapt and how do we add new services to our offerings and how do we adjust our plugins to allow our users to take better advantage of these features.

Bob: Yeah. But it leads into the opportunities for builders, these extensions, even with the block-based themes. I mean, with everything combined, it's going to be incredible what they're able to do and what they're able to offer, creating products. At the same time, they're quivering and getting jittery and thinking, "Oh my God, is the world going to explode?" Because all this stuff is happening and everything they have going so far in place and they need the Jonathan pill to calm them down and to alleviate the crisis or feeling.

Jonathan: I'm going to treat them like that.

Bob: I'm building it up a lot there, but there is that tension. But what advice or what can you share that will help them make this transformation easier or not stress them out?

Jonathan: Sure. I would say just don't be afraid of it, have an open mindset. It's important to remember that when this gets into core, full site editing, which is probably 5.8, that's currently being discussed and the decision makers are testing it out and making sure that it's ready to go, when it does come out, it's not getting turned on for everybody. So every site is not getting full site editing right away.

The theme has to support it and the site has to support full site editing. So, don't be afraid because even if it goes out, it doesn't mean that you're immediately going to be affected by it. There's always to be the early adopters that want to try it out and want to use it. And so, you might have to consider it for that. But we also understand that there's a learning curve. There's a big learning curve here. And so, it makes paying attention a little more important because there's going to be a lot of training resources that gets published leading up to the release of full site editing.

If you haven't gone to LearnWP, I recommend you go there. It's a kind of like WordCampTV, where all the WordCamp videos get posted, but just for workshop type videos online. There's going to be a lot of things posted there to help you learn how to... There's stuff for how to use blocks, how to write blocks. There's going to be stuff for how to use full site editing, how to make your theme use full site editing, what do you need to know.

I know that there's a whole list of ideas for LearnWP as far as educating site owners and users our plan, so keep an eye out for those. But yeah, just don't be scared. Be ready to learn, be ready to try it out. If you're testing every day in building in your development environment with that checkout or the latest Nightly of WordPress, when it does land, you'll be able to turn it on. You can already turn it on if you download the Gutenberg plugin and turn it on.

There's also a theme called TT1, which is a version of the 2021 theme that supports full site editing. So you can go and turn that on today and start playing around with it and getting a feel for it and see how it is. It might change slightly. Certain things might get polished and refined, but the extent of the experience is going to stay pretty similar. So it's a great time to go and download the Gutenberg plugin and that theme and get in and get your feet wet and see. Maybe it just works with your plugin. Maybe it works on your sites. Maybe you need to redo a few things or reports. Again, because it's not turned on right away, you could still work on it and push out an update and have dual support for with or without. And then as your customer would have to turn it on, they'll, "Oh, it works right away for me on full site editing."

Bob: Cool. Now, you are acquainted with WooCommerce. You worked with it a bit. From the outside looking in, and you've touched on this a bit already, where do you really see the opportunities for the Woo builder with all these new things coming to core?

Jonathan: I think I mentioned one a little earlier with the query block and how that block could really enhance store owners' ability to just make landing pages really quickly, have a sale, take advantage of some viral thing that's going on. So, I definitely think that there are ways to use these blocks, these core blocks that are being built for different marketing aspects and to reach different sales goals. What they are, there's other people that are much better at that than I am. It's one of the things I look forward to seeing how people use that.

But I also think that WooCommerce has come a long way since when I would build stores on it. I do think it's getting easier and easier for people to manage really complex websites in stores on. And so, I think that all of this paired together, it's creating this perfect storm of enabling people to create online stores that maybe they make jewelry in their basement or maybe they make signs.

They're tired of going on to online stores like Amazon and selling on Etsy or something of that. They want to own their own store and they want to own their own business. And so, this is really great to enable people to do that. The world climate aside, you add that in and more and more people might need to find an alternate way to make a living. I'm really excited to hear some stories of how people use these tools to get by and to find a new job that they're passionate about and things of that nature.

Noëlle: Yeah, absolutely. The stories that I hear, they are so incredibly empowering from people, like you say, with the climate that the world is in, people going from, "I actually don't know what to do about this now," to with all this extra spare time diving into this and experimenting with WordPress and Woo and building something up for themselves. I can definitely see how the full site editor can just add this beautiful layer on top of that and enable them to do so much more without getting a developer on board or without having to go to almost a rent-your-site model, where they can own their content, where they can be in control. I find that really beautiful.

Jonathan: For the implementers, it might just be a sit-back time period where you look and you see what this new group of people are, what their problems are, where are their pain points, where are they having issues with. And then just looking for those right opportunities to hop into. So, it might take a while to recognize where you might fit in in this new full site editing time, but I have no doubt that there's going to be a bunch of really cool areas that you can dive into and have an impact in.

Bob: I imagine from their own customers, they'll be hearing a lot of feedback that will give them hopefully ideas of, either whether it's a new product or service or an existing one, how they can even make it better. I always think it's interesting when we look at this stuff and thinking we're making it easy and easier for the user. But for anybody building sites, that's such an advantage where you can easily sell it when, okay, somebody wants something, "Yeah, this is too small of a job for me," but do you realize that it almost gives, especially site designers and even shop designers, more of an advantage to say, "This is what you can do now. Why don't you do this? Why don't you do this?" That gives that person a good feeling because their experience with you is still positive.

Yeah, there's always that chance your site's going to grow, especially if it's a shop and they can always still think, "Oh, so-and-so really helped me back then and got me started, just giving me some good advice. Now, I need their help. I need to go back to them and say I'm ready to take this next step because I want to really grow this out." I think sometimes builders don't think of it, especially site builders don't always think of it that way. They just get stressed out because it's not another job for them, but it does open an opportunity for them to build a small relationship there and just leave a good taste in that potential client's mouth.

Jonathan: Sure. Maybe your opportunity here is just that you're a firewall between the site owner and core, and you're taking that information. When they come to you with questions, you're prepared to answer it. You can be that insurance, where it's like you pay... Some people just like to pay to know there's someone there to help them.

And so, if you're following these changes and even if you're not getting paid directly to keep up with this and try it out and learn how it works, there's opportunities there to be support for site owners that they're going to hear about this from someone else and then, "Oh my God." They might be panicking like, "What does this mean for me? Am I going to have to spend all this money now?" You can step in and be like, "Hey, well, yeah, you might have to spend a little money, but we know how to adapt this to your site. We're ready to go. We already know how this works." And so, you can be that calming force over there.

Bob: So to wrap this up, I'm thinking, is there any testing opportunities on the horizon or this, I mean, you talked about it a lot, but that people can really dive into over the next period of weeks or whatever as we go through this process?

Jonathan: Yeah. So definitely, I recommend starting with, like I said, the plugin, the Gutenberg plugin and the TT1 theme. I think there's two or three, maybe four other themes that support full site editing right now in the theme directory. Once a decision is made, whether the project leads feel that full site editing is ready to go, it's going to be merged into WordPress core. That way it can be tested inside core and things can get polished and we can find bugs.

So when that happens, using the beta test to plugin is a way to download what's called the Nightly. So every night, the new changes in WordPress get rolled up into this nightly version and it will update your development site. So then, you can actually turn off the Gutenberg plugin and you could just use the nightly version. It would be included in that version as we polish that and the Gutenberg team works through any issues that get found.

But yeah, I recommend, maybe you have a defined set of plugins that you install on almost all of your websites, set up a local installation or a test site and put those plugins on it, and then activate the Gutenberg plugin and a full site editing theme and just see what happens. Maybe nothing breaks. Maybe things work really well. Maybe just this one specific block that you have that list products or has a checkout page or something like that, maybe that has an issue, but this will help you start to see the potential issues that you might encounter with this new feature as it comes in, because it is a big change. I don't want to say there won't be pain points because you're going to find things that might be a little sticky for you, but you also might be pleasantly surprised in what doesn't have issues. I think it will help you have an expectation of what's going to be coming.

Noëlle: Yeah. Also, if and when people discover issues, they can also be part of this wonderful ecosystem that we have. If you're putting these plugins on your local installation to test them with full site editing and you're discovering that, "Hey, your favorite plugin has a bug with this," they check with the developer, whether they aware of it, or if not, you're helping them create a better product and that's awesome too.

Bob: Exactly. I think some people think, "Oh, I don't want to be saying, 'Hey, this isn't working and stuff.' " But also, like Noëlle said, they can't be on top of every variable in every situation, so it's good. I've always reached out privately. Don't do it on Twitter publicly. You don't have to tell everybody in the world.

Noëlle: Yes, exactly. If it's in the repository, check what tickets are open. But if it's something that you can't find, just communicate what you experienced and how they can reproduce it and stuff. Yeah, they'll be grateful because some plugin developers have big teams that can really stay on top of this, and some have smaller teams and they might be a bit slower. So if you can help them, then I think that's really great.

Jonathan: It's kind of the blessing and the curse of WordPress, right? The blessing of WordPress is you can run the installation however you want with whatever plugins you want, with whatever theme, with whatever custom code you want, right? But that's also a curse because then new things come out and you have all these plugins, all these themes, and so you have to make sure they work well together.

The teams that work on the new features in WordPress, they can do research, they can do planning and they can try to anticipate where the issues come up and what they are, but a lot of times, you can't really anticipate what will come up in the real world. And so, any testing you can do in any bugs that you report are very much appreciated because the teams, it doesn't matter how big the team is, unless you're out there using it to do real-world things, there's issues that would never be discovered. So, I can confidently say nobody will ever be taken back that you're reporting bugs or problems that you find.

Bob: Excellent. Well, we don't want everybody reporting every bug to Jonathan here. But if people just want to connect with you or just possibly have a chat or whatever, what's the best way to connect with you?

Jonathan: Sure. I'm DesrosJ, D-E-S-R-O-S-J on Twitter. That's my username pretty much everywhere in the Slack and wordpress.org. If you have a question about full site editing, you can send me a DM. I might not know the answer, but I can at least push you in the right direction.

If you have a bug in WordPress, you can go to WordPress trac. If you Google will Trac, T-R-A-C, that's the best place to report a bug for WordPress. If you have a block editor bug that you want to report, you can head over to the Gutenberg GitHub repository. So those are great places to reach out with bugs or to reach out to me.

Bob: Perfect. All Righty. Well, this has been excellent as I knew it would be, and it's a great kickoff to... Yeah, let's bring in more people from WordPress core to really help everyone keep on top of this, including myself in the well. So, this is good stuff.

I just want to thank my pod friends one last time, Mode Effect, partner up with Mode Effect and let them help keep your clients running smoothly in the longterm at modeeffect.com.

YITH, to compliment the membership and subscription plugin I talked about, they also have a dynamic pricing plugin that allows you to create own Amazon Prime benefits and discounts for your members or for your client members.

So, that's it. Yeah, we are good to go. Another great show. Noëlle's hanging in there with me. I'm so glad you're continuing and showing up. That's always a positive thing on my side.

Jonathan, yeah, I'd like to just thank you one last time for coming on and sharing all this stuff.

Jonathan: Yeah, thank you again for having me. I've had fun and it's always good to remove the curtain from core a little bit and give some people some guidance on how they can better keep their ear to the ground and know what's coming.

Noëlle: Thanks so much for doing that, Jonathan.