Phase 3 Agency Outreach Recap, December 2023

Phase 3’s focus on collaboration, revisionsRevisions The WordPress revisions system stores a record of each saved draft or published update. The revision system allows you to see what changes were made in each revision by dragging a slider (or using the Next/Previous buttons). The display indicates what has changed in each revision. and workflow takes GutenbergGutenberg The Gutenberg project is the new Editor Interface for WordPress. The editor improves the process and experience of creating new content, making writing rich content much simpler. It uses ‘blocks’ to add richness rather than shortcodes, custom HTML etc. further into enterprise territory. Inspired by @annezazu’s earlier outreach exercise, and following up on my own proposal, I took the opportunity of availability during December 2023 to reach out to WordPress agencies specialising in enterprise projects, inviting them to a series of informal show-and-tell sessions.

The aim was to gain an insight into enterprise clients’ requirements, and how agencies currently address them. Sessions were offered on a semi-confidential ‘Chatham House Rule’ basis, to avoid any concerns around client confidentiality; but I committed to publishing a summary of what we saw and learned.

Take-up was disappointing.

Invites were sent via several different outreach channels, chosen primarily based on the personal connections of the people involved: WordPress VIP’s partner networknetwork (versus site, blog), the Enterprise channel in CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at, and the News Nerdery community. This ought to have touched around 100 enterprise-centric agencies. I scheduled 9 one-hour sessions over a 10-day period, at times to suit all timezones. There was capacity for around 40 agencies to participate; but in the end, fewer than 5 agencies signed up. A few others indicated an interest, but did not get round to signing up.

There are many possible explanations. Perhaps December was simply poor timing. Our call for presentations was kept deliberately open and vague; perhaps it should have been more specific. Informal walkthroughs were requested, to minimise the burden of planning and preparation, but perhaps folks would have been more comfortable giving formal presentations.

What is clear is that Core currently lacks warm and clear communication channels with the agency ecosystem – at a time when such channels would be particularly useful for both parties.

It also follows that the following observations are based on a smaller snapshot of enterprise usage than was hoped for. 

Enterprise development practice moves slowly.

Agencies and their clients now seem comfortable with blocks, as delivered in Phase 1: this is largely backed up by data in the recent SOEWP survey.

But we saw no examples yet of Phase 2-style ‘site customisation’: agencies are still sticking with familiar models based on site metadata and Settings pages, even when Phase 2 functionality would probably deliver a better outcome.

An enterprise may only revisit its tech stack every 3 or 4 years, with no reason to fix what isn’t broken. Agencies are probably working on multiple enterprise contracts simultaneously, theoretically giving them more opportunities to embrace new possibilities; but with a decade of pre-Gutenberg ‘muscle memory’, they have a commercial incentive to stick with what they know until proven otherwise.

Collaboration will inevitably happen outside WordPress.

Enterprise employees spend their entire day in office suites like Google Docs or Microsoft 365; social media planning solutions; general collaboration platforms like Jira or Asana; industry specific tools like Desk-Net for newsrooms; technical platforms like GitHubGitHub GitHub is a website that offers online implementation of git repositories that can easily be shared, copied and modified by other developers. Public repositories are free to host, private repositories require a paid subscription. GitHub introduced the concept of the ‘pull request’ where code changes done in branches by contributors can be reviewed and discussed before being merged be the repository owner.

If businesses already have these tools, integrated into their company-wide workflow, for tasks beyond website management, it’s a bigger challenge for WordPress to force its way into the picture.

Collaboration also happens before WordPress arrives on the scene, in the definition of a ‘house style’, or page templates, which are then hard-coded into the WordPress workflow. Web content creators get limited flexibility, or perhaps none at all, simply filling in boxes. This may seem like the antithesis of user empowerment. But:

  • The business gets predictable, consistent results, always on-brand, delivered efficiently.
  • Employees’ main concern is to get the job done quickly, and move on to their next task.
  • Agencies can tailor UIUI User interface and UXUX User experience to very specific outcomes, minimising the support burden.

Real-time content collaboration is not a current user priority.

We saw no ‘cowpaths to be paved’ when it comes to real-time collaboration on normal content.

The closest we have come has been from an agency working with large news organisations: they described multiple people swarming on a single piece of content, but working on different aspects of it. There would only be one author writing in ‘the content area’: but they would be supported by a picture editor, an SEO manager, a headline manager, a ‘homepage manager’ deciding where it will appear. (This is broadly in line with @annezazu’s earlier findings.)

But some content types are, by definition, real-time and multi-author. One agency brought up the example of ‘live blogs’. If a news site runs ‘live blogs’, typically for major ‘breaking news’ events or sports coverage, these will usually be among their most popular articles of the day. (Source: Press Gazette, 2023.)

Publishers dislike ‘live blogblog (versus network, site)’ solutions embedded from third-party platforms, which do not deliver search-engine benefits. We saw one custom WP-based solution running in the back end, which suffered from the current inability to have multiple authors on the same edit screen. We also know of front-end based, Gutenberg-compatible liveblogs which allow for multiple authors and more creative content entry methods.

We certainly heard a desire for multiple users to collaborate around a single content item. But ‘Google Docs in the editor component’ is not the only possible meaning of collaborative creation… and may not even be the main one.

Revisions need work.

The current implementation of Revisions predates blocks, and is barely usable given the amount of code now held in post_content.

One agency demonstrated work they have done for a major European newspaper, refined over several years, which offers blockBlock Block is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience.-compatible WYSIWYGWhat You See Is What You Get What You See Is What You Get. Most commonly used in relation to editors, where changes made in edit mode reflect exactly as they will translate to the published page. comparison, with red and green highlighting of changes. They are open to the idea of sharing their code with Core; and are investigating how this might happen.

It was noted that collaborative editing may have unintended consequences for the current Revisions model. Right now, when only one user can edit and save at any one time, we know exactly who made each change, and when. This can be important for corporations in regulated industries. We lose that simple attribution to an individual, if multiple users are editing simultaneously. (Also noted in @leogermani‘s GitHub discussion thread.)

In conclusion

  • Core currently lacks channels for communicating and engaging with the agency ecosystem.
  • Collaboration on aspects of the website often happens away from the website, and involves people who never touch the website.
  • WordPress cannot realistically be the sole collaboration space for many enterprises and publishers, even as relates to a WordPress-based publishing workflow.
  • The ability to collaborate across different components of a post is currently a greater priority than collaborating within the post_content itself.
  • Beware of unintended consequences – for example, collaborative editing breaking our current Revisions model.

Where next?

Outside of immediate steps I can take, like supporting the agency mentioned to package its work on revisions for Core or arranging future sessions with agencies who expressed interest, we wanted to open the floor to hear from others around ways to improve uptake for enterprise agencies.

  • What do you think would help?
  • What should we try next to spark these conversations and bring feedback into this next phase?

My thanks to @annezazu and various members of the Core team for participating in this initiative; and to enterprise agency Big Bite for sponsoring my time in organising and running these sessions.

#feedback, #phase-3, #summary