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Looking To The Future

Today was the closing day of the inaugural WordCamp US, a gathering of over 1,800 of the amazing people that make up the WordPress ecosystem. The most anticipated part of this event was WordPress co-founder & CEO Matt Mullenweg’s annual State of the Word (SoTW) keynote delivered at the closing of the conference.  This keynote celebrates the achievements of the past year and sets the direction for the next.

Matt Mullenweg at the WCUS podium delivering the State of the Word keynote.
Matt Mullenweg delivering the 2015 State of the Word keynote. Photo by FoundArt Photography.

As I am no longer a freelance WordPress developer, but in charge of setting the direction of technology for an enterprise, I wanted to look at this year’s address with a different perspective. I love WordPress, but now need to look at it as part of the larger picture.  Many of the points that Matt made during the SoTW address, while they apply to WordPress, as equally as relevant to the larger web.   My takeaways are as follows:

  1. Learn JavaScript, Deeply –  This was the “homework” Matt gave everyone in the community. With the release of Calypso, and the WP REST API coming out shortly, there’s no question that knowing JavaScript will play an important role in the future of WordPress development.  This is something that we’ve known for a while now.  JavaScript has become the de facto language of the web.  Using NodeJS, you can write an entire application (back and front end) in JavaScript. Frameworks like Angular, Ember, and React help speed up this process.  While not the right solutions for every job, knowing HTML, CSS and JavaScript are the three most important languages (and markups) that you’ll need to know in the foreseeable future.While there is a lot of focus on learning the Framework of the day (it used to be jQuery, then Backbone, now it’s React) the most important thing you can do is learn plain ol’ vanilla JavaScript.  Just like knowing plain PHP will help you understand the internals of WordPress’ core, knowing plain JavaScript will make it easier for you to learn whichever framework you need/choose to use in the JS world.
  2. APIs are the key to the open web – This year has seen the adoption of a REST API in WordPress, allowing the system to be used as a data source for applications written outside of it. This could be anything: native mobile applications, Javascript-driven interfaces, or anything the Internet of Things (IoT) can dream up.WordPress aside, this is important. When evaluating any web service – be it a payment gateway, marketing tool, time tracking system, or e-mail gateway – the availability of an API is now one of the key features I look for. The ability to share information between systems in a structured way does, and will continue, to play a big role in the development of services on the web.
  3. Inclusiveness – In his address, Matt noted that last year was the first time that WordPress was downloaded more times in non-English languages that it was in English. They’ve been doing a lot of work to make WordPress, it’s themes, and it’s plugins support as many languages as possible. During the Q&A session after the SoTW address, Morten Rand-Hendriksen asked Matt to have developers, while learning JavaScript (see point above), they should also be learning how to make it accessible to persons with disabilities.Both of these are incredibly important for the larger web:On language: Keep in mind, there are two other W’s in the web – World Wide. 2007 statistics show that only 5.52% of the world speaks English as their native language.  If you want your application or service to be available to a truly global audience, you need to look at supporting more than just English.  Internationalizing your project has its complications, but it’s much easier to do it from the beginning then it is to implement it later.

    On accessibility: According to the United Nations, “around 15 per cent of the world’s population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world’s largest minority.” It is our responsibility as the creators of digital content and applications to make sure that these assets are available to everyone. Learn standards like WCAG 2.0 and implement them in your projects. Test your sites for accessibility errors.  Do user research with users who have a range of disabilities. As with internationalization, implementing accessibility from the beginning of your project is much easier (and cheaper) than having to do so as an afterthought.   Don’t forget, one day you may (probably will) need these features for yourself.

With WordPress now powering 25% of web sites, making issues like these central to the platform will help bring awareness of their importance to a larger number of authors, designers and developers.  This will help shape the future of the larger, world wide, web, – no matter which tools you decide to use.

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