As a Front-end WordPress Developer, I’ve become an avid reader of WordPress Tavern; their articles are always relevant to me and of a very high quality with just the right amount of new information. Their recently published article, 6 WordPress Things I’m Thankful For by Jeff Chandler is no exception, and got me inspired to ponder about what in WordPress I am most grateful for and write this article. The obvious answer that most people who I know would give is the community that surrounds WordPress, which I would definitely agree with. I have met amazing new friends and have felt a strong community of support and encouragement from my peers. But what about the application itself, the one software that all the fuss is about? It must be the marvelous piece of magic open-source code to support and inspire more smart and passionate group of professionals, business owners, and hobbyists to continue create amazing and increasingly bigger and more complex websites with this community-developed software.
To truly appreciate the grace and elegance of WordPress the application, you must first consider when web publishing was not so graceful; and most times, down-right clumsy. Around 1996, there was Geocities, and for a while that was the way for the average person to have any kind presence on the internet. There was a WYSIWYG page builder, or you could upload your own files via File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Tables were used for advanced layouts and obnoxious animated .gifs littered the entire webosphere. The worst part, however, was not the blink tag, but the enormous amount of black Times New Roman text on gray backgrounds that were displayed by most browsers then when a default font or page color was not specified. Not that there were many choices at the time. CSS, as we know it today, did not become widely supported by most modern browsers until 2004.
I began web development and programming in 1996, but since discovering WordPress in 2008, I have created over 200 new or migrated from other CMS sites. I have seen many new awe-inspiring features and capabilities added to core in the past few years that would have taken me months to code for myself, if I even could. I have never looked to any other CMS, not even several that I hand-made prior to WordPress, to replace all that encompasses the WordPress application. Below, I have outlined my five favorite things about WordPress along with some of the horrors of their prehistoric counterparts.
1) WORDPRESS GALLERIES
I’m so grateful that I don’t have to create hundreds of thumbnails in Photoshop, manually code them up in a table, fuss with vertical and horizontal alignment of every table cell individually, manually update the links to the pictures, digging through the sea of table rows and table data. Forget re-sorting cells and inserting cells in the middle of the grid, and updating was a nightmare of spaghetti code.
WordPress makes creating galleries a cinch, without using plugins. By using their native Media Uploader and “Create Gallery” feature, you can systematically upload by dragging images onto your editor, create a gallery, and insert them onto your post or page in a snap. A great tip if you have Jetpack installed, you have the added ability to change how the galleries appear: circles, squares, rectangles, tiled, or as a slide show. Changing the order of the images in the galleries is also as easy as drag-and-drop and there is even an easy way to enter captions for each image.
2) WEB FONTS AND ICON FONTS
This isn’t WordPress specific, but WordPress does facilitate the changing of fonts through plugins. I’m grateful that we can use more than the 16 web-safe fonts, and I am grateful for Icon Fonts like Dashicons, Genericons, and Font Awesome that provide scalable, easily styled with CSS vector icons. I remember in the old days asking visitors to my website to download and install a font file so that they could view the cool Edward Gorey font I was using for the text of a poetic website. Now you can change your font using a plugin or even as in option in some themes.
3) CHILD THEMES AND CUSTOM CASCADING STYLE SHEETS (CSS)
The ability to style your content separate from actual content was not always a thing. Styles were written inline using the font tag and, later, with CSS at the top of the file that it styled or inline with the content. With WordPress, you can easily build your CSS in a child theme on top of the styles of another parent theme or you can add additional Custom CSS through the admin, which is available in the Jetpack suite of plugins or in some themes. If you are a developer, it is very easy to roll your own theme with a starter theme such as Underscores.
4) WORDPRESS EXTENSIBILITY AKA PLUGINS
Adding additional functionality to your WordPress site is as easy as clicking a button to install a plugin to add a variety of features such as including a searchable business referral directory, an artist or musician’s portfolio with fancy flippy effects, a shopping cart, or a non-profit or educational site with ease. I remember adding the ability for a website to display an RSS feed before WordPress and I had to install a PHP application and connect it to the data feed manually and had to configure everything through code on the back-end. It was always difficult to add a web form that would just mail the form to someone and required some fancy CGI programming, but this too can be done with a plugin such as Gravity Forms or Jetpack’s Contact Form module. There are silly plugins like Pinkify It that change your site to pink and seriously comprehensive plugins like WooCommerce and BuddyPress, all are created by volunteers for the Community.
5) AUTOMATIC UPDATES
The WordPress project is worked on by thousands of contributors and tested by tens of thousands more people everyday without issue. When there is a security issue, the contributor team is on it to find a fix right away and release it as an Automatic Update. I am grateful that security is a big concern to WordPress and this is exactly why they release and, now, automatically update point releases often. I know enough about security to know that I don’t know everything about security; so to try to duplicate all the hours, education, research, and efforts put in by core contributors would be unattainable by one single person. Automatic Updates save me a lot of time, as I manage over twenty sites at any one given time, so I can feel assured that everyone is getting the newest point releases to protect against the latest vulnerabilities.
As a “websmith” that makes sites for a living as well as for fun in my spare time, I am very grateful for the existence of WordPress as a CMS, blogging, and application platform. Being able to easily upload and insert images, utilize web and icon fonts, customize the look of your site with child themes and custom CSS, the ability to extend WordPress functionality by installing plugins, and also the implementation of automatic updates has really changed web publishing for the betterment of, literally, the entire world. WordPress has given so much and the best has yet to be seen.