WordCamp Spain 2020 Q&A: Matt Mullenweg Discusses Virtual Events, Decoupled WordPress, and the Future of Page Builders

Matt Mullenweg joined Matías Ventura at WordCamp Spain yesterday for a lively Q&A session. The virtual event drew 5,000 registered users, and attendees came prepared with some thought-provoking questions about the future of . Here are a few highlights on some recent topics of interest.

WordCamps around the globe have been going virtual, embracing the challenge of keeping communities connected through the screen. Mullenweg shared thoughts on how WordCamps have changed during the pandemic and what might be worthwhile to maintain after things go back to normal:

WordCamps were always exclusionary. If you couldn't make it to be in a physical point at a physical time, you couldn't be there. Tickets were cheap but travel and other costs could be expensive. To our mission of democratizing publishing, if we could radically open up some of the value of WordCamps, not just the talks because the talks you could always watch later online, but some of that person-to-person connection and relationship-building that would happen at WordCamps – if we can recreate that online I feel like that could be something that would be amazing for the WordPress community. I feel like we used our in-person events as a crutch, actually. Because they were so good, and I love them, we overweighted towards them. This time allows us to reflect and also try new things that we might not have been pushed to otherwise. I hope that we don't stop any of these new things. I hope there are more WordCamp events in every language.

Large regional events like WordCamp Europe and WordCamp US will be going virtual in the coming months and it will be interesting to see how they work to reproduce the intimate, in-person connections that are often forged at these events.

One of the first questions was regarding Automattic's recent investment in Frontity. Does Automattic's interest mean that React might be implemented in the public part of WordPress? Mullenweg highlighted a few of the positive and negative aspects of decoupled WordPress setups but also confirmed that a React frontend is not on the roadmap for core:

I'm excited to be able to support Frontity. Automattic tries to support as many of the WordPress ecosystem companies as possible. If there is a company doing something interesting in WordPress, we would love to invest and support it. In terms of a React theme in default WordPress, I think that to me that stays in plugin and theme territory for the foreseeable future. The downside of that approach is that you lose all the capabilities of the decades of WordPress plugins and themes and integrations and everything when you move to that more decoupled React frontend. I don't know if what you gain is that much better for a normal content website. In fact, so many single page applications in React when they get to version 2 or 3 usually work on server side rendering. We have server side rendering by default, and it's really fast and really good, especially when you layer in AMP or some other things that can speed it up. It can actually be probably the best possible thing for content driven sites, the best practice, versus application driven sites where something like React might be better. If you take a really optimized PHP-served AMP page, performance-wise versus the same thing going through React, it's hard for me to imagine the React page being faster. In fact, I think it would be much slower. That's how I think about the defaults. But for people who are building more advanced applications or have some sort of constraint on their website where they need the React frontend, I think the decoupled use case of WordPress is stronger than ever. I don't know why anyone would use a proprietary backend, like Contentful or something like that, when you have all the open source security, scalability, and robustness of WordPress available in a decoupled infrastructure as well.

Ventura noted that just because WordPress uses these technologies in the backend, doesn't mean it has to be used on the frontend as well. Based on these comments, it doesn't seem likely that WordPress will be adopting a React-based default theme anytime in the near future.

The fate of page builders in the Gutenberg era is always a popular topic during Q&A sessions and WordCamp Spain was no exception. The general concern is whether Gutenberg's full site editing capabilities will make these plugins obsolete, but Mullenweg seemed optimistic about WordPress leaving page builders a piece of the market:

I'm really excited for the future of page builders. Before every single page builder would have to do a fair amount of work to recreate their version of blocks. There was a lot of wasted effort with many talented and great developers all over the world essentially rebuilding the wheel or recreating the block over and over. Now that we have these rails in the core of this block infrastructure, it's been widely adopted and implemented with thousands of blocks being created and many more to come, they don't have to create that core fundamental infrastructure and can instead innovate on top of it, because there are so many cool things you can do in page builders that are out of scope of where we want to take Gutenberg.

Mullenweg also said he anticipates that page builders that are not built with Gutenberg in mind will likely be used less and less over time. However, it should be reassuring that there will still be a place in the WordPress ecosystem for products that build on top of the core standard.

The Q&A session included many more questions on topics of interest, including when multi-language is coming to core, the future of themes, the present and future of the WP REST API, and what new business options may be coming to the WordPress ecosystem. Check out the recorded session embedded below to find out what Matt and Matías would improve in WordPress if they had a magic wand.

YouTube video

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