A Preview of WordPress 3.6

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WordPress 3.6 is right around the corner, due to be released in early May. What can you expect from the next version of this popular blogging and CMS platform? A lot! This release’s underlying theme has been “Improving the Editing Process,” and a lot of attention has been given to user interface and workflow processes. Oh, and we also have a shiny new default theme to play with!

Let’s take a look at some of the features and improvements WordPress 3.6 will bring to your website…

Say Hello to Post Formats, Your New Best Friend

Post formats have been a bit of a hidden gem in WordPress. Not quite a post type in of themselves, they are instead more of a way of classifying posts in a way that is different from your standard category and tag taxonomies. They’ve actually been a built-in feature of WordPress since version 3.1, although in order to use them they had to be enabled by the theme. Also, the user interface was a bit on the kludgy side, and as a result post formats were underutilized and under appreciated.

WordPress 3.6 addresses these issues and makes post formats a whole lot easier to use. The radio button meta box has been replaced with a selection of the available post formats above the content editor field. When a particular post format is selected, any fields that it requires appear automatically; a URL field for the “link” post format, a “Select / Upload Image” button for the image one, etc.

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 post format user interface.

WordPress 3.6 brings post formats front and center.

For theme developers, there are new template tags to help you take full advantage of the improved support for post formats. Functions such as the_post_format_video(), the_post_format_url() and the_remaining_content() will let theme developers pull the meta information from the post and apply a unique design treatment to each format.

WordPress themes will still need to support post formats in order to reap their extra benefits, of course, so don’t expect legacy or abandoned themes to take advantage of them. As existing themes are updated and newer themes are developed, post formats will become a much more important piece of the theme landscape.

Speaking of Post Formats…

One of the more popular post formats is video, and WordPress 3.6 makes working with video easier than ever before. When you choose a video post format and enter a URL from a popular video hosting service, WordPress 3.6 will automatically embed that video into your site. You read that right. No more plugins just to embed your favorite YouTube “cat falling into water” video.

What’s more, that video will be viewable and playable in the edit window on the admin size, to make that content all the easier to manage in your post. If your post isn’t necessarily a video post format, you can still embed videos from your media library in the main content area with the use of the short code. Audio content can now also be embedded (or included in audio post formatted posts) with similar ease, using the short code. Got a video on YouTube you want to embed? That’s even easier: just drop the link in your post where you want the video to appear.

Screenshot of embedded video in the WordPress 3.6 post administration.

No plugins were harmed in the embedding of this video.

This is functionality that WordPress.com users have enjoyed for a while now, and I, for one, am very excited that this is coming to the self-hosted WordPress world.

Post Locking

This one is sure to make the managers of multi-author blogs very happy: improved post locking. In previous versions of WordPress, the only warning one had when another author was editing the same post as you was a warning in red across the top of the screen. WordPress 3.6 beefs up the post locking notifications, so now you really have to be determined before stepping on someone else’s post.

The first hint is that someone is editing a particular post is in the “All Posts” screen of the admin interface. If someone else is editing a particular post, their gravatar appears next to the post title with the note “[username] is currently editing.” If that’s not enough of a warning for you, and you decided to try and edit the post anyways, a dialog box will then appear:

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 post locking modal.

You now have a choice to back away slowly, see what the other author is up to, or take over editing for yourself (in case the other person went home for the day with the post still in edit mode). Choosing the third option will allow you to edit the post, but block out the other person, a fact he will be aware of when the corresponding warning dialog appears on his screen:

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 post locking modal.

Improved Autosaving

It is the WordPress core team’s stated mission that:

we should never lose posts due to expired cookies, loss of connection, inadvertent navigation (even if AYS’d), plugin or core errors on save, browser crashes, OS crashes, cats walking on keyboards, children drooling in keyboards, etc.”
Mark Jaquith

To that end, autosave has been improved, and will now write your autosave information directly to your modern browser’s local storage (where available). So now when you’re on the train and you hit a tunnel, or your Verizon FiOS connection cuts in and out (not like that’s ever happened to me… repeatedly… when trying to meet a client deadline… grrr), you can be assured that whatever you’ve just written is safe and sound on your local machine, ready to sync up again at the next signs of life from the interwebs.

But what happens when you’re working on a post, and you get suddenly called away to work on an emergency? Or your ten minute trip to the sandwich shop turns into an hour and a half long team lunch, and when you get back, all your login cookies have expired? Nothing to worry about there, either. Now if something happens where you lose your session authentication, WordPress will prompt you to re-log in once you resume editing your post. No, not take you to the login screen, but ask you right there, in the post editor screen, for your login credentials. Reenter them as normal, and boom! You’re back right where you left off! Another awesome feature when life gets in the way of your WordPress work.

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 session expired modal.

No session? No problem! Log back in right on your edit post screen.

Revised Revision Management

So what happens when you decide you need to go back in time and retrieve that version of the page you edited three days ago, or three weeks, or three months? The revision management screen has gotten a dose of love now too, with a great slider that lets you easily retrace your steps. Even when you need to compare two historic versions of the posts, the slider will let you scrub to both versions you want to compare.

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 revision management screen.

Scrub your way back in time in the improved revision management screen.

More Intuitive Menu Administration

The customize menus interface was a huge boon for content managers when it first appeared in version 3.0, and now it’s even better. No more having to scroll horizontally through the names of menus along the top of the window; with just three or four long-named menus that got a bit clunky. Instead, you now choose the menu you want to edit by selecting it from a drop-down field. In the left column of the menu management screen, the meta box to select the menu’s location has been removed (it now has its own separate tab at the top of the page), and only collapsable meta boxes related to what can be put in the menus appear.

Screenshot of the WordPress 3.6 menu administration interface.

Menu management is now more intuitive.

It’s a New Theme, Baby

To really showcase the bright new future of post formats, the WordPress core team is releasing it’s annual new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, with the 3.6 release (yes, I know Twenty Twelve came out with 3.5, but that is so last December…). This default theme represents a true departure from the previous default theme efforts. Whereas Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven and Twenty Twelve could safely be described as monochromatic, Twenty Thirteen is bold! A bright orange banner says to the world “I am no ordinary WordPress default theme!”, and the “bands of color” produced by the variations from different post formats really take advantage of the post format’s new prominence in the WordPress world.

Screenshot of the new default theme, Twenty Thirteen.

The new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, is a theme of a different color.

Even if the colorful, retro styling is not to your personal taste, the code behind the colors showcases what you can really do with post formats when you put your mind to it. It’s always the hope of the default theme team that theme authors can use it to dissect it and really learn how to take advantage of new WordPress features via the themes they create. I certainly will going forward.

Conclusion

Can’t wait for the released version to try out these new features? You can check out the beta for yourself by heading to http://wordpress.org/news/2013/04/wordpress-3-6-beta-1/. As is always true, beta software is in flux and features are always subject to change before the final release. Use beta software with caution, and never on a production level site.

The WordPress core team is always striving to do one thing: improve the WordPress experience. And with 3.6, I think they’ve hit it out of the park. The new revision management, post locking, autosaving and menus administration will make life much better for content providers and site editors. The new post formats UI and template tags will bring out the creativity of theme developers. And the new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, will certainly have heads turning. Look for the final release to drop in early May.

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Tracy Rotton

Tracy Rotton is a web developer for RP3 Agency in Bethesda, Maryland with a passion for standards-based front-end development. A big fan of WordPress, she is a contributor to the new WordPress default theme, Twenty Thirteen. When Tracy isn't building websites, she enjoys skiing, watching Redskins football and spending time with her two young children.

Comments

16 comments on “A Preview of WordPress 3.6

  1. It kind of seems like WordPress is taking the Tumblr route with Post Formats, but hey — why not I guess… I only wish they would introduce a visual query builder as powerful as Drupal Views, I think that would make me switch to WordPress permanently.

  2. I can never understand what Post Formats are for and I’ve tried reading a few blog posts about it.. do you have any of your own explaining further about why should we use one?

    Also don’t really like the revisions.. I always have a plugin to turn it off as I never had to go back undoing what I wrote or went far back (more revisions saved mean more clutter in the database)

    • Re: revisions, yeah, they were never really my thing either, but that’s because most of what I do for myself is by myself (except for what I write here, pretty much). The revision feature, along with the enhanced post locking are more designed for blogs with teams of authors so that it’s easier for an editor or an author to sift through prior drafts of an article.

      As for post formats, they are quick ways to get specifically formatted content onto your website. Once you’re running 3.6, try dropping a video URL into a video post format, and you’ll see what I mean. The post formats make creating a video page, an image page, a gallery page, etc. dead simple.

      There are also themes out there right now already taking advantage of post formats, although sometimes in more limited ways. The collaborative theme P2 is a good example: links are styled differently, for example which makes it easy to find them when your scanning the page.

  3. Tracy, thanks for posting! I’m excited about all the new features that are coming to WordPress 3.6 that will make it more user-friendly for everyday editors and general business owners.

    As a web designer/developer, I’m always looking to improve the editing experience of my client’s websites. It’s exciting to see the WordPress team working toward this common goal as well.

  4. Looking forward to these updates and even more so when you can integrate custom post types into WP’s standard list of default post types to create a unified UX for the end users.

  5. Pretty exciting stuff here! Sure does look like WordPress is floating towards the Tumblr format, but I think it’s a good one. WordPress still remains a more robust system. Thanks for sharing this with us!