How to Improve WordPress Media Management

If you want to know what’s blocking WordPress users, ask. Recently I put out call on Twitter for suggested improvements to its media management features. And I got a virtual earful of gripes and suggestions.

It is true, it is a completely unscientific sampling. But the WordPress Media Library seems to have fallen behind the times.

There are a few possible reasons for this. Firstly the open source project has focused on the Block and Site Editors. They are both large and complex businesses. And they require a lot of human involvement. This leaves little time to address other issues.

Also, there are an untold number of plugins to enhance the Media Library. It’s another example of the WordPress community stepping up to fill gaps in the core software.

Still, it’s clear that some of these features should be baked into the core. Here’s a look at some areas where WordPress media management could stand improvement.

The Ability to Replace Existing Files

It sounds so simple. But replacing or overwriting an existing media file in WordPress is quite another. You can’t do it easily without a plugin like Enable Replacement Media.

And there are many times when this functionality could be useful. For example, consider a website with a collection of important PDF documents. Let’s say they are updated every year.

Sure, you can only upload new versions every year. But a new permalink is assigned to new files. Therefore, any site that links to the previous documents will display outdated content. Not to mention a possible search and replace to make sure the original website is using the correct URL as well.

This is a huge inconvenience for site administrators. But it is especially difficult if there are many media files on the website. Each change can require multiple steps. The result is that a lot of time is spent tracking where a particular file is referenced.

It’s great that there are plugins to streamline the process. However, not everyone is aware of them. So, these features would be a helpful addition to the core of WordPress.

The Enable Replacement Media plugin.

Categories and Tags for Media Files + Improved Search

As it stands, media files in WordPress are organized in date-based folders. For example, all files you uploaded in February 2023 would reside: /wp-content/uploads/2023/02/

From a file storage perspective, this makes things nice and tidy. But it doesn’t do much to help users find a particular file.

And while there is a search feature, it is quite limited in scope. You can search by meta file title, but that tends to be generic by default. Additionally, you can narrow things down by media type (image, document, video, etc.) and the date they were uploaded.

But what if you can’t remember a file title or upload date? You’ll be stuck clicking through countless files, hoping to find a needle in a haystack.

That’s where the ability to create custom taxonomies, categories and tags can help. It is the type of functionality included in the Enhanced Media Library plugin. And it could be much easier to find a particular file.

Imagine being able to classify media files in a way that makes sense for your website. Any files used in a press release section, for example, could be tagged as such. This assigns a purpose to each file and provides context for users.

Or you might search based on the content of the subtitle or meta description. These items may offer more specific details than just the title.

Search engine optimization (Senior) and privacy may also be factors. On a membership website, there may be certain media files that you do not want indexed. It would be desirable to block a particular taxonomy from search engines.

The WordPress Media Library can easily get out of hand. The above features could give it some sanity.

Categorizing media makes it easier to find later.
Using the Enhanced Media Library plugin to sort images by category.

More Image Size Control

By default, WordPress creates multiple versions of every image you upload. Apart from the original file, you will find large, medium and thumbnail sizes. And a theme or plugin can add custom sizes programmatically as well.

This is handy for serving appropriately sized files to mobile devices via srcset. The downside is that it can also eat up storage space and processing power. Additionally, not all versions of an image may be used.

In a time when we must be aware of the environmental impact of the site, all unnecessary processes should be reconsidered. But there is no easy way to generate multiple versions of your image. This results in wasted resources.

WordPress Media Settings (Settings > Media) is short and sweet. In addition to organizing uploads into date-based folders, you can also set custom default image dimensions.

More control in this area would be beneficial. The ability to turn off the size of a particular image (the thumbnail, for example) could reduce clutter. And it might also be useful to limit files generated on a per-image or per-post basis.

Energy, storage space, and processing cycles are finite resources. Changes to the way WordPress handles uploaded images could help minimize usage in all three areas.

The default WordPress image sizes can be misleading.

Find out if Media is in use

As a website develops, some media files can fall by the wayside. They sit on the server collecting virtual dust.

But it is difficult to identify these files. And in some cases, there is the risk of letting them stick around.

Consider our earlier example of an outdated PDF document. It may contain incorrect information. Therefore, a user who finds this file through a search engine may be led in the wrong direction. Inconvenience at least.

Plugins like Media Cleaner can keep you informed of unused files. It identifies them and provides a way to review and take further action.

But it looks like this could be implemented as core functionality as well. Since WordPress can already tell you if a file is attached to a certain piece of content, it stands to reason that it could tell us what’s in it no being used as well.

The goal should be to give website owners control over what is available to users.

Media Cleaner scans for unused files
The Media Cleaner plugin finds unused files.

WordPress Media Management has room for growth

Media files are an integral part of modern websites. Therefore, the ability to manage them effectively is crucial.

This is an area where WordPress has a lot of room for growth. The existing Media Library has several useful features. But it also lacks core functionality that takes things to a higher level.

So, it’s worth taking a good, long look at potential improvements. The plugins mentioned above can be used as inspiration, and user feedback as well.

WordPress core doesn’t have to do everything when it comes to media. But he could certainly do more.

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