WordPress year 2021 in review

Each year, the web is filled with new ideas, tools and trends. But for WordPress, 2021 can be considered one of the big fundamental changes. Changes that, while still in their infancy, promise to have a lasting impact on the way we work with the content management system (CMS).

This applies not only to the core software, but also to its huge community and ecosystem. There were times when it seemed nearly impossible to keep up with the flurry of movement and acquisition in this space. For a while, WordPress has been akin to an open source Wall Street.

Now that we have reached the end of the year, let’s take a look at the major developments related to WordPress.

The blocks take control of the backend

Gutenberg’s block editor moved to the WordPress core way back in 2018 (has it really been that long?), But 2021 saw the feature go beyond pages and posts.

Lock widgets

The familiar drag-and-drop UI of the venerable WordPress widget screen has seen wholesale changes this year. As of WordPress 5.8, widgets are now block based.

The transition to blocks is more than just a cosmetic. It also means that virtually any block can now be placed inside a sidebar. This greatly expands the content options available to site owners.

The standard core widgets that come with WordPress have been updated, while some new additions have also been incorporated. The older widgets still work and are available via a legacy Widget block.

However, this change may cause problems for some sites that rely on legacy widgets. Thankfully, the Classic Widgets plugin can restore things to their previous state.

It is a great transition. One that makes me think about the future of this long-standing WordPress foundation.

Complete site modification

Full Site Editing (FSE) was perhaps the most talked about WordPress feature of the year. It offers the possibility to design and modify every aspect of a theme, directly from the block editor.

The potential impact is hard to ignore. WordPress themes will look very different in terms of structure. And, with more power in the hands of users, it will be interesting to see how the thematic market moves to take advantage of it.

FSE could also change the design process itself. Since so much can be achieved through the browser, what happens to traditional wireframing tools? Some designers may decide to skip them altogether.

As exciting (or terrifying) as this may seem, FSE is not yet part of the WordPress core. Full release is expected in WordPress 5.9, which has been postponed to January 2022.

Here’s a look at what you can expect from WordPress 5.9 when it comes to Full Site Editing.

Popular WordPress plugins and providers change ownership

The other main storyline is about the commercial side of the WordPress ecosystem. 2021 saw dozens of plugins, agencies and hosting providers change hands. Among the keenest observers, heads were spinning at the huge number of transactions going on.

There are several theories as to why there have been so many acquisitions. The pandemic, a maturing market, along with the growing complexity of WordPress were among the most common. A combination of all three seems like a safe bet.

What does this all mean? In the short term, there are user concerns about what will happen to the software and services they rely on. It also means that some respected members of the community have decided to move forward. People like Elliot Condon (of Advanced Custom Fields) e Pippin Williamson (by Sandhills Development) are two great examples.

Looking further, many of these acquisitions were made by a handful of companies. This resource consolidation could impact competition. How difficult will it be for an individual entrepreneur or a small agency to enter the market? What (if any) influence will these large companies have on the WordPress core? Will the acquired products themselves suffer or thrive?

Only time will tell. But it will be interesting to see if this trend continues into 2022.

A person using a credit card.

WordPress exceeds 40% market share

At the beginning of 2021, WordPress surpassed 40% of the market share. And it continues to grow at a healthy pace. As of this writing, it has a nearly 40-point lead over the second most popular CMS (Shopify).

I put together some thoughts on the milestone in February. But it’s worth reviewing by looking back at the year.

These usage numbers, along with the aforementioned acquisitions, show that WordPress is a space that people want to be a part of. This is a testament to its relative stability, dedicated community, and continued flexibility.

However, it is the last piece that worries me the most. To remain the best choice for developers, WordPress should continue to provide multiple paths to build a website. This includes the ability to disable features like Gutenberg and complete site editing.

The idea that a web designer can build in a way that suits their clients’ needs is still attractive. And while I find the blocks exciting, I also understand that not everyone is on board.

Having alternative methods to achieve your goals is what has always set WordPress apart. Hopefully, it stays that way for the long term.

A 3D graphic with the WordPress logo.

Lay the foundations for the future

Chances are that at least one of the above developments impacted you in 2021. Whether it was arguing with that new widget UI or seeing your favorite plugin change hands, it’s been a year. eventful for the WordPress community.

But the immediate impact will likely pale when compared to how these changes affect the future. The way we create content in WordPress has already changed. Then comes the way we work on building websites.

The future of the various product and service acquisitions will also be felt in the years to come. Some will inevitably turn out better than others. We hope it brings energy and innovation, with minimal disruption.

Buckle up, WordPress fans – what we’ve seen this year is just the beginning of something much bigger.

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