The Multimedia Experience and Its Future in WordPress – WP Tavern

The FSE awareness program is back with a new series of tests. Anne McCarthy is asking for volunteers to test and provide feedback on media-related features in WordPress. Everyone is welcome to contribute, and comments are open until February 23.

This part of the program consists of two tasks. The first invites users to explore the current media experience. The second asks them what they would like to see in the future.

“Like last time, the goal of this exploration is to think with a longer-term ‘wishful thinking’ perspective in order to gather useful insights that will help inform the design of media-related experiences in the future” , McCarthy wrote in the ad.

As always, I dove in with the hope that any findings would make their way upstream to help shape the future experience.

Task #1: Explore the Possibilities

I slightly modified this task. The call to test asks volunteers to explore what is currently possible with the main media-related blocks. However, I work with them every day, so I know most of the ins and outs of the system.

Instead, I explored the WordPress photo directory — my favorite place on the internet right now — and saw what new images landed. I visit Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash much less often these days, and I’m sure I can remove them altogether as the repository gets more CC0-licensed media.

I uploaded a photo of a giraffe by Marcus Burnette. Then I tried adding a few different Scotch-tape/Polaroid effects via custom block styles. Here is a screenshot of one of them:

Scotch tape effect via custom block style.

I’m glad I got out of the way at this point in the exploration. I learned a lot about the inner workings of blocks in the editor and how to style the ::after pseudo-element is problematic. WordPress uses it to add a blue border around selected elements. So I just cleared that, at least for my custom styles. I’m 100% sure it will come back to bite me at some point.

WordPress has come a long way in balancing the block-editing experience for users and allowing theme authors to style a WYSIWYG canvas. However, there will likely always be those edge cases where the two are at odds.

Since I was already there tinkering in the editor, I experimented with various combinations of custom block styles and duotone filters:

In the WordPress editor, a photo of a giraffe in a Polaroid-style frame with tape holding it up.  The image has a turquoise filter applied to it.
Duotone filter used with a custom block style.

It’s hard to remember that there was a time when this was impossible in WordPress.

The second task of the exploration asks volunteers to think about the long-term picture. What features do you want to see? How can the experience be improved?

Quickly climbing the ranks on my wishlist is the WordPress Photos integration. Now that the repository is nearing 1,000 images after less than two months of a soft launch, it’s clear the community is behind the project. Finding images without ambiguous licensing terms goes hand in hand with WordPress’ vision of an open web. Users just need easy access to it.

While pitching a theme design idea earlier this week, I realized how much I wanted to see more image filters. One of the designs I was working on included a comical, watercolor-like background image. I grabbed a photo of Patrick Boehner – yes, again, it was from WordPress photos. Within about a minute, I had imported it into GIMP and applied the “waterpixels” filter to it.

GIMP photo editing software canvas area with hills in front of a mountainside in the image.  In the upper left corner is a control box to control a "aquatic pixels" artistic filter.
Applying a watercolor type filter to the image.

There was a distinct style I was looking for with the design, but users can’t easily recreate it from WordPress. It may be possible to implement this filter via a custom block style, and I may very well try it out if this particular theme idea ever comes to fruition.

However, I would like to see a range of filters available to users. If that’s too much for the kernel, maybe a developer-standard filter registration system might be in order. It’s just me thinking out loud right now. I don’t know what that system would look like, but it’s in my mind. I’m sure some users think the same.

Adding design controls to existing blocks would also help. Implementing border options across the range of media-related blocks is a low-hanging fruit. Captions should be a dedicated block with a range of typography and color controls. Padding and background color options for the

the wrapper around the images would allow users to “frame” their photos:

In the WordPress editor, a photo of a giraffe in a Polaroid-style frame with a blue background.
Picture block envelope with padding and background color.

Outside of the previous ideas, there is at least one obvious wishlist item. I want to use the featured image from my post in any image related block. I have long asked for the possibility of depositing them inside a blanket, for example.

There are also less obvious ideas. It may be time to rethink the concept of a featured “image”. In my previous life as a full-time theme designer, one of the scripts I had built and shaped over the years was a “media catcher”. Essentially, this allowed theme authors to get audio or video from post content and display it in various places, such as alongside snippets on the homepage.

There is no longer an easy way to use this PHP script in block-based HTML theme templates. This would require a 3rd party block plugin (none exist that I know of) or basic functionality.

Ryan H. Bowman