[This post was originally posted at Torque’s magazine]

Google participated at WordCamp US 2017 with a booth centered around performance. One side of the booth showed a data-driven glimpse into the state of the WordPress ecosystem in terms of key performance metrics and coding best practices, as well as the use of tooling (e.g. WebPageTest/Lighthouse) for assessing the performance characteristics of specific WordPress sites. The other side was shared with the excellent XWP engineering team, where they showcased a new auditing tool we’ve been collaborating with them called Tide, which enables quality assessment of plugins and themes.

Our goal was to engage with the WordPress community and start a discussion around the performance of the WordPress ecosystem, and we consider the event a success! The experience was superb, and here is our perspective of it.

Why has Google chosen to align with WordPress

The CMS space encompasses an important cross section of the web; there are a plethora of players out there, and many of them offer pretty cool technologies. In terms of functionality and capabilities WordPress has strong similarities with other CMSes on the market, but arguably there are a few things that set the WordPress ecosystem apart:

  • First, is the success of the platform; WordPress accounts for ~64% of the CMS market share, and about 38% of web content nowadays is powered by WordPress
  • Second, is the large and ever expanding ecosystem of themes, plugins, hosting providers, developers, consultants, and specialized WordPress experts which all work together on the creation of WordPress-powered content.
  • And third, is the WordPress community. The more we get involved with all aspects of the WordPress ecosystem, the more we realize the kindness, diversity, inclusiveness, passion, and effort at every level of the community, bottom up, and top down.

But in essence, the missions of Google and WordPress are naturally aligned. A central part of Google’s mission is to contribute to the prevalence of a healthy, flourishing, and vibrant web. We are investing significant efforts and resources to help bringing a delightful (i.e. user-friendly, fast, engaging) user experience to all users: everywhere, on every device, and over any connection.  Similarly, a central part of WordPress’s founding mission is democratizing web publishing, which itself implies providing an awesome UX on WordPress-powered sites for all users: content creators, site owners, developers, and content consumers. Therefore, by working together we can double down on our efforts and accelerate the success of our overlapping missions.

What did Google do at WordCamp US

Google has always been very supportive of efforts to enable a better web. This year we kicked off a concerted effort aimed at tailoring our guidance in our areas of expertise in the broader web (tooling, data, scalability, systems infrastructure, progressive technologies, and performance) to accelerate the adoption of modern web technologies and coding best practices in the WordPress ecosystem. Early on in this effort we realized that the way to go is engaging with the WordPress ecosystem, in the same way that we engage with any ecosystem in the web: bringing our voice and our receptiveness to the WordPress table, and finding solutions to every requirement with joint efforts.

Our presence at WordCamp advanced our goals significantly. We spent two dense days talking nonstop about performance; looking at data showing performance gaps between WordPress and the broader web; telling about the capabilities and data sets available for all to start gaining a deeper understanding of performance at all levels; looking at detailed performance of many WordPress sites owned by the attendees using essential performance analysis tools such as WebPageTest and Lighthouse; and our XWP colleagues showcased and demoed Tide, an audit tool enabling everyone to check the analysis results for 40K+ audited plugins. Tide was also introduced to all attendees by Matt Mullenweg at the State of the Word; we are excited about the great reception of Tide and about its roadmap for 2018 — it will be a critical piece of the WordPress ecosystem.

We also learned and got important feedback from a wide range of attendees, freelance developers, consultants, and site owners from all walks of life. One piece of valuable feedback was related to the frustration and feelings of powerlessness from WordPress developers who feel the pressure from clients to add features, which most of the time come in the form of plugins, and not having a way to determine if the addition of a given plugin will adversely affect the performance of the site they are building. This particular issue is what the Tide project addresses: to empower developers and site owners to choose plugins that are both feature-rich and performant.

And to wrap up we attended Contributor’s day, an awesome experience as well; open source at its best. I would say that every open source community, at the scale of WordPress, would benefit from the community organizing wisdom of the WordPress community.

Where to Go Next

The web platform has been evolving rapidly in recent years and it continues to evolve as we speak; the bar for web experiences has been raised significantly. This is reflected by all the buzz around the term Progressive Web Apps, which essentially refers to websites (and web apps) built using the latest capabilities supported by the Web platform; things like Service Workers, Push Notifications, identity management, security, etc.  We will continue working with the WordPress community, combining our areas of expertise, to accelerate the integration of these modern technologies into WordPress and evolve the ecosystem at par with the evolution of the broader web.  Some of the efforts that are on their way include:

  • Building Progressive Themes, to accelerate the integration modern frontend technologies into the themes ecosystem
  • Contributing with Gutenberg, which is set to revolutionize content creation in WordPress by centering around the simple but powerful concept of blocks
  • Building of Feature Plugins + PWA, to enable the integration of progressive web technologies (e.g. Service Workers) into WordPress; for example, Surma @ Google and Dan Wamsley @ Automattic co-presented at this year’s Chrome Dev Summit preliminary results on the integration of PWAs and WordPress
  • Expanding the capabilities and scope of the AMP Plugin, to enable an awesome AMP experience in WordPress
  • Contributing with the Tide project, to empower users to harness control of the performance of their sites by choosing quality themes and plugins
  • Systematic Performance tracking, to use extensive datasets and the power of Google’s data processing infrastructure to track the performance of the WordPress ecosystem in depth and across time; and more.

Being part of WordCamp US this year was a superb experience. We are excited and committed to working with experts in the WordPress ecosystem, including Automattic, XWP, WP Engine, 10Up, and others, as well as with the many core contributors in the WordPress developers community, to help moving WordPress forward. Stay tuned!