Why WordPress 3.0 is a big deal

The latest release of WordPress pushed the version number from 2.9 to 3.0. Usually that ‘point-zero’ means it’s a significant release: but you’d be forgiven if you ran the automatic updater, and struggled to see what was different. Sure, the admin interface is a little brighter, and a few of the labels have changed. But if you were expecting new extra-powerful menu options, you’ll have been disappointed.
But the new release is a big deal. Among its additions:

  • the long-awaited merger of the solo WordPress product with WordPress MU (‘multi user’). Previously I’ve tended to steer people clear of MU: although an excellent product, it was definitely second priority to ‘WordPress proper’, and the usability wasn’t brilliant. Updates were slower, and plugins didn’t always work. Although there’s still a way to go on usability, I’m much happier recommending it as a safe platform – and I’ve already started hosting some of my lower-profile projects in a single ‘multisite’ installation.
  • custom taxonomies and custom content types. In fact, previous versions have had the ability to create multiple sets of tag- or category-style classifications, or tweaked versions of the ‘post’ and ‘page’ core content types – but the implementation was awkward and clunky. Based on some early experiments, I’d say they’re finally ready for industrial use.
  • custom menus, allowing you to create navigation bars containing your preferred combination of pages and tags/categories. Amazing flexibility, but be warned: most themes won’t be ready to use it (yet).
  • a new default theme which isn’t especially significant in itself, but it’s something for developers to bear in mind. Previously, if a theme didn’t have a specific file, you could rely on WP reverting to the version in the ‘default’ folder. But new installations won’t have that ‘default’ folder; and you’ll need to explicitly define a ‘parent’ theme for fallback purposes. Worth bearing in mind if you’ve lost any functionality after upgrading.

But here’s the thing. The two most significant aspects, ‘multisite’ and custom posts/taxonomies, only become available to those prepared to get their hands dirty in the PHP code. You won’t see them, or perhaps even know they exist, until you start hacking. In the case of multisite, for example, you’ll need to edit wp-config, then edit htaccess, then edit wp-config again… not to mention the likelihood of changes to file access permissions, Apache’s httpd.conf and/or your DNS setup. Scary stuff for the vast majority of people.
In other words, to really get the full benefit out of WordPress, you need decent coding and server admin skills. And as such, that feels like a subtle departure from the previous scenario, where a ‘power user’ could accomplish almost everything via the WordPress interface and a few plugins.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop those power users creating magnificent sites using v3.0, without having to get their hands dirty. And indeed, there are no extra options to intimidate the nervous author or editor: the WordPress experience remains unchanged. But the addition of that extra power, underneath the surface, effectively creates a new higher echelon of ‘WordPress guy’. It becomes a platform on which you can do some very serious development, if you know what you’re doing. Graphic designers calling themselves WordPress experts might want to re-evaluate.
On occasions in the past, I’ve worried about my business model’s longevity. All the difficult things I’d taught myself to do in WordPress kept getting easier with each new release: this time, for example, the new Custom Menu feature renders some of my smartest workarounds obsolete. But with all the new ‘developers-only’ potential, it looks like the path has a lot longer to run.

One thought on “Why WordPress 3.0 is a big deal”

  1. Have no fear Simon – you’re well ahead as it is, and you’ll for sure learn all the tricks of 3.0 faster than the rest of us… I’ve barely scratched the surface of the new features so far.

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