WordPress 4.4: What Should Matter to Non-Developers

WordPress 4.4 (called “Clifford”) is the last version of the popular open-source software. Though WordPress is known for its frequent updates, this is not just your typical run-of-the-mill release. This one is full of new functionality for developers like myself to play with. But if you’re not very comfortable with code and you own a WordPress website, there’s still at least three things about this update that might interest you.

1. The Twenty Sixteen Theme

Every year, WordPress releases a new version of a default theme that comes baked into new installations of the software. Twenty Sixteen comes with a minimalistic design that reflects how web design, in general, is moving.

The theme is responsive (adapts to mobile devices) and has a nice modern typography built-in. Unlike the past two or three versions of the default theme, Twenty Sixteen, on first glance, seems like it might be more flexible for customizing if you’re using it as a base starter theme or using the “Customizer” in the WordPress admin area to adjust the site’s look and feel.

2. Responsive Images

Responsive ImagesThe second new big deal in version 4.4. is the introduction of responsive images. WordPress has been a bit behind on this, so now it looks like they’re taking some steps toward adding code that will incorporate mobile-friendly images.

Developers now have six new functions to work with that incorporate the HTML5 “srcset” attribute.

What this attribute does is give the browser several file choices for an image embedded on the page. The browser then looks at the size of its window and chooses the image file for that size.

So, in practice, it will select a smaller version of the image for smaller screens and larger versions for bigger screens.

The big benefit of this — and why it should matter to non-coders — is that it helps optimize your site and speed it up. It can boost your site’s user experience and possibly your search engine rankings.

3. The REST API

Finally, probably the biggest deal about 4.4 is what’s called the REST API. The 4.4 update only begins to add this functionality to the WordPress core, incorporating the basic infrastructure of the API. Hopefully, by version 4.5 or 4.6, it will be fully baked into the core code.

WordPress REST API

Nevertheless, there was a lot of excitement about REST at the first national WordCamp US. Quite a few sessions were devoted to it (which you can now watch for free on WordPress.TV).

The REST API opens WordPress up to app development. Third-party app developers will now be able to extract database content from a WordPress site and use it in their software. So the API opens a line of communication of sorts between WordPress and an app, makings it possible to access content from a WordPress site without actually visiting that site.

Now that’s pretty cool, especially for WordPress owners who have larger sites and online businesses who want to expand into the Android market for example.

But there are also implications for smaller website owners. Matt Mullenweg, the head of WordPress, has said that he sees the REST API as not only the future of WordPress, but the future of the web and websites, as well.

And one of the reasons for this is the potential for theme development. A theme could potentially pull all of the content from every page, from the entire database of a site into the first-page load in the browser. It would then save that content in the browser’s memory for future use.

So every time someone clicks a link or tries to navigate to a new page, that content is already there waiting. The response becomes instantaneous. And after the initial page load, the site is blazing fast.

To see an example of how this could be implemented, check out Jack Lenox’s work on his Picard theme, which he demos on WordPress TV. It’s pretty cool and he does a far better job of explaining theme development using the REST API than I could.

So if you’re not a developer, why should this geeky stuff matter to you? Well, really it’s pretty simple. It’s possible that, by the end of 2016, the web will have a very different look and feel. In many ways, we’re already starting to see it. But

But what should matter to you — if you’re a business owner who cares about online marketing — is is your competition. What are the going to be up to with their sites in the coming months?

If they build an attractive site that is super fast, has great performance, and a better user experience than yours, then you could potentially lose customers to them.

As a website owner, you should always have an eye out for the future. Don’t settle for the status quo. Otherwise, you’ll get left behind.

Updating WordPress 101

Last but not least, here are a couple recommendations for how to update your site when WordPress alerts you in your dashboard area that it’s time to upgrade to 4.4.

First, backup! Backup your database and files and put that backup in a safe, accessible spot. As I mentioned here, there’s a lot of new functionality built into this release, so that means there’s more potential for a plugin or theme conflict. Have that backup ready in case you need to jump back a version quickly so you or a developer can work out the bugs.

Once the update is complete, make sure you test everything on your site, even if at first glance everything seems to be working fine.

So that’s WordPress 4.4 in a nutshell. If you have any questions about this latest version of WordPress or if I left anything important out/got something wrong, feel free to use the comments below or contact me. Hope this has been helpful. Good luck!

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