Call for Block Plugins: The WordPress Block Directory Is Open for Business

Front page of the WordPress block directory.
WordPress block directory.

Over the weekend, Alex Shiels announced an open call for plugin authors to begin submitting one-off block plugins to the official block directory. In the upcoming WordPress 5.5 update, slated for release on August 11, end-users will be able to search for, install, and add blocks directly from the editor. With little time left before release, will plugin authors make this a worthwhile feature for users?

“The Block Directory is a subset of plugins in the plugin directory that can be instantly and seamlessly installed from the Gutenberg editor with a single click,” wrote Shiels in the announcement. “We call these new plugins ‘block plugins’ and have worked hard to make it easier for people to contribute to this new feature coming to WordPress 5.5.”

WordPress plugin authors now have a new block validation tool at their disposal. The validator can check an SVN repository URL, Github URL, or plugin slug to determine if it is suitable for inclusion into the WordPress block directory. It is still under development, so plugin authors should report any issues they run into.

For existing plugins in the plugin directory, developers can publish them to the block directory after passing validation with the tool. Plugin authors can also remove their plugins from the block directory at the click of the button.

The block plugin guidelines are still under development. The draft ticket has been open since November 21, 2019. It has seen little activity in the months since. Presumably, there will be a finalized version on WordPress.org rather than GitHub before WordPress 5.5 lands.

Developers who want to begin building block plugins should follow the updated block development tutorial.

A Late Rallying Cry

Technically, plugin authors have been able to submit blocks to the directory for months. It was a bit of a hidden feature that few developers took advantage of. The user base was primarily Gutenberg plugin users who had enabled the experimental block directory search feature. Despite the small user base, it was an ideal time for plugin authors to begin experimenting and building an audience. It could have also been a great opportunity for relatively unknown developers to make their mark upon the WordPress world. There is still some time for that, but the community has not been actively encouraged to create blocks for the directory. With WordPress 5.5 looming ahead, the past few months seem like a missed opportunity.

Nick Hamze, one of the most prolific publishers of one-off blocks, is taking a break. He originally had plans to release 99 plugins throughout 2020, but the WordPress plugin review team asked him to dial things back a bit. His routine releases were putting a strain on the team. The problem is that he was one of the few plugin authors putting in the work to make the block directory a great thing.

As a former reviewer for the themes team, I understand how easy it is to get overwhelmed with a wave of new projects that need a code review. At the same time, I would be willing to bump Hamze’s work to the front of the line, regardless of how often he was releasing new plugins. It may be a bit unfair to other plugin authors, but few others were betting big on what will be one of WordPress 5.5’s highlights: a searchable block directory.

“If someone would have just given me the barest encouragement I would have kept going, but due to my experience, I stopped submitting blocks and won’t do it anymore in the future,” said Hamze.

If no one else was putting in the work, there should have been no harm in giving him a bit of priority or a helping hand. That way, when WordPress 5.5 launches, there is something to show for this feature.

Now, we are in the 11th hour, mere weeks before 5.5’s official release, with a meager offering of blocks — instead of hundreds of blocks, we are currently nearing the 60 mark. It is a last-minute rallying call to get plugin authors churning away before the final bell rings. Yet, WordPress just benched what was essentially its star player.

I have no doubt the block directory will continue to grow. More developers will buy into it, especially as full-site editing creates more possibilities in WordPress 5.6 later this year. Some authors will likely produce more blocks than the totality of the current number in the directory.

If the Gutenberg team had managed to squeeze the directory and management screens into WordPress 5.5 admin, it would have made for a far bigger splash. It would have been good visibility for block makers. WordPress will support a block directory search for now. However, there is no way for end-users to more casually browse blocks via their admin. There is no way to see the latest block plugin releases or view the most popular blocks. Some of these things may have made one-off block development a bit more enticing to plugin authors.

I am still optimistic that more plugin authors will jump onto the block bandwagon. It will just be a while before we start seeing the wealth of blocks that cover the entire spectrum of what users need.

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