The concept of building web layouts and content with blocks isn’t new. WordPress embraced it back in version 5.0 with the Block Editor. Version 5.9 brought us the Site Editor and further expanded the software’s block capabilities.
However, the potential for blocks extends well beyond WordPress. Other applications have implemented similar functionality. And it seems like block-based editing is the way of the future.
Sure, WordPress and others could simply create walled gardens – where blocks are limited to a single app. But what if blocks were application agnostic? What if a single block could be used across a wide range of systems?
That’s the idea behind the Block Protocol. Founded in 2022, it provides an open standard for block-based apps.
Using the standard, developers can build a block once. From there, it can be used on any platform that supports the Block Protocol.
WordPress doesn’t natively support the Block Protocol just yet. But that hasn’t held up progress. A new Block Protocol plugin has just been released. With it comes over a dozen blocks, with more on the way.
Q&A With David Wilkinson, CEO of Hash
To learn more about the Block Protocol project and its relationship with WordPress, The WP Minute spoke with David Wilkinson. The CEO of Hash, the company behind the Block Protocol, Wilkinson shared insight into the project – along with thoughts on the future.
The WP Minute: What’s the current status of the Block Protocol project?
David Wilkinson: We’ve just soft-launched the Block Protocol plugin in the WordPress directory. This means it’s now available to self-host and on Wordpress.com.
We’re now responding to early user feedback, and will be shipping lots more blocks in the coming weeks.
But most of our last 12 months wasn’t spent building blocks or developing environment plugins such as the WordPress one. Instead, we were heads-down working on the abstracted interfaces for blocks that actually generalize well across embedding environments and frameworks.
With the foundations now in place, we can start building out support for additional environments with confidence. WordPress is just the first, and we’ll be working with the dozens of platforms who’ve expressed an interest in supporting the protocol in their own apps.
TWPM: How has adoption been so far? What are some notable applications that interoperable blocks can be used in?
DW: WordPress is the first “production” Block Protocol embedding environment we’re releasing. We wanted to start with the world’s most-used CMS, which both I and my co-founder (Joel Spolsky) have a huge amount of love for, as well as something of a personal connection to.
We had a huge amount of prelaunch interest, and following the ‘silent launch’ on the plugin directory, we’ll now be reaching out to those folks.
TWPM: Early on, there was talk of collaboration with WordPress. Did that ever happen?
DW: We’ve had promising conversations with folks on the Gutenberg team and agreed last year that a great first step would be to prove out compatibility with WordPress via a plugin. Once we’ve gotten feedback from more users, we’ll be circling back to figure out next steps.
TWPM: As it stands, is any part of Gutenberg compatible with the Block Protocol?
DW: Yes… completely! While Gutenberg is an editing framework, the Block Protocol is a protocol — a standardized way for blocks and the things that embed them (be they apps or frameworks) to communicate with each other.
This means that the Block Protocol can extend Gutenberg, without replacing or competing with it at all. And all Block Protocol blocks work natively within the existing Gutenberg editor.
Block Protocol blocks are developed without any knowledge of the application they’ll be embedded inside. And Block Protocol embedding applications, likewise, have no specific knowledge of the blocks they may embed.
Although Block Protocol blocks are developed with no knowledge of the applications that embed them, through the hook module they can tap into the embedding application’s native functionality anyway.
This means that things like WordPress’s native image gallery, file uploading, text editing, and so on all work seamlessly within Block Protocol blocks, as if they were native Gutenberg ones.
This also ensures that the Block Protocol plugin plays nice with not just WordPress itself, but the existing WP plugin ecosystem as well. It complements what folks already have.
TWPM: If the WordPress plugin is a success, do you feel that increases the odds of full interoperability with Gutenberg in the future?
DW: I obviously can’t speak for the Gutenberg team, who have their own priorities and roadmap, but I would certainly imagine so!
TWPM: It seems like the project has a very broad focus in terms of supported platforms and applications. Given its market share, how important is WordPress to the ultimate success of the project?
DW: That’s a great question. We’ve started with WordPress as the largest CMS on the web. But such a wide swathe of apps now use “block-based” interfaces — from CMSs and all-in-one workspaces, through to email marketing software, data notebooks and dashboarding apps — that there are (realistically) a ton of avenues to adoption, and we already have strong interest from block-based apps in each of these areas.
The biggest benefits will be had by ecosystems that adopt the Block Protocol early and natively. As the number of blocks grows, they’ll be able to offer their users more functionality through blocks, faster, and to a higher degree of quality than their non-Block Protocol counterparts. The protocol can be integrated into apps side-by-side, as we’ve shown with the WordPress plugin and Gutenberg.
TWPM: Is there anything else you’d like the WordPress community to know about the Block Protocol project?
DW: We’re still at an early stage, but we’d love people to download the plugin and try out some of the more powerful and exciting Block Protocol blocks for themselves.
These include AI-enabled blocks, such as:
-The AI Text block, powered by the new GPT-3.5 Turbo and GPT-3 Davinci algorithms — this lets anybody generate high-quality text, rephrase existing content, or fix-up grammar in seconds from directly within their WordPress interface
-The AI Image block, powered by OpenAI DALL-E — now you can create graphics from scratch, simply by providing a descriptive sentence, from directly within WordPress. For example, typing in “high-resolution photograph of a podcasting microphone on a mahogany desk in a wood-paneled office, dramatic lighting” generates the below four options for me to choose from:
I can simply click on one of these to select it, which will both upload it to my WordPress media gallery, and insert that image into my post for use then and there.
It’s also possible to generate images in a range of styles. For example, the prompt “An expressive oil painting of a blogger at their computer, depicted as an explosion of a nebula” produces these choices:
The technology is incredibly powerful, and we’re super excited to be able to bring OpenAI to WordPress through the Block Protocol plugin for WordPress.
It also includes structured data blocks, which contain semantic data shipped as JSON-LD, which make it both easy to capture information in a structured fashion, and help your content rank highly in Google. For example, the How-to block and Address block.
A New Era for WordPress Blocks?
The Block Protocol plugin for WordPress offers a different take on blocks. It’s exciting for users looking to expand what they can do within WordPress. But there’s also an opportunity for developers.
Instead of building a block strictly for WordPress, it may be worthwhile to use the Block Protocol. This would allow their creation to be used in any compatible application.
For instance, this might be a viable path for agencies that work with multiple content management systems. It would save time and resources, as blocks would only need to be built once. There would be no need to constantly reinvent the wheel.
Our thanks to David Wilkinson for filling us in on how the Block Protocol can enhance WordPress! It will be fascinating to see how things evolve.