Post Formats Are Coming! (Post Mortem: Never Released.)

Update, May 29, 2013: There’s breaking news out of WordPress central. The Post Formats changes, outlined in this blog post are being removed from the upcoming WordPress 3.6 version. The features will be moved to a plugin where they will continue getting refined and hopefully included in WordPress 3.7.

The next iteration of WordPress—version 3.6—is coming. Soon! ((The second beta release was last week.)) And the centerpiece of that version is an overhaul of the “post formats” features. The WordPress world is buzzing about the changes already, but I want to explain them from the beginning and tell you why I think they can drastically improve WordPress blogging.

What Are Post Formats?

Most simply, the post format describes the primary piece of content in a blog post.

With each format, you can store extra information for that post—”metadata”—and display it in ways tailored to a that type of content.

There are 10 formats to choose from:

  • Standard (default)
  • Aside
  • Gallery
  • Link
  • Image
  • Quote
  • Status
  • Audio
  • Chat
  • Video
The Post Format interface from WordPress 3.1 to 3.5.
The Post Format interface from WordPress 3.1 to 3.5.

So when posting, ask yourself, “What am I posting?” If it’s a link or video or gallery, you should select that format.

I’ll give some real-world examples of these formats in a bit, but let’s quickly cover the history and future of the feature first.

History of Post Formats

The post formats feature initially came with Version 3.1 of WordPress. Most people saw it (and still do) as an attempt to add the core feature of Tumblr to WordPress. Seen at right, the post formats were an optional feature enabled by certain WordPress themes. Selecting one of the options didn’t do anything unless your site was configured specifically to handle them.

Unfortunately, the first attempt at this feature was pathetic. The feature’s intent was opaque and the interface didn’t encourage use. Most casual users never had a chance of understanding it or using it successfully.

The Almost-Here Future of Post Formats

Now, post formats are looking really different. Every time you make a post, the possible formats are across the top of the editing page:

The new WordPress 3.6 Post Formats interface

And there’s more! Instead of working on just a smattering of sites, formats are now available to ALL WordPress 3.6+ websites. If you don’t see it after upgrading to WordPress 3.6, you’ll need to enable it in the “Screen Options” tab of the Post editing page:

Enable or Disable the Post Formats feature in WordPress 3.6 with Screen Options.
Enable or Disable the post formats feature in WordPress 3.6 with Screen Options.

The biggest improvement, though, is that most post formats now come with special fields for handling metadata associated with each format. If you use the Link format, there’s a field for a URL. If you use the Video format, there’s a place for a video file or embed code. See for yourself in this gallery:

Displaying Post Formats

Once you’ve entered posts in multiple formats, they’re displayed in different ways and incorporate those extra special fields for each format. Here’s a screenshot of a site using WordPress’s new Twenty Thirteen theme with four posts using different formats on it: ((You can see a live example of Twenty Thirteen on WordPress.com.))

In the new WordPress default theme, different post formats each get a special background color. From top to bottom, you see a Quote, Status, Image, and Gallery.
In the new WordPress default theme, different post formats each get a special background color. From top to bottom, you see a Quote, Status, Image, and Gallery.

As another example, my site appends the format of the post (when it’s not “Standard”) to the end of the title like this: “A beautiful picture [Image].”

Most themes won’t display post formats as “aggressively” as Twenty Thirteen, ((With WordPress’s newest default theme, the authors know it isn’t for everyone: “It’s hard not to have a strong feeling about the theme, one way or another. It defies you to give it a shrug or a kurt [sic] nod. Some of you will hate it. And that’s okay.”)) but every theme will show the extra information like the Video ((WordPress 3.6 will also come with a new embeddable media player. That means that you can now load a video or audio file into the media library and play it in a browser without an additional WordPress plugin.)) or Link.

Why Should I Use Post Formats?

So that’s the “what” of post formats. But when I talked about this exciting upcoming feature at last month’s Seattle WordPress Meetup the very first question I received about them was “So what?”

Answer #1

Most blogs already post content in different formats but do so clumsily or unknowingly. This feature puts the choice of formats front and center. To make it abundantly clear how the formats should be used, here are some examples of the most commonly used formats.

Remember, the format you choose should describe the primary content of the post—primary in importance, not necessarily length. WordPress itself includes a short post prompt depending on the format you select. I include that prompt at the beginning of each example.

Standard

Use the editor below to compose your post.

“Standard” is the default format. If this is the first you’ve heard of post formats, then you’ve written blog posts using the Standard format. This post uses the Standard format because it includes lots of links, images, a gallery, and quotes! Just because post formats will be easier to use and more powerful doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time.

Link

Add a link URL below.

More and more, my favorite blogs these days share brief posts that direct you to a longer article or website by another author. The Link format is perfect for that, and I use it more  than any format besides “Standard.” One recent Link post on this blog is “The Alt Text Decision Tree.”

A lot of my clients use the Link format to highlight mentions of their organization in other media outlets.

Image

Select or upload an image for your post.

Two recent posts on this blog have used the Image format: “Just this once, Dogbert’s got it right” and “The Worst Practice Cycle.” In the first post, I wrote about and posted a comic, and in the second, I made a graphic which the post described.

Video

Select or upload a video, or paste a video embed code into the box.

Just like images. In “WordPress WYSIWYG Tips from WordCamp Seattle 2012,” I posted the video of my presentation from WordCamp Seattle 2012.

Quote

Add a source and URL if you have them. Use the editor to compose the quote.

I’ve never posted a Quote format post on my site, but here are a few scenarios where I think I might:

  • At a conference, posting a particularly inspiring point from a presentation.
  • Sharing an interesting comment from someone on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or even the comments section of this site.
  • Documenting a thought-provoking passage of a book.

Status

Use the editor to compose a status update. What’s new?

Statuses are like tweets—though they can exceed 140 characters. They’re short and ephemeral. I don’t use them often, but here’s one: “Quick Note to Email Subscribers (re: Growing Pains).”

Aside

Use the editor to share a quick thought or side topic.

My friend Grant looked up “aside” on Wikipedia as we struggled to understand that format’s intended use. It’s not WordPress-specific—or even technology-specific—but I think it’s just about perfect. Replace “character” with “author” or “blogger” and you’ll understand the aside format:

An aside is a dramatic device in which a character speaks to the audience. By convention the audience is to realize that the character’s speech is unheard by the other characters on stage. It may…represent an unspoken thought. An aside is usually a brief comment, rather than a speech.

I’ve started using asides for my three-to-five paragraph observational blog posts—frequently without a single link or image. Asides are short thoughts worth sharing even if not directly related to the normal topics of a blog. My most recent aside post is “My Devolution as an Email Author.”

Why I’m Excited about Post Formats

So far, my answer to “So What?” mostly regards the technical management and display of post formats, but I’m most excited about the overall effect of this feature on blogging.

Answer #2

I think this can help WordPress blog authors embrace the idea that blogging is a multimedia art form.

Many bloggers have a hard-and-fast definition for a blog post like “400-700 words accompanied by one large horizontal photograph.” I suspect that works for some, but for many others, there’s no reason to limit oneself to a particular format of blogging. Some images warrant a post of their own and may not need much or any accompanying commentary.

About 20% of all new websites run WordPress, so it’s not unfair to wonder what effect this feature addition ((As I wrote earlier, post formats have been around since version 3.1, but this feels like a brand new toy.)) could have on blogging as a whole. I don’t expect it to transform blogging overnight—for one, other services like Tumblr already offer similar features—but I expect this feature to become popular over time, and I’m excited to see the results.

Try it Out!

Many of us following the development of this feature worry that casual WordPress users will be startled by the new post formats interface and shrink away from it. Please don’t. The feature didn’t “click” for me at first either, but I’ve come to embrace it.

I’d encourage you to do the same, and if nothing else, don’t dismiss it right away; live with it for a month or two. In the end, I think it could greatly strengthen and diversify the contents of your blog and the blogs you read.

Talk Back

Still confused? Got a question about a specific format? Let me hear it in the comments!

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