WP Perspectives Issue 13: Dynamic WordPress And 2022 Trends So Far
In this issue we look at some interesting trends in relation to dynamic data and custom fields plugins. Also, the latest posts on WebTNG and some useful links from around the web.
Dynamic WordPress And 2022 Trends So Far
Back in the day there was an old saying that you never got fired for recommending IBM. The idea was that IBM was the market leader and a safe default. The same has essentially been true for Advanced Custom Fields. The free version of ACF has more than 2 million active installs and ACF is supported by more builders and tools than any other custom field option. So when someone asked which custom field plugin they should use, ACF was a safe reply.
A little over a year ago ACF was sold to Delicious Brains, who had a reputation for building good developer tools. There were some missteps related to honoring lifetime licenses, but after a while the team seemed to hit their stride and were releasing nice incremental improvements, mostly related to ACF blocks and the Full Site Editor. Then almost exactly a year later Delicious Brains sold ACF and some of their other plugins to WP Engine. It is likely that WP Engine will be a good shepherd and ACF will continue its run, however, when a product changes hands then its users get an unsettled feeling and begin to worry.
Custom Field Support Added In 2022
Of course ACF still has millions of active installs and wide support, but here is an eye-opening 2022 trend:
- March 3rd Dynamic.ooo – Dynamic Content for Elementor adds support for Crocoblock’s JetEngine.
- April 7th Zion Builder added Meta Box support.
- May 3rd Kadence Blocks Pro added Meta Box support.
- May 24th Bricks releases support for JetEngine.
- June 22nd Stackable Blocks releases support for Meta Box.
- July 14th Dynamic.ooo – Dynamic Content for Elementor releases Meta Box support.
- July 19th Stackable Blocks releases support for JetEngine.
Meta Box was designed in a very modular fashion and for a long time had been seen as a tool for developers and power users. They slowly added more GUI front-ends making it easier to use and they also provided their own page builder extensions. It was still far behind ACF, but Meta Box had made serious progress. For example, late 2021 there was a good Oxygen integration. It seemed to me that the team managed to thread the needle and keep Meta Box fast, lean, and developer friendly, while also bringing it into the mainstream. That work paid off this year as more tools added support.
Crocoblock’s JetEngine has a lot going for it, but for a long time there was a worry that if you used it then you were locking yourself in to Elementor. However, the Crocoblock ecosystem is very extensive and Nelson Therrien, a long time Toolset / Elementor expert, switched to JetEngine for all his projects. His assessment was that once you learned their way of doing things JetEngine was a very good solution.
The Crocoblock team has been adding support for Gutenberg, and JetEngine comes with some Gutenberg blocks. In April they released JetThemeCore support for Gutenberg. JetThemeCore is their theme builder which previously only worked with Elementor. The April release means that you can use JetEngine with the Full Site Editor. Prior to 2022, support for JetEngine by other tools was very limited. Third party support is still behind even Meta Box, but increased Gutenberg support and the integrations this year moved JetEngine out of being a niche offering.
I think all of this is to say that ACF’s lock on the market is coming undone. Users benefit from all of the good offerings. Wide support for custom field plugins means we have more tool choices and we are freer to switch tools as needed.
Pods also has some 2022 news. Pods had no significant development for 4 years. Pods version 2.7 was released in December of 2017 and Pods 2.8 came out late 2021. I wondered if they were going to be able to sustain momentum, but there are signs that Pods is back on track. Earlier this month the 2nd beta of Pods 2.9 was released with support for repeater fields. It seems that the team has got its mojo back.
The elephant in the room is Toolset. Yeah, what about Toolset? Toolset has been around for a long time and is a soup to nuts solution that includes custom fields, Custom Post Types, the ability to create templates for post types and archives, advanced queries (Views), front-end faceted search and more. Toolset had a reputation for being the best choice for large, complex projects and for covering more edge cases than other options. Toolset advertised itself as the no-code solution for Custom Post Types and custom fields. A catch-22 for Toolset was that it was so flexible and powerful that many sites built with it were unique custom solutions that required developer skills and access to support. Support is a major cost center.
Toolset users were asking for integration with various page builders, and we know how page builders seem to be multiplying, so staying current with 3rd party builders was an endless task. As Gutenberg started to mature Toolset pivoted and spent over a year developing Toolset Blocks, a Gutenberg version. This really looked like a brilliant plan. After all, Gutenberg was the builder that comes with WordPress core, so it seemed they could stop chasing 3rd party builder support and just go with Gutenberg. Also, Gutenberg blocks were much more of drag and drop GUI based solution than the old Views version, so the need for a developer and for support should diminish. Toolset Blocks version 1 was released in December of 2019. Over the next few years Toolset steadily brought over features from Toolset Views.
Users noticed that new development had stopped, there was no communication about what was being worked on, and no new training materials were being produced. The regular production of training materials has been a long time content marketing strategy. Users asked what was going on and in mid June of this year Toolset replied. They announced that they were pausing new development for 18 months in order to access the impact of Full Site Editing on Toolset. After that time they would determine a direction. Presumably sales had significantly fallen off because they mentioned a few times in comments that they had run the numbers and needed to determine what was financially feasible. Michael Edwin has predicted that the downward economy would impact WordPress companies. Here was an example.
We know that WordPress core has never provided support for 3rd party custom fields and it is extremely unlikely that it will do so in the future. This means that there will always be a need for solutions like Toolset. However, Toolset may have put themselves in a squeeze. On the one hand, a significant number of their users still preferred page builders, which Toolset had turned their back on. This meant that it was frustrating trying to use Toolset with the likes of Elementor or Oxygen. On the other hand, the Full Site Editor was disruptive. It takes extra programming to make blocks that work in Gutenberg the content editor also work in the context of the Full Site Editor. Further , developers have complained that they have to regularly scramble to fix their products because of breaking Gutenberg changes that are not well communicated or documented. Toolset was wary of trading chasing their tail for page builder support for chasing their tail for Gutenberg support, so they did what a number of other developers have done and decided to wait for the Full Site Editor dust to settle.
We can applaud Toolset for their transparency, but the way the announcement played out was a marketing blunder as it raised doubts about the long term viability of the product. In the comments the Toolset team mentioned that they saw the Full Site Editor and things like the Query Loop Block as being direct competitors. From my perspective, this is odd as the core Query Loop Block pales in comparison to Toolset’s own solution. However, if Toolset saw a drop in sales they may have attributed it to these core enhancements. There is perhaps another explanation. Many third parties, who had previously only nibbled at Toolset’s core features, were now coming out with easier to use and more performant options. As far as page builders go, theme builder features are now ubiquitous. Further, the ability to create templates for Custom Post Types is now commonplace in block offerings: Kadence, GeneratePress, The Plus Addons, and Cwickly are built on top of Gutenberg. Toolset has lost much of its competitive advantage.
This look at the 2022 trends is a long winded way of saying that there has been a shift. WordPress is going through a period of major changes. Consequently, no one wants to be locked into one builder solution. The default answer to the question of which custom field plugin solution to rely on used to be ACF. Now it is ACF or Meta Box. JetEngine, once a niche option, is now something to watch and people who used it with Elementor can now leverage that investment and use it in other contexts. Pods has come back to life and Toolset is is on hold.
If you are curious about which custom field solutions different builders support, you can check on the WP Dynamic Data website. I’m currently adding in the block-based solutions.
Gutenberg blocks plugins have been becoming more powerful and have added more dynamic data options.
- GenerateBlocks, Kadence Blocks, and Stackable Blocks Compared – This was a very well received comparison of three of the top Gutenberg plugins that support dynamic data and theme building.
- GenerateBlocks 1.5 Unleashes Dynamic Data and Advanced Layouts – The latest version of the free GenerateBlocks plugin sees a powerful Grid builder block and dynamic data options (yes, in the free version).
- Custom Post Types and Page Builders: Review of the Options – I significantly updated a previously published overview of Custom Post Types and page builders.
Cwickly is a new and powerful solution for working with dynamic data. It was designed to work with the Full Site Editor.
- Cwicly: Equal Height Columns for the Post Grid – Equal heights columns is often a challenge, but is not too hard with Cwicly.
- Getting Started With Cwicly: Creating Theme Templates – An introductory video for working with Cwicly.
Kadence released some new blocks, but there wasn’t documentation, so I did some walk-throughs.
- The Kadence Dynamic List Block – This block is used for outputting the taxonomy terms. It is probably most useful in the Kadence Theme Builder.
- Kadence Blocks Pro Adds New Dynamic HTML Block and Dynamic Relationship Options – A quick walk-through of this new block and feature.
New Plugins and Interviews from Members of Dynamic WordPress
A poll in the Dynamic WordPress Facebook Group found that 25% of the members were plugin or theme developers. We thought it would be nice to share their achievements. Doubly is a new plugin for easily copying between sites from Amit Keren of Unlimited Elements.
- Doubly: A Cross Domain Copy Paste Plugin – This is a walk-trough of the plugin.
- Interview with Amit Keren of Doubly – Amit shares about the new product, the company and himself.
Lương Phước is the Piotent Founder. They recently released a big update to their forms plugin.
- Interview with Lương Phước of Piotnet – This is a great interview and I’m thankful to Lương Phước for sharing.
- Piotnet Forms And Front-End Post Submission – Front-end forms submission is a common requirement that can be difficult. In this walk-through I show how easy it is with Piotnet Forms.
Ron Huereca is a member of the Dynamic WordPress group who reached out to me about his new QuotesDLX plugin.
- QuotesDLX: A New Click to Tweet Plugin – I like the plugin features and created a walk-through.
A Looks at Three Admin Customization Options
I did a series looking at WordPress admin customization plugins.
- Ultimate Dashboard Pro Walk-Through – The minimalistic approach that tries to provide the features needed without too many extras.
- UiPress Walk-Through – A middle of the road solution with a nice admin theme.
- WP Adminify Walk-Through – This is the most comprehensive of the three, but had a few glitches.
Other Posts, Reviews, and News
- I Am Loving InstaWP – Let Me Tell You About It – I create lots of sites for testing plugins and themes. InstaWP has been a real time-saver. It’s good for temporary demo, testing, and development sites.
- The Top Free WordPress Themes 2022 – A year previously I looked at the top ten themes in the WordPress directory. This is an update to see what’s changed.
- New MB Toolset Migration Plugin Released – Yep, Meta Box created a helper plugin for migrating away from Toolset to Meta Box. They previously created one for ACF.
From Around the Web
- This is a very good tutorial / walk-through of how to create a Gutenberg block. Share by Elvis Krstulović in the Dynamic WordPress group.
- In the good YouTube channel department, Jamie Marsland’s Gutenberg videos are very informative and fun to watch.
- WPCodeBox – This is a code snippets plugin with a number of advanced features. I’m using it on my sites. Use the coupon code WEBTNG for 25% off.
- Hoverify – Hoverify is a popular browser extension with tools for developers and designers. It is on sale on AppSumo. I use it every day.
- WordPress Lifetime Deals Currently on Sale – A great place to look for deals.
- Interested in mastering Bricks? The Bricks Lab membership site has 50% off their lifetime option. It is still expensive, $262,50 at half off, but Sridhar Katakam and associates have already published more than 60 tutorials. Use coupon: GOBRICKS.
What’s Up Next?
I’ve been waiting on the Bricks Builder to add display conditions and then I’d like to take another in-depth look.
Thank you for reading. I’d like to hear what you have to say about the newsletter content and what you are excited about. Feel free to comment or send me an email through the contact form.
July 22, 2022
Great article! Yes, I’m pretty sad as to where Toolset is now… I have an LTD, so it was for a long time my goto option, but I can understand that monthly/yearly paying customers can choose another solution…
On my end, though, what made me switch was really the coming of Blocks to replace Views… Never liked it and for a while I stuck with Views, and then switched to Blocks, but with classical editor, which is the same… But it was clear that it wasn’t the future… Also, a lot of people were claiming that it’s slow.
Near after, I started to try JetEngine (that I had for a long time, but didn’t have the time to test it). Being an Elementor user, the match was perfect! It’s stonger with every update. And so much easier to use than Toolset, as everything is done visually (ex: front-end form, such a difference with Toolset).
I also have Metabox LTD (for a couple of years). Just need to put time to it. Don’t think it’s too complicated, as I preferred to do manual code in Toolset than with their Gutenberg option… Just need to put the time and then I’ll see if I stick to JetEngine or use Metabox for projects NOT done in Elementor…
Thank you for sharing your experience. I actually suggested to the Toolset team years ago that they create more widgets for Elementor because it was so popular.