So far most of the criticism towards the post formats feature in WordPress 3.1 has been about the formats being a standardized list that cannot be customized. But from the perspectives of portability and usability, I would say a mere standardized list doesn’t go far enough.
The argument for sticking with a standard set of post formats is that a user should be able to switch themes without losing the formatting of their posts. There are nine new formats and these do seem to cover most uses: aside, gallery, link, image, quote, status, video, audio, and chat.
Making formats portable
But if each theme implements these formats differently does it really matter if the format terms are consistent? One theme developer might choose to take all the content for a quote post and format it as a quote. Simple for the end user, with no explanation required. The next developer might decide that doesn’t accommodate non-quote content and require the user to actually add a blockquote to their posts. What happens when a user switches between these two themes?
Image posts are even more of a conundrum. Here is what the codex says about this format:
A single image. The first <img /> tag in the post could be considered the image. Alternatively, if the post consists only of a URL, that will be the image URL and the title of the post (post_title) will be the title attribute for the image.
So the first image could, or should be considered the post’s image? As of WordPress 3.1 RC3, Twenty Ten doesn’t support this post format so I’m not sure how it would be handled in the core theme, but I can see developers implementing it in a number of ways. They could choose to simply style the image format differently, use the first image in the content, use the first post attachment, or use the featured image for that post.
For the sake of portability between themes, I think there should be some developer consensus as to how these formats should be handled functionally.
Making formats usable
Even with a set list of formats that function uniformly across all themes, is using the formats going to be obvious to end users or will they need specific instructions?
If a user wants to create a post with the image format, they aren’t going to know if they should be attaching an image, inserting an image into the content, or using a featured image. I think the usability of the post formats should be more intuitive than that!
I’m not a Tumblr user, but I did take two minutes to create an account and check out the user interface. It’s worth taking a look at, Tumblr did a great job on their UI. It is dead simple and doesn’t leave much room for user confusion. We could learn a thing or two from them.
Now I understand that post formats are just a custom taxonomy, but that doesn’t mean the formats UI couldn’t be enhanced with a bit of jQuery magic or other tricks.
Rather than trying to explain how the user interface could be improved, let me share an example that I mocked up that shows one possibility for the image format.
This interface isn’t drastically different than the standard layout, but I think more people would be able to use it instinctively without needing to guess or consult the documentation.
Let me break it down for you:
- Format Buttons: We don’t need big fancy buttons like Tumblr, but something with a little more click appeal than radio buttons wouldn’t hurt.
- Editor Title: A visual cue to the user that they have selected a new format would be a nice touch.
- Post Image: My first choice would be to use the featured image functionality to handle these images. This is how I am handling slide images in my plugin Meteor Slides and it has been working out very well. However this could just as easily be a file upload metabox, or instructions to attach an image to the post.
- Image Caption: Each format might be using the editor content differently, so clearly labeling what it is for could be useful.
- Streamlined Interface: Hiding or minimizing anything non-essential to a format might help reduce user confusion.
Improving post format usability is more of a long term idea for WordPress 3.2 or an ambitious plugin developer, but it’s worth thinking about at least.
Making formats more portable is something that could be be done right away though. Setting some standard best practices before developers diverge in all directions would help avoid a lot of headaches down the road.
These are my initial thoughts from trying to add post format support to a new theme I am working on. Has anyone else started implementing post formats in their themes? Please share your thoughts on how you are going to use post formats in your themes and how they could be made easier for the end user.