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Jetpack AI Writing Assistant, Liquid Web Acquired, Reusable Blocks Rebrand 🗞️ July 2023 WordPress News w/ CodeinWP

📆  This is the July 2023 edition of “This Month in WordPress with CodeinWP.” 

Hey, WordPress fans.

We are back with all the latest WordPress news and events from the past month (or so).

This month, Jetpack added a new AI writing assistant that all WordPress users can access, WordPress.com made some of its monetization features available for free, and reusable blocks are getting a rebrand.

Plus, there were two big recent WordPress acquisitions that you probably didn’t hear about – Liquid Web/StellarWP and Rank Math.

And that’s not even all of it! Let’s get to all of the WordPress news from the past month.

July 2023 WordPress News with CodeinWP

WordPress.com makes some monetization features free (and Gravatar adds payment features)

For a long time now, WordPress.com has offered built-in blocks and features to help people use Stripe to accept payments or donations via their websites, as well as to charge for access to restricted content (including newsletters).

However, the one caveat was that you needed to be using one of the paid plans to access those features.

That is no longer the case now, as all WordPress.com users – even those on the free plan – will be able to start monetizing their sites using the payment blocks.

However, there’s no free lunch here!

While anyone can use the payment features now, WordPress.com will charge a variable transaction fee depending on the user’s plan. This fee is on top of the existing Stripe processing fee (2.9% + $0.30 in the USA).

The fee ranges from 0% on the most expensive plan to 10% on the free plan:

  • Free plan – 10%
  • Personal plan – 8%
  • Premium plan – 4%
  • Business plan – 2%
  • Commerce plan – 0%

For websites processing serious volumes, it will almost certainly make more sense to upgrade to a higher-tier plan anyway to reduce the transaction fee.

However, I think this is still a great change to make it easier for new creators to start monetizing their sites and grow over time.

In addition to the change at WordPress.com, Gravatar also added new payment-related features to Gravatar profiles.

While, unlike WordPress.com, Gravatar doesn’t handle any payment processing by itself, Gravatar users will now be able to add payment links so that other people can send them money using platforms like Venmo, cryptocurrency wallets, and so on.

These are just links, so Automattic will not be charging any transaction fees for the payments.

You can learn more and see some screenshots in the Gravatar announcement blog post.

Gravatar adds payment features

WordPress.org enables “Commercial” and “Community” filters for plugins and themes

For some time now, WordPress.org has been experimenting with ways to make it easier for users and developers to highlight whether or not a plugin is commercial. That is, whether it’s 100% free or the WordPress.org listing is just part of a freemium offering.

While developers already had the ability to mark their themes and/or plugins as “Commercial,” there wasn’t an easy way for users to use that data when browsing extensions.

That’s no longer true, though! Well, sort of…

WordPress.org has now officially added dedicated filters for “Commercial” and “Community” plugins and themes.

The default behavior will be to show all extensions, but users will be able to use the prominently placed filters to change that behavior from the main listing page.

However, I don’t think this will cause much of a shift in behavior for now because the filters do not seem to appear on the search results pages. 

For example, if a user searches for “SEO,” they wouldn’t be able to filter the resulting list of plugins by whether a plugin is commercial or community.

With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that type of filtering added in the future.

Here’s the release post on WordPress.org and here’s a WP Tavern article about the release.

Commercial and Community plugins

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Jetpack adds a new AI writing assistant block

A few months back, we wrote about how WordPress.com was experimenting with some AI content blocks.

Now, Automattic has built on that experiment to create a much more robust AI writing assistant that’s available via the Jetpack plugin, which means you can access it with both self-hosted WordPress sites and WordPress.com sites.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You add the AI Assistant block where you want to insert some content.
  2. You enter your prompt in the block and click Send.
  3. You can refine your content by changing the tone, translating it into different languages, and/or improve the content by summarizing or extending it.

To try it out, you’ll get 20 free requests for your first month. After that, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan at $10 per month to continue using the writing assistant.

Overall, this is one of the easiest ways to access an AI writer inside WordPress. So, it will be interesting to see how this affects the popularity of AI content writing with users who aren’t already early adopters of AI writing.

If you want to learn more, TechCrunch has an article about the release.

Jetpack AI Assistant

Liquid Web was quietly acquired back in March

This bit of news didn’t happen in the past month, but that’s kind of the point.

If I told you that one of the largest WordPress brands had been acquired pretty much without anyone knowing about it, would you be surprised?

As far as I can tell, that’s what happened when Liquid Web was acquired by private equity firm One Equity Partners in April 2023.

While usually even the acquisition of small plugins gets talked about in the WordPress news space, Liquid Web’s acquisition seems to have received very little fanfare.

We’re not the only ones who were caught by surprise, though. Carl Hancock, the founder of Gravity Forms and someone who is very clued into the WordPress business space, also seems to have not known about the acquisition.

Liquid Web’s acquisition would already be notable in the WordPress space because of its hosting products – both those offered through the Liquid Web brand as well as Nexcess, which houses managed WordPress hosting and managed WooCommerce hosting plans.

But what makes this really notable is that Liquid Web itself had been on somewhat of a WordPress acquisition binge over the past five years, building a huge collection of some of the most well-known WordPress plugin and theme developers:

  • iThemes (now SolidWP) – one of the most well-known WordPress developers. Acquired in 2018.
  • LearnDash – one of the most well-known WordPress LMS plugins. Acquired in 2021.
  • GiveWP – the most popular WordPress donation plugin. Acquired in 2021.
  • Restrict Content Pro – one of the most popular WordPress membership plugins. Acquired in 2020.
  • KadenceWP – makers of the popular Kadence Theme, as well as a number of plugins including Kadence Blocks. Acquired in 2021.
  • The Events Calendar – the most popular WordPress event calendar plugin. Acquired in 2021.
  • IconicWP – maker of a number of quality WooCommerce extensions (which had already been integrated into the Nexcess managed WooCommerce hosting even before the acquisition). Acquired in 2021.

Most of these are housed under Liquid Web’s StellarWP sub-brand.

How does such a large company get acquired with little to no coverage? I’m not sure. But at least you know now!

Liquid Web acquired

Rank Math was acquired by group.one in late May 2023

While on the topic of large acquisitions that don’t seem to have gotten much attention, the popular SEO plugin Rank Math was also acquired in late May/early June 2023.

The acquisition was by group.one – probably best known for One.com, which offers web hosting and domain services.

Group.one also acquired WP Rocket and Imagify, two WordPress performance plugins, back in late 2021.

Given that Rank Math has quickly grown to become one of the biggest players in a very competitive space (SEO plugins), I’m surprised that this one didn’t get more attention.

You can see the Group.one announcement post here – there’s been very little news coverage outside of that.

Patchstack discovered a vulnerability in the WooCommerce Stripe Gateway plugin

Over 900,000 WooCommerce stores use the official WooCommerce Stripe Payment Gateway plugin to accept payments using Stripe.

However, in April, Patchstack discovered an Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR) vulnerability in the plugin which “allows any unauthenticated user to view any WooCommerce order’s PII data including email, user’s name, and full address.”

Patchstack disclosed the vulnerability to WooCommerce, and WooCommerce patched the issue on May 30.

In June, Patchstack then publicly reported the vulnerability (after it had already been patched).

If you haven’t updated the WooCommerce Stripe Payment Gateway plugin to at least version 7.4.1, you should update immediately to secure your site and protect your customers’ data.

Here’s Patchstack’s post about the vulnerability if you want to learn more.

Reusable blocks are going to get a new name

Since pretty much the beginning, users have been confused about the difference between reusable blocks and block patterns.

To address that, reusable blocks and block patterns are going to be merged into one single “pattern” grouping that comes in synced and non-synced variations:

  • Synced patterns will be the same as reusable blocks.
  • Non-synced patterns will be the same as the current block patterns.

There’s also a proposal to add a partially synced pattern option going forward. 🤷‍♂️

On a positive note, I think the distinction between reusable blocks and block patterns is needlessly confusing for most users and a change is needed.

On a negative note…I just can’t see how “synced patterns” and “non-synced patterns” is going to be any less confusing for casual WordPress users.

What’s more, I definitely don’t think it’s going to be less confusing if we add “partially synced patterns” to the mix.

I’m not sure what the right solution is here, but it seems like something like “global patterns” might make more sense, given that the “global” designation is already in use by popular builder plugins like Elementor.

WP Tavern has more on the change.

That sums up our July 2023 WordPress news roundup. Anything we missed?

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:

 

Layout and presentation by Karol K.

Colin Newcomer

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