The Good and The Not-Great #1: Media Library

Several music professors of mine had very similar rules about giving feedback in weekly group masterclass: lead off with something positive, always frame criticism in a constructive manner, and try to use “and” instead of “but” whenever possible. I’m going to give that a shot in the form of a post about WordPress, though this may never really become a series (it’s an optimistic post title).

One of my favorite things from 4.0 was the grid view for the media library, with the attachment detail view that came along with it. We’ve got lots of list tables in the admin (you know, the “all posts” list and so on), and media is technically attachments is technically a post type and so a list table is an easy path, if not a particularly visual one. Media handling in CMSes across the board is often not great – it can be resource intensive and includes a multitude of components (technical and conceptual), making it difficult to develop for the lowest common denominator. So where do we go with it?

There are two areas I use media heavily: for photo uploads and for audio files. For photos, I do two major things: on-the-go photo blogging on my personal blog via the iOS app, and a private site where we mass-upload pictures of the kid for family to view and download. With audio files, they are typically of performances and used on musicians’ websites. In all of these functions, I’ve found that the media improvements between 3.6 and 4.0 provide a far better experience – not just for me, but for everybody who uses the sites, whether they’re also browsing and uploading in the admin or getting to listen to audio samples in a seamless player on their mobile devices.

I didn’t go into leading 4.0 thinking “I’m going to make WordPress better for my own personal gain”, I promise. The media grid, as we tend to call it, was not something forced to play along with my own use-cases – these things I’ve discovered I love so much about it mostly happened once the release was over and I had a chance to breathe again. It also wasn’t a universally-loved progression. “What problem are we solving?”, some would say; “It’s still so bland” from others; or “What about the sidebar from the media modal?” from yet more. Perfectly good questions.

It’s funny – sometimes you solve problems nobody realizes they had until after they’ve used what’s new, and some of those pain points aren’t universal. That’s okay. We took a typically very visual content type and gave it a visual browsing experience – it’s not that the list table isn’t serviceable or even always a worse choice (for instance, it might still be better for document management), but rather that it could be better. The attachment detail overlay gives you large previews of images and working players for audio and video – no navigating away and losing your browsing spot necessary. It also addressed the sidebar difficulties which had become apparent in the media modal on small screens – when you’ve got limited horizontal space, there’s no side for the sidebar to go. Perhaps bringing a similar view to the media modal will come next – who knows? (Okay, so in reality that is probably more like further styling of the sidebar to “take over” more than it currently does, but I digress.)

The thing that I love the absolute most is something that wasn’t really looking to solve an existing problem, but rather something that would unify between another similar experience in the admin as well as aim for that “didn’t we always have that?” feeling. That thing is the previous and next item navigation in the attachment detail overlay, which was inspired by the same navigation in the theme browser from the previous release. You can quickly flip through your media, whether by clicking on the mouse or using the arrow keys (keyboard accessibility is for everybody!). In the case of our family photo repository, I realized that we don’t even need the front-end anymore. All you have to do is go to the media library, where you can filter it down by month and go through pictures as either thumbnails or in a bigger individual view, just like you would on your phone’s camera roll. For audio files, sometimes I need to quickly edit a bunch of ID3 data for files I’ve just uploaded (also relatively new functionality in WordPress, as of 3.6) – with that navigation, I can change a few fields quickly and move on to the next one.

Okay, so I love it. And I see it as a progression, not a final stop. There’s still so much more that can be done, and I hope we can continue to iterate instead of letting it sit as some sort of monument.

I would like to see better filtering. We kept the status quo – type and date filters. But I want more: tags (and all that comes with that), searching of more fields/meta. What else can and should media be filtered by? What does filtering look like?

Some media types could use better handling. One that has an interesting proposal already on Trac (#31050) is PDFs, specifically generating a thumbnail. Yes, please!

More bulk management options – not everything would make sense for core, but is anybody experimenting with extending them? Right now it’s just delete. What about bulk categorization? Bulk resize?

What’s browse, and what’s manage? What else do we need to do to marry the two together in one experience? How does that mesh with the further insert flow in the media modal, and where does editing come in? Is editing a subset of management?

Maintaining context and sense of place when you go into and out of the details overlay. The nice thing about the sidebar was that you always had a sense of where you were previously – visually anchored. Can we bring that feeling back? Would a small “film strip” of items across the bottom help? Would subtle animations make a difference?

More experiments in the design treatment. I think it looks nice, but in a very basic and utilitarian kind of way. The admin is rather like that across the board, so maybe we wouldn’t go too far, but I’d love to see more of what we don’t know we want.

One of the toughest parts of pulling this in as a feature in the first place was losing that experimentation. It existed as a very experimental plugin, we went hard and early with some of the basic concepts of that plugin as a patch, and eventually jumped to an attachment details overlay that was not exactly initially embraced. Pulling the feature in from something that didn’t present itself as “complete” has negative effects as well – further iteration dies off for a variety of reasons, and frustrations can arise when promising ideas are not implemented right away in core. Perhaps by unwinding some specific things I think could be interesting, somebody will want to continue to experiment. At the very least, I’ll feel better about not resting on my release laurels 🙂

The Good and The Not-Great #1: Media Library

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