Will the WordPress community dance to Calypso?

Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch

WordPress.com’s admin interface has a dramatic facelift, called “Calypso.” And the changes aren’t just superficial; it has an entire new JavaScript codebase and architecture based on the WordPress REST API. The implications of such a dramatic and fundamental change are far-reaching, and the effects of Calypso have the potential to eventually affect the entire WordPress ecosystem.

So how did Calypso come about? Why was a new admin interface for WordPress needed? A drive to new technologies was a motivator.

“Our existing codebase and workflows had served us well, but ten years of legacy was beginning to seriously hinder us from building the modern, fast, and mobile-friendly experiences that our users expect.” ~ Matt Mullenweg

The open-source Calypso project took more than 20 months of development, and contains the contributions of over 100 contributors.

The end result is impressive. Calypso moves WordPress.com away from MySQL and PHP. It’s built entirely in JavaScript, and communicates using [WP’s] REST API. Calypso aims to improve interactions with other websites and enables the editing of multiple sites from a single location.

Mullenweg considers Calypso the “most exciting” project he’s ever been involved with. However, he does anticipate that it will cause a stir in the WordPress community:

“This was a huge bet, incredibly risky, and difficult to execute, but it paid off. Like any disruption it is uncomfortable, and I’m sure will be controversial in some circles.”

And he’s right: not everyone has embraced Calypso with wide-open arms.

Calypso and Jetpack

Although Calypso is WordPress.com’s new default admin interface, self-hosting users of WordPress can currently only download it as an app if they’ve installed Jetpack. Jetpack itself is held by some developers at arms’ length, as David Morgan explains:

“The Jetpack plugin has been a topic of controversy among WordPress developers for quite some time. It’s been touted as the future of WordPress by Automattic, but many developers believe it’s their Trojan Horse into the self-hosted WordPress world. The release of Calypso may have confirmed that belief.”

Perhaps developers of the 40,000-odd WordPress plugins have every reason to feel apprehensive about Calypso. Alex Johnson writes that currently, Calypso is an alternative to WP-Admin rather than a replacement; whether it eventually replaces WP-Admin, Johnson says, is “up to the community of contributors to the WordPress (.org) project. The big sticking point is likely to be third-party plugins. Although you can enable/disable and update plugins using Calypso, many plugins extend WP-Admin to add their own settings pages.”

Adapt or die?

If the WordPress community adopts Calypso, what becomes of all the PHP-based plugins that currently lend WordPress much of its power and functionality? They will have to adapt or die. While it’s theoretically possible to use Calypso alongside the old WP Admin, it’s not a practical or efficient option that’s likely to persist long-term.

So will Calypso catch on? Will the WordPress.org community take it on and adapt? Will they all start to learn JavaScript and REST API — or is that asking too much?

We asked our customers at UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup whether they believed that the new Calypso version of WordPress would overtake WP-Admin by 2020. Here’s what they said.

Will Calypso Replace WP-Admin

So UpdraftPlus will no doubt choose to adapt to Calypso as the community adopts it. We’ve got a head-start on most – UpdraftPlus in the WordPress dashboard has been single-page and JavaScript-powered since day one. And we have a few full-time developers on the team – but how many of the other 40,000 smaller plugins’ authors invest the time to adapt remains to be seen. Will WordPress remain open to professionals and hobbyists alike, or will it “professionalise” out of reach of many current developers?

WordPress has unleashed something most definitely worth watching. To Morgan, Calypso represents “a shift in the world of WordPress development.” He believes that the move towards JavaScript is as inevitable as it is unpopular with the “many self-taught developers that only recently have wrapped their heads around PHP.”

There’s a chance that it could always remain just an alternative interface, one that never quite manages to take over from its WP-Admin predecessor; it could forever be seen as a threat to developers. Or, as Johnson predicts, the future could lie in an “entirely-new Calypso-compatible CMS that’s written entirely in JavaScript” where “we will all lose our collective mind.”

 Mullenweg sees Calypso as “a beginning, not an ending.”


He hopes that Calypso will have a big impact on the growth curve of WordPress. If it does, it will certainly force a steep learning curve upon the WordPress community. As he writes himself: “One of the hardest things to do in technology is to disrupt yourself.”

So what do you think? Is Calypso the future of WordPress?

Image by: ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ via Compfight cc

Naomi Miles
Freelance writer and editor Naomi Miles is based in Cardiff, Wales. Starting out working in TV, she now splits her time between being a Twitter Editor and writing for UpdraftPlus, a WordPress Backup Plugin with over 3 million downloads and the highest star rating (4.9 out of 5) of any such plugin. When she's not writing, she's kept busy looking after her three young children.