Dieter Petereit October 6th, 2012

Collaborative Writing for Teams Enhanced by Brand-New WordPress-Plugin Post Forking

A brand-new plugin for the ever so popular CMS WordPress enhances the workflow to a GitHub-like experience. It allows for several authors to work on the same article simultaneously. Even contributors without any rights can participate in the workflow. This could be a solution to several common problems not only editorial teams regularly face.

Wired and the GitHub-Experiment

The story began with an idea of the editorial team over at Wired. It is common for their authors to work together on one and the same articles regularly. You can hear them yell: “Hey, close the article please. I have some changes to do.” Every writer who has ever been part of an editorial team knows this situation. So, what Wired tried, was, putting an article up on GitHub and use its forking and merging functionality to see whether it would enhance the editorial processes. They found out, this wasn’t the case. But mostly for the reason that GitHub simply isn’t the right platform for editors. GitHub obviously focusses on software projects and thus involves quite a few steps in the process developers are familiar to. With authors it’s a whole different story, they usually are no technical geeks, with some exceptions of course. They just want to get their texts out and need a platform which supports them in their efforts. This platform is not GitHub. GitHub for journalists would of course have been a project with a high level of appreciation, but the GitHub in its current incarnation is just not suitable.

Post Forking: Benjamin Balter cultivates the Wired approach

Open Source developer Benjamin Balter took Wired’s experiment and built on it. He found some more use cases to work on:
  • collaborative writing and editing on one and the same post (Wired’s case)
  • making changes to already published articles by its authors (who usually don’t have the right to edit already published posts) and the approval or denial of the suggested changes by authorized personnel
  • letting people edit articles that are in no way involved in the workflow nor have any rights in the CMS. They could be readers, which would mimic the situation over at GitHub’s pull request system. This functionality could be useful when you have written an article involving third persons and want to give them the opportunity to comment on the text. Such a procedure is common with interviews or sponsored posts beforehand.

WordPress Plugin Post Forking: This Is How It Works

Balter took the GitHub approach and tried to mimic it in WordPress. He created the plugin Post Forking with the goal of enhancing the editorial workflow. It works as if it had always been an integral part of the system. Imagine an author without the right edit_post that wants to - well - edit a post that’s published. The plugin forks the article, creates an alternative version. This version can now be edited freely by the author. After all the suggested changes have been made the author saves the article as usual. The article is flagged as „Pending Review“ and added to the moderation queue of an editor. This is the default behavior of WordPress, whenever an author without the right publish_post saves an article. You see that Balter tried to implement his solution as tightly along the standards as possible. The effect is that the new functionality needs no initial training on behalf of the authors whatsoever. This is also true with the editors. There’s nothing more to the new workflow than being presented with the changed content again. It’s up to the editor to decide whether he is willing to approve the changes or not. If he does, the changes are merged into the original article where conflicting content is marked. The editor is then provided with solutions to the conflicts. This intelligent method is achieved using custom post types and the revision history.

Post Forking Version 0.1: Early Adopters Go

Balter completed the plugin with the active support of the well-known contributors Aaron Jorbin and Daniel Bachhuber. As Bachhuber works for Automattic it might well be that the functionality gets integrated into the core sometime. The plugin is versioned 0.1 which sounds more experimental than it really is. The developers seem to like a bit of understatement. You can download Post Forking from WordPress Extend since September 30th 2012. Up to now only 128 persons have done so. Will you be the next? I recommend it!

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Featured Image by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Dieter Petereit

Dieter Petereit is a veteran of the web with over 25 years of experience in the world of IT. As soon as Netscape became available he started to do what already at that time was called web design and has carried on ever since. Two decades ago he started writing for several online publications, some well, some lesser known. You can meet him over on Google+.

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