The Future of Paragraphs

Paragraphs recently gained focus and wide adoption in modern Drupal projects. The module is showcased on almost every DrupalCamp or DrupalCon as a best practice for advanced content creation in applications with a growing frequency of blog posts.

With our experience in Media, we at MD Systems have decided to target Paragraphs as a focus topic for the future of content creation. After joining the team of maintainers, it was time to call the community for a workshop.

Count down for a stable release

During the past 4 months, John at MD Systems has led development to rebuild deep internals such as the storage and to clean multilingual support with full test coverage. The demanding paragraphs widget led us to discover many hidden areas of complexity and even limitations and bugs in Drupal core. After all recent improvements, we now rarely see new bugs reported.

We started the workshop on Thursday with a group of 10 participants by setting up a public Trello board and revisiting all known issues. The goal was fixing plain functional issues and also polish the UI for more consistency.

An RC5 release candidate was shipped, probably the last one. A stable version is near!

The future of content creation

Drupal core enables you to build rich platforms without a single line of code. It still needs tools like page manager and panels to build rich landing pages. Content creation means picking a content type and filling a set of fields, previously defined by a site builder. A greatly pluggable WYSIWYG editor allows us to build tools to embed pieces into content, but complexity still grows and managing HTML is hard. With omni channel outputs, WYSIWYG is more misleading, because an uneducated user will assume that everyone else will see it the same way. Still, Drupal does not semantically understand the HTML inside a body field.

In contrast, Paragraphs can satisfy many future requirements of content creation. The editor is empowered to flexibly combine predefined visual components. A rich landing page with a slideshow, a testimonial, a form, a parallax background image and action buttons is easy to create without a site builder getting involved.

Through the cleanly managed definition of each component, the CMS is aware of semantics and can also easily feed modern decoupled architectures with structured data. A responsive design is always in a well defined state.

But, if Paragraphs is the solution to everything, what is missing?

Shaping the future of Paragraphs

The workshop invited for extensive discussions to exchange ideas for improvements and tell us about individual use cases from the community. In two blocks we analysed problems, possible solutions and the values these provide. We realised that we need to decide, if we want to stick to the typical Drupal core backend editing functionality, try to improve the Drupal core quickedit approach, or even start an alternative UI project that is derived from one of the many other recent frontend content creation UIs.

Quickedit is a great tool to demonstrate the ease in content editing, but it has many limitations for content creation. The workshop participants are not using it and it turned out to be challenging as the steps to make it satisfying are unclear and a comparison of complexity versus value is hard.

When discussing the ideas for an alternative UI, we realised that there is great room to improve the backend user interface in valuable smaller steps. In order to build a satisfying UI, we also need to learn much more about our editor’s requirements and the use cases.

A standard paragraph type collection

More and more agencies using Paragraphs support the idea of maintaining a pool of standardised paragraph types. The standard collection will neither be a distribution nor a demo module. It will be a regular module that maintains a set of best practices for Paragraphs, with deep integration with further contrib modules and initiatives such as Media. The module will also offer an improved editor experience for frequently used paragraph types such as a grid layout, color styles and a slider.

Without the need for extensive site building, it will allow you to jumpstart your custom project with a nice content creation experience from the start. And it will not limit freedom of advanced customisation. This approach will significantly reduce cost and complexity of a custom site.

The collection will be started shortly after the release and will further evolve with every single project at MD Systems and other community contributors. A specific sprint will be organised in the coming months.

The Paragraphs Initiative needs your help to make it happen. Contact us if you want to support the ideas or you want to discuss your custom requirements.

Eager to read more? Check related projects!