You could say that I am a bit of a fanboy of the late 1990s and early 2000s web. I loved the funkiness of GeoCities. I enjoyed the random midi file that began playing when a new web page opened. I am nostalgic about an early web that felt like an explosion of weird creativity that was driven by the passion of the people who were using this newfangled toy and were not quite sure what to do with it. Visiting a web page was like diving into a shameless, bottomless pit of geekdom.
When I see a new block editor plugin pushed out by Nick Hamze, I perk up. It is sure to be something interesting.
Hamze is the mind behind Sorta Brilliant, a website that is dedicated to sharing unique blocks mostly for the fun of it. In a web development world that is seemingly pushing another business or eCommerce tool every day, it is easy to sit back with blinders on. Yawn. Hamze is asking, where has all the creativity gone? He is putting his ideas and cash behind the development of features that harken to those early, fun days of the web. His projects will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is filling in a particular void that has been widening for years. And he’s doing it in style.
“I have at least 10 new block ideas a day,” said Hamze. “They just pop in there, and I have them made as fast as I can.”
Part of the problem is finding enough developers to help push out these projects at the pace that he can draw them up. Hamze is the creative force behind the projects, but he is not a programmer.
Discoverability of these plugins can be also an issue. They are not exactly the types of plugins that are in fashion at the moment and can fly under the radar. “I waffle back and forth between wanting to make stuff to make WordPress fun and get lots of installs,” he said. “Every time I ask someone how to get more installs, they tell me to make more boring stuff, but I don’t want to do that.” Hamze is speaking about the ecosystem’s drive toward more minimalist and business-oriented trends.
Hamze said many of his plugin ideas come from building his Zune fansite, Hello From Seattle. It is a passion project for a long-dead MP3 player, but it fuels his brand of creativity.
“I see zero passion, especially in the WordPress space,” Hamze said. “It seems like everyone is just going through the motions lately. I’m trying my best but I don’t see anyone else who wants to bring back the old days. Fun doesn’t seem like something WordPress is supposed to be used for. It makes me kind of sad. WordPress is supposed to be used for large corporations and business; it shouldn’t be used for silly things like I’m doing.“
He has at least one fan. Hello. I am just here to bring the rest of you along for the revival of the weird and wacky web experienced during the golden age of website creation.
One such throwback plugin is his Peculiar Pointers block. It is a container that allows users to upload an image to use as a custom cursor while moving the mouse over anything within the block. May the modern web development gods strike me down, but custom cursor images were really fun back in the day. I said it. No shame here.
For users who do not have a custom cursor image in mind, Hamze provides some inspiration via his new WeirdPress website, an early venture into his weirder WordPress ideas. “I love making things but also really want to get people to actually use them,” he said. “With Block Garden and Sorta Brilliant, I try to stay a bit between fun and business because of this. With WeirdPress, I just wanted to make things that were really dumb but made me happy. Plugins, that if I’m the only user, it’s OK. People don’t do things for fun anymore.”
Hamze wants more plugin developers to use their skills to be creative with block development. “I’ve asked all my ex-coworkers or people that I know in the WP world, if you have the ability to make blocks, why don’t you? I can’t code, so I end up paying a ton of money every month to developers. If I had the ability, I’d be coding fun plugins all day long. But, to most people, WordPress is a business, a job, not something they do for fun.”
A Collection of Block Editor Plugins
Last week, Hamze released the Altered Reality plugin, which allows users to select from over two dozen filters to apply over images. Aside from simply having a cool name for a plugin, end-users can enjoy everything from the funky Acid Trip filter to something more professional like the cool, blue tones of the Brooklyn filter. Most of the filters come from the CSS Gram project, but there are a few extras thrown in for fun, such as the throwback VHS style.
Hamze laments about the shortage of unique designs in the WordPress theme design world. “It’s like an afterthought,” he said. “All the themes look basically the same. They are minimalist and boring and have no personality. One of the main things I want to do is introduce fun design to WordPress. I can’t do anything about boring themes, but I can make them a bit more fun.”
Because of the complexities of building out a fully-fledged WordPress theme, it is not cost-effective to fund such development at the moment. Hamze is sticking with smaller, one-off plugins that bring something unique to the block editor.
Last month, Hamze released Meme Me, a plugin that allows users to generate a meme-style image directly via the block editor. The plugin is simple. It creates a custom image block style. When chosen, the image caption becomes the meme text. The plugin also offers a few design settings, such as the location of the text. A useful feature for the future would be to make the entire meme downloadable for sharing on social media. That’s what half of Facebook and Instagram are these days, right?
It is not all fun and games. Hamze, through his Sorta Brilliant brand, has several block-related plugins that fit into the more sensible side of the web. Blockshots allows end-users to snap a screenshot of individual blocks from the editor. Lazy Lists is ideal for people who need to sort their list block alphabetically or numerically at the click of the button. Dapper Desktop is useful for turning large images into multiple, downloadable image sizes for visitors to use as wallpapers.
On the wackier side of things, Hamze released a plugin called Vital Information yesterday. It displays messages from a segment titled Vital Information for Your Everyday Life from the 1990s sketch-comedy All That across the top of the block editor. It is the modern-day Hello Dolly plugin with useful information like, “If you’re drinking apple juice, and it feels warm, odds are that ain’t apple juice.”
We are barreling toward the point where there is truly a plugin for everything.
Hamze said he does not plan far in advance when it comes to plugin ideas. “Most of my projects go like this,” he began. “I think of an idea in the morning and two days later it’s launched.” He is currently working on a plugin that will blockify the WordPress dashboard. He also has a budding project for fun button styles. Followers of the Sorta Brilliant GitHub account can keep track of his projects as they are born.
Recently, Hamze has felt discouraged by the seeming lack of interest from leaders within the core and inner WordPress community. He feels like there is not enough of a push to bring unique flavors to design in general to the WordPress ecosystem. “One thing that I really believe is that we need fresh blood in the WordPress world,” he said. “There are some amazing designers out there that could make WordPress fun if we just made them feel welcome.”
I, for one, am ready see a scrolling-text block plugin. Because the old
<marquee> HTML tag is obsolete, we need a replacement to bring back some of the fun from those long-lost days of my early foray into the web.