WordPress’ performance team has put its WebP by Default proposal on hold after the community expressed critical feedback and major technical issues. The new feature will generate WebP images by default for new JPEG uploads on upload, and will use WebP images for website content by default. WordPress’ performance team proposed this update for the upcoming 6.0 release.
“The Performance team has listened to feedback and is taking the community’s concerns seriously,” said Google-sponsored contributor Adam Silverstein in an update on the status of the proposal. “With the help of the community, we will be working on more data-driven research. Based on our findings, we will re-evaluate our proposed approach of enabling WebP by default.”
Vocal opponents of the feature described it as “clunky” and pushed for it to only be “opt-in” or to disable it in a more user-friendly way. One of the main concerns is that the proposal has the potential to double the amount of disk space used for images, since it generates WebP thumbnails in addition to JPEG subsizes.
Viktor Nagornyy summed up the storage issue in a comment on the proposal:
It’s not just about image formats. You will significantly increase disk space usage by generating more images. This will affect anyone hosting WordPress on managed hosting with storage limitations, their own servers with limited storage, anyone offloading images to S3, etc. That’s why this option needs to be disabled under media options. Hidden images generated by WP due to plugins and themes have caused problems. I’ve seen a site that generates 20 images for each uploaded image. The upload directory is 20GB. Can you imagine adding webp images in addition to that?
This directly affects hosting costs. You cause a lot of billing issues.
The performance team says they are working closely with the hosting community, but the change directly benefits hosts selling plans with tiered storage space limitations.
“There are also significant conflicts of interest,” said WordPress agency owner Andrew Wilder. “WebP is a format created by Google, and Google engineers lead the performance team,” said WordPress agency owner Andrew Wilder. “This proposal is designed to serve Google’s interests (making it easier and cheaper for them to crawl the web) . The added cost of all the extra storage space required will be borne by the site owner, not Google. “
Hosting companies may also run into complications with enabling WebP by default, which may not be worth the added bill for customers forced to upgrade. In his comments on the proposal, Charles Smith, managing director of WordPress hosting company WPopt AB, laid out a litany of concerns for hosting, particularly those related to support and backup costs:
Disk Space – The vast majority of our users have very large image libraries. While they may not have reached their limit, effectively doubling the size of the media library will cause problems for many people.I can see it ending in one of several ways – either they’ll ask us to delete the webp files (so, we need to do more work, thanks!), or they’ll be forced to upgrade (so, they cost more ) , otherwise they’ll get upset that we didn’t give more disk space for free and may leave us
Backups are already one of our main expenses. We invest in multiple solutions and multiple storage locations. Such a decision will *directly* increase our costs. It will also make account recovery, account migration, and similar operations more time-consuming. “
In a recent update, Silverstein said that the performance team’s main goal of enabling WebP by default was to bring WordPress’ image processing power to the level of its competitors.
“The main goal of this feature is to lay the foundation for WordPress to handle and deliver higher-performance formats in the same way that other CMSs like Duda, Wix, and Shopify do,” Silverstein said.
This reasoning runs counter to the concerns expressed by those who support and maintain WordPress sites. The team’s initial approach to selling the benefits of WebP, which did not adequately address the disk space issue, sparked a backlash from the community within a short period of time.
As performance team representatives responded to concerns in comments on the proposal, some participants in the discussion grew more annoyed, saying they felt that “WebP by default” proponents did not fully understand the real-world impact of the proposal on users. Considering that WordPress already has support for those who choose to use WebP images, the timeline for incorporating them into the core also seems rushed and premature.
“The bottom line is simple,” said Sergio Scabuzzo, WordPress agency owner. “We were asked to double the number of images for no reason.
“Forcing all images to have the WebP version has a bit of a bandwidth advantage. But we’re going to be doing a shit show on the backend. How manageable is the media library now? Cool, now double that with another media format. Oh , wait, we’ll add AVIF later too…
“It’s a matter of finding a solution, not a decision. This change only comes from web crawlers, search engines, supported devices/media. But for the WordPress ecosystem, it will be huge in terms of maintenance and hosting costs Trouble.”
The performance team is now reassessing its approach and looking to back up its case with more data and research. Silverstein cites two GitHub issues where the team is tracking the impact of enabling WebP by default:
- Study: Impact of Additional WebP Images on Uploads [Issue #289]
- Study: WebP Compatibility [Issue #290]
“Once we have completed our investigation and identified next steps for these two issues, we will work with the community to re-evaluate the other two issues raised – turning the feature on/off by default, and using UI-based controls to turn the feature on/off off,” Silverstein said.