It’s that time of year again: WordPress is soon debuting its first major release of 2018. While it’s not yet known just when WordPress 5.0 will be released (though reports claim the first half of the year), this major release is noteworthy due to the new content editor that it will be shipped with: Gutenberg.
Billed as a “new way to WordPress,” Gutenberg is a milestone in WordPress development because it is going to replace the current TinyMCE as your default content editor. Integrated with WordPress’ core, Gutenberg represents a step in the direction of the increasingly popular website builders like Weebly and Wix, together with the ease of writing content that you see on blogging sites like Medium.
This new page builder is obviously an acknowledgment by WordPress that it has to react to its rivals’ moves and growing influence. When Weebly and Wix make it extremely seamless and easy to build a site, while Medium does the same for content writing, then WordPress has to try to offer up something better or lose users and influence to the competition.
That’s what Gutenberg is really about.
What is Gutenberg in WordPress 5.0 About?
This new content editor is what WordPress envisions as the new tool that’s going to keep people using WordPress for months and years to come. To understand what Gutenberg is about, we look to the current Gutenberg plugin to understand what the organization will do for the actual WordPress 5.0 release.
From the description:
Matt Mullenweg (Founder and CEO of Automattic, the company running WordPress.com):
The editor will create a new page- and post-building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.
In other words, Gutenberg is going to make it a cinch for people of all technical backgrounds (even those who are not too tech savvy) to create stunning and rich web content. It does this by switching from a number of inconsistent ways to create WordPress content to using standardized blocks for content creation. This switch not only modernizes WordPress, but it also brings it in line with open web initiatives.
This is why the comparison above to website builders like Weebly was so accurate—those builders already use blocks to create content for easy drag-and-drop use. And WordPress wants to catch up to this.
As a result, there will be a key shift in WordPress usability that will see it go from just a content management system (CMS) you used to write articles…to soon a full-fledged editor that you can use to build entire content layouts. The WordPress user experience, therefore, becomes more thorough.
The Pros of Including Gutenberg With WordPress 5.0
Because this is such a huge sea change for WordPress, there are undoubtedly a number of benefits to integrating this content editor right into the CMS. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the pros of shipping Gutenberg with the next release of WordPress.
It Refreshes WordPress
Let’s face it: While WordPress is home to some of the world’s biggest brands, the platform itself is anything but new. On the web, where new fads and the latest crazes are always popping up, WordPress has been stagnant for a while…in spite of its huge user base.
Gutenberg, at the very least, will reinvigorate the WordPress experience, giving all of its users something new, different and easier with which to work. Compared to the new site builders, WordPress is somewhat clunky and harder to use (that’s why there are so many plugins for it!). Gutenberg will provide users with a more intuitive and streamlined UX.
Copy and Paste Are Magnificent
One of the most basic actions on the web is to be able to copy and paste. Gutenberg also makes this a seamless endeavor by ensuring that anything you paste into the editor goes off without a hitch.
To wit, any lists, links, bullet points, paragraphs, headings and really anything else that you paste into it results in blocks of the right type being properly rendered by Gutenberg.
No Website Breakage
Other page editors tend to actually break your site when you dare try to uninstall them. The specific HTML comments will be kept within the content so that you can simply reactivate Gutenberg without having to deal with the hassle of losing any previously arranged blocks.
If Gutenberg is not active, remember that any HTML comments will be rendered within the page source. However, since they’re only comments, they’re not a problem.
The Cons of Including Gutenberg With WordPress 5.0
For the sake of being fair and balanced, we have to look at some of the bad of this new page editor, too. While Gutenberg is undoubtedly a huge, new offering for WordPress fans, not all of it is good.
The UX and UI Could Use Some Further Work
With Gutenberg, you may be surprised to discover that your usual, simple tasks now take a few, additional clicks to complete. These extra steps aren’t deal breakers, but they’re an indication of a more unwieldy UI and a less smooth UX.
For example, to update a page, you have to click twice now instead of just once. Nondescript icons are hard to understand due to a lack of clarity in their affordances.
Besides this, the meta boxes are concealed underneath the extended settings, and the three columns created by the administrative menu, the Gutenberg sidebar, and the Gutenberg editor itself are too crowded. This creates confusion when you’re scrolling WordPress on smaller screens (laptop versus desktop).
Shortcode Issues With Paragraphs
It’s not possible to execute any shortcodes within text columns or the paragraph blocks. To make them work, you have to actually put them into the relevant shortcode block.
That’s all good and well, except that it can cause issues if the shortcodes you’re working with are producing any inline content, such as the year or a call to action that’s inline.
In spite of this, keep in mind that the shortcodes in posts and pages are still going to work well when you add Gutenberg to a site that already exists. Again, this goes back to the fact that, at least, existing things won’t break with Gutenberg.
Images and Embeds in Paragraphs
Another con worth pointing out is that there are no images or any other embeds in paragraphs. Thanks to Gutenberg, it’s not possible to wrap your text around an image, which is actually a very fundamental aspect of formatting. That’s because images now possess their own block.
At the same time, other embeds such as video and audio also need their own block. As a result, embeds from YouTube or Vimeo aren’t going to work anymore inside Gutenberg’s text columns or paragraphs.
The Impact of Gutenberg on Current Users
This one’s a hot topic: While some in the WordPress community are excited about 5.0 and Gutenberg, there are others who are worried about the changes that it will mean for how they’ve been managing their WordPress sites.
The majority of WordPress users can be pretty much broken down into three camps: agencies, freelancers, and developers who build sites and/or manage said sites for their clients on the CMS. Since the switch to Gutenberg is such a radical departure from what they’re used to on WordPress, there’s a legitimate fear out there that some of these users won’t be prepared to adjust to the new page editor.
The thing is that, typically, these WordPress users don’t utilize page builder plugins when they’re creating. Instead, they usually rely on a mix of meta boxes and custom fields to allow their clients the chance to include all the information they want to add to their sites in a controlled manner.
The users who work in this fashion will have to study up on Gutenberg and prep for 5.0 well in advance of it being released so that their clients aren’t negatively affected by the new page editor. Since not everyone is going to be on top of things in a timely way, a number of sites will likely slip into a broken state.
Because of what some see as this chaos on the horizon, WordPress critics like Briget Willard make the understandable argument that WordPress should instead roll out 5.0 and Gutenberg with an extended timeline to specifically account for this potential difficulty in all users getting caught up to the new way of doing things.
And that difficulty brings us to the next point to consider in the Gutenberg rollout
Greater Barrier to Entry (Than Ever Before)
Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard for some users to get the most out of the editor if they don’t learn to react deeply. In addition, don’t forget about all those WordPress plugin developers. Because the timeframe for 5.0 and Gutenberg being released is still relatively short, that’s going to study, understand, adapt…and then prepare their plugins.
Most of the plugins that will be affected by this change are those that register a custom post type (meta box). A lot of those developers are going to find it hard to justify finding the time, feeling the motivation, or learning the skills to make them work with the new editor. The end result? A sizable number of plugins will simply be left broken, with no motivation to get them fixed.
Taking that another level further, without as many plugins, the WordPress user base will suffer, as plugins naturally help make the WordPress experience richer for many us.
The Final Takeaway
Don’t avoid Gutenberg when it’s released. Just the opposite: Give it a try so you know whether these concerns are warranted or not. Install it on your site, take it for a test drive, and get familiar with it. Take note of the pros and cons you encounter when using it for the first time.
The great news is that Gutenberg is taking your feedback at this stage, so here’s where you can provide them with any relevant comments when it launches.
Many users are giving their opinions on Gutenberg the new page editor based on the currently available Gutenberg plugin and what they’ve heard in terms of speculation (without having actually used the real thing), which is a pity. Naturally, WordPress is confident that any issues, bugs, and glitches will all be worked out when the real editor is released as part of 5.0, later on this year. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that WordPress firmly believes that the actual experience of using Gutenberg as an editor versus a mere plugin will be like night and day.
At the end of the day, Gutenberg still represents a bold step forward in WordPress history, where the familiar way we use WordPress is optimized to make things simpler and enhance the UX. At least, in theory, that’s the intention.
We’ll all know whether that’s true or not when 5.0 and Gutenberg are released together in 2018. Until then, let’s reserve judgment.