Adrian Trimble - Designer, business owner and occasional writer.

Gutenberg Won’t Fix the Problems with WordPress

WordPress is on the verge of launching perhaps the biggest change in the history of the platform: a brand new approach to editing pages and blog posts. Known as “Gutenberg”, this new interface will replace the current WYSIWYG (What You See Is Not What You Get) editor with the launch of WordPress version 5.0 (expected sometime this year). It’ll also mean the eventual demise of the tangle of custom fields & plugins we’re accustomed to using in most custom WordPress sites.

The status quo is a hot mess.

The standard WordPress editor, known as TinyMCE, is designed primarily with a big block of text content in mind. If you’re mostly publishing text-based articles, TinyMCE works pretty well. For more complicated pages, like my Spence Digital site, it’s quite limiting. Hence why most advanced themes and custom WordPress sites use custom fields, shortcodes, and third party plugins to add much needed functionality.

The current WYSIWYG editor, known as TinyMCE.

The problem with these solutions is they often bear little resemblance to how the content appears on the front-end of the site, and they’re different from one site to another. You might learn one layout plugin on one WordPress site, then switch to a different project where you’re using a totally different interface. These mish-mash of solutions are inflexible, complicated to maintain, and often confusing for users who are unfamiliar with WordPress (or the specific plugin the builder of that site chose to use).

Gutenberg is a significant improvement.

The new editor takes over the whole screen, and allows you to drag and drop various “blocks” to compose your page. This model is similar in many ways to the slew of page builder plugins currently available for WordPress.

The new editor, known as Gutenberg. Source: WordPress.org

The WordPress team have had their work cut out – completely changing the editing interface for the most popular website CMS in the world is without doubt a monumental undertaking. They’ve been working on this for years, as a result, there’s a lot to love about Gutenberg.

The user experience is leaps ahead of TinyMCE + myriad plugins status quo. Moving all types of content into the “block” framework is a great way to make the editing experience as user-friendly as possible, while also allowing advanced users to easily extend a site with new functionality. They’ve even built a page where anyone can play around with the new interface – it’s easy to move content around, add new things to the page, and get it more-or-less how you want it.

The UI offers a much simpler experience for new users, and means they have a lot more flexibility “out of the box” – so you won’t need as many damn plugins! And when you do install a new plugin, it’ll probably come with a new block or two so it’s easy to get new types of content into a page.

Blocks are old news.

Gutenberg would’ve been truly great if it came out 2 or 3 years ago. That’s around the time the current crop of “page builder” plugins were getting popular – they also use the “everything is a block” concept, and for all the same reasons it works for Gutenberg, it works pretty well for them too. Lots more flexibility for individual pages, and a much more streamlined editing experience.

The trouble is, Gutenberg is only coming out now – sort of, we still don’t actually know when it’ll make core WordPress. Even when it is released, most themes will need to be updated to take full advantage of it. The web industry is moving ahead, and on-page live editing with services like SquareSpace and Wix is the new standard. Users expect to directly manipulate the actual page, with as little as possible getting in the way.

While Gutenberg is a leap forward, it’s still playing catch up to the industry leaders. Changing styles and some other settings requires a trip to the Customizer, which still operates separately from the Gutenberg interface.

WordPress isn’t dead yet.

It’s just changing, and so is the audience that uses it. Those looking for the ultimate in flexibility and extensibility are still going to choose WordPress – and they’ll get a much nicer experience once Gutenberg proliferates. If you’re running a massive blog or news site with multiple authors, a variety of types of content, a comments section and maybe an online store – WordPress is still a great pick.

However, a lot of WordPress’ traditional user base is small businesses and start-ups. That segment is fuelling the rapid growth of more user-friendly services, and Gutenberg isn’t going to change that. SquareSpace and their ilk offer a low-maintenance, hassle-free solution, with just enough flexibility to keep a lot of WordPress defectors happy.

Are you sticking with WordPress?

I’ve built a lot of sites on WordPress over the last decade (including this one), so leaving it behind for some projects will be a big shift. Do you use WordPress? Have you tried Gutenberg? Maybe you’re already thinking of jumping ship, or perhaps you’re a diehard and you’re sticking with it? I’d love to hear from you – email me with your thoughts: adrian@spencedigital.ca.

Posted on September 11, 2018