Are You Ready for Gutenberg, WordPress’ Updated Editing Experience?

With WordPress creating a major shift in it's editing experience with Gutenberg. Is your website ready for the shift?

What’s Gutenberg trying to fix?

WordPress has had a fundamental flaw for many years, one that page builders like Divy and WP-bakery have leveraged to much commercial success. That’s the lack of a decent editing experience within the core experience.

As developers, the editing experience in WordPress isn’t beyond fixable. I get a lot of clients on the phone wondering why that paragraph they’ve just written in their latest post has caused everything below it to fall to the bottom of the screen. Or why that image they love so much is tiny and slopes off to the left. My response is often to nip in, change the HTML produced by the editor. Not exactly the “Content Management” the end client may have expected.

Sometimes I’ve created entirely bespoke editing experiences for clients, such as the one for the newest PhotoBite update. Experiences that leverages the power of Advanced Custom Fields to create an entirely custom post creator. It all works rather well, but it could be better, it could be Gutenberg.

So what is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is the entirely new editing and content creation system that the team at WordPress have been working on for the last few years. The intention is to create a better system for creating more complex and better behaving layouts, using a series of blocks rather one large block of (often badly) automatically generated HTML.

Want a paragraph? Drop in a paragraph block. Want an image? Drop in an image block, save, and so on.

The new gutenberg editing experience
The new gutenberg editing experience

The ability to edit these “Blocks” is built in to the editor. Select a block and a list of available options will pop up on the right hand side, replacing the page publishing options.

Gutenberg Block Options
Gutenberg’s block options panel makes editing individual blocks pretty easy

Is the new Gutenberg editor for everyone?

Apparently not, looking at the reviews for the beta and it’s still mainly 1 stars. The issue isn’t just the fundamental change in how content is created and edited or the backwards compatibility but also how the editor was pitched at the beginning.

The original plans for Gutenberg was for it to be a complete page builder, able to handle global headers, footers, front page layouts and so on. This has hit a nerve with the global development community. Calling in to question the added bloat (something WordPress has always been against), with calls for Gutenberg to be a plugin and not a core release. The switch from PHP to JavaScript has also led some developers to fling their toys out of the pram.

My opinion is Gutenberg as a content editor is great, would I like to see it as a full-page builder? Not so much, but there’s a huge amount of sway depending on how it develops and the control developers have over functionality. Which brings us on to our next point…

Developer control

As web developers we thrive on how much control we have over the frameworks we’re using. Gutenberg hands over a lot of control to the developers, dare I say more than the current system allows for? Gutenberg allows you to use blocks to build out content, so you’ll not be surprised that it also allows developers to create custom blocks. Developers can also add, remove or make changes to other blocks and block options built-in to Gutenberg.

An example of this is over on PhotoBite where we are building out a custom block for our competition post type, that allows us to collect entry details and set up a series of tasks for visitors to go through to enter a specific competition. All of these tasks are custom per competition and we need a series of options to run through to set up each competition.

So, clearly you use this Gutenberg thingy on Miniman?

Ah, no. The irony as I write this post is not lost on me. The issue is that Gutenberg can take some switching over depending on the type of site your running. Miniman uses a bunch of custom fields to generate certain content and as with any good development practice, would need me to test on a development server first. All this takes time, time I am spending doing the very same thing for clients.

PhotoBite was an early adopter as the custom content builder I’d already built was very similar to Gutenberg and a swap over was not only going to be worth the effort but as we were already making drastic changes to the site, could not have come at a better time. Miniman will get the switch as soon as I can find the time.

The next few weeks are going to be an important time for WordPress and Gutenberg. With the version 5 release of WordPress on the horizon, and Gutenberg coming prepackaged with that release. The notifications in dashboards across the globe have started and clients fingers are getting itchy. Several clients have already contacted me in advance to book their place for their switch over.  Everyone on a Miniman Maintenance Package will automatically be switched over on their next maintenance date.

If you’re interested in talking to me about switching your WordPress install. Or you’re confused by what this notification is in your WordPress Dashboard. Then drop me a line and have a chat.

You can also learn more about Gutenberg at the WordPress site.

Update: Gutenmberg is now installed and fully running on the Miniman website, yay!