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The Reasons We Back Gutenberg for WordPress

For the life of WordPress, the visual editor has stayed pretty much the same. That was until the new editor called ‘Gutenberg’ landed in December 2018—bringing with it the biggest change in recent times. 

For a CMS (Content Management System) powering millions of websites worldwide, such a change is a big deal. 

Thanks to the Gutenberg update, it’s easier to make media-rich pages and posts for your WordPress site. Now offering features that will let you make high-end web pages in a snap, there’s no need to call in the experts. 

With this new editor, WordPress is now better than ever. That’s our take on it. At Namecheap, we are behind Gutenberg because it’s what the Internet deserves. 

Given that Gutenberg is still a hot topic, one year on, we feel that it’s time to make our case for supporting it. In this post, we address the reasons why we believe it’s the best thing for the entire WordPress community, from content creators to website developers. 

But it’s not all about us. We also scoured the web to grasp the opinions of users and industry experts. Here we’ll show you their most common likes and dislikes, as well as give our thoughts on them too.

Before Gutenberg 

For any readers unaware of what came before, here’s a rundown of the key facts. 

Gutenberg hedgehog working on his website

Gutenberg:

  • is WordPress’ new default editor. It replaced the classic content editor TinyMCE.
  • delivers a whole new user experience. TinyMCE worked just like a standard word processor, whereas Gutenberg works by creating “blocks” of content. With this new interface, it’s possible to create more complex layouts without having to turn to a page builder.
  • was included in WordPress 5.0 and installed on every new and updated WordPress site since. 
  • not only replaced TinyMCE but also replaced a whole bunch of other modules in the WordPress backend. 

Why Was Gutenberg Necessary?

“Gutenberg is an important step forward for WordPress. Gutenberg enables WordPress to build content layouts, not just write articles. It is one of the many transitions happening in WordPress toward a more simplified user experience.”

– Zack Katz, WordCamp Denver 2017

To make some sense of Gutenberg, it is necessary to understand why it’s here, and what came before. Before Gutenberg, WordPress users could choose from an entire ecosystem. We had page builders, theme frameworks, and front-end editors. Each was created to optimize the site editing experience.

WordPress was in trial and error mode.

This ecosystem didn’t exist because it was the optimal way to build a website. All the shortcodes, page builders, and so forth compensated for WordPress’s shortcomings in fulfilling users’ needs. Thanks to Gutenberg, these foundational elements that WordPress lacked now come as standard.   

This is why WordPress needs Gutenberg.

It’s as simple as that.

Common Points of Feedback

In doing research on Gutenberg, the following complaints about the editor came up time and time again:

  • Fear of compatibility issues with plugins and themes, or issues with existing workflows.
  • It’s hard to use and cumbersome.
  • There was no choice but to adopt the new editor, rather than an optional switch from TinyMCE.
  • It wasn’t release-ready because of bugs and usability issues.

And as for points of praise, people felt:

  • It’s more beginner-friendly than what came before.
  • You don’t have to be a developer to build pages with complex layouts.
  • It has future-proofed the WordPress platform.

Gutenberg According to the WordPress Community

Many people have taken the editor for a spin. Since 2018, they’ve published billions of posts on millions of websites using the new platform. 

What do they think? Unfortunately, initial feedback wasn’t great from an end-user perspective. Even one year later, it’s as follows:

gutenberg plugin screenshot

To make sense of the numbers you see above, you’ll notice a clear divide on whether people like Gutenberg or not. Between the extreme positions (0-1-star, and 5-star reviews) there’s not much middle ground. 

We can’t ignore the number of people that deliberately downloaded the TinyMCE editor to use instead. How can it be, that so many users choose to side-step Gutenberg in its current form? Many users aren’t shy about sharing their frustrations. Here’s a sampling of what they are saying:

screenshot of feedback from Gutenberg

A Divided Camp

There are noticeable differences in opinion between developers and those creating the content. Initially, the first group appeared more concerned than enthusiastic. The latter was, by and large, excited that the editor had gotten a long-overdue facelift, even if it still left a lot to be desired.

Today, it’s encouraging how many people view Gutenberg as the future of content production. Even so, there are many who still feel that their much-liked TinyMCE was unnecessarily taken away from them. 

Besides the writers, there are those looking at WordPress as a CMS. Their biggest concerns were backward compatibility and a loss of flexibility. Some even feared that Gutenberg would break WordPress. As a result, many users called for making Gutenberg optional.

Some of those who build WordPress sites feared how their “non-techie” clients would embrace the new user interface, and expressed concerns about how to teach their clients how to use blocks. Despite that, many other developers welcomed the opportunity to use WordPress in a more versatile way and build on its features.

But all of these concerns were expressed before Gutenberg was launched, or immediately thereafter. To gauge the temperature right now, we dug a bit deeper into the conversation.

Favorable Opinions about Gutenberg

It’s not all bad on the review front. A number of professional bloggers and industry professionals had some positive things to say about Gutenberg once they’d road-tested the new platform. WordPress blog WPKlik posted an expert roundup six months after Gutenberg landed. Here’s a snippet of the opinions shared. 

“Everything before Gutenberg felt like an outdated platform from which everyone wants to move away. Fortunately, Gutenberg gained big popularity in a very short time, and more and more teams keep creating and releasing new blocks with all kinds of crazy functionalities for the new editor.”

Pavel Ciorici – founder of WPZoom

“The future of WordPress Development with Gutenberg means developers can offer users even more flexibility and power in designing and laying out their content and sites. It’s exciting for developers because we get a modern development stack and great for users because you can now do more with WordPress more easily.”

Zac Gordon – creator of JavaScript for WordPress

“In terms of the broader WordPress development – the development of the platform itself – we’re witnessing a big user-first shift. WordPress is no longer about the “developer user”, it’s about the casual user. Whatever is being built in WordPress has to benefit the casual end-user, just as Gutenberg does.” 

Karol K – Prolific blogger and professional content writer

“A huge number of site owners still have the Classic Editor plugin installed. That will likely decrease as Gutenberg improves. I’m excited to see how the way we build websites and create content will change. More specifically, I’m looking forward to seeing what great sites people will be able to create as a result of the new editor.”

Adam Connell – founder of Blogging Wizard

The views above largely reflect the positive voices regards the editor. A lot of people found the editor a change for the better, contributing to the evolution of WordPress. Introducing technology in keeping with the times unified how editing happens. There a feeling that with Gutenberg, we’ve got a truer connection between content creation and the end product.

Hedgehog using Gutenberg on laptop

Others welcomed Gutenberg as ‘intuitive’. It delivered a simplified experience compared to other visual editors. The shift from shortcodes to content blocks was another crowd-pleaser, as was the ‘modern design’ seen by many as beginner-friendly in contrast to what came before. 

Unfavorable Opinions about Gutenberg

Many WordPress users, old and new, embraced Gutenberg. Unfortunately, there are some people who still feel the editor leaves a lot to be desired (in its current state). 

Included in this list is Brenda Barron of WPMU DEV noted that she likes the new interface but doesn’t feel Gutenberg improves on what’s already available. Ultimately, she’d like to see Gutenberg as an optional plugin.

Josh Pollock of Torque, meanwhile, finds Gutenberg a step forward for bloggers and writers. That said, he doesn’t think it’s great for anyone besides content creators. Josh considers Gutenberg a step forward for bloggers and writers, but not so much for anyone besides content creators. While he’s a fan of the user interface (UI) overall, he fears backward compatibility.

The feedback above is a small snippet of this side of the debate. From what we gathered, two issues overshadowed the rest:

  1. Initial pushback with how the new editor works
  2. The wider implications of Gutenberg henceforth

About the first problem—people feel Gutenberg is making their lives more complicated. The new editor, they say, creates more steps to do the same things in TinyMCE. Treating each piece of content as a block isn’t intuitive, especially for things like bulleted lists and new paragraphs. The previous system resembled a word processor, which people were familiar with, and so was easier to pick up or to teach to clients.

Concerns also revolved around whether Gutenberg might affect WordPress’ flexibility. Some were concerned with issues of backward compatibility. There were those who believed Gutenberg could cause problems for millions of existing sites, plugins and workflows. Additionally, many felt Gutenberg was created for bloggers and low-level content creators rather than larger media and company sites, especially given the missing functionality apparent when the plugin first landed.

Let’s Talk About Those Points

As we know, the launch of WordPress 5.0 wasn’t entirely smooth. The amount of negative feedback has been rolling in, consistently.

Gutenberg hedgehog with checklist

Rather than focus blindly on what’s ‘grinding our gears’, a year after release, we should be asking what caused the main pain points, and what can be done to fix them.

  • Resistance to blocks – While it’s tempting to say ‘resistance is futile,’ once you get past the small learning curve with Gutenberg blocks, the new editor does deliver on WordPress’ promises. If you master block-based editing, you unlock the potential to create far more complex posts and pages. With Gutenberg, we get a more powerful editor to create things that only technically-minded among us could achieve before without leaving WordPress or using special plugins.
  • Missing features – Content creators are concerned that tools they relied upon are now missing. Writers aren’t pleased with a sudden lack of spelling and grammar support. Furthermore, the block system initially wasn’t compatible with the popular writing tool Grammarly (though it works well with Grammarly now). 
  • The ‘having to learn something new’ factor – For an editor designed for front-end users, it’s ironic that the least technically-inclined users are the most resistant. It’s hard to say whether this might be the natural result of change, or whether they are struggling to come to grips with it. Having used a pretty much-unchanged editor for over a decade, some resistance is understandable. With this in mind, a lot of people could be won over just by providing more robust tutorials for on-boarding. 
  • Keeping the plugin out of the core – One criticism was the state of the editor when it landed in WordPress core—specifically, that the plugin was nowhere near ready and that it needed a lot more work, especially with the user experience (UX). While many felt it left a lot to be desired, core developers are committed to ironing them out over time. 
  • Concerns over compatibility – The compatibility issue came up time and time again. While compatibility is an understandable source of frustration, any issues here are down to individual plugin developers. It’s not Gutenberg’s fault that they didn’t adapt their plugins in advance of the new editor, as the open-source development process gave developers plenty of opportunities to test their plugins against earlier versions of the editor and new version of WordPress.
  • Blogger-centric – People were hasty in calling out Gutenberg as blogger-centric development for the WordPress platform. We’re of the opinion that it benefits everyone. According to Morten Rand-Hendriksen, a contributor to the WordPress project,

“Gutenberg is a foundational departure from the traditionalist view of WordPress as a blogging platform.  It is a watershed moment for the application, cementing the idea expressed by Mullenweg in 2013 that WordPress is a platform on which anything can be built.” 

“Right now Gutenberg is a replacement for the content editor, but that is merely the tip of a large iceberg. The concept of block-level editing will soon migrate to the customizer and eventually to the entire application. We’re already seeing this in Gutenberg in the form of widgets and post objects being included as blocks.” 

It’s widely felt that with Gutenberg, WordPress is taking on site builders. The editor has transformed WordPress from a publishing platform to a site-building platform. In this sense, WordPress is moving away from being just a CMS for bloggers.

What Does the Future Look like With Gutenberg?

While Gutenberg is still a work in progress, its future seems promising. Since it dropped, third-party developers have created hundreds of themes and plugins that add to the power of WordPress. And, there is some interesting conversation regarding the potential changes and benefits to come. 

In the Gutenberg plugin description, Matt Mullenweg, one of the founders of WordPress, said that customization is the end goal.

“While the editor is the focus right now, the project will ultimately impact the entire publishing experience including customization (the next focus area)”. 

Mullenweg gave an update on Gutenberg’s progress at WordCamp Europe 2019, saying it’s only 10% on the way to completion. We know that many features are still being implemented. To quote Nathan Ingram from ithemes, it’s not fair for people to “criticize a half-built house because it’s drafty” —  Gutenberg is only part of the way through a long roadmap to satisfying all users of the platform.

Adapting to Gutenberg is the Way Forward

The launch of Gutenberg wasn’t a home run for WordPress. 

Nevertheless, we recognize that this change was necessary for the future of WordPress.

Within such a large, thriving community of users, some resistance to change should be expected. 

We also would point out that Gutenberg is not yet finished. Noting that most early complaints weren’t actually directed at the fundamental concepts of Gutenberg, but with how the launch of the new editor was handled and issues with usability, we expect issues with Gutenberg will fade over time. Tweaks that enhance the editor, refine the UX, and improve accessibility might be enough to win over many of the loudest critics. 

We have no doubt that the WordPress Core contributors are taking all of the complaints seriously, and are using the feedback as they plan future developments for the platform.

With all that in mind, we encourage you to be open-minded and try it for yourself. We remain confident that once they get used to it, most people will love how much easier it is to create incredible websites.

And if you’re ready to check out all Gutenberg has to offer, you might want to start with our EasyWP managed WordPress hosting. It will allow you to get your WordPress website up and running in a snap.

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Isobel Weston

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