What’s the Big Deal about Gutenberg?

Gutenberg: the biggest name in WordPress right now.

No, not Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type that led to a printing revolution in 15th century Europe.

When we say Gutenberg, we mean the upcoming WordPress version 5.0 release.

In anticipation of this change, we dug into what Gutenberg will mean to WordPress users and why a change to the editor is the hottest topic in WordPress Land.

What Is Gutenberg, Exactly?

Gutenberg is a redesign of the WordPress WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. It’s named after the Gutenberg of printing press fame. Like its namesake, the goal is to revolutionize the way we create and distribute content.  

While that might not seem like a big deal, keep in mind that we’ve been using pretty much the same TinyMCE Editor (the standard text editor) since WordPress 2.0 launched way back in 2005, and while it works, it’s pretty limited. 

With the current editor, it’s pretty simple to create basic content. But as soon as you want to use special layouts or get fancy with your images or other media, it falls apart. As you’ve probably discovered if you’ve ever used WordPress, writing a simple blog post can require you to switch over to HTML to get things to look the way you want.

The good news is that with Gutenberg, all that changes. Rather than create content as one long chunk, Gutenberg will offer you the ability to incorporate “little blocks” of content that will enable more complex layout possibilities. This is truly movable type for the digital age!

movable type for printing press

Matt Mullenweg, one of the creators of WordPress, describes Gutenberg in this way:

“We’ve taken stabs at this before, if you imagine our previous efforts with post formats – to make it easier to do certain types of media or quote posts or things like that. That whole concept can now flatten to just being a block. Working all that in, it’s bringing things we’ve been thinking about for a very long time in WordPress.”

So at its core, Gutenberg is all about the little blocks.

The Magic of Little Blocks

With Gutenberg, the power of digital design will finally be in your hands as you create content for your website.

You won’t be constrained by long blocks of vanilla text. Instead, you’ll be able to play with lots of different layout options.

Some of the things you’ll be able to do easily with Gutenberg:

  • Pull quotes
  • Stylized headers
  • Easy tables
  • Drop Caps
  • Clickable table of contents
  • Choice of 2-4 responsive columns
  • Flexible image styles
  • Functional buttons

And the best part? Once you create a stylized content block, you can save it as a reusable block, so you can maintain consistency across your site.

Essentially you’ll start thinking of your articles more like you’re designing a magazine rather than typing a term paper.

magazine layout mockup

Of course, some WordPress themes already have fun magazine layout options. What’s different here is that these options aren’t set by the theme, meaning you’re not stuck with a handful of choices for all of your content. You’ll be able to make these decisions for each article or page as needed.

Right now, if you want to do some of the advanced layouts that will come standard with Gutenberg, you have to install a bunch of plugins (which can slow down your site) and use shortcodes (bits of code you insert within straight brackets (which can slow down the process of creation).

Confused? WordPress.org has a great page introducing Gutenberg, with examples of many of the bells and whistles that come with it.

So It’s Like the Divi Theme?

A common misconception about Gutenberg is that it’s trying to make WordPress native code more like Divi. A popular theme framework by Elegant Themes, Divi is a visual page builder that allows you to create content and design simultaneously. With Divi, you choose a basic design and layout and then you can move things around on the page and add new content in a WYSIWYG manner.

With the current version of WordPress, conversely, you create your content in the Dashboard, largely separate from your site design, and then you have to save the content and view it in a preview mode to see how it looks in your chosen theme.

What Gutenberg is (in the first iteration, anyway) is a new content editor as described above, not a new theme or a complete overhaul of the WordPress architecture. In fact, outside of the editor itself, WordPress itself doesn’t change.

As Chris Coyier of CSS-Tricks puts it, “Gutenberg replaces the WYSIWYG, TinyMCE editor with an SPA.” And by SPA, he doesn’t mean a hot tub and massage. In this case, SPA refers to Single Page Application, which allows the browser to update without having to make a bunch of calls to a server, making it fast and responsive.

Because of the way they’re coded in the database, content blocks should also work well with many themes. Coyier assures people that  “a WordPress site [created] without Gutenberg won’t have any trouble with it, nor porting it elsewhere.”

Why Gutenberg Is—and Isn’t—a Big Deal Right Now

Gutenberg will introduce us to a new way to create our web content, and that’s huge.

Because of the limitations of the content editor, a WordPress site can look a bit stodgy these days. With Gutenberg, you’ll be able to build much more attractive sites and better integrate different types of content.

Fist bump with fire and electricity

While right now Gutenberg is just a new post and page editor, the future for Gutenberg is quite exciting. According to Edwin Toonen on the Yoast blog, the first Gutenberg release is just stage one. Later the developers will create new page templates, and the eventual goal is to have a full visual site builder.

For now, it’s a super exciting time to be a content creator because you’ll have access to all these new options right away. For WordPress developers, they’ll be able to offer clients a wider range of layout choices without having to write a bunch of customizations. And for theme designers, they’ll be able to grab the content blocks to do all kinds of cool design tricks that we can’t even imagine yet!

Just How Worried Should You Be about Gutenberg?

When you depend on software to run your business, it can be a bit terrifying to hear about a major update. That’s true when it’s your accounting software, your social media management tools, and your website.

Gutenberg will be the default editor when WordPress 5.0 is released. Sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with it.

So we understand that you might approach Gutenberg with trepidation, just like you would with any other major WordPress update. If you update, will it break your site? If you just figured out how to use WordPress, will you have to start all over again?

We won’t lie. Gutenberg represents a big change for some people (see our two special cases, below). And even if you’re confident about the launch,  it still might take a little time to get used to. That’s why it’s a great idea to play with it before the official release and see what you think.

How You Can Give Gutenberg a Test Drive

Even though we don’t have an official release date for Gutenberg yet, the developers have your back. They want as many people to use the new editor as possible before they release it officially.

And getting it is easy.

If you build websites in WordPress, you may have seen an update to your WordPress Dashboard that invites you to test a beta version of Gutenberg:

screenshot of Gutenberg option in WordPress

You can also download Gutenberg as a plugin and install it on your site.

A caveat: Gutenberg is still considered “beta” software and has some bugs. It may or may not work perfectly with your theme and plugins. We do not recommend installing it on any site for which you don’t have complete database oversight, in case something breaks. We also would caution you against installing it on any important websites such as your main business or blog until the final version is released.

If you want the Gutenberg experience without taking the plunge, check out the live testing site brought to you by Tom Nowell from Automattic (WordPress.com).

Special Case #1: Content Management

As mentioned above, some people may be more affected by Gutenberg than others. Content managers are one group that will almost certainly be impacted. The new editor will force you to change your workflow, and that’s something you should understand before it launches.

In its current iteration, there are a few hiccups in the process of copying text from a Google Doc, for example, and dropping it into the Gutenberg editor, since it places everything as one large block.

You might also experience some funky formatting issues because of the hidden formatting code that comes from Google Docs and Word. For simple documents, this might not be an issue, but if you have a lot of formatting, things might get wonky when you transfer them over.

Until the WordPress developers figure these issues out, here are a couple of options that might help:

  • Mammoth .docx Converter is a free plugin that converts .docx files to clean HTML that WordPress can better understand. This is great if you’re used to copying files from MS Word (and you should be using it now!) but can also help with Google Docs if you first save your doc as a .docx file.
  • Wordable is software that connects your Google Doc account to your WordPress site, allowing seamless integration. It does have a monthly fee and you have to connect it to both accounts, which may not work in corporate environments.

If all else fails, you can always install a plugin that re-enables the familiar TinyMCE editor.

Special Case #2: Accessibility Issues

Web accessibility is important. People who have limited vision or mobility impairments, or who need assistive technology to use websites, may find Gutenberg unusable.

Accessibility experts and regular users alike have expressed concerns throughout the development and testing process.  One of the biggest worries is Gutenberg’s reliance on hover technology, which can be difficult for many people to use effectively (and if you’re using a screen reader, it can be impossible).

Gary Pendergast, one of the lead developers and the person leading the merge of the code into the WordPress core in advance of its general release, recently told WP Tavern:

“While Gutenberg has always aimed to prioritize accessibility, both providing tools to make the block editor more accessible, as well as encouraging authors to publish accessible content, there are still areas where we can improve.”

If accessibility issues concern you, you may wish to review the other articles WP Tavern has published on this topic as well.

When Will Gutenberg Drop?

All signs point to the world meeting Gutenberg this month. According to WP Tavern, the tentative date is November 19, 2018.

thumbtacks on calendar

Why ‘tentative’? The developers have a series of milestones that they need to reach before the update is ready to release. The developers also need to make sure the release is as stable as possible so that it will have the lowest negative impact on current WordPress users. They already have a backup release date in January in case they can’t get all of their proverbial ducks in a row for a November release.

For the latest updates, you can check out the Gutenberg Times for a better sense of where things stand.

Finally, what do you think about Gutenberg? Are you excited or worried? Have you tried it yet? Please let us know in the comments.

And if you’re not using WordPress on your site yet, be sure to check out EasyWP, Namecheap’s managed WordPress hosting.


More Gutenberg Resources

30 thoughts on “What’s the Big Deal about Gutenberg?”

  1. Gutenberg is revolutionary editor for the WordPress 5.0. We all are eagerly waiting for the update. and WordPress community have ensured that it’ll be launched in November itself.

  2. I’m also using Gutenberg on all my WordPress Sites. It saved me a lot of time and I’m really happy to write a new post with Gutenberg.

  3. Gutenberg will be great for bloggers once all the bugs and usability/accessibility issues are figured out over the coming years, but I personally believe it will fall short for business users. I’d highly recommend checking out ClassicPress – a fork of WordPress that doesn’t include Gutenberg (and is focused on serving the business market).

    Disclaimer: I started ClassicPress after realising Gutenberg was going to cost my business a LOT of money.

  4. Gutenberg is a complete disaster. Buggy, unintuitive, feature-lacking, inferior to any existing page builder, yet pretending its something “revolutionary”.

  5. The release date has now been moved to Novermber 27th – after Black Friday! I’m working now on developing my first Gutenberg block. Devs need to brush up on JS and React.

  6. I tested Gutenberg and some day in the future it will probably be a good tool but it is not ready to be released. They don’t even have Columns worked out so they dropped it for the release. The good thing is you don’t have to go to Gutenberg. The classic editor is suppose to have support until 2021. It’s not WYSIWYG, the live site does not look like the edit screen, this should be basic. Don’t just jump on board, back up your site and then try it and see what you think.

  7. Gutenberg is one step further in web evolution. This plugin will change everything. I already started making websites for my clients with Gutenberg.

  8. Hmmm, these comments look to be trolled by those devs supporting this Gutenberg nonsense. The release date has been pushed to Nov. 27th according to WordPress.org If most of our voices in the community were listened to, this would remain an optional choice rather than being forced on us. I mean, look at the 2.3 out of 5 rating this is receiving. This thing is no where near ready for prime time. I’m confident in saying it will be a fail on all parts of WordPress.

  9. Divi theme has a Frontend mode btw, and it has much more options than the current state of Gutenberg.

    But yeah Gutenberg is the future of WP, it just needs some time.

  10. Anyone that thinks Gutenberg is revolutionary, try Elementor or Beaver Builder. If Gutenberg had their functionality I would be jumping on the wagon but it doesn’t. Gutenberg is way behind all the add on themes and plugins that work with WP. You don’t release an obsolete software and then ask people to wait for them to catch up to the real world.

  11. To Jackie: What is it we don’t like. Mainly it is so far behind Elementor and Beaver Builder why would you move backwards? The Edit screen is WYSIWYG buy then live page changes, so you have to go back and preposition. To be competitive a new program should be at least even with the competition with a few things that are better. Gutenberg is way behind. If you have looked at Gutenberg and like the general concept, you should look at Elementor and see how far ahead that already is. It would be great to have one complete program that did everything. I hop Gutenberg gets there some day, it just has a long way to go and we as users, should have the option to add Gutenberg as a plugin. It should not be forced on us. Those days ended decades ago when most people were considered computer illiterate.

    1. I think the reason I like it is because it’s theme agnostic. You can use Gutenberg with any theme that supports it, so you aren’t forced to purchase a $200 premium theme to get this kind of functionality. I’ve used Divi and some of the other WYSIWYG builders as well, and I also find that many of them have a really steep learning curve. For the average person, WordPress itself is a challenge, and throwing a complex theme on top of it is going to be a turnoff. It took me ages before Divi clicked, and even now I’m still not sold on it in part because if you change themes it’s a mess. Meanwhile, Gutenberg was pretty simple to start using, and although it is far from perfect, I do think it’s a good first step. And since no one is going to be forced to use it, I think it’s a great next step in WordPress evolution. Sure it has issues (accessibility is a big one for me) but you can’t move forward if you’re afraid to do new things and break people out of their comfort zones once in a while.

  12. Jackie, You don’t even really need a theme with Elementor. That lets you create your structure on the fly and starting with a free theme like OceanWP is more than enough. I’ve used WP for about 5 years and considering all the plugins, it is great. I just started using Elementor about 4 months ago and it is amazing considering the added functionality. I’m not about to step back and use Gutenberg until it’s at least even with Elementor. The only reason it makes sense is for WordPress.com, they want to be competitive with their other premium web builder hosts like WIX. Turn it on for WP.Com for a while and see how people do. Leave the rest of us that have our own WP sites out of this unless we “Choose” to load the plugin.

    1. Well, the good news is that you don’t have to use Gutenberg, at least not for now. And even if there’s resistance at first, I think over time it might catch on. It takes time for people to get used to something new. Personally, I’m excited to see how things go with the launch and for the first few months afterwards. Will I be switching all of my sites over to the Gutenberg editor? Probably not. But I do think it’s a big step forward.

  13. I tried the Gutenberg plugin for about 45 secs. It turned my posts page completely white screen and broke my current theme instantly. I was able to get the plugin page and disable it, and then my site was back to normal. Beware of this weak excuse for “Progress”. I’m really glad to hear that the release date has been pushed back to after Black Friday, but why would schedule a major release anytime during the holiday shopping season at all. This just goes to show poorly managed and thought out this project is. Based on my experience I hope it never gets released as a must use part of WP. Beware if you install,
    make sure to have your site backed up for when you have issues!

  14. Jackie, I agree, it could be a huge step forward if it’s done correctly. I’ve worked in software development for over 30 years and I have learned when you release the software it better be 99% flawless and do more options than your competitor. I really think Gutenberg is depending on the huge number of people with WP websites.

    1. One thing that I’m hoping will make the difference here is that they were waiting for a certain threshold of sites to install the beta Gutenberg before launching, so it had a sizable number of people testing it and running it before they make it official. I don’t know if that strategy will pay off with the launch or not – I guess we’ll see!

  15. Gutenberg is GARBAGE still! Please stop this nonsense. Visual Bakery did the same thing..only way better. Get ready for sites to break across the Internet and WP popularity to nose dive with this POOR decision.

  16. Add the word “not” to the following paragraph.

    Of course, some WordPress themes already have fun magazine layout options. What’s different here is that these options aren’t set by the theme, meaning you’re “not” stuck with a handful of choices for all of your content. You’ll be able to make these decisions for each article or page as needed.

  17. I don’t really like the idea ” that when something is working , fix it anyway or modify it to make it a newer model ‘…

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