A love-hate relationship with Gutenberg

Gutenberg, the shiny new editor in WordPress, gave me thrills when I’d heard about it. But since it reached the WordPress core, and more so, since I started working in-depth with it, I developed a lot of conflicting feelings. From love to hate, back and fourth, it is to this day quite a ride.

July 22, 2019
Reading time 5 – 7 minutes

Getting to know Gutenberg

Since its initial announcement, Gutenberg stirred up a lot of controversy around it. On one side, there were the enthusiasts who could hardly wait to get their hands on this new product, but on the other, there were a lot of people resisting change, who would push back for many reasons.

I found myself on both sides of the fence multiple times, and I would like to share my reasons with you.

I became aware of Gutenberg quite early in its development process, and I was quite excited about it.

After all, a modern editing experience for WordPress was long overdue, and Gutenberg was presented as the tool that would revolutionize web publishing, hence the name. 

I was excited because we would finally be able to get rid of TinyMCE, which by the way, was really clunky and tough to extend. So this would be replaced by a real WYSIWYG experience, built on top of modern technologies.

But right from the beginning, I also had mixed feelings about it. I was at the same time intrigued and delighted by this paradigm shift, but also, very skeptical of all the wishful thinking around it.

The main reason I kept an active eye on Gutenberg, in its early stages, was because I knew that the interest was to get it into the core of WordPress as soon as possible.

Signs we were moving too fast were there

Even though it was high time for a major change to surface in the way WordPress worked, the revolution faced many difficulties. I guess the pushback was somewhat to be expected. We knew that updating an already established website, to the new editing experience, would be a tough and quite risky job. 

Additionally, many site owners faced some issues regarding the loss of some content and features on their website, while others even broke theirs altogether in the process of migrating to Gutenberg, regardless of their knowledge about what to expect.

That’s probably why the Classic Editor plugin, which disables the new editor, received all the love, while Gutenberg received all the hate.

The fact is that Gutenberg wasn’t ready for mass adoption and in my opinion it still isn’t. There’s a tremendous amount of work being done in moving Gutenberg forward and I appreciate that.

At the moment, work is still being done on standardising core blocks, as well as the markup, plus the API is constantly being changed for various components, and so on. This can only lead to a new wave of bad reviews on the plugin, once WordPress 5.3 rolls out.

Gutenberg still has many obstacles to overcome for acceptance

One of the biggest hurdles Gutenberg has to overcome, is the pushback from the entities, that either develop or work a lot with page builder plugins. Even though I don’t like page builder plugins for WordPress all that much, still, I have to say that there are a few points to make in their favor.

One is that some of these plugins offer a better WYSIWYG experience than Gutenberg is ever expected to have. Additionally, almost all of them have many more content blocks, features and even add-ons.

Also, most of them have some sort of integration with Gutenberg, but those are some patches to simply make the plugins work together, rather than trying to give the user the best experience.

However, at the end of the day, I would still go with Gutenberg. From a user’s perspective, I would say that it is a very reliable piece of software on many levels and is also backed by a great community.

From a developer’s perspective, I believe that the APIs need a lot of work in order for great things to be built on top of our new editor.

Many developers hopped on the Gutenberg train and developed countless blocks for the plugin. While some of them have done quite a good job with the products they developed, personally, I believe many missed the point completely. 

I was afraid of the moment users would have a hard time finding a block fitted to their needs that would look good with their theme, and unfortunately, I was right.

Why? Because we still haven’t sorted out how to create a plugin that can, at the same time achieve a goal on its own, but also allow for easy integration with all the WordPress themes out there.

It feels at times, like we’re back in the short-codes era, and we’re making the same mistakes again. That is arguably understandable, but maybe, just maybe, whilst Gutenberg matures, plugin developers will also do the same.

Another thing I’m worried about is the fact that we don’t have proper solutions yet, for all the things that are outside the editor, and actual implementation of these features are further away on the horizon.

Some proposals for these issues have arisen lately, but all of them rely on the old way of doing things in WordPress, which I honestly hoped would not happen.

Coming to grips with where Gutenberg is at

A project that claims to mature, not only doesn’t want to let go of the past, but more so, it repeats mistakes made in the past. Such mistakes led exactly to where we were, a couple of years ago, when it was clear that a big transformation had to take place in order to move forward.

At the end of the day, I’m not the only one who invested time, feelings or even money in WordPress. And on second thoughts, I might be at the low end of the investment spectrum.

So why would WordPress care about me?

I might have some hard feelings on Gutenberg, but I know there are good intentions behind it, and many of the goals it’s trying to achieve, are still worth pursuing. I will try to embrace this change and maybe even nudge the course of Gutenberg towards where I want it to be. God’s speed ahead!

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