WordPress: An introduction to Gutenberg
Back when it was first introduced in 2003, WordPress was created as a tool for the new growing phenomenon known as “blogging.” While still home to plenty of the World Wide Web’s blogs, the platform is now used for everything; from small and large business websites, to e-commerce and even complex web applications. Many of the web’s most popular websites are built using this tried and true content management system (CMS). According to a recent survey 30% of the web is made up of WordPress websites.
Over the past 15 years, WordPress has undergone a number of major updates—from the introduction of third-party plugins to custom themes. But beginning with the launch of version 5.0, WordPress will see its biggest change yet with the introduction of Gutenberg.
Gutenberg is the name for the newest version of the WordPress content editor. Named after Johannes Guttenberg, who invented the printing press, Gutenberg will be a reinvention, of sorts, by completely changing the way users add and update content on their websites.
What’s the Big Deal?
Since its beginning, the content editing experience has remained largely the same: a field for the title of the page or post, a text editor to add the main content and an area where you can set a featured image.
This setup worked well for blogging, but as WordPress grew from a blogging platform to a more complex CMS, layouts became more and more elaborate. To accommodate the needs of more complex sites, there came solutions like meta boxes or page-builder plugins such as Visual Composer or Beaver Builder.
Page-builder plugins are a popular choice because they give the user a lot of freedom to create and edit content on their site without extensive coding or the help of developers. This is a large contributor to the increased popularity of drag-and-drop website-builder services like Squarespace and Wix. While Gutenberg isn’t exactly a drag-and-drop editor, there are similarities that many of those users will enjoy.
This new editor follows a growing trend in web development that focuses on reusable content blocks. Currently, even the most common elements we find on a website like sliders or contact forms rely on the need for meta boxes or third-party plugins. Gutenberg aims to simplify the process. Need to add a photo gallery to your blog post? There’s a block for that. Same goes for buttons, cover images and forms. Additionally, if there is block that doesn’t already exist, custom blocks can be created and reused as often as needed.
Is There Cause for Concern?
With the release of WordPress version 5.0, Gutenberg will become the default editor for WordPress websites. Many developers have concerns that Gutenberg will create issues with backwards compatibility; leaving plugins that are used by millions of websites obsolete and creating work to either update the plugin or find an alternative. WordPress has already given assurances that they are working to address this issue, but it remains to be seen if all the bugs will be worked out before launch.
Backwards compatibility is just one of many concerns the WordPress community has expressed. Gutenberg has been available as a public beta since January 2017 and its team of developers have been actively working with the WordPress community to address concerns and fix bugs before its wide release. Currently, however, Gutenberg has a rating of just 2.3 out of 5 stars on its official repository with many reviewers citing concerns about the user interface and the amount of time and technical knowledge necessary to create custom content blocks.
At the time of writing this, WordPress is at version 4.9.8, which means Gutenberg could be rolled into WordPress core before the end of 2018. As is often the case with new technology, change can be difficult. Many long-time users will be required to learn a new tool and a new approach to a familiar product. Regardless of how painful the initial rollout might be, Gutenberg will definitely be a good first step in creating a much more user-friendly content editor, while also allowing WordPress to keep up with the growing trend of website-builders.
Michael Escoto is a web developer at The James Agency.