How the Gutenberg Editor Is Changing WordPress

What is the new Gutenberg editor for WordPress – and how might it impact your WordPress website?

Image: Gutenberg, Wikimedia Commons

The way content is created and maintained in WordPress is changing in a very noticeable way. After more than a decade of using a word processor-like content editor, the world’s most popular content management system (CMS) is shaking things up with the new Gutenberg editor.

Available as a plugin before being launched as part of WordPress 5.0, this new editing experience has generated buzz (both positive and negative) across the WordPress community. Let’s take a look at what Gutenberg is, how it works and what it means for you.

An Improved Content Creation Process

Gutenberg, named after printing press inventor Johannes Gutenberg, aims to provide a user-friendly manner for creating content that more closely resembles how a page or post will look on the front end of the site. The result for site owners is that they will get a better sense of exactly how their content will look on their website as it’s being created.

Gutenberg demo. Images provided by author.

This in itself is a major change for users. With the “classic” editor (which will still be available to use via a plugin), there is often a disconnect with how content looks when it’s being created versus how it appears on the front end of your site.

Then there is the issue of posts with mixed content types. The classic editor can be a bit finicky when it comes to having text, multimedia and other specialty content (such as a testimonial or a contact form) all included in a single post. It’s difficult to get spacing just right and users often have to deal with cryptic Shortcodes. It doesn’t make for the most intuitive experience.

Gutenberg tackles this by breaking down content types into what they refer to as “blocks”. Each block represents a different type of content. So, for instance, you’ll have different blocks available for things like text, images, videos, quotes, etc.

Rather than write content all in one large editor field, everything is split up into these various blocks. It’s a matter of adding a block, filling it with content and moving on to the next one. Block positioning can be moved up or down so that each one is exactly where you want it. To edit the contents of a block, just click on it and start making your changes.

The changes Gutenberg brings to content creation should make for easier onboarding of new users. However, current WordPress users will undoubtedly need an adjustment period to get used to the new way of doing things.

Going Beyond Basic Content

One of the more interesting aspects of Gutenberg is that theme and plugin developers can create their own custom blocks to compliment their products. As an example, a theme geared towards food bloggers could develop their own Recipes block. It might include predefined fields for ingredients, instructions and photos. This would allow a user to easily add a recipe anywhere within a page or post.

The way blocks are set up by a developer, all styling of the various design elements are already set. All a user has to do is fill in the content itself. This will solve a major problem with the classic editor in that it’s quite easy to mistakenly lose custom styling or layouts.

This allows for a more extensible editor that can be customized to meet the needs of a specific client or product. While much of this can already be accomplished through means such as custom post types and custom fields, adding a custom block makes the whole experience a bit more seamless for users. Plus, the ability to position a block in a specific location will be much easier to accommodate with this method.

The Concerns

Whenever a major change comes to a popular piece of software, there will inevitably be concerns from its core community of users. Gutenberg, after all, is a fundamentally different approach to content creation that also has repercussions reaching far beyond that.

Some theme and plugin developers have been frustrated with everything from how block data is handled to the short timeline given to make their products compatible with the new editor. There’s been a healthy amount of questioning regarding just about every aspect of the project.

One of the main concerns among everyone appears to be backwards compatibility. Many fear that customizations they’ve made will be broken or that page builder plugins will no longer work once their website is updated to WordPress 5.0. Thankfully, it appears that the team behind Gutenberg is committed to ensuring that won’t happen. Customizations should continue to be supported and page builder plugins can still be used as always.

Still, any potential compatibility issues are one of the things we won’t fully understand until Gutenberg is fully released into the wild. But it does stand to reason that it’s in no one’s best interests to do things in any way that would cause major problems. WordPress has always been known to show restraint in this area.

Lastly, some have raised a red flag over how decisions have been made with regards to how Gutenberg has been built. In order to try and clear up misconceptions, the head of the project has sought to better explain the process. Communication is usually the best way to clear up concerns.

The Future of WordPress

Concerns aside, it’s clear that Gutenberg provides a new vision for what WordPress will become moving forward. The CMS wants to be mentioned in the same breath as others when it comes to ease-of-use, while still maintaining its power as a highly-customizable platform. In an age where tools are often one thing or the other, it’s a challenge to be sure.

There is a delicate balance between keeping longtime users happy without scaring away new ones. If they can pull it off, WordPress will further strengthen its hold on the marketplace.

Undoubtedly there will some stumbling blocks as Gutenberg works its way towards full release. It will be fascinating to watch how it, along with WordPress as a whole, evolves along the way.

About the Author Eric Karkovack

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with well over a decade of experience. You can visit his business site here. In July 2013, Eric released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88.