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WordPress Gutenberg Editor: What publishers need to know

You might have felt some tremors in the WordPress world.
There is something brewing. Something called Gutenberg.”

The person talking about the tremors in the WordPress world—thanks to Gutenberg—is none other than Edwin Toonen, an Editor at Yoast. Yoast SEO happens to be one of the most downloaded WordPress plugins of all time, and thus in a unique position to feel any significant changes impacting a platform that powers 30% of websites in the world. So, what exactly is Gutenberg? Toonen continues,

It’s the new editing environment in WordPress and the impact it’s going to have will be massive.

Named after Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the mechanical printing press, the Gutenberg editor is the all new way to write content in WordPress. It replaces the old WYSIWYG editor and fundamentally changes the experience of creating content on the platform.

This is how the new interface looks:

Gutenberg comes with dozens of cutting-edge features, simplifying website creation and editing for the average non-technical user.

A new era of WordPress publishing

According to Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of Automattic, Gutenberg is “WordPress’ next big thing, the thing that helps us deal with our challenges and opportunities. The thing that changes the world.”

Gutenberg heralds a new era of WordPress publishing, and this new innovation aims to future-proof WordPress and make it more appealing, compared to competing platforms such as Medium and Squarespace.

WordPress says that with the new Gutenberg editor, the entire editing experience has been rebuilt for media rich pages and post, especially highlighting the flexibility “blocks” bring, making it easy for anyone to create rich post layouts.

By embracing “the block”, we can potentially unify multiple different interfaces into one. Instead of learning how to write shortcodes, custom HTML, or paste URLs to embed, you should do with just learning the block, and all the pieces should fall in place.

With blocks, anyone can insert, rearrange, and style multimedia content with very little technical knowledge. Instead of using custom code, they can simply add a block and focus on the content.

It gives the content creator more flexibility and control through an interface that looks more like the front end, and after a short learning curve, is more intuitive. In the words of WordPress, “get ready to make your words, pictures, and layout look as good on screen as they do in your imagination, without any code.”

This is how blocks work:

In Gutenberg, everything is a block

Earlier, all the content was housed within a big HTML file, and most enhancements required a bit of custom editing, like using shortcodes, custom post types, embeds, widgets and the like. Each came with its unique interface and oftentimes, quirky behaviour, especially when implemented along with other codes.

With the new editor, all that is history. Paragraphs, Lists, Quotes, Headings, Code, Images, Galleries… everything is a block, to be assembled together as required, like Lego pieces from a single box.

Even more interesting, every customised block gets its own layout and settings, and these can also be saved as reusable blocks. Like, for example, a composite footer block that can be inserted repeatedly in different blog posts, without having to be remade each time.

Gutenberg opens up WordPress to an entirely new set of people for whom WordPress was too complex and hard to set up before. Fewer people will abandon their sites because it was too hard to make things look the way they wanted.

Users will finally be able to build the sites they see in their imaginations. They’ll be able to do things on mobile they’ve never been able to before. They’ll never have to see a shortcode again. Text pasted from Word will get cleaned up and converted to blocks automatically and instantly.

Matt Mullenweg

Gutenberg is available as a plugin now, and in version 5.0 of WordPress (expected soon, in 2018) it will be enabled by default. The classic editor may then be available as a plugin if needed.

A “critical” response

While it’s a refreshing take on the WordPress UI, introduces the latest technology to an aging platform, makes things simpler for the less tech-savvy, and the implementation of “blocks” is innovative, the reception for Gutenberg has been less than glowing, with more 1-star ratings than all other ratings combined. This is how the plugin’s review page looks right now:

While this can partly be explained by the predictable “resistance to change” phenomenon, there are a number of issues still to be worked out.

Shifting to Gutenberg makes the process of editing older posts created through the Classic editor difficult, with a series of extra steps needed to make the desired changes. Responsive columns aren’t supported yet, still requiring some custom coding. Design layout options are quite limited at the moment, and compatibility issues are a significant concern for long-time WordPress users.

And of course, many current plugins and themes will need to be reworked. Users are facing issues with formatting, image editing and video embedding, and it’s obvious a number of bugs need to be squashed.

Should publishers make the switch?

Yes. We did too.

Gutenberg is not yet perfect, but WordPress has put all its weight behind this new editor, and it’s expected the major kinks will be worked out soon. The new version of WordPress (v 5.0) is expected shortly, in 2018, and Gutenberg will be the default editor in that.

Since a shift to the new system is inevitable, it’s better to adapt now than later. Manish Dudharejia makes a compelling case on Smashing Magazine on why it’s best to take the plunge right away:

Contrary to popular opinion, Gutenberg is not a replacement for the current text editor. It is a new way to build websites. I like to think of it as Facebook for WordPress.

“You don’t need to be a computer geek to publish things on Facebook or any other social media platform. Gutenberg is just a way to bring this simplicity and flexibility to WordPress, so that people don’t need to code in order to create and publish websites. That’s why I think it is going to be the future, not only for WordPress, but for the web in general.

Granted, Gutenberg has a long way to go. People (including me) have had issues with its implementation, but soon we will have Gutenberg-ready themes, plugins and tools surfacing everywhere. Nevertheless, you have to start somewhere. So, you might as well be a part of this change from the beginning.”

The new editor will, of course, take some getting used to, and it will definitely break some stuff. But eventually, the reward will be a much more streamlined environment with a lot of interesting possibilities down the road.

Need more?

To look at the broader picture and see where Gutenberg can take WordPress, invest some time in watching this essential talk by Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Gutenberg and the WordPress of Tomorrow.

What’s Next?

How do you get Gutenberg ready?

The first step would be to install the plugin. You can download the latest version of Gutenberg directly from the WordPress repository.

It would be best to install Gutenberg on a staging site to avoid any compatibility issues. Alternatively, check out a live demo where you can test the system without affecting your current site setup.

As a publisher, you too can contribute to the development and evolution of Gutenberg. Every issue you find, you can add to Gutenberg’s GitHub, including things that don’t work or those that should work better.

After all, WordPress is about to transform into its new avatar— version 5.0—with Gutenberg as the default editor. WordPress 4.9 has been downloaded nearly 145 million times already, so Gutenberg is about to become the most “popular” CMS editor of all time.

Very soon, being on the sidelines will no longer be an option.

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